BANTAM BOOKS 990
Dutton Edition Published December, 1950
1st Printing October, 1950
Unicorn Mystery Book Club Edition Published February, 1951
Bantam Edition Published April, 1952
1st Printing March, 1952
Copyright, 1950, by Fredric Brown
ALL VERSES INTRODUCING
CHAPTERS ARE FROM THE WORKS
OF CHARLES LUTWIDGE DODGSON,
KNOWN IN WONDERLAND AS LEWIS
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
In my dream I was standing in the middle of Oak Street and it was dark
night. The street lights were off; only pale moonlight glinted on the huge
sword that I swung in circles about my head as the Jabberwock crept closer.
It bellied along the pavement, flexing its wings and tensing its muscles for
the final rush; its claws clicked against the stones like the clicking of
mats down the channels of a Linotype. Then, astonishingly, it spoke.
"Doc," it said. "Wake up, Doc."
A hand - not the hand of a Jabberwock - was shaking my shoulder.
And it was early dusk instead of black night and I was sitting in the
swivel chair at my battered desk, looking over my shoulder at Pete. Pete was
grinning at me.
"We're in, Doc," he said. "You'll have to cut two lines on this last
take and we're in. Early, for once."
He put a galley proof down in front of me, only one stick of type long.
I picked up a blue pencil and knocked off two lines and they happened to be
an even sentence, so Pete wouldn't have to reset anything.
He went over to the Linotype and shut it off and it was suddenly very
quiet in the place, so quiet that I could hear the drip of the faucet way in
the far corner.
I stood up and stretched, feeling good, although a little groggy from
having dozed off while Pete was setting that final take. For once, for one
Thursday, the Carmel City Clarion was ready for the press early. Of course,
there wasn't any real news in it, but then there never was.
And only half-past six and not yet dark outside. We were through hours
earlier than usual. I decided that that called for a drink, here and now.
The bottle in my desk turned out to have enough whisky in it for one
healthy drink or two short ones. I asked Pete if he wanted a snort and he
said no, not yet, he'd wait till he got over to Smiley's, so I treated
myself to a healthy drink, as I'd hoped to be able to do. And it had been
fairly safe to ask Pete; he seldom took one before he was through for the
day, and although my part of the job was done Pete still had almost an
hour's work ahead of him on the mechanical end.
The drink made a warm spot under my belt as I walked over to the window
by the Linotype and stood staring out into the quiet dusk. The lights of Oak
Street flashed on while I stood there. I'd been dreaming - what had I been
On the sidewalk across the street Miles Harrison hesitated in front of
Smiley's Tavern as though the thought of a cool glass of beer tempted him. I
could almost feel his mind working: "No, I'm a deputy sheriff of Carmel
County and I have a job to do yet tonight and I don't drink while I'm on
duty. The beer can wait."
Yes, his conscience must have won, because he walked on.
I wonder now - although of course I didn't wonder then - whether, if he
had known that he would be dead before midnight, he wouldn't have stopped
for that beer. I think he would have. I know I would have, but that doesn't
prove anything because I'd have done it anyway; I've never had a conscience
like Miles Harrison's.
Behind me, at the stone, Pete was putting the final stick of type into
the chase of the front page. He said, "Okay, Doc, she fits. We're in."
"Let the presses roll," I told him.
Just a manner of speaking, of course. There was only one press and it
didn't roll, because it was a Miehle vertical that shuttled up and down. And
it wouldn't even do that until morning. The Clarion is a weekly paper that
comes out on Friday; we put it to bed on Thursday evening and Pete runs it
off the press Friday morning. And it's not much of a run.
Pete asked, "You going over to Smiley's?"
That was a silly question; I always go over to Smiley's on a Thursday
evening and usually, when he's finished locking up the forms, Pete joins me,
at least for a while. "Sure," I told him.
"I'll bring you a stone proof, then," Pete said.
Pete always does that, although I seldom do more than glance at it.
Pete's too good a printer for me ever to catch any important errors on him
and as for minor typographicals, Carmel City doesn't mind them.
I was free and Smiley's was waiting, but for some reason I wasn't in
any hurry to leave. It was pleasant, after the hard work of a Thursday - and
don't let that short nap fool you; I had been working - to stand there and
watch the quiet street in the quiet twilight, and to contemplate an
intensive campaign of doing nothing for the rest of the evening, with a few
drinks to help me do it.
Miles Harrison, a dozen paces past Smiley's, stopped, turned, and
headed back. Good, I thought, I'll have someone to drink with. I turned away
from the window and put on my suit coat and hat.
I said, "Be seeing you, Pete," and I went down the stairs and out into
the warm summer evening.
I'd misjudged Miles Harrison; he was coming out of Smiley's already,
too soon even to have had a quick one, and he was opening a pack of
cigarettes. He saw me and waved, waiting in front of Smiley's door to light
a cigarette while I crossed the street.
"Have a drink with me, Miles," I suggested.
He shook his head regretfully. "Wish I could, Doc. But I got a job to
do later. You know, go with Ralph Bonney over to Neilsville to get his pay
Sure, I knew. In a small town everybody knows everything.
Ralph Bonney owned the Bonney Fireworks Company, just outside of Carmel
City. They made fireworks, mostly big pieces for fairs and municipal
displays, that were sold all over the country. And during the few months of
each year up to about the first of July they worked a day and a night shift
to meet the Fourth of July demand.
And Ralph Bonney had something against Clyde Andrews, president of the
Carmel City Bank, and did his banking in Neilsville. He drove over to
Neilsville late every Thursday night and they opened the bank there to give
him the cash for his night shift pay roll. Miles Harrison, as deputy
sheriff, always went along as guard.
Always seemed like a silly procedure to me, as the night side pay roll
didn't amount to more than a few thousand dollars and Bonney could have got
it along with the cash for his day side pay roll and held it at the office,
but that was his way of doing things.
I said, "Sure, Miles, but that's not for hours yet. And one drink isn't
going to hurt you."
He grinned. "I know it wouldn't, but I'd probably take another just
because the first one didn't hurt me. So I stick to the rule that I don't
have even one drink till I'm off duty for the day, and if I don't stick to
it I'm sunk. But thanks just the same, Doc. I'll take a rain check."
He had a point, but I wish he hadn't made it. I wish he'd let me buy
him that drink, or several of them, because that rain check wasn't worth the
imaginary paper it was printed on to a man who was going to be murdered
But I didn't know that, and I didn't insist. I said, "Sure, Miles," and
asked him about his kids.
"Fine, both of 'em. Drop out and see us sometime."
"Sure," I said, and I went into Smiley's.
Big, bald Smiley Wheeler was alone. He smiled as I came in and said,
"Hi, Doc. How's the editing business?" And then he laughed as though he'd
said something excruciatingly funny. Smiley hasn't the ghost of a sense of
humor and he has the mistaken idea that he disguises that fact by laughing
at almost everything he says or hears said.
"Smiley, you give me a pain," I told him. It's always safe to tell
Smiley a truth like that; no matter how seriously you say and mean it; he
thinks you're joking. If he'd laughed I'd have told him where he gave me a
pain, but for once he didn't laugh.
He said, "Glad you got here early, Doc. It's damn dull this evening."
"It's dull every evening in Carmel City," I told him. "And most of the
time I like it. But Lord, if only something would happen just once on a
Thursday evening, I'd love it. Just once in my long career, I'd like to have
one hot story to break to a panting public."
"Hell, Doc, nobody looks for hot news in a country weekly."
"I know," I said. "That's why I'd like to fool them just once. I've
been running the Clarion twenty-three years. One hot story. Is that much to
Smiley frowned. "There've been a couple of burglaries. And one murder,
a few years ago."
"Sure," I said, "and so what? One of the factory hands out at Bonney's
got in a drunken argument with another and hit him too hard in the fight
they got into. That's not murder; that's manslaughter, and anyway it
happened on a Saturday and it was old stuff - everybody in town knew about
it - by the next Friday when the Clarion came out."
"They buy your paper anyway, Doc. They look for their names for having
attended church socials and who's got a used washing machine for sale and -
want a drink?"
"It's about time one of us thought of that," I said.
He poured a shot for me and, so I wouldn't have to drink alone, a short
one for himself. We drank them and I asked him, "Think Carl will be in
I meant Carl Trenholm, the lawyer, who's about my closest friend in
Carmel City, and one of the three or four in town who play chess and can be
drawn into an intelligent discussions of something besides crops and
politics. Carl often dropped in Smiley's on Thursday evenings, knowing that
I always came in for at least a few drinks after putting the paper to bed.
"Don't think so," Smiley said. "Carl was in most of the afternoon and
got himself kind of a snootful, to celebrate. He got through in court early
and he won his case. Guess he went home to sleep it off."
I said, "Damn. Why couldn't he have waited till this evening? I'd have
helped him - Say, Smiley, did you say Carl was celebrating because he won
that case? Unless we're talking about two different things, he lost it. You
mean the Bonney divorce?"
"Then Carl was representing Ralph Bonney, and Bonney's wife won the
"You got it that way in the paper, Doc?"
"Sure," I said. "It's the nearest thing I've got to a good story this
Smiley shook his head. "Carl was saying to me he hoped you wouldn't put
it in, or anyway that you'd hold it down to a short squib, just the fact
that she got the divorce."
I said, "I don't get it, Smiley. Why? And didn't Carl lose the case?"
Smiley leaned forward confidentially across the bar, although he and I
were the only ones in his place. He said, "It's like this, Doc. Bonney
wanted the divorce. That wife of his was a bitch, see? Only he didn't have
any grounds to sue on, himself - not any that he'd have been willing to
bring up in court, anyway, see? So he - well, kind of bought his freedom.
Gave her a settlement if she'd do the suing, and he admitted to the grounds
she gave against him. Where'd you get your version of the story?"
"From the judge," I said.
"Well, he just saw the outside of it. Carl says Bonney's a good joe and
those cruelty charges were a bunch of hokum. He never laid a hand on her.
But the woman was such hell on wheels that Bonney'd have admitted to
anything to get free of her. And give her a settlement of a hundred grand on
top of it. Carl was worried about the case because the cruelty charges were
so damn silly on the face of them."
"Hell," I said, "that's not the way it's going to sound in the
"Carl was saying he knew you couldn't tell the truth about the story,
but he hoped you'd play it down. Just saying Mrs. B. had been granted a
divorce and that a settlement had been made, and not putting in anything
about the charges."
I thought of my one real story of the week, and how carefully I'd
enumerated all those charges Bonney's wife bad made against him, and I
groaned at the thought of having to rewrite or cut the story. And cut it I'd
have to, now that I knew the facts.
I said, "Damn Carl, why didn't he come and tell me about it before I
wrote the story and put the paper to bed?"
"He thought about doing that, Doc. And then he decided he didn't want
to use his friendship with you to influence the way you reported news."
"The damn fool," I said. "And all he had to do was walk across the
"But Carl did say that Bonney's a swell guy and it would be a bad break
for him if you listed those charges because none of them were really true
"Don't rub it in," I interrupted him. "I'll change the story. If Carl
says it's that way, I'll believe him. I can't say that the charges weren't
true, but at least I can leave them out."
"That'd be swell of you, Doc."
"Sure it would. All right, give me one more drink, Smiley, and I'll go
over and catch it before Pete leaves."
I had the one more drink, cussing myself for being sap enough to spoil
the only mentionable story I had, but knowing I had to do it. I didn't know
Bonney personally, except just to say hello to on the street, but I did know
Carl Trenholm well enough to be damn sure that if he said Bonney was in the
right, the story wasn't fair the way I'd written it. And I knew Smiley well
enough to be sure he hadn't given me a bum steer on what Carl had really
So I grumbled my way back across the street and upstairs to the Clarion
office. Pete was just tightening the chase around the front page.
He loosened the quoins when I told him what we had to do, and I walked
around the stone so I could read the story again, upside down, of course, as
type is always read.
The first paragraph could stand as written and could constitute the
entire story. I told Pete to put the rest of the type in the hell-box and I
went over to the case and set a short head in tenpoint, "Bonney Divorce
Granted," to replace the twenty-four point head that had been on the longer
story. I handed Pete the stick and watched while he switched heads.
"Leaves about a nine-inch hole in the page," he said. "What'll we stick
I sighed. "Have to use filler," I told him. "Not on the front page, but
we'll have to find something on page four we can move front and then stick
in nine inches of filler where it came from."
I wandered down the stone to page four and picked up a pica stick to
measure things. Pete went over to the rack and got a galley of filler. About
the only thing that was anywhere near the right size was the story that
Clyde Andrews, Carmel City's banker and leading light of the local Baptist
Church, had given me about the rummage sale the church had planned for next
It wasn't exactly a story of earth-shaking importance, but it would be
about the right length if we reset it indented to go in a box. And it had a
lot of names in it, and that meant it would please a lot of people, and
particularly Clyde Andrews, if I moved it up to the front page.
So we moved it. Rather, Pete reset it for a front page box item while I
plugged the gap in page four with filler items and locked up the page again.
Pete had the rummage sale item reset by the time I'd finished with page
four, and this time I waited for him to finish up page one, so we could go
to Smiley's together.
I thought about .that front page while I washed my hands. The Front
Page. Shades of Hecht and MacArthur. Poor revolving Horace Greeley.
Now I really wanted a drink.
Pete was starting to pound out a stone proof and I told him not to
bother. Maybe the customers would read page one, but I wasn't going to. And
if there was an upside-down headline or a pied paragraph, it would probably
be an improvement.
Pete washed up and we locked the door. It was still early for a
Thursday evening, not much after seven. I should have been happy about that,
and I probably would have been if we'd had a good paper. As for the one we'd
just put to bed, I wondered if it would live until morning.
Smiley had a couple of other customers and was waiting on them, and I
wasn't in any mood to wait for Smiley so I went around behind the bar and
got the Old Henderson bottle and two glasses and took them to a table for
Pete and myself. Smiley and I know one another well enough so it's always
all right for me to help myself, any time it's convenient and settle with
I poured drinks for Pete and me. We drank and Pete said, "Well, that's
that for another week, Doc."
I wondered how many times he'd said that in the ten years he'd worked
for me, and then I got to wondering how many times I'd thought it, which
"How much is fifty-two times twenty-three, Pete?" I asked him.
"Huh? A hell of a lot. Why?"
I figured it myself. "Fifty times twenty-three is - one thousand one
hundred and fifty; twice twenty-three more makes eleven ninety-six. Pete,
eleven hundred and ninety six times have I put that paper to bed on a
Thursday night and never once was there a really big hot news story in it."
"This isn't Chicago, Doe. What do you expect, a murder?"
"I'd love a murder," I told him.
It would have been funny if Pete had said, "Doc, how'd you like three
in one night?"
But he didn't, of course. In a way, though, he said something that was
even funnier. He said, "But suppose it was a friend of yours? Your best
friend, say. Carl Trenholm. Would you want him killed just to give the
Clarion a story?"
"Of course not," I said. "Preferably somebody I don't know at all - if
there is anybody in Carmel City I don't know at all. Let's make it Yehudi."
"Who's Yehudi?" Pete asked.
I looked at Pete to see if he was kidding me, and apparently he wasn't,
so I explained: "The little man who wasn't there. Don't you remember the
I saw a man upon the stair,
A little man who was not there.
He was not there again today;
Gee, I wish he'd go away."
Pete laughed. "Doc, you get crazier every day. Is that Alice in
Wonderland, too, like all the other stuff you quote when you get drinking?"
"This time, no. But who says I quote Lewis Carroll only when I'm
drinking? I can quote him now, and I've hardly started drinking for tonight
- why, as the Red Queen said to Alice, `One has to do this much drinking to
stay in the same place.' But listen and I'll quote you something that's
`Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe-"
Pete stood up. "Jabberwocky, from Alice Through the Looking-Glass," he
said. "If you've recited that to me once, Doc, it's been a hundred times. I
damn near know it myself. But I got to go, Doc. Thanks for the drink."
"Okay, Pete, but don't forget one thing."
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird and shun
Smiley was calling to me, "Hey, Doc!" from over beside
the telephone and I remembered now that I'd heard it ring half a minute
before. Smiley yelled, "Telephone for you, Doc," and laughed as though that
was the funniest thing that had happened in a long time.
I stood up and started for the phone, telling Pete good night en route.
I picked up the phone and said "Hello" to it and it said "Hello" back
at me. Then it said, "Doc?" and I said, "Yes."
Then it said, "Clyde Andrews speaking, Doc." His voice sounded quite
calm. "This is murder."
Pete must be almost to the door by now; that was my first thought. I
said, "Just a second, Clyde," and then jammed my hand over the mouthpiece
while I yelled, "Hey, Pete!"
He was at the door; but he turned.
"Don't go," I yelled at him, the length of the bar. "There's a murder
story breaking. We got to remake!"
I could feel the sudden silence in Smiley's Bar. The conversation
between the two other customers stopped in the middle of a word and they
turned to look at me. Pete, from the door, looked at me. Smiley, a bottle in
his hand, turned to look at me - and he didn't even smile. In fact, just as
I turned back to the phone, the bottle dropped out of his hand and hit the
floor with a noise that made me jump and close my mouth quickly to keep my
heart from jumping from it. That bottle crashing on the floor had sounded -
for a second - just like a revolver shot.
I waited until I felt that I could talk again without stammering and
then I took my hand off the mouthpiece of the phone and said calmly, or
almost calmly, "Okay, Clyde, go ahead."
"Who are you, aged man?" I said.
"And how is it you live?"
His answer trickled through my head,
Like water through a sieve.
"You've gone to press, haven't you, Doc?" Clyde's voice said. "You must
have because I tried phoning you at the office first and then somebody told
me if you weren't there, you'd be at Smiley's, but that'd mean you were
through for the-"
"That's all right," I said. "Get on with it."
"I know it's murder, Doc, to ask you to change a story when you've
already got the paper ready to run and have left the office, but - well,
that rummage sale we were going to have Tuesday; it's been called off. Can
you still kill the article? Otherwise a lot of people will read about it and
come around to the church Tuesday night and be disappointed."
"Sure, Clyde," I said. "I'll take care of it."
I hung up. I went over to the table and sat down. I poured myself a
drink of whisky and when Pete came over I poured him one.
He asked me what the call had been and I told him.
Smiley and his two other customers were still staring at me, but I
didn't say anything until Smiley called out, "What happened, Doc? Didn't you
say something about a murder?"
I said, "I was just kidding, Smiley." He laughed.
I drank my drink and Pete drank his: He said, "I knew there was a catch
about getting through early tonight. Now we got a nine-inch hole in the
front page all over again. What are we going to put in it?"
"Damned if I know," I told him. "But the hell with it for tonight. I'll
get down when you do in the morning and figure something out then."
Pete said, "That's what you say now, Doc. But if you don't get down at
eight o'clock, what'll I do with that hole in the page?"
"Your lack of faith horrifies me, Pete. If I say I'll be down in the
morning, I will be. Probably."
"But if you're not?"
I sighed. "Do anything you want." I knew Pete would fix it up somehow
if I didn't get down. He'd drag something from a back page and plug the back
page with filler items or a subscription ad. It was going to be lousy
because we had one sub ad in already and too damn much filler; you know,
those little items that tell you the number of board feet in a sequoia and
the current rate of mullet manufacture in the Euphrates valley. All right in
small doses, but when you run the stuff by the column-
Pete said he'd better go, and this time he did. I watched him go,
envying him a little. Pete Corey is a good printer and I pay him just about
what I make myself. We put in about the same number of hours, but I'm the
one who has to worry whenever there's any worrying to be done, which is most
of the time.
Smiley's other customers left, just after Pete, and I didn't want to
sit alone at the table, so I took my bottle over to the bar.
"Smiley," I said, "do you want to buy a paper?"
"Huh?" Then he laughed. "You're kidding me, Doc. It isn't off the press
till tomorrow noon, is it?"
"It isn't," I told him. "But it'll be well worth waiting for this week.
Watch for it, Smiley. But that isn't what I meant."
"Huh? Oh, you mean do I want to buy the paper. I don't think so, Doc. I
don't think I'd be very good at running a paper. I can't spell very good,
for one thing. But look, you were telling me the other night Clyde Andrews
wanted to buy it from you. Whyn't you sell it to him, if you want to sell
"Who the devil said I wanted to sell it?" I asked him. "I just asked if
you wanted to buy it."
Smiley looked baffled.
"Doc," he said, "I never know whether you're serious or not. Seriously,
do you really want to sell out?"
I'd been wondering that. I said slowly, "I don't know, Smiley. Right
now, I'd be damn tempted. I think I hate to quit mostly because before I do
I'd like to get out one good issue. Just one good issue out of twenty-three
"If you sold it, what'd you do?"
"I guess, Smiley, I'd spend the rest of my life not editing a
Smiley decided I was being funny again, and laughed.
The door opened and Al Grainger came in. I waved the bottle at him and
he came down the bar to where I was standing, and Smiley got another glass
and a chaser of water; Al always needs a chaser.
Al Grainger is just a young squirt - twenty-two or -three - but he's
one of the few chess players in town and one of the even fewer people who
understand my enthusiasm for Lewis Carroll. Besides that, he's by way of
being a Mystery Man in Carmel City. Not that you have to be very mysterious
to achieve that distinction.
He said, "Hi, Doc. When are we going to have another game of chess?"
"No time like the present, Al. Here and now?"
Smiley kept chessmen on hand for screwy customers like Al Grainger and
Carl Trenholm and myself. He'd bring them out, always handling them as
though he expected them to explode in his hands, whenever we asked for them.
Al shook his head. "Wish I had time. Got to go home and do some work."
I poured whisky in his glass and spilled a little trying to fill it to
the brim. He shook his head slowly. "The White Knight is sliding down the
poker," he said. "He balances very badly."
"I'm only in the second square," I told him. "But the next move will be
a good one. I go to the fourth by train, remember."
"Don't keep it waiting, Doc. The smoke alone is worth a thousand pounds
Smiley was looking from me of us to the other. "What the hell are you
guys talking about?" he wanted to know.
There wasn't any use trying to explain. I leveled my finger at him. I
said, "Crawling at your feet you may observe a bread-and-butter fly. Its
wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body a crust and its head is
a lump of sugar. And it lives on weak tea with cream in it."
Al said, "Smiley, you're supposed to ask him what happens if it can't
I said, "Then I say it would die of course and you say that must happen
very often and I say it always happens."
Smiley looked at us again and shook his head slowly. He said, "You guys
are really nuts." He walked down the bar to wash and wipe some glasses.
Al Grainger grinned at me. "What are your plans for tonight, Doc?" he
asked. "I just might possibly be able to sneak in a game or two of chess
later. You going to be home, and up?"
I nodded. "I was just working myself up to the idea of walking home,
and when I get there I'm going to read. And have another drink or two. If
you get there before midnight I'll still be sober enough to play. Sober
enough to beat a young punk like you, anyway."
It was all right to say that last part because it was so obviously
untrue. Al had been beating me two games out of three for the last year or
He chuckled, and quoted at me:
" `You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
`And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head-
Do you think, at your age, it is right?' "
Well, since Carroll had the answer to that, so did I:
" `In my youth,' Father William replied to his son,
`I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.' "
Al said, "Maybe you got something there, Doc. But let's quit
alternating verses on that before you get to `Be off, or - I'll kick you
down-stairs!' Because I got to be off anyway."
"One more drink?"
"I - think not, not till I'm through working. You can drink and think
too. Hope I can do the same thing when I'm your age. I'll try my best to get
to your place for some chess, but don't look for me unless I'm there by ten
o'clock - half past at the latest. And thanks for the drink."
He went out and, through Smiley's window, I could see him getting into
his shiny convertible. He blew the Klaxon and waved back at me as he pulled
out from the curb.
I looked at myself in the mirror back of Smiley's bar and wondered how
old Al Grainger thought I was. "Hope I can do the same thing when I'm your
age," indeed. Sounded as though he thought I was eighty, at least. I'll be
fifty-three my next birthday.
But I had to admit that I looked that old, and that my hair was turning
white. I watched myself in the mirror and that whiteness scared me just a
little. No, I wasn't old yet, but I was getting that way. And, much as I
crab about it, I like living. I don't want to get old and I don't want to
die. Especially as I can't look forward, as a good many of my fellow
townsmen do, to an eternity of harp playing and picking bird-lice out of my
wings. Nor, for that matter, an eternity of shoveling coal, although that
would probably be the more likely of the two in my case.
Smiley came back. He jerked his finger at the door. "I don't like that
guy, Doc," he said.
"Al? He's all right. A little wet behind the ears, maybe. You're just
prejudiced because you don't know where his money comes from. Maybe he's got
a printing press and makes it himself. Come to think of it, I've got a
printing press. Maybe I should try that myself."
"Hell, it ain't that, Doc. It's not my business how a guy earns his
money - or where he gets it if he don't earn it. It's the way he talks. You
talk crazy, too, but - well, you do it in a nice way. When he says something
to me I don't understand he says it in a way that makes me feel like a
stupid bastard. Maybe I am one, but-"
I felt suddenly ashamed of all the things I'd ever said to Smiley that
I knew he wouldn't understand.
I said, "It's not a matter of intelligence, Smiley. It's merely a
matter of literary background. Have one drink with me, and then I'd better
I poured him a drink and - this time - a small one for myself. I was
beginning to feel the effects, and I didn't want to get too drunk to give Al
Grainger a good game of chess if he dropped in.
I said, for no reason at all, "You're a good guy, Smiley," and he
laughed and said, "So are you, Doc. Literary background or not, you're a
little crazy, but you're a good guy."
And then, because we were both embarrassed at having caught ourselves
saying things like that, I found myself staring past Smiley at the calendar
over the bar. It had the usual kind of picture one sees on barroom calendars
- an almost too voluptuous naked woman - and it was imprinted by Beal
It was just a bit of bother to keep my eyes focused on it, I noticed,
although I hadn't had enough to drink to affect my mind at all. Right then,
for instance, I was thinking of two things at one and the same time. Part of
my brain, to my disgust, persisted in wondering if I could get Beal Brothers
to start running a quarter page ad instead of an eighth page; I tried to
squelch the thought by telling myself that I didn't care, tonight, whether
anybody advertised in the Clarion at all, and that part of my brain went on
to ask me why, damn it, if I felt that way about it, I didn't get out from
under while I had the chance by selling the Clarion to Clyde Andrews. But
the other part of my mind kept getting more and more annoyed by the picture
on the calendar, and I said, "Smiley, you ought to take down that calendar.
It's a lie. There aren't any women like that."
He turned around and looked at it. "Guess you're right, Doc; there
aren't any women like that. But a guy can dream, can't he?"
"Smiley," I said, "if that's not the first profound thing you've said,
it's the most profound. You are right, moreover. You have my full permission
to leave the calendar up."
He laughed and moved along the bar to finish wiping glasses, and I
stood there and wondered why I didn't go on home. It was still early, a few
minutes before eight o'clock. I didn't want another drink, yet. But by the
time I got home, I would want one.
So I got out my wallet and called Smiley back. We estimated how many
drinks I'd poured out of the bottle and I settled for them, and then I
bought another bottle, a full quart, and he wrapped it for me.
I went out with it under my arm and said "So long, Smiley," and he said
"So long, Doc," just as casually as though, before the gibbering night that
hadn't started yet was over, he and I would not - but let's take things as
The walk home.
I had to go past the post office anyway, so I stopped in. The mail
windows were closed, of course, but the outer lobby is always left open
evenings so those who have post office boxes can get mail out of them.
I got my mail - there wasn't anything important in it - and then
stopped, as I usually do, by the bulletin board to look over the notices and
the wanted circulars that were posted there.
There were a couple of new ones and I read them and studied the
pictures. I've got a good memory for faces, even ones I've just seen
pictures of, and I'd always hoped that some day I'd spot a wanted criminal
in Carmel City and get a story out of it, if not a reward.
A few doors farther on I passed the bank and that reminded me about its
president, Clyde Andrews, and his wanting to buy the paper from me. He
didn't want to run it himself, of course; he had a brother somewhere in Ohio
who'd had newspaper experience and who would run the paper for Andrews if I
sold it to him.
The thing I liked least about the idea, I decided, was that Andrews was
in politics and, if he controlled the Clarion, the Clarion would back his
party. The way I ran it, it threw mud at both factions when they deserved
it, which was often, and handed either one an occasional bouquet when
deserved, which was seldom. Maybe I'm crazy - other people than Smiley and
Al have said so - but that's the way I think a newspaper should be run, and
especially when it's the only paper in a town.
It's not, I might mention, the best way to make money. It had made me
plenty of friends and subscribers, but a newspaper doesn't make money from
its subscribers. It makes money from advertisers and most of the men in town
big enough to be advertisers had fingers in politics and no matter which
party I slammed I was likely to lose another advertising account.
I'm afraid that policy didn't help my news coverage, either. The best
source of news is the sheriff's department - and, at the moment, Sheriff
Rance Kates was just about my worst enemy. Kates is honest, but he is also
stupid, rude and full of race prejudice; and race prejudice, although it's
not a burning issue in Carmel City, is one of my pet peeves. I hadn't pulled
any punches in my editorials about Kates, either before or after his
election. He got into office only because his opponent - who wasn't any
intellectual heavyweight either - had got into a tavern brawl in Neilsville
a week before election and was arrested there and charged with assault and
battery. The Clarion had reported that, too, so the Clarion was probably
responsible for Rance Kates' being elected sheriff. But Rance remembered
only the things I'd said about him, and barely spoke to me on the street.
Which, I might add, didn't concern me the slightest bit personally, but it
forced me to get all of my police news, such as it is, the hard way.
Past the supermarket and Beal Brothers and past Deak's Music Store -
where I'd once bought a violin but had forgotten to get a set of
instructions with it - and the corner and across the street.
The walk home.
Maybe I weaved just a little, for at just that stage I'm never quite as
sober as I am later on. But my mind - ah, it was in that delightful state of
being crystal clear in the center and fuzzy around the edges, the state that
every moderate drinker knows but can't explain or define, the state that
makes even a Carmel City seem delightful and such things as its squalid
Past the comer drugstore - Pop Hinkle's place - where I used to drink
sodas when I was a kid, before I went away to college and made the big
mistake of studying journalism. Past Gorham's Feed Store, where I'd worked
vacations while I was in high school. Past the Bijou Theater. Past Hank
Greeber's Undertaking Parlors, through which both of my parents had passed,
fifteen and twenty years ago.
Around the corner at the courthouse, where a light was still on in
Sheriff Kates' office - and I felt so cheerful that, for a thousand dollars
or so, I'd have stopped in to talk to him. But no one was around to offer me
a thousand dollars.
Out of the store district now, past the house in which Elsie Minton had
lived - and in which she had died while we were engaged, twenty-five years
Past the house Elmer Conklin had lived in when I'd bought the Clarion
from him. Past the church where I'd been sent to Sunday School when I was a
kid, and where I'd once won a prize for memorizing verses of the Bible.
Past my past, and walking, slightly weaving, toward the house in which
I'd been conceived and born.
No, I hadn't lived there fifty-three years. My parents had sold it and
had moved to a bigger house when I was nine and when my sister - now married
and living in Florida - had been born. I'd bought it back twelve years ago
when it happened to be vacant and on the market at a good price. It's only a
three-room cottage, not too big for a man to live in alone, if he likes to
live alone, and I do.
Oh, I like people, too. I like someone to drop in for conversation or
chess or a drink or all three. I like to spend an hour or two in Smiley's,
or any other tavern, a few times a week. I like an occasional poker game.
But I'll settle, on any given evening, for my books. Two walls of my
living room are lined with them and they overflow into bookcases in my
bedroom and I even have a shelf of them in the bathroom. What do I mean,
even? I think a bathroom without a bookshelf is as incomplete as would be
one without a toilet.
And they're good books, too. No, I wouldn't be lonely tonight, even if
Al Grainger didn't come around for that game of chess. How could I be
lonesome with a bottle in my pocket and good company waiting for me? Why,
reading a book is almost as good as listening to the man who wrote it
talking to you. Better, in one way, because you don't have to be polite to
him. You can shut him up any moment you feel so inclined and pick someone
else instead. And you can take off your shoes and put your feet on the
table. You can drink and read until you forget everything but what you're
reading; you can forget who you are and the fact that there's a newspaper
that hangs around your neck like a millstone, all day and every day, until
you get home to sanctuary and forgetfulness.
The walk home.
And so to the corner of Campbell Street and my turning.
A June evening, but cool, and the night air had almost completely
sobered me in the nine blocks I'd walked from Smiley's.
My turning, and I saw that the light was on in the front room of my
house. I started walking a little faster, mildly puzzled. I knew I hadn't
left it on when I'd left for the office that morning. And if I had left it
on, Mrs. Carr, the cleaning woman who comes in for about two hours every
afternoon to keep my place in order, would have turned it off.
Maybe, I thought, Al Grainger had finished whatever he was doing and
had come early and had - but no, Al wouldn't have come without his car and
there wasn't any car parked in front.
It might have been a mystery, but it wasn't.
Mrs. Carr was there, putting on her hat in front of the panel mirror in
the closet door as I went in.
She said, "I'm just leaving, Mr. Stoeger. I wasn't able to get here
this afternoon, so I came to clean up this evening instead; I just
"Fine," I said. "By the way, there's a blizzard out."
"A - what?"
"Blizzard. Snowstorm." I held up the wrapped bottle. "So maybe you'd
better have a little nip with me before you start home, don't you think?"
She laughed. "Thanks, Mr. Stoeger. I will. I've had a pretty rough day,
and it sounds like a good idea. I'll get glasses for us."
I put my hat in the closet and followed her out into the kitchen.
"A rough day?" I asked her. "I hope nothing went wrong."
"Well - nothing too serious. My husband - he works, you know, out at
Bonney's fireworks factory - got burned in a little accident they had out
there this afternoon, and they brought him home. It's nothing serious, a
second degree burn the doctor said, but it was pretty painful and I thought
I'd better stay with him until after supper, and then he finally got to
sleep so I ran over here and I'm afraid I straightened up your place pretty
fast and didn't do a very good job."
"Looks spotless to me," I said. I'd been opening the bottle while she'd
been getting glasses for us. "I hope he'll be all right, Mrs. Carr. But if
you want to skip coming here for a while-"
"Oh, no, I can still come. He'll be home only a few days, and it was
just that today they brought him home at two o'clock, just when I was
getting ready to come here and - That's plenty, thanks."
We touched glasses and I downed mine while she drank about half of
hers. She said, "Oh, there was a phone call for you, about an hour ago. A
little while after I got here."
"Find out who it was?"
"He wouldn't tell me, just said it wasn't important."
I shook my head sadly. "That, Mrs. Carr, is one of the major fallacies
of the human mind. The idea, I mean, that things can be arbitrarily divided
into the important and the unimportant. How can anyone decide whether a
given fact is important or not unless one knows everything about it; and no
one knows everything about anything."
She smiled, but a bit vaguely, and I decided to bring it down to earth.
I said, "What would you say is important, Mrs. Carr?"
She put her head on one side and considered it seriously. "Well, work
is important, isn't it?"
"It is not," I told her. "I'm afraid you score zero. Work is only a
means to an end. We work in order to enable ourselves to do the important
things, which are the things we want to do. Doing what we want to do -
that's what's important, if anything is."
"That sounds like a funny way of putting it, but maybe you're right.
Well, anyway, this man who called said he'd either call again or come
around. I told him you probably wouldn't be home until eight or nine
She finished her drink and declined an encore. I walked to the front
door with her, saying that I'd have been glad to drive her home but that my
car had two flat tires. I'd discovered them that morning when I'd started to
drive to work. One I might have stopped to fix, but two discouraged me; I
decided to leave the car in the garage until Saturday afternoon, when I'd
have lots of time. And then, too, I know that I should get the exercise of
walking to and from work every day, but as long as my car is in running
condition, I don't. For Mrs. Carr's sake, though, I wished now that I'd
fixed the tires.
She said, "It's only a few blocks, Mr. Stoeger. I wouldn't think of
letting you, even if your car was working. Good night."
"Oh, just a minute, Mrs. Carr. What department at Bonney's does your
husband work in?"
"The Roman candle department."
It made me forget, for the moment, what I'd been leading up to. I said,
"The Roman candle department! That's a wonderful phrase; I love it. If I
sell the paper, darned if I don't look up Bonney the very next day. I'd love
to work in the Roman candle department. Your husband is a lucky man."
"You're joking, Mr. Stoeger. But are you really thinking of selling the
"Well - thinking of it." And that reminded me. "I didn't get any story
on the accident at Bonney's, didn't even hear about it. And I'm badly in
need of a story for the front page. Do you know the details of what
happened? Anyone else hurt?"
She'd been part way across the front porch, but she turned and came
back nearer the door. She said, "Oh, please don't put it in the paper. It
wasn't anything important; my husband was the only one hurt and it was his
own fault, he says. And Mr. Bonney wouldn't like it being in the paper; he
has enough trouble now getting as many people as he needs for the rush
season before the Fourth, and so many people are afraid to work around
powder and explosives anyway. George will probably be fired if it gets
written up in the paper and he needs the work."
I sighed; it had been an idea while it lasted. I assured her that I
wouldn't print anything about it. And if George Carr had been the only one
hurt and I didn't have any details, it wouldn't have made over a one-inch
I would have loved, though, to get that beautiful phrase, "the Roman
candle department," into print.
I went back inside and closed the door. I made myself comfortable by
taking off my suit coat and loosening my tie, and then I got the whisky
bottle and my glass and put them on the coffee table in front of the sofa.
I didn't take the tie off yet, nor my shoes; it's nicer to do those
things one at a time as you gradually get more and more comfortable.
I picked out a few books and put them within easy reach,. poured myself
a drink, sat down, and opened one of the books.
The doorbell rang.
Al Grainger had come early, I thought. I went to the door and opened
it. There was a man standing there, just lifting his hand to ring again. But
it wasn't Al; it was a man I'd never seen before.
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!
He was short, about my own height, perhaps, but seeming even shorter
because of his greater girth. The first thing you noticed about his face was
his nose; it was long, thin, pointed, grotesquely at variance with his pudgy
body. The light coming past me through the doorway reflected glowing points
in his eyes, giving them a catlike gleam. Yet there was nothing sinister
about him. A short pudgy man can never manage to seem sinister, no matter
how the light strikes his eyes.
"You are Doctor Stoeger?" he asked.
"Doc Stoeger," I corrected him. "But not a doctor of medicine. If
you're looking for a medical doctor, one lives four doors west of here."
He smiled, a nice smile. "I am aware that you are not a medico, Doctor.
Ph. D., Burgoyne College - nineteen twenty-two, I believe. Author of Lewis
Carroll Through the Looking-Glass and Red Queen and White Queen."
It startled me. Not so much that he knew my college and the year of my
magna cum laude, but the rest of it was amazing. Lewis Carroll Through the
Looking-Glass was a monograph of a dozen. pages; it had been printed
eighteen years ago and only a hundred copies had been run off. If one still
existed anywhere outside of my own library, I was greatly surprised. And Red
Queen and White Queen was a magazine article that had appeared at least
twelve years ago in a magazine that had been obscure then and had long since
been discontinued and forgotten.
"Yes," I said. "But how you know of them, I can't imagine, Mr.-"
"Smith," he said gravely. Then he chuckled. "And the first name is
"No!" I said.
"Yes. You see, Doctor Stoeger, I was named forty years ago, when the
name Yehudi, although uncommon, had not yet acquired the comic connotation
which it has today. My parents did not guess that the name would become a
joke - and that it would be particularly ridiculous when combined with
Smith. Had they guessed the difficulty I now have in convincing people that
I'm not kidding them when I tell them my name-" He laughed ruefully. "I
always carry cards."
He handed me one. It read:
There was no address, no other information. Just the same, I wanted to
keep that card, so I stuck it in my pocket instead of handing it back.
He said, "People are named Yehudi, you know. There's Yehudi Menuhin,
the violinist. And there's-"
"Stop, please," I interrupted. "You're making it plausible. I liked it
better the other way."
He smiled. "Then I haven't misjudged you, Doctor. Have you ever heard
of the Vorpal Blades?"
"Plural? No. Of course, in Jabberwocky:
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
But - Good God! Why are we talking about vorpal blades through a
doorway? Come on in. I've got a bottle, and I hope and presume that it would
be ridiculous to ask a man who talks about vorpal blades whether or not he
I stepped back and he came in. "Sit anywhere," I told him. "I'll get
another glass. Want either a mix or a chaser?"
He shook his head, and I went out into the kitchen and got another
glass. I came in, filled it and handed it to him. He'd already made himself
comfortable in the overstuffed chair.
I sat back down on the sofa and lifted my glass toward him. I said, "No
doubt about a toast for this one. To Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known, when
in Wonderland, as Lewis Carroll."
He said, quietly, "Are you sure, Doctor?"
"Sure of what?"
"Of your phraseology in that toast. I'd word it: To Lewis Carroll, who
masqueraded under the alleged identity of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the
gentle don of Oxford."
I felt vaguely disappointed. Was this going to be another, and even
more ridiculous, Bacon-was-Shakespeare deal? Historically, there couldn't be
any possible doubt that the Reverend Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis
Carroll, had created Alice in Wonderland and its sequel.
But the main point, for the moment, was, to get the drink drunk. So I
said solemnly, "To avoid all difficulties, factual or semantic, Mr. Smith,
let's drink to the author of the Alice books."
He inclined his head with solemnity equal to my own, then tilted it
back and downed his drink. I was a little late in downing mine because of my
surprise at, and admiration for, his manner of drinking. I'd never seen
anything quite like it. The glass had stopped, quite suddenly, a good three
inches from his mouth. And the whisky had kept on going and not a drop of it
had been lost. I've seen people toss down a shot before, but never with such
casual precision and from so great a distance.
I drank my own in a more prosaic manner, but I resolved. to try his
system sometime - in private and with a towel or handkerchief ready at hand.
I refilled our glasses and then said, "And now what? Do we argue the
identity of Lewis Carroll?"
"Let's start back of that," he said. "In fact, let's put it aside until
I can offer you definite proof of what we believe - rather, of what we are
"The Vorpal Blades. An organization. A very small organization, I
"Of admirers of Lewis Carroll?"
He leaned forward. "Yes, of course. Any man who is both literate and
imaginative is an admirer of Lewis Carroll. But - much more than that. We
have a secret. A quite esoteric one."
"Concerning the identity of Lewis Carroll? You mean that you believe -
the way some people believe, or used to believe, that the plays of
Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon - that someone other than Charles
Lutwidge Dodgson wrote the Alice books?"
I hoped he'd say no.
He said, "No. We believe that Dodgson himself - How much do you know of
"He was born in eighteen thirty-two," I said, "and died just before the
turn of the century - in either ninety-eight or nine. He was an Oxford don,
a mathematician. He wrote several treatises on mathematics. He liked - and
created - acrostics and other puzzles and problems. He never married but he
was very fond of children, and his best writing was done for them. At least
he thought he was writing only for children; actually, Alice in Wonderland
and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, while having plenty of appeal for
children, are adult literature, and great literature. Shall I go on?"
"By all means."
"He was also capable of - and perpetrated - some almost incredibly bad
writing. There ought to be a law against the printing of volumes of The
Complete Works of Lewis Carroll. He should be remembered for the great
things he wrote, and the bad ones interred with his bones. Although I'll
admit that even the bad things have occasional touches of brilliance. There
are moments in Sylvie and Bruno that are almost worth reading through the
thousands of dull words to reach. And there are occasional good lines or
stanzas in even the worst poems. Take the first three lines of The Palace of
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And each damp thing that creeps and crawls
Went wobble-wobble on the walls.
"Of course he should have stopped there instead of adding fifteen or
twenty bad triads. But `Went wobble-wobble on the walls' is marvelous."
He nodded. "Let's drink to it."
We drank to it.
He said, "Go on."
"No," I said. "I'm just realizing that I could easily go on for hours.
I can quote every line of verse in the Alice books and most of The Hunting
of the Snark. But, I both hope and presume, you didn't come here to listen
to me lecture on Lewis Carroll. My information about him is fairly thorough,
but quite orthodox. I judge that yours isn't, and I want to hear it."
I refilled our glasses.
He nodded slowly: "Quite right, Doctor. My - I should say our -
information is extremely unorthodox. I think you have the background and the
type of mind to understand it, and to believe it when you have seen proof.
To a more ordinary mind, it would seem sheer fantasy."
It was getting better by the minute. I said, "Don't stop now."
"Very well. But before I go any farther, I must warn you, of something,
Doctor. It is also very dangerous information to have. I do not speak
lightly or metaphorically. I mean that there is serious danger, deadly
"That," I said, "is wonderful."
He sat there and toyed with his glass - still with the third drink in
it - and didn't look at me. I studied his face. It was an interesting face.
That long, thin, pointed nose, so incongruous to his build that it might
have been false - a veritable Cyrano de Bergerac of a nose. And now that he
was in the light, I could see that there were deep laughter-lines around his
generous mouth. At first I would have guessed his age at thirty instead of
the forty he claimed to be; now, studying his face closely, I could see that
he had not exaggerated his age. One would have to laugh a long time to etch
lines like those.
But he wasn't laughing now. He looked deadly serious, and he didn't
look crazy. But he said something that sounded crazy.
He said, "Doctor, has it ever occurred to you that - that the fantasies
of Lewis Carroll are not fantasies at all?"
"Do you mean," I asked, "in the sense that fantasy is often nearer to
fundamental truth than is would-be realistic fiction?"
"No. I mean that they are literally, actually true. That they are not
fiction at all, that they are reporting."
I stared at him. "If you think that, then who - or what - do you think
Lewis Carroll was?"
He smiled faintly, but it wasn't a smile of amusement.
He said, "If you really want to know, and aren't afraid, you can find
out tonight. There is a meeting, near here. Will you come?"
"May I be frank?"
I said, "I think it's crazy, but try to keep me away."
"In spite of the fact that there is danger?"
Sure, I was going, danger or no. But maybe I could use his insistence
on warning me to pry something more out of him. So I said, "May I ask what
kind of danger?"
He seemed to hesitate a moment and then he took out his wallet and from
an inner compartment took a newspaper clipping, a short one of about three
paragraphs. He handed it to me.
I read it, and I recognized the type and the setup; it was a clipping
from the Bridgeport Argus. And I remembered now having read it, a couple of
weeks ago. I'd considered clipping it as an exchange item, and then had
decided not to, despite the fact that the heading had caught my interest. It
MAN SLAIN BY UNKNOWN BEAST
The facts were few and simple. A man named Colin Hawks, living outside
Bridgeport, a recluse, had been found dead along a path through the woods.
The man's throat had been torn, and police opinion was that a large and
vicious dog had attacked him. But the reporter who wrote the article
suggested the possibility that a wolf - or even a panther or a leopard -
escaped from a circus or zoo might have caused the wounds.
I folded the clipping again and handed it back to Smith. It didn't mean
anything, of course. It's easy to find stories like that if one looks for
them. A man named Charles Fort found thousands of them and put them into
four books he had written, books which were on my shelves.
This particular one was less mysterious than most. In fact, there
wasn't any real mystery at all; undoubtedly some vicious dog had done the
Just the same something prickled at the back of my neck.
It was the headline, really, not the article. It's funny what the word
"unknown" and the thought back of it can do to you. If that story had been
headed "Man Killed by Vicious Dog" - or by a lion or a crocodile or any
other specified creature, however fierce and dangerous, there'd have been
nothing frightening about it.
But an "unknown beast" - well, if you've got the same kind of
imagination I have, you see what I mean. And if you haven't, I can't
I looked at Yehudi Smith, just in time to see him toss down his whisky
- again like a conjuring trick. I handed him back the clipping and then
refilled our glasses.
I said, "Interesting story. But where's the connection?"
"Our last meeting was in Bridgeport. That's all I can tell you. About
that, I mean. You asked the nature of the danger; that's why I showed you
that. And it's not too late for you to say no. It won't be, for that matter,
until we get there."
"Only a few miles from here. I have directions to guide me to a house
on a road called the Dartown Pike. I have a car."
I said, irrelevantly, "So have I, but the tires are flat. Two of them."
I thought about the Dartown Pike. I said, "You wouldn't, by any chance,
be heading for the house known as the Wentworth place?"
"That's the name, yes. You know of it?"
Right then and there, if I'd been completely sober, I'd have seen that
the whole thing was too good to be true. I'd have smelled fish. Or blood.
I said, "We'll have to take candles or flashlights. That house has been
empty since I was a kid. We used to call it a haunted house. Would that be
why you chose it?"
"Yes, of course."
"And your group is meeting there tonight?"
He nodded. "At one o-clock in the morning, to be exact. You're sure
you're not afraid?"
God, yes, I was afraid. Who wouldn't be, after the build-up he'd just
So I grinned at him and said, "Sure, I'm afraid. But just try to keep
Then I had an idea. If I was going to a haunted house at one o'clock in
the morning to hunt Jabberwocks or try to invoke the ghost of Lewis Carroll
or some equally sensible thing, it wouldn't hurt to have someone along whom
I already knew. And if Al Grainger dropped in - I tried to figure out
whether or not Al would be interested. He was a Carroll fan, all right, but
- for the rest of it, I didn't know.
I said, "One question, Mr. Smith. A young friend of mine might drop in
soon for a game of chess. How exclusive is this deal? I mean, would it be
all right if he came along, if he wants to?"
"Do you think he's qualified?"
"Depends on what the qualifications are," I said, "Offhand, I'd say you
have to be a Lewis Carroll fan and a little crazy. Or, come to think of it,
are those one and the same qualification?"
He laughed. "They're not too far apart. But tell me something about
your friend. You said young friend; how young?"
"About twenty-three. Not long out of college. Good literary taste and
background, which means he knows and likes Carroll. He can quote almost as
much of it as I can. Plays chess, if that's a qualification - and I'd guess
it is. Dodgson not only played chess but based Through the Looking-Glass on
a chess game. His name, if that matters, is Al Grainger."
"Would he want to come?"
"Frankly," I admitted, "I haven't an idea on that angle."
Smith said, "I hope he comes; if he's a Carroll enthusiast, I'd like to
meet him. But, if he comes, will you do me the favor of saying nothing about
- what I've told you, at least until I've had a chance to judge him a bit?
Frankly, it would be almost unprecedented if I took the liberty of inviting
someone to an important meeting like tonight's on my own. You're being
invited because we know quite a bit about you. You were voted on - and I
might say that the vote to invite you was unanimous."
I remembered his familiarity with the two obscure things about Lewis
Carroll that I'd written, and I didn't doubt that he - or they, if he really
represented a group - did know something about me.
He said, "But - well, if I get a chance to meet him and think he'd
really fit in, I might take a chance and ask him. Can you tell me anything
more about him? What does he do - for a living, I mean?"
That was harder to answer. I said, "Well, he's writing plays. But I
don't think he makes a living at it; in fact, I don't know that he's ever
sold any. He's a bit of a mystery to Carmel City. He's lived here all his
life - except while he was away at college - and nobody knows where his
money comes from. Has a swanky car and a place of his own - he lived there
with his mother until she died a few years ago - and seems to have plenty of
spending money, but nobody knows where it comes from." I grinned. "And it
annoys the hell out of Carmel City not to know. You know how small towns
He nodded. "Wouldn't it be a logical assumption that he inherited the
"From one point of view, yes. But it doesn't seem too likely. His
mother worked all her life as a milliner, and without owning her own shop.
The town, I remember, used to wonder how she managed to own her own house
and send her son to college on what she earned. But she couldn't possibly
have earned enough to have done both of those things and still have left him
enough money to have supported him in idleness - Well, maybe, writing plays
isn't idleness, but it isn't remunerative unless you sell them - for several
I shrugged. "But there's probably no mystery to it. She must have had
an income from investments her husband had made, and Al either inherited the
income or got the capital from which it came. He probably doesn't talk about
his business because he enjoys being mysterious."
"Was his father wealthy?"
"His father died before he was born, and before Mrs. Grainger moved to
Carmel City. So nobody here knew his father. And I guess that's all I can
tell you about Al, except that he can beat me at chess most of the time, and
that I hope you'll have a chance to meet him."
Smith nodded. "If he comes, we'll see."
He glanced at his empty glass and I took the hint and filled it and my
own. Again I watched the incredible manner of his drinking it, fascinated.
I'd swear that, this time the glass came no closer than six inches from his
lips. Definitely it was a trick I'd have to learn myself. If for no other
reason than that I don't really like the taste of whisky, much as I enjoy
the effects of it. With his way of drinking, it didn't seem that he had the
slightest chance of tasting the stuff. It was there, in the glass, and then
it was gone. His Adam's apple didn't seem to work and if he was talking at
the time he drank there was scarcely an interruption in what he was saying.
The phone rang. I excused myself and answered it.
"Doc," said Clyde Andrews' voice, "this is Clyde Andrews."
"Fine," I said, "I suppose you realize that you sabotaged my this
week's issue by canceling a story on my front page. What's called off this
"I'm sorry about that, Doc, if it really inconvenienced you, but with
the sale called off, I thought you wouldn't want to run the story and have
people coming around to-"
"Of course," I interrupted him. I was impatient to get back to my
conversation with Yehudi Smith. "That's all right, Clyde. But what do you
"I want to know if you've decided whether or not you want to sell the
For a second I was unreasonably angry. I said, "God damn it, Clyde, you
interrupt the only really interesting conversation I've had in years to ask
me that, when we've been talking about it for months, off and on? I don't
know. I do and I don't want to sell it."
"Sorry for heckling you, Doc, but I just got a special delivery letter
from my brother in Ohio. He's got an offer out West. Says he'd rather come
to Carmel City on the proposition I'd made him - contingent on your deciding
to sell me the Clarion, of course. But he's got to accept the other offer
right away - within a day or so, that is - if he's going to accept it at
"So, you see that makes it different, Doc. I've got to know right away.
Not tonight, necessarily; it isn't in that much of a rush. But I've got to
know by tomorrow sometime, so I thought I'd call you right away so you could
start coming to a decision."
I nodded and then realized that he couldn't see me nod so I said,
"Sure, Clyde, I get it. I'm sorry for popping off. All right, I'll make up
my mind by tomorrow morning. I'll let you know one way or the other by then.
"Fine," he said. "That'll be plenty of time. Oh, by the way, there's an
item of news for you if it's not too late to put it in. Or have you already
"About the escaped maniac. I don't know the details, but a friend of
mine just drove over from Neilsville and he says they're stopping cars and
watching the roads both sides of the county asylum. Guess you can get the
details if you call the asylum."
"Thanks, Clyde," I said.
I put the phone back down in its cradle and looked at Yehudi Smith. I
wondered why, with all the fantastic things he'd said, I hadn't already
"But wait a bit," the Oyster cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
I felt a hell of a letdown. Oh, not that I'd really quite believed in
the Vorpal Blades or that we were going to a haunted house to conjure up a
Jabberwock or whatever we'd have done there.
But it had been exciting even to think about it, just as one can get
excited over a chess game even though he knows that the kings and queens on
the board aren't real entities and that when a bishop slays a knight no real
blood is shed. I guess it had been that kind of excitement, the vicarious
kind, that I'd felt about the things Yehudi Smith had promised. Or maybe a
better comparison would be that it had been like reading an exciting fiction
story that one knows isn't true but which one can believe in for as long as
the story lasts.
Now there wasn't even that. Across from me, I realized with keen
disappointment, was only a man who'd escaped from an insane asylum. Yehudi,
the little man who wasn't there - mentally.
The funny part of it was that I still liked him. He was a nice little
guy and he'd given me a fascinating half hour, up to now. I hated the fact
that I'd have to turn him over to the asylum guards and have him put back
where he came from.
Well, I thought, at least it would give me a news story to fill that
nine inch hole in the front page of the Clarion. He said, "I hope the call
wasn't anything that will spoil our plans, Doctor."
It had spoiled more than that, but of course I couldn't tell him so,
any more than I could have told Clyde Andrews over the phone, in Smith's
presence, to call the asylum and tell them to drop around to my house if
they wanted to collect their bolted nut.
So I shook my head while I figured out an angle to get out of the house
and to put in the phone call from next door.
I stood up. Perhaps I was a bit more drunk than I'd thought, for I had
to catch my balance. I remember how crystal clear my mind seemed to be - but
of course nothing seems more crystal clear than a prism that makes you see
I said, "No, the call won't interrupt our plans except for a few
minutes. I've got to give a message to the man next door. Excuse me - and
help yourself to the whisky."
I went through the kitchen and outside into the black night. There were
lights in the houses on either side of me, and I wondered which of my
neighbors to bother. And then I wondered why I was in such a hurry to bother
either of them.
Surely, I thought, the man who called himself Yehudi Smith wasn't
dangerous. And, crazy or not, he was the most interesting man I'd met in
years. He did seem to know something about Lewis Carroll. And I remembered
again that he'd known about my obscure brochure and equally obscure magazine
So, come to think of it, why shouldn't I stall making that phone call
for another hour or so, and relax and enjoy myself? Now that I was over the
first disappointment of learning that he was insane, why wouldn't I find
talk about that delusion of his almost as interesting as though it was
Interesting in a different way, of course. Often I had thought I'd like
the chance to talk to a paranoiac about his delusions - neither arguing with
him nor agreeing with him, just trying to find out what made him tick.
And the evening was still a pup; it couldn't be later than about half
past eight so my neighbors would be up at least another hour or two.
So why was I in a hurry to make that call? I wasn't.
Of course I had to kill enough time outside to make it reasonable to
believe that I'd actually gone next door and delivered a message, so I stood
there at the bottom of my back steps, looking up at the black velvet sky,
star-studded but moonless, and wondering what was behind it and why madmen
were mad. And how strange it would be if one of them was right and all the
rest of us were crazy instead.
Then I went back inside and I was cowardly enough to do a ridiculous
thing. From the kitchen I went into my bedroom and to my closet. In a
shoebox on the top shelf was a short-barreled thirty-eight caliber revolver,
one of the compact, lightweight models they call a Banker's Special. I'd
never shot at anything with it and hoped that I never would - and I wasn't
sure I could hit anything smaller than an elephant or farther away than a
couple of yards. I don't even like guns. I hadn't bought this one; an
acquaintance had once borrowed twenty bucks from me and had insisted on my
taking the pistol for security. And later he'd wanted another five and said
if I gave it to him I could keep the gun. I hadn't wanted it, but he'd
needed the five pretty badly and I'd given it to him.
It was still loaded with bullets that were in it when we'd made the
deal four or five years ago, and I didn't know whether they'd still shoot or
not, but I put it in my trouser pocket. I wouldn't use it, of course, except
in dire extremity - and I'd miss anything I shot at even then, but I thought
that just carrying the gun would make my coming conversation seem dangerous
and exciting, more than it would be otherwise.
I went into the living room and he was still there. He hadn't poured
himself a drink, so I poured one for each of us and then sat down on the
I lifted my drink and over the rim of it watched him do that marvelous
trick again - just a toss of the glass toward his lips. I drank my own less
spectacularly and said, "I wish I had a movie camera. I'd like to film the
way you do that and then study it in slow motion."
He laughed. "Afraid it's my one way of showing off. I used to be a
"And now? If you don't mind asking."
"A student," he said. "A student of Lewis Carroll - and mathematics."
"Is there a living in it?" I asked him.
He hesitated just a second. "Do you mind if I defer answering that
until you've learned - what you'll learn at tonight's meeting?"
Of course there wasn't going to be any meeting tonight; I knew that
now. But I said, "Not at all. But I hope you don't mean that we can't talk
about Carroll, in general, until after the meting."
I hoped he'd give the right answer to that; it would mean that I could
get him going on the subject of his mania.
He said, "Of course not. In fact, I want to talk about him. There are
facts I want to give you that will enable you to understand things better.
Some of the facts yon already know, but I'll refresh you on them anyway. For
instance, dates. You had his birth and death dates correct, or nearly enough
so. But do you know the dates of the Alice books or any other of his works?
The sequence is important."
"Not exactly," I told him. "I think that he wrote the first Alice book
when he was comparatively young, about thirty."
"Close. He was thirty-two. Alice in Wonderland was published in
eighteen sixty-three, but even before then he was on the trail of something.
Do you know what he had published before that?"
I shook my head.
"Two books. He wrote and published A Syllabus of Plane Geometry in
eighteen sixty and in the year after that his Formulae of Plane
Trigonometry. Have you read either of them?"
I had to shake my head again. I said, "Mathematics isn't my forte. I've
read only his non-technical books."
He smiled. "There aren't any. You simply failed to recognize the
mathematics embodied in the Alice books and in his poetry. You do know, I'm
sure, that many of his poems are acrostics."
"All of them are acrostics, but in a much more subtle manner. However,
I can see why you failed to find the clues if you haven't read his treatises
on mathematics. You wouldn't have read his Elementary Treatise on
Determinants, I suppose. But how about his Curiosa Mathematica?"
I hated to disappoint him again, but I had to.
He frowned at me. "That at least you should have read. It's not
technical at all, and most of the clues to the fantasies are contained in
it. There are further - and final - references to them in his Symbolic
Logic, published in eighteen ninety-six, just two years before his death,
but they are less direct."
I said, "Now, wait a minute. If I understand you correctly your thesis
is that Lewis Carroll - leaving aside any question of who or what he really
was - worked out through mathematics and expressed in fantasy the fact that
"That there is another plane of existence besides the one we are now
living in. That we can have - and do sometimes have - access to it."
"But what kind of a plane? A through-the-looking-glass plane of
fantasy, a dream plane?"
"Exactly, Doctor. A dream plane. That isn't strictly accurate, but it's
about as nearly as I can explain it to you just yet." He leaned forward.
"Consider dreams. Aren't they the almost perfect parallel of the Alice
adventures? The wool-and-water sequence, for instance, where everything
Alice looks at changes into something else. Remember in the shop, with the
old sheep knitting, how Alice looked hard to see what was on the shelves,
but the shelf she looked at was always empty although the others about it
were always full - of something, and she never found out what?"
I nodded slowly. I said, "Her comment was, `Things flow about so here.'
And then the sheep asked if Alice could row and handed her a pair of
knitting needles and the needles turned into oars in her hands and she was
in a boat, with the sheep still knitting."
"Exactly, Doctor. A perfect dream sequence. And consider that
Jabberwocky - which is probably the best thing in the second Alice book - is
in the very language of dreams. It's full of words like trumious, manxome,
tulgey, words that give you a perfect picture in context - but you can't put
your finger on what the context is. In a dream you fully understand such
meanings, but you forget them when you awaken."
Between "manxome" and "tulgey" he'd downed his latest drink. I didn't
pour another this time; I was beginning to wonder how long the bottle - or
we - would last. But he showed no effect whatsoever from the drinks he'd
been downing. I can't quite say the same for myself. I knew my voice was
getting a bit thick.
I said, "But why postulate the reality of such a world? I can see your
point otherwise. The Jabberwock itself is the epitome of nightmare creatures
- with eyes of flame and jaws that bite and claws that catch, and it
whiffles and burbles - why, Freud and James Joyce in tandem couldn't have
done any better. But why not take it that Lewis Carroll was trying, and
damned successfully, to write as in a dream? Why make the assumption that
that world is real? Why talk of getting through to it - except, of course,
in the sense that we invade it nightly in our dreams?"
He smiled. "Because that world is real, Doctor. You'll hear evidence of
that tonight, mathematical evidence. And, I hope, actual proof. I've had
such proof myself, and I hope you'll have. But you'll see the calculations,
at least, and it will be explained to you how they were derived from Curiosa
Mathematica, and then corroborated by evidence found in the other books.
"Carroll was more than a century ahead of his time, Doctor. Have you
read the recent experiments with the subconscious made by Liebnitz and
Winton - the feelers they're putting forth in the right direction, which is
the mathematical approach?"
I admitted I hadn't heard of Liebnitz or Winton.
"They aren't well known," he conceded. "You see, only recently, except
for Carroll, has anyone even considered the possibility of our reaching -
let's call it the dream plane until I've shown you what it really is -
physically as well as mentally."
"As Lewis Carroll reached it?"
"As he must have, to have known the things he knew. Things so
revolutionary and dangerous that he did not dare reveal them openly."
For a fleeting moment it sounded so reasonable that I wondered if it
could be true. Why not? Why couldn't there be other dimensions besides our
own? Why couldn't a brilliant mathematician with a fantastic mind have found
a way through to one of them?
In my mind, I cussed our Clyde Andrews for having told me about the
asylum break. If only I hadn't learned about that, what a wonderful evening
this one would be. Even knowing Smith was insane, I found myself - possibly
with the whisky's help - wondering if he could be right. How marvelous it
would have been without the knowledge of his insanity to temper the wonder
and the wondering. It would have been an evening in Wonderland.
And, sane or crazy, I liked him. Sane or crazy, he belonged
figuratively in the department in which Mrs. Carr's husband worked
literally. I laughed and then, of course, I had to explain what I'd been
His eyes lighted. "The Roman candle department. That's marvelous. The
Roman candle department."
You see what I mean.
We had a drink to the Roman candle department, and then it happened
that neither of us said anything right away and it was so quiet that I
jumped when the phone rang.
I picked it up and said into it, "This is the Roman candle department."
"Doc?" It was the voice of Pete Corey, my printer. It sounded tense.
"I've got bad news."
Pete doesn't get excited easily. I sobered up a little and asked,
"Listen, Doc. Remember just a couple of hours ago you were saying you
wished a murder or something would happen so you'd have a story for the
paper - and remember how I asked you if you'd like one even if it happened
to a friend of yours?"
Of course I remembered; he'd mentioned my best friend, Carl Trenholm. I
took a tighter grip on the phone. I said, "Cut out breaking it gently, Pete.
Has something happened to Carl?"
"For God's sake, what? Cut the build-up. Is he dead?"
"That's what I heard. He was found out on the pike; I don't know if he
was hit by a car or what."
"Where is he now?"
"Being brought in. I guess. All I know is that Hank called me-" Hank is
Pete's brother-in-law and a deputy sheriff. "- and said they got a call from
someone who found him alongside the road out there. Even Hank had it
third-hand - Rance Kates phoned him and said to come down and take care of
the office while he went out there. And Hank knows Kates doesn't like you
and wouldn't give you the tip, so Hank called me. But don't get Hank in
trouble with his boss by telling anybody where the tip came from."
"Did you call the hospital?" I asked. "If Carl's just hurt-"
"Wouldn't be time for them to get him there yet - or to wherever they
do take him. Hank just phoned me from his own place before he started for
the sheriff's office, and Kates had just called him from the office and was
just leaving there."
"Okay, Pete," I said. "Thanks. I'm going back downtown; I'll call the
hospital from the Clarion office. You call me there if you hear anything
"Hell, Doc, I'm coming down too."
I told him he didn't have to, but he said the hell with having to; he
wanted to. I didn't argue with him.
I cradled the phone and found that I was already standing up. I said,
"Sorry, but something important's come up - an accident to a friend of
mine." I headed for the closet to get my coat. "Do you want to wait here,
"If you don't mind," he said. "That is, if you think you won't be gone
"I don't know that, but I'll phone here and let you know as soon as I
can. If the phone rings answer it; it'll be me. And help yourself to whisky
He nodded. "I'll get along fine. Hope your friend isn't seriously
That was all I was worrying about myself. I put on my hat and hurried
out, again, and this time seriously, cussing those two flat tires on my car
and the fact that I hadn't taken time to fix them that morning. Nine blocks
isn't far to walk when you're not in any hurry, but it's a hell of a
distance when you're anxious to get there quickly.
I walked fast, so fast, in fact, that I winded myself in the first two
blocks and had to slow down.
I kept thinking the same thing Pete had obviously thought - what a hell
of a coincidence it was that we'd mentioned the possibility of Carl's being-
But we'd been talking about murder. Had Carl been murdered? Of course
not; things like that didn't happen in Carmel City. It must have been an
accident, a hit-run driver. No one would have the slightest reason for
killing, of all people, Carl Trenholm. No one but a-
Finishing that thought made me stop walking suddenly. No one but a
maniac would have the slightest reason for killing Carl Trenholm. But there
was an escaped maniac at large tonight and - unless he'd left instead of
waiting for me - he was sitting right in my living room. I'd thought he was
harmless - even though I'd taken the precaution of putting that gun in my
pocket - but how could I be sure? I'm no psychiatrist; where did I get the
bright idea that I could tell the difference between a harmless nut and a
I started to turn back and then realized that going back was useless
and foolish. He would either have left as soon as I was out of sight around
the corner, or he hadn't guessed that I suspected him and would wait as I'd
told him to, until he heard from me. So all I had to do was to phone the
asylum as soon as I could and they'd send guards to close in on my house and
take him if he was still there.
I started walking again. Yes, it would be ridiculous for me to go back
alone, even though I still had that gun in my pocket. He might resist, and I
wouldn't want to have to use the gun, especially as I hadn't any real reason
to believe he'd killed Carl. It could have been an auto accident just as
easily; I couldn't even form an intelligent opinion on that until I learned
what Carl's injuries were. I kept walking, as fast as I could without
winding myself again.
Suddenly I thought of that newspaper clipping - "MAN SLAIN BY UNKNOWN
BEAST." A prickle went down my spine - what if Carl's body showed-
And then the horrible thought pyramided. What if the unknown beast who
had killed the man near Bridgeport and the escaped maniac were one and the
same. What if he had escaped before at the time of the killing at Bridgeport
- or, for that matter, hadn't been committed to the asylum until after that
killing, whether or not he was suspected of it.
I thought of lycanthropy, and shivered. What might I have been talking
about Jabberwocks and unknown beasts with?
Suddenly the gun I'd put in my pocket felt comforting there. I looked
around over my shoulder to be sure that nothing was coming after me. The
street behind was empty, but I started walking a little faster just the
Suddenly the street lights weren't bright enough and the night, which
had been a pleasant June evening, was a frightful, menacing thing. I was
really scared. Maybe it's as well that I didn't guess that things hadn't
even started to happen.
I felt glad that I was passing the courthouse - with a light on in the
window of the sheriff's office. I even considered going in. Probably Hank
would be there by now and Rance Kates would still be gone. But no, I was
this far now and I'd carry on to the Clarion office and start my phoning
from there. Besides, if Kates found out I'd been in his office talking to
Hank, Hank would be in trouble.
So I kept on going. The corner of Oak Street, and I turned, now only a
block and a half from the Clarion. But it was going to take me quite a while
to make that block and a half.
A big, dark blue Buick sedan suddenly pulled near the curb and slowed
down alongside me. There were two men in the front seat and the one who was
driving stuck his head out of the window and said, "Hey, Buster, what town
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
It had been a long time since anyone had called me "Buster," and I
didn't particularly like it. I didn't like the looks of the men, either, or
the tone of voice the question had been asked in. A minute ago, I'd thought
I'd be glad of any company short of that of the escaped maniac; now I
I'm not often rude, but I can be when someone else starts it. I said,
"Sorry, pal, I'm a stranger here myself." And I kept on walking.
I heard the man behind the wheel of the Buick say something to the
other, and then they passed me and swung in to the curb just ahead. The
driver got out and walked toward me.
I stopped short and tried not to do a double-take when I recognized
him. My attention to the wanted circulars on the post office bulletin board
was about to pay off - although from the expression on his face, the payoff
wasn't going to be the kind I'd want.
The man coming toward me and only two steps away when I stopped was Bat
Masters, whose picture had been posted only last week and was still there on
the board. I couldn't be wrong about his face, and I remembered the name
clearly because of its similarity to the name of Bat Masterson, the famous
gunman of the old West. I'd thought of it as a coincidence at first and then
I realized that the similarity of Masters to Masterson had made the nickname
"Bat" a natural.
He was a big man with a long, horselike face, eyes wide apart and a
mouth that was a narrow straight line separating a lantern jaw from a wide
upper lip; on the latter there was a two-day stubble of hair that indicated
he was starting a mustache. But it would have taken plastic surgery and a
full beard to disguise that face from anyone who had recently, however
casually, studied a picture of it. Bat Masters, bank robber and killer.
I had a gun in my pocket, but I didn't remember it at the time. It's
probably just as well; if I'd remembered, I might have been frightened into
reaching for it. And that probably would not have been a healthful thing to
do. He was coming at me with his fists balled but no gun in either of them.
He didn't intend to kill me - although one of those fists might do it quite
easily and unintentionally. I weigh a hundred and forty wringing wet, and he
weighed almost twice that and had shoulders that bulged out his suit coat.
There wasn't even time to turn and run. His left hand came out and
caught the front of my coat and pulled me toward him, almost lifting me off
He said, "Listen, Pop, I don't want any lip. I asked you a question."
"Carmel City," I said. "Carmel City, Illinois."
The voice of the other man, still in the car, came back to us. "Hey,
Bill, don't hurt the guy. We don't want to-" He didn't finish the sentence,
of course; to say you don't want to attract attention is the best way of
Masters looked past me right over my head - to see if anybody or
anything was coming that way and then, still keeping his grip on the front
of my coat, turned and looked the other way. He wasn't afraid of my swinging
at him enough to bother keeping his eyes on me, and I didn't blame him for
feeling that way about it.
A car was coming now, about a block away. And two men came out of the
drugstore on the opposite side of the street, only a few buildings down.
Then behind me I could hear the sound of another car turning into Oak
Masters turned back to me and let go, so we were just two men standing
there face to face if anyone noticed us. He said, "Okay, Pop. Next time
somebody asks you a question, don't be so God damn fresh."
He still glared at me as though he hadn't yet completely given up the
idea of giving me something to remember him by - maybe just a light
open-handed slap that wouldn't do anything worse than crack my jawbone and
drive my dentures down my throat.
I said, "Sure, sorry," and let my voice sound afraid, but tried not to
sound quite as afraid as I really was - because if he even remotely
suspected that I might have recognized him, I wasn't going to get out of it
He swung around and walked back to the ear, got in and drove off. I
suppose I should have got the license number, but it would have been a
stolen car anyway - and besides I didn't think of it. I didn't even watch
the car as it drove away; if either of them looked back I didn't want them
to think I was giving them what criminals call the big-eye. I didn't want to
give them any possible reason to change their minds about going on.
I started walking again, keeping to the middle of the sidewalk and
trying to look like a man minding his own business. Also trying to keep my
knees from shaking so hard that I couldn't walk at all. It had been a narrow
squeak all right. If the street had been completely empty-
I could have notified the sheriff's office about a minute quicker by
turning around and going back that way, but I didn't take a chance. If
someone was watching me out of the back window of the car, a change in
direction wouldn't be a good idea. There was a difference of only a block
anyway; I was half a block past the courthouse and a block and a half from
Smiley's and the Clarion office across the street from it. >From either one
I could phone in the big news that Bat Masters and a companion had just
driven through Carmel City heading north, probably toward Chicago. And Hank
Ganzer, in the sheriff's office, would relay the story to the state police
and there was probably better than an even chance that they'd be caught
within an hour or two.
And if they were, I might even get a slice of the reward for giving the
tip - but I didn't care as much about that as about the story I was going to
have. Why, it was a story, even if they weren't caught, and if they were, it
would be a really big one. And a local story - if the tip came from Carmel
City - even if they were actually caught several counties north. Maybe
there'd even be a gun battle - from my all too close look at Masters I had a
hunch that there would be.
Perfect timing, too, I thought. For once something was happening on a
Thursday night. For once I'd beat the Chicago papers. They'd have the story,
too, of course, and a lot of Carmel City people take Chicago dailies, but
they don't come in until the late afternoon train and the Clarion would be
out hours before that.
Yes, for once I was going to have a newspaper with news in it. Even if
Masters and his pal weren't caught, the fact that they'd passed through town
made a story. And besides that, there was the escaped maniac, and Carl
Thinking about Carl again made me walk faster. It was safe by now; I'd
gone a quarter of a block since the Buick had driven off. It wasn't anywhere
in sight and again the street was quiet; thank God it hadn't been this quiet
while Masters had been making up his mind whether or not to slug me.
I was past Deak's Music Store, dark. Past the supermarket, ditto. The
I had passed the bank, too, when I stopped as suddenly as though I'd
run into a wall. The bank had been dark too. And it shouldn't have been;
there's a small night light that always burns over the safe. I'd passed the
bank thousands of times after dark and never before had that light been off.
For a moment the wild thought went through my head that Bat and his
companion must have just burglarized the bank - although robbery, not
burglary, was Masters' trade - and then I saw how ridiculous that thought
had been. They'd been driving toward the bank and a quarter of a block away
from it when they'd stopped to ask me what town they were in. True, they
could have burglarized the bank and then circled the block in their car, but
if they had they'd have been intent on their getaway. Criminals do pretty
silly things sometimes but not quite so silly as to stop a getaway car
within spitting distance of the scene of the crime to ask what town they're
in, and then to top it by getting out of the car to slug a random pedestrian
because they don't like his answer to their question.
No, Masters and company couldn't have robbed the bank. And they
couldn't be burglarizing it now, either. Their car had gone on past; I
hadn't watched it, but my ears had told me that it had kept on going. And
even if it hadn't, I had. My encounter with them had been only seconds ago;
there wasn't possibly time for them to have broken in there, even if they'd
I went back a few steps and looked into the window of the bank.
At first I saw nothing except the vague silhouette of a window at the
back - the top half of the window, that is, which was visible above the
counter. Then the silhouette became less vague and I could see that the
window had been opened; the top bar of the lower sash showed clearly, only a
few inches from the top of the frame.
That was the means of entry all right - but was the burglar still in
there, or had he left, and left the window open behind him?
I strained my eyes against the blackness to the left of the window,
where the safe was. And suddenly a dim light flickered briefly, as though a
match had been struck but had gone out before the phosphorus had ignited the
wood. I could see only the brief light of it, as it was below the level of
the counter; I couldn't see whoever had lighted it.
The burglar was still there.
And suddenly I was running on tiptoe back through the areaway between
the bank and the post office.
Good God, don't ask me why. Sure, I had money in the bank, but the bank
had insurance against burglary and it wasn't any skin off my backside if the
bank was robbed. I wasn't even thinking that it would be a better story for
the Clarion if I got the burglar - or if he got me. I just wasn't thinking
at all. I was running back alongside the bank toward that window that he'd
left open for his getaway.
I think it must have been reaction from the cowardice I'd shown and
felt only a minute before. I must have been a bit punch drunk from
Jabberwocks and Vorpal Blades and homicidal maniacs with lycanthropy and
bank bandits and a bank burglar - or maybe I thought I'd suddenly been
promoted to the Roman candle department.
Maybe I was drunk, maybe I was a little mentally unbalanced - use any
maybe you want, but there I was running tiptoe through the areaway. Running,
that is, as far as the light from the street would let me; then I groped
along the side of the building until I came to the alley. There was dim
light there, enough for me to be able to see the window.
It was still open.
I stood there looking at it and vaguely beginning to realize how crazy
I'd been. Why hadn't I run to the sheriff's office for Hank? The burglar -
or, for all I knew, burglars - might be just starting his work on the safe
in there. He might be in a long time, long enough for Hank to get here and
collar him. If he came out now, what was I going to do about it? Shoot him?
That was ridiculous; I'd rather let him get away with robbing the bank than
And then it was too late because suddenly there was a soft shuffling
sound from the window and a hand appeared on the sill. He was coming out,
and there wasn't a chance that I could get away without his hearing me. What
would happen then, I didn't know. I would just as soon not find out.
A moment before, just as I'd reached the place beside the window where
I now stood, I'd stepped on a piece of wood, a one-by-two stick of it about
a foot long. That was a weapon I could understand. I reached down and
grabbed it and swung, just in time, as a head came through the window.
Thank God I didn't swing too hard. At the last second, even in that
faint light, I'd thought-
The head and the hand weren't in the window any more and there was the
soft thud of a body falling inside. There wasn't any sound or movement for
seconds. Long seconds, and then there was the sound of my stick of wood
hitting the dirt of the alley and I knew I'd dropped it.
If it hadn't been for what I'd thought I'd seen in that last fraction
of a second before it was too late to stop the blow, I could have run now
for the sheriff's office. But-
Maybe here went my head, but I had to chance it. The sill of the window
wasn't much over waist high. I leaned across it and struck a match, and I'd
I climbed in the window and felt for his heart and it was beating all
right. He seemed to be breathing normally. I ran my hands very gently over
his head and then held them in the open window to look at them; there wasn't
any blood. There could be, then, nothing worse than a concussion.
I lowered the window so nobody would notice that it was open and then I
felt my way carefully toward the nearest desk - I'd been in the bank
thousands of times; I knew its layout - and groped for a telephone until I
found one. The operator's voice said, "Number, please?" and I started to
give it and then remembered; she'd know where the call came from and that
the bank was closed. Naturally, she'd listen in. Maybe she'd even call the
sheriff's office to tell them someone was using the telephone in the bank.
Had I recognized her voice? I'd thought I had. I said, "Is this Milly?"
"Yes. Is this - Mr. Stoeger?"
"Right," I said. I was glad she'd known my voice. "Listen, Milly, I'm
calling from the bank, but it's all right. You don't need to worry about it.
And - do me a favor, will you? Please don't listen in."
"All right, Mr. Stoeger. Sure. What number do you want?"
I gave it; the number of Clyde Andrews, president of the bank. As I
heard the ringing of the phone at the other end, I thought how lucky it was
that I'd known Milly all her life and that we liked one another. I knew that
she'd be burning with curiosity but that she wouldn't listen in.
Clyde Andrews' voice answered. I was still careful about what I said
because I didn't know offhand whether he was on a party line.
I said, "This is Doc Stoeger, Clyde. I'm down at the bank. Get down
here right away. Hurry."
"Huh? Doc, are you drunk or something? What would you be doing at the
bank. It's closed."
I said, "Somebody was inside here. I hit him over the head with a piece
of wood when he started back out of the window, and he's unconscious but not
hurt bad. But just to be sure, pick up Doc Minton on your way here. And
"Sure," he said. "Are you phoning the sheriff or shall I?"
"Neither of us. Don't phone anybody. Just get Minton and get here
"But - I don't get it. Why not phone the sheriff? Is this a gag?"
I said, "No, Clyde. Listen - you'll want to see the burglar first. He
isn't badly hurt, but for God's sake quit arguing and get down here with Dr.
Minton. Do you understand?"
His tone of voice was different when he said, "I'll be there. Five
I put the receiver back on the phone and then lifted it again. The
"Number, please" was Milly's voice again and I asked her if she knew
anything about Carl Trenholm.
She didn't; she hadn't known anything had happened at all. When I told
her what little I knew she said yes, that she'd routed a call from a
farmhouse out on the pike to the sheriff's office about half an hour before,
but she'd had several other calls around the same time and hadn't listened
in on it.
I decided that I'd better wait until I was somewhere else, before I
called to report either Bat Masters' passing through or about the escaped
maniac at my own house. It wouldn't be safe to risk making the call from
here, and a few more minutes wouldn't matter a lot.
I went back, groping my way through the dark toward the dim square of
the window, and bent down again by the boy, Clyde Andrews' son. His
breathing and his heart were still okay and he moved a little and muttered
something as though he was coming out of it. I don't know anything about
concussion, but I thought that was a good sign and felt better. It would
have been terrible if I'd swung a little harder and had killed him or
injured him seriously.
I sat down on the floor so my head would be out of the line of sight if
anyone looked in the front window, as I had a few minutes before, and
So much had been happening that I felt a little numb. There was so much
to think about that I guess I didn't think about any of it. I just sat there
in the dark.
When the phone rang I jumped about two feet.
I groped to it and answered it. Milly's voice said, "Mr. Stoeger, I
thought I'd better tell you if you're still there. Somebody from the
drugstore across the street just phoned the sheriff's office and said the
night light in the bank is out, and whoever answered at the sheriff's office
- it sounded like one of the deputies, not Mr. Kates - said they'd come
I said, "Thanks, Milly. Thanks a lot."
A car was pulling up at the curb outside; I could see it through the
window. I breathed a sigh of relief when I recognized the men getting out of
it as Clyde Andrews and the doctor.
I switched on the lights inside while Clyde was unlocking the front
door. I told him quickly about the call that had been made to the sheriff's
office while I was leading them back to where Harvey Andrews was lying. We
moved him slightly to a point where neither he nor Dr. Minton, bending over
him, could be seen from the front of the bank, and we did it just in time.
Hank was rapping on the door.
I stayed out of sight, too, to avoid having to explain what I was doing
there. I heard Clyde Andrews open the door for Hank and explain that
everything was all right, that someone had phoned him, too, that the night
light was out and that he'd just got here to check up and that the bulb had
merely burned out.
When Hank left, Clyde came back, his face, a bit white. Dr. Minton
said, "He's going to be all right, Clyde. Starting to come out of it. Soon
as he can walk between us, we'll get him to the hospital for a checkup and
I said, "Clyde, I've got to run. There's a lot popping tonight. But as
soon as you're sure the boy's all right will you let me know? I'll probably
be at the Clarion, but I might be at Smiley's - or if it's a long time from
now, I might be home."
"Sure, Doc." He put his hand on my shoulder. "And thanks a lot for -
calling me instead of the sheriff's office."
"That's all right," I told him. "And, Clyde, I didn't know who it was
before I hit. He was coming out of the back window and I thought-"
Clyde said, "I looked in his room after you phoned. He'd packed. I - I
can't understand it, Doc. He's only fifteen. Why he'd do a thing like-" He
shook his head. "He's always been headstrong and he's got into little
troubles a few times, but - I don't understand this." He looked at me very
earnestly. "Do you?"
I thought maybe I did understand a little of it, but I was remembering
about Bat Masters and the fact that he was getting farther away every minute
and that I'd better get the state police notified pretty quickly.
So I said, "Can I talk to you about it tomorrow, Clyde? Get the boy's
side of it when he can talk - and just try to keep your mind open until
then. I think - it may not be as bad as you think right now."
I left him still looking like a man who's just taken an almost mortal
blow, and went out.
I headed down the street thinking what a damn fool I'd been to do what
I'd done. But then, where had I missed a chance to do something wrong
anywhere down the line tonight? And then, on second thought, this one thing
might not have been wrong. If I'd called Hank, the boy just might have been
shot instead of knocked out. And in any case he'd have been arrested.
That would have been bad. This way, there was a chance he could be
straightened out before it was too late. Maybe a psychiatrist could help
him. The only thing was, Clyde Andrews would have to realize that he, too,
would have to take advice from the psychiatrist. He was a good man, but a
hard father. You can't expect the things of a fifteen year-old boy that
Clyde expected of Harvey, and not have something go wrong somewhere down the
line. But burglarizing a bank, even his own father's bank - I couldn't make
up my mind whether that made it better or worse was certainly something I
hadn't looked for. It appalled me, a bit. Harvey's running away from home
wouldn't have surprised me at all; I don't know that I'd even have blamed
A man can be too good a man and too conscientious and strict a father
for his son ever to be able to love him. If Clyde Andrews would only get
drunk - good and stinking drunk - just once in his life, he might get an
entirely different perspective on things, even if he never again took
another drink. But he'd never taken a drink yet, nor one in his whole life.
I don't think he'd ever smoked a cigarette or said a naughty word.
I liked him anyway; I'm pretty tolerant, I guess. But I'm glad I hadn't
had a father like him. In my books, the man in town who was the best father
was Carl Trenholm. Trenholm - and I hadn't found out yet whether he was dead
or only injured!
I was only half a block, now, from Smiley's and the Clarion. I broke
into a trot. Even at my age, it wouldn't wind me to trot that far. It had
probably been less than half an hour since I'd left home, but with the
things that had happened en route, it seemed like days. Well, anyway,
nothing could happen to me between here and Smiley's. And nothing did.
I could see through the glass that there weren't any customers at the
bar and that Smiley was alone behind it. Polishing glasses, as always; I
think he must polish the same glasses a dozen times over when there's
nothing else for him to do.
I burst in and headed for the telephone. I said, "Smiley, hell's
popping tonight. There's an escaped lunatic, and something's happened to
Carl Trenholm, and a couple of wanted bank robbers drove through here
fifteen or twenty minutes ago and I got to-"
I was back by the telephone by the time I'd said all that and I was
reaching up for the receiver. But I never quite touched it.
A voice behind me said, "Take it easy, Buster."
"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.
"The further off from England the nearer is to France.
There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance."
I turned around slowly. They'd been sitting at the table around the el
of the tavern, the one table that can't be seen through the glass of the
door or the windows. They'd probably picked it for that reason. The beer
glasses in front of them were empty. But I didn't think the guns in their
hands would be.
One of the guns - the one in the hand of Bat Masters' companion - was
aimed at Smiley. And Smiley, not smiling, was keeping his hands very still,
not moving a muscle.
The gun in Masters' hand was aimed at me.
He said, "So you knew us, huh, Buster?"
There wasn't any use denying it; I'd said too much already. I said,
"You're Bat Masters." I looked at the other man, whom I hadn't seen clearly
before, when he'd been in the car. He was squat and stocky, with a bullet
head and little pig eyes. He looked like a caricature of a German army
officer. I said, "I'm sorry; I don't know your friend."
Masters laughed. He said, "See, George, I'm famous and you're not.
How'd you like that?"
George kept his eyes on Smiley. He said, "I think you better come
around this side of the bar. You just might have a gun back there and take a
notion to dive for it."
"Come on over and sit with us," Masters said. "Both of you. Let's make
it a party, huh, George?"
George said, "Shut up," which changed my opinion of George quite a bit.
I personally wouldn't have cared to tell Bat Masters to shut up, and in that
tone of voice. True, I had been fresh with him about twenty minutes before,
but I hadn't known who he was. I hadn't even seen how big he was.
Smiley was coming around the end of the bar. I caught his eye, and gave
him what was probably a pretty sickly grin. I said, "I'm sorry, Smiley.
Looks like I put our foot in it this time."
His face was completely impassive. He said, "Not your fault, Doc."
I wasn't too sure of that myself. I was just remembering that I'd
vaguely noticed a car parked in front of Smiley's place. If my brains had
been in the proper end of my anatomy I'd have had the sense to take at least
a quick look at that car. And if I'd had that much sense, I'd have had the
further sense to go across to the Clarion office instead of barging
nitwittedly into Smiley's and into the arms of Bat Masters and George.
And if the state police had come before they'd left Smiley's, the
Clarion would have had a really good story. This way, it might be a good
story too, but who would write it?
Smiley and I were standing close together now, and Masters must have
figured that one gun was enough for both of us. He stuck his into a shoulder
holster and looked at George. "Well?" he said.
That proved again that George was the boss, or at least was on equal
status with Masters. And as I studied George's face, I could see why.
Masters was big and probably had plenty of brass and courage, but George was
the one of the two who had the more brains.
George said, "Guess we'll have to take 'em along, Bat."
I knew what that meant. I said, "Listen, there's a back room. Can't you
just tie us up? If we're found a few hours from now, what does it matter?
You'll be clear."
"And you might be found in a few minutes. And you probably noticed what
kind of a car we got, and you know which way we're heading." He shook his
head, and it was definite.
He said, "We're not sticking around, either, till somebody comes in.
Bat, go look outside."
Masters got up and started toward the front; then he hesitated and went
back of the bar instead. He took two pint bottles of whisky and put one in
either coat pocket. And he punched "No Sale" on the register and took out
the bills; he didn't bother with the change. He folded the bills and stuck
them in his trouser pocket. Then he came back around the bar and started for
Sometimes I think people are crazy. Smiley stuck out his hand. He said,
"Five bucks. Two-fifty apiece for those pints."
He could have got shot for it, then and there, but for some reason
Masters liked it. He grinned and took the wadded paper money out of his
pocket, peeled a five loose and put it in Smiley's hand.
George said, "Bat, cut the horseplay. Look outside." I noticed that he
watched very carefully and kept the gun trained smack in the middle of
Smiley's chest while Smiley stuck the five dollar bill into his pocket.
Masters opened the door and stepped outside, looked around casually and
beckoned to us. Meanwhile George had stood up and walked around behind us,
sliding his gun into a coat pocket out of sight but keeping his hand on it.
He said, "All right, boys, get going."
It was all very friendly. In a way.
We went out the door into the cool pleasant evening that wasn't going
to last much longer, the way things looked now. Yes, the Buick was parked
right in front of Smiley's. If I'd only glanced at it before I went in, the
whole mess wouldn't have happened.
The Buick was a four-door sedan. George said, "Get in back," and we got
in back. George got in front but sat sidewise, turned around facing us over
Masters got in behind the wheel and started the engine.
He said over his shoulder, "Well, Buster, where to?"
I said, "About five miles out there are woods. If you take us back in
them and tie us up, there isn't a chance on earth we'd be found before
I didn't want to die, and I didn't want Smiley to die, and that idea
was such a good one that for a moment I hoped. Then Masters said, "What town
is this, Buster?" and I knew there wasn't any chance. Just because I'd given
him a fresh answer to a fresh question half an hour ago, there wasn't any
The car pulled out from the curb and headed north.
I was scared, and sober. There didn't seem to be any reason why I had
to be both. I said, "How about a drink?"
George reached into Masters' coat pocket and handed one of the pint
bottles over the back of the seat. My hands shook a little while I got the
cellophane off with my thumbnail and unscrewed the cap. I handed it to
Smiley first and he took a short drink and passed it back. I took a long one
and it put a warm spot where a very cold one had been. I don't mean to say
it made me happy, but I felt a little better. I wondered what Smiley was
thinking about and I remembered that he had a wife and three kids and I
wished I hadn't remembered that.
I handed him back the bottle and he took another quick nip. I said,
"I'm sorry, Smiley," and he said, "That's all right, Doc." And he laughed.
"One bad thing, Doc. There'll be a swell story for your Clarion, but can
Pete write it?"
I found myself wondering that, quite seriously. Pete's one of the best
all-around printers in Illinois, but what kind of a job would he make of
things tonight and tomorrow morning? He'd get the paper out all right, but
he'd never done any news writing - at least as long as he'd worked for me -
and handling all the news he was going to have tomorrow would be plenty
tough. An escaped maniac, whatever had happened to Carl, and whatever - as
if I really wondered - was going to happen to Smiley and me. I wondered if
our bodies would be found in time to make the paper, or if it would be
merely a double disappearance. We'd both be missed fairly soon. Smiley
because his tavern was still open but no one behind the bar. I because I was
due to meet Pete at the Clarion and about an hour from now, when I hadn't
shown up yet, he'd start checking.
We were just leaving town by then, and I noticed that we'd got off the
main street which was part of the main highway. Burgoyne Street, which we
were on, was turning into a road.
Masters stopped the car as we came to a fork and turned around. "Where
do these roads go?" he asked.
"They both go to Watertown," I told him. "The one to the left goes
along the river and the other one cuts through the hills; it's shorter, but
it's trickier driving."
Apparently Masters didn't mind tricky driving. He swung right and we
started up into the hills. I wouldn't have done it myself, if I'd been
driving. The hills are pretty hilly and the road through them is narrow and
does plenty of winding, with a drop-off on one side or the other most of the
time. Not the long precipitous drop-off you find on real mountain roads, but
enough to wreck a car that goes over the edge, and enough to bother my touch
Phobias are ridiculous things, past reasoning. I felt mine coming back
the moment there was that slight drop-off at the side of the road as we
started up the first hill. Actually, I was for the moment more afraid of
that than of George's gun. Yes, phobias are funny things. Mine, fear of
heights, is one of the commonest. Carl is afraid of cats. Al Grainger is a
pyrophobiac, morbidly afraid of fire.
Smiley said, "You know. Doc?"
"What?" I asked him.
"I was thinking of Pete having to write that newspaper. Whyn't you come
back and help him. Ain't there such things as ghost writers?"
I groaned. After all these years, Smiley had picked a time like this to
come up with the only funny thing I'd ever heard him say.
We were up high now, about as high as the road went; ahead was a
hairpin turn as it started downhill again. Masters stopped the car. "Okay,
you mugs," he said. "Get out and start walking back."
Start, he'd said; he hadn't made any mention of finishing. The tail
lights of the car would give them enough illumination to shoot us down by.
And he'd probably picked this spot because it would be easy to roll our
bodies off the edge of the road, down the slope, so they wouldn't be found
right away. Both of them were already getting out of the car.
Smiley's big hand gave my arm a quick squeeze; I didn't know whether it
was a farewell gesture or a signal. He said, "Go ahead, Doc," as calmly as
though he was collecting for drinks back of his bar.
I opened the door on my side, but I was afraid to step out. Not because
I knew I was going to be shot - that would happen anyway, even if I didn't
get out. They'd either drag me out or else shoot me where I sat and bloody
up the back seat of their car. No, I was afraid to get out because the car
was on the outside edge of the road and the slope started only a yard from
the open door of the car. My damned acrophobia. It was dark out there and I
could see the edge of the road and no farther and I pictured a precipice
beyond. I hesitated, half in the door and half out of it.
Smiley said again, "Go ahead, Doc," and I heard him moving behind me.
Then suddenly there was a click - and complete and utter darkness.
Smiley had reached a long arm across the back of the seat to the dashboard
and had turned the light switch off. All the car lights went out.
There was a shove in the middle of my back that sent me out of that car
door like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle; I don't think my feet
touched that yard-wide strip of road at all. As I went over the edge into
darkness and the unknown I heard swearing and a shot behind me. I was so
scared of falling that I'd gladly have been back up on the road trying to
outrun a bullet back toward town. At least I'd have been dead before they
rolled me over the edge.
I hit and fell and rolled. It wasn't really steep, after all; it was
about a forty-five degree slope, and it was grassy. I flattened a couple of
bushes before one stopped me. I could hear Smiley coming after me, sliding,
and I scrambled on as fast as I could. All of my arms and legs seemed to be
working, so I couldn't be seriously hurt.
And I could see a little now that my eyes were getting used to the
darkness. I could see trees ahead, and I scrambled toward them down the
slope, sometimes running, sometimes sliding and sometimes simply falling,
which is the simplest if not the most comfortable way to go down a hill.
I made the trees, and heard Smiley make them, just as the lights of the
car flashed on, on the road above us. Some shots snapped our way and then I
heard George say, "Don't waste it. Let's get going," and Bat's, "You mean
George growled, "Hell, yes. That's woods down there. We could waste an
hour playing hide and seek. Let's get going."
They were the sweetest words I'd heard in a long time.
I heard car doors slam, and the car started.
Smiley's voice, about two yards to my left, said, "Doc? You okay?"
"I think so," I said. "Smart work, Smiley. Thanks."
He came around a tree toward me and I could see him now. He said, "Save
it, Doc. Come on, quick. We got a chance - a little chance, anyway - of
"Stopping them?" I said. My voice went shrill and sounded strange to
me. I wondered if Smiley had gone crazy. I couldn't think of anything in the
whole wide world that I wanted to do less than stop Bat Masters and George.
But he had hold of my arm and was starting down-hill, through the dimly
seen trees and away from the road, taking me with him.
He said, "Listen, Doc, I know this country like the palm of my foot.
I've hunted here, often."
"For bank robbers?" I asked him.
"Listen, that road makes a hairpin and goes by right below us, not
forty yards from here. If we can get just above the road before they get
there and if I can find a big boulder to roll down as the car goes by-"
I wasn't crazy about it, but he was pulling me along and we were
through the trees already. My eyes were used to the darkness by now and I
could see the road dimly, a dozen yards ahead and a dozen yards below. In
the distance, around a curve, I could hear the sound of the car; I couldn't
see it yet. It was a long way off, but coming fast.
Smiley said, "Look for a boulder, Doc. If you can't find one big enough
to roll, then something we can throw. If we can hit their windshield or
He was bending over, groping around. I did the same; but the bank was
smooth and grassy. If there were stones, I couldn't find any.
Apparently Smiley wasn't having any luck either. He swore. He said, "If
I only had a gun-"
I remembered something. "I've got one," I said.
He straightened up and looked at me - and I'm glad it was dark enough
that he couldn't see my face and that I couldn't see his.
I handed him the gun. The headlights of the car were coming in sight
now around the curve. Smiley pushed me back into the trees and stood behind
one himself, leaning out to expose only his head and his gun hand.
The car came like a bat out of hell, but Smiley took aim calmly. He
fired his first shot when the car was about forty yards away, the second
when it was only twenty. The first shot went into the radiator - I don't
mean we could tell that then, but that's where it was found afterwards. The
second went through the windshield, almost dead center but, of course, at an
angle. It plowed a furrow along the side of Masters' neck. The car careened
and then went off the road on the downhill side, away from us. It turned
over once, end for end, the headlight beams stabbing the night with drunken
arcs, and then it banged into a tree with a noise like the end of the world
For just a second after all that noise there was a silence that was
almost deafening. And then the gas tank exploded.
The car caught fire and there was plenty of light. We saw, as we ran
toward it, that one of the men had been thrown clear; when we got close
enough we could see that it was Masters. George was still in the car, but we
couldn't do a thing for him. And in that roaring inferno there wasn't a
chance on earth that he could have lived even the minute it took us to get
to the scene of the wreck.
We dragged Masters farther away from the fire before we checked to see
whether or not he was alive. Amazingly, he was. His face looked as though
he'd held it in a meat grinder and both of his arms were broken. Whether
there was anything wrong with him beyond that we couldn't tell, but he was
still breathing and his heart was still beating.
Smiley was staring at the flaming wreck. He said, "A perfectly good
Buick shot to hell. A fifty model at that." He shook his head sadly and then
jumped back, as I did, when there was another explosion in the car; it must
have been the cartridges in George's pistol going off all at once.
I told Smiley, "One of us will have to walk back. One had better stay
here, on account of Masters' still being alive."
"I guess so," he said. "Don't know what either of us can do for him,
but we can't both just walk off and leave him. Say, look, that's a car
I looked where he was pointing, toward the upper stretch of road where
we'd got out of the car before it made the hairpin turn, and there were the
headlights of a coming car all right.
We got out on the road ready to hail it, but it would have stopped
anyway. It was a state police car with two coppers in it. Luckily, I knew
one of them - Willie Peeble - and Smiley knew the other one, so they took
our word for what had happened. Especially as Peeble knew about Masters and
was able to identify him in spite of the way his face was cut up.
Masters was still alive and his heartbeat and breathing were as good as
they'd been when we'd got to him. Peeble decided he'd better not try to move
him. He went back to the police car and used the two-way radio to get an
ambulance started our way and to report in to headquarters what had
Peeble came back and said, "We'll give you and your friend a lift into
town as soon as the ambulance gets here. You'll have to make and sign
statements and stuff, but the chief says you can do that tomorrow; he knows
both of you and says it's all right that way."
"That's swell," I said. "I've got to get back to the office as soon as
I can. And as for Smiley here, his place is open and nobody there." I had a
sudden thought and said, "Say, Smiley, you don't by any chance still have
that pint we had a nip out of in the car, do you?"
He shook his head. "What with turning off the lights and pushing you
out and getting out myself-"
I sighed at the waste of good liquor. The other pint bottle, the one
that had been in Bat Masters' left coat pocket, hadn't survived the crash.
Still, Smiley had saved our lives, so I had to forgive him for abandoning
the bottle he'd been holding.
The fire was dying down now, and I was getting a little sick at the
barbecue odor and wished the ambulance would come so we could get away from
I suddenly remembered Carl and asked Peeble if there'd been any report
on the police radio about a Carl Trenholm. He shook his head. He said,
"There was a looney loose, though. Escaped from the county asylum. Must've
been caught, though; we had a cancellation on it later."
That was good news, in a way. It meant that Yehudi hadn't waited at my
place after all. And somehow I'd hated the thought of having to sick the
guards on him while he was there. Insane or not, it didn't seem like real
hospitality to a guest.
And the fact that nothing had been on the police radio about Carl at
least wasn't discouraging.
A car came along from the opposite direction and stopped when its
driver saw the smoldering wreckage and the state police car. It turned out
to be a break for Smiley and me. The driver was a Watertown man whom Willie
Peeble knew and who was on his way to Carmel City. When Peeble introduced us
and vouched for us, he said he'd be glad to take Smiley and me into Carmel
City with him.
I didn't believe it at first when I saw by the clock dial on the
instrument panel of the car that it was only a few minutes after ten o'clock
as we entered Carmel City; it seemed incredible that so much had happened in
the few hours - less than four - since I'd left the Clarion. But we passed a
lighted clock in a store window and I saw that the clock in the car was
right after all, within a few minutes, anyway. It was only a quarter after
We were let off in front of Smiley's. Across the street I could see
lights were on at the Clarion, so Pete would be there. I thought I'd take a
quick drink with Smiley, though, before I went to the office, so I went in
The place was as we'd left it. If any customer had come in, he'd got
tired of waiting and bad left.
Smiley went around back of the bar and poured us drinks while I went to
the phone. I was going to call the hospital to find out about Carl Trenholm;
then I decided to call Pete instead. He'd surely have called the hospital
already. So I gave the Clarion number.
When Pete recognized my voice, he said, "Doc, where the hell have you
"Tell you in a minute, Pete. First, have you got anything about Carl?"
"He's all right. I don't know yet what happened, but he's okay. I
called the hospital and they said he'd been treated and released. I tried to
find out what the injuries had been and how they'd happened, but they said
they couldn't give out that information. I tried his home, but I guess he
hadn't got there yet; nobody answered."
"Thanks, Pete," I said. "That's swell. Listen, there's going to be
plenty to write up. Carl's accident, when we get in touch with him, and the
escape and capture of the lunatic, and - something even bigger than either
of those. So I guess we might as well do it tonight, if that's okay by you."
"Sure, Doc. I'd rather get it over with tonight. Where are you?"
"Over at Smiley's. Come on over for a quick one - to celebrate Carl's
being okay. He can't even be badly hurt if they released him that quickly."
"Okay, Doc, I'll have one. But where were you? And Smiley, too, for
that matter? I looked in there on my way to the office - saw the lights
weren't on here, so I knew you weren't here yet - and you and Smiley were
both gone. I waited five or ten minutes and then I decided I'd better come
across here in case of any phone calls and to start melting metal in the
I said, "Smiley and I had a little ride. I'll tell you about it."
"Okay, Doc. See you in a couple of minutes."
I went back to the bar and when I reached for the shot Smiley had
poured for me, my hand was shaking.
Smiley grinned and said, "Me too, Doc." He held out his hand and I saw
it wasn't much steadier than mine.
"Well," he said, "you got your story, Doc. What you were squawking
about. Say, here's your gun back." He took out the short-barreled
thirty-eight and put it on the bar. "Good as new, except two bullets gone
out of it. How'd you happen to have it with you, Doc?"
For some reason I didn't want to tell him, or anyone, that the escaped
lunatic had made such a sap out of me and had been a guest at my house. So
I, said, "I had to walk down here, and Pete had just phoned me there was a
lunatic loose, so I stuck that in my pocket. Jittery, I guess."
He looked at me and shook his head slowly. I know he was thinking about
my having had that gun in my pocket all along, during what we thought was
our last ride, and never having even tried to use it. I'd been so scared
that I'd completely forgotten about it until Smiley had said he wished he
had a gun.
I grinned and said, "Smiley, you're right in what you're thinking. I've
got no more business with a gun than a snake has with roller skates. Keep
"Huh? You mean it, Doc? I've been thinking about getting one to keep
under the bar."
"Sure, I mean it," I told him. "I'm afraid of the damn things and I'm
safer without one."
He hefted it appraisingly. "Nice gun. It's worth something."
I said, "So's my life, Smiley. To me, anyway. And you saved it when you
pushed me out of that car and over the edge tonight."
"Forget it, Doc. I couldn't have got out that door myself with you
asleep in it. And getting out of the other side of the car wouldn't have
been such a hot idea. Well, if you really mean it, thanks for the gun."
He put it out of sight under the bar and then poured us each a second
drink. "Make it short," I told him. "I've got a lot of work to do."
He glanced at his clock and it was only ten thirty. He said, "Hell,
Doc, the evenin's only a pup."
I thought, but didn't say, what a pup!
I wonder what I'd have thought if I'd even guessed that the pup hadn't
even been weaned yet.
Pete came in.
"It seems a shame," the Walrus said
"To play them such a trick.
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
Neither Smiley nor I had touched, as yet, the second drink he'd poured
us, so there was time for Pete Corey to get in on the round; Smiley poured a
drink for him.
He said, "Okay, Doc, now what's this gag about Smiley and you going for
a ride? You told me your car was laid up and Smiley doesn't drive one."
"Pete," I said, "Smiley doesn't have to be able to drive a car. He's a
gentleman of genius. He kills or captures killers. That's what we were
doing. Anyway, that's what Smiley was doing. I went along, just for the
"Doc, you're kidding me."
I said, "If you don't believe me, read tomorrow's Clarion. Ever hear of
Pete shook his head. He reached for his drink.
"You will," I told him. "In tomorrow's Clarion. Ever hear of George?"
I opened my mouth to say I didn't know, but Smiley beat me to the punch
by saying, "George Kramer."
I stared at Smiley. "How'd you know his last name?"
"Saw it in a fact detective magazine. And his picture, too, and Bat
Masters'. They're members of the Gene Kelley mob."
I stared harder at Smiley. "You recognized them? I mean, before I even
came in here?"
"Sure," Smiley said. "But it wouldn't have been a good idea to phone
the cops while they were here, so I was going to wait till they left, and
then phone the state cops to pick 'em up between here and Chicago. That's
where they were heading. I listened to what they said, and it wasn't much,
but I did get that much out of it. Chicago. They had a date there tomorrow
"You're not kidding, Smiley?" I asked him. "You really had them spotted
before I came in here?"
"I'll show you the magazine, Doc, with their pictures in it. Pictures
of all the Gene Kelley mob."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Smiley shrugged his big shoulders. "You didn't ask. Why didn't you tell
me you had a gun in your pocket? If you coulda slipped it to me in the car,
we'd have polished 'em off sooner. It would have been a cinch; it was so
dark in that back seat after we got out of town, George Kramer wouldn't of
seen you pass it."
He laughed as though he'd said something funny. Maybe he had.
Pete was looking from one to the other of us. He said, "Listen, if this
is a gag, you guys are going a long way for it. What the hell happened?"
Neither of us paid any attention to Pete. I said, "Smiley, where is
that fact detective magazine? Can you get it?"
"Sure, it's upstairs. Why? Don't you believe me?"
"Smiley," I said, "I'd believe you if you told me you were lying. No,
what I had in mind is that that magazine will save me a lot of grief. It'll
have background stuff on the boys we were playing cops and robbers with
tonight. I thought I'd have to phone to Chicago and get it from the cops
there. But if there's a whole article on the Gene Kelley mob in that mag,
I'll have enough without that."
"Get it right away, Doc." Smiley went through the door that led
I took pity on Pete and gave him a quick sketch of our experience with
the gangsters. It was fun to watch his mouth drop open and to think that a
lot of other mouths in Carmel City would do that same thing tomorrow when
the Clarion was distributed.
Smiley came back down with the magazine and I put it in my pocket and
went to the phone again. I still had to have the details about what had
happened to Carl, for the paper. I still wanted it for my own information
too, but that wasn't so important as long as he wasn't seriously hurt.
I tried the hospital first but they gave me the same runaround they'd
given Pete; sorry, but since Mr. Trenholm had been discharged, they could
give out no information. I thanked them. I tried Carl's own phone and got no
answer, so I went back to Pete and Smiley.
Smiley happened to be staring out the window. He said, "Somebody just
went in your office, Doc. Looked like Clyde Andrews."
Pete turned to look, too, but was too late. He said, "Guess that's who
it must've been. Forgot to tell you, Doc; he phoned about twenty minutes ago
while I was waiting for you over at the office. I told him I expected you
"You didn't lock the door, did you, Pete?" I asked. He shook his head.
I waited a minute to give the banker time to get up the stairs and into
the office and then I went back to the phone and called the Clarion number.
It rang several times while Clyde, apparently, was making up his mind
whether to answer it or not. Finally he did.
"This is Doc, Clyde," I said. "How's the boy?"
"He's all right, Doc. He's fine. And I want to thank you again for what
you did and - I want to talk to you about something. Are you on your way
"I'm across the street at Smiley's. How about dropping over here if you
want to talk?"
He hesitated. "Can't you come here?" he asked.
I grinned to myself. Clyde Andrews is not only a strict temperance
advocate; he's head of a local chapter (a small one, thank God) of the
Anti-Saloon League. He'd probably never been in a tavern in his life.
I said, "I'm afraid I can't, Clyde." I made my voice very grave. "I'm
afraid if you want to talk to me, it will have to be here at Smiley's."
He got me, all right. He said stiffly, "I'll be there."
I sauntered back to the bar. I said, "Clyde Andrews is coming here,
Smiley. Chalk up a first."
Smiled stared at me. "I don't believe it," he said. He laughed.
"Watch," I told him.
Solemnly I went around behind the bar and got a bottle and two glasses
and took them to a table - the one in the far corner farthest from the bar.
I liked the way Pete and Smiley stared at me.
I filled both the glasses and sat down. Pete and Smiley stared some
more. Then they turned and stared the other way as Clyde came in, walking
stiffly. He said, "Good evening, Mr. Corey," to Pete and "Good evening, Mr.
Wheeler" to Smiley, and then came back to where I was sitting.
I said, "Sit down, Clyde," and he sat down.
I looked at him. I said sternly, "Clyde, I don't like - in advance -
what you're going to ask me."
"But, Doc," he said earnestly, almost pleadingly, "must you print what
happened? Harvey didn't mean to-"
"That's what I meant," I said. "What makes you think I'd even think of
printing a word about it?"
He looked at me and his face changed. "Doc! You're not going to?"
"Of course not." I leaned forward. "Listen, Clyde, I'll make you a bet
- or I would if you were a betting man. I'll bet I know exactly the amount
of money the kid had in his pocket when he was leaving - and, no I didn't
look in his pockets. I'll bet he had a savings account - he's been working
summers several years now, hasn't he? - and he was running away. And he knew
damn well you wouldn't let him draw his own money and that he couldn't draw
it without your knowing it. Whether he had twenty dollars or a thousand,
I'll bet you it was the exact amount of his own account."
He took a deep breath. "You're right. Exactly right. And - thanks for
thinking that, before you knew it. I was going to tell you."
"For a fifteen-year-old, Harvey's a good kid, Clyde. Now listen, you'll
admit I did the right thing tonight calling you instead of calling the
sheriff? And in keeping the story out of the paper?"
"You're in a saloon, Clyde. A den of iniquity. You should have said
`Hell, yes.' But I don't suppose it would sound natural if you did, so I
won't insist on it. But, Clyde, how much thinking have you been doing about
why the boy was running away? Has he told you that yet?"
He shook his head slowly. "He's all right now, in bed, asleep. Dr.
Minton gave him a sedative, but told me Harvey had better not do any talking
"I'll tell you right now," I said, "that he won't have any very
coherent story about it. Maybe he'll say he was running away to join the
army or to go on the stage or - or almost anything. But it won't be the
truth, even if he thinks it is. Clyde, whether he knows it or not, he was
running away. Not toward."
"Away from what?"
"From you," I said.
For a second I thought he was going to get angry and I'm glad he
didn't, because then I might have got angry too and that would have spoiled
the whole thing.
Instead, he slumped a little. He said, "Go on, Doc.
I hated to, then, but I had to strike while the striking was good. I
said, "Listen, Clyde, get up and walk out any time you want to; I'm going to
give it to you straight. You've been a lousy father." At any other time he'd
have walked out on me on that one. I could tell by his face that, even now,
he didn't like it. But at any other time he wouldn't have been sitting at a
back table in Smiley's tavern, either.
I said, "You're a good man, Clyde, but you work at it too hard. You're
rigid, unyielding, righteous. Nobody can love a ramrod. There's nothing
wrong with your being religious, if you want to. Some good men are
religious. But you've got to realize that everybody who doesn't think as you
do isn't necessarily wrong."
I said, "Take alcohol - literally, if you wish; there's a glass of
whisky in front of you. But take it figuratively, anyway. It's been a solace
to the human race, one of the things that can make life tolerable, since -
damn it, since before the human race was even human. True, there are a few
people who can't handle it - but that's no reason to try to legislate it
away from the people who can handle it, and whose enjoyment of life is
increased by its moderate use - or even by its occasional immoderate use,
providing it doesn't make them pugnacious or otherwise objectionable.
"But - let's skip alcohol. My point is that a man can be a good man
without trying to interfere with his neighbor's life too much. Or with his
son's. Boys are human, Clyde. People in general are human; people are more
human than anybody."
He didn't say anything, and that was a hopeful sign. Maybe a tenth of
it was sinking in.
I said, "Tomorrow, when you can talk with the kid, Clyde, what are you
going to say?"
"I - I don't know, Doc."
I said, "Don't say anything. Above all, don't ask him any question. Not
a damn question. And let him keep that money, in cash, so he can run away
any time he decides to. Then maybe he won't. If you change your attitude
"But, damn it, Clyde, you can't change your attitude toward him, and
unbend, without unbending in general toward the human race. The kid's a
human being, too. And you could be, if you wanted to. Maybe you think it
will cost you your immortal soul to be one - I don't think so, myself, and I
think there are a great many truly religious people who don't think so
either - but if you persist in not being one, then you're going to lose your
I decided that that was it. There wasn't anything more that I could say
that couldn't weaken my case. I decided I'd better shut up. I did shut up.
It seemed like a long, long time before he said anything. He was
staring at the wall over my head. When he answered what I'd said, he still
didn't say anything. He did better, a lot better.
He picked up the whisky in front of him. I got mine picked up in time
to down it as he took a sip of his. He made a face.
"Tastes horrible," he said. "Doc, do you really like this stuff?"
"No," I told him. "I hate the taste of it. You're right, Clyde, it is
He looked at the glass in his hand and shuddered a little. I said,
"Don't drink it. That sip you took proved your point. And don't try to toss
it off; you'll probably choke."
He said, "I suppose you have to learn to like it. Doc, I've drunk a
little wine a few times, not recently, but I didn't dislike it too much.
Does Mr. Wheeler have any wine?"
"The name is Smiley," I said, "and he does." I stood up. I clapped him
on the back, and it was the first time in my life I'd ever done so. I said,
"Come on, Clyde, let's see what the boys in the back room will have."
I took him over to the bar, to Pete and Smiley. I told Smiley, "We want
a round, and it's on Clyde. Wine for him, and I'll take a short beer this
time; I've got to rewrite a paper tonight."
I frowned at Smiley because of the utterly amazed look on his face, and
he got the hint and straightened it out. He said, "Sure, Mr. Andrews. What
kind of wine?"
"Do you have sherry, Mr. Wheeler?"
I said, "Clyde, meet Smiley. Smiley, Clyde."
Smiley laughed, and Clyde smiled. The smile was a bit stiff, and would
take practice, but I knew and knew damned well that Harvey Andrews wasn't
going to run away from home again.
He was going, henceforth, to have a father who was human. Oh, I don't
mean that I expected Clyde suddenly to turn into Smiley's best customer.
Maybe he'd never come back to Smiley's again. But by ordering one drink -
even of wine - across a bar, he'd crossed a Rubicon. He wasn't perfect
I was beginning to feel my own drinks again and I didn't really want
the one Clyde bought for me, but it was an Occasion, so I took it. But I was
getting in a hurry to get back across the street to the Clarion and get to
work on all the stories I had to write, so I downed it fairly quickly and
Pete and I left. Clyde left when we did, because he wanted to get back to
his son; I didn't blame him for that.
At the Clarion, Pete checked the pot on the Linotype and found it hat
enough - while I pulled up the typewriter stand beside my desk and started
abusing the ancient Underwood. I figured that, with the dope in the fact
detective magazine Smiley had given me for background, I could run it to
three or four columns, so I had a lot of work ahead of me. The escaped
looney and Carl could wait - now that the former was captured and now that I
knew Carl was safe - until I got the main story done.
I told Pete, while he was waiting for the first take, to hand set a
banner head, "TAVERNKEEPER CAPTURES WANTED KILLERS," to see if it would fit.
Oh, sure, I was going to put myself in the story, too, but I was going to
make Smiley the hero of it, for one simple reason: he had been.
Pete had the head set up - and it fitted - by the time I had a take for
him to start setting on the machine.
In the middle of the second take I realized that I didn't know for sure
that Bat Masters was still alive, although I'd put it that way in the lead.
I might as well find out for sure that he really was, and what condition he
I knew better than to call the hospital for anything more detailed than
whether he was dead or not, so I picked up the phone and called the state
police office at Watertown. Willie Peeble answered.
He said, "Sure, Doc, he's alive. He's even been conscious and talked
some. Thinks he's dying, so he really opened up."
"Is he dying?"
"Sure, but not the way he thinks. It'll cost the state some kilowatts.
And he can't beat the rap; they've got the whole gang cold, once they catch
them. There were six people - two of 'em women - killed in that bank job
they pulled at Colby."
"Was George in on that?"
"Sure. He was the one that shot the women. One was a teller and the
other one was a customer who was too scared to move when they told her to
That made me feel a little better about what had happened to George.
Not that it had worried me too much.
I said, "Then I can put in the story that Bat Masters confesses?"
"I dunno about that, Doc. Captain Evans is at the hospital talking to
him now, and we had one report here that Masters is talking, but not the
details. I don't think the cap would even bother asking him about that
"What would he ask him, then?"
"The rest of the mob, where they are. There are two others besides Gene
Kelley, and it'd be a real break if the cap can get out of Masters something
that would help us find the others. Especially Kelley. The two we got
tonight are peanuts compared to Kelley."
I said, "Thanks a lot, Willie. Listen, if anything more breaks on the
story, will you give me a ring? I'll be here at the Clarion for a while
"Sure," he said. "So long."
I hung up and went back to the story. It went sweetly. I was on the
fourth take when the phone rang and it was Captain Evans of the state
police, calling from the hospital where they'd taken Masters. He'd just
phoned Watertown and knew about my call there.
He said, "Mr. Stoeger? You going to be there another fifteen or twenty
I was probably going to be working another several hours, I told him.
"Fine," he said, "I'll drive right around."
That was duck soup; I'd have my story about his questioning Masters
right from the horse's mouth. So I didn't bother asking him any questions
over the phone.
And I found myself, when I'd finished that take, up to the point in the
story where the questioning of Masters should come, so I decided I might as
well wait until I'd talked to Evans, since he was going to be here so soon.
Meanwhile I might as well start checking on the other two stories
again. I called Carl Trenholm, still got no answer. I called the county
asylum. Dr. Buchan, the superintendent, wasn't there, the girl at the
switchboard told me; she asked if I wanted to talk to his assistant and I
She put him on and before I'd finished explaining who I was and what I
wanted, he'd interrupted me. "He's on his way over to see you now, Mr.
Stoeger. You're at the Clarion office?"
"Yes," I said, "I'm here now. And you say Dr. Buchan's on his way?
My stories were coming to me, I thought happily, as I put the phone
back. Both Captain Evans and Dr. Buchan. Now if only Carl would drop in too
and explain what had happened to him.
He did. Not that exact second, but only about two minutes later. I'd
wandered over to the stone and was looking gloatingly at the horrible front
page with no news on it and thinking how lovely it was going to look a
couple of hours from now and listening with pleasure to the click of the
mats down the channels of the Linotype, when the door opened and Carl walked
His clothes were a little dusty and disheveled; he had a big patch of
adhesive tape on his forehead and his eyes looked a little bleary. He had a
He said, "Hi, Doc. How's everything?"
"Wonderful," I told him. "What happened to you, Carl?"
"That's what I dropped in to tell you, Doc. Thought you might get a
garbled version of it and be worried about me."
"I couldn't even get a garbled version. No version at all; the hospital
wouldn't give. What happened?"
"Got drunk. Went for a walk out the pike to sober up and got so woozy I
had to lie down a minute, so I headed for the grassy strip the other side of
the ditch alongside the road and - well, my foot slipped as I was stepping
across the ditch and the ground, with a chunk of rock in its hand, reached
up and slapped me in the face."
"Who found you, Carl?" I asked him.
He chuckled. "I don't even know. I woke up - or came to - in the
sheriff's car on the way to the hospital. Tried to talk him out of taking me
there, but he insisted. They checked me for a concussion and let me go."
"How do you feel now?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Well," I said, "maybe not. Want a drink?"
He shuddered. I didn't insist. Instead, I asked him where he'd been
since he'd left the hospital.
"Drinking black coffee at the Greasy Spoon. Think I'm able to make it
home by now. In fact, I'm on my way. But I knew you'd have heard about it
and thought you might as well have the - uh - facts straight in case - uh-"
"Don't be an ass, Carl," I told him. "You don't rate a stick of type,
even if you wanted it. And, by the way, Smiley gave me the inside dope on
Bonney's divorce, so I cut down the story to essentials and cut out the
charges against Bonney."
"That's swell of you, Doc."
"Why didn't you tell me the truth about it yourself?" I asked him.
"Afraid of interfering with the freedom of the press? Or of taking advantage
of a friendship?"
"Well - somewhere in between, I guess. Anyway, thanks. Well, maybe I'll
see you tomorrow. If I live that long."
He left and I wandered back to my desk. The Linotype was caught up to
the typewriter by now, and I hoped Evans would show up soon - or Dr. Buchan
from the asylum - so I could get ahead with at least one of the stories and
not keep Pete working any later than necessary. For myself, I didn't give a
damn. I was too keyed up to have been able to sleep anyway.
Well, there was one thing we could be doing to save time later. We went
over to the stone and started pulling all the filler items out of the back
pages so we could move back the least important stories on page one to make
room for the two big stories we still had coming. We'd need at least two
full page one columns - and more if we could manage it - for the capture of
the bank robbers and the escape of the maniac.
We were just getting the pages unlocked, though, when Dr. Buchan came
in. An elderly lady - she looked vaguely familiar to me but I couldn't place
her - was with him.
She smiled at me and said, "Do you remember me, Mr. Stoeger?" And the
smile did it; I did remember her. She'd lived next door to me when I was a
kid, forty-some years ago, and she'd given me cookies. And I remembered now
that, while I was away at college, I'd heard that she had gone mildly, not
dangerously, insane and had been taken to the asylum. That must have been -
Good Lord - thirty-some years ago. She must be well over seventy by now. And
her name was-
"Certainly, Mrs. Griswald," I told her. "I even remember the cookies
and candy you used to give me."
And I smiled back at her. She looked so happy that one couldn't help
smiling back at her. She said, "I'm so glad you remember, Mr. Stoeger. want
you to do me a big favor - and I'm so glad you remember those days, because
maybe you'll do it for me. Dr. Buchan - he's so wonderful - offered to bring
me here so I could ask you. I - I really wasn't running away this evening. I
was just confused. The door was open and I forgot. I was thinking that it
was forty years ago and I wondered what I was doing there and why I wasn't
home with Otto, and so I just started home, that's all. And by the time I
remembered that Otto was dead for so long and that I was-" The smile was
tremulous now, and there were tears in her eyes. "Well, by that time I was
lost and couldn't find my way back, until they found me. I even tried to
find my way back, once I remembered and knew where I was supposed to be."
I glanced over her head at tall Dr. Buchan, and he nodded to me. But I
still didn't know what it was all about. I didn't see, so I said, "I see,
Her smile was back. She nodded brightly. "Then you won't put it in the
paper? About my wandering away, I mean? Because I didn't really mean to do
it. And Clara, my daughter, lives in Springfield now, but she still
subscribes to your paper for news from home, and if she reads in the Clarion
that I - escaped - she'll think I'm not happy there and it'll worry her. And
I am happy, Mr. Stoeger - Dr. Buchan is wonderful to me - and I don't want
to make Clara unhappy or have her worry about me, and - you won't write it
up, will you?"
I patted her shoulder gently. I said, "Of course not, Mrs. Griswald."
And then suddenly she was against my chest, crying, and I was
embarrassed as hell. Until Dr. Buchan pulled her gently away and started her
toward the door. He stepped back a second and said to me so quietly that she
couldn't hear, "It's straight, Stoeger. I mean, it probably would worry her
daughter a lot and she really wasn't escaping - she just wandered off. And
her daughter really does read your paper."
"Don't worry," I said. "I won't mention it."
Past him, I could see the door open and Captain Evans of the state
police was coming in. He left the door open and Mrs. Griswald was wandering
Dr. Buchan shook hands quickly. He said, "Thanks a lot, then. And on my
behalf as well as Mrs. Griswald's. It doesn't do an institution like ours
any good to have publicity on escapes, of course. Not that I'd have asked
you, myself, to suppress the story on that account. But since our patient
had a really good, and legitimate, reason to ask you not to-"
He happened to turn and see that his patient was already herding down
the stairs. He hurried after her before she could again become confused and
wander into limbo.
Another story gone, I thought, as I shook hands with Evans. Those
cookies had been expensive - if worth it. I thought, suddenly, of all the
stories I'd had to kill tonight. The bank burglary - for good and obvious
reasons. Carl's accident - because it had been trivial after all, and
writing it up would have hurt his reputation as a lawyer. The accident in
the Roman candle department, because it might have lost Mrs. Carr's husband
a needed job. Ralph Bonney's divorce - well, not killed, exactly, but played
down from a long, important story to a short news item. Mrs. Griswald's
escape from the asylum -because she'd given me cookies once and because it
would have worried her daughter. Even the auction sale at the Baptist Church
- for the most obvious reason of all, that it had been called off.
But what the hell did any of that matter as long as I had one really
big story left, the biggest of them all? And there wasn't any conceivable
reason why I couldn't print that one.
Captain Evans took the seat I pulled up for him by my desk and I sank
back into the swivel chair and got a pencil ready for what he was going to
"Thanks a hell of a lot for coming here, Cap. Now what's the score
about what you got out of Masters?"
He pushed his hat back on his head and frowned. He said, "I'm sorry,
Doc. I'm going to have to ask you - on orders from the top - not to run the
story at all."
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought-
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.
I don't know what my face looked like. I know I dropped the pencil and
that I had to clear my throat when what I started to say wouldn't come out
the first time.
The second time, it came out, if a bit querulously. "Cap, you're
kidding me. You can't really mean it. The one big thing that's ever happened
here - Is this a gag?"
He shook his head. "Nope, Doc. It's the McCoy. It comes right from the
chief himself. I can't make you hold back the story, naturally. But I want
to tell you the facts and I hope you'll decide to." I breathed a little more
freely when he said he couldn't make me hold it back. It wouldn't hurt me to
"Go ahead," I told him. "It had better be good."
He leaned forward. "It's this way, Doc. This Gene Kelley mob is nasty
stuff. Real killers. I guess you found that out tonight about two of them.
And, by the way, you did a damn good job."
"Smiley Wheeler did. I just went along for the ride."
It was a weak joke, but he laughed at it. Probably just to please me.
He said, "If we can keep it quiet for about forty more hours - till Saturday
afternoon - we can break up the gang completely. Including the big shot
himself, Gene Kelley."
"Why Saturday afternoon?"
"Masters and Kramer had a date for Saturday afternoon with Kelley and
the rest of the mob. At a hotel in Gary, Indiana. They've been separated
since their last job, and they'd arranged that date to get together for the
next one, see? When Kelley and the others show up for that date, well, we've
"That is, unless the news gets out that Masters and Kramer are already
in the bag. Then Kelley and company won't show up."
"Why can't we twist one little thing in the story," I suggested. "Just
say Masters and Kramer were both dead?"
He shook his head. "The other boys wouldn't take any chances. Nope, if
they know our two boys were either caught or killed, they'll stay away from
Gary in droves."
I sighed. I knew it wouldn't work, but I said hopefully, "Maybe none of
the gang members reads the Carmel City Clarion."
"You know better than that, Doc. Other papers all over the country
would pick it up. The Saturday morning papers would have it, even if the
Friday evening editions didn't get it." He had a sudden thought and looked
startled. "Say, Doc, who represents the news services here? Have they got
the story yet?"
"I represent them," I said sadly. "But I hadn't wired either of them on
this yet. I was going to wait till my own paper was out. They'd have fired
me, sure, and it would have cost me a few bucks a year, but for once I was
going to have a big story break in my own paper before I threw it to the
He said, "I'm sorry, Doc. I guess this is a big thing for you. But now,
at least, you won't lose out with the news services. You can say you held
the story at the request of the police - until, say, midafternoon Saturday.
Then send it in to them and get credit for it."
"Cash, you mean. I want the credit of breaking it in the Clarion, damn
"But will you hold it up, Doc? Listen, those boys are killers. You'll
be saving lives if you let us get them. Do you know anything about Gene
I nodded; I'd been reading about him in the magazine Smiley had lent
me. He wasn't a very nice man. Evans was right in saying it would cost human
lives to print that story if the story kept Kelley out of the trap he'd
otherwise walk into.
I looked up and Pete was standing there listening. I tried to judge
from his face what he thought about it, but he was keeping it carefully
I scowled at him and said; "Shut off that God damn Linotype. I can't
hear myself think."
He went and shut it off.
Evans looked relieved. He said, "Thanks, Doc." For no reason at all -
the evening was moderately cool - he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his
forehead. "What a break it was that Masters hated the rest of the mob enough
to turn them in for us when he figured he was done himself. And that you're
willing to hold the story till we get 'em. Well, you can use it next week."
There wasn't any use telling him that I could also print a chapter or
two of Caesar's Gallic Wars next week; it was ancient history too.
So I didn't say anything and after a few more seconds he got up and
It seemed awfully quiet without the Linotype running. Pete came over.
He said, "Well, Doc, we still got that nine-inch hole in the front page that
you said you'd find some way of filling in the morning. Maybe while we're
I ran my fingers through what is left of my hair. "Run it as is, Pete,"
I told him, "except with a black border around it."
"Look, Doc, I can pull forward that story on the Ladies' Aid election
and if I reset it narrow measure to fit a box, it'll maybe run long enough."
I couldn't think of anything better. I said, "Sure, Pete," but when he
started toward the Linotype to turn it back on, I said, "But not tonight,
Pete. In the morning. It's half past eleven. Get home to the wife and
"But I'd just as soon-"
"Get the hell out of here," I said, "before I bust out blubbering. I
don't want anybody to see me do it."
He grinned to show he knew I didn't really mean it and said, "Sure,
Doc. I'll get down a little early, then. Seven- thirty. You going to stick
around a while now?"
"A few minutes," I said. " `Night, Pete. Thanks for coming down, and
I kept sitting at my desk for a minute after he'd left, and I didn't
blubber, but I wanted to all right. It didn't seem possible that so much had
happened and that I couldn't get even a stick of type out of any of it. For
a few minutes I wished that I was a son-of-a-bitch instead of a sucker so I
could go ahead and print it all. Even if it let the Kelley mob get away to
do more killing, lost my housekeeper's husband her job, made a fool out of
Carl Trenholm, worried Mrs. Griswald's daughter and ruined Harvey Andrews'
reputation by telling how he'd been caught robbing his father's bank while
running away from home. And while I was at it, I might as well smear Ralph
Bonney by listing the untrue charges brought against him in the divorce case
and write a humorous little item about the leader of the local antisaloon
faction setting up a round for the boys at Smiley's. And even run the
rummage sale story on the ground that the cancellation had been too late and
let a few dozen citizens make a trip in vain. It would be wonderful to be a
son-of-a-bitch instead of a sucker so I could do all that. Sons-of-bitches
must have more fun than people. And definitely they get out bigger and
I wandered over and looked at the front page lying there on the stone,
and for something to do I dropped the filler items back in page four. The
ones we'd taken out to let us move back the present junk from page one to
make room for all the big stories we were going to break. I locked up the
It was quiet as hell.
I wondered why I didn't get out of there and have another drink - or a
hell of a lot of drinks - at Smiley's. I wondered why I didn't want to get
stinking drunk. But I didn't.
I wandered over to the window and stood staring down at the quiet
street. They hadn't rolled the sidewalks in yet - closing time for taverns
is midnight in Carmel City - but nobody was walking on them.
A car went by and I recognized it as Ralph Bonney's car, heading
probably, to pick up Miles Harrison and take him over to Neilsville to pick
up the night side pay roll for the fireworks plant, including the Roman
candle department. To which I had briefly-
I decided I'd smoke one more cigarette and then go home. I reached into
my pocket and pulled out the cigarette package and something fluttered to
the floor - a card.
I picked it up and stared at it. It read.
Suddenly the dead night was alive again. I'd written off Yehudi Smith
when I'd heard that the escaped lunatic had been captured. I'd written him
off so completely that I'd forgotten to write him on again when Dr. Buchan
had brought in Mrs. Griswald to talk to me.
Yehudi Smith wasn't the escaped lunatic.
Suddenly I wanted to jump up into the air and click my heels together,
I wanted to run, I wanted to yell.
Then I remembered how long I'd been gone and I almost ran to the
telephone on my desk. I gave my own number and my heart sank as it rang
once, twice, thrice - and then after the fourth ring Smith's voice answered
with a sleepy-sounding hello.
I said, "This is Doc Stoeger, Mr. Smith. I'm starting home now. Want to
apologize for having kept you waiting so long. Some things happened:"
"Good. I mean, good that you're coming now. What time is it?"
"About half past eleven. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. And thanks
I hurried into my coat and grabbed my hat. I almost forgot to turn out
the lights and lock the door.
Smiley's first, but not for a drink; I picked up a bottle to take
along. The one at my house had been getting low when I left; only God knew
what had happened to it since.
Leaving Smiley's with the bottle, I swore again at the fact that my car
was laid up with those flat tires. Not that it's a long walk or that I mind
walking in the slightest where I'm not in a hurry, but again I was in a
hurry. Last time it had been because I thought Carl Trenholm was dead or
seriously injured - and to get away from Yehudi Smith. This time it was to
get back to him.
Past the post office, now dark. The bank, this time with the night
light on and no evidence of crime in sight. Past the spot where the Buick
had pulled up and a voice had asked someone named Buster what town this was.
There wasn't a car in sight now, friend or foe. Past everything that I'd
passed so many thousand times, and off the main street into the friendly,
pleasant side streets no longer infested with homicidal maniacs or other
horrors. I didn't look behind me once, all the way home.
I felt so good I felt silly. Best of all I was cold-sobered by
everything that had been happening, and I was ready and in the mood for a
few more drinks and some more screwy conversation.
I still didn't completely believe he'd be there, but he was.
And he looked so familiar sitting there that I wondered why I'd
doubted. I said "Hi," and shied my hat at the hatrack and it hit a peg and
stayed there. That was the first time that had happened in months so I knew
from that that I was lucky tonight. As if I needed that to prove it.
I took the seat across from him, just as we'd been sitting before, and
I poured us each a drink - still from the first bottle; apparently he hadn't
drunk much while I'd been gone - and started to renew the apologies I'd made
over the phone for having been away so long.
He waved the apologies away with a casual gesture. "It doesn't matter
at all, as long as you got back." He smiled. "I had a nice nap."
We touched glasses and drank. He said, "Let's see; just where were we
when you got that phone call - oh, which reminds me; you said it was about
an accident to a friend. May I ask-?"
"He's all right," I told him. "Nothing serious. It was - well, other
things kept coming up that kept me away so long."
"Good. Then - oh, yes, I remember. When the phone rang we were talking
about the Roman candle department. We'd just drunk to it."
I remembered and nodded. "That's where I've been, ever since I left
"Quite," I said. "They fired me half an hour ago, but it was fun while
it lasted. Wait; no, it wasn't. I won't lie to you. At the time it was
happening, it was pretty horrible."
His eyebrows went up a little. "Then you're serious. Something did
happen. You know, Doctor-"
"Doc," I said.
"You know, Doc, you're different. Changed, somehow."
I refilled our glasses, still from the first bottle, although that
round killed it.
"It's temporary, I think. Yes, Mr. Smith, I had-"
"Smitty," he said.
"Yes, Smitty, I had a rather bad experience, while it lasted, and I'm
still in reaction from it, but the reaction won't last. I'm still jittery
from it and I may be even more jittery tomorrow when I realize what a narrow
squeak I had, but I'm still the same guy. Doc Stoeger, fifty-three, genial
failure both as a hero and as an editor."
Silence for a few seconds and then he said, "Doc, I like you. I think
you're a swell guy. I don't know what happened, and I don't suppose you want
to tell me, but I'll bet you one thing."
"Thanks, Smitty," I said. "And it's not that I don't want to tell you
what happened this evening; it's just that I don't want to talk about it at
all, right now. Some other time I'll be glad to tell you, but right now I
want to stop thinking about it - and start thinking about Lewis Carroll
again. What's the one thing you want to bet me, though?"
"That you're not a failure as an editor. As a hero, maybe - damned few
of us are heroes. But I'll bet you said you were a failure as an editor
because you killed a story - for some good reason. And not a selfish one.
Would I win that bet?"
"You would," I said. I didn't tell him he'd have won it five times
over. "But I'm not proud of myself - the only thing is that I'd have been
ashamed of myself otherwise. This way, I'm going to be ashamed of my paper.
All newspapermen, Smitty, should be sons-of-bitches."
"Why?" And before I could answer he tossed off the drink I'd just
poured him -tossed it off as before with that fascinating trick of the glass
never really nearing his lips - and answered it himself with a more
unanswerable question. "So that newspapers will be more entertaining? - at
the expense of human lives they might wreck or even destroy?"
The mood was gone, or the mood was wrong. I shook myself a little. I
said, "Let's get back to Jabberwocks. And - My God, every time I get to
talking seriously it sobers me up. I had such a nice edge early in the
evening. Let's have another - and to Lewis Carroll again. And then go back
to that gobbledegook you were giving me, the stuff that sounded like
Einstein on a binge."
He grinned: "Wonderful word, gobbledegook. Carroll might have
originated it, except that there was less of it in his time. All right, Doc,
And again his glass was empty. It was a trick I'd have to learn, no
matter how much time it took or how much whisky it wasted. But, the first
time, in private.
I drank mine and it was the third since I'd come home, fifteen minutes
ago; I was beginning to feel them. Not that I feel three drinks, starting
from scratch, but these didn't start from scratch. I'd had quite a few early
in the evening, before the fresh air of my little ride with Bat and George
had cleared my head, and several at Smiley's thereafter.
They were hitting me now. Not hard, but definitely.
There was a mistiness about the room. We were talking about Carroll and
mathematics again, or Yehudi Smith was talking, anyway, and I was trying to
concentrate on what he was saying. He seemed, for a moment, to blur a little
and to advance and recede as I looked at him. And his voice was a blur, too,
a blur of sines and cosines. I shook my head to clear it a bit and decided
I'd better lay off the bottle for a while.
Then I realized that what he'd just said was a question and I begged
"The clock on your mantel," he repeated, "is it correct?"
I managed to focus my eyes on it. Ten minutes to twelve. I said, "Yes,
it's right. It's still early. You're not thinking of going, surely. I'm a
little woozy at the moment, but-"
"How long will it take us to get there from here? I have directions how
to reach it, of course, but you could probably estimate the time it will
take us better than I can."
For a second I stared at him blankly, wondering what he was talking
Then I remembered.
We were going to a haunted house to hunt a Jabberwock - or something.
"First, the fish must be caught."
That is easy: a baby, I think, could have caught it.
"Next, the fish must be bought."
That is easy: a penny, I think, would have bought it.
Maybe you won't believe that I could have forgotten that, but I had. So
much had happened between the time I'd left my house and the time I returned
that it's a wonder, I suppose, that I still remembered my own name, and
Ten minutes before twelve and we were due there, he'd said, at one
"You have a car?" I asked him.
He nodded. "A few doors down. I got out at the wrong place to look for
street numbers, but I was close enough that I didn't bother moving the car."
"Then somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes will get us there," I
"Fine, Doctor. Then we've got forty minutes yet if we allow half an
The woozy spell was passing fast, but I refilled his glass this time
without refilling my own. I wanted to sober up a bit - not completely,
because if I were sober I might get sensible and decide not to go, and I
didn't want to decide not to go.
Smith had settled back in his chair, not looking at me, so I looked at
him, and wondered what I was doing even to listen to the absurd story he'd
told me about Vorpal Blades and the old Wentworth house.
He wasn't the escaped lunatic, but that didn't mean he wasn't a
screwball, and that I wasn't a worse one. What the hell were we going to do
out there? Try to fish a Bandersnatch out of limbo? Or break through a
looking-glass or dive down a rabbit hole to go hunting one in its native
Well, as long as I didn't get sober enough to spoil things, it was
wonderful. Crazy or not, I was having a marvelous time. The best time I'd
had since the Halloween almost forty years ago when we- But never mind that;
it's a sign of old age to reminisce about the things you did when you were
young, and I'm not old yet. Not very, anyway.
Yes, my eyes were focusing all right again now, but the mistiness in
the room was still there, and I realized that it wasn't mistiness but smoke.
I looked across at the window and wondered if I wanted it open badly enough
to get up and open it.
The window. A black square framing the night.
The midnight. Where were you at midnight? With Yehudi. Who's Yehudi? A
little man who wasn't there. But I have the card. Let's see it, Doc. Hmmm.
What's your bug number? My bug number?
And the black rook takes the white knight.
The smoke was definitely too thick, and so was I. I walked to the
window and threw up the bottom sash. The lights behind me made it a mirror.
There was my reflection. An insignificant little man with graying hair, and
glasses, and a necktie badly askew.
He grinned at me and straightened his necktie. I remembered the verse
from Carroll that Al Grainger had quoted at me early in the evening:
"You are old, Father William," the young man said
"And your hair has become very white
And yet you incessantly stand on your head.
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
And that made me think of Al Grainger. I wondered if there was still
any chance of his showing up. I'd told him to come around any time up to
midnight and it was that now. I wished now that he would come. Not for
chess, as we'd planned, but so he could go along an our expedition. Not that
I was exactly afraid, but - well, I wished that Al Grainger would show up.
It occurred to me that he might have come or phoned and that Yehudi had
failed to mention it. I asked him.
He shook his head, "No, Doc. Nobody came and the only phone call was
the one you yourself made just before you came home."
So that was that, unless Al showed up in the next half hour or unless I
phoned him. And I didn't want to do that. I'd been enough of a coward
earlier in the evening.
Just the same I felt a little hollow-
My God, I was hollow. I'd had a sandwich late in the afternoon, but
that had been eight hours ago and I hadn't eaten anything since. No wonder
the last couple of drinks had hit me.
I suggested to Yehudi that we raid the icebox and he said it sounded
like a wonderful idea to him. And it must have been, for it turned out that
he was as hungry as I. Between us we killed a pound of boiled ham, most of a
loaf of rye and a medium-sized jar of pickles.
It was almost half past-twelve when we finished. There was just time
for a stirrup cup, and we had one. With food in my stomach, it tasted much
better and went down much more smoothly than the last one had. It tasted so
good, in fact, that I decided to take the bottle - we'd started the second
one by then - along with us. We might, after all, run into a blizzard.
"Ready to go?" Smith asked.
I decided I'd better put the window down. In its reflecting pane, over
my shoulder I could see Yehudi Smith standing by the door waiting for me.
The reflection was clear and sharp; it brought out the bland roundness of
his face, the laughter-tracks around his mouth and eyes, the rotund
absurdity of his body.
And an impulse made me walk over and hold out my hand to him and shake
his hand when he put it into mine rather wonderingly. We hadn't shaken hands
when we'd introduced ourselves on the porch and something made me want to do
it now. I don't mean that I'm clairvoyant. I'm not, or I'd never have gone.
No, I don't know why I shook hands with him.
Just an impulse, but one I'm very glad I followed. Just as I'm glad I'd
given him food and drink instead of letting him go to his strange death
sober or on an empty stomach.
And I'm even gladder that I said, "Smitty, I like you."
He looked pleased; but somehow embarrassed. He said, "Thanks, Doc," but
for the first time his eyes didn't quite meet mine.
We went out and walked up the quiet street to where he'd left his car,
and got in.
It's odd how clearly you remember some things and how vague others are.
I recall that there was a push button radio on the dashboard and that the
button for WBBM was pushed in, and I recall that the gear shift knob was
brightly polished onyx. But I don't recall whether the car was a coupe or a
sedan, and haven't the vaguest idea what make or color it was. I recall that
the engine was quite noisy - my only clue as to whether it was an old car or
a new one, that and the fact that the gear shift was on the floor and not on
the steering wheel post.
I remember that he drove well and carefully and talked little, probably
because of the noisiness of the motor.
I directed him, but I don't recall now, not that it matters, what route
we took. I remember, though, that I didn't recognize the driveway of the old
Wentworth place - the house itself was set quite far back from the road and
you couldn't see it through the trees even in daylight - but a little
farther on I recognized the farm that an aunt and uncle of mine had lived in
many years ago and knew we'd passed our objective.
He turned back, then, and this time I spotted the driveway and we
turned in and followed the drive back among the trees to the house itself.
We parked alongside it.
"First ones here," Smith said in the sudden silence as he turned off
I got out of the car and - I don't know why; or do I? - I took the
bottle with me. It was so dark outside that I couldn't see the bottle in
front of my eyes as I tilted it upward.
Smith had turned out the headlights and was getting out of his side of
the car. He had a flashlight in his hand and I could see again as he came
around to my side of the car. I held out the bottle to him and said, "Want
one?" and he said, "You read my mind, Doc," and took one. My eyes were
getting a little used to the dark now and I could see the outlines of the
house, and I thought about it.
God, but the place must be old, I realized. I knew it well from the
weeks in summer when, as a kid, I'd visited my aunt and uncle just down the
road for a taste of farm life - as against the big city of Carmel City,
That had been over forty years ago and it had been old then, and
untenanted. It had been lived in since, but for brief intervals. Why the few
people who had tried to live there had left, I didn't know. They'd never
complained - publicly, at least - of its being haunted. But none had ever
stayed there for long. Perhaps it was merely the house itself; it really was
a depressing place. A year or more ago the Clarion had carried an ad for the
rental of it - and at a very reasonable price - but no one had taken it.
I thought of Johnny Haskins, who lived on the farm between my uncle's
place and this one. He and I had explored the place several times together,
in daylight. Johnny was dead now. He'd been killed in France in 1918, near
the end of the first world war. In daytime, I hope, for Johnny had always
been afraid of the dark - just as I was afraid of heights and as Al Grainger
was afraid of fire and as everyone is afraid of something or other.
Johnny had been afraid of the old Wentworth place, too - even more
afraid than I was, although he was several years older than I. He'd believed
in ghosts, a little; at least he'd been afraid of them, although not as
afraid as he was of the dark. And I'd picked up a little of that fear from
him and I'd kept it for quite a few years after I grew up.
But not any more. The older you get the less afraid of ghosts you are -
whether you believe in them or not. By the time you pass the fifty mark
you've known so many people who are now dead that ghosts, if there are any
such, aren't all strangers. Some of your best friends are ghosts; why should
you be afraid of them? And it's not too many years before you'll be on the
other side of the fence yourself.
No, I wasn't afraid of ghosts or the dark or of the haunted house, but
I was afraid of something. I wasn't afraid of Yehudi Smith, I liked him too
well to be afraid of him. Undoubtedly, I was a fool to come here with him,
knowing nothing at all about him. Yet I would have bet money at long odds
that he wasn't dangerous. A crackpot, maybe, but not a dangerous one.
Smith opened the car door again and said, "I just remembered I brought
candles; they told me the electricity wouldn't be on. And there's another
flashlight in here, if you want one, Doc."
Sure I wanted one. I felt a little better, a little less afraid of
whatever I was afraid of once I had a flashlight of my own and was in no
sudden danger of being alone in darkness.
I ran the beam of the flashlight up on the porch, and the house was
just as I remembered it. It had been lived in just often enough for it to
have been kept in repair, or at least in fairly good shape.
Yehudi Smith said, "Come on, Doc. We might as well wait inside," and
led the way up the porch steps. They creaked as we walked up them but they
The front door wasn't locked. Smith must have known that it wouldn't
be, from the confident way he opened it.
We went in and he closed the door behind us. The beams of our
flashlights danced ahead of us down the long dimness of the hallway. I
noticed with surprise that the place was carpeted and furnished; it had been
empty and bare at the time I'd explored it as a kid. The most recent tenant
or owner who had lived here, for whatever reason he had moved away, had left
the place furnished, possibly hoping to rent or sell it that way.
We turned into a huge living room on the left of the hallway. There was
furniture there, too, white-sheeted. Covered fairly recently, from the fact
that the sheets were not too dirty nor was there a great amount of dust
Something made the back of my neck prickle. Maybe the ghostly
appearance of that sheeted furniture.
"Shall we wait here or go up in the attic?" Smith asked me.
"The attic? Why the attic?"
"Where the meeting is to be held."
I was getting to like this less and less. Was there going to be a
meeting? Were others really coming here tonight?
It was five minutes of one o'clock already.
I looked around and wondered whether. I'd rather stay here or go on up
into the attic. Either alternative seemed crazy. Why didn't I go home? Why
hadn't I stayed there?
I didn't like that spectral white-covered furniture. I said, "Let's go
on up into the attic. Might as well. I guess."
Yes, I'd come this far. I might as well see it through the rest of the
way. If there was a looking-glass up there in the attic and he wanted us to
walk through it, I'd do that, too. Provided only that he went first.
But I wanted another short nip out of that bottle I was carrying. I
offered it to Smith and he shook his head so I went ahead and took the nip
and it slightly warmed the coldness that was beginning to develop in my
We went up the stairs to the second floor and we didn't meet any ghost
or any snarks. We opened the door that led to the steps to the attic.
We walked up them, Smith in the lead and I following, his plump
posterior just ahead of me.
My mind kept reminding me how ridiculous this was. How utterly insane
it was for me to have come here at all.
Where were you at one o'clock? In a haunted house. Doing what? Waiting
for the Vorpal Blades to come. What are these Vorpal Blades? I don't know.
What were they going to do? I don't know, I tell you. Maybe anything. Get
with child a mandrake root. Hold court to see who stole the tarts or put the
white knight back on his horse. Or maybe only read the minutes of the last
meeting and the treasurer's report, by Benchley. Who's Benchley? WHO'S
Who's your little whoozis?
Doc, I hate to say this, but-
I'm afraid that-
Very pitying, and oh, so sensibly true. You were drunk, weren't you,
Doc? Well, not exactly, but-
Yehudi Smith's plump posterior ascending the attic stairs. A horse's
posterior ascending after him.
We reached the top and Smith asked me to hold my flashlight aimed at
the post of the stair railing until he got a candle lighted there. He took a
short, thick candle from his pocket - one that would balance easily by
itself without a holder - and got it lighted.
There were trunks and a few pieces of broken or worn-out furniture
scattered about the sides of the attic; the middle of it was clear. The only
window was at the back and it was boarded up from the inside.
I looked around and, although the furniture here wasn't sheeted, I
didn't like the place any better than I'd liked the big room downstairs. The
light of one candle was far too dim to dispel the darkness, for one thing,
in so large a space. And I didn't like the flickering shadows it cast. They
might have been Jabberwocks or anything your imagination wanted to name
them. There ought to be Rorschach tests with flickering shadows; what the
mind would make out of them ought to be a lot more revealing than what the
mind makes out of ink blots.
Yes, I could have used more light, a lot more light. But Smith had put
his flashlight in his pocket and I did the same with the other one; it was
his, too, and I didn't have any excuse to wear out the battery keeping it
on. And besides it didn't do much good in so large a room.
"What do we do now?" I asked.
"Wait for the others. What time is it, Doc?"
I managed to read my watch by the light of the candle and told him that
it was seven minutes after one.
He nodded. "We'll give them until a quarter after. There's something
that I must do then, at that exact time, whether they're here or not.
Listen, isn't that a car?"
I listened and I thought it was. Way up here in the attic, it wasn't
clearly audible, but I thought I heard a car that could have been coming
back from the main road to the house. I was pretty sure of it.
I uncorked the bottle again and offered it. This time Smith took a
drink, too. Mine was a fairly long pull. I was getting sober. I thought, and
this was no time or place to get sober. It was silly enough to be here,
I couldn't hear the car any more, and then suddenly - as though it had
stopped and then started again - I could hear it, and louder than before.
But the sound seemed to diminish, as though the car had driven back from the
road, stopped a minute, and then headed for the main road again. The sound
The shadows flickered. There was no sound from downstairs.
I shivered a little.
Smith said, "Help me look for something, Doc. It's supposed to be here
somewhere, ready. A small table."
"Yes, but don't touch it if you find it."
He had his flashlight out again and was working his way along one wall
of the attic, and I went the other way, glad of a chance to use my
flashlight on those damned shadows. I wondered what the hell kind of a table
I was looking for. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine
enemies, I thought. But there weren't any of my enemies here, I hoped.
I found it first. It was in the back corner of the attic.
It was a small, three-legged, glass-topped table, and there were two
small objects lying on it.
I started laughing. Ghosts and shadows or not. I laughed out loud. One
of the objects on the table was a small key and the other was a small vial
with a tag tied to it.
The glass-topped table Alice had found in the hall at the bottom of the
rabbit hole - the table on which had been the key that opened the little
door to the garden and the bottle with the paper label that said "DRINK ME"
tied around its neck.
I'd seen that table often - in the John Tenniel illustration of it in
Alice in Wonderland.
Smith's footsteps coming up behind me made me stop laughing. After all,
this ridiculous flummery might be something of a ritual to him. It was funny
to me, but I liked him and I didn't want to hurt his feelings.
He wasn't even smiling. He said, "Yes, that's it. Is it one- fifteen
"Almost on the head."
"Good." He picked up the key with one hand and the bottle with the
other. "The others must be delayed, but we shall take the first step. This,
keep." He dropped the key into my pocket. "And this, I drink." He took the
cork out of the bottle. "I apologize for not being able to share it with you
- as you have so generously shared your drinks with me - but you understand,
until you have been fully initiated-"
He seemed genuinely embarrassed, so I nodded understanding and
I wasn't afraid any more, now. It had become too ridiculous for fear.
What was that "drink me" bottle supposed to do? Oh, yes, he'd shrink in size
until he was only a few inches high - and then he'd have to find and use a
little box labeled - "EAT ME" and eat the cake inside and he'd suddenly grow
so big that-
He lifted the bottle and said, "To Lewis Carroll."
Since that was the toast, I said, "Wait!" and got the cork quickly out
of the bottle of whisky I was still carrying, and raised it, too. There
wasn't any reason why I couldn't and shouldn't get in on that toast as long
as my lips, as a neophyte's, didn't defile whatever sacred elixir the "drink
me" bottle held.
He clinked the little bottle lightly against the big one I held, and
tossed it off - I could see from the corner of my eye as I tilted my bottle
- in that strange conjuring trick again, the bottle stopping inches away
from his lips and the drink keeping on going without the loss of a drop.
I was putting the cork into the whisky bottle when Yehudi Smith died.
He dropped the bottle labeled "DRINK ME" and started to clutch at his
throat, but he died, I think, even before the bottle hit the floor. His face
was hideously contorted with pain, but the pain couldn't have lasted over a
fraction of a second. His eyes, still open, went suddenly blank, utterly
blank. And the thud of his fall shook the floor under my feet, seemed to
shake the whole house.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
I think I must have done nothing but stand there and jitter for
seconds. Finally I was able to move.
I'd seen his face and I'd seen and heard him fall; I didn't have the
slightest doubt that he was dead. But I had to be sure. I got down on my
knees and groped my hand inside his coat and shirt, hunting for a heartbeat.
There wasn't any.
I made even surer. The flashlight he'd given me had a round flat lens;
I held it over his mouth and in front of his nostrils for a while and there
was no slightest trace of moisture.
The small empty bottle from which he'd drunk was of fairly heavy glass.
It hadn't broken when he'd dropped it, and the tag tied around its neck had
kept it from rolling far. I didn't touch it, but I got on my hands and knees
and sniffed at the open end. The smell was the smell of good whisky, nothing
else that I could detect. No odor of bitter almonds, but if what had been in
that whisky hadn't been prussic acid, it had been some corrosive poison just
about as strong. Or could it have been prussic, and would the smell of
whisky have blanketed the bitter almond smell? I didn't know.
I stood up again and found that my knees were shaking. This was the
second man I'd seen die tonight. But I hadn't so much minded about George.
He'd had it coming, for one thing, and for another his body had been inside
the crumpled-up car; I'd not actually seen him die. Nor had I been alone
then; Smiley had been with me. I'd have given my whole bank account, all
three hundred and twelve dollars of it, to have Smiley with me there in the
I wanted to get out of there, fast, and I was too scared to move. I
thought I'd be less scared if I could figure out what it was all about, but
it was sheerly mad. It didn't make sense that even a madman would have
brought me out here under so weird a pretext so that I could be an audience
of one to his suicide.
In fact, if I was sure of anything, I was sure that Smith hadn't killed
himself. But who had, and why? The Vorpal Blades? Was there such a group?
Where were they? Why hadn't they come?
A sudden thought put shivers down my spine. Maybe they had. I'd thought
I heard a car come and go, while we'd waited. Why couldn't it have dropped
off passengers? Waiting for me downstairs - or even now creeping up the
attic steps toward me.
I looked that way. The candle flickered and the shadows danced. I
strained my ears, but there wasn't any sound. No sound anywhere.
I was afraid to move, and then gradually I found that I was afraid not
to move. I had to get out of here before I went crazy. If anything was
downstairs I'd rather go down and meet it than wait till it decided to come
up here after me.
I wished to hell and back that I hadn't given Smiley that revolver, but
wishing didn't get me the revolver back.
Well, the whisky bottle was a weapon of sorts. I shifted the flashlight
to my left hand and picked up the whisky bottle, by its neck, in my right.
It was still more than half full and heavy enough for a bludgeon.
I tiptoed to the head of the steps. I don't know why I tiptoed unless
it was to avoid scaring myself worse by making noise; we hadn't been quiet
up here before and Smith's fall had shaken the whole house. If anyone was
downstairs, he knew he wasn't alone in the building.
I looked at the square post at the top of the railing and the short,
thick candle still burning on top of it. I didn't want to touch it; I wanted
to be able to say that I hadn't touched anything at all, except to feel for
a heartbeat that wasn't there. Yet I couldn't leave the candle burning,
either; it might set the house afire if it fell over, as Smith hadn't
anchored it down with molten wax, but had merely stood it on its base.
I compromised by blowing it out but not touching it otherwise.
My flashlight showed me there was nothing or no one on the stairs
leading down to the second floor and that the door at the bottom of them was
still closed, as we had left it. Before I started down them I took one last
look around the attic with my flash. The shadows jumped as the beam swept
around the walls, and then, for some reason, I brought the circle of light
to rest on Yehudi Smith's body lying sprawled there on the floor, eyes wide
open and still staring unseeingly at the rafters overhead, his face still
frozen in the grimace of that horrible, if brief, pain in which he'd died.
I hated to leave him alone there in the dark. Silly and sentimental as
the thought was, I couldn't help feeling that way. He'd been such a nice
little guy. Who the hell had killed him, and why, and why in such a bizarre
manner, and what was it all about? And he'd said it was dangerous to come
here tonight, and he was dead right, as far as he himself was concerned. And
With that thought, I was afraid again. I wasn't out of here yet. Was
someone or something waiting downstairs?
The attic stairs were uncarpeted and they squeaked so loudly that I
gave up trying to walk quietly and hurried. The attic door creaked, too, but
nothing was waiting for me on the other side of it. Or downstairs. I flashed
my light into the big living room as I passed the doorway and got a
momentary fright as I thought something white was coming toward me - but it
was only the sheeted table and it had only seemed to move.
The porch and down the porch steps.
The car was still there on the driveway beside the house. It was a
coupe, I noticed now, and the same make and model as mine. My feet crunched
gravel as I walked to it; I was still scared but I didn't dare let myself
run. I wondered if Smith had left the key in the car, and hoped frantically
that he had. I should have thought of it while I was still in the attic and
could have felt in his pockets. I wouldn't go back up there now, I realized,
for anything in the world. I'd walk back to town first.
At least the car door wasn't locked. I slid in under the wheel, and,
flashed my light on the dashboard. Yes, the ignition key was in the lock. I
slammed the door behind me and felt a little more secure inside the closed
I fumed the key and stepped on the starter and the engine started the
first try. I shifted into low gear and then, before I let out the clutch, I
carefully shifted back into neutral again and sat there with the motor
This wasn't the car in which Yehudi Smith had driven me here. The gear
shift knob was hard rubber with a ridge around it, not the smooth onyx ball
I'd noticed on the gear shift lever of his car. It was like the one on my
car, which was back home in the garage with two flat tires that I hadn't got
around to fixing.
I turned on the dome light, although by then I didn't really have to. I
knew already from the feel of the controls in starting and in shifting, from
the sound of the engine, from a dozen little things.
This was my car.
It was so impossible that I forgot to be afraid, that I was in such a
hurry to get away from the house. Oh, there was a little logic in my lack of
fear, too; if anybody had been laying for me, the house would have been the
place. He wouldn't have let me get this far and he wouldn't have left the
ignition key in the car so I could get away in it.
I got out of the car and looked, with the flashlight, at the two tires
which had been flat this morning. They weren't flat now. Either someone had
fixed them, or someone had simply let the air out of them last night and had
subsequently pumped them up again with the hand pump I keep in my luggage
compartment. The second idea seemed more likely; now that I thought of it,
it was strange that two tires - both in good shape and with good tubes in
them - should have gone flat, completely flat, at the same time and while
the car was standing in my garage.
I walked all the way around the car, looking at it, and there wasn't
anything wrong with it that I could see. I got back in under the wheel and
sat there a minute with the engine running, wondering if it was even
remotely possible that Yehudi Smith had driven me here in my own car.
No, I decided, not remotely. I hadn't noticed his car at all except for
three things, but those three things were plenty to make me sure. Besides
the gear shift knob, I remembered that push button radio with the button for
WBBM pushed in - and my car has no radio at all - and there was the fact
that his engine was noisy and mine is quiet. Right then, with it idling, I
could barely hear it.
Unless I was crazy-
Could I have imagined that other car? For that matter, could I have
imagined Yehudi Smith? Could I have driven out here by myself in my own car,
gone up to the attic alone- ?
It's a horrible thing to suspect yourself suddenly of complete
insanity, equipped with hallucinations.
I realized I'd better quit thinking along those lines, here alone in a
car, alone in the night, parked beside a haunted house. I might drive myself
nutty, if I wasn't already.
I took a long drink out of the bottle that was now on the seat beside
me, and then drove out to the highway and back to town. I didn't drive fast,
partly because I was a little drunk - physically anyway. The horrible thing
that had happened up in the attic, the fantastic, incredible death of Yehudi
Smith, had shocked me sober, mentally.
I couldn't have imagined-
But at the edge of town the doubts came back, then the answer to them.
I pulled to the side of the road and turned on the dome light. I had the
card and the key and the flashlight, those three souvenirs of my experience.
I took the flashlight out of my coat pocket and looked at it. Just a dime
store flashlight; it meant nothing except that it wasn't mine. The card was
the thing. I hunted in several pockets, getting worried as hell; before I
found it in the pocket of my shirt. Yes, J had it, and it still read Yehudi
Smith. I felt a little better as I put it back in my pocket. While I was at
it, I looked at the key, too. The key that had been with the "DRINK ME"
bottle on the glass-topped table.
It was still there in the pocket Smith had dropped it into; I'd not
touched it or looked at it closely. It was, of course, the wrong kind of
key, but I'd noticed that at first glance when I'd seen it on the table in
the attic; that had been part of my source of amusement when I'd laughed. It
was a Yale key, and it should have been a small gold key, the one Alice used
to open the fifteen-inch-high door into the lovely garden.
Come to think of it, all three of those props in the attic had been
wrong, one way or another. The table had been a glass-topped one, but it
should have been an all-glass table; the wooden legs were wrong. The key
shouldn't have been a nickel-plated Yale, and the "DRINK ME" should not have
contained poison. (It had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart,
custard, pine apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast.) -
according to Alice. It couldn't have tasted anything like that to Smith.
I started driving again, slowly. Now that I was back in town I had to
make up my mind whether I was going to the sheriff's office or going to call
the state police. Reluctantly I decided I'd better go right to the sheriff.
Definitely this case was in his department, unless he called on the state
police for help. They'd dump it in his lap anyway, even if I called them.
And he hated my guts enough as it was, without my making it any worse by
by-passing him in reporting a major crime. Not that I didn't hate his guts
just as much, but tonight he was in a better position to make trouble for me
than I for him.
So I parked my coupe across the street from the courthouse and took one
more swig from the bottle to give me courage to tell Kates the story I was
going to have to tell him. Then I marched myself across the street and up
the courthouse stairs to the sheriff's office on the second floor. If I was
lucky, I thought, Kates might be out and his deputy, Hank Ganzer, might be
I wasn't lucky. Hank wasn't there at all; and Kates was talking on the
phone. He glared at me when I came in and then went back to his call.
"Hell, I could have done it on the phone from here. Go see the guy.
Wake him up and be sure he's awake enough to remember any little thing that
might have been said. Yeah, then call me again before you start back."
He put the receiver down and his swivel chair squeaked shrilly as he
swung about to face me. He yelled, "There isn't any story on it yet." Rance
Kates always yells; I've never heard him say anything in a quiet tone, or
even a normal one. His voice matches his red face, which always looks angry.
I've often wondered if he looks like that even when he's in bed. Wondered,
but had no inclination to find out.
What he'd just yelled at me, though, made so little sense that I just
looked at him.
I said, "I've come to report a murder, Kates."
"Huh?" He looked interested. "You mean you found either Miles or
For a minute neither name registered at all. I said, "The man's name is
Smith." I thought I'd better sneak up on the Yehudi part gradually, maybe
let Kates read it himself off the card. "The body is in the attic of the old
Wentworth place out on the pike."
"Stoeger, are you drunk?"
"I've been drinking," I told him. "I'm not drunk." At least I hoped I
wasn't. Maybe that last one I'd taken in the car just before I'd left it had
been one too many. My voice sounded thick, even to me, and I had a hunch my
eyes were looking a trifle bleary from the outside; they were beginning to
feel that way from my side of them.
"What were you doing in the attic of the Wentworth place? You mean you
were there tonight?"
I wished again that Hank Ganzer had been there instead of Kates. Hank
would have taken my word for it and gone out for the body; then my story
wouldn't have sounded so incredible when I'd have got around to telling it.
I said, "Yes, I just came from there. I went there with Smith, at his
"Who is this Smith? You know him?"
"I met him tonight for the first time. He came to see me.
"What for? What were you doing out there? A haunted house!"
I sighed. There wasn't anything I could do but answer his damn
questions and they were getting tougher all the time. Let's see, how could I
put it so it wouldn't sound too crazy?
I said, "We were there because it is supposed to be a haunted house,
Kates. This Smith was interested in the occult - in psychic phenomena. He
asked me to go out there with him to perform an experiment. I gathered that
some other people were coming, but they didn't."
"What kind of an experiment?"
"I don't know. He was killed before we got around to it."
"You and him were there alone?"
"Yes," I said, but I saw where that was leading so I added, "But I
didn't kill him. And I don't know who did. He was poisoned."
Part of my brain wanted to tell him, "Out of a little bottle labeled
`DRINK ME' on a glass table, as in Alice in Wonderland." The sensible part
of my brain told me to let him find that out for himself. I said, "Out of a
bottle that was planted there for him to drink. By whom, I don't know. But
you sound like you don't believe me. Why don't you go out and see for
yourself, Kates? Damn it, man, I'm reporting a murder." And then it occurred
to me there wasn't really any proof of that so I amended it a little: "Or at
least a death by violence."
He stared at me and I think he was becoming convinced, a little. His
phone rang and his swivel chair screamed again as he swung around. He barked
"Hello. Sheriff Kates," into it.
Then his voice tamed down a little. He said, "No, Mrs. Harrison,
haven't heard a thing. Hank's over at Neilsville, checking up at that end,
and he's going to watch the road again on his way back. I'll call you the
minute I learn anything at all. But don't worry; it can't be anything
He turned back. "Stoeger, if this is a gag, I'm going to take you
apart." He meant it, and he could do it, too. Kates is only a medium-sized
man, not too much bigger than I, but he's tough and hard as a rock
physically. He can handle men weighing half again as much as he does. And
he's got enough of a sadistic streak to enjoy doing it whenever he has a
good excuse for it.
"It's no gag," I said. "What's this about Miles Harrison and Ralph
"Missing. They left Neilsville with the Bonney pay roll a little after
half past eleven and should have been back here around midnight. It's almost
two o'clock and nobody knows where they are. Look, if I thought you were
sober and there was a stiff out on the pike, I'd call the state cops. I got
to stay here till we find what happened to Miles and Bonney."
The state cops were fine, as far as I was concerned. I'd reported it
where it should have been reported, and Kates would have no kickback if he
himself called the state police. I was just opening my mouth to say that
might be a good idea when the phone rang again.
Kates yelled into it, and then, "As far as the teller knew, they were
heading right back, Hank? Nothing unusual happened at that end, huh? Okay,
come back, and watch both sides of the road all the way in case they ran off
it or something... Yeah, the pike. That's the only way they could've come.
Oh, and listen, stop at the Wentworth place on your way and take a look in
the attic... Yeah. I said the attic. Doc Stoeger's here, drunk as a coot,
and he says there's a stiff in the attic there. If there is one, I'll worry
He slammed the receiver down and started shuffling papers on his desk,
trying to look busy. Finally he thought of something to do and phoned the
Bonney Fireworks Company to see if Bonney had showed up there yet, or called
them. Apparently, from what I could hear of the conversation, he hadn't done
I realized that I was still standing up and that now, since Kates had
given that order to his deputy, nothing was going to happen until Hank got
back - at least half an hour if he drove slowly to watch both sides of the
road. So I found myself a chair and sat down. Kates shuffled papers again
and paid no attention to me.
I got to wondering about Bonney and Miles, and hoped they hadn't had an
accident. If they had had one, and were two hours overdue, it must have been
a bad one. Unless both were seriously hurt, one of them would have reached a
phone long before this. Of course they could have stopped somewhere for a
drink, but it didn't seem likely, not for two hours at least. And, come to
think of it, they couldn't have; the closing hour for taverns applied to the
whole county, not just to Carmel City. Twelve o'clock had been almost two
I wished that it wasn't. Not that I either needed or wanted a drink
particularly at that moment, but it would have been much more pleasant to do
my waiting at Smiley's instead of here in the sheriff's office.
Kates suddenly swiveled his chair at me. "You don't know anything about
Bonney and Harrison, do you?"
"Not a thing," I told him.
"Where were you at midnight?"
With Yehudi. Who's Yehudi? The little man who wasn't there.
I said, "Home, talking to Smith. We stayed there until I half past
"Anybody else there?"
I shook my head. Come to think of it, nobody but myself had, as far as
I knew, even seen Yehudi Smith. If his body wasn't in the attic at the
Wentworth place, I was going to have a hell of a time proving he'd ever
existed. A card and a key and a flashlight.
"Where'd this Smith guy come from?"
"I don't know. He didn't say."
"What was his first name?"
I stalled on that one. I said, "I don't remember. I've got his card
somewhere. He gave me one." Let him think the card was probably out at the
house. I wasn't ready to show it to him yet.
"How'd he happen to come to you to go to a haunted house with him if he
didn't even know you?"
I said, "He knew of me, as a Lewis Carroll fan."
"Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking-Glass,"
And a "DRINK ME" bottle on a glass table, and a key, and Bandersnatches and
Jabberwocks. But let Kates find that out for himself, after he'd found a
body and knew that I wasn't either drunk or crazy.
He said, "Alice in Wonderland!" and sniffed. He glared at me a full ten
seconds and then decided, apparently, that he was wasting his time on me and
swiveled back to his paper shuffling.
I felt in my pockets to make sure that the card and the key were still
there. They were. The flashlight was still in the car, but the flashlight
didn't mean anything anyway. Maybe the key didn't either. But that card was
my contact with reality, in a sense. As long as it still said Yehudi Smith,
I knew I wasn't stark raving mad. I knew that there'd really been such a
person and that he wasn't a figment of my imagination.
I slipped it out of my pocket to look at it again. Yes, it still said
"Yehudi Smith," although my eyes had a bit of trouble focusing on it
clearly. The printing looked fuzzy, which meant I needed either one more
drink or several less.
Yehudi Smith, in fuzzy-edged type. Yehudi, the little man who wasn't
And suddenly - don't ask me how I knew, but I knew. I didn't see the
pattern, but I saw that much of it. The little man who wasn't there.
Wouldn't be there.
Hank was going to come in and say, "What's this about a stiff in the
Wentworth attic? I couldn't find one."
Yehudi. The little man who wasn't there. I saw a man upon the stair, A
little man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today; Gee, I wish he'd
It was preordained; it had to be. That much of the pattern I saw. The
name Yehudi hadn't been an accident. I think that almost, just then, I had a
flash of insight that would have shown me most of the pattern, if not all of
it. You know how it is sometimes when you're drunk, but not too drunk, you
think you're trembling on the verge of understanding something important and
cosmic that has eluded you all your life? And - just barely possible - you
really are. I think I was, at that moment.
Then I looked up from the card and the thread of my thought was lost
because Kates was staring at me. He'd turned just his head this time instead
of the squeaking swivel chair he was sitting on. He was looking at me
I tried to ignore it; I was trying to recapture my thoughts and let
them lead me. I was close to something. I saw a man upon the stair. Yehudi
Smith's plump posterior ascending the attic stairs, just ahead of me.
No, the dead body with the contorted face - the poor piece of cold clay
that had been a nice little guy with laughter lines around his eyes and the
corners of his mouth - wouldn't be there in the attic when Hank Ganzer
looked for it. It couldn't be there; its presence there wouldn't fit the
pattern that I still couldn't see or understand.
Squeal of the swivel chair as Rance Kates turned his body to match the
position of his head. "Is that the card that guy gave you?"
"What's his full name?"
The hell with Kates. "Yehudi," I said. "Yehudi Smith."
Of course it wasn't really; I knew at least that much now. I got up and
walked to Kates' desk. Unfortunately for my dignity, I weaved a little. But
I made it without falling. I put the card down in front of him and went back
and sat down again, managing to walk straight this time.
He looked at the card and then at me and then at the card and then at
And then I knew I must be crazy.
"Doc," he asked - and his voice was quieter than I'd ever heard it
before - "What's your bug number?"
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant runt
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none-
I just stared at him. Either he was crazy or I was - and several times
in the last hour I'd been wondering about myself. What's your bug number?
What a question to ask a man in the spot I was in. What's yours?
Finally I managed to answer. "Huh?" I said.
"Your bug number. Your label number."
I got it then. I wasn't crazy after all. I knew what he meant.
I run a union shop, which means that I've signed a contract with the
International Typographical Union and pay Pete, my only employee, union
wages. In a town as small as Carmel City, you can get by with a non-union
shop, but I happen to believe in unions and to think the typographical union
is a good one. Being a union shop, we put the union label on everything we
print. It's a little oval-shaped dingus, so small you can barely read the
type if you've got good eyesight. And alongside it is an equally tiny number
which is the number of my particular shop among the other union shops in my
area. By the combination of the place name which is part of the label itself
and the number of the shop beside it, you can tell where any given piece of
union printing has been done.
But that little oval logotype is known to non-union printers as "the
bug." It does, I'll admit, look rather like a tiny bug crawling across the
bottom corner of whatever it's put on. And non-union printers call the shop
number alongside the "bug" the "bug number." Kates wasn't a printer, union
or otherwise, but I remember now that two of his brothers, both living in
Neilsville, were non-union printers, and naturally he'd have picked up the
language - and the implied prejudice back of it - from them.
I said, "My label number is seven."
He slapped the calling card down on the desk in front of him. He
snorted - quite literally; you often read about people snorting but seldom
hear them do it. He said, "Stoeger, you printed this damn thing yourself.
The whole thing is a gag. Damn you-"
He started to get up and then sat down again and looked at the papers
in front of him. He looked back at me and I think he was going to tell me to
get the hell out, and then apparently he decided he might as well wait till
Hank got back.
He shuffled papers.
I sat there and tried to absorb the fact that - apparently, at any rate
- that Yehudi Smith calling card had been printed in my own shop. I didn't
get up to look at it. Somehow, I was perfectly willing to take Kates' word
Why not? It was part of the pattern. I should have guessed, it myself.
Not from the typeface; almost every shop has eight-point Garamond. But from
the fact that the "DRINK ME" bottle had contained poison and Yehudi wasn't
going to be there when Hank looked for him. It followed the pattern, and I
knew now what the pattern was. It was the pattern of madness.
Mine - or whose? I was getting scared. I'd been scared several times
already that night, but this was a different variety of scaredness. I was
getting scared of the night itself, of the pattern of the night.
I needed a drink, and I needed it bad. I stood up and started for the
door. The swivel chair screamed and Kates said, "Where the hell you think
"Down to my car. Going to get something. I'll be back." I didn't want
to get into an argument with him.
"Sit down. You're not going out of here."
I did want to get into an argument with him. "Am I under arrest? And on
"Material witness in a murder case, Stoeger. If there's a corpse where
you say there's one. If there isn't, we can switch it to drunk and
disorderly. Take your choice."
I took my choice. I sat down again.
He had me over a barrel and I could see that he loved it. I wished that
I'd gone to my office and phoned the state police, regardless of
I waited. That "bug number" angle of Kates' had thrown me off thinking
about how it could be and why it would be that Yehudi Smith's calling card
had been printed in my own print shop. Not that, come to thick of it, the
"how" had been difficult. I lock the door when I leave, but I lock it with a
dime-store skeleton key. They come two on a card for a dime. Yes, Anybody
could have got in. And Anybody, whoever he was, could have printed that card
without knowing a damn thing about printing. You have to know the printer's
case to set type in quantity, but anybody could pick out a dozen letters,
more or less, to spell out Yehudi Smith simply by trial and error. The
little hand press I print cards on is so simple that a child - well, anyway,
a high school kid - could figure out how to operate it. True, he'd get lousy
impressions and waste a lot of cards trying to get one good one. But
Anybody, if he tried long enough, could have printed one good card that said
Yehudi Smith and carried my union label in the bottom corner.
But why would Anybody have done something like that?
The more I thought about it the less sense it made, although one thing
did emerge that made even less sense than the rest of it. It would have been
easier to print that card without the union label than with it, so Anybody
had gone to a little additional trouble to bring out the fact that the card
had been printed at the Clarion. Except for the death of Yehudi Smith the
whole thing might have been the pattern of a monstrous practical joke. But
practical jokes don't include sudden death. Not even such a fantastic death
as Yehudi Smith had met.
Why had Yehudi Smith died?
Somewhere there had to be a key.
And that reminded me of the key in my pocket and I took it out and
stared at it, wondering what I could open with it. Somewhere there was a
lock that it fitted.
It didn't look either familiar or unfamiliar. Yale keys don't. Could it
be mine? I thought about all the keys I owned. The key to the front door of
my house was a Yale type key, but not actually a Yale. Besides-
I took the keytainer from my pocket and opened it. My front door key is
on the left and I compared it with the key I'd brought away from the attic.
The notches didn't match; it wasn't a duplicate of that one. And it was
still more different from my back door key, the one on the other side of the
row. In between were two other keys but both were quite different types. One
was the key to the door at the Clarion office and the other was for the
garage behind my house. I never use the garage key; I keep nothing of value
in the garage except the car itself and I always leave it locked.
It seemed to me that I'd had five keys instead of four, there on the
keytainer, but I couldn't remember for sure and I couldn't figure out what
the missing one was, if one really was missing.
Not the key to my car; I didn't keep that on the keytainer (I hate a
keytainer dangling and swinging from my ignition lock, so I carry the car
key loose in my vest pocket).
I put the keytainer back in my pocket and stared at the single key
again. I wondered suddenly if it could be a duplicate of my car key. But I
couldn't compare it to see because, this time, I'd left the key in the lock
when I'd got out of the car, thinking I was going to be up here in the
sheriffs office only a minute or two and that then he'd be heading out to
the Wentworth place with me.
Kates must have turned his head - not his swivel chair, for it didn't
squeak - and seen me staring at the key. He asked, "What's that?"
"A key," I said. "A key to unlock a riddle. A key to murder."
The chair did squeak then. "Stoeger, what the hell? Are you just drunk,
or are you crazy?"
"I don't know," I said. "Which do you think?"
He snorted. "Let's see that key." I handed it to him.
"What's it open?"
"I don't know." I was getting mad again - not particularly at Kates
this time; at everything. "I know what it's supposed to open."
"A little door fifteen inches high off a room at the bottom of a rabbit
hole. It leads to a beautiful garden."
He looked at me a long time. I looked back. I didn't give a damn.
I heard a car outside. That would be Hank Ganzer, probably. He wouldn't
have found the body of Yehudi Smith in the attic out on the pike. I knew
And how Kates was going to react to that, I could guess. Even though,
obviously, he didn't believe a damn word of it to begin with. I'd have given
a lot, just then, to be inside Rance Kates' mind, or what he uses for one,
to see just what he was thinking. I'd have given a lot more, though, to be
inside the mind of Anybody, the person who'd printed Yehudi Smith's card on
my hand press and who'd put the poison in the "DRINK ME" bottle.
Hank's steps coming up the stairs.
He came in the door and his eyes happened to be looking in my direction
first. He said, "Hi, Doc," casually and then turned to Kates. "No sign of an
accident, Rance. I drove slow, watched both sides of the road. No sign of a
car going off. But look, maybe we should both do it. If one of us could keep
moving the spotlight back and forth while the other drove, we could see back
farther." He looked at his wrist watch. "It's only two-thirty. Won't get
light until six, and in that long a time-"
Kates nodded. "Okay, Hank. But listen, I'm going to get the state boys
in on this case - well, in case Bonney's car turns up somewhere else. We
know when they left Neilsville, but we can't be positive they started for
"Why wouldn't they?"
"How would I know?" Kates said. "But if they did start here, they
didn't get here."
I might as well not have been there at all.
I cut in. "Hank, did you go to the Wentworth place?"
He looked at me. "Sure, Doc. Listen, what kind of a gag was that?"
"Did you look in the attic?"
"Sure. Looked all around it with my flashlight."
I'd known it, but I closed my eyes.
Kates surprised me, after all. His voice was almost gentle. "Stoeger,
get the hell out of here. Go home and sleep it off."
I opened my eyes again and looked at Hank. "All right," I said, "I'm
drunk or crazy. But listen, Hank, was there a candle stub standing on top of
the post at the top of the attic steps?"
He shook his head slowly.
"A glass-topped table, standing in one corner - it'd be the northwest
corner of the attic?"
"I didn't see it, Doc. I wasn't looking for tables. But I'd have
noticed a candle stub, if it had been on the stair post. I remember putting
my hand on it when I started down."
"And you don't recall seeing a dead body on the floor?"
Hank didn't even answer me. He looked back at Kates. "Rance, maybe I'd
better drive Doc home while you're making those calls. Where's your car,
"Across the street."
"Okay, we won't give you a parking ticket. I'll drive you home in
mine." He looked at Kates for corroboration.
Kates gave it. I hated Kates for it. He was grinning at me. He had me
in such a nasty spot that, damn him, he could afford to be generous. If he
threw me in the can overnight, I could fight back. If he sent me home to
sleep it off - and even gave me a chauffeur to take me there-
Hank Ganzer said, "Come on, Doc." He was going through the door.
I got to my feet. I didn't want to go home. If I went home now, the
murderer of Yehudi Smith would have the rest of the night, to finish - to
finish what? And what was it to me, except that I'd liked Yehudi Smith? And
who the hell was Yehudi Smith?
I said, "Listen, Kates-"
Kates looked past me at the doorway. He said, "Go on, Hank. See if his
car is parked straight or out in the middle of the street. I want to tell
him something and then I'll send him down. I think he can make it."
He probably hoped I'd break my neck going down the steps.
"Sure, Rance." Hank's footsteps going down the stairs. Diminuendo.
Kates looked up at me. I was standing in front of his desk, trying not
to look like a boy caught cheating in an examination standing in front of
his teacher's desk.
I caught his eyes, and almost took a step backward: I hated Kates and
knew that he hated me, but I hated him as one hates a man in office whom one
knows to be a stupid oaf and a crook. He hated me, I thought, as someone
who, as an editor, had power - and used it - against men like him.
But the look in his eyes wasn't that. It was sheer personal hatred and
malevolence. It was something I hadn't suspected, and it shocked me. I
don't, after fifty-three years, shock easily.
And then that look was gone, as suddenly as when you turn out a light.
He was looking at me impersonally. His voice was impersonal, almost flat,
not nearly as loud as usual. He said, "Stoeger, you know what I could do to
you on something like this, don't you?"
I didn't answer; he didn't expect me to. Yes, I knew some of the
things. The can overnight on a drunk and disorderly charge was a starting
point. And if, in the morning, I persisted in my illusions, he could call in
Dr. Buchan for a psychiatric once-over.
He said, "I'm not doing it. But I want you out of my hair from now on.
I didn't answer that, either. If he wanted to think silence was
consent, all right. Apparently he did. He said, "Now get the hell out of
I got the hell out of there. I'd got off easy. Except for that look
he'd given me.
No, I didn't feel like a conquering hero about it. I should have faced
up to it, and I should have insisted that there had been a murder in that
attic, whether there was a corpus delicti there now or not. But I was too
mixed up myself. I wanted time to think things out, to figure what the hell
had really happened.
I went down the stairs and out into the night again.
Hank Ganzer's car was parked right in front, but he was just getting
out of my car, across the street. I walked over toward him.
He said, "You were a little far out from the curb, Doc. I moved it in
for you. Here's your key."
He handed me the key and I stuck it in my pocket and then reopened the
door he'd just closed to get the bottle of whisky that was lying on the
seat. No use leaving that, even if I had to leave the car here.
I stepped back, then, to the back of the car to take another look at
those back tires. I still couldn't believe them; this morning they'd been
completely flat. That was part of the puzzle, too.
Hank came back and stood by me. "What's the matter, Doc?" he asked. "If
you're looking at your tires, they're okay." He kicked the one nearest to
him and then walked around and kicked the other. He started back, and
stopped. He said, "Say, Doc, something you got in your luggage compartment
must've spilled over. Did you have a can of paint or something in there?"
I shook my head and came around to see what he was looking at. It did
look as though something had run out from under the bottom edge of the
luggage compartment door. Something thick and blackish.
Hank turned the handle and tried to lift.
"It's not locked," I said. "I never bother to lock it. Nothing in there
but a worn-out tire without a tube in it."
He tried again. "The hell it's not locked. Where's the key?"
Another piece of the pattern fell into place. I knew now what the fifth
key, the middle one, on my keytainer should have been. I never lock the
luggage compartment of my car except on the rare occasions when I take a
trip and really have luggage in it. But I carry the key on my keytainer. And
it was a Yale key and it hadn't been there when I'd looked a few minutes
I said, "Kates has got it." It had to be. One Yale key looks like
another, but the card, Yehudi Smith's card, had been printed in my own shop.
The key would be mine, too.
Hank said, "Huh?"
I said again, "Kates has got it."
Hank looked at me strangely. He said, "Wait just a minute, Doc," and
walked across to his own car. Twice, on the way, he looked back as though to
be sure I wasn't going to get in and drive away.
He got a flashlight out of his glove compartment and came back. He bent
down with it and took a close look at those streaks.
I stepped closer to look, too. Hank stepped back, as though he was
suddenly afraid to have me behind him and peering over his shoulder.
So I didn't have to look. I knew what those streaks were, or what Hank
thought they were.
He said, "Seriously, Doc, where's the key?"
"I'm serious," I told him. "I gave it to Rance Kates. I didn't know
what key it was then. I'm pretty sure I do, now."
I thought I knew what was in that luggage compartment now, too.
He looked at me uncertainly and then walked part way across the street,
angling so he could watch me. He cupped his hands around his lips and called
out, "Rance! Hey, Rance!" And then looked quickly back to see that I was
neither sneaking up on him nor trying to get into the car to drive away.
Nothing happened and he did it again.
A window opened and Kates was silhouetted against the light back of it.
He called back, "What the hell, Hank, if you want me come up here. Don't
wake up the whole God damned town."
Hank looked back over his shoulder at me again. Then he called, "Did
Doc give you a key?"
"Yes. Why? What kind of a yarn is he feeding you?"
"Bring down the key, Rance. Quick."
He looked back over his shoulder again, started toward, me, and then
hesitated. He compromised by staying where he was, but watching me.
The window slammed down.
I walked back around the car and I almost decided to light a match and
look at those stains myself. And then I decided, what the hell.
Hank came a few steps closer. He said, "Where you going, Doc?"
I was at the curb by then. I said, "Nowhere," and sat down.
Then fill up the glasses as quick as you can,
And sprinkle the table with buttons and bran:
Put cats in the coffee, and mice in the tea-
And welcome Queen Alice with thirty-times three!
The courthouse door opened and closed. Kates crossed the street. He
looked at me and asked Hank, "What's wrong?"
"Don't know, Rance. Looks like blood has dripped from the luggage
compartment of Doc's car. It's locked. He says he gave you the key. I didn't
want to - uh - leave him to come up and get it. So I yelled for you."
Kates nodded. His face was toward me and Hank Ganzer couldn't see it. I
could. It looked happy, very happy.
His hand went inside his coat and came out with a pistol. He asked,
"Did you frisk him, Hank?"
Hank came around Kates and came up to me from the side. I stood up and
held out my hands to make it easy for him. The bottle of whisky was in one
of them. He found nothing more deadly than that.
"Clean," Hank said.
Kates didn't put his pistol away. He reached into a pocket with his
free hand and took out the key I'd given him. He tossed it to Hank. "Open
the compartment," he said.
The key fitted. The handle turned. Hank lifted the door.
I heard the sudden intake of his breath and I turned and looked. Two
bodies; I could see that much. I couldn't tell who they were from where I
stood. Hank leaned farther in, using his flashlight.
He said, "Miles Harrison, Rance. And Ralph Bonney. Both dead."
"How'd he kill 'em?"
"Hit over the head with something. Hard. Must've been several blows
apiece. There's lots of blood."
"What looks like it. There's a revolver - an old one - with blood on
the butt. Nickel-plated Iver-Johnson, rusty where the plating's off.
Thirty-eight, I think."
"The money there? The pay roll?"
"There's what looks like a brief case under Miles." Hank turned around.
His face was as pale as the starlight. "Do I got to - uh - move him, Rance?"
Kates thought a minute. "Maybe we better not. Maybe we better take a
photo first. Listen, Hank, you go upstairs and get that camera and
flash-gun. And while you're there, phone Dr. Heil to get here right away. Uh
- you're sure they're both dead?"
"Christ, yes, Rance. Their heads are beaten in. Shall I call Dorberg,
too?" Dorberg is the local mortician who gets whatever business the
sheriff's office can throw his way; he's Kates' brother-in-law, which may
have a bearing on the fact.
Kates said, "Sure, tell him to bring the wagon. But tell him no hurry;
we want the coroner to have a look before we move 'em. And we want the pix
even before that."
Hank started for the courthouse door and then turned again. "Uh -
Rance, how about calling Miles' wife and Bonney's factory?"
I sat down on the curb again. I wanted a drink more badly than before,
and the bottle was in my hand. But it didn't seem right, just at that
moment, to take one. Miles' wife, I thought, and Bonney's factory. What a
hell of a difference that was. But Bonney had been divorced that very day;
he had no children, no relatives at all - at least in Carmel City - that I
knew of. But then I didn't have either. If I was murdered, who'd be
notified? The Carmel City Clarion, and maybe Carl Trenholm, if whoever did
the notifying knew that Trenholm was my closest friend. Yes, maybe on the
whole it was better that I'd never married. I thought of Bonney's divorce
and the facts behind it that Carl - through Smiley - had told me. And I
thought of how Miles Harrison's wife would be feeling tonight as soon as she
got the news. But that was different; I didn't know whether it was good or
bad that nobody would feel that way about me if I died suddenly.
Just the same I felt lonely as hell. Well, they'd arrest me now and
that would mean I could call Carl as my attorney. I was going to be in a
hell of a spot, but Carl would believe me - and believe that I was sane - if
Kates had been thinking. He said, "Not yet - either of them, Hank.
Milly especially; she might rush down here and get here before we got the
bodies to Dorberg's. And we might as well be able to tell the factory
whether the pay roll's there when we phone them. Maybe Stoeger hid it
somewhere else and we won't get it back tonight."
Hank said, "That's right, about Milly. We wouldn't want her to see
Miles - that way. Okay, so I'll call Heil and Dorberg and then come back
with the camera."
"Quit talking. Get going."
Hank went on into the courthouse.
It wasn't any use, but I had to say it. I said, "Listen, Kates, I
didn't do that. I didn't kill them."
Kates said, "You son of a bitch. Miles was a good guy."
"He was. I didn't kill him." I thought, I wish Miles had let me buy him
that drink early in the evening. I wish I'd known; I'd have insisted and
talked him into it. But that was silly, of course; you can't know things in
advance. If you could, you could stop them from happening. Except of course
in the Looking-Glass country where people sometimes lived backwards, where
the White Queen had screamed first and then later stuck the needle into her
finger. But even then - except, of course, that the Alice books were merely
delightful nonsense, - why hadn't she simply not picked up the needle she
knew she was going to stick herself with?
Delightful nonsense, that is, until tonight. Tonight somebody was
making gibbering horror out of Lewis Carroll's most amusing episodes. "Drink
Me" - and die suddenly and horribly. That key - it had been supposed to open
a fifteen-inch-high door into a beautiful garden. What it had opened the
door to - well, I didn't care to look.
I sighed and thought, what the hell, it's over with now. I'm going to
be arrested and Kates thinks I killed Miles and Bonney, but I can't blame
him for thinking it. I've got to wait till Carl can get me out of this.
Kates said, "Stand up, Stoeger."
I didn't. Why should I? I'd just thought, why would Miles or Ralph mind
if I took a drink out of this bottle in my hand? I started to unscrew the
"Stand up, Stoeger. Or I'll shoot you right there."
He meant it. I stood up. His face, as he stood then, was in the shadow,
but I remembered that look of malevolence he'd given me in his office, the
look that said, "I'd like to kill you."
He was going to shoot me. Here and now.
It was safe as houses for him to do so. He could claim - if I turned
and ran and he shot me in the back - that he'd shot because I was trying to
escape. And if from the front that I - a homicidal maniac who had already
killed Miles and Bonney - was coming toward him to attack him.
That was why he'd sent Hank away and given him two phone calls to make
so he wouldn't be back for minutes.
I said, "Kates, you're not serious. You wouldn't shoot a man down in
"A man who'd killed a deputy of mine, yes. If I don't, Stoeger, you
might beat the rap. You might get certified as a looney and get away with
it. I'll make sure." That wasn't all of it, of course, but it gave him an
excuse to help his own conscience. I'd killed a deputy of his, he'd thought.
But he'd hated me enough to want to kill me even before he'd thought that.
Hatred and sadism - given a perfect excuse.
What could I do? Yell? It wouldn't help. Probably nobody awake - it was
well after three o'clock by now - would hear me in time to see what
happened. Hank would be phoning in the back office; he wouldn't get to the
window in time.
And Kates would claim that I yelled as I jumped him; yelling would just
trigger the gun.
He stepped closer; if he shot me in the front there'd have to be powder
marks to show that he'd shot while I was coming at him. The gun muzzle
centered on my chest, barely a foot away. I could live seconds longer if I
turned and ran; he'd probably wait until I was a dozen steps away in that
His face was still in the shadow, but I could see that he was grinning.
I couldn't see his eyes or most of the rest of his face, just that grin. A
disembodied grin, like that of the Cheshire cat in Alice. But unlike the
Cheshire cat, he wasn't going to fade away.
I was. Unless something unexpected happened. Like maybe a witness
coming along, over there on the opposite sidewalk. He wouldn't shoot me in
cold blood before a witness. Carl Trenholm, Al Grainger, anybody.
I looked over Kates' shoulder and called out, "Hi, Al!"
Kates turned. He had to; he couldn't take a chance on the possibility
that there was really someone coming.
He turned his head just for a quick glance, to be sure.
I swung the whisky bottle. Maybe I should say my hand swung it; I
hadn't even remembered that I still held it. It hit Kates alongside the head
and like as not the brim of his hat saved his life. I think I swung hard
enough to have killed him if he'd been bare headed.
Kates and the revolver he'd been holding hit the street, separately.
The whisky bottle slid out of my hand and hit the paving; it broke. The
paving must have been harder than Kates' head - or maybe it would have
broken on Kates' head if it hadn't been for the brim of his hat.
I didn't even stop to find out if he was dead. I ran like hell.
Afoot, of course. The ignition key of my car was still in my pocket,
but driving off with two corpses was just about the last thing in the world
I wanted to do.
I ran a block and winded myself before I realized I hadn't the faintest
idea where I was going. I slowed down and got off Oak Street. I cut back
into the first alley. I fell over a garbage can and then sat down on it to
get my wind back and to think out what I was going to do. But I had to move
on because a dog started barking.
I found myself behind the courthouse.
I wanted, of course, to know who had killed Ralph Bonney and Miles
Harrison and put their bodies in my car, but there was something that seemed
of even more immediate interest; I wanted to know if I'd killed Rance Kates
or seriously injured him. If I had, I was in a hell of a jam because - in
addition to everything else against me - it would be my word against his
that I'd done it in self-defense, to save my own life. My word against his,
that is, if he were only injured. My word against nothing at all if I'd
And my word wouldn't mean a damn thing to anybody until and unless I
could account for two corpses in my car.
The first window I tried was unlocked. I guess they're careless about
locking windows of the courthouse because, for one reason, there's nothing
kept there that any ordinary burglar would want to steal, and for another
reason because the sheriff's office is in the building, and somebody's on
duty there all night long.
I slid the window up very slowly and it didn't make much noise, not
enough, anyway, to have been heard in the sheriffs office, which is on the
second floor and near the front. I pat it down again, just as quietly, so it
wouldn't be an open giveaway if the search for me went through the alley.
I groped in the dark till I found a chair and sat down to collect what
wits I had left and figure what to do next. I was fairly safe for the
moment. The room I'd entered was one of the small anterooms off the court
room; nobody would look for me here, as long as I kept quiet.
They'd found the sheriff, all right, or the sheriff had come around and
found himself. There were footsteps on the front stairs, footsteps of more
than one person. But back here I was too far away to hear what was being
said, if any talking was going on.
But that could wait for a minute or two.
I wished to hell that I had a drink; I'd never wanted one worse in my
life. I cussed myself for having dropped and broken that bottle - and after
it had saved my life, at that. If I hadn't happened to have it in my hand,
I'd have been dead.
I don't know how long I sat there, but it probably wasn't over a few
minutes because I was still breathing a little hard when I decided I'd
better move. If I'd had a bottle to keep me company, I'd have gladly sat
there the rest of the night, I think.
But I had to find out what happened to Kates. If I'd killed him - or if
he'd been taken to the hospital and was out of the picture - then I'd better
give myself up and get it over with. If he was all right, and was still
running things, that wouldn't be a very smart thing to do. If he'd wanted to
kill me before I'd knocked him out with that bottle, he'd want to do it so
badly now that he would do it, maybe without even bothering to find an
excuse, right in front of Hank or any of the other deputies who were
undoubtedly being waked up to join the manhunt, in front of the coroner or
anybody else who happened to be around.
I bent down and took my shoes off before I got up. I put one in each of
the side pockets of my coat and then tiptoed out through the court room to
the back stairs. I'd been in the building so many thousand times that I knew
the layout almost as well as that of my own home or the Clarion office, and
I didn't run into anything or fall over anything.
I guided myself up the dark back staircase with a hand on the banister
and avoiding the middle of the steps, where they'd be most likely to creak.
Luckily there is an el in the upstairs hallway that runs from the front
stairs to the back ones so there wasn't any danger of my being seen, when
I'd reached the top of the stairs, by anyone entering or leaving the
sheriff's office. And I had dim light now, from the light in the front
hallway near the sheriff's office door.
I tiptoed along almost to the turn of the hall and then tried the door
of the county surveyor's office, which is next to the sheriff's office and
with only an ordinary door with a ground glass pane between them. The door
I got it open very quietly. It slipped out of my hand when I started to
close it from the inside and almost slammed, but I caught it in time and
eased it shut. I would have liked to lock it, but I didn't know whether the
lock would click or not, so I didn't take a chance on that.
I had plenty of light, comparatively, in the surveyor's office; the
ground glass pane of the door to the sheriff's office was a bright yellow
rectangle through which came enough light to let me see the office furniture
clearly. I avoided it carefully and tiptoed my way toward that yellow
I could hear voices now and as I neared the door I could hear them even
better, but I couldn't quite make out whose they were or what they were
saying until I put my ear against the glass. I could hear perfectly well,
Hank Ganzer was saying, "It still throws me, Rance. A gentle little old
guy like Doc. Two murders and-"
"Gentle, hell!" It was Kates' voice. "Maybe when he was sane he was,
but he's crazier than a bedbug now. Ow! Go easy with that tape, will you?"
Dr. Heil's voice was soft, harder to understand. He seemed to be urging
that Kates should let himself be taken to the hospital to be sure there
wasn't any concussion.
"The hell with that," Kates said. "Not till we get Stoeger before he
kills anybody else. Like he killed Miles and Bonney and damn near killed me.
Hank, what's about the bodies?"
"I made a quick preliminary examination." Heil's voice was clearer now.
"Cause of death is pretty obviously repeated blows on their heads with what
seems to have been that rusty pistol on your desk. And with the stains on
the pistol butt, I don't think there's any reason to doubt it."
"They still out front?"
Hank said, "No, they're at Dorberg's - or on their way there. He and
one of has boys came around with his meat wagon."
"Doc." It was Kates' voice and it made me jump a little until I
realized that he was talking to Dr. Heil and not to me. "You about through?
With that God damn bandage, I mean. I got to get going on this. Hank, how
many of the boys did you get on the phone? How many are coming down?"
"Three, Rance. I got Watkins, Ehlers and Bill Dean. They're all on
their way down. Be here in a few minutes. That'll make five of us."
"Guess that fixes up things as well as I can here, Rance," Dr. Heil's
voice said. "I still suggest you go around to the hospital for an X-ray and
a check-up as soon as you can."
"Sure, Doc. Soon as I catch Stoeger. And he can't get out of town with
the state police watching the roads for us, even if he steals a car. You go
on around to Dorberg's and take care of things there, huh?"
Heil's voice, soft again, said something I couldn't hear, and there
were footsteps toward the outer hall. I could hear other footsteps coming up
the stairs. One or more of the day-shift deputies were arriving.
Kates said, "Hi, Bill, Walt. Ehlers with you?"
"Didn't see him. Probably be here in a minute." It sounded like Bill
"That's all right. We'll leave him here, anyway. You both got your
guns? Good. Listen, you two are going together and Hank and I are going
together. We'll work in pairs. Don't worry about the roads leading out; the
state boys are watching them for us. And there's no train or bus out till
late tomorrow morning. We just comb the town."
"Divide it between us, Rance?"
"No. You, Walt, and Bill cover the whole town. Drive through every
street and alley. Hank and I will take places he might have holed in to
hide. We'll search his house and the Clarion office, whether there are
lights on or not, and we'll try any place else that's indoors where he
might've holed in. He might pick an empty house, for instance. Anybody got
any other suggestions where he might think of holing in?"
Bill Dean's voice said, "He's pretty thick with Carl Trenholm. He might
go to Carl."
"Good idea, Bill. Anybody else?"
Hank said, "He looked pretty drunk to me. And he broke that bottle he
had. Might get into his head he wants another drink and break into a tavern.
Probably Smiley's; that's where he hangs out, mostly."
"Okay, Hank. We'll check - That must be Dick coming. Any more ideas,
anybody, before we split up?"
Ehlers was coming in now. Hank said, "Sometimes a guy doubles back
where he figures nobody'll figure where he is. I mean, Rance, maybe he
doubled back here and got in the back way or something, thinking the safest
place to hide's right under our noses. Right here in the building."
Kates said, "You heard that, Dick. And you're staying here to watch the
office, so that's your job. Search the building here first before you settle
Kates said, "One more thing. He's dangerous. He's probably armed by
now. So don't take any chances. When you see him, start shooting."
"At Doc Stoeger?" Someone's voice sounded surprised and a little
shocked. I couldn't tell which of the deputies it was.
"At Doc Stoeger," Kates said. "Maybe you think of him as a harmless
little guy - but that's the kind that generally makes homicidal maniacs.
He's killed two men tonight and tried to kill me, probably thought he did
kill me, or he'd stayed and finished the job. And don't forget who one of
the men he did kill was. Miles."
Somebody muttered something.
Bill Dean - I think it was Bill Dean - said, "I don't get it, though. A
guy like Doc. He isn't broke; he's got a paper that makes money and he's not
a crook. Why'd he suddenly want to kill two men for a couple of thousand
Kates swore. He said, "He's nuts, went off the beam. The money probably
didn't have much to do with it, although he took it all right. It was in
that brief case under Miles' body. Now listen, this is the last time I tell
you; he's a homicidal maniac and you better remember Miles the minute you
spot him and shoot quick. He's crazy as a bedbug. Came in here with a cock
and bull story about a guy being croaked out at the Wentworth place - a guy
named Yehudi Smith, of all names. And Doc had a card to prove it, only he
printed the card himself. Crazy enough to put his own bug number - union
label number - on it. Gives me a key that he says opens a fifteen-inch-high
door to a beautiful garden. Well, that was the key to the luggage
compartment of his own car, see? With Miles' and Bonney's bodies, and the
pay roll money, in it. Parked right in front. He'd driven it here. Comes up
and gives me the key. And tries to get me to go to a haunted house with
"Did anybody look there?" Dean asked.
Hank said, "Sure, Bill. On my way back from Neilsville. Went through
the whole dump. Nothing. And listen, Rance is right about him being crazy. I
heard some of the I stuff he said, myself. And if you don't think he's
dangerous, look at Rance. I'm sorry about it, I liked Doc. But damn it, I'm
with Rance on shooting first and catching him afterwards."
Somebody: "God damn it, if he killed Miles-"
"If he's that crazy-" I think it was Dick Ehlers. "-we'd be doing him a
favor, the way I figure it. If I ever go that far off the beam, homicidal,
damn if I wouldn't rather be shot than spend the rest of my life in a padded
cell. But what made him go off that way? All of a sudden, I mean?"
"Alcohol. Softens the brain, and then all of a sudden, whang."
"Doc didn't drink that much. He'd get drunk, a little, a night or two a
week, but he wasn't an alcoholic. And he was such a nice-"
A fist hit a desk. It would have been Kates' fist and Kates' desk. It
was Kates' swivel chair that squealed and his voice said, "What the hell are
we having a sewing circle for. Come on, let's go out and get him. And about
shooting first, that's orders. I've lost one deputy tonight already. Come
Footsteps, lots of them, toward the door.
Kates' voice calling back from it. "And don't forget to search this
building, Dick. Cellar to roof, before you settle down here."
Footsteps, lots of heavy footsteps, going down the steps.
And one set of them turning back along the hallway.
Toward the County Surveyor's office.
And he was very proud and stiff;
He said "I'd go and wake them, if-"
I took a corkscrew from the shelf;
I went to wake them up myself.
I hoped he'd take Rance Kates' orders literally and search the place
from cellar to attic, in that order. If he did, I could get out either the
front or back way while he was in the basement. But he might start on this
floor, with this room.
So I tiptoed to the door, pulling one of my shoes out of my pocket as I
went. I stood flat against the wall by the door, gripping the shoe, ready to
swing the heel of it if Ehlers' head came in.
It didn't. The footsteps went on past and started down the back
staircase. I breathed again.
I opened the door and stepped out into the hall as soon as the
footsteps were at the bottom of the back steps. Out there in the hall, in
the quiet of the night, I could hear him moving about down there. He didn't
go to the basement; he was taking the main floor first. That wasn't good.
With him on the first floor I couldn't risk either the front or the back
stairs; I was stuck up here.
Outside I heard first one car start and then another. At least the
front entrance was clear if I had to try to leave that way, if Ehlers
started upstairs by the back staircase.
I took a spot in the middle of the hallway, equidistant from both
flights of steps. I could still hear him walking around down on the floor
below, but it was difficult to tell just where he was. I had to be ready to
make a break in either direction.
I swore to myself at the thoroughness of Kates' plans for finding me.
My house, my office, Carl's place, Smiley's or another tavern - every place
I'd actually be likely to go. Even here, the courthouse, where I really was.
But luckily, instead of all of them pitching in for a quick once-over here,
he'd left only one man to do the job, and as long as I could hear him and he
couldn't hear me - and probably didn't believe I was really here at all - I
had an edge.
Only, damn it, why didn't Ehlers hurry? I wanted a drink, and if I
could get out of here, I could get one somewhere, somehow. I was shaking
like a leaf, and my thoughts were, too. Even one drink would steady me
enough to think straight.
Maybe Kates kept a bottle in the bottom drawer of his desk.
The way I felt just then, it was worth trying. I listened hard to the
sounds below me and decided Ehlers was probably at the back of the building
and I tiptoed to the front and into Kates' office.
I went back to his desk and pulled the drawer open very quietly and
slowly. There was a whisky bottle there. It was empty.
I cussed Kates under my breath. It wasn't bad enough that he'd tried to
kill me; on top of that, he'd had to finish off that bottle without leaving
a single drink in it. And it had been a good brand, too.
I closed the drawer again as carefully as I'd opened it, so there'd be
no sign of my having been there.
Lying on the blotter on Kates' desk was a revolver. I looked at it,
wondering whether I should take it along with me. For a second the fact that
it was rusty didn't register and then I remembered Hank's description of the
gun that had been used as a bludgeon to kill Miles and Bonney, and I bent
closer. Yes, it was an Iver-Johnson, nickel-plated where the plating wasn't
worn or knocked off. This was the death weapon, then.
I reached out to pick it up, and then jerked my hand back. Hadn't I
been framed well enough without helping the framer by putting my
fingerprints on that gun? That was all I needed, to have my fingerprints on
the weapon that had done the killing. Or were they there already?
Considering everything else, I wouldn't have been too surprised if they
Then I almost went through the ceiling. The phone rang.
I could hear, in the silence between the first ring and the second,
Ehlers' footsteps starting upstairs. But back here in the office, I couldn't
tell whether he was coming up the front way or the back, and I might not
have time to make it anyway, even if I knew.
I looked around frantically and saw a closet, the door ajar. I grabbed
up the Iver-Johnson and ducked into the closet, behind the door. And I stood
there, trying not to breathe, while Ehlers came in and picked up the phone.
He said, "Sheriff's office," and then, "Oh, you Rance," and then he
listened a while.
"You're phoning from the Clarion? Not at Smiley's or there, huh?... No,
no calls have come in... Yeah, I'm almost through looking around here.
Searched the first floor and the basement. Just got to go over this floor
I swore at myself. He'd been down in the basement, then, and I could
have got away. But the building had been so quiet that his walking around
down there had sounded to me as though it had been on the main floor.
"Don't worry, I'm not taking any chances, Rance. Gun in one hand and a
flashlight in the other."
There was a gun in my hand too, and suddenly I realized what a damned
foolish thing I'd done to pick it up off Kates' desk. Ehlers must have known
it was there. If he missed it, if he happened to glance down at the desk
while he was talking on the phone-
God must have loved me. He didn't. He said, "Okay, Rance," and then he
put the phone down and walked out.
I heard him go back along the hallway and around the el and start
opening doors back there. I had to get out quick, down the front steps,
before he worked his way back here. As a matter of routine, he'd probably
open this closet door too when he'd searched his way back to the office he'd
I let myself out and tiptoed down the steps. Out into the night again,
onto Oak Street. And I had to get off it quick, because either of the two
cars looking for me might cruise by at any moment. Carmel City isn't large;
a car can cruise all of its streets and alleys in pretty short order.
Besides I still had my shoes in my pockets and - I realized now - I still
had a gun in my hand.
Hoping Ehlers wouldn't happen to be looking out of any of the windows,
I ran around the corner and into the mouth of the alley behind the
courthouse. As soon as I was comparatively safe in the friendly darkness, I
sat down on the alley curbstone and put my shoes back on, and put the gun
into my pocket. I hadn't meant to bring it along at all, but as long as I
had I couldn't throw it away now.
Anyway, it was going to get Dick Ehlers in trouble with Kates. When
Kates looked for that gun and found it was missing, he'd know that I'd been
in the courthouse and that Ehlers had missed me. He'd know that I'd been
right in his own office while he'd been out searching for me.
And so there I was in the dark, in safety for a few minutes until a car
full of deputies decided to cruise down that particular alley looking for
me. And I had a gun in my pocket that might or might not shoot - I hadn't
checked that - and I had my shoes on and my hands were shaking again.
I didn't even have to ask myself, Little man, what now. The little man
not only wanted a drink; he really needed one.
And Kates had already been to Smiley's looking for me and had found
that I wasn't there.
So I started down the alley toward Smiley's.
Funny, but I was getting over being scared. A little, anyway. You can
get only just so scared, and then something happens to your adrenal glands
or something. I can't remember offhand whether your adrenals make you
frightened or whether they get going and operate against it, but mine were
getting either into or out of action, as the case might be. I'd been scared
so much that night that I - or my glands - was getting tired of it.
I was getting brave, almost. And it wasn't Dutch courage, either; it
had been so long since I'd had a drink that I'd forgotten what one tasted
like. I was cold damn sober. About three times during the course of the long
evening and the long night I'd been on the borderline of intoxication, but
always something had happened to keep me from drinking for a while and then
something had sobered me up. Some foolish little thing like being taken for
a ride by gangsters or watching a man die suddenly or horribly by quaffing a
bottle labeled "Drink Me" or finding murdered men in the back of my own car
or discovering that a sheriff intended to shoot me down in cold grue. Little
things like that.
So I kept going down the alley toward Smiley's. The dog that had barked
at me before barked again. But I didn't waste time barking back. I kept on
going down the alley toward Smiley's.
There was the street to cross. I took a quick look both ways but didn't
worry about it beyond that. If the sheriff's car or the deputies' car
suddenly turned the corner and started spraying me with headlights and then
bullets, well, then that was that. You can only get so worried; then you
quit worrying. When things can't get any worse, outside of your getting
killed, then either you get killed or things start getting better.
Things started to get better; the window into the back room of Smiley's
was open. I didn't bother taking off my shoes this time. Smiley would be
asleep upstairs, but alone, and Smiley's so sound a sleeper that a bazooka
shell exploding in the next room wouldn't wake him. I remember times I'd
dropped into the tavern on a dull afternoon and found him asleep; it was
almost hopeless to try to wake him, and I'd generally help myself and leave
the money on the ledge of the register. And he dropped asleep so quickly and
easily that even if Kates and Hank had wakened him when they'd looked for me
here, he'd be asleep again by now.
In fact - yes, I could hear a faint rumbling sound overhead, like very
distant thunder. Smiley snoring.
I groped my way through the dark back room and opened the door to the
tavern. There was a dim light in there that burned all night long, and the
shades were left up. But Kates had already been here and the chances of
anyone else happening to pass and look in at half past three of a Friday
morning were negligible.
I took a bottle of the best bonded Bourbon Smiley had from the back bar
and because it looked as though there were still at least a fair chance that
this might be the last drink I ever had, I took a bottle of seltzer from the
case under the bar. I took them to the table around the el, the one that's
out of sight of the windows, the table at which Bat and George had sat early
Bat and George seemed, now, to have sat there along time ago, years
maybe, and seemed not a tenth as frightening as they'd been at the time.
Almost, they seemed a little funny, somehow.
I left the two bottles on the table and went back for a glass, a
swizzle stick, and some ice cubes from the refrigerator. This drink I'd
waited a long time for, and it was going to be a good one.
I'd even pay a good price for it, I decided, especially after I looked
in my wallet and found I had several tens but nothing smaller. I put a ten
dollar bill on the ledge of the register, and I wondered if I'd ever get my
change out of it.
I went back to the table and made myself a drink, a good one.
I lighted up a cigar, too. That was a bit risky because if Kates came
by here again for another check, he might see cigar smoke in the dim light,
even though I was out of his range of vision. But I decided the risk was
worth it. You can, I was finding, get into such a Godawful jam that a little
more risk doesn't seem to matter at all.
I took a good long swig of the drink and then a deep drag from the
cigar, and I felt pretty good. I held out my hands and they weren't shaking.
Very silly of them not to be, but they weren't.
Now, I thought, is my first chance to think for a long time. My first
real chance since Yehudi Smith had died.
Little man, what now?
The pattern. Could I make any sense out of the pattern?
Yehudi Smith - only that undoubtedly wasn't his real name, else the
card he gave me wouldn't have been printed in my own shop - had called to
see me and had told me-
Skip what he told you, I told myself. That was gobbledegook, just the
kind of gobbledegook that would entice you to go to such a crazy place at
such a crazy time. He knew you - that is, I corrected myself - he knew a lot
about you. Your hobby and your weakness and what you were and what would
His coming there was planned. Planned well in advance; the card proved
According to a plan, then, he called on you at a time when no one else
would be there. Probably, sitting in his car, he'd watched you come home,
knowing Mrs. Carr was there - in all probability he or someone had been
watching the house all evening - and waiting until she'd left to present
No one had seen him, no one besides yourself.
He'd led you on a wild-goose chase. There weren't any Vorpal Blades;
that was gobbledegook, too.
Connect that with the fact that Miles Harrison and Ralph Bonney had
been killed while Yehudi Smith was keeping you entertained and busy, and
that their bodies had been put in the back compartment of your car.
Easy. Smith was an accomplice of the murderer, hired to keep you away
from anybody else who might alibi you while the crime was going on. Also to
give you such an incredible story to account for where you really were that
your own mother, if she were still alive, would have a hard time believing
But connect that with the fact that Smith had been killed, too. And
with the fact that the pay roll money had been left in your car along with
It added up to gibberish.
I took another sip of my drink and it tasted weak. I looked at it and
saw I'd been sitting there so long between sips that most of the ice had
melted. I put more of the bonded Bourbon in it and it tasted all right
I remembered about the gun I'd grabbed up from Kates' desk, the rusty
one with which the two murders had been committed. I took it out of my
pocket and looked at it. I handled it so I wouldn't have to touch those
dried stains on the butt.
I broke it to see if any shots had been fired from it and found there
weren't any cartridges in it, empty or otherwise. I clicked it back into
position and tried the trigger. It was rusted shut. It hadn't, then, been
used as a gun at all. Just as a hammer to bash out the brains of two men.
And I'd certainly made a fool of myself by bringing it along. I played
right into the killer's hands by doing that. I put it back into my pocket.
I wished that I had someone to talk to. I felt that I might figure out
things aloud better than I could this way. I wished that Smiley was awake,
and for a moment I was tempted to go upstairs to get him. No, I decided,
once already tonight I'd put Smiley into danger - danger out of which he'd
got both of us and without any help from me whatsoever.
And this was my problem. It wouldn't be fair to Smiley to tangle him in
Besides, this wasn't a matter for Smiley's brawn and guts. This was
like playing chess, and Smiley didn't play chess. Carl might possibly be
able to help me figure it out, but Smiley - never. And I didn't want to
tangle Carl in this either.
But I wanted to talk to somebody.
All right, maybe I was a little crazy - not drunk, definitely not drunk
- but a little crazy. I wanted to talk to somebody, so I did.
The little man who wasn't there.
I imagined him sitting across the table from me, sitting there with an
imaginary drink in his hand. Gladly, right gladly, would I have poured him a
real one if he'd been really there. He was looking at me strangely.
"Smitty," I said.
"What's your real name, Smitty? I know it isn't Yehudi Smith. That was
part of the gag. The card you gave me proves that."
It wasn't the right question to ask. He wavered a little, as though he
was going to disappear on me. I shouldn't have asked him a question that I
myself couldn't answer, because he was there only because my mind was
putting him there. He couldn't tell me anything I didn't know myself or
couldn't figure out.
He wavered a little, but he rallied. He said, "Doc, I can't tell you
that. Any more than I can tell you whom I was working for. You know that."
Get it; he said "whom I was working for" not "who I was working for." I
felt proud of him and of myself.
I said, "Sure, Smitty. I shouldn't have asked. And listen, I'm sorry -
I'm sorry as hell that you died."
"That's all right, Doc. We all die sometime. And - well, it was a nice
evening up to then."
"I'm glad I fed you," I said. "I'm glad I gave you all you wanted to
drink. And listen, Smitty, I'm sorry I laughed out loud when I saw that
bottle and key on the glass-topped table. I just couldn't help it. It was
"Sure, Doc. But I had to play it straight. It was part of the act. But
it was corny; I don't blame you for acting amused. And Doc, I'm sorry I did
it. I didn't know the whole score - you've got proof of that. If I had, I
wouldn't have drunk what was in that bottle. I didn't look like a man who
wanted to die, did I, Doc?"
I shook my head slowly, looking at the laughter-lines around his eyes
and his mouth. He didn't look like a man who wanted to die.
But he had died, suddenly and horribly.
"I'm sorry, Smitty," I told him. "I'm sorry as hell. I'd give a hell of
a lot to bring you back, to have you really sitting there."
He chuckled. "Don't get maudlin, Doc. It'll spoil your thinking. You're
trying to think, you know."
"I know," I said. "But I had to get it out of my system. All right,
Smitty. You're dead and I can't do anything about it. You're the little man
who isn't there. And I can't ask you any questions I can't answer myself, so
really you can't help me."
"Are you sure, Doc? Even if you ask the right questions?"
"What do you mean? That my subconscious mind might know the answers
even if I don't?"
He laughed. "Let's not get Freudian. Let's stick to Lewis Carroll. I
really was a Carroll enthusiast, you know. I was a fast study, but not that
fast. I couldn't have memorized all that about him just for one occasion."
The phrase struck me, "a fast study." I repeated it and went on where
it led me, "You were an actor, Smitty? Hell, don't answer it. You must have
been. I should have guessed that. An actor hired to play a part."
He grinned a bit wryly. "Not too good an actor, then, or you wouldn't
have guessed it. And pretty much of a sucker, Doc, to have accepted the
role. I should have guessed that there was more in it than what he told me."
He shrugged. "Well, I played you a dirty trick, but I played a worse one on
myself. Didn't I?"
"I'm sorry you're dead, Smitty. God damn it, I liked you."
"I'm glad, Doc. I haven't liked myself too well these last few years.
You've figured it out by now so I can tell you - I was pretty down and out
to take a booking like that, and at the price he offered me for it. And damn
him, he didn't pay me in advance except my expenses, so what did I gain by
it? I got killed. Wait, don't get maudlin about that again. Let's drink to
We drank to it. There are worse things than getting killed. And there
are worse ways of dying than suddenly when you aren't expecting it, when
you're slightly tight and-
But that subject wasn't getting us anywhere.
"You were a character actor," I said.
"Doc, you disappoint me by belaboring the obvious. And that doesn't
help you to figure out who Anybody is."
"That's what you were calling him to yourself when you were thinking
things out, in a half-witted sort of way, not so long ago. Remember thinking
that Anybody could have got into your printing shop and Anybody could have
set up one line of type and figured out how to print one good card on that
little hand press, but why would Anybody-"
"Unfair," I said. "You can get inside my mind, because - because, hell,
that's where you are. But I can't get into yours. You know who Anybody is.
But I don't."
"Even I, Doc, might not know his real name. In case something went
wrong, he wouldn't have told me that. Something like - well, suppose you'd
grabbed that `Drink Me' bottle when you first found the table and tossed it
off before I could tell you that it was my prerogative to do so. Yes, there
were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in so complicated a deal as
that one was."
I nodded. "Yes, suppose Al Grainger had come around for that game of
chess and we'd taken him along. Suppose - suppose I hadn't lived to get home
at all. I had a narrow squeak earlier in the evening, you know."
"In that case, Doc, it never would have happened. You ought to be able
to figure that out without my telling you.. If you'd been killed, you and
Smiley, earlier in the evening, then - at least if Anybody had learned about
it, as he probably would have - Ralph Bonney and Miles Harrison wouldn't
have been killed later. At least not tonight. A wheel would have come off
the plans and I'd have gone back to - wherever I came from. And everything
would have been off."
I said, "But suppose I'd stayed at the office far into the night
working on one of those big stories I thought I had - and was so happy
about. How would Anybody have known?"
"Can't tell you that, Doc. But you might guess. Suppose I had orders to
keep Anybody posted on your movements, if they went off schedule. When you
left the house, saying you'd be back shortly, I'd have used your phone and
told him that. And when you phoned that you were on your way back I'd have
let him know, while you were walking home, wouldn't I?"
"But that was pretty late."
"Not too late for him to have intercepted Miles Harrison and Ralph
Bonney on their way back from Neilsville - under certain circumstances - if
his plans had been held in abeyance until he was sure you'd be home and out
of circulation before midnight."
I said, "Under certain circumstances," and wondered just what I meant
Yehudi Smith smiled. He lifted his glass and looked at me mockingly
over the rim of it before he drank. He said, "Go on, Doc. You're only in the
second square, but your next move will be a good one. You go to the fourth
square by train, you know."
"And the smoke alone is worth a thousand pounds a puff."
"And that's the answer, Doc," he said, quietly.
I stared at him. A prickle went down my back.
Outside, in the night, a clock struck four times.
"What do you mean, Smitty?" I asked him, slowly.
The little man who wasn't there poured more whisky from an imaginary
bottle into his imaginary glass. He said, "Doc, you've been letting the
glass-topped table and the bottle and the key fool you. They're from Alice
in Wonderland. Originally, of course, called Alice's Adventures Underground.
Wonderful book. But you're in the second."
"The second square? You just said that."
"The second book. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found
There. And, Doc, you know as well as I what Alice found there."
I poured myself another drink, a short one this time, to match his. I
didn't bother with ice or seltzer.
He raised his glass. "You've got it now, Doc," he said. "Not all of it,
but enough to start on. You might still see the dawn come up."
"Don't be so God damn dramatic," I said; "certainly I'm going to see
the dawn come up."
"Even if Kates comes here again looking for you? Don't forget when he
misses that rusty gun in your pocket, he'll know you were at the courthouse
when he was looking for you here. He might recheck all his previous stops.
And you're awfully damned careless in filling the place with cigar smoke,
"You mean it's worth a thousand pounds a puff?"
He put back his head and laughed and then he quit laughing and he
wasn't there any more, even in my imagination, because a sudden slight sound
made me look toward the door that led upstairs, to Smiley's rooms. The door
opened and Smiley was standing there.
In a nightshirt. I hadn't known anybody wore nightshirts any more, but
Smiley wore one. His eyes looked sleepy and his hair - what was left of it -
was tousled and he was barefoot. He had a gun in his hand, the little
short-barreled thirty-eight Banker's Special I'd given him some hours ago.
In his huge hand it looked tiny, a toy. It didn't look like something that
had knocked a Buick off the road, killing one man and badly injuring
another, that very evening.
There wasn't any expression on his face, none at all.
I wonder what mine looked like. But through a looking- glass or not, I
didn't have one to look into.
Had I been talking to myself aloud? Or had my conversation with Yehudi
Smith been imaginary, within my own mind? I honestly didn't know.
If I'd really been talking to myself, it was going to be a hell of a
thing to have to explain. Especially if Kates had, on his stop here,
awakened Smiley and told him that I was crazy.
In any case, what the hell could I possibly say right now but "Hello,
I opened my mouth to say "Hello, Smiley," but I didn't.
Someone was pounding on the glass of the front door. Someone who
yelled, "Hey, open up here!" in the voice of Sheriff Rance Kates.
I did the only reasonable thing to do. I poured myself another drink.
"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose-
What made you so awfully clever?"
Kates hammered again and tried the knob.
Smiley stared at me and I stared back at him. I couldn't say anything -
even if I could have thought of anything to say - to him at that distance
without the probability of Kates hearing my voice.
Kates hammered again. I heard him say something to Hank about breaking
in the glass. Smiley bent down and placed the gun on the step behind him and
then came out of the door into the tavern. Without looking at me he walked
toward the front door and, at sight of him, Kates stopped the racket there.
Smiley didn't walk quite straight toward the door; he made a slight
curve that took him past my table. As he passed, he reached out and jerked
the cigar out of my hand. He stuck it in his mouth and then went to the door
and opened it.
I couldn't see in that direction, of course, and I didn't stick my head
around the corner of the el. I sat there and sweated.
"What you want? Why such a hell of a racket?" I heard Smiley demand.
Kates' voice: "Thought Stoeger was here. That smoke-"
"Left my cigar down here," Smiley said. "Remembered it when I got back
up and came down to get it. Why all the racket?"
"It was damn near half an hour ago when I was here," Kates said
belligerently. "Cigar doesn't burn that long."
Smiley said patiently, "I couldn't sleep after you were here. I came
down and got myself a drink five minutes ago. I left my cigar down here."
His voice got soft, very soft. "Now get the hell out of here. You've spoiled
my night already. Didn't get to sleep till two and you wake me at half past
three and come around again at four. What's the big idea, Kates?"
"You're sure Stoeger isn't-"
"I told you I'd call you if I saw him. Now, you bastard, get out of
I could imagine Kates turning purple. I could imagine him looking at
Smiley and realizing that Smiley was half again as strong as he was.
The door slammed so hard it must have come very near to breaking the
Smiley came back. Without looking back at me he said quietly, "Don't
move, Doc. He might look back in a minute or two." He went on around behind
the bar, got himself a glass and poured a drink. He sat down on the stool he
keeps for himself back there, facing slightly to the back so his lip
movement wouldn't show to anyone looking in the front window. He took a sip
of the drink and a puff of my cigar.
I kept my voice as low as he'd kept his. I said, "Smiley, you ought to
have your mouth washed out with soap. You told a lie."
He grinned. "Not that I know of, Doc. I told him I'd call him if I saw
you. I did call him. Didn't you hear what I called him?"
"Smiley," I said, "this is the screwiest night I've ever been through
but the screwiest thing about it is that you're developing a sense of humor.
I didn't think you had it in you."
"How bad trouble are you in, Doc? What can I do?"
I said, "Nothing. Except what you just did do, and thanks to hell and
back for that. It's something I've got to think out; and work out for
myself, Smiley. Nobody can help me."
"Kates said, when he was here the first time, you were a ho - homi -
what the hell was it?"
"Homicidal maniac," I said. "He thinks I killed two men tonight. Miles
Harrison and Ralph Bonney."
"Yeah. Don't bother telling me you didn't."
I said, "Thanks, Smiley." And then it occurred to me that "Don't bother
telling me you didn't" could be taken either one of two ways. And I wondered
again if I had been talking to myself aloud or only in my imagination while
Smiley had been walking down those stairs and opening the door. I asked him,
"Smiley, do you think I'm crazy?"
"I've always thought you were crazy, Doc. But crazy in a nice way."
I thought how wonderful it is to have friends. Even if I was crazy,
there were two people in Carmel City that I could count on to go to bat for,
me. There was Smiley and there was Carl.
But, damn it, friendship should work both ways. This was my danger and
my problem and I had no business dragging Smiley into it any farther than
he'd already stuck his neck. If I told Smiley that Kates had tried to kill
me and still intended to, then Smiley - who hates Kates' guts already -
would go out looking for Kates and like as not kill him with his bare hands,
or get shot trying it. I couldn't do that to Smiley.
I said, "Smiley, finish your drink and go up to bed again. I've got to
"Sure there's no way I can help you, Doc?"
He tossed off the rest of his drink and tamped out the cigar in an ash
tray. He said, "Okay, Doc, I know you're smarter than I am, and if it's
brains you need for help, I'm just in the way. Good luck to you."
He walked back to the door of the staircase. He looked carefully at the
front windows to be sure nobody was looking in and then he reached inside
and picked up the revolver from the step on which he'd placed it.
He came walking over to my table. He said, "Doe, if you are a ho - homi
- what you said, you might want to kill somebody else tonight. That's
loaded. I even replaced the two bullets I shot out of it, earlier."
He put it down on the table in front of me, turned his back to me and
went back to the stairs. I watched him go, marveling. I'd never yet seen a
man in a nightshirt who hadn't looked ridiculous. Until then. What more can
a man do to prove he doesn't think you're insane than give you a loaded gun
and then turn his back and walk away. And when I thought of all the times
I'd razzed Smiley and ridden him, all the cracks I'd made at him, I wanted-
Well, I couldn't answer when he said "Goodnight, Doc," just before he
closed the door behind him. Something felt a little wrong with my throat,
and if I'd tried to say anything, I might have bawled.
My hand shook a little as I poured myself another drink, a short one. I
was beginning to feel them and this had better be my last one, I knew.
I had to think more clearly than I'd ever thought before. I couldn't
get drunk, I didn't dare.
I tried to get my mind back to what I'd been thinking about - what I'd
been talking about to the little man who wasn't there - before Smiley's
coming downstairs and Kates' knocking had interrupted me.
I looked across the table where Yehudi Smith, in my mind, had been
sitting. But he wasn't there. I couldn't bring him back. He was dead, and he
wouldn't come back. The quiet room in the quiet night. The dim light of the
single twenty-watt bulb over the cash register. The creaking of my thoughts
as I tried to turn them back into the groove. Connect facts.
Lewis Carroll and bloody murder.
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
What had Alice found there?
Chessmen, and a game of chess. And Alice herself had been a pawn. That
was why, of course, she'd crossed the third square by railroad. With the
smoke alone worth a thousand pounds a puff - almost as expensive as the
smoke from my cigar might have been had not Smiley taken it out of my hand
and claimed it as his own.
Chessmen, and a game of chess.
But who was the player?
And suddenly I knew. Illogically, because he didn't have a shadow of a
motive. The Why I did not see, but Yehudi Smith had told me the How, and now
I saw the Who.
The pattern. Whoever had arranged tonight's little chess problem played
chess all right, and played it well. Looking- glass chess and real chess,
both. And he knew me well - which meant I knew him, too. He knew my
weaknesses, the things I'd fall for. He knew I'd go with Yehudi Smith on the
strength of that mad, weird story Smith had told me.
But why? What had he to gain? He'd killed Miles Harrison, Ralph Bonney
and Yehudi Smith. And he'd left the money Miles and Ralph had been carrying
in that brief case and put it in the back of my car, with the two bodies.
Then money hadn't been the motive. Either that, or the motive had been
money in such large quantity that the couple of thousand dollars Bonney had
been carrying didn't matter.
But wasn't a man concerned who was one of the richest men in Carmel
City? Ralph Bonney. His fireworks factory, his other investments, his real
estate must have added up to - well, maybe half a million dollars. A man
shooting for half a million dollars can well abandon the proceeds of a two
thousand dollar holdup and leave them with the bodies of the men he has
killed, to help pin the crime on the pawn he has selected to divert
suspicion from himself.
Ralph Bonney was divorced today. He was murdered tonight.
Then Miles Harrison's death was incidental. Yehudi Smith had been
A warped mind, but a brilliant mind. A cold, cruel mind. And yet,
paradoxically, a mind that loved fantasy, as I did, that loved Lewis
Carroll, as I did.
I started to pour myself another drink and then remembered that I still
had only part of the answer, and that even if I had it all, I hadn't the
slightest idea what I could do with it, without a shred of evidence, or an
iota of proof.
Without even an idea, in my own mind, of the reason, the motive. But
there must be one; the rest of it was too well planned, too logical.
There was one possibility that I could see.
I sat there listening a while to be sure there was no car approaching;
the night was so quiet that, I could have heard one at least a block away.
I looked at the gun Smiley had given me back, hesitated, and finally
put it in my pocket. Then I went into the back room and let myself out of
the window into the dark alley.
Carl Trenholm's house was three blocks away. Luckily, it was on the
street next to Oak Street and parallel to it. I could make all of the
distance through the alley except for the streets I'd have to cross.
I heard a car coming as I approached the second street and I ducked
down and hid behind a garbage can until it had gone by. It was going slowly
and it was probably either Hank and the sheriff or the two deputies. I
didn't look out to see for fear they might flash a spotlight down the alley.
I waited until the sound of it died away completely before I crossed
I let myself in the back gate of Carl's place. With his wife away, I
wasn't positive which bedroom he'd be sleeping in, but I found pebbles and
tossed them at the most likely window and it was the right one.
It went up and Carl's head came out. I stepped close to the house so I
wouldn't have to yell. I said, "It's Doc, Carl. Don't light a light anywhere
in the house. But come down to the back door."
"Coming, Doc." He closed the window. I went up on the back porch and
waited until the door opened and I went in. I closed the door behind me and
the kitchen was as black as the inside of a tomb.
Carl said, "Damned if I know where a flashlight is, Doc. Can't we put
on a light? I feel like hell."
"No, leave it off," I told him. I struck a match, though, to find my
way to a chair and it showed me Carl in rumpled pajamas, his hair mussed and
looking like he was in for the grandfather of all hangovers.
He sat down, too, while the match flared. "What's it about, Doc? Kates
and Ganzer were here looking for you. Waked me up a while ago, but they
didn't tell me much. Are you in a jam, Doc? Did you kill somebody?"
"No," I said. "Listen, you're Ralph Bonney's lawyer, aren't you? I mean
on everything, not just the divorce today."
"Who's his heir, now that he's divorced?"
"Doc, I'm afraid I can't tell you that. A lawyer isn't supposed to tell
his clients' business. You know that as well as I do."
"Didn't Kates tell you Ralph Bonney is dead, Carl? And Miles Harrison?
They were murdered on their way back from Neilsville with the payroll,
somewhere around midnight."
"My God," Carl said. "No, Kates didn't tell me."
I said, "I know you're still not supposed to tell his business until a
will is probated, if there is one. But listen, let me make a guess and you
can tell me if I'm wrong. If I guess right, you won't have to confirm it;
just keep your mouth shut."
"Go ahead, Doc."
"Bonney had an illegitimate son about twenty-three years ago. But he
supported the boy's mother all her life until she died recently; she worked,
too, as a milliner but he gave her enough extra so that she lived better
than she would have otherwise, and she sent the boy to college and gave him
I stopped there and waited and Carl didn't say anything.
I went on. "Bonney still gave the boy an allowance. That's how he -
hell, let's call him by name - that's how Al Grainger has been living
without working. And unless he knows he's in Bonney's will, he's got proof
of his parentage and can claim the bulk of the estate anyway. And it must be
half a million."
Carl said, "I'll talk. It'll run about three hundred thousand. And you
guessed right on Al Grainger, but how you guessed it, I don't know. Bonney's
relations to Mrs. Grainger and to Al have been the best-kept secret I've
ever known of. In fact, outside of the parties concerned, I was the only
person who ever knew - or even suspected. How did you guess?"
"By what happened to me tonight - and that's too complicated to explain
right now. But Al plays chess and has the type of mind to do things the
complicated way, and that's the way they happened. And he knows Lewis
Carroll and-" I stopped because I was still after facts and didn't want to
The night was almost over. I saw a greenish gleam in the darkness that
reminded me Carl wore a wrist watch with a luminous dial. "What time is it?"
I asked him.
The gleam vanished as he turned the dial toward himself. "Almost five
o'clock. About ten minutes of. Listen, Doc, you've got so much you might as
well have the rest. Yes, Al has proof of his parentage. And, as an only
child, illegitimate or not, he can claim the entire estate now that Bonney
isn't married. He could have cut in for a fraction of it, of course, even
before the divorce."
"Didn't he leave a will?"
"Ralph didn't ever make a will. Superstitious about it. I've often
tried to talk him into making one, but he never would."
"And Al Grainger knew that?"
Carl said, "I imagine he would have."
"Is there any reason why Al would have been in such a hurry?" I asked.
"I mean, would there have been any change in status if he'd waited a while
instead of killing Bonney the night after the divorce?"
Carl thought a minute. "Bonney was planning to leave tomorrow for a
long vacation. Al would have had to wait several months, and maybe he
figured Bonney might remarry - meet someone on the cruise he was going to
take. It happens that way, sometimes, on the rebound after a divorce. And
Bonney is - was, only fifty-two."
I nodded - to myself, since Carl couldn't see me in the darkness. That
last bit of information covered everything on the motive end.
I knew everything now, except the details and they didn't matter much.
I knew why Al had done everything that he had done; he had to make an
airtight frame on someone because once he claimed Bonney's estate, his own
motive would be obvious. I could even guess some of the reasons why he'd
picked me for the scapegoat.
He must have hated me, and kept it carefully under cover. I could see a
reason for it, now that I knew more about him. I've got a loose tongue and
often swear at people affectionately, if you know what I mean. How often,
when Al had beaten me in a game of chess had I grinned at him and said, "All
right, you bastard. But try to do it again."
Never dreaming, of course, that he was one, and knew it.
He must have hated me like hell. In some ways he could have picked an
easier victim, someone more likely than I to have committed murder and
robbery for money. Choosing me, his plan took more gobbledegook; he had to
give me such a mad story to tell that nobody would believe a word of it and
would think, instead, that I'd gone insane. Of course, too, he knew how much
Kates hated me; he counted on that.
A sudden thought shook me; could Kates have been in on the deal with
Al? That would account for his trying to kill me rather than lock me up.
Maybe that was the deal - for a twenty or fifty thousand dollar cut of the
estate, Kates had agreed to shoot me down under the pretense that I had
attacked him or had tried to escape.
No, I decided on second thought, it hadn't been that way. I'd been
alone with Kates in his office for almost half an hour while Hank Ganzer had
been on his way back from Neilsville. It would have been too easy for Kates
to have killed me then, planted a weapon on me and claimed that I'd come in
and attacked him. And when the two bodies had been found in my car, the
story would have been perfectly credible. It would even have pointed up the
indication that I'd gone homicidally insane.
No, Kates' motive for wanting to kill me had been personal, sheer
malice because of the things I'd written about him in editorials and the way
I'd fought him in elections. He'd wanted to kill me and had seen a sudden
opportunity when the bodies had been found in my car. He'd passed up a much
better chance because, when I was alone with him for so long in his office,
he hadn't known the bodies were there.
No, definitely this was a one-man job, except for Yehudi Smith. Al had
hired Smith to keep me diverted, but when Smith's job was done, he was
eliminated. Another pawn. Chess isn't a team game.
Carl said, "How are you mixed in this, Doc? What can I do?"
"Nothing," I said. It was my problem, not Carl's. I'd kept Smiley out
of it; I'd keep Carl out of it, too. Except for the information and help
he'd already given me. "Go up to bed, Carl. I've got a little more thinking
"Hell with that. I can't sleep with you sitting down here thinking. But
I'll sit here and shut up unless you talk to me. You can't tell whether I'm
here or not anyway, if I shut up."
I said, "Shut up, then."
Proof, I thought. But what proof? Somewhere, but God knew where, was
the dead body of the actor Al had hired to play the role of Yehudi. But this
had been planned, and well planned. Suitable disposal of that body had been
arranged for long before Al had taken it away from the Wentworth place. I
wasn't going to turn up at random and one guess was as good as another as to
where he'd hidden or buried it. He'd had hours to do it in and he'd known in
advance every step he was going to take.
The car in which Yehudi Smith had driven me to the Wentworth house and
which he'd switched for my own car after he'd used mine for the supposed
holdup. No, I couldn't find that car as proof and it wouldn't mean anything
if I did. It could have been - probably was - a stolen car, and now returned
to wherever he'd stolen it from, never missed by its owner. And I didn't
even remember what make or model it was. All I remembered was that it had an
onyx gear shift knob and a push button radio. I didn't even know whether it
was a Cadillac convertible, or a Ford business coupe.
Had Al arranged any kind of an alibi for himself?
Maybe, maybe not, but what did it matter unless I could find something
against him besides motive? That, and my own certainty that he'd done it. I
hadn't any alibi, none at all. I had an incredible story and two bodies and
the stolen money in my car. And a sheriff and three deputies looking for me
and ready to shoot on sight.
I had the murder weapon in my pocket. And another gun, too, a loaded
Could I go to Al Grainger and scare him into writing out and signing a
He'd laugh at me. I'd laugh at myself for trying. A man with the warped
brain that would work out something like Al's plan tonight wasn't going to
tell me what time it was just because I pointed a gun at him.
A faint touch of light was showing at the windows. I could even make
out Carl sitting there across the table from me.
"Carl," I said.
"Yes, Doc? Say, I was letting you think but I'm glad you spoke. Just
had an idea."
"An idea's what I need," I told him. "What is it?"
"Want a drink?"
I asked, "Is that the idea?"
"That's the idea. Look, I'm hung over to hell and back and I can't have
one with you, but I just realized what a lousy host I was. Do you want one?"
"Thanks," I said, "but I had a drink. Listen, Carl, talk to me about Al
Grainger. Don't ask me what to say. Just talk."
"Anything, at random?"
"Anything, at random."
"Well, he's always impressed me as being a little off the beam.
Brilliant, but - well, twisted, somehow. Maybe his knowledge of who and what
he was contributed to that. Smiley always felt that, too; he's mentioned it
to me. Not that Smiley knows who or what Al is, but he just felt something
I said, "My opinion of Smiley has changed a lot tonight. He's smarter,
and a better guy, than both of us put together, Carl. But go on about Al."
"Touch of Oedipus, complicated by bastardry. Probably, in some obscure
way, managed to blame Bonney for his mother's death. Not a real paranoiac,
but near enough to do something like that. Sadism - most of us have a touch
of it, but Al a little more than most."
I said, "Most of us have a touch of everything. Go on."
"Pyrophobia. But you know about that. Not that we haven't all got
phobias. Your acrophobia and my being afraid of cats. But Al's is pretty
bad. So afraid of fire that he doesn't smoke and I've noticed him wince when
I've lighted a cig-"
"Shut up, Carl," I said.
I should have thought of it myself, sooner. A lot sooner.
I said, "I'll have that drink, Carl. Just one, but a good one."
I didn't need it physically, but I needed it mentally this time. I was
scared stiff at the very thought of what I was going to do.
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
The windows were faint gray rectangles; now, with my eyes accustomed to
the decreasing darkness, I could see Carl almost clearly as he went to the
cupboard and groped until he had the bottle he was looking for.
He said, "Doc, you sound happy enough that I'll have one with you. Hair
of the dog, for me. Kill or cure."
He got two glasses, too, from over the sink, breaking only one glass by
knocking it into the sink in the process. He said a nasty word and then
brought the glasses to the table. I struck a match and held it while he
poured whisky into them.
He said, "Damn you, Doc, if you're going to do this often. I'm going to
get some luminous paint. I could paint bands around the glasses and the
bottles. And say, know what else I could do? I could paint a chessboard and
a set of chessmen with luminous paint, too. Then we could sit here and play
chess in the dark."
"I'm playing, Carl, right now. I just reached the seventh square. Maybe
somebody'll crown me on the next move, when I reach the king-row. Have you
got any cleaning fluid?"
He'd started to reach for his glass, but he pulled his hand back and
looked at me instead.
"Cleaning fluid? Isn't whisky good enough for you?"
"I don't want it to drink," I explained. "I want it not to burn."
He shook his head a trifle. "Again and slowly."
"I want some of the kind that isn't inflammable. You know what I mean."
"Wife's got some kind of cleaning fluid around. Whether it's that kind
or not, I don't know. I'll look."
He looked, using my matches and examining the labels of a row of
bottles in the compartment under the sink. He came up with one and looked at
it closely. "Hope. This is marked `Danger' in big letters and `Keep away
from fire.' Guess we haven't got the non-inflammable kind."
I sighed. It would have been simple if Carl had had the right brand. I
had some myself, at home, but I didn't want to go there. It meant a trip to
And I didn't ask Carl for a candle. I could get that at the
supermarket, too, and I neither wanted Carl to think I was crazy or to have
to explain to him what I was going to do.
We had our drink. Carl shuddered at his, but got it down. He said,
"Doc, listen, isn't there anything I can do?"
I turned back at the door. "You've done plenty," I told him. "But if
you want to do more, you might get dressed and ready. I might be phoning you
soon if everything goes all right. I might need you then."
"Doc, wait. I'll get dressed now, and-"
"You'd be in the way, Carl," I told him.
And got out quickly before he could press me any farther. If he'd even
guessed how bad a jam I was in or what a damn fool thing I was going to do,
he'd have knocked me down and tied me up before he'd have let me out of
Dim gray light of early morning now, and I no longer had to grope my
way. I'd forgotten to ask Carl the time again but it must be about a quarter
I was under greater risk, now, of being seen if Kates and the deputies
were still cruising around looking for me, but I had a hunch that they'd
have given up by now, convinced that I'd holed in somewhere. Probably now
they were concentrating on the roads so I couldn't get out of town. And
getting out of town was the farthest thing from my mind.
I stayed in the alleys, just the same. Back the way I'd come and ready
to dive between garages or behind a garbage can at the first sound of a car.
But there weren't any cars; five-fifteen is early even in Carmel City.
The supermarket wasn't open yet. I wrapped my handkerchief around the
butt of one of my two revolvers - Two-Gun Stoeger, they call me - and broke
a pane in one of the back windows. It made a hell of a racket, but there
aren't any residences in that block and nobody heard me, or at least nobody
did anything about it.
I let myself in and started my shopping.
Cleaning fluid. Two kinds; I needed some of the non- inflammable kind
and, now that I thought of it, a bottle of the kind that was marked "Danger.
Keep away from fire."
I opened both of them and they smelled about alike. I poured the
inflammable kind down the drain of the sink at the back and replaced it with
the kind that doesn't burn.
I even made sure that it wouldn't burn; I poured some on a rag and
tried to light the rag. Maybe it would have been in keeping with everything
else that had been happening if that rag had burned and I hadn't been able
to put it out, if I'd burned the supermarket down and added arson to my
other accomplishments of the night. But the rag wouldn't burn any more than
if I'd soaked it with water instead of the gasoline-smelling cleaning fluid.
I thought out carefully what other items I'd need, and shopped for
them; some rolls of one-inch adhesive tape, a candle, and a cake of soap.
I'd heard that a cake of soap, inside a sock, made a good blackjack; the
soap is just soft enough to stun without killing. I took off one of my socks
and made myself a blackjack.
My pockets were pretty well laden by the time I left the supermarket -
by the same window through which I'd entered. I was pretty far gone in crime
by then; it never occurred to me to leave money for my purchases.
It was almost daylight. A clear gray dawn that looked like the herald
of a good day - for someone; whether for me or not I'd know soon.
I stuck to the alleys, back the way I'd come and three blocks on past
Al Grainger's. A one-story, three-room house, about the size of mine.
It was almost six o'clock by then. He was asleep by now, if he was ever
going to sleep. And somehow I thought he would be asleep by now. He'd have
been through with everything he had to do by two o'clock, four hours ago.
What he'd done might have kept him awake for a while, but not into the next
I cased the joint, and sighed with relief at one problem solved when I
saw that the bedroom window wasn't closed. It opened onto the back porch and
I could step into it easily.
I bent and stepped through it. I didn't make much noise and Al
Grainger, sleeping soundly in the bed, didn't awaken. I had my gun - the
loaded one - in my right hand and ready to use in case he did.
But I kept my right hand and the loaded gun out of sight. I got the
rusty, unloaded Iver-Johnson, the gun that had been used as a bludgeon to
kill Miles and Bonney, into my left hand. I had a test in mind which, if it
worked, would be absolute proof to me that Al was guilty. If it didn't work,
it wouldn't disprove it and I'd go ahead just the same, but it didn't cost
anything to try.
It was still dim in the room and I reached out with my left hand and
turned on the lamp that stood beside the bed. I wanted him to see that gun.
He moved restlessly as the light went on, but he didn't awaken.
"Al," I said.
He wakened then, all right. He sat up in bed and stared at me. I said,
"Put up your hands, Al," and held the gun in my left hand pointed at him,
standing far enough back that he couldn't grab at me but near enough that he
could see the gun clearly in the pale glow of the lamp I'd lighted.
He looked from my face to the gun and back again. He threw back the
sheet to get out of bed. He said, "Don't be a fool, Doc. That gun isn't
loaded and it wouldn't shoot if it was."
If I'd needed any more proof, I had it.
He was starting to move his feet toward the edge of the bed when I
brought my right hand, holding the other gun, around into sight. I said,
"This one is loaded, and works."
He stopped moving his feet. I dropped the rusty gun into my coat
pocket. I said, "Turn around, Al."
He hesitated and I cocked the revolver. It was aimed at him from about
five feet, too close to miss him if I pulled the trigger and just too far
for him to risk grabbing at, especially from an awkward sitting-up-in-bed
position. I could see him considering the odds, coldly, impartially.
He decided they weren't good. And he decided, probably, that if he let
me take him, it wouldn't matter to his plans anyway. If I turned him over to
the police along with my story, it wouldn't strengthen my story in the
"Turn around, Al," I repeated.
He still stared at me calculatingly. I could see what he was thinking;
if he turned, I was probably going to slug him with the butt of the revolver
and whatever my intentions, I might hit too hard. And if I killed him, even
accidentally, it wouldn't help him any to know that they'd get me for one
extra murder. I repeated, "Turn around, and put your hands out in back of
I could see some of the tenseness go out of him at that. If I was only
going to tie him up-
He turned around. I quickly switched the revolver to my left hand and
pulled out the improvised blackjack I'd made of a sock and a cake of soap. I
made a silent prayer that I'd guessed right on the swing and not hit too
hard or not hard enough, and I swung.
The thud scared me. I thought I'd killed him, and I knew that he wasn't
shamming when he dropped back flat on the bed because his head hit the head
of the bed with a second thud that was almost as loud as the first.
And if he had been shamming he could have taken me easily, because I
was so scared that I put the revolver down. I couldn't even put it in my
pocket because it was cocked and I didn't know how to uncock it without
shooting it off. So I put it on the night stand beside the bed and bent over
him to feel his heart. It was still beating.
I got the rolls of adhesive tape out of my pocket and started to work.
I taped around his mouth so he couldn't yell, and I taped his legs together
at the ankles and at the knees. I taped his left wrist to his left thigh,
and I used a whole roll of adhesive to tape his right arm against his side
above the elbow. His right hand had to be free.
I found some clothesline in the kitchen and tied him to the bed,
managing as I did so to pull him up into an almost sitting position against
the head of the bed.
I got a pad of paper, foolscap, from his desk and I put it and my
ball-point pen within reach of his right hand.
There wasn't anything I could do but sit down and wait, then.
Ten minutes, maybe fifteen, and it was getting pretty light outside. I
began to get impatient. Probably there wasn't any hurry; Al Grainger always
slept late so no one would miss him for a long time yet but the waiting was
I decided that I could take a drink again and that I needed one. I went
out into his kitchen and hunted till I found a bottle. It was gin instead of
whisky, but it would serve the purpose. It tasted horrible.
When I got back to the bedroom he was awake. So wide awake that I felt
pretty sure that he'd been playing possum for a while, stalling for time. He
was trying desperately with his free right hand to peel off the tape that
held his left wrist to his thigh.
But with his right arm held tight against his side at the elbow he
wasn't making much headway. When I picked up the gun off the night stand he
stopped trying. He glared at me.
I said, "Hi, Al. We're in the seventh square."
I wasn't in any hurry now, none at all. I sat down comfortably before I
"Listen, Al," I told him, "I left your right hand free so you can use
that paper and the pin. I want you to do a little writing for me. I'll hold
the pad for you so you can see what you're writing. Or don't you feel in the
mood to write, Al?"
He merely lay back quietly and closed his eyes.
I said, "All I want you to write is that you killed Ralph Bonney and
Miles Harrison last night. That you took my car out and intercepted them on
the way back from Neilsville, probably on foot with my car out of sight.
They knew you and would stop for you and let you in the car. So you got in
the back seat and before Miles, who'd be driving, could start the car again
you slugged him over the head and then slugged Bonney. Then you put their
bodies in my car and left theirs somewhere off the road. And then you drove
to the Wentworth place and left my car instead of whatever car I'd been
driven there in. Or am I wrong on any little details, Al?"
He didn't answer, not that I'd expected him to.
I said, "There'll be quite a bit of writing, because I, want you also
to explain how you hired an actor to use the name Yehudi Smith and give me
such an incredible story to tell that no one would ever believe me. I want
you to tell how you had him entice me to the Wentworth place and about that
bottle you left there and what was in it. And that you'd instructed him that
he was to drink it. And what his right name was and what you did with his
I said, "I guess that'll be enough for you to write, Al. You needn't
write what the motive was; that'll be obvious after your relationship to
Ralph Bonney comes to light, as it will. And you needn't write all the
little details about how or when you let the air out of my tires so I
wouldn't be using my car nor how or when you used my shop to print that card
with the name Yehudi Smith and my union label number. And you needn't write
why you picked me to take the blame for the murders. In fact, I'm not proud
of that part of it at all. It makes me a little ashamed of the thing I'm
going to have to do in order to persuade you to do the writing I've been
I was a little ashamed, but not enough so to keep me from doing it.
I took the bottle of non-inflammable cleaning fluid that smelled like
gasoline and opened it.
Al Grainger's eyes opened, too, as I began to sprinkle it over the
sheets and his pajamas. I managed to hold the bottle so he could read the
"Danger" warning and, if his eyes were good enough for the smaller type, the
"Keep away from fire" part.
I emptied the whole bottle, ending up with quite a big wet spot of it
at a point at one side of his knees where he could see it clearly. The room
reeked with the gasoline-like odor.
I got out the candle and my knife and cut a piece an inch long off the
top of the candle. I smoothed out the wet spot on the sheet and put the
candle top down carefully.
"I'm going to light this, Al, and you'd better not move much or you'll
knock it over. And I'm sure a pyrophobiac wouldn't like what would happen to
him then. And you're a pyrophobiac, Al."
His eyes were wide with horror as I lighted the match. If his mouth
hadn't been taped, he'd have screamed in terror. Every muscle of his body
He tried to play possum on me again, probably figuring I wouldn't go
through with it if he was unconscious, if I thought he'd fainted. He could
do it with his eyes, but the muscles of the rest of his body gave him away.
He couldn't relax them if it would have saved his life.
I lighted the candle, and sat down again.
"An inch of candle, Al," I said. "Maybe ten minutes if you stay as
still as that. Sooner if you get reckless and wriggle a toe or finger. That
candle isn't too stable standing there on a soft mattress."
His eyes were open again, staring at that candle burning down toward
the soaked sheet, staring in utter horror. I hated myself for what I was
doing to him, but I kept on doing it just the same. I thought of three men
murdered tonight and steeled myself. And after all, Al's only danger was in
his mind. That wet spot on the sheet was stuff that would keep the sheet
itself from burning.
"Ready to write, Al?"
His horror-filled eyes shifted from the candle to my face, but he
didn't nod. I thought for a moment that he was calling my bluff, and then I
realized that the reason he didn't nod was because he was afraid to make
even that slight a muscular movement for fear of knocking over the short
I said, "All right, Al, I'll see if you're ready. If you aren't, I'll
put the candle back where it was, and I'll let it keep burning meanwhile so
you won't have gained any time." I picked up the candle gently and put it
down on the night stand.
I held the pad. He started to write and then stopped, and I reached for
the candle. The pen started moving again.
After a while I said, "That's enough. Just sign it."
I sighed with relief and went to the telephone. Carl Trenholm must have
been sitting beside his own phone; he answered almost before it had finished
ringing the first time.
"Dressed and ready?" I asked him.
"Right, Doc. What do I do?"
"I've got Al Grainger's confession. I want it turned over to the law to
clear me, but it's not safe for me to do it direct. Kates would shoot before
he'd read and some of the deputies might. You'll have to do it for me,
"Where are you? At Al's?"
"I'll be around. And I'll bring Ganzer to get Al. It's all right; Hank
won't shoot. I've been talking reason to him and he admits somebody else
could have put those bodies in your car. And when I tell him there's a
confession from Grainger, he'll listen."
"How about Kates, though? And how come you were talking to Hank
"He called up here, looking for Kates. Kates left him to go back to the
office an hour or two ago and never got to the office and they don't know
where he is. But don't worry. Kates won't take any shots at you if you're
with Ganzer and me both. I'll be right around."
I phoned Pete and told him that all hell had been popping and that now
we had a story we could use, one even bigger than the ones that had got
away. He said he'd get right down to the shop and get the fire going under
the Linotype's metal pot. "I was just leaving anyway, Doc," he said. "It's
half past seven."
It was. I looked out the window and saw that it was broad daylight. I
sat down and jittered until Carl and Hank got there.
It was eight o'clock exactly when I got to the office. Once Hank had
seen that confession he'd let Carl and me talk him into letting Grainger do
any explaining that remained so I could get the paper out in time. It was
going to take me a good two hours to get that story written and we'd
probably go to press a little later than usual anyway.
Pete got to work dismantling page one to make room for it - and plenty
of room. I phoned the restaurant and talked them into sending up a big
thermos jug of hot black coffee and started pounding my typewriter.
The phone rang and I picked it up. "Doc Stoeger?" it said. "`This is
Dr. Buchan at the asylum. You were so kind last night about not running the
story about Mrs. Griswald's escape and recapture that I decided it was only
fair to tell you that you can run it after all, if there's still time."
"There's still time," I said. "We're going to be late going to press
anyway. And thanks. But what came up? I thought Mrs. G. didn't want to worry
her daughter in Springfield."
"Her daughter knows anyway. A friend of hers here - one whom we went to
see while we were hunting our patient - phoned her to tell her about it. And
she telephoned the asylum to be sure her mother was all right. So she
already knows and you might as well have the story after all."
I said, "Fine, Dr. Buchan. Thanks a lot for calling."
Back to the typewriter. The black coffee came and I drank almost a full
cup of it the first gulp and damn near scalded myself.
The asylum story was quick and easy to get out of the way so I wrote it
up first. I'd just finished when the phone rang again.
"Mr. Stoeger?" it asked me. "This is Ward Howard, superintendent of the
fireworks factory. We had a slight accident in the plant yesterday that I'd
like you to run a short story on, if it's not too late."
"It's not too late," I said, "provided the accident was in the Roman
candle department. Was it?"
"Oh, so you already knew. Do you have the details or shall I give them
I let him give them and took notes and then I asked him how come they
wanted the story printed.
"Change of policy, Mr. Stoeger. You see there have been rumors going
around town about accidents here that don't happen - but are supposed to
have happened and to have been kept out of the paper. I'm afraid my
grammar's a bit involved there. I mean that we've decided that if the truth
is printed about accidents that really do happen, it will help prevent false
rumors and wild stories."
I told him I understood and thanked him.
I drank more black coffee and worked a while on the
Bonney-Harrison-Smith murder story and then sandwiched in the Roman candle
department story and then went back to the big story.
All I needed now was-
Captain Evans of the state police came in. I glared up at him and he
grinned down at me..
I said, "Don't tell me. You've come to tell me that I can, after all,
run the story of Smiley's and my little ride with the two gangsters and how
Smiley captured one and killed one. It's just what I need. I can spare a
stick of type back in the want ads."
He grinned again and pulled up a chair. He sat down in it,. but I paid
no further attention; I went on typing.
Then he pushed his hat back on his head and said quietly, "That's
I made four typing errors in a three letter word and then turned around
and looked at him. "Huh?" I said. "I was kidding. Wasn't I?"
"Maybe you were, but I'm not. You can run the story, Doc. They got Gene
Kelley in Chicago two hours ago."
I groaned happily. Then I glared at him again. I said, "Then get the
hell out of here. I've got work to do."
"Don't you want the rest of the story?"
"What rest of it? I don't need details of how they got Kelley, just so
they got him. That's, from my point of view, a footnote of the local angle,
and the local angle is what happened here in the county to George and Bat -
and to Smiley and me. Now scram."
I typed another sentence. He said, "Doc," and the way he said it made
me take my hands away from the typewriter and look at him.
He said, "Doc, relax. It is local. There was one thing I didn't tell
you last night because it was too local and too hot. One other thing we got
out of Bat Masters. They weren't heading for Chicago or Gary Tight away.
They were going to hole up overnight at a hideout for crooks - it's a farm
run by a man named George Dixon, up in the hills. An isolated place. We knew
Dixon as an ex-crook but never guessed he was running a rest home for boys
who were hiding out from the law. We raided it last night. We got four
criminals wanted in Chicago who were staying there. And we found, among
other things, some letters and papers that told us where Gene Kelley was
staying. We phoned Chicago quick and they got him, so you can run the whole
story - the other members of the gang won't keep that hotel date anyway. But
we'll settle for having Kelley in the bag - and the rest of our haul at the
Dixon farm. That's local, Doc. Want names and such?"
I wanted names and such. I grabbed a pencil. Where I was going to put
the story, I didn't know. Evans talked a while and I took notes until I had
all I wanted and then I said again, "Now please don't give me any more. I'm
going nuts already."
He laughed and got up. He said, "Okay, Doc." He strolled to the door
and then turned around after he was halfway through it. "Then you don't want
to know about Sheriff Kates' being under arrest."
He went on through and was halfway down the stairs before I caught him
and dragged him back.
Dixon, who ran the crook-hideout, had been paying protection to Kates
and had proof of it. When he'd been raided he'd thought Kates had
double-crossed him, and he'd talked. The state police had headed for Kates'
office and had picked him up as he was entering the courthouse at six
I sent out for more black coffee.
There was only one more interruption and it came just before we were
finally closing the forms at half past eleven.
Clyde Andrews. He said, "Doc, I want to thank you again for what you
did last night. And to tell you that the boy and I have had a long talk and
everything is going to be all right."
"That's wonderful, Clyde."
"Another thing, Doc, and I hope this isn't bad news for you. I mean, I
hope you were deciding not to sell the paper, because I got a telegram from
my brother in Ohio; he's definitely taking that offer from out West, so the
deal on the paper is off. I'm sorry if you were going to decide to sell."
I said, "That's wonderful, Clyde. But hold the line a second. I'm going
to put an ad in the paper to sell it instead."
I yelled across the room to Pete. "Hey, Pete, kill something somewhere
and set up an ad in sixty-point type. `FOR SALE, THE CARMEL CITY CLARION.
PRICE, ONE MILLION DOLLARS.' "
Back into the phone, "Hear that, Clyde?"
He chuckled. "I'm glad you feel that way about it, Doc. Listen, there's
one more thing. Mr. Rogers just called me. He says that we've discovered
that the Scouts are going to use the church gym next Tuesday instead of this
Tuesday. So we're going to have the rummage sale after all. If you haven't
gone to press and if you haven't got enough news to fill out-"
I nearly choked, but I managed to tell him we'd run the story.
I got to Smiley's at half past twelve with the first paper off the
press in my hands. Held carefully.
I put it proudly on the bar. "Read," I told Smiley. "But first the
bottle and a glass. I'm half dead and I haven't had a drink for almost six
hours. I'm too keyed up to sleep. And I need three quick ones."
I had three quick ones while Smiley read the headlines.
The room began to waver a little and I realized I'd better get to bed
and quickly. I said, "Good night, Smiley. 'Sbeen wonnerful knowing you. I
I started for the door.
Smiley said, "Doc. Let me drive you home." His voice came from miles
and miles away. I saw him start around the end of the bar.
"Doc," he was saying, "sit down and hang on till I get there before you
fall down flat on your face."
But the nearest stool was miles away through the brillig, and slithy
toves were gimbling at me from the wabe. Smiley's warning had been at least
half a second too late.
Фредерик Браун. Night of the Jabberwock(енгл)
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