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Title:      The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938)
Author:     S. S. Van Dine
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300251.txt
Edition:    2
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          February 2003
Date most recently updated: January 2006

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Title:      The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938)
Author:     S. S. Van Dine



CHAPTER I

A BUZZARD ESCAPES

(Friday, May 17; 8 pm.)

Philo Vance, curiously enough, always liked the Gracie Allen murder case
more than any of the others in which he participated.

The case was, perhaps, not as serious as some of the others--although, on
second thought, I am not so sure that this is strictly true. Indeed, it
was fraught with many ominous potentialities; and its basic elements (as
I look back now) were, in fact, intensely dramatic and sinister, despite
its almost constant leaven of humour.

I have often asked Vance why he felt so keen a fondness for this case,
and he has always airily retorted with a brief explanation that it
constituted his one patent failure as an investigator of the many crimes
presented to him by District Attorney John F.-X. Markham.

"No--oh, no. Van; it was not my case at all, don't y' know," Vance
drawled, as we sat before his grate fire one wintry evening, long after
the events. "Really, y'know, I deserve none of the credit. I would have
been utterly baffled and helpless had it not been for the charming Gracie
Allen who always popped up at just the crucial moment to save me from
disaster...If ever you should embalm the cane in print, please place
the credit where it rightfully belongs...My word, what an astonishing
girl! The goddesses of Zeus' Olympian menage never harrassed old Priam
and Agamemnon with the eclat exhibited by Gracie Allen in harassing the
recidivists of that highly scented affair. Amazin!..."

It was an almost unbelievable case from many angles, exceedingly
unorthodox and unpredictable. The mystery and enchantment of perfume
permeated the entire picture. The magic of fortune-telling and
commercial haruspicy in general were intimately involved in its
deciphering. And there was a human romantic element which lent it an
unusual roseate colour.

To start with, it was spring--the 17th day of May--and the weather was
unusually mild. Vance and Markham and I had dined on the spacious veranda
of the Bellwood Country Club overlooking the Hudson. The three of us had
chatted in desultory fashion, for this was to be an hour of sheer
relaxation and pleasure, without any intrusion of the jarring criminal
interludes which had, in recent years, marked so many of our talks.

However, even at this moment of serenity, ugly criminal angles were
beginning to protrude, though unsuspected by any of us; and their shadow
was creeping silently toward us.

We had finished our coffee and were sipping our chartreuse when Sergeant
Heath [Sergeant Ernest Heath, of the Homicide Bureau, who had been in
charge of other cases which Vance had investigated.], looking grim and
bewildered, appeared at the door leading from the main dining-room to
the veranda, and strode quickly to our table.

"Hello, Mr. Vance." His tone was hurried."... Howdy, Chief. Sorry to
bother you, but this came into the office half an hour after you left
and, knowing where you were, I thought it best to bring it to you
pronto." He drew a folded yellow paper from his pocket and, opening it
out, placed it emphatically before the District Attorney.

Markham read it carefully, shrugged his shoulders, and handed the paper
back to Heath.

"I can't see," he said without emotion, "why this routine information
should necessitate a trip up here."

Heath's cheeks inflated with exasperation.

"Why, that's the guy, Chief, that threatened to get you."

"I'm quite aware of that fact," said Markham coldly; then he added in a
somewhat softened tone: "Sit down, Sergeant. Consider yourself off duty
for the moment, and have a drink of your favourite whisky."

When Heath had adjusted himself in a chair, Markham went on.

"Surely you don't expect me, at this late date, to begin taking seriously
the hysterical mouthings of criminals I have convicted in the course of
my duties."

"But, Chief, this guy's a tough hombre, and he ain't the forgetting or
the forgiving kind."

"Anyway,"--Markham laughed without concern--"it would be tomorrow, at the
earliest, before he could reach New York."

As Heath and Markham were speaking, Vance's eyebrows rose in mild
curiosity.

"I say, Markham, all I've been able to glean is that your tutel'ry
Sergeant has fears for your curtailed existence, and that you yourself
are rather annoyed by his zealous worries."

"Hell, Mr. Vance, I'm not worryin'," Heath blurted. "I'm just considering
the possibilities, as you might say."

"Yes, yes, I know," smiled Vance. "Alway careful. Sewin' up seams that
haven't even ripped. Doughty and admirable, as always, Sergeant. But
whence springeth your qualm?"

"I'm sorry, Vance." Markham apologized for his failure to explain. "It's
really of no importance--just a routine telegraphic announcement of a
commonplace jail-break at Nomenica. [Nomenica, southwest of Buffalo, was
the westernmost State prison in New York.] Three men under long sentences
staged the exodus, and two of them were shot by the guards..."

"I'm not botherin' about the guys who was shot," Heath cut in. "It's the
other--one--the guy that got away safe--that's set me to thinkin'----"

"And who might this stimulator of thought be, Sergeant?" Vance asked.

"Benny the Buzzard!" whispered Heath, with melodramatic emphasis.

"Ah!" Vance smiled. "An ornithological specimen--Buteo borealis. Maybe he
flew away to freedom..."

"It's no laughing matter, Mr. Vance." Heath became even more serious.
"Benny the Buzzard--or Benny Pellinzi, to give him his honest
monicker--is plenty tough, in spite of looking like a bloodless,
pretty-faced boy. Only a few years back, he was strutting around telling
anybody who'd listen that he was Public Enemy Number One. That type of
guy. But he was only small change, except for his toughness and
meanness--actually nothing but a dumb, stupid rat---"

"Rat? Buzzard?... My word, Sergeant, aren't fusin' your natural history?"

"And only three years ago," continued Heath doggedly, "Mr. Markham got
him sent up for a twenty-year stretch. And he pulls a jail-break just
this afternoon and gets away with it. Sweet, ain't it?"

"Still," submitted Vance, "such A.W.O.L.'s have been taken ere this."

"Sure they have." Heath extended his off-duty respite and took another
whisky. "But you must've read what this guy pulled in court when he was
sentenced. The judge hadn't hardly finished slipping him the twenty years
when he blew off his gauge. He pointed at Mr. Markham and, at the top of
his voice, swore some kind of cockeyed oath that he'd come back and get
him if it was the last thing he ever did. And he sounded like he meant
it. He was so sore and steamed up that it took two man-eating bailiffs
to drag him out of the court room. Generally it's the judge who gets the
threats; but this guy elected to take it out on the D. A. And that
somehow made more sense.

Vance nodded slowly.

"Yes, quite--quite. I see your point, Sergeant. Different and therefore
dangerous."

"And why I really came here tonight," Heath went on, "was to tell Mr.
Markham what I intended doing. Naturally, we'll be on the lookout for the
Buzzard. He might come here direct, all right; and he might head west and
try to reach the Dakotas--the Bad Lands for him, if he's got a brain."

"Exactly," Markham interpolated. "You're probably right when you suggest
he'll head west. And I'm certainly planning no immediate jaunt to the
Black Hills."

"Anyhow, Chief," the Sergeant persisted stubbornly, "I'm not taking any
chances on him--especially since we've got a pretty good line on his old
cronies in this burg."

"Just what line do you refer to, Sergeant?"

"Mirche, and the Domdaniel cafe, and Benny's old sweetie that sings
there--the Del Marr jane."

"Whether Mirche and Pellinzi are cronies," said Markham, "is a moot
question in my mind."

"It ain't in mine, Chief. And if the Buzzard should sneak back to New
York, I've got a hunch he'd go straight to Mirche for help."

Markham did not argue the possibilities further. Instead, he merely
asked: "What course do you intend to pursue, Sergeant?"

Heath leaned across the table.

"I figure it this way, Chief. If the Buzzard does plan to return to his
old hunting-grounds, he'll be smart about it. He'll do it quick and
sudden--like, figurin' we haven't got set. If he don't show up in the
next few days I'll simply drop the idea, and the boys'll keep their eyes
open in the routine way. But--beginning tomorrow morning, I plan to have
Hennessey in that old lodging-house across from the Domdaniel, covering
the little door leading into Mirche's private office. An' Burke and
Snitkin will be with Hennessey in case the bird does show up."

"Aren't you a bit optimistic, Sergeant?" asked Vance. "Three years in
prison can work many changes in a man's appearance, especially if the
victim is still young and not too robust."

Heath dismissed Vance's scepticism with an impatient gesture.

"I'll trust Hennessey--he's got a good eye."

"Oh, I'm not questioning Hennesey's vision," Vance assured him,
"--provided your liberty--lovin' Buzzard should be so foolish as to
choose the front door for his entry into Mirche's office. But really, my
dear Sergeant, Maestro Pellinzi may deem it wiser to steal in by the rear
door, don't y know."

"There ain't no rear door," explained Heath. "And there ain't no side
door, cither. A strictly private room with only one entrance facing the
street. That's the wide--open and aboveboard set--up of this guy
Mirche--everything on the up--and--up. Slick as they come."

"Is this sanctum a separate structure?" asked Vance. "Or is it an annex
to the café? I don't seem to recall it."

"No. And you wouldn't notice it, if you weren't looking for it. It's like
an end room that's been cut off in the corner of the building--the way
they cut off a doctor's office, or a small shop, in a big
apartment-house. But if you wanta see Mirche that's where you'll most
likely find him. The place looks as innocent as an old ladies' home."

Heath glanced round at us significantly as he continued.

"And yet, plenty goes on in that little room. If I could ever get a
dictaphone planted there, the D.A.'s office would have enough underworld
trials on its hands to keep it busy from now on."

He paused and cocked an eye at Markham.

"How do you feel about my idea for tomorrow?"

"It can't do any harm, Sergeant," answered Markham without enthusiasm.
"But I still think it would be a waste of time and energy."

"Maybe so." Heath finished his whisky. "But I feel I gotta follow my
hunch, just the same."

Vance set down his liqueur glass, and a whimsical expression came into
his eyes.

"But I say, Markham," he drawled, "it would be a waste of time and
energy, no matter what the outcome. Ah, your precious law, and its prissy
procedure! How you Solons complicate the simple things of life! Even if
this red--tailed hawk with the operatic name should appear among his
olden haunts and be snared in the Sergeant's seine, you would still treat
him kindly and caressingly under the euphemistic phrase, 'due process of
law.' You'd coddle him no end. You'd take all possible precautions to
bring him in alive, although he himself might blow the brains out of a
couple of the Sergeant's confreres. Then you'd lodge and nourish him
well; you'd drive him through town in a high--powered limousine; you'd
give him a pleasant scenic trip back to Nomenica. And all for what, old
dear? For the highly questionable privilege of supportin' him elegantly
for life."

Markham was obviously nettled.

"I suppose you could settle the whole situation with a lirp"

"It could be, don't y know." Vance was in one of his tantalizing moods.
"Here's a worthless johnnie who has long been a thorn in the side of the
law; who has, as you jolly well know, killed a man and been convicted
accordingly; who has engineered a lawless prison break costing two more
lives; who has promised to murder you in cold blood; and who is even now
deprivin' the Sergeant of his slumber. Not a nice person, Markham. And
all these irregularities might be so easily and expeditiously adjusted by
shooting the johnnie on sight, or otherwise disposing of him quickly,
without ado or Chinoiserie."

"And I suppose"--Markham spoke almost angrily--"that you yourself would
be willing to undertake this illegal purge."

"Willing?" There was a teasing tone in Vance's voice. "I'd be positively
delighted. My good deed for that day."

Markham puffed vigorously at his cigar. He was always irritated when
Vance's persiflage took this line.

"Deliberately taking a human life, Vance----"

"Please spare me the logion, Reverend Doctor. I know the answer. With
Society and Law and Order singing the Greek chorus a capella. But you
must admit my suggested solution is logical, practical, and just."

"We've gone into that sophistry before," snapped Markham. "And
furthermore, I'm not going to let you spoil my dinner with such
nonsensical chatter."

CHAPTER II

A RUSTIC INTERLUDE

(Saturday, May 18; afternoon.)

The next day, shortly after noon, we met Markham in his dingy private
office overlooking the Tombs. Ordinarily the District Attorney's office
was closed at this hour on Saturdays, but Markham was in the meshes of a
trying political tangle and wished to see the affair settled as soon as
possible.

"I'm deuced sorry, don't y' know," said Vance, "that you must slave on an
afternoon like this. I was hoping you might be persuaded to come for a
drive over the countryside."

"What!" exclaimed Markham in mock surprise. "Are you succumbing to your
natural impulses? Don't tell me Mother Nature's sirenical tones can sway
a hothouse sybarite like yourself! Why not have Van lash you to the mast
in true Odyssean manner?"

"No. I find myself actually longin' for the spell of an Ogygian isle with
citron scent and cedar--sawn--"

"And perhaps a wood--nymph like Calypso."

"My dear Markham! Really, now!" Vance pretended indignation. "No--oh, no.
I merely plan a bit of gambolin' in the Bronx greenery."

"I see that the clear--toned Sirens of the flowered fields have snared
you." Markham's smile was playfully derisive. "If Heath's ominous dream
is fulfilled we'll later be steering a stormy course between Scylla and
Charybdis."

"One never knows, does one? But should it come to pass, I trust no man
shall be caught from out our hollow ship by the voracious Scylla."

"For Heaven's sake, Vance, don't be so gloomy. You're talking utter
nonsense."

(I particularly remember this bit of classical repartee which certainly
would not have found its way into this record, had it not been that it
proved curiously prophetic, even to the scent of citron and the Messina
monster's cave.)

"And I suppose," suggested Markham, "you'll do your gamboling in
immaculate attire. I somehow can't picture you in vagabondian trappings."

"You're quite wrong," said Vance. "I shall don a rugged old tweed
suit--the most ancient bit of coverin' I possess...But tell me,
Markham, how goes it with the zealous Sergeant and his premonitions?"

"Oh, I suppose he's gone ahead with his useless arrangements." Markham
spoke with indifference. "But if poor Hennessey has to invite strabismus
for very long I'll have more to fear from him in the way of retribution
than from Mr. Beniamino Pellinzi...I don't quite understand Heath's
sudden case of jitters over my safety."

"Stout fella, Heath." Vance studied the ash on his cigarette with a
hesitant smile. "Fact is, Markham, I intend to partake of Mirche's
expensive hospitality tonight myself."

"You too!... You're actually going to the Domdaniel tonight?"

"Not in the hope of encounterin' your friend the Buzzard," replied Vance.
"But Heath has stirred my curiosity. I should like to take a closer look
at the incredible Mr. Mirche. I've seen him before, of course, at his
hospice, but I've never really paid attention to his features. And I
could bear a peep--from the outside only, of course--at this mysterious
office which has so fretted the Sergeant's imagination...And there's
always the chance a little excitement may ensue when the early portentous
shadows of the mysterious night----"

"Come, come, Vance. You sound like a penny--dreadful. What arriere pense
is being screened by this smoke of words?"

"If you really must know, Markham, the food is excellent at the
Domdaniel. I was merely tryin' to hide a gourmet's yearnin'..."

Markham snorted, and the talk shifted to a discussion of other matters,
interrupted now and then by telephone calls. When Markham had completed
his arrangements for the afternoon and evening, he ushered us out through
the judges' private chambers and down to the street.

After a brief lunch we drove Markham back to his office, and then headed
uptown to Vance's apartment. Here Vance changed his suit for the old
disreputable tweed, and put on heavier boots and a soft well--worn
Homburg hat. Then we went out again to his Hispano--Suiza, and in an
hour's time we were driving leisurely along Palisade Avenue in the
Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Both sides of the road were thickly grown with trees and shrubs. The
fragrance of spring flowers hung in the air, and we caught a fleck of
bright colour now and then. On our left, beyond an unbroken steel--mesh
fence, a gentle slope dipped to the Hudson. On the right the ground rose
more abruptly, so that the rough stone wall did not shut off the
prospect.

At the top of a slight incline, just where the road swung inland, Vance
turned off the roadway, and brought the car to a gentle stop.

"This, I think, would be an ideal spot for minglin' with the flora and
communin' with nature."

Except for the fence on the river side, and the stone wall, perhaps five
feet high, along the inner border of the road, we were, to all
appearances, on a lonely country road. Vance crossed the broad and shaded
grassy strip that stretched like a runner of green carpet between the
roadway and the wall. He clambered up the stone enclosure, beckoning me
to do likewise as he disappeared in the lush rustic foliage on the
farther side.

For over an hour we trudged back and forth through the woods, and then,
as we suddenly came face to face with the stone enclosure again, Vance
reluctantly looked at his watch.

"Almost five," he said. "We'd better be staggerin' home, Van."

I preceded him to the roadway, and started slowly back toward the car. A
large automobile, running almost noiselessly, suddenly came round the
turn. I stopped as it sped by, and watched it disappear over the edge of
the hill. Then I continued in the direction of our own car.

After a few steps, I became aware of a young woman standing near the
wall, well back from the roadway, in a secluded grassy bower. She was
shaking the front of her skirt nervously and with marked agitation, and
was stamping one foot in the soft loam. She looked perturbed and
displeased, and as I drew nearer I saw that on the front of her flimsy
summer frock there was an inch--wide burnt hole.

As a vexed exclamation escaped her, Vance leaped--or, I should say,
fell--from the wall behind her. His heel caught in the crude masonry, and
as he strove to regain his balance, a sharp projection of the plaster
tore the sleeve of his coat. The unexpected commotion startled the young
woman anew, and she turned, inquisitively alert.

She was a petite creature, and gracefully animated, with a piquant oval
face and regular, sensitive features. Her eyes were large and brown, with
extremely long lashes curling over them. A straight and slender nose lent
dignity and character to a mouth made for smiling. She was slim and
supple, and seemed to fit in perfectly with her pastoral surroundings.

"My word!" murmured Vance, looking down at her. "That wasn't a very
graceful entry into your arbour. Please forgive me if I frightened you."

The girl continued to stare at him distrustfully, and as I looked at
Vance again I could well understand her reaction. He was quite
dishevelled; his shoes and trousers were generously spattered with mud;
his hat was crushed and grotesquely awry; and his torn coat--sleeve
looked like that of some roving mendicant.

In a moment the girl smiled. "Oh, I'm not frightened," she assured him in
a musical voice which had a very youthful engaging timbre, "I'm just
angry. Terribly angry. Were you ever angry?... But I'm not angry with
you, for I don't even know you...Maybe I would be angry I with you if I
knew you...Did you ever think of that?"

"Yes--yes. Quite often." Vance laughed and removed his hat: immediately
he looked far more presentable. "And I'm sure you'd be entirely
justified, too...By the by, may I sit down? I'm beastly tired, don't y'
know."

The girl looked quickly up the road, and then seated herself rather
abruptly, much as a child might throw herself carelessly on the ground.

"That would be wonderful. I'll read your palm. Have you ever had your
palm read? I'm very good at it. Delpha taught me all the lines. Delpha
knows all about the hands, and the stars, and lucky numbers. She's a
fortune--teller. And she's psychic, too. Just like me. I'm psychic. Are
you psychic? But maybe I can't concentrate today." Her voice took on a
mystic quality. "Some days, when I'm feeling in tune, I could tell you
how old you are and how many children you have..."

Vance laughed, and seated himself beside her.

"But really, y' know, I don't think I could bear to learn such staggerin'
facts about myself just now..."

Vance took out his cigarette-case and opened it slowly. "I'm sure you
wouldn't mind if I smoked," he said ingratiatingly, holding out the case
to her; but receiving only a giggle and a shake of the head, he lighted
one of his Regies for himself.

"But I'm awfully glad you mentioned cigarettes," the girl said. "It
reminds me how mad I was."

"Oh, yes." Vance smiled indulgently. "But won't you tell me with whom you
were so angry?"

She squinted at the cigarette between his fingers.

"I don't know now," she answered with slight confusion.

"By Jove, that's unfortunate. Maybe it was me you were angry with all the
time?"

"No, it wasn't you--at least, I didn't think it was you. Now I'm not so
sure. At first I thought it was somebody in a big car that just went
by-----"

"And what were you angry about?"

"Oh, that...Well, look at the front of my new dress here." She spread
the skirt about her. "Do you see that big burnt hole? It's just ruined.
And I simply adore this dress. Don't you like it?--that is, if it wasn't
burnt? I made it myself--well, anyhow, I told mother how I wanted it
made. It made me look awfully cute. And now I can't wear it any more."
There was real distress in her tone. "Did you throw that lighted
cigarette?"

"What cigarette?" asked Vance.

"Why, the cigarette that burnt my dress. It's about here somewhere...
Well, anyhow, it was an awfully good shot, especially since you couldn't
see me. And maybe you didn't even know I was here. And that would make it
much harder to hit me, don't you think?"

"Yes, I can see your point." Vance was as much interested as he was
amused. "But really, my dear, it must have been some villain in the
car--if there was a car."

The girl sighed.

"Well, then," she murmured with resignation, "I guess it wasn't you I was
mad with. And now I don't know who it was. And that makes me madder than
ever. I'm sure if I was mad with you, you'd do something about it."

"Shall we say then, that I'm just as sorry about it as if I had thrown
the cigarette?" suggested Vance.

"But now I don't know whether you did or not. If you couldn't see me
through the wall, how could I see you?"

"Irrefragable logic!" Vance returned, adjusting himself to her seemingly
fanciful mood. "Therefore, you must permit me to make amends--no matter
who the culprit was."

"Really," she said, "I don't know what you mean." But a twinkle in her
eyes seemed to belie the words.

"I mean just this: I want you to go down to Chareau and Lyons [Chareau
and Lyons was at that time one of the more exclusive and fashionable
dress shops of New York.] and select one of their prettiest frocks--one
which will make you look just as cute as this one does."

"Oh, I couldn't afford it!"

He took out his card--case, and, jotting a few words on one of his
visiting cards, tucked it beneath the flap of the girl's handbag which
was lying on the grass.

"You just take that card to Mr. Lyons himself and tell him I sent you."

Her eyes beamed gratefully, and she did not protest further.

"As you quite correctly say," Vance continued, "you couldn't see through
the wall, and I therefore see no human way of proving that I did not
throw the cigarette."

"Well, now, that's settled, isn't it?" The girl giggled again. "I'm so
glad it was you I was mad with for throwing the cigarette."

"And so am I," asserted Vance. "And, incidentally, I also hope you'll use
the same perfume when you wear your new dress. It's somehow just like the
springtime--a 'delicious scent of citron and orange trees,' as Longfellow
paeaned in his Wayside Inn."

"Oh, did he?"

"By the by, what is it? I don't recognize it as any of the popular
scents."

"I don't know," the girl replied. "I guess nobody knows. It hasn't any
name. Imagine not having a name! If we didn't have names we'd get
terribly mixed up, wouldn't we?... It was made specially for me by
George--but I suppose I shouldn't really call him George to strangers.
His name is Mr. Burns. I'm his assistant at the In-O-Scent
Corporation--that's a big perfume factory. He's always mixing different
things together and smelling them. That's his job. He's very clever too.
Only, he's much too serious. But I don't think he mixed any citron in
it--I really don't know exactly what citron smells like. I thought it was
something you put in cake."

"It's the preserved rind of the citron that goes into cake," Vance
explained. "The oil of citron is quite different. It has the smell of
citronella and lemons; and when it is treated with sulphuric acid it even
has the smell of violets."

"Isn't that wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Why, you sound just like George.
He's always saying things like that. I'm sure Mr. Burns knows all about
it. He gets me so mixed up sometimes, bringing him the right bottles of
extracts and essences. And he's so particular about it. Sometimes he even
says I don't know how to boil his old flasks and tubes and graduates.
Imagine!"

"But I'm sure," Vance asserted, "that you brought him the right phials
when he prepared the scent you are wearing. And I'm sure one of them
contained citron, though it may have had some other name...And speaking
of names, is your name, by any chance, Calypso?"

She shook her head.

"No, but it's something almost like that. It's Gracie Allen."

Vance smiled, and the girl's chatter took still another direction. "But
aren't you going to tell me what you were doing over beyond the wall? You
know, that's private property, and I wouldn't go in there for anything.
It wouldn't be right. Would it? And anyhow, I don't know where there's a
gate. But this is nice out here. I've come here several times, and yet no
one's ever thrown lighted cigarettes at me before, although I've been
right in this same spot many times. But I guess everything has to happen
the first time sometime. Have you ever thought of that?"

"Yes--oh, yes. It's a profound question." He chuckled. "But aren't you
afraid to come to such an unfrequented spot alone?"

"Alone?" Again the girl glanced up the road. "I don't come alone. I
generally come with a friend who lives over toward Broadway. His name is
Mr. Puttie, and he works in the same business house I do. Mr. Puttie's a
salesman. And Mr. Burns--I told you about him before--was very angry with
me for coming out here this afternoon with Mr. Puttie. But he's always
angry when I go anywhere with anybody else, and especially if it's Mr.
Puttie. Don't you think that's silly?" She made a self--satisfied moue.

"And where might Mr. Puttie be now?" asked Vance. "Don't tell me he's
attempting to sell perfumes along the highways and byways of Riverdale."

"Oh, goodness, no! He never works on Saturday afternoons. And neither do
I. I really think the brain should have a rest now and then, don't
you?... Oh, you asked me where Mr. Puttie in. Well, I'll tell you--I'm
sure he wouldn't mind. He's gone to look for a nunnery."

"A nunnery? Good Heavens! What for?"

"He said there was a lovely view from there, with benches and flowers and
everything. But he didn't know whether it was up the road from here or
down. So I told him to find out first. I didn't feel like going to a
nunnery when I didn't even know where it was. Would you go to a nunnery
if you didn't know where it was--especially if your shoes hurt you?"

"No, I think you were eminently sensible. But I happen to know where it
is: it's quite a distance down the other way."

"Well, Jimmy--that is, Mr. Puttie--has gone in the wrong direction then.
That's just like him. I'm lucky I made him look first..."

CHAPTER III

THE STARTLING ADVENTURE

(Saturday, May 18; 6:30 pm.)

The girl leaned forward, and looked at Vance with impulsive eagerness.

"But I forgot: I'm just dying to know what you were doing on the other
side of the wall. I do hope it was exciting. I'm very romantic, you know.
Are you romantic? I mean, I just love excitement and thrills. And it's so
thrilling and exciting along here--especially with that high wall. I know
you must have been having a simply wonderful adventure of some kind. All
kinds of thrilling and exciting things happen inside of walls. People
don't just build walls for nothing, do they?"

"No--rarely." Vance shook his head in pretended earnestness. "People
generally have a very good reason for building walls, such as: to keep
other people out--or, sometimes, to keep them in."

"You see, I was right!... And now tell me, she pleaded, "what wild,
exciting adventure did you have there?"

Vance drew a deep puff on his cigarette. "Really, y' know," he said with
a mock seriousness, "I'm afraid to breathe a word of it to anyone...By
the by, just how exciting do you like your adventures?"

"Oh, they must be terribly exciting--and dangerous--and dark--and filled
with the spirit of revenge. You know, like a murder--maybe a murder for
love..."

"That's it!" Vance slapped his knee. "Now I can tell you everything--I
know you'll understand." He lowered his voice to an intimate, sepulchral
whisper. "When I came dashing so ungracefully over the wall, I had just
committed a murder."

"How simply wonderful!" But I noticed she edged away from him a bit.

"That's why I was running away so fast," Vance went on.

"I think you're joking." The girl was at her ease again. "But go on."

"It was really an act of altruism," Vance continued, seeming to take
genuine enjoyment in his fantastic tale. "I did it for a friend--to save
a friend from danger--from revenge."

"He must have been a very bad man. I'm sure he deserved to die and that
you did a noble deed--like the heroes of olden times. They didn't wait
for the police and the law and all those things. They just rode forth and
fixed everything up--just like that."

She snapped her fingers, and I could not help thinking of Markham's
sarcastic allusion to Vance's conclusive "lirp" the previous evening.

Vance studied her in sombre astonishment.

"'Out of the mouth of babes-----' " he began.

"What?" Her brow furrowed.

"Nothing, really." And Vance laughed under his breath..."Well, to
continue with my dark confession: I knew this man was a very dangerous
person, and that my friend's life was in peril. So I came out here this
afternoon, and back there, in yon shady wood, where no one could see, I
killed him...I am so glad you think I did right."

His fabricated story, based on his conversation with Markham the night
before, fitted in well with the girl's unexpected request for an exciting
adventure.

"And what was the murdered man's name?" she asked. "I hope it was a
terrible name. I always say people have just the names they deserve. It's
like numerology--only it's different. If you have a certain number of
letters in your name, it isn't like having a different number of letters,
is it? It means something, too. Delpha told me."

"What names do you especially like?" Vance asked.

"Well, let me see...Burns is a pretty name, don't you think?"

"Yes, I do." Vance smiled pleasantly. "Incidentally, it's Scotch----"

"But George isn't a bit Scotch," the girl protested indignantly. "He's
awfully generous."

"No, no," Vance hastened to assure her. "Not Scotch like that. I was
going to say that it's Scotch for 'brook' or 'rivulet'..."

"Oh, water! That's different. You see, I was right!" she chirped; then
nodded sagely. "Water! That's George! He never drinks--you know, liquor.
He says it affects his nose, so he can't smell."

"Smell?"

"Uh--huh. George has simply got to smell--it's his job. Smelling scents,
and knowing which one will sell big, and which one will make you a vamp,
and which one is bad enough for hotel soap. He's terribly clever that
way. He even invented In-O-Scent--mixed it all himself. And Mr.
Doolson--he's our boss--named the new factory after George. Well, not
exactly after George, but you know what I mean."

Pride shone in her eyes.

"And oh!" she ran on; "George has five letters in his name--honest--just
you count them--B--U--R--N--S. And I've got five letters in my last name,
too. Isn't that funny? But it means something--something important.
It's--it's science. I vibrate to five. But six is awfully unlucky for me.
I'm allergic--that's what Delpha calls it--to six. It's very
scientific--really!"

"Mr. Puttie has six letters in his name," said Vance, with a puckish
glance at her.

"That's right. I've thought of that...Oh, well... But I forgot:--what
was the name of the man you so bravely killed?"

"He had a very unpleasant name. He was called Benny the Buzzard."

The girl's head bobbed up and down vigorously in complete understanding.

"Yes, that's a very bad name. It's got--let me see--seven letters. Oh!
That's a mystical number. It's sort of like Fate!"

"Well, he was sent to prison for twenty years." Vance resumed his
ingenious recital. "But he broke away and escaped only yesterday, and
came back to New York to kill my friend."

"Oh, then there will be headlines in all the papers tomorrow about your
murdering him!"

"My word! I hope not." Vance pretended a show of great concern. "I feel I
have done a good deed, but I do hope, don't y' know, I am not found out.
And I am sure you wouldn't tell anyone, would you?"

"Oh, no," the girl assured him.

Vance heaved an exaggerated sigh, and slowly rose to his feet.

"Well, I must get into hiding," he said, "before the police learn of my
crime. Another hour or so and--who knows?--they may be after me."

"Oh, policemen are so silly." She pouted. "They're always getting people
into trouble. Do you know?--if everybody was good we wouldn't need any
policemen, would we?"

"No--o----"

"And if we didn't have any policemen, we wouldn't need to bother about
being good, would we?"

"My word!" Vance murmured. "Do you, by any chance, happen to be a
philosopher in disguise?"

She seemed astonished.

"Why, this isn't a disguise. I only wore a disguise once--when I was a
little girl. I went to a party disguised as a fairy."

Vance smiled admiringly.

"I'm sure," he said, "it was quite a needless costume. You'll never need
a disguise, my dear, to pass as a most charming fairy...Would you care
to shake hands with a dyed--in--the--wool villain?"

She put her hand in his. "You're not really a villain. Why, you only
murdered one bad man. And thank you so much for the lovely new dress,"
she added. "Did you really mean it?"

"I really did." His sincerity dissipated any remaining doubt. "And good
luck with Mr. Puttie--and Mr. Burns."

She waved solemnly as we made our way down the dusty road toward our car.
Vance was occupied with lighting another Regie, and as we turned the bend
of the road I looked back. A dapper young man stood before the girl; and
I knew that Mr. Puttie, the perfumery salesman, had returned from his
fruitless quest for the nunnery.

"What an amazin' creature!" murmured Vance, as we climbed into the car
and drove off. "I really think she half believes my dramatization of the
Sergeant's fears and my ribbing of Markham. There's naivete, Van. Or,
mayhap, a basically shrewd nature, plethoric with romance, striving to
live among the clouds in this sordid world. And living by the manufacture
of perfume. What an incredible combination of circumstances! And all
mixed up with springtime--and visions of heroics--and young love."

I looked at him questioningly.

"Quite," he repeated. "That was definitely indicated. But I fear that Mr.
Puttie's long jaunts from upper Broadway will come to naught in the end.
You noted that she anointed herself with the fragrant aroma of Mr. Burns'
nameless concoction, even when transiently countrysiding with Mr. Puttie.
All signs considered, I regard the mixer and smeller of the subtle scents
of Araby as the odds--on favourite to win the Lovin' Cup."

CHAPTER IV

THE DOMDANIEL CAFE

(Saturday, May 18; 8 pm.)

The Domdaniel cafe, situated in West 50th Street near Seventh Avenue, had
for many years attracted a general and varied clientele. The remodelling
of the large old mansion in which the café was housed had been tastefully
achieved, and much of the old air of solidity and durability remained.

From either side of the wide entrance to the ends of the building ran a
narrow open terrace attractively studded with pseudo--Grecian pots of
neatly--trimmed privet. At the western end of the house a delivery alley
separated the cafe from the neighboring edifice. At the east side there
was a paved driveway, perhaps ten feet wide, passing under an ivy--draped
porte--cochere to the garage in the rear. A commercial skyscraper at the
corner of Seventh Avenue abutted on this driveway.

It was nearly eight o'clock when we arrived that mild May evening.
Lighting a cigarette, Vance peered into the shadows of the porte--cochre
and the dimly-lighted area beyond. He then sauntered for a short distance
into this narrow approach, and gazed at the ivy--covered windows and side
door almost hidden from the street. In a few moments he rejoined me on
the sidewalk and turned his seemingly casual attention to the front of
the building.

"Ah!" he murmured. "There's the entrance to Senor Mirche's mysterious
office which so strangely inflamed the Sergeant's hormones. Probably a
window enlarged, when the old house was remodelled. Merely utilitarian,
don't y' know."

It was, as Vance observed, an unpretentious door opening directly on the
narrow terrace; and two sturdy wooden steps led down to the sidewalk. At
each side of the door was a small window--or, I should say, an opening
like a machicolation--securely barred with a wrought--iron grille.

"The office has a larger window at the side, overlooking the tessellated
driveway," said Vance; "and that too, is closely grilled. The light from
without must be rather inadequate when, as the Sergeant seems to think,
Mr. Mirche is engaged in his nefarious plottin's."

To my surprise, Vance went up the wooden steps to the terrace and
casually peered through one of the narrow windows into the office.

"The office appears to be quite as honest and upright inside as it does
from out here," he said. " I fear the suspicious Sergeant is a victim of
nightmares..."

He turned and looked across the street at the rooming-house. Two
adjoining windows on the second floor, directly opposite the small corner
door of the Domdaniel, were dark.

"Poor Hennessey!" sighed Vance. "Behind one of those sombre squares of
blackness he is watchin' and hopin'. Symbolic of all mankind...Ah,
well, let's not tarry longer. I have amorous visions of a fricandeau de
veau Macedonie. I trust the chef has lost none of his cunning since last
I was here. Then, it was really sublime."

We walked on to the main entrance, and were greeted in the impressive
reception--hall by the unctuous Mr. Mirche himself. He seemed well
pleased to see Vance, whom he addressed by name, and turned us over to
the head--waiter, pompously exhorting our cicerone that we be given every
attention and consideration.

The rejuvenated interior of the Domdaniel had a far more modern
appearance than did the exterior. Withal, much of the charm of another
day still lingered in the panels of carved wood and the scrolled
banisters of the stairway, and in a wide fireplace which had been left
intact at one side of the huge main room.

We could not have selected a better table than the one to which we were
led. It was near the fireplace, and since the tables along the walls were
slightly elevated, we had an unobstructed view of the entire room. Far on
our right was the main entrance, and on our left the orchestra stand.
Opposite us, at the other end of the room, an archway led to the hall;
and beyond that, almost as if framed in the doorway, we could see the
wide carpeted stairs to the floor above.

Vance glanced over the room cursorily and then gave his attention to
ordering the dinner. This accomplished, he leaned back in his chair and,
lighting a Regie, relaxed comfortably. But I noted that, from under his
half--closed eyelids, he was scrutinizing the people about us. Suddenly
he straightened up in his chair, and leaning toward me, murmured: "My
word! My aging eyes must be playing tricks on me. I say, peep far over on
my right, near the entrance. It's the astonishing young woman of the
citron scent. And she's having a jolly time. She is accompanied by a
youthful swain in sartorial splendor...I wonder whether it is her
explorin' escort in Riverdale, or the more serious teetotaler, Mr. Burns.
Whoever it is, he is being most attentive, and is pleased with himself no
end."

At once I recognized the elegant young man of whom I had caught a glimpse
as we rounded the turn on Palisade Avenue on our way back to the car. I
informed Vance that it was undoubtedly Mr. Puttie.

"I'm in no way surprised," was his response. "The young woman is
obviously following the approved and time--honoured technique. Puttie
will receive, alas! an overwhelming percentage of her favours until the
really important moment of final decision is at hand. Then, I opine, the
beneficiary will be the neglected Burns." He laughed softly. "The
chicaneries of amour never change. If only Burns himself were on the
scene tonight, separate and apart, glowerin' with jealousy, and eatin out
his heart!" He smiled with wistful amusement.

His glance roved about the room again as he puffed lazily at his
cigarette. Before long his eyes rested quizzically on a man alone at a
small table near the far corner.

"Really, y' know, I believe I have found our Mr. Burns, the dolorous
hypotenuse of my imagin'ry triangle. At least the gentleman fulfils all
the requirements. He is alone. He is of a suitable age. He is serious. He
sits at a table placed at just the right angle to observe his strayin'
wood--nymph and her companion. He is watching her rather closely and
seems displeased and jealous enough to be contemplating murder. He has no
appetite for the food before him. He has no wine or other alcoholic
beverage. And--he is actually glowerin'!"

I let my gaze follow Vance's as he spoke, and I observed the lonely young
man. His face was stern and somewhat rugged. Despite the sense of humour
denoted by the upward angle of his eyebrows, his broad forehead gave the
impression of considerable depth of thought and a capacity for accurate
judgment. His grey eyes were set well apart, and engaging in their
candour; and his chin was firm, yet sensitive. He was dressed neatly and
unostentatiously, in severe contrast with the showy grandeur of Mr.
Puttie.

During an intermission in the floor show the lone young man in question
rose rather hesitantly from his chair and walked with determined strides
to the table occupied by Miss Allen and her companion. They greeted him
without enthusiasm. The newcomer, frowning unpleasantly, made no attempt
to be cordial.

The young woman raised her eyebrows with a histrionic hauteur altogether
incongruous with the elfish cast of her features. Her companion's manner
was degage and palpably condescending--his was the role of the victor
over a conquered and harassed enemy. His effect upon Burns--if it was
Burns--must have been exceedingly gratifying to him. Combined with the
young woman's simulated disdain, it perceptibly enhanced the interloper's
gloom. He made an awkward gesture of defeat, and, turning away, went
despondently back to his table. However, I noticed that Miss Allen shot
several covert glances in his direction--which suggested that she was far
from being the indifferent damsel she had pretended to be.

Vance had watched the little drama with delighted interest.

"And now, Van," he said, "the canvas of young love is quite complete. Ah,
the eternally sadistic, yet loyal, heart of woman!..."

Fifteen or twenty minutes later Mirche, beaming and bowing, came into the
dining-room from the main entrance hall, and passed on toward the rear
of the room to a small table just behind the orchestra dais, at which one
of the entertainers sat. She was a blond and flashingly handsome woman
whom I knew to be the well--known singer Dixie Del Marr.

She greeted Mirche with a smile which seemed more intimate than would be
expected from an employee to an employer. Mirche drew out the chair
facing her and sat down. I was somewhat surprised to note that Vance was
watching them closely, and felt that this was no idle curiosity on his
part.

I turned my gaze again to the singer's table. Dixie Del Marr and Mirche
had begun what appeared to be a confidential chat. They were leaning
toward each other, evidently wishing to avoid being overheard by those
about them. Mirche was emphasizing some point, and Dixie Del Marr was
nodding in agreement. Then Miss Del Marr made some answering remark to
which he, in turn, nodded understandingly.

After a brief continuation of their conversation in this overt, yet
secretive, manner, they both sat back in their chairs, and Mirche gave an
order to a passing waiter. A few moments later the waiter returned with
two slender glasses of rose--coloured liquid.

"Very interestin'," murmured Vance. "I wonder..."

CHAPTER V

A RENDEZVOUS

(Saturday, May 18; 9:30 pm.)

It was shortly thereafter that I noticed Gracie Allen rise gaily from her
seat beside the self--satisfied Mr. Puttie. She waved to him coyly as she
sallied forth across the dining-room, like a graceful gazelle.

"My word!" chuckled Vance. "The astonishin' wood--nymph is coming our
way. If she recognizes me, my tall tale of derring--do this afternoon
will crumble to dust about my mendacious head..."

Even as he spoke, she spied him, threw up her hands in rapturous
surprise, and came to our table.

"Why, hello," she sang out; and then reprimanded Vance in lower tones:
"You're a terribly bold murderer. Oh, awfully bold. Don't you know that
someone is apt to see you here? You know, like a waiter, or somebody."

"Or you, yourself," smiled Vance.

"Oh, but I wouldn't tell. Don't you remember? I promised not to tell."
She sat down with startling suddenness, and giggled musically. "And I
always say everybody should keep a promise, if you know what I mean...
But my brother's funny that way. He doesn't ever keep a promise. But he
keeps lots of other things. And sometimes he gets into awful trouble by
not keeping a promise. He's always getting into trouble. Maybe it's
because he's so ambitious. Are you ambitious?"

"Speaking of promises," said Vance, "do you keep all your promises to Mr.
Burns?"

"I never made any promise to George," she assured Vance, the tinge of a
confused blush mounting her saucy features. "Whatever made you think of
that? But he's tried awfully hard to make me promise him something. And
he gets terribly angry with me. He's angry tonight. But, of course, he
wouldn't show it in front of so many people. He's so very dignified. No
one can ever tell what he's thinking about. But nobody can tell what I'm
thinking about, either. Only, I'm not dignified. Mr. Puttie says I'm just
cute and attractive. And he's known me a long time. And I think it's much
better to be cute and attractive than to be dignified. Don't you?"

Vance made no effort to restrain his mirth. "I certainly do think so," he
answered. "And by the by, where is the dignified Mr. Burns this evening?"

The girl tittered with embarrassment. "He's sitting over there across the
room." She turned her head gracefully, to indicate the lone young man who
had previously attracted our attention. "And he seems very unhappy, too.
I can't imagine why he came here tonight--I know he's never been here
before...Do you want to know a secret? Well, I'll tell you, anyhow. I
was never here before, either. But I really like it here. Don't you? It's
awfully big--and noisy. And there's so many people. Don't you like a lot
of people in one place? I think that people are terribly nice. But I'm
afraid George doesn't like it here. Maybe that's why he's so unhappy."

Vance did not interrupt her. He seemed to find pleasant diversion in her
inconsequential rambling.

"And oh!" she exclaimed, as if at some sudden thought of momentous
importance. "I forgot to tell you: I know who you are! What do you think
of that? You're Mr. Philo Vance, aren't you? Don't you think I'm terribly
smart to know that? I bet you don't know how I found out. I looked at the
calling card you gave me this afternoon--and there was your name! That
is, Mr. Puttie looked at your card and he said that must be your name. He
also got angry for a minute when I told him about the new dress I'm going
to get Monday. But then, right away, he was all right again. He said that
if you were that foolish, it was all right with him, and that you were
born every minute. I don't know what he meant. But that's how I found out
what your name was." She barely paused for breath. "And oh! Mr. Puttie
told me something else about you. Something very exciting. He said you
were a sort of detective and got credit for all the hard work the poor
policemen do. Is that really true?"

She did not wait for an answer.

"Once my brother wanted to be a policeman, but he didn't. Anyhow, he's
hardly big enough to be a real policeman. He's not tall like Mr. Puttie.
He's little, like me and George. And I never saw a little policeman, did
you? But maybe he could have been a detective. I'll bet he never thought
of that. Or maybe they don't have little detectives either. Can anybody
be a detective if they're too little? Or maybe you don't know."

Vance laughed delightedly, looking into the girl's eyes as if baffled by
her entangling digressions.

"I have known some small detectives," he told her.

"Well, anyhow, I guess my brother didn't know about that. Or maybe he
didn't want to be a detective. Maybe he just wanted to be a policeman
because they wear uniforms...Oh, Mr. Vance! I just thought of something
else. I'll bet I know why you're not afraid to be here tonight. They
can't arrest a detective! And they can't arrest a policeman, either, can
they? If they did, who would they have left to arrest robbers and people
like that?... And speaking of my brother, he's here tonight, too. He's
here every night."

"Ah!" murmured Vance. "Where is he sitting?"

"Oh, I don't mean he's here in the dining-room," the girl stated
naively. "He works here."

"Indeed! What does he do?"

"He has a very important job."

"Has he been with the Domdaniel long?"

"Why, he's been here over six months! That's a very long time for my
brother. He never seemed to like work very much. I guess he's just a
thinker. Anyhow, he says he's never appreciated. And only today he said
he was going to try to get his salary raised. But he's afraid the boss
here doesn't appreciate him, either."

"What might be the nature of your brother's work?" Vance inquired.

"He works in the kitchen. He's the dishwasher. That's why his job is so
important. Just imagine if a big cafe like this didn't have a dishwasher!
Wouldn't it be awful? Why, you couldn't even get a meal. How could they
serve you food if all the dishes were dirty and cluttered up?"

"I must grant your argument," Vance said. "It would be a most distressin'
situation. As you say, your brother's job is a most important one. And
incidentally, you, are the most delightfully amazing and the most
perfectly natural child I've ever met."

The compliment was evidently lost on her, for she returned at once to the
subject of her brother. "But maybe he's going to quit here tonight. He
said he would if he didn't get a raise. But I really don't think he
should quit, do you? And I'm going to tell him so!... I bet you don't
know where I was going just now."

"Not to the kitchen, I hope."

"Why, you're a good detective." The girl's eyes, starry and fluttering,
opened wide. "That's where I would have been going, only, Philip--that's
my brother--said they wouldn't let me in the kitchen. But I'm going to
meet him on the kitchen stairs. He said I was only putting on airs when I
told him I was coming here tonight. Imagine! He wouldn't believe me. So I
said, 'All right, I'll show you.' And he said, 'If you are in the
Domdaniel you meet me on the landing of the kitchen stairs at ten
o'clock.' So that's where I was going. He was so sure I wouldn't be here
that he said if I showed him I was here by meeting him, he wouldn't give
up his job, no matter if he didn't get his raise. And I know mother wants
him to keep his job. So you see, everything will work out just fine...
Oh, what time is it, Mr. Vance?"

Vance glanced at his watch.

"It's just five minutes to ten."

The girl rose as suddenly as she had sat down.

"I don't care so much about fooling Philip," she said. "But I do want to
make mother happy."

As she hurried toward the distant archway, the lonely Mr. Burns rose and
followed her swiftly into the hall. Almost simultaneously the two brushed
past the damask draperies of the doorway, and disappeared from view.

Vance had witnessed the young man's pursuit of Miss Allen and nodded with
benevolent satisfaction.

"Poor unhappy lad," he remarked. "He has grasped his one fleeting
opportunity of speaking alone with his inamorata. I trust he's wise
enough not to upbraid her...Ah, well! Whatever course he pursues, the
goddess Aphrodite is already smiling favourably upon him, though he does
not recognize her beamin' countenance."

I turned my attention indifferently toward the table where Mirche and
Miss Del Marr had been sitting. The singer, however, had disappeared; and
Mirche was scanning the dining-room with complacency. Then he strode
down the aisle toward the main entrance.

As he came to our table he paused with a pompous bow, to assure himself
that all was well with us, and Vance invited him to join us.

There was nothing particularly distinctive about Daniel Mirche. He was
the usual politico--restaurateur type, large and somewhat ostentatious.
He was at once aggressive and fawning, with a superficially polished
manner. His sparse hair was slightly grey, and his eyes had a peculiar
greenish cast.

Vance led the conversation easily along various lines related to Mirche's
interest in the cafe and its management. A discussion of wines and their
vintages followed; and it was but a few moments before Vance had launched
into one of his favourite topics--namely, the rare cognacs of the
west--central Charente Departement in France--the Grande Champagne and
Petite Champagne districts and the vineyards around Mainxe and Archiac.

As I glanced idly across the dining-room, I noted that Mr. Burns had
returned to his table; and soon the young lady herself reappeared in the
archway opposite, steering a direct course back to Mr. Puttie. She did
not even glance in our direction; and from the crestfallen look of her
elf--like face, I assumed that she had failed in her objective.

However, I did not apply myself for long to these reflections. My
attention was caught by the unobtrusive and almost cat--like entrance of
a slender, exiguous man, who moved, as if loath to attract attention, to
a small table in the opposite corner of the room. This table, not far
from the one at which the despondent Mr. Burns sat, was already occupied
by two men whose backs were to the room; and as the newcomer took the
vacant seat facing them, they merely nodded.

My interest in this slight figure was based on the fact that he reminded
me of pictures I had seen of one of the most notorious characters of the
time, named Owen. There were many unsavoury rumours regarding the man,
and there had been reports that he was the guiding intelligence--or, as
the cliché has it, the "master--mind"--behind certain colossal illegal
organizations of gangland. To such an extent was he believed to play a
leading, though surreptitious, part in the activities of the underworld
that he had earned for himself the sobriquet of "Owl."

There was a remarkable character implicit in his super--refined features.
An evil character, to be sure, but one which hinted at vast, and perhaps
heroic, potentialities. He had been graduated cum laude from a great
university; and he recalled to my mind a brilliant painting I had once
seen of Robespierre: there was the same smooth and intelligent
Machiavellian expression. He was dark of hair and eye, but with a
colourless, waxy complexion. The outstanding impression he gave was one
of adamantine hardness: one could readily imagine him performing the
duties of a Torquemada and smiling thinly as he did so.

(I have described this man at such length because he was to play a vital
role in the strange record of the case I am here setting down. That
night, however, I could not, by the most fantastic flight of my
imagination, have associated him in any way with the almost incredible
and carefree Gracie Allen. And yet these two divergent characters were
soon to cross each other's paths in the most astounding fashion.)

I was just about to dismiss the man from my mind, when I became conscious
of an unusual undertone in Vance's voice as he chatted with Mirche. With
that peculiarly alert languor I had come to know so well, he was gazing
at the table in the far corner where the trio of men sat.

"By the by," he said a bit abruptly to Mirche, "isn't that the famous
'Owl' Owen yonder, near the corner pillar?"

"I am not acquainted with Mr. Owen," Mirche returned suavely. However, he
turned slightly with a natural curiosity in the direction which Vance had
indicated. "But it well might be," he added after a moment's scrutiny.
"He is not unlike the pictures I have seen of Mr. Owen...If I can help
you, I might be able to ascertain."

Vance waved the suggestion aside.

"Oh, no--no," he said. "That's awfully good of you, and all that; but
it's of no importance, don't y' know."

The members of the orchestra were returning to their places, and Vance
pushed back his chair.

"I've had a most pleasant and edifyin' evening," he said to Mirche. "But
really, I must be toddlin' now.

Mirche's polite protestations seemed genuine enough as he suggested that
we remain at least until after Dixie Del Marr's next number. "A splendid
singer," he added enthusiastically. "And a woman of rare personal
charm.--She goes on at eleven, and it's almost that now."

But Vance pleaded urgent matters that still required his attention that
night, and rose from his chair.

Mirche expressed his profound regrets, and accompanied us to the main
entrance where he bade us an effusive good night.

CHAPTER VI

THE DEAD MAN

(Saturday, May 18; 11 pm.)

We descended the broad stone steps to the street and turned east. At
Seventh Avenue Vance suddenly hailed a taxicab and gave the driver the
District Attorney's home address.

"Markham will probably have returned from his round of political chores
by this time," he said as we headed downtown. "He'll doubtless twit me
unmercifully for my evening's empty adventure; but somehow I felt a
strange uneasiness tonight in the spacious confines of the Domdaniel,
after listening to the Sergeant's uncompliment'ry remarks about the place
last night: it was quite the same as of yore. Yet why should the
toxiphorous Borgias haunt my mind as I toyed with my fricandeau and
sipped my Chateau Haut--Brion? Mayhap, as the years roll by, the
entanglin' tentacles of suspicion are closin' about my once trustin'
nature. Eheu, eheu!..."

The cab came to a jerky stop before a small apartment house, and we went
at once to the District Attorney's apartment. Markham, in his smoking
jacket and slippers, greeted us with amused surprise.

"Not another wing--sandalled Hermes, I hope."

"Nary a caduceus up my sleeve. Are you being beset by heralds?"

"More or less," returned Markham, with a wry grimace. "The Sergeant here
has just brought me a message."

I had not been aware of Heath's presence, but now I saw him standing in
the shadow near a window. He came forward with a friendly nod.

"My word, Sergeant," said Vance. "Wherefore?"

"I came on account of that message Mr. Markham was speakin' about, Mr.
Vance. A message from Pittsburgh."

"Were the tidings bad?"

"Well, they weren't what you might call good," Heath complained. "Plenty
bad, I'd say."

"Indeed?"

"I guess I wasn't so far wrong in the way I figured things last night...
Captain Chesholm in Pittsburgh just sent me a report that one of his
motorcycle boys had spotted a car running without lights on a back road,
and that when the car slowed up for a sharp turn, a guy in the back seat
took a couple of shots at him. The car got away, headin' east to the main
highway."

"But, Sergeant, why should this bit of desult'ry gun--play in
Pennsylvania disturb your even tenour?"

"I'll tell you why." Heath removed the cigar from his mouth. "The officer
thought he recognized Benny the Buzzard!"

Vance was unimpressed.

"In the circumst'nces, it could hardly have been a very definite
identification."

"That's exactly what I told the Sergeant." Markham nodded approvingly.
"During the next few weeks we'll be getting reports that Pellinzi has
been seen in every state in the Union."

"Maybe," persisted Heath. "But the way this car was travellin' fits in
with my idea perfect. The Buzzard coulda hit New York this morning if
he'd come straight from Nomenica. But by circling down to Pennsylvania
and coming east from there, he probably figured he would avoid a lot of
trouble."

"Personally," Markham said, "I'm convinced the fellow will stay clear of
New York." His tone was tantamount to a criticism of the Sergeant's
anxiety.

Heath felt the rebuff.

"I hope I haven't bothered you by coming here tonight, Chief. I knew you
had a couple of appointments this evening, and I thought you'd still be
up."

Markham relented.

"Your coming here was quite all right," he said reassuringly. "I'm always
happy to see you, Sergeant. Sit down and help yourself from the
decanter...Perhaps Mr. Vance himself is seeking an audience for his
information regarding the arch of Mirche's eyebrows and other horrendous
details of his sojourn to the Domdaniel...How about it, Vance? Have you
a bedtime story of goblins with which to regale us?"

Heath had relaxed in a chair and poured himself a drink. Vance, too,
reached for his favourite brandy.

"I'm deuced sorry, Markham old dear," he drawled. "I have no fantasies to
unfold--not even one about a mysterious fleeing auto. But I shall try to
match the Sergeant's inspiration with a yarn of a wood--nymph and a
perfume--sniffer; of a xanthous Lorelei who sings from a podium instead
of from a rocky crag; of a sleek owner of a caravanserai, and an empty
office screened with mysterious grilles; of an ivy--covered postern, and
an owl without feathers...Could you bear to hearken to the chantin' of
my runes?"

"My resistance is low."

Vance stretched his legs before him.

"Well, imprimis," he began, "a most charming and astonishing young woman
joined us at our table this evening for a few minutes--a child whose
spinning brain, much like a pinwheel, radiated the most colourful sparks,
and whose spirit was as guileless as an infant's."

"The wood--nymph of whom you prated in your preamble?"

"Yes--none other. I saw her first this afternoon in a shady nook in
Riverdale. And she was at the Domdaniel tonight, accompanied by a johnnie
named Puttie, with whom she was baiting the true swain of her heart--a
Mr. Burns. He, too, was present tonight, but at a distance, and
alone--and glowering unhappily."

"Your encounter with her in the afternoon suggests more interesting
possibilities," Markham commented listlessly.

"Perhaps you're right, old dear. The fact is, the lady was alone when I
intruded into her woodland bower. But she accepted my encroachment quite
simply. She even offered to read my palm.--It seems that some haruspex
named Delpha taught her the lines of the hand---"

"Delpha?" Heath cut in sharply. "You mean the fortune--teller who does
business under that phony name?"

"It could be," said Vance. "This Delpha, I gathered, deals in palmistry,
astrology, and numerology, and other allied didos. Do you know the
seeress, Sergeant?"

"I'll say I do. I know her husband Tony, too. They're connected in some
queer way with a lot of wrong guys in the underworld. They're tipsters,
jewelry touts--what you might call spies for stick--ups. But you can't
get the goods on 'em. Their name's Tofana; and they run a flashy joint
for suckers...Delpha!" he snorted. "Plain Rosie she is to the
neighbours. She may get by for a while longer; but I'll nail her some
day."

"You positively astound me, Sergeant. I simply can't imagine my sylvan
fairy--who, by the by, is a working girl in the In-O-Scent perfume
factory on week--days--having aught to do with the darksome witch of your
description."

"I can," said Heath. "That's old Rosa Tofana's neatest stall--surrounding
herself with young innocents. And while she's putting up the sweet,
stainless front, old Tony is probably cooking up some deviltry, or
picking pockets, or moll--buzzing, or dope--peddling in another part of
town. Slick guy, Tony--can do 'most anything."

"Ah, well," murmured Vance, "we may be speaking of two quite different
sibyls, don't y' know. 'Delpha' may be a popular nomenclature with the
mystic sorority. Probably a bit of phonetic suggestion for the Delphic
oracle..."

"Courage, Vance," Markham put in pleasantly. "Don't let the Sergeant
side--track you from your fairy--tale."

"And the most amazin' detail," Vance went on, "was the scent of citron
that hung about the pixie. The perfume was mixed especially for her, and
was nameless. Most mysterious--eh, what? It had been concocted by the
gentleman named Burns--some sort of scent--wizard employed in the same
factory she is--who was so annoyed at her apparent deflection to a rival
suitor."

Markham smiled wryly.

"I hardly see where the mystery of the situation comes in."

"Nor I," confessed Vance. "But let your massive brain dwell upon the fact
that the young lady should have chosen this very night to visit Mirche's
hospitium."

"Probably dogged your footsteps from Riverdale till you reached the
Domdaniel."

"That, alas! is not the answer. She was already there when I arrived."

"Then perhaps the young lady was hungry."

"I had thought of that." Vance's eyes were twinkling gaily. "Perhaps
you've solved the mystery!... But," he went on, "that doesn't account for
the further fact that Mirche himself was at the Domdaniel."

"And where else would you have him, pray?... But perhaps you're going to
tell me he's the long--lost father of your heroine?"

"No," sighed Vance. "Mirche, I fear, is sublimely unaware of the young
lady's very existence. Most annoyin'. And I was trying so hard to build
up a diverting yam for your benefit."

"I appreciate the effort." Markham's cigar needed relighting, and he gave
his attention to it. "But tell me what you thought of Mirche. I recall
that your main object in going to the Domdaniel tonight was to make a
closer study of the man."

"Ah, yes." Vance shifted deeper into his chair. "You're always so
practical, Markham...Well, I don't like Mirche. A smooth gentleman; but
not an admirable one. However, he exerted himself quite earnestly to
enchant me. I wonder why...Perhaps he was plotting some shady
deed--though he impressed me as being the type who would need another to
do his plotting for him. No, not a leader of men, but an unquestioning
and able follower. A dark and wicked fellow...Well, there you have the
villain of the piece."

"And what shall I do with him?... Your tale is fizzling by the second."

"I fear you're right," admitted Vance. "Let me see...I lovingly
inspected Mirche's office; but it was disgustingly void of any wrong.
Merely a fair--sized room without a single occupant. And then I gazed
fondly at the old door and windows beyond the porte--cochre--inside the
driveway, y' know. But all my intensive scrutiny yielded nothing of a
helpful nature. The ivy round them, however, was most pleasing. English
ivy."

"Now you're down to botany," said Markham. "I must say, I prefer the
Sergeant's account of the Pittsburgh shooting...But didn't you speak of
a Lorelei?"

"Ah, yes. And deuced blond she was--as becomes a Rhenish siren. Her name,
however, has a Gallic ring: Del Marr. A striking Lorelei--more
intelligent, I should judge, than Mirche. But there were serious words
between her and our Boniface. During a restful intermission of the
orchestra they sat together, and I am sure the conversation was not
confined to arpeggios and treble clefs and obbligatos. Rather intimate
atmosphere. Liberty, egalite, fraternite--comme ca. No mere entertainer
conversing with her impresario.

"I figured it that way myself, years ago," Heath put in. "Furthermore,
she's got a swell car and a chauffeur, too. Her singing don't pay for all
that. And I don't like the looks of that chauffeur either; he's a tough
mug--looks like he oughta be a bouncer in a saloon."

"At least, Vance," said Markham hopefully, "you have found one potential
connection between the almost totally disorganized and unrelated
components of your drama. Maybe you can develop your narrative structure
with that; as a basis."

Vance shook his head despondently. "No, I fear I am not equal to the
task."

"What of the 'owl without feathers' you mentioned a while ago?"

"Ah!" Vance sipped his cognac. "I was referring to the opaque and
mysterious Mr. Owen of obnoxious memory and ill repute."

"I see. 'Owl' Owen, eh? I had a vague idea he was basking in the
California sunshine. It was rumored some time ago that he was
dying--probably of his sins."

"Oh, he was decidedly at the Domdaniel, sitting far across the room from
me with two other men."

"Those two guys," Heath supplied, "were probably his bodyguard. He don't
move without 'em."

"I fear there is no material for you in that quarter, Vance," said
Markham. "The F.B.I, were once worried about him; but after an
investigation they gave the man a clean bill of health."

"I admit defeat." Vance smiled sadly. "I even tried to lure Mirche into
an admission of knowing Owen. But he denied the remotest acquaintance
with the man..."

After another hour of random talk we were interrupted by the ringing of
the telephone. Markham frowned with annoyance as he answered it; then,
putting the receiver down, he turned to Heath.

"For you, Sergeant. It's Hennessey."

Heath, too, was annoyed.

"Sorry, Chief. I didn't leave this number with anyone when I came here."

As he greeted Hennessey over the wire his voice was bellicose. He
listened for several minutes, his expression changing rapidly from
belligerency to deep puzzlement. Suddenly he bawled into the transmitter:

"Hang on a minute!" Holding the receiver at his side, he turned to us.

"It sounds crazy to me, Chief, but Hennessey's calling from the
Domdaniel, and I gotta see him right away..."

"Splendid!" ejaculated Vance. "Why not have Hennessey come here? I'm,
sure Mr. Markham wouldn't object."

Markham shot Vance a look of questioning amazement.

"Very well, Sergeant," he grumbled.

Heath quickly put the receiver to his ear again.

"Hey, listen, Hennessey," he barked. "Hop over here to the D.A's."

"What might all the excitement be, Sergeant?' asked Vance. "Has Mirche
absconded with his own till and eloped with Miss Del Marr?"

"It's damn queer," muttered Heath, ignoring the question. "The boys found
a dead guy over at the cafe."

"I do hope he was found in Mirche's office," Vance said lightly.

"You win." Heath stared at the floor.

"And who might the corpse be?"

"That's what makes it cuckoo. A kitchen helper of some kind that worked
there."

"Will that fact help you revive your fizzled tale?" Markham asked Vance.

"My word, no! It blasts my limpin' yarn completely." Vance turned to
Heath again. "Did you get the name of the defunct chappie, Sergeant?"

"I didn't pay much attention to it when Hennessey said the guy was just a
kitchen mechanic. But it sounded something like Philip Allen."

Vance's eyelids flickered slightly.

"Philip Allen, eh? Most interestin'!"

CHAPTER VII

QUEER COINCIDENCES

(Sunday, May 19; 18:5 am.)

Hennessey arrived in less than fifteen minutes. He was a heavy--set,
serious--minded man with rugged features and an awkward manner.

Heath went directly to the point.

"Tell your story, Hennessey. Then I'll ask questions. But first I want to
know why you called me here at this time of night."

"Hell, Sergeant!" Hennessey returned. "I'd been trying for over an hour
to get hold of you. I knew you had some idea about Mr. Markham and the
Domdaniel, and I figured you'd want to know about an unexpected death
there. So I called your home and a lot of other places I thought you
might be at. No dice. Then I took a chance and called you here. I didn't
want you bawling me out tomorrow."

"Well, what do you know?" grumbled Heath.

"The story sounds cockeyed, Sergeant, but along about eleven o'clock I
saw Mr. Vance come out of the cafe. Earlier, I'd seen him monkeying
around Mirche's office----"

"At eight," Vance put in with a smile.

Hennessey took out his notebook and turned a few pages.

"Seven fifty--six, Mr. Vance."

"My word, what meticulous observation!"

Hennessey grinned. "Well, about fifteen or twenty minutes after Mr. Vance
left, two men from the Bureau drives up with Doc Mendel [One of the
Assistant Medical Examiners of New York.]; and the three of 'em go in
Mirche's office. It looked like funny business to me, so I left Burke on
watch, and Snitkin and I went to see what it was all about. Just as we
was hopping up the steps, Mirche himself comes hurrying down the terrace,
all excited, and busts past us into the office. I guess the doorman--you
know him: Joe Hanley--musta told him that somethin' queer was goin'
on..."

"Never mind guessing."

"All right," Hennessey continued. "Inside the office was a guy in a black
suit lying all bunched up on the floor, half--way under the desk. Mirche
went over to him, sort of staggerin' and dead--white himself. He leaned
close over the guy, alongside the doc who was opening the fellow's shirt
and putting one of those ear--trumpets on his chest..."

"A stethoscope! My word!" Vance looked at Markham. "I didn't know an
official Aesculapius ever carried one of those trusty instruments."

They don't, as a rule," said Markham. "Mendel's a young fellow; just been
appointed to the staff; and I wouldn't be surprised if he carries a
sphygmomanometer around with him, and his diploma, too."

"Go on, Hennessey," Heath growled. "Then what?"

"Guilfoyle asked Mirche who the guy was. I don't know whether it was
before or after Mirche answered the question; but anyhow along about then
Dixie Del Marr came rushing in. And Mirche says, husky--like, it was one
of his dishwashers at the cafe--a fellow named Philip Allen. I coulda
told Guilfoyle that much. I knew Allen, and had seen him myself that
afternoon. Then Guilfoyle asks Mirche what the fellow was doing in the
office, and where he lived, and what Mirche knew about his being dead.
The old toad says he don't know nothing about the dead guy, or how he
come to be there, or where he lives--that it was all a mystery to him.
And he sure looked the part."

"You're sure he wasn't puttin' one over on you?" asked Heath
suspiciously.

"Huh! Not me," Hennessey asserted. "A guy can't look that jolted and not
mean it."

"What happened then?"

Hennessey continued more rapidly.

"The doc went on examining the man, lifting up his eyelids, looking down
his throat, moving his legs and arms--the regular rigamarole. And while
he was busy monkeying with the guy, this Dixie Del Marr opens the door of
a built--in closet, and brings out a ledger. She turns a few pages, then
says: 'Here it is, Dan'--meanin' Mirche. 'Philip Allen lives at 198 East
37th Street--with his mother.'"

Markham looked up and turned to Vance.

"I see that your not too profound deduction is being mildly
substantiated. Your blond Lorelei is evidently Mirche's bookkeeper."

Hennessey was impatient at the interruption.

"Guilfoyle then asked the doc what the fellow had died of. The doc had
the body on its face now, and when he looked round at Guilfoyle you'da
thought he'd never seen a corpse before. 'I don't know,' he said. 'He
might have died a natural death, but I can't tell with this much of an
examination. He's got some burns on his lips, and his throat don't look
so hot'--or words to that effect. 'You'll have to get him down to the
morgue for a post--mortem.' He didn't even seem to know how long the guy
was dead."

"What about the Del Marr woman?" prompted Heath.

"She put the book back and sat down in a chair looking hard and
indifferent, until Mirche sent her back to the cafe."

"So you sent the body down to the morgue." Heath was puffing gloomily on
his cigar.

"That's right, Sergeant. Guilfoyle took care of calling for the buggy. He
and the other man from the Bureau, Sullivan, stayed on the job...It's a
dumb enough story, but I know you've always been leery about this fellow
Mirche--especially now with the Buzzard on the loose."

Heath furrowed his brow and fixed Hennessey with a cold stare.

"All right!" he bellowed. "Who went in that office after Mr. Vance
arrived there at eight?"

"Oh, that's easy." The officer laughed mirthlessly. "The Del Marr woman
went in around eight-thirty and come right out again. Then, a little
while later, the doorman sauntered down, and he went in too. But I figure
that ain't nothing unusual for him: I reckon Hanley just sneaked in for a
snifter, for he came out rubbing his coat sleeve across his mouth..."

"What time was all this?" asked Heath.

"Early in the evening--within an hour after Mr. Vance had been there."

"I suppose you checked if either of 'em saw the dead guy?"

"Sure I did. But neither one of 'em saw him. The doorman went in after
the Del Marr woman did; and you can bet your life that if there'd been a
corpse in there, Hanley would have let out a holler. He's a right guy,
Sergeant."

"Sure; I've known Joe Hanley plenty long." Heath thought a moment. "All
of that don't add up... But here's something you can tell me: What time
did you take your nap tonight?"

The import of Heath's question suddenly dawned on me.

"Honest to God, Sergeant, I didn't take any nap. But--so help me!--I
never saw that guy Allen go into the office."

"Huh!" A world of sarcasm was in the Sergeant's grunt. "You didn't go to
sleep, but Allen slips into the office, has a heart attack, or somethin',
and folds up under Mirche's desk!--That's a hot one for the record!"

Hennessey turned a vivid red.

"I--I don't blame you for squawking, Sergeant. But, on the level, I
didn't look away from that door for a split second----"

"Then this guy just made himself invisible and wished himself in there.
Or maybe he came down the chimney like Santa Claus--if there'd been a
chimney." The Sergeant's irony seemed unnecessarily brutal.

"I say, Sergeant," Vance put in. "The real object of Hennessey's vigil,
y' know, was to keep an eye open for Benny Pellinzi. You certainly didn't
put three husky gentlemen in the lodging-house to keep track of a poor
dishwasher."

Heath took up another phase of the problem.

"Who put in the call to Headquarters, Hennessey?"

"That's another funny one, Sergeant. The call came through in the regular
way at ten--fifty--not more'n ten minutes or so after you'd left. It was
a woman who phoned. She wouldn't give her name; played mysterious and
hung up."

"Yeah. I'll say that's funny...Mighta been this Del Marr wren."

"I thought of her myself, and asked her about it. But she seemed as
ignorant about it as Mirche did. But it coulda been one of the old crones
that work around the kitchen. A lot of the help comes and goes through
that driveway alongside the office. And if one of 'em should happen to
get nosy, they could stretch up and look through the window."

"What about the office building that adjoins the driveway?" Vance asked.

Heath answered the question.

"There's no windows there, sir. A solid brick wall for the first three
floors..."

Vance's cigarette had burnt out, and he lighted a fresh one.

"Puttin' it all together," he commented, "it doesn't look very promisin'
for a mysterious crime. Very sad. I had such lofty hopes when Hennessey
phoned at this more or less witchin' hour."

"I gotta admit," Heath confessed, "I can't get hold of anything special
in Hennessey's report, myself...But there's something else I'd like to
know." He turned back to Hennessey. "You say you knew this dishwasher,
Allen, and saw him earlier in the day. What about that?"

"The way I happen to know him," returned the officer, "is that he came
running outa the driveway one night last winter, about three in the
morning, and damn near knocked me down. I grabbed him and checked him up
with Hanley. Then I turned him loose...This afternoon I seen him
buzzing round Mirche's office. He went in and out three or four times
between lunch and five o'clock. Then, around six, when Mirche had got
there, he went in again and stayed about ten minutes that time. When he
came out, that was the last I seen of him."

"Where did he go?"

"How should I know? I ain't no mind-reader. He didn't go back to the
kitchen, if that's what you want to know. He just went on down the
street."

"You sure it was Allen you saw?" the Sergeant asked dispiritedly.

"I'll say I'm sure!" Hennessey laughed. "But it's damn funny you should
ask me that. The first time I seen Allen this afternoon, I got the screwy
idea it coulda been Benny the Buzzard: they're both about the same size,
with the same round pasty--looking face. And Allen had on a plain black
suit, like I told you--which is the way the Buzzard mighta dressed if
he'd been sneaking back here and didn't want to be spotted too easy. You
remember the loud natty get-ups he wore in the old days. Anyhow, I
though I'd make sure. I knew I was being dumb, but I went over and said
hello to the fellow. It was Allen, all right. He told me he was hanging
around to get a raise out of old Mirche. Swell chance!"

Heath scratched his head.

"Anything else about this fellow Allen come to you?"

"I was just thinking," Hennessey said. "Yeah... he met a guy about the
middle of the afternoon--around four o'clock. He was a little fellow like
Allen. They met just west of the cafe, and pretty soon they got into an
argument. It looked like they was going to come to blows any minute. But
I didn't pay much attention to 'em; and finally this guy went on his
way...Anything else on your mind, Sergeant?"

Vance beckoned Heath to one side and spoke a few whispered words to him.
At length the Sergeant shrugged his shoulders and nodded. Then he turned
again to Hennessey.

"That's all," he said. "Go home and get some more sleep. But be back on
the job at noon."

When Hennessey had gone, Markham, noting a sudden change in Vance's
manner, frowned add leaned forward.

"What's on your mind, Vance?" he asked.

"Hennessey's tale. Y know, in my fairy--story this evening, I didn't
mention the name of the wood--nymph. The name is Gracie Allen. And Philip
Allen is her brother. She informed me quite frankly he was a dishwasher
at the Domdaniel. She even told me he was going to beard Mirche in his
den this afternoon to petition for an increased stipend. And when Miss
Allen stopped at my table tonight, she was on her way to meet her brother
somewhere in the recesses of the cafe."

Markham leaned back again with a short laugh.

"Maybe you can fit all that into the fantasy you were spinning earlier."

"As you say, old dear." Vance was no longer in a jesting mood. "I'm
certainly going to try. I don't fancy so many irrelevant things happening
in one place and at one time. Something must be holding them together. At
any rate, I'm in no mood to emulate Pepys and betake myself home and to
bed."

Vance walked the length of the room and back, his head down; then he came
to an abrupt stop, and smiled with an abashed, yet determined,
earnestness.

"See here, Markham," he said; "I admit my ideas are dashed vague, and
that the charmin' little witch in Riverdale may have cast a spell over
me. But I feel compelled to find out what I can about Philip Allen's
untimely death, and maybe lessen the shock for the young lady. And I need
your helpin' hand. Wouldst humour my vagaries once more?"

Markham sighed with resignation.

"Anything to get rid of you at this ungodly hour."

"Feelin' thus, give me the Allen case instanter, to play with as I jolly
well please--with the doughty Sergeant at my side, of course."

Markham hesitated.

"How do you feel about this, Sergeant?"

"If Mr. Vance has got some fancy ideas," returned Heath vigorously, "I'd
just as soon string along with him."

"All right, Sergeant, go ahead and humour our amateur playwright." Then
Markham turned back to Vance. "And as for you," he said with
good--natured effrontery, "I think you're a raving maniac."

"Granted," said Vance. "No de lunatico inquirendo writ necess'ry."

CHAPTER VIII

AT THE MORTUARY

(Sunday, May 19; 1:50 am.)

Vance and Heath and I went first to Vance's apartment. Here, while Vance
changed from evening clothes to a plain suit, Heath did some necessary
telephoning.

He questioned Guilfoyle at some length regarding any pertinent details
Hennessey might have omitted, and gave orders for Sullivan to remain at
the Domdaniel till noon the next day. He then called Doctor Mendel. I
gathered, both from his expression and the questions he put, that Heath
was puzzled and annoyed by the information he was getting from the young
doctor. When Vance rejoined us, the Sergeant was apparently still
pondering the matter.

"This thing," he said, "is beginning to look even more cuckoo than
Hennessey's story sounded. Doc Mendel still thinks Allen mighta died
natural; but he found a lot of nutty evidence that there coulda been
dirty work. He's passing the buck, and got the body to the morgue quick,
where Doremus [Doctor Emanuel Doremus, Chief Medical Examiner of New
York.] will do the autopsy. Mendel don't want any part of it. When I
asked him what time he thought the fellow died, he stalled around about
rigor mortis and some sort of spasm."

"Cadaveric spasm," supplied Vance.

"Yeah, that's it. And then he began mumbling that there's lots of things
is medicine that ain't known yet.--Is he tellin' me!"

"Sounds most familiar, don't y know," sighed Vance. "But, in the
meantime, what about Mrs. Allen?"

"Sure; she's gotta be notified. Thought I'd send Martin--he's smooth and
easy."

"No--oh, no, Sergeant," said Vance. "I could bear to see the lady myself.
You take on the chore, and I'll stagger along."

"All right, sir." The Sergeant cocked his eye and grinned. "You asked for
it--and it's your case. Anyhow, this identification job won't take long."

We found Mrs. Allen's residence in East 87th Street a modest place--an
old brownstone--front structure that had been divided into small
apartments. Mrs. Allen herself answered our ring. She was fully dressed,
and all the lights were on in the plainly furnished room.

She was a frail, mouse--like person who seemed much older than I had
expected Miss Allen's mother to be. There was a softness and vagueness in
her expression--almost a wistfulness--like that of a woman who had grown
old before her time either through sudden sorrow or prolonged hardships.

She appeared highly nervous and frightened by our presence at the door;
but when the Sergeant told her who he was, she straightway invited us in.
She sat down rigidly as if to steel herself against some blow. Her hands
were clasped so tightly that the knuckles showed white.

Heath cleared his throat. For all his hardness of nature, he appeared
peculiarly sympathetic.

"You're Mrs. Allen," he began. It was half question and half statement.

The woman nodded shakily.

"You got a son named Philip?"

She merely nodded again; but the pupils of her eyes dilated.

Heath shifted his weight and looked about him for a moment. His face
softened perceptibly. Only once before had I seen the Sergeant so deeply
moved: that was when he gazed into the abandoned closet at the still form
of little Madeleine Moffat, ["The Bishop Murder Case" (Cassell, 1929)]
during his investigation of the Bishop murder case.

"You're sitting up pretty late, aren't you, Mrs. Allen?" he asked, as if
he had found no words as yet to soften the blow.

"Yes, Mr. Officer," the woman said, in a small tremulous voice. "I always
sit up and wait for my daughter when she's out. But I don't mind."

Heath nodded and, with a sudden rush of words, came to the point.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I got bad news for you," he blurted. "Your son
Philip's met with an accident." He paused for several moments. "Yes, Mrs.
Allen, I gotta tell you--he's dead. He was found tonight at the cafe
where he works."

The woman clutched at her chair. Her eyes opened wide; and her body
swayed a little. Vance went quickly to her and, taking her by the
shoulders, steadied her.

"Oh, my poor boy!" she moaned several times. Then she looked from one to
the other of us as if dazed. "Tell me what happened."

"We don't quite know, madam," Vance said softly.

"But when," she asked in a colourless tone, "--when did this happen?"

"We got the call about eleven o'clock tonight," Heath told her.

"I--I don't know what to do." She looked up appealingly. "Will you take
me to him?"

"That's just what we came here for, Mrs. Allen. We want you to come with
us--for only a few minutes--a little way downtown--and identify him. Mr.
Mirche has already done that, of course; but just for the records we got
to ask you to do it too. Then we can straighten everything out..."

Vance now spoke to the woman.

"I know it's a frightfully sad errand for you, Mrs. Allen. But, as the
Sergeant explained, it is a necess'ry matter of form; and it will make
things easier for you and your daughter later on. You'll try to be brave,
won't you?"

She nodded vaguely.

"Yes, I've got to be brave for Gracie's sake."

I could not but admire the fortitude of this frail woman, and when she
got up with determination to put on her hat and cape, my admiration for
her rose even higher.

"I'll only stop to leave a note for my daughter," she said
apologetically, when she was ready to go. "She would worry so if she came
home and I wasn't here."

We waited while she found a piece of paper. Vance offered her his pencil.
Then, with an unsteady hand, she wrote a few words, and left the paper in
full view on the table.

On the way downtown the woman did not speak, but listened meekly to the
Sergeant's instructions and suggestions.

When we passed through the elevator door of the city's mortuary in 89th
Street, she put her hands to her face and half breathed a few words, as
if in prayer, adding in a louder tone, "Oh, my poor Philip! He was such a
good boy at heart."

Heath took her protectingly by the arm, and led her solicitously into the
bare basement room. The episode did not prove as gruesome as I had
pictured it beforehand. Mrs. Allen's harrowing experience was over the
moment Heath halted her steps before the still form that had been wheeled
out on a slab from its crypt. Her ordeal was terminated quickly and in
merciful fashion.

After one momentary glance, she turned away with a stifled sob and
collapsed in a crumpled heap.

The Sergeant, who had been watching the woman closely from the time we
had stepped out of the elevator, took her up swiftly in his arms, and
carried her into the dimly--lighted reception--room, where he placed her
on a wicker sofa. Her face was colourless, and her breathing shallow; but
after a few minutes she began to move feebly. Then, with the rush of
blood to the cheeks and moisture to the skin, which accompanies the
reaction from a faint, came a flood of fears.

When she had wept freely for a moment or two, Heath pulled up a chair and
sat down facing her.

"I know, Mrs. Allen," he said, "this must be mighty painful for you, but
you know we got to be careful in cases like this. It's the law. We
couldn't afford to make any mistakes about it. And you wouldn't want us
to, would you?"

"Oh, that would be terrible." Her hand moved slowly across her eyes, as
if to blot out some terrifying vision.

"Sure... I know," mumbled the Sergeant. "That's why you got to forgive us
for being sort of heartless."

"When," she asked, like one who had not heard his words, "--when will the
poor boy----?"

"That's another thing I got to tell you, Mrs. Allen." Heath interrupted
her unfinished query. "You see, we ain't going to be able to let you take
your son right away. The doctor ain't sure just what he died of; and we
got to make sure. It's as much for your sake as it is for ours. So we got
to keep him for a day--maybe two days."

She moved her head up and down sadly.

"I know what you mean," she said. "I once had a nephew who died in a
hospital..." She left the sentence unfinished, and added: "I know I can
trust you."

"Yes, Mrs. Allen," Vance assured her. "The Sergeant won't take any longer
than is necess'ry. These matters must be handled legally and carefully. I
promise to let you know myself the very moment the matter is settled...
I'll also be very glad to help you and your daughter in any other way I
can."

The woman turned slowly to Vance and studied him for a moment. A look of
confidence and appeal came into her eyes.

"It's my daughter," she began softly. "I want to ask you something for
her sake. It will mean so much to her, and to me, just now.
Please--please--don't tell my daughter about Philip yet. Not till she has
to know--and then I want to tell her myself...She would worry about
things which maybe aren't true at all. She has a lot of
imagination--inherited from me, I guess. Why not let her have one more
day, or maybe two more days, of happiness? Just until you make sure?"

It was obvious the woman's request was actuated by a suspicion that her
son had not died a natural death; and she feared a similar doubt might
haunt the daughter too.

"But, Mrs. Allen," Vance asked, "if we keep this matter quiet for a time,
how would you account to your daughter for her brother's absence? Surely,
she would be concerned about that."

Mrs. Allan shook her head.

"No. Philip stays away from home often, sometimes for days at a time.
Only today he said he might give up his job at the cafe and maybe leave
the city. No, Gracie won't suspect anything."

Vance looked interrogatively at Heath.

"I believe, Sergeant," he said, "that it would be both humane and wise to
comply with Mrs. Allen's wishes."

Heath nodded vigorously.

"Yes, so do I, Mr. Vance. I think it can be managed."

An understanding look passed between the two, and then Vance addressed
Mrs. Allen again.

"We will be very happy to make you that promise, madam."

"And there will be nothing about it in the papers?" she asked
tentatively.

"I think that, too, can be arranged," Vance said.

"Thank you," said Mrs. Allen simply.

Just then an attendant came into the room and motioned to the Sergeant,
who rose and walked across to him. A few words passed between them, and
together they walked out through a side door. A few minutes later the
Sergeant returned, slipping something into his pocket.

Mrs. Allen had now somewhat recovered her composure; and as the Sergeant
rejoined us, he smiled at her encouragingly.

"I guess we can be taking you home now."

We drove Mrs. Allen back to her little apartment, and bade her good
night.

A few minutes later the three of us were in Vance's library. It was just
half--past two in the morning.

"A strange little woman," Vance murmured, as he poured a nightcap of
brandy for each of us. "Remarkably brave, too. I really had no anxiety
about leaving her alone in her home. She rallied better than I thought
she would after the distressing experience."

"I've known a lot of little women like that," commented Heath, "who could
take it better than a big husky bruiser."

"Yes, quite...I wonder if her effort to spare her daughter will be as
successful as she hopes. Gracie Allen is no ordin'ry young woman--she's
astute, despite her astonishin' and flighty vivacity."

"The old lady sure made it easy for us," the Sergeant remarked.

Vance nodded as he sipped his brandy.

"Exactly. That's just what I had in mind, Sergeant. We need have no
concern about interference until Doremus' post--mortem report is
completed. Mrs. Allen will surely not press us, for I imagine she will be
grateful for any additional respite for her daughter. And Mirche will
certainly find it advantageous to keep his own counsel--he's not eager
for any unsav'ry publicity in connection with the Domdaniel...Will you
do all you can to keep the case hushed up as long as possible, Sergeant?"

"At last you're asking me to do something easy," grinned Heath. "I'll
tell the boys at the Bureau to pipe down; and you can go on runnin' round
and asking questions for a couple of days without anyone nagging at you."

Vance smiled languidly, but he was still troubled.

Heath finished his brandy, and lighted a long black cigar. "By the way,
Mr. Vance, here's something that might interest you." He reached into his
coat pocket and drew out a small wooden cigarette-case, peculiarly
grained and with alternating squares of light and dark lacquer, giving it
a distinctive checkerboard design. "I found it among Allen's belongings
at the morgue."

"But why, my dear Sergeant, should it interest me?"

"Well, I don't exactly know, sir." Heath was almost apologetic. "But I
know you got ideas about tonight that I ain't got."

"But there's nothing extr'ordin'ry in the fact that the young chap smoked
cigarettes."

"It ain't that, sir." Heath opened the case and pointed to one inside
corner of the lid. "There's a name burnt in the wood there--looks like a
amateur job. And, it so happens, the name is 'George'. That ain't the
dead fellow's name."

Vance's expression changed suddenly. He leaned forward and, taking the
cigarette--ease from Heath, looked at the crudely burnt lettering.

"Things shouldn't happen this way--really, y' know, they shouldn't,
Sergeant. Gracie Allen's true--love is named George. George Burns, to be
precise. The same johnnie I mentioned earlier at Mr. Markham's. And this
Mr. Burns was at the Domdaniel tonight. And so was Gracie. And her flashy
escort, Mr. Puttie. And Philip Allen. And the oleaginous Mirche. And the
undecipherable Dixie Del Marr. And the mysterious 'Owl' Owen. And the
ominous shadow of a buzzard."

"What do you make of it, Mr. Vance?"

"Sergeant--oh, my Sergeant!" sighed Vance. "What could anyone make of it?
Precisely nothing. That's why I'm aging so perceptibly before your very
eyes. That's why my locks are turning white."

"How do you think that cigarette-case got in Philip Allen's pocket, Mr.
Vance?" Heath held stubbornly to his problem.

"Stop torturing me!" Vance pleaded.

Heath took the cigarette-case, snapped it shut, and returned it to his
pocket.

"I'm going to find out," he said with determination. "If Philip Allen
didn't die a natural death, and if this gimmick belongs to the Burns guy,
I'll sweat the truth out of him if I got to invent a new way to do it...
This thing's getting me down, too, Mr. Vance. None of it makes sense,
sir; and I don't like anything that don't make sense...I'll find the
baby--and I'll find him tonight. The Domdaniel's closed by now, so maybe
he went home--if he's got a home. I'll tackle the factory first. What did
you say that name was, sir?"

"The In-O-Scent Corporation," smiled Vance. "Rather discouragin' name
with which to start your quest for a suspect--eh, what, Sergeant? Somehow
I rather hope the name'll prove symbolic."

"You're too deep for me, sir," Heath complained, moving toward the door.
"All I gotta worry about right now is finding that guy Burns."

"Well, Sergeant, when you do corner Mr. Burns, we can either eliminate
one part of the puzzle, or else put it some place where it will fit." He
drew a deep sigh. "I'll be waiting for your scented tidings in the
morning."

CHAPTER IX

HELD ON SUSPICION

(Sunday, May 19; 10:30 am.)

It was almost half--past ten Sunday morning when Heath called at Vance's
apartment. Vance had risen only shortly before and was sitting in the
library, robed in a mandarin dressing--gown, having his usual scant
breakfast of thick Turkish coffee. He had just lighted his second
cigarette when the Sergeant was ushered in, looking somewhat weary but
triumphant.

"At last I've got him!" he announced, without pausing for salutations.

"My word, Sergeant!" Vance greeted him. "Seat yourself and relax. You
should have some strengthenin' coffee. No doubt you're referring to
Burns. But don't tell me you were round and about all night on your
quest."

Heath sat down heavily.

"I was round and about plenty.--And if you don't mind, Mr. Vance, would
you put a little something else in that coffee? I need pickin' up."

Vance complied, smiling.

"Tell me about your nocturnal wanderin's, Sergeant."

"Well, the fact is, sir, I ain't exactly got him yet," Heath amended;
"but I'm expecting a phone call here any minute from Emery--I've got him
watching Mrs. Allen's house, and---"

"Mrs. Allen's house?"

"Yeah! That's where the guy's headin' for."

"The affair sounds frightfully complicated, don't y know."

"It wasn't so complicated, Mr. Vance," answered Heath. "It was just a
damn nuisance...When I left here last night, I went down to the
In-O-Scent factory, and got hold of the night watchman. He let himself
into the office with his pass--key, and found the book of employees, and
showed me Burns' name with the address of a second--rate hotel only a few
blocks away. So I takes it easy and goes over there. But it seems Burns
has already been in, changed his clothes, and gone out again. The night
clerk gives me this information. Then I shows him the cigarette-case.
And that's where I run into a piece of luck. The fellow's ready to swear
Burns has got one just like it. Burns often stops to gabble with him when
he gets in late."

"And," put in Vance, "most likely offers the other a cigarette during the
gay banter."

"That's it, sir...Then I calls Emery, down at the Bureau, to come up
and wait around, in case this Burns figures on coming back. After he gets
there I goes home to grab a couple of hours' sleep."

"And did your Cerberus interrupt your slumbers with news of the missing
perfume--sniffer?"

"No. Burns didn't show up at his hotel again. So at eight o'clock I goes
back to the Hotel myself to see what else I can get outa the night clerk.
And it seems that him an' Burns an' two other guys, friends of Burns,
sometimes sits around playing cards in the lobby at night. One of 'em
lives across the street, but this guy says he ain't seen Burns for days.
But he tells me to try the other fellow, named Robbin, out in Brooklyn,
as Burns often spends a night at Robbin's place--especially Saturday
night. So I beats it out to Brooklyn. I don't phone Robbin's place,
because I don't wanta give Burns any tip--off. It takes me over an hour
to locate the house, which is half a dozen blocks off the main line, over
to hell--and--gone in Bensonhurst."

"What a beastly matutinal odyssey, Sergeant!" Vance shuddered dolefully.
"And what befell when you came at last to the hut of Eumaeus?"

"The guy's name is Robbin, like I told you. And he don't live in a
hut...Well, I asked him about Burns, and he told me Burns had come out
there at three o'clock this morning, saying he wasn't feeling so hot and
wanted company. Robbin also told me Burns was nervous and didn't sleep
very good. He was up early and had beat it before I got there...What do
you make of that, Mr. Vance?"

"Sounds very much like florescent love in a state of suspense," said
Vance. "Ah, the sweet cruelty of woman!"

"I don't know what you're getting at, sir," replied the Sergeant, "but it
sounds like a guilty conscience to me. Especially with Burns not staying
home--running away, so to speak--and hiding out in the wilds of
Bensonhurst...Anyhow, when I showed Robbin the cigarette-case, he knew
it right away. He couldn't remember for sure if Burns had it on him last
night. I asked Robbin if he had any idea where Burns went. Then he just
laughed and said he knew where Burns went, but that he wouldn't be there
till eleven o'clock. So, seeing that he couldn't have got back to New
York yet, I telephones to Emery at Burns' hotel, to get on the job
watching her house..."

"Mrs. Allen's house?"

"Yeah. That's where Robbin said Burns would be at eleven o'clock. And he
didn't have any doubts about it either. I figured this was reasonable.
You yourself, Mr. Vance, told me Burns was the girl's boyfriend; and he
mighta had an idea of getting some kind of help from her and the old lady
before they got wise to him. So I hops back here to New York in a hurry.
And here I am, reportin' to you and waitin' for Emery's phone call."

"Extr'ordin'ry!" murmured Vance. "What zeal! You've fitted many facts
together, and not unskilfully, while I merely slumbered. And I presume
you will fare forth when you get Emery's summons and chivy young Burns no
end."

"I'll say I will!" Then the Sergeant added: "I'm beginning to think you
actually had an idea last night at theD.A--'s."

"I wonder...In any event, I'm going along with you, Sergeant." And
Vance started for the door of his dressing--room.

"I thought you'd be wanting to go, sir. But there's one thing got to ask
you--let me handle this my own way."

"Oh by a1l means, Sergeant." And Vance went from the library.

He had just returned to the room, fully dressed, when the telephone rang.
Heath jumped from his chair and had the receiver at his ear before
Currie, Vance's old valet and majordomo, could reach the instrument.

It was the awaited call from Emery, and after listening for a brief
moment. Heath responded eagerly.

"Right! I'll there in five minutes." He slammed down the receiver and,
rubbing his hands together in satisfaction, made for the door. "Come on,
Mr. Vance. We're getting places at last..."

As we turned the corner from Lexington Avenue, we saw Emery lounging
across the street from Mrs. Allen's house. He took a few steps toward us
and nodded significantly.

Heath grunted his acknowledgment, and gave Emery orders to follow us
inside.

It was Gracie Allen who answered our ring this time. She caught sight of
Vance immediately and threw up her hands in exuberant delight.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Vance! How wonderful!" she called out musically, seeming
almost to flutter. "How did you find out where I live? You must be an
awfully smart detective..."

As she noticed the grim presence of the two other men, she broke off
abruptly.

"These gentlemen are police officers. Miss Allen," Vance told her, "and
we have come to----"

"Oh! They caught you, didn't they!" she exclaimed in dismay. "Isn't that
terrible!" Her eyes grew large. "But honest, Mr. Vance, I didn't tell on
you. I wouldn't do such a thing--really, I wouldn't. Not after I gave you
my promise..."

Heath and Emery were brushing past her into the room, and Vance held up
his hand to her.

"Please, my dear," he said earnestly. "Just a moment. We've come here
about quite a different matter."

She stepped back from him, awed by his serious manner; and Vance followed
the two officers into the room.

On a sofa against the opposite wall sat young George Burns, obviously
annoyed by our intrusion. Heath had already crossed rapidly to him.

"Your name's George Burns, ain't it?" he asked gruffly.

"It always has been,' Burns returned with surly resentment. "Who wants to
know?"

"Wise guy, eh?" Heath fumbled in his pockets, and then asked in a
conciliatory tone. "Got a cigarette, Burns?"

Burns automatically brought out a package of cigarettes.

"What!" exclaimed the Sergeant. "Ain't you got a cigarette-case?"

"Why, of course, he has!" stated Gracie Allen loftily. "I gave him one
myself last Christmas--a real pretty one, like a checkerboard---"

Vance silenced her with an arresting gesture.

"Yes," admitted Burns, "I did have one; but I--I lost it yesterday." He
seemed nonplussed by the line of questioning.

"Maybe this is it." Heath spoke with menacing emphasis, as he shoved the
little cigarette-case under Burns' nose.

Burns, startled and intimidated, nodded weakly. Taking the case, he held
it against his nostrils and muffed at it several times. Then he looked up
at the Sergeant.

"Kiss Me Quick!"

"What!" exploded Heath.

"Oh," mumbled Burns, embarrassed. "That's just the name of a well--known
handkerchief perfume. The formula calls for cassie, jonquille, civet,
citronel--"

"Oh, and I know what else," supplied Miss Allen eagerly. "Jasmin and
tuberose----"

Burns was exasperated.

"You're thinking of Leap Year..."

[Both Kiss Me Quick and Leap Year Bouquet are popular "fancy"
concentrates. Full descriptions and recipes may be found in Poucher's
standard work, "Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps."]

"Say, listen!" bawled Heath. "What's going on here, anyhow?"

Vance was laughing quietly to himself.

The Sergeant snatched the cigarette-case from Burns, and put it back
into his pocket.

"Where did you lose that case yesterday?"

Burns fidgeted.

"I--I didn't exactly lose it. I just--well, I just sort of lent it to
somebody."

"So! Lending Christmas presents from your best girl, was you?"

"Well, I didn't exactly lend it, either." Burns became confused. "I met a
fellow and offered him a cigarette. Then we got in a little argument; and
I guess he just forgot..."

"Sure! He just walked off with the case," retorted Heath with mammoth
sarcasm. "And you forgot to ask him for it, and let him keep it--as a
nice little present from you to him. That's swell!... Who was the
fellow?"

Burns squirmed. "Well--if you must know--it was Miss Allen's brother."

"Sure it was! You're pretty foxy, ain't you?" Then a new idea suddenly
smote the Sergeant. "That musta been up near the Domdaniel cafe. Along
about four o'clock in the afternoon."

"How did you know?" Burns asked, amazed.

"I'm asking the questions," snapped Heath. "And it wasn't just a little
argument like you said. It came pretty near being a fist--fight, didn't
it? You were good and sore about something, weren't you?"

Burns stared helplessly at the Sergeant, and then at Gracie Allen.

"Oh, goodness, George!" the girl exclaimed. "Were you and Philip
squabbling again. You're just a pair of squabs."

Heath gritted his teeth. "You keep outa this, Baby--doll,"

"Oooo!" The girl giggled coyly. "That's what Mr. Puttie called me last
night."

Heath turned back to Burns in disgust. "What were you and Allen fighting
about?"

The man rolled his eyes vaguely, as if afraid to answer yet afraid not to
answer. Finally he stammered:

"It was about Gracie--Miss Allen. Philip doesn't seem to like me. He told
me to keep away from--well, away from here. And then he said I didn't
know how to dress--that I didn't have the style of this Mister
Puttie..."

"Well, I got something to tell you, too. And it's nifty----"

Vance quickly tapped the Sergeant on the shoulder and whispered something
to him.

Heath drew himself up and, turning round, pointed at the girl.

"You go in the other room, Miss. I got something to say to this young man
alone--get me?--alone."

"That's right, Gracie." I was surprised to hear Mrs. Allen's quiet voice.
She was standing timidly wedged in a small opening between the sliding
doors at the rear of the room. How long she had been there I did not
know. "You come with me, Gracie, and leave these gentlemen with George."

The girl did not demur; and she and her mother went into the rear room,
drawing the doors together behind them.

"And now for the bad news, young fellow," Heath resumed, stepping
threateningly toward the dumbfounded Burns. But again Vance interrupted
him.

"Just a moment, Sergeant.--Why, Mr. Burns, were you so surprised just now
at the scent on your cigarette-case?"

"I don't--I don't know, exactly." Burns frowned. "It's not a usual scent;
I haven't come across it for a long time. But at the cafe last night, I
did notice it quite strong at the entrance in the front hall, just as I
was going into the dining-room."

"Who was wearing it?"

"Oh, I couldn't possibly know that--there were so many people standing
around."

Vance seemed satisfied and, with a gesture, turned the young man back to
the Sergeant.

"Well, here's the bad news," Heath barked abusively at Burns. "We found a
dead guy last night--and that cigarette-case of yours was in his
pocket."

Burns' head came up with a jerk, and a stunned, frightened light came
into his eyes.

"My God!" he breathed. "Who--who was it?"

Heath grinned cruelly.

"I just can't imagine. Maybe you can guess."

"It wasn't--Philip!" Burns gasped. "Oh, my God!... I know he isn't here
today. But he went out of town--honest to God, he did. He told me
yesterday he was going."

"You ain't quite smart enough, though you was pretty foxy tryin' to drag
someone else in it with that hocus--pocus about perfume." Heath paused,
and then reached a sudden decision. He made a curt sign to Emery. "We're
taking this baby along with us,' he announced. "We'll keep him where we
can reach him easy."

Vance coughed diffidently.

"So you're going to take him into custody on suspicion--eh, Sergeant? Or,
perhaps, as a material witness."

"I don't care what you call it, Mr. Vance. He's going to sit around where
he can't get out, doing some heavy thinking, till we get Doremus's
report...You better put the bracelets on him, Emery, till we get to the
corner and call the wagon."

Heath and Emery were just leading the petrified Burns to the door, when
Gracie Allen came dashing back into the room, wriggling free from her
mother's restraining hold.

"Oh, George, George! What's the matter? Where are they taking you? I had
a feeling--like when I get psychic..."

Vance stepped to her and put both his hands on her shoulders.

"My dear child," he said in a consoling voice, "please believe me when I
tell you there is nothing for you to worry about. Don't make it any
harder for Mr. Burns...Won't you trust me?"

Her head dropped, and she turned to her mother. The two officers, with
Burns between them, had already left the room; and, as Vance turned and
reopened the door, Mrs. Allen's gentle voice spoke again.

"Thank you, sir. I am sure Gracie trusts you--just as I do."

The girl's head was on her mother's shoulder. "Oh, mom," she sniffled. "I
don't really care about George not dressing as snappy as Mr. Puttie."

CHAPTER X

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

(Sunday, May 19; noon.)

When the patrol--wagon arrived and the unhappy Burns was stepping into
it, Vance smiled at him encouragingly.

"Cheerio," he said; and then stood watching the wagon as it drove off. As
soon as it was out of sight he summoned a taxicab and went at once to the
District Attorney's apartment.

"Really, Markham," he began, "Sergeant Heath is far too logical.
Ordin'rily I'd welcome such admirable mentation; but in this case I must
sue for your intervention."

He then gave Markham a concise summary of all the events that had taken
place since we left his apartment the night before; the trip to the
mortuary and the promise to Mrs. Allen; Heath's appropriation of the
cigarette-case and his all--night search for Burns; the interview with
the befuddled young man when he was found; and, finally, Heath's decision
to hold Burns until Doremus reported.

Markham listened attentively, but without enthusiasm. "I think, all in
all, Heath has done a fairly intelligent piece of work. I can't see just
where, or why, you want me to intervene."

"Burns is innocent," asserted Vance. "And I'm obdurate in my belief.
Ergo, I want you to call the police station and tell Heath to release
him. In fact, Markham, I insist upon it.--But I want the Sergeant to
bring the chappie up here first--if that's convenient for you. Y' see, I
want him to understand clearly that one condition of his freedom is
absolute silence, for the present, on the matter of the johnnie in the
morgue. That was our promise to Mrs. Allen, and Burns must co--operate
with us when he is released...Please hasten, old dear."

"You know this Burns?" asked Markham.

"I've seen him but twice. But I have my whimsies, don't y' know."

"As good a euphemism as any for your present unbalanced state of mind!...
Just why do you want this fellow released?"

"I'm enraptured with the wood--nymph," smiled Vance.

Markham drew his lips together in annoyance.

"If I didn't know you, I'd say----"

"Tut, tut!... Call Heath--there's a good fellow."

Markham rose resignedly: he had known Vance too long not to perceive the
seriousness so often hid beneath his bantering. Then he went toward the
telephone.

"This is your case," he said, "--if it is a case--and you can handle it
any way you see fit. I have my own troubles."

The Sergeant had just reached the station when Markham called and gave
orders in accord with Vance's request.

Fifteen minutes later Heath escorted Burns into the District Attorney's
library. Vance carefully outlined the circumstances to Burns, and exacted
from him a definite promise to make no mention of Philip Allen's death to
anyone, impressing upon him the situation with regard to Gracie Allen
herself.

George Burns, with unmistakable sincerity, readily enough agreed to the
restriction; and the Sergeant informed him he was free to go.

When we were alone, however. Heath began to fume.

"After all my work last night!" he complained bitterly. "Runnin' down
that cigarette-case; losing my sleep and doing plenty of fancy work this
morning; tying that guy in bow--knots and getting him just where I wanted
him!... And it was all your idea, Mr. Vance. And now I find you something
definite, and what do you do? You have the baby turned loose!"

He chewed viciously on his cigar. "But if you think I'm not going to keep
that guy covered, you ain't so smart, Mr. Vance. I sent Tracy up here
ahead of me, and he's going to tail Burns from the minute he steps out of
this building."

"I rather expected you would do just that, don't y' know." Vance shrugged
pleasantly. "But please, Sergeant, don't get an erroneous impression from
my whim to free the young perfume mixer. I shall put all my energy into
unravellin' the present tangle. And I shall await the Medical Examiner's
report all a--twitter...By the by, in the midst of your energetic
activities, did you learn anything about the autopsy?"

"Sure I did," said Heath. "I called up Doc Doremus just before I left the
station. He gave me hell, as usual, but he said he'd get busy right after
lunch, and that he'd have the report tonight."

"Most gratifyin'," sighed Vance. "I salute you, Sergeant, and beg
forgiveness for upsettin' your admirable but useless plan to deprive Mr.
Burns of his liberty. I do hope, y' know, it won't distract your mind
from safeguardin' Mr. Markham from the shadow of Pellinzi."

"Nothin's going to distract me from worrying about the Buzzard and Mr.
Markham," Heath asserted. "Don't you worry! That office is being watched
day and night; and there's husky lads on hand to pluck that bird proper
if he shows up."

The Sergeant left us a few minutes later, and we accepted Markham's
invitation to remain for lunch.

It was almost three o'clock when Vance and I returned to his apartment.
Currie met us at the door, looking highly perturbed.

"I'm horribly upset, sir," he said sotto voce. "There's a most incredible
young person here waiting to see you. I tried most firmly to send her
away, sir; but I couldn't seem to make her understand. She was most
determined and--and hoydenish, sir." He took a quick backward glance.
"I've been watching her very carefully, and I'm sure she has touched
nothing. I do hope, sir---"

"You're forgiven, Currie." Vance broke into the distracted old man's
apologies, and, handing him his hat and stick, went directly into the
library.

Gracie Allen was sitting in Vance's large lounge chair, engulfed in the
enormous tufted upholstery. When she leaped up to greet Vance it was
without her former exuberance.

"Hello, Mr. Vance," she said solemnly. "I bet you didn't expect to see
me. And I bet you don't know where I got your address. And the grouchy
old man who met me at the door didn't expect to see me either. But I
didn't tell you how I got your address. I got it the same way I got your
name--right on your card. Though I really don't feel like going down and
getting that new dress tomorrow. Maybe I won't go. That is, maybe I'll
wait till I know that nothing's happened to George..."

"I'm very glad you were so clever as to find my address." Vance's tone
was subdued. "And I'm delighted you're still using the citron scent."

"Oh, yes!" She looked at him gratefully. "You know, I didn't like it so
much at first, but now--somehow--I just love it! Isn't that funny? But I
believe in people changing their minds. Just sup--"

"Yes," nodded Vance, with a faint smile. "Consistency is the
hobgoblin----"

"But I don't believe in hobgoblins--that is, I haven't since I was a
little girl."

"No, of course not."

"And when I found out you lived so close to me, I thought that was
awfully convenient, because I just had to ask you a lot of important
questions." She looked up at Vance as if to see how he would react to
this announcement. "And oh, I discovered something else about you! You
have five letters in your name--just like me and George. It's Fate, isn't
it? If you had six letters maybe I wouldn't have come. But now I know
everything is going to come out all right, isn't it?"

"Yes, my dear," nodded Vance. "I'm sure it will."

She released her breath suddenly, as if some controversial point had
successfully been disposed of. "And now I want you to tell me exactly why
those policemen took George away. I'm really frightfully worried and
upset, although George phoned me he was all right."

Vance sat down facing the girl. "You really need not be concerned about
Mr. Burns," he began. "The men who took him away this morning foolishly
thought there were some suspicious circumst'nces connected with him. But
everything will be cleared up in a day or two. Please trust me."

There was complete confidence in her frank gaze.

"But it must have been something very serious that made those men come to
my house this morning and upset George so terribly."

"But," explained Vance, "they only thought it was serious. The truth is,
my dear, a man was found dead last night at the Domdaniel, and----"

"But what could George have to do with that, Mr. Vance?"

"Really, y' know, I'm certain he has nothing to do with it."

"Then why did the men act so funny about the cigarette-case I gave
George? How did they get it, anyhow?"

Vance hesitated several moments; then he apparently reached a decision as
to how far he should enlighten the girl.

"As a matter of fact," he explained patiently, "Mr. Burns'
cigarette-case was found in the pocket of the man who died."

"Oh! But George wouldn't give away anything I bought for him."

"As I say, I think it was all a great mistake." The girl looked at Vance
long and searchingly. "But suppose, Mr. Vance,--suppose this man didn't
just die. Suppose he was--well--suppose he was killed, like you said you
killed that bad man in Riverdale yesterday. And suppose George's
cigarette-case was found in his pocket. And suppose--oh, lots of things
like that. I've read in the papers how policemen sometimes think that
somebody is killed by innocent people, and how-----" She stopped abruptly
and put her hands to her mouth in horror.

Vance leaned over and put his hand on her arm. "Please, please, my dear
child!" he said. "You're beginning to believe in hobgoblins again. And
you mustn't. They're such ridiculous little imps; and they don't really
exist. Nothing is going to happen to Mr. Burns."

"But it might!" Her fears were but slightly allayed. "Can't you see, it
might! And you've got to be an awfully, awfully good detective if
anything like that should happen." A frightened, pleading look was in her
eyes. "I was terribly worried this morning after George had gone. And do
you know what I did? I went up--town and talked with Delpha. I always go
to Delpha when I have any troubles--and sometimes even when I haven't
any. And she always says she's glad to see me, because she likes to have
me around. I guess it's because I'm so psychic. And having psychic people
around makes it easy for you to concentrate, doesn't it?... She's got the
queerest place, Delpha has. It makes you feel spooky at first. She's got
long black curtains hanging all around, and you can't see any windows.
And there's only one door; and when the black curtains are pulled across
it, you just feel as though you were somewhere far away with only Delpha
and the spirits that tell her things."

She looked about her and shook herself slightly.

"And then, Delpha has great big pictures of hands on the curtains, with
lots of lines on them. And funny signs, too--Delpha calls them symbols.
And there's a big glass ball on a table, and a little one. And maps of
the stars, with funny words around them which mean something in case
you're a crab or a fish or a goat, or things like that."

"And what did Delpha tell you?" Vance asked with kindly interest.

"Oh! I didn't tell you, did I?" The girl's face brightened. "She was very
mystical, and she seemed terribly surprised when I told her about George.
She asked me the funniest questions: all about the men that came to the
house, and about the cigarette-case--you know, like she was trying to
draw me out. I guess she was trying to read my mind because it was
vibrating. And Delpha always says it's a great help to her when anybody
is in tune. Anyhow, she said that nothing was going to happen to
George--just like you say, Mr. Vance. Only, she said I must help him..."

She looked at Vance eagerly.

"You'll let me help you get George out of trouble, won't you? Mother said
you told her you were going to do everything you could. I know I can be a
sort of detective, if you tell me how. You see, I've simply got to help
George."

Vance, puzzled and disturbed by the girl's genuine appeal, rose
thoughtfully and walked to the window. Finally he returned to his chair
and sat down again.

"So you want to be a detective!" he said cheerfully. "I think that's an
excellent idea. And I'm going to give you all the help I can. We'll work
together; you shall be my assistant, so to speak. But you must keep very
busy at it. And you mustn't let anyone suspect that you're doing
detective work--that's the first rule."

"Oh, that's wonderful, Mr. Vance! Just like in a story." The girl's
spirits immediately rose. "But now tell me what I must do to be a
detective."

"Very well," began Vance. "Let me see...First, of course, you must make
note of anything that will be helpful. Footprints in suspicious places
are a good starting--point. If people walk on soft earth, they naturally
leave their tracks; and then, by measuring these tracks you can tell what
size shoes they were wearing..."

"But suppose they were wearing another size shoe, just to fool us?"

Vance smiled admiringly.

"That, my child," he said, "is a very wise observation. People have been
known to do that very thing. However, I do not think we need be concerned
with that question just yet...To go on, you should always look at
desk--blotters for clues. Blotted writing can generally be read by
holding it up to a mirror."

He demonstrated this point for her, and she was as fascinated as a child
watching a magician.

"And then, y' know, cigarettes are very important. Should you find the
butt of a cigarette, you might be able to tell who had smoked it. You
would start by looking for a person who smoked that brand. And sometimes
the tip of the cigarette will give the smoker away. If there is rouge on
it, then you know it was smoked by a lady who used lip--stick."

"Oh!" The girl suddenly looked crestfallen. "Maybe if I had looked
carefully at the cigarette that burned my dress yesterday, I might have
been able to tell who threw it."

"Possibly," Vance returned gaily. "But there are many other ways of
verifying your suspicions about people. For instance, if someone had gone
to commit a crime in a house where there was a watch--dog, and you knew
that the dog had not barked at him, then you could conclude that the
intruder was a friend of the dog. Dogs, y' know, do not bark at a
friend."

"But suppose," the girl interposed, "the people kept a cat instead of a
dog. Or maybe a canary. What do you do then?"

Vance could not help smiling.

"In that case, you'd have to look for other things to identify the
culprit..."

"That's where the footprints would come in handy, isn't it?... But lots
of people wear the same size shoes. My shoes fit mother perfectly. And,
what's more, her shoes fit me."

"There are still other ways----"

"I know one!" she broke in triumphantly. "What about perfume? For
instance, if we found a lady's handbag, and it smelled like Frangipanni,
then we'd look for a lady who used Frangipanni--not one who used
Gardenia...But I wouldn't be very good at that. Would you? I'm always
getting scents mixed up. It makes George just furious. But he would be
simply wonderful at smelling. He can tell any kind of perfume right away,
and what it comes from, too, and all about it--even when I don't smell
anything at all. He just has a sort of gift--like when he smelled his
cigarette-case this morning...But please go on, Mr. Vance."

Vance did go on, for more than half an hour, carefully impressing upon
her the things he knew would interest her. There was no possible doubt of
his sympathetic understanding when, as the girl was about to go, he rang
for Currie and gave him explicit instructions.

"This young lady, Currie," he said, "is to be received whenever she calls
here. If I am out and she should care to wait, you are to make her
welcome and comfortable."

When Miss Allen had gone, Vance said to me: "The feeling of having
something to lean on, as it were, will do the child a world of good at
present. She's really most unhappy, and not a little frightened. Her
imagined new occupation should prove a much--needed tempor'ry tonic...
Y' know, Van, I have a suspicion I'm growing a bit sentimental as the
years go by. Mellowin' with age--same like the grapes of France."

And he sipped his brandy slowly.

CHAPTER XI

FOLKLORE AND POISONS

(Sunday, May 19; 9 pm.)

Markham telephoned Vance at nine o'clock that evening. Vance listened
attentively for several minutes, a puzzled frown deepening on his face.
Finally he hung up the receiver and turned to me.

"We're going down to Markham's. Doremus is there. I don't like it--I
don't at all like it, Van. Doremus called him a little while ago full of
news and mystery. Didn't know where Heath was, and wanted to see Markham
first, anyway. Markham must have unearthed the disgruntled Sergeant, and
now wants me to come down as well. Only some cataclysmic upheaval would
get the peppery Doremus sufficiently excited to seek the District
Attorney out in person, instead of merely turning in his official report.
Very mystifyin'."

Fifteen or twenty minutes later a cab let us out in front of Markham's
home. A gruff call halted us just as we were entering the building, and
Sergeant Heath came bustling down the street.

"I just got the D.A.'s message at home, and beat it right over," panted
Heath. "Funny business, if you ask me, Mr. Vance."

The butler was holding the door ajar for us, and we followed him into the
library, where the District Attorney and Doctor Emanuel Doremus were
awaiting us.

The doctor squinted malevolently at Heath.

"It would be one of your cases," he blustered, shaking an accusing finger
at the Sergeant. "Why can't you ever dig up a nice, neat, easy murder,
instead of these fancy affairs?" Then he nodded greetings to Vance with a
weak attempt at cheeriness.

Doremus was a small, fiery man who gave the impression of a crabbed
stockbroker rather than of a highly efficient scientific man.

"I'm getting sick of these trick murders of yours," he went on to the
Sergeant. "Furthermore, I haven't had any food since noon. Can't eat
properly even on a Sunday. You and your crazy corpses!"

The Sergeant grinned and said nothing. He knew Doremus of old, and had
long since come to accept his eccentric and sometimes querulous manner.

"No, doctor," put in Vance placatingly; "the unhappy Sergeant is merely
an innocent onlooker...What seems to be the difficulty?"

"You're in on this too, eh?" Doremus retorted. "I might have known! Say,
don't you like to see people shot or stabbed, pretty and clean, instead
of being poisoned so I've got to work all the time?"

"Poisoned?" asked Vance curiously. "Who's been poisoned?"

"The stiff I'm talking about," shouted Doremus; "the fellow Heath handed
me. I forget his name."

"Philip Allen," supplied the Sergeant.

"All right, all right. He'd be just as dead with any other name. And what
makes me sore is I don't know any more about what killed him than if he
was a dead Zulu in Isipingo."

"You spoke of poison, doctor," prompted Vance calmly.

"I did," snapped Doremus. "But you tell me what kind of poison. It
doesn't check with any books of mine on toxicology."

"Really, y' know, that doesn't sound exactly scientific." smiled Vance.
"Hope we're not travellin' back to mysticism."

"Oh, it's scientific enough," Doremus pursued. "The poison--whatever it
is--was undoubtedly absorbed through the derma or the mucous membrane. It
might have been lots of things. But I couldn't get any straight--cut
reaction from the regulation tests. It might have been a combination of
some kind." He grunted. "I'll find it, all right. Not tonight, though. It
may take a day or so. It's the damnedest thing I've ever been up
against."

"I can readily believe that," said Vance, "or you wouldn't be here
tonight."

"Maybe I shouldn't be. But this pest"--he indicated Heath--"kept yelling
about the case being so important, and that it might have something to do
with Mr. Markham. Sounded like a hoax; but I thought it best to tell him
I couldn't add up the figures tonight. Let him worry. I'm hungry."

"What have I to do with this, Sergeant?" Markham's tone carried a biting
reprimand.

"Wasn't it in Mirche's office, Chief?" parried Heath aggressively. "And
that's where I been looking for trouble for you...And Hennessey
watching, and--and everything," he ended lamely, as Vance cut him short
with a wave of the hand.

"We appreciate your trouble and your courtesy, doctor," Vance said.
"You're quite sure the fellow couldn't have died a natural death?"

"Not unless medical science has gone completely bughouse," Doremus
returned emphatically. "This fellow was poisoned--that much I know. I
don't wonder young Mendel threw up his hands. Not only was it poison, but
it was a quick, powerful poison that could have taken effect at once. But
it didn't act exactly like anything I'm familiar with."

"But, doctor," persisted Vance, "you must have some idea."

"Huh! I've got plenty of ideas. That's my difficulty: too damn many
ideas."

"For instance?"

"Well, there's our old friend, potassium cyanide. There's plenty of
indications pointing to hydrocyanic acid. I'd say he got a few sniffs of
cyanide gas and passed out. The bulging eyes and the colour of the skin
might mean cyanide--and they might also mean something else again. And I
did get a bit of the smell in the lungs and gastric mucosa. But nothing
from the mouth, or when I opened the cranial cavity. But that doesn't
mean anything either, especially as a lot of other things showed up that
didn't spell prussic acid backwards or forwards, or two ways from the
middle."

"I believe Doctor Mendel spoke of some burns--probably just a local
reaction--on the lips and in the throat. What of them?"

"You tell me." Doremus seemed annoyed with the world in general. "My
whiff of the lungs indicated a probable inhalation of something, as I've
already said."

"Might it have been nitrobenzene?" suggested Vance.

"I wouldn't know--I'm just a medical man."

"Come, come, doctor," Vance said good--naturedly. "I'm merely trying to
steer you clear of ancient toxic lore."

Doremus sat up with a jerk and grinned apologetically.

"I don't blame you, Mr. Vance. I'm hot and annoyed. Maybe I do sound as
if I was messing around with ancient Egyptians, and mandragora, and viper
venoms, and secret Gypsy potions, and witches' ointments with their
henbane, and Borgia poisons, and Perugia water, and aqua Tofana----"

"Did you say Tofana, doc?" interrupted Heath. "That's the name of that
fortune-telling Delpha, Mr. Vance. And I don't put poison beyond her and
her husband."

"No, no, Sergeant," Vance corrected him. "The Tofana the doctor mentioned
died in Sicily in the seventeenth century. And she wasn't a
fortune--teller. Far from it. She devoted her talents to mixing a liquid
which has since come to be known by her name. Aqua Tofana was a deadly
poison; and this woman plied her poisoning trade on such a wholesale
scale that the name of her concoction has never been forgot. Though her
mixture was probably nothing but a strong solution of arsenic, there's
still a lot of mystery attaching to it.--That's the lady, dead for
centuries, to whom Doctor Doremus was referring."

"I still say Rosa Tofana ain't beyond the same kind of tricks," insisted
Heath doggedly.

"You seem astonishingly full of hatreds and suspicions, Sergeant."

"In my business I gotta be," Heath mumbled.

Vance turned back to Doremus.

"Forgive us for interrupting, doctor. We all seem to have become
embittered by the present case...But what about poisons isolated from
flowers? These would be difficult to trace, wouldn't they?"

"No! They're easy enough, but they'd take time. And I know 'em all. You
mean, I take it, colchicine from meadow saffron, helleborin from the
Christmas rose, narcissine from the daffodil, convallarin from the lily
of the valley--things like that. But I assure you it wasn't anything as
mild as these that did this fellow in...Or maybe-----" He cocked his
eye in a leer at Vance. "Now it's you that's talking about the so--called
poisoned posies of medieval romance. Humph! Modern science laughs at
'em."

"No--oh, no. I haven't gone afield as far as that," laughed Vance. "I was
merely thinking of the lavender peddler in London, who passed out when he
sniffed the oil of mirbane he'd put on his flowers to enhance their
aroma."

"There's nothing to that." Doremus shook his head scornfully. "I'm only
saying that I don't know just now what it was this Allen man inhaled...
But give me time--give me time. I'll find out tomorrow. And, what's more,
it won't be as crazy as it sounds now."

"Could you say when he died, doc?" asked Heath.

Doremus glared at the Sergeant.

"How would I know? I'm no necromancer. I didn't even see the body till
this afternoon." His anger abated at sight of Heath's discomfiture. "I
talked with Doctor Mendel, but he wouldn't venture a guess. Said there
was no rigor mortis when he first saw the body. But you can't time
stiffening of the muscles with a stop--watch. The onset is highly
variable--lot of different factors operating. From what I've been able to
learn, the fellow could have died within a couple of hours before he was
found, or he could have died as long as ten hours before...I don't
know; Mendel don't know; you don't know..."

When Doremus had sputtered a while longer, he left us with a breezy wave
of the hand.

"Well, Vance," said the District Attorney, "how are you going to fit that
preposterous situation into your story?"

Vance shook his head pensively.

"I don't know, Markham. But rest assured it fits somewhere, and I'm still
haunted by the various converging factors of my tale...And, Sergeant,
that was a curious interpolation of yours about the Tofanas. Y' know,
your friend Rosa is strangely interested in the deceased gentleman..."

He rose and walked back and forth several times.

"I'm not admitting defeat yet, Markham. There are too many questions in
my mind crying out for answers. How, for instance, did the chap get into
Mirche's office again after Hennessey saw him at six o'clock?"

"Hennessey musta been lookin' the other way," said Heath stolidly.

"That's not likely, Sergeant. Something very peculiar there."

He smoked for a while in silence.

"I wish I could see the plans for the remodeling of that old house when
Mirche took it over for his cafe. There might be something suggestive
about them. An odd desire, I'll admit. But I could bear to look at them."

"I don't see how those plans would do you any good," said Heath. "But if
you really want 'em, I can get 'em for you easy. Doyle and Schuster did
the job, and I've had dealings with their chief draughtsman before."

"That sounds hopeful, Sergeant. When could you get the blue--prints for
me?"

"Before you're up in the morning, sir," returned the other confidently.
"Say around ten o'clock."

Markham looked amused.

"Why not get the blue--prints for a couple of mare's--nests, too, while
you're about it, Vance?--The sensible thing to do, it seems to me, would
be to wait till you get Doremus' final report."

"You're quite right," Vance reluctantly conceded. "But my instincts don't
run to so many coincidences. I crave simplicity. Besides, I have an
appealin' young lady to consider."

"I assure you," said Markham unsympathetically, "after you've scanned the
blue--prints tomorrow, you'll have ample time to consider your young
lady."

"No--no, Markham." Vance spoke soberly. "It is not a subject for
levity..."

Then he told in detail of Gracie Allen's pathetic visit to him that
afternoon--her appeal for help, her concern for Burns, and his own
compassionate suggestions to keep her mind occupied.

"Both the Sergeant and I," he concluded, "have made a promise to her
mother, and, after the girl's impromptu visit today, I want to impress
upon both of you that we must be considerate whenever the girl chooses to
intrude on us."

"I deem it a pleasure, not to say a rarity, to commend your sentimental
punctilio," Markham said. "But I myself shall probably not be called upon
to assist in the charitable deception. The brunt of the situation, it
seems to me, will fall upon you and the Sergeant."

"It's all right with me, Chief," said Heath. "That Mrs. Allen is a mighty
sweet little woman. And the girl is plenty cute."

Vance smiled gratefully.

"You'll have to be rather careful, Sergeant. The best way to meet the
situation is to show no outward sympathy. That might make the girl
suspicious. We should simply act at all times as if we knew no more about
her brother's death than she does herself. An actor, Sergeant! Could you
be an actor?"

"Sure I'll be an actor!" Heath voiced his decision with ready sincerity.
"But I ain't so hard--boiled yet that I'm gonna promise not to sometimes
get a lump in my gullet..."

He seemed a little ashamed of his unbecoming outburst of sentiment.

"Hell!" he added quickly. "I'll even be one of those damn matinee idols."

CHAPTER XII

A STRANGE DISCOVERY

(Monday, May 20; 9 am.)

Vance had been reluctant Sunday evening to leave Markham's apartment, and
had remained late. But he was up earlier than usual the following
morning. By half--past eight he was completely dressed and had drunk his
coffee. Shortly after nine, Sergeant Heath arrived, striding into the
library in jaunty triumph.

"Here you are, Mr. Vance," he announced, placing a long cardboard tube on
the desk. "If all my jobs were as easy as getting these blue--prints for
you, I'd never die from overwork."

"My word, such efficiency!"

Vance drew the plans from their holder and spread them on the desk. He
scrutinized them all, inspecting the sheet for each floor in turn. He
gave more time, however, to the ground--floor plan which included the
actual cafe room, the entrance--hall and the checkrooms, the kitchen
quarters, and the office. The Sergeant watched him with expectant
amusement.

"Quite conventional," Vance murmured, tapping the sheets with his finger.
"An excellent bit of planning. Intelligently done. No more, no less.
Sad.. sad."

At this moment Gracie Allen unexpectedly arrived. She preceded Currie
into the room, making his announcement superfluous.

"Oh, I just had to come and see you, Mr. Vance! Somehow I don't seem to
be getting anywhere--and I worked so hard. Honest, I did!"

"But my word! Young lady,"--Vance spoke pleasantly--"why aren't you at
the factory this morning?"

"I just couldn't go there," she returned. "Not for a while, anyhow. I've
got so much on my mind--that is, terribly important things. And I'm sure
Mr. Doolson won't mind...George didn't go to the factory today, either.
He phoned me last night and said he couldn't possibly do anything. He's
so upset."

"Well, perhaps after all, Miss Allen, a few days' rest..."

"Oh, I'm not resting." She appeared hurt. "I'm frightfully busy every
minute. You yourself said I have to keep busy. Remember?" She caught
sight of Heath, and a frightened look came into her large eyes as she
recognized him.

Vance eased the situation by casually introducing the Sergeant.

"He is working with us, too," he added. "You can trust the Sergeant. I
explained his error to him yesterday, and now he's on our side...
Furthermore," Vance went on cheerfully, "he has five letters in his
name."

"Oh!" Her fears were somewhat allayed by this information, though she
looked dubiously at Heath again before she broke into a faint smile. Then
she pointed to the desk. "What are all those blue papers, Mr.
Vance?--they weren't there yesterday. Maybe they're a clue, or something.
Are they?"

"No, I'm afraid not. They're just plans of the Domdaniel where you were
Saturday night..."

"Oh, may I look?"

"Certainly," Vance replied, and bent over the desk with her. "See, this
is the big dining-room, and the entrance--door from the hall; and over
here is the kitchen, and the side door; and right along here is the
driveway that goes under the arch; and right in this corner is the
office, with the door opening on the terrace; and---"

"Wait a minute," she interrupted. "That's not really an office."

She bent closer over the chart and traced corridors and directions with
her finger, calling them off as she did so. She ended by following the
outline of the small room. Then she looked up.

"Why, that's Dixie Del Marr's private room. She told me so herself...
Don't you think she's just beautiful, Mr. Vance? And she can sing so
lovely, too. I wish I could sing like her. You know, classical songs."

"I'm sure your singing is much prettier," Vance told her gallantly. "But
I think you're mistaken about that room being Miss Del Marr's. Really, y'
know, it's Mr. Mirche's office--isn't it, Sergeant?"

"I'll say it is!"

Gracie Allen bent still lower over the papers.

"Oh, but it is the room I was in," she asserted conclusively. "I'll show
you:--that window looks right out on the driveway; and here's the street,
through those tiny windows. It even says '50th Street' right on the
picture. Why, it's got to be Miss Del Marr's room. And you can't have two
rooms in the same place, can you--even in a picture?"

"No, not very well----"

"And aren't the walls all done in mauve? And aren't there three or four
big leather chairs along this wall? And isn't there a big dead fish on a
board, hanging up here?" She pointed out the locations as she spoke. "And
isn't there a funny little glass chandelier hanging-----Oh, where's the
ceiling, Mr. Vance? I don't see any ceiling on this picture."

Heath had become highly interested in the girl's inventory.

"Sure," he said. "The walls are a sort of light purple; and Mirche says
he caught that fish down in Florida. She's dead right, Mr. Vance...But
see here. Miss, when were you ever in that room?"

"Why, I was in it just last Saturday night."

"What!" bellowed Heath.

The girl was startled.

"Did I say something wrong? I didn't mean to go in there."

Vance spoke now.

"What time during the evening did you go in there, Miss Allen?"

"Why, you know, Mr. Vance. When I went to look for Philip, at ten
o'clock...But I didn't see Philip. He wasn't around. And he didn't come
home yesterday, either. I guess he's gone on a vacation somewhere. And he
promised he wouldn't quit his job."

Vance diverted the girl's aimless chatter.

"Let's not talk about Philip now. Just tell me how you happened to go out
on the terrace looking for your brother, when you really wanted to go to
the rear of the cafe."

"I didn't go out on the terrace." She shook her head emphatically. "What
would I want to go on the terrace for, anyhow? I'd have caught cold in
that thin dress I was wearing. Don't you think that was an awfully pretty
dress, Mr. Vance? Mother made that too."

"Yes, you looked very charming in it...But you must have forgot, for
the only way to get into that room is from the terrace."

"Oh, but I went in the other way--through the door at the back." She
pointed to the wall directly opposite the street door of Mirche's office;
then her eyes opened wide as she scrutinized the blue--print. "There's
something awfully funny here, Mr. Vance. Whoever made this picture wasn't
very careful."

Vance came closer to her. The Sergeant, too, moved nearer, and stood
beside them with an air of curious expectancy, his cigar poised in
mid--air.

"You think there should be another door shown at that spot?" Vance asked
softly.

"Why, of course! Because there is a door right there. Otherwise, how
could I have gotten in Miss Del Marr's private room? But I can't imagine
why she keeps that fish in there. I don't think it's pretty at all."

"Don't worry about the fish. Look here at the plan a minute...Now,
here's the archway through which you left the dining-room---"

"Uh--huh. The one with the big carved stairway in front of it."

"And then--let's see--you must have gone this way in the hall----"

"That's right. George wanted me to stay and speak to him, but I was in a
hurry. So I went right on back, until I passed another little passage.
And then I didn't know which way to go."

"You must have turned into that narrow passage, and walked down to this
point, here." Vance brought to a stop the pencil with which he was
tracing her course on the blue--print.

"That's just what I did! How do you know? Were you watching me?"

"No, my dear," Vance answered patiently. "But maybe you're a little
confused. There is a door here, at the end of this narrow passage, where
you say you walked down."

"Yes, I saw that door. I even opened it. But there wasn't anything
there--only the driveway. That's how I knew I was lost. And then as I
stood there leaning against the wall and wondering how to find Philip,
this other door I was telling you about--you know, the one into Miss Del
Marr's room--opened right behind me." She tittered, as at some joke she
was just about to relate. "And I fell right into the room! It was
terribly embarrassing. But I didn't spoil my dress at all. And I might
have torn it, falling like that...I guess it was my own fault though,
for not looking where I was leaning. But I didn't know there was a door
there. I didn't see any door at all. Anyhow, there I was in the room.
Isn't that silly--not seeing a door and leaning up against it, and then
falling down right into a lady's room?" She laughed engagingly at the
recital of her mishap.

Vance led the girl to a chair and arranged a pillow for her.

"Sit right there, my dear," he said, "and tell us all about it."

"But I have told you," she said, arranging herself comfortably. "It was
awfully funny, and I was so embarrassed. Miss Del Marr was embarrassed
too. She told me that was her private room. So, I told her I was awfully
sorry and explained about looking for my brother--she even knew Philip. I
guess that's because they both work at the same place, like me and
George...And then she showed me back down the hall, and pointed out the
exact way to the landing on the kitchen stairs. She was awfully nice.
Well, I waited a long time, but Philip didn't show up. So I went back to
Mr. Puttie. I knew how to find my way back, all right...And now, Mr.
Vance, I want to ask you some more questions about what you said
yesterday----"

"I'd love to answer them, Miss Allen," Vance said; "but I really haven't
any time this morning. Maybe later--this afternoon. You won't mind, will
you?"

"Oh, no." The girl jumped up quickly. "I've got something very important
to do, too. And maybe George will come up for a while." She shook Vance's
hand, nodded suspiciously to Heath, and in a moment she was gone.

"Holy suffering sauerkraut!" exploded Heath, almost before the door
closed on Miss Allen. "Didn't I tell you that Mirche was a crafty
customer? So he's got a secret door! The dizzy doll didn't see it--sure
she didn't! Somebody musta got careless--her leani'n up against a
invisible door and goin' plop--right into the room where her brother was
killed! That's somethin'!"

Vance smiled grimly.

"But, after all, Sergeant, there's no law against a man having a secret
door to his own office. And that, undoubtedly, is our answer to the
question of how the dead fellow got in there without being seen by
Hennessey. But someone must have been in there with him. Not Mirche: he
was at my table between ten and eleven. And certainly no dead man was
there at ten."

"But don't you think Mr. Vance----"

"Spare me, Sergeant!" Vance was pacing the floor.

"I'd like to go up to the Domdaniel and smash that fake door in!" Heath
asserted violently.

"No--oh, no," counselled Vance. "You mustn't be impetuous. Silkiness. Let
that be your watchword for the nonce."

"Still and all," said the determined Heath, "if this Domdaniel is the
headquarters for a crooked ring of some kind, like I've always suspected,
nothing'd give me more pleasure than smashing the whole place--and Mirche
along with it."

"Your nature's too vehement, Sergeant," Vance rebuked him. "One doesn't
go about shattering people's offices without proof of their guilt."

"I'm just sayin' what I'd like to do."

"And another thing, Sergeant: Mirche would be merely one weak link in
your imagin'ry criminal chain. As I said, he's far from being a leader of
men."

"He looks like a pretty slick article to me," Heath remonstrated meekly.
"Anyhow, that 'Owl' Owen you was worrying about would fill the bill."

"Quite--quite," mused Vance. "But he was merely a fellow diner when I saw
him. Very correct and unobtrusive. Though I admit I didn't relish his
being there that night, with so many other queer things all coming
together and signifying nothing." He made an ambiguous gesture. "I think
we may forget him for the present, and concentrate on ascertaining who
killed the poor chap."

"Yeah? How? By checkin' up a little closer on Mirche?"

"Precisely, Sergeant. And I shan't overlook Dixie Del Marr either. Not
after that amazing information about the door into her private room."

"And just how do you intend doing it, Mr. Vance?"

"Quite openly, Sergeant. I shall drop in for a chat...Where, by the by,
does brother Mirche reside?"

"That's easy," Heath told him. "Upstairs at the Domdaniel."

"I thought as much...And could you answer with equal ease if I asked
you the domicile of Miss Del Marr?"

"Sure." Heath grunted. "I wouldn't have lasted this long on the homicide
squad, if I didn't know where the people live that I think are crooked
and mixed up in dirty business.--You'll find her at the Antler Hotel, on
53rd Street."

"You're a fund of information, Sergeant," Vance complimented him.

"When do you intend to see 'em, sir?... And then what?"

"I'll try to commune with Mirche and Miss Del Marr this very morning.
After that, I'll endeavour to lure Mr. Markham to lunch. Then I should be
charmed to meet you here again at three this afternoon."

"It's still your case, Mr. Vance," mumbled Heath. "I'm not goin' to tell
you how to handle it." He remained another half--hour before taking his
departure.

Then Vance telephoned to Markham, after which he sat down and lighted a
cigarette, with more than ordinary deliberation.

"Still another amazin' facet in the gem, Van," he said. "Markham was on
the point of calling me when I was put through to his office. Mr.
Doolson--he of the In-O-Scent Corporation--had just come and gone.
Markham promised he'd pour forth the story when I see him later--he
seemed inordin'tely amused. We're to be at his office round one o'clock.
I told him if we weren't there by two, to send a posse of trusty
stalwarts to our rescue at the Domdaniel."

CHAPTER XIII

NEWS OF AN OWL

(Monday, May 20; 11 am.)

At eleven o'clock Vance went to the Domdaniel. He had no difficulty about
seeing Mirche. After a delay of only five minutes, Mirche came into the
reception--hall where we were waiting. He greeted Vance effusively,
though he gave me the impression that he was acting out a rehearsed part.

"To what am I indebted for this unexpected visit, sir?" he asked
smoothly.

"I merely wanted a chat with you anent the poor fellow who was found dead
here Saturday night." Vance spoke with a casual pleasantness.

"Oh, yes." If Mirche was surprised, he disguised the fact successfully.
"Of course, if it's about his family, we will be very glad to see what
can be done...Naturally, I should like to avoid any scandal--the public
is sensitive about such matters. A most unfortunate incident.--But
suppose we go into my office."

He led the way along the terrace, and opening the door, stood aside to
let us precede him. Vance seated himself in one of the large leather
chairs, and Mirche sat down half facing him.

"The police have naturally been asking a great many questions about the
affair," Mirche began. "But I was hoping the whole thing had been settled
by now. "

"These things are most distressing, I know," said Vance. "But there are
one or two points about the situation that rather interest me."

"I'm greatly surprised that you should be interested, Mr. Vance." Mirche
was cool and suave. "After all, the man was only a dishwasher here. I had
dismissed him just before the dinner hour. A question of pay--he didn't
think he was getting enough. I don't see why he should have come back,
unless he thought better of the matter and wished to be reinstated. Most
unfortunate he should die in my office. But he didn't seem to be a
particularly robust fellow, and I suppose one can never tell when the
heart will give out... By the way, Mr. Vance, have they found out just
what did cause his death?"

"No, I don't believe so," answered Vance noncommittally. "However, that
isn't the point that interests me at the moment. The fact is, Mr. Mirche,
there was an officer in the street outside Saturday night, and he insists
he didn't see this dishwasher of yours enter the office here, after he
was last seen coming out of it at about six o'clock."

"Probably didn't notice him," said Mirche indifferently.

"No--oh, no. The officer--who, by the by, knew young Allen--is quite
positive the man did not enter your office from the balcony all evening."

Mirche looked up and spread his hands.

"I must still insist, Mr. Vance---"

"Is it possible the fellow could have come in here some other way?" Vance
paused momentarily and looked about him. "He might, don't y' know, have
come through that little door in the wall at the rear."

Mirche did not speak for a moment. He stared shrewdly at Vance, and the
muscles in his body seemed to tighten. If I have ever seen a living
picture of a man thinking rapidly, Mirche was that picture.

Suddenly the man let out a short laugh.

"And I thought I had guarded my little secret so well!... That door is a
device of mine--purely for my own convenience, you understand." He rose
and went to the rear of the office. "I'll show you how it works." He
pressed a small medallion on the wainscoting, and a panel barely two feet
wide swung silently into the room. Beyond was the narrow passageway in
which Gracie Allen had lost her way.

Vance looked at the concealed catch on the secret door and then turned
away, as if the revelation were nothing new to him.

"Quite neat," he drawled.

"A great convenience," said Mirche, closing the door. "A private entrance
to my office from the cafe. You can see, Mr. Vance----"

"Oh, yes--quite. Useful no end when you crave a bit of privacy. I've
known certain Wall Street brokers to have just such contraptions. Can't
say I blame them...But how should your dishwasher have known of this
arrangement?"

Mirche stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"I'm sure I don't know. Although it's wholly possible, of course, that
some of the help around here have spied on me--or perhaps run into the
secret accidentally."

"Miss Del Marr's aware of it, of course?"

"Oh, yes," Mirche admitted. "She helps me here a bit at times. I see no
reason for not letting her use the door when she wishes."

It was apparent that Vance was somewhat taken aback at Mirche's
frankness, and he straightway turned the conversation into other
channels. He put numerous questions about Allen, and then reverted to the
events of Saturday night.

In the midst of one of Vance's questions the front door opened, and Miss
Del Marr herself appeared in the doorway. Mirche invited her in and
immediately introduced us.

"I have just been telling these gentlemen," he said quickly, "about the
private entrance to this room." He forced a laugh. "Mr. Vance seemed to
think there might be some mysterious connection between that and----"

Vance held up his hand, protesting pleasantly.

"I'm afraid you read hidden meanings into my words, Mr. Mirche." Then he
smiled at Miss Del Marr. "You must find that door a great convenience."

"Oh, yes--especially when the weather is bad. In fact, it has proved most
convenient." She spoke in a casual tone, but there was a hardness, almost
a bitterness, in her expression.

Vance was scrutinizing her closely. I expected him to question her
regarding Allen's death, for I knew this had been his intention. But,
instead, he chatted carelessly regarding trivial things, quite unrelated
to the matter which had brought him there.

Shortly before he made his adieus, he said disarmingly to Miss Del Marr:
"Forgive me if I seem personal, but I cannot help admiring the scent you
are wearing. I'd hazard a guess it is a blend of jonquille and rose."

If the woman was astonished at Vance's comment, she gave no indication of
it.

"Yes," she replied indifferently. "It has a ridiculous name--quite
unworthy of it, I think. Mr. Mirche uses the perfume, too--I am sure it
was my influence." She gave the man a conventional smile; and again I
detected the hardness and bitterness in her manner.

We took our leave soon thereafter, and as we walked toward Seventh
Avenue, Vance was unusually serious.

"Deuced clever, our Mr. Mirche," he muttered. "Can't understand why he
wasn't more concerned about the secret door. He's worried, though. Oh,
quite. Very queer...No need whatever to question the Lorelei. Changed
my mind about that the moment she spoke so dulcetly and looked at Mirche.
There was hatred, Van,--passionate, cruel hatred...And they both use
Kiss Me Quick. Oh, where does that aromatic item belong?... Most
puzzlin'!..."

At the District Attorney's office Markham told us about Doolson's visit
that morning.

"The man is desperately concerned, Vance, and for the most incredible
reason. It seems he has an exalted opinion of this young Burns' ability.
Imagines his perfumery business cannot function without the fellow. Is
convinced that Burns holds the key to the factory's continued success.
And more of that sort of amazing twaddle."

"Not twaddle at all, Markham," Vance put in. "Doolson probably has every
reason to regard Burns highly. It was Burns who concocted the formula for
In-O-Scent and saved Doolson from bankruptcy. I understand just what
the man means."

"Well, it seems, further, that the business of the concern is of a
somewhat seasonal nature and that the annual peak is approaching. Doolson
has invested heavily in an intensive campaign of some kind, and is in
immediate need of various new popular scents. His contention is that only
Burns can turn the trick."

"Both interesting and plausible. But why his visit here to your sanctum?"

"It appears Burns has chucked his job until cleared of all suspicion in
the Allen affair. He's nervous and, I imagine, not a little frightened.
Can't work, can't think, can't sniff--completely disorganized. And
Doolson is frantic. He had a talk with the fellow this morning, and got
the reasons for his obstinate refusal to return to his work. Burns told
him the affair was being kept quiet temporarily, and gave no names; but
explained that he was in some way concerned with it and therefore upset.
Having complete faith in Burns, Doolson hastened here in despair.
Probably thought my office wasn't making enough speed."

"Well?"

"He insists on offering a reward for the solution to the case, in the
desperate hope of spurring me and the staff to get the matter settled at
once, so his precious Burns can get back to work. Personally, I think the
man is crazy."

"It could be, Markham. But don't disabuse him."

"I've already tried. But he was insistent."

"And at what figure does he estimate the immediate and carefree services
of Mr. Burns?"

"Five thousand dollars!"

"Quite insane," Vance laughed.

"I agree with you. I wouldn't believe it myself if I didn't have the
written and signed instructions and the certified cheque right here in my
safe at this moment--incidentally, with an expiration clause of
forty--eight hours."

After Vance had absorbed this fantastic information, he related his own
activities of the morning. He told of the secret door to Mirche's office,
and dwelt on the Sergeant's stubborn suspicion that the Domdaniel was the
centre of some far--reaching criminal ring.

To this last, Markham nodded slowly and thoughtfully.

"I'm not sure," he remarked, "that the Sergeant's suspicions are
unfounded. That place has always troubled me a bit, but nothing definite
has ever been brought to light."

"The Sergeant mentioned Owen as a possible guiding genius," Vance said.
"And the idea rather appeals to me. I'm half inclined, don't y' know, to
search for the 'Owl' and see if I can ruffle his feathers...By the by,
Markham, in case my impulse should overcome my discretion, what might be
his Christian name? Really, one can't go about inquiring for a predat'ry
nocturnal bird."

"As I remember, it's Dominic."

"Dominic--Dominic..." Suddenly Vance stood up, his eyes fixed before him.
"Dominic Owen! And Daniel Mirche!" He held his cigarette suspended. "Now
the whole thing has become fantasy. You're right, Markham--I'm having
visions: I'm enmeshed in an abracadabra. It's all as fantastic as the
Papyrus of Ani!"

"In the name of Heaven-----" began Markham.

"Doesn't it pierce your consciousness?" Then he said: "Dominic--Daniel.
To wit, DOMDANIEL!"

Markham raised his eyebrows sceptically.

"Sheer coincidence, Vance. Though a neat bit of fantasy, I'll admit. As I
recall my Arabian Nights, the original Domdaniel was under the ocean,
somewhere near Tunis, and was the abode of evil spirits. Even if Mirche
had ever heard of that undersea palace and was a partner of Owen's in the
cafe, he'd never have had enough initiative, or courage, for that."

"Not Mirche, Markham. But Owen. He would have the subtlety and the daring
and the grim humour. The idea would have been quite magnificent, don't
y'know. Offering the world a key to his secret, and then chuckling to
himself much like one of the evil afrits who originally inhabited that
subterranean citadel of sin..."

He commiserated with Markham on the intricacies of life, and left him to
draw his own conclusions.

It was not Heath who was waiting for us when we returned to Vance's
apartment a little before three. It was the ubiquitous Gracie Allen; and,
as usual, she greeted Vance with gay exuberance.

"You told me to come back this afternoon. Or didn't you? Anyhow, you did
say something about later this afternoon, and I didn't know what time
that was; so I thought I'd come early. I've got lots of clues
collected--that is, I've got three or four. But I don't think they're any
good. Have you got any clues, Mr. Vance?"

"Not yet," he said, smiling. "That is, I haven't any definite clues. But
I have several ideas."

"Oh, tell me all about your ideas, Mr. Vance," she urged. "Maybe they
will help. You never know what will come out of just thinking. Only last
week I thought there'd be a thunderstorm--and there was!"

"Well, let me see..." And Vance, somewhat in the spirit of
facetiousness, yet with a manifest benignity, told her of his surmise
regarding the meaning of the word "Domdaniel." He dwelt entertainingly on
the mystery and romance of the Arabian Nights legend of the original
Domdaniel--the Syrian califs, the "roots of the ocean," the four
entrances and the four thousand steps, and Maghrabi and the other
magicians and sorcerers.

Heath had come in at the beginning of the story, and stood listening
throughout as enthralled as was the girl. When Vance had finished Gracie
Allen relaxed momentarily.

"That's simply wonderful, Mr. Vance. I wish I could help you find the man
named Dominic. We have a big fat shipping clerk down at the factory named
Dominic. But he can't be the one you mean."

"No, I'm sure he's not. This one is a small man, with very dark, piercing
eyes, and a white face, and hair that's almost black."

"Oh! Maybe it was the man I saw in Miss Del Marr's room."

"What!" The Sergeant's exclamation startled the girl.

"Goodness! Did I say something wrong again, Mr. Heath?"

Vance reproachfully waved the Sergeant back. Then he spoke calmly to the
girl.

"You mean, Miss Allen, that you saw someone besides Miss Del Marr when
you fell into that room last Saturday?"

"Yes. A man exactly like you described."

"But why," asked Vance, "did you not tell me about him this morning?"

"Why, you didn't ask me! If you'd asked me I'd have told you. And anyhow,
I didn't think it made any difference--about the man being there, I mean.
He didn't have anything at all to do with my tumble."

"And you're sure," Vance went on, "that he looked like the man I just
described to you?"

"Uh--huh, I'm sure."

"I don't suppose you had ever seen him before."

"I never saw him before in all my life. And I'd have remembered, too, if
I'd ever seen him. I always remember faces, but I can't hardly ever
remember names. But I did see him afterwards."

"Afterwards? Where was that?"

"Why, he was sitting in the dining-room, right in the corner, not very
far from George. I can't imagine how I happened to look over in that
direction, because I was with Mr. Puttie that evening."

"Was there anyone else with the man when you saw him in the
dining-room?" Vance pursued.

"But I couldn't see them, because they had their backs to me."

"Them? Just whom do you mean?"

"Why, the two other men at the same table."

Vance inhaled deeply on his cigarette.

"Tell me. Miss Allen: what was the man doing when you saw him in Miss Del
Marr's room?"

"Well, let me see. I guess he was a very personal friend of Miss Del
Marr's because he was putting a big notebook away in one of the drawers.
And he must have been a very personal friend of Miss Del Marr's, or he
wouldn't know where the book belonged, would he? And then Miss Del Marr
came over to me and put her hand on my arm, and led me out very quick. I
guess she was in a hurry. But she was awfully nice..."

"Well, that was a very amusing experience, my dear."

Shortly after this astounding recital, Miss Allen cheerfully took leave
of us, saying, with a comical air of mystery, that she had a lot of very
important things to attend to. She intimated that she might even be
seeing Mr. Burns.

When she had gone Vance looked across at the Sergeant as if expecting
some comment.

Heath sprawled in a chair, apparently stunned. "I got nothin' to say, Mr.
Vance. I'm goin' nuts!"

"I'm a bit groggy myself," said Vance. "But now it's imperative that I
see Owen. Frankly, I've been only half--hearted about communing with him,
and only vaguely believed in my game of charades about Owen and Mirche.
Yet Gracie Allen knew of the connection all along. Yes, now it is highly
imperative that I tree the 'Owl.' Can you help, Sergeant?"

Heath pursed his lips. "I don't know where the guy's staying in New York,
if that's what you mean. But one of the federal boys I know might have
the dope. Wait a minute..."

He went to the telephone in the hall, while Vance smoked in silent
preoccupation.

"At last I got it," Heath announced as he came back into the room a
half--hour later. "None of the federal boys knew Owen was in town, but
one of 'em dug up the file and told me that Owen used to live at the St.
Carlton during the old investigation. I took a chance and called up the
hotel. He's stopping there, all right--got in Thursday..."

"Thank you, Sergeant. I'll phone you in the morning. In the meantime,
discourage thought."

The Sergeant departed, and Vance immediately put a call through to
Markham.

"You're breakfasting with me tomorrow," he told the District Attorney.
"This evening I shall endeavour to call on the erudite Mr. Owen. I've
many things to tell you, and I may have more by morning. Remember,
Markham: breakfast tomorrow--it's a ukase, not a frivolous
invitation..."

CHAPTER XIV

A DYING MADMAN

(Monday, May 20; 8 pm.)

At eight o'clock that evening Vance went to the St. Carlton hotel. He did
not telephone from the reception desk, but wrote the word
"Unprofessionally" across one of his personal cards and sent it to Owen.
A few minutes later the bellboy returned and led us upstairs.

Two men were standing by a window when we entered, and Owen himself was
seated limply in a low chair against the wall, slowly turning Vance's
card between his slender tapering fingers. He looked at Vance, and tossed
the card on the inlaid tabouret beside him. Then he said in a soft,
imperious voice, "That's all tonight." The two men went out of the room
immediately, and closed the door.

"Forgive me," he said with a wistful, apologetic smile. "Man is a
suspicious animal." He moved his hand in a vague gesture: it was his
invitation for us to sit down. "Yes, suspicious. But why should one
care?" Owen's voice was ominously low, but it had a plaintive carrying
quality, like a birdcall at dusk. "I know why you came. And I am glad to
see you. Something might have intervened."

With a closer view of the man, I got the impression that grave illness
hung over him. An inner lethargy marked him; his eyes were liquid; his
face was almost cyanosed; his voice a monotone. He gave me the feeling of
a living dead man.

"For several years," he went on, "there has been the vagrant hope that
some day... Need for consciousness of kind, like--mindedness..." His
voice drifted off.

"The loneliness of psychic isolation," murmured Vance. "Quite. Perhaps I
was not the one."

"Nobody is the one, of course. Forgive my conceit." Owen smiled wanly and
lighted a cigarette. "You think that either of us willed this meeting?
Man makes no choices. His choice is his temperament. We are sucked into a
vortex, and until we escape we struggle to justify or ennoble this
'choice.'"

"It doesn't matter, does it?" said Vance. "Something vital always evades
us, and the mind can never answer the questions it propounds. Saying a
thing, or not saying it and thinking it, is no different."

"Exactly." The man gave Vance a glance of interrogation. "What thought
have you?"

"I was wondering why you were in New York. I saw you at the Domdaniel on
Saturday." Vance's tone had changed.

 "I saw you too, though I was not certain. I thought then you might get
in touch with me. Your presence that night was not a coincidence. There
are no coincidences. A babu word to cloak our reeking ignorance. There
is only one pattern in the entire universe of time."

"But your visit to the city. Do I intrude on a secret?"

Owen snarled, and I could feel a chill go down my spine. Then his
expression changed to one of sadness.

"I came to see a specialist--Enrick Hofmann."

"Yes. One of the world's greatest cardiologists. You saw him?"

"Two days ago." Owen laughed bitterly. "Doomed! Mene, mene, tekel,
upharsin."

Vance merely raised his eyebrows slightly, and drew deeply on his
cigarette.

"Thank you," said Owen, "for sparing me the meaningless platitudes." Then
he asked suddenly: "Are you a Daniel?"

"Does Belshazzar need an augur?" Vance looked straight at the man...
"No, alas! I am no Daniel. Nor am I a Dominic."

Owen chuckled diabolically.

"I was sure you knew!" He wagged his head in satisfaction. "Mirche will
die without the faintest suspicion of the jest. He's as ignorant of the
Thousand and One Nights as he is of Southey and Carlyle. [Southey used
the Domdaniel as the subject of his "Thalaba"; and it was Carlyle who
made the Domdaniel of the Arabian Night synonymous with a "den of
iniquity."] An illiterate swine!"

"It was a clever idea," said Vance.

"Oh, no; not clever. Merely a bit of humour." Lethargy again seemed to
pervade him; his expression became a mask; his hands lay limp on the arms
of the chair. He might have been a corpse. There was a long silence; then
Vance spoke.

"The handwriting on the wall. Would it comfort you to have me suggest
that perhaps all the years throughout infinity are counted and divided?"

"No," Owen snapped. "'Comfort'--another babu word." Then he went on
wistfully: "Eternal recurrence--resurgam. The perfect torture." He began
to mutter. "'The sea will begin to wither.. an extinct planet.. absorbed
in the sun.. greater suns.. the ultimate moment.. eternal dispersal of
things.. billions of years hence.. this same room...'" He shook himself
weakly, and stared at Vance. "Moore was right: it is like madness."

Vance nodded sympathetically.

"Yes. Madness. Quite. The moment'ry finite is all we dare face. But there
is no finite."

"No, no finite, of course." Owen spoke sepulchrally. "But those billions
of years beyond, when the mind returns to infinity.. like the endless
ripples made by a stone cast in the water. Then we must have cleanliness
of spirit. Not now. But then. We must cause no endless ripples...Thank
God, I can talk to you."

Again Vance nodded.

"Yes, I quite understand. 'Cleanliness'--I know what you mean. The finite
balances itself--that is, we can balance it, even at the last. We can go
back clean to endless time. Yes. 'Cleanliness of spirit'--an apposite
phrase. No ripples. I wholly agree."

"But not through restitution," Owen said quickly. "No preposterous
confessionals."

Vance waved his hand in negation.

"I didn't mean that. Merely a neant--a nothingness--after the finite,
when there will be no further struggle, no more trying to eliminate the
impulses placed in us by the same agency that puts a taboo on our
indulging them..."

"That's it!" There was a flicker of animation in Owen's voice; then he
lapsed again into languor. The slight gesture of his hand was as graceful
as a woman's. But the steely hardness in his gaze remained. "You will see
that I cause no ripples, in case..?"

"Yes," returned Vance simply. "If the occasion should ever arise, and I
am able to help, you may count on me."

"I trust you...And now, may I speak a moment? I have long wanted to say
these things to someone who would understand..."

Vance merely waited, and Owen went on.

"Nothing has the slightest importance--not even life itself. We ourselves
can create or smear out human beings--it is all one, whichever we do." He
grinned hopelessly. "The rotten futility of all things--the futility of
doing anything, even of thinking. Damn the agonizing succession of days
we call Life! My temperament has ever drawn me in many directions at
once--always the thumbscrew and the rack. Perhaps, after all, to smear
souls out is better."

He seemed to shrink as from a ghost; and Vance put in: "I know the unrest
that comes from too much needless activity, with all its multiplying
desires."

"The aimless struggle! Yes, yes. The struggle to fit oneself into a mould
that differs from one's ancient mould. That is the ultimate curse. The
instinct to achieve--faugh! We learn its worthlessness only when it has
devoured us. I have been fired by different instincts at different times.
They are all lies--cunning, corroding lies. And we think we can subject
our instincts to the mind. The mind!" He laughed softly. "The mind's only
value is attained when it teaches us that it is useless."

He moved a little, as if a slight involuntary spasm had shaken him. "Nor
can we attribute our distorted instincts to racial memory. There are no
races--only one great filthy stream of life flowing out of the primeval
slime. The abortive sensualism of primordial animal life lies dormant
within all of us. If we suppress it, it manifests itself in cruelty and
sadism; if we unleash it, it produces perversions and insanity. There is
no answer."

"Man sometimes strives to counteract these horrors by releasing an inner
ideal from its abstract conception through visual symbols."

"Symbols themselves are abstractions," came Owen's mordant monotone. "Nor
can logic help. Logic leads no man to the truth: logic leads only to
insane delusions. The apotheosis of logic:--angels dancing on the point
of a needle...But why do I even bother, in this shadow between two
infinities? I can give only one answer: the obscene urge to eat well and
live well--which, in turn, is an instinct and, therefore, a lie."

"It may go farther back than that instinct," Vance suggested. "It may be
an urge brought here when the shadow of life first fell across the path
of infinity--the cosmic urge to play a game with life, in order to escape
from the stresses and pressures of the finite."

(I now knew that Vance had some very definite--but, to me,
obscure--purpose in mind as he talked with this strange, unnatural man
before him.)

"Here in this dreamed--out world," said Owen hazily, "one course is no
better than another; one person or thing is no more important than any
other person or thing. All opposites are interchangeable--creation or
slaughter, serenity or torture. Yet vanity seeps through the scabby crust
of my congealed metaphysics. Bah!" He hunched himself over and stared At
Vance. "There is neither time nor existence here."

"As you say. Infinity is not relatively divisible."

"But there is the terrifying possibility that we can add some factor to
the time before us. And if we do, that factor will continue eternally...
There must be no pebble thrown. We must cut through this shadow clean." ,

Owen had closed his eyes, and Vance scrutinized him without expression.
Then he said in an almost consoling tone:

"That is wisdom...Yes. Cleanliness of spirit."

Owen nodded with great languor.

"Tomorrow night I sail for South America. Warmth--the ocean.. nepenthe,
perhaps. I'll be engaged all tomorrow. Things to be done--accounts, a
house--cleaning, temporal orderliness. No ripples to follow me for all
time. Cleanliness--beyond...You understand?"

"Yes." Vance did not lower his gaze. "I understand. Cessation here, lest
there be a 'hound of Heaven'..."

The man's slow eyes opened. He straightened and lighted another
cigarette. His strange mood was dissipated, and another look came into
his eyes. Throughout this discussion he had not once raised his voice;
nor had there been more than the mildest inflection in his words. Yet I
felt as if I had been listening to a bitter and passionate tirade.

Owen began speaking now of old books, of his days at Cambridge, of his
cultural ambitions as a youth, of his early study of music. He was
steeped in the lore of ancient civilizations and, to my astonishment, he
dwelt with fanatical passion on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. But,
strangely enough, he spoke of himself always with a sense of dualism, as
if telling of someone else. There was a sensitive courtesy in the man,
but somehow he instilled in me a repugnance akin to fear. There was
always an invisible aura about him, like that of a primitive, smouldering
beast. I was unwholesomely fascinated by the man; and I experienced an
unmistakable sensation of relief when Vance stood up to go.

As we parted from him at the door, he said to Vance with seeming
irrelevancy:

"Counted, weighed, divided...You have promised me.'

Vance met his gaze directly for a brief moment. "Thank you," breathed
Owen, with a deep bow.

CHAPTER XV

AN APPALLING ACCUSATION

(Tuesday, May 21; 9:30 am.)

"Yes, Markham, quite mad," Vance summarized, as we were finishing
breakfast in his apartment the next morning. "Quite. A poisonous madman,
like some foul, crawling creature. His end is rapidly approaching, and a
hideous fear has wrecked his brain. The sudden anticipation of death has
severed his cord of sanity. He's seeking a hole in which to hide from the
unescapable. But he has nowhere to take cover--only the mephitic charnel
house which his warped brain has erected. That is his one remaining
reality...A vile creature that should be stamped out as one would
destroy a deadly germ. A mental, moral and spiritual leper. Unclean.
Polluted. And I--I--am to save him from the horrors infinity holds for
him!"

"You must have had a pleasant evening with him," commented Markham with
distaste.

Sergeant Heath, having arrived in answer to an earlier telephone summons
from Vance, had listened attentively to the conversation. But he seemed
to withdraw into himself when, a few moments later, Gracie Allen came
tripping gaily into the library.

She carried a small wooden box, held tightly to her. Behind her was
George Burns, diffident and hesitant. Miss Allen explained things
buoyantly.

"I just had to come, Mr. Vance, to show you my clues. And George had just
come to see me; so I brought him along, too. I think he should know how
we're getting along. Don't you, Mr. Vance? And mother, she's coming over
too in a little while. She said she wants to see you, though I can't even
imagine why."

The girl paused long enough for Vance to present Markham. She accepted
him without the suspicion she had previously accorded Heath; and Markham
was both fascinated and amused by her lively and irrelevant chatter.

"And now, Mr. Vance," the girl continued, going to the desk and taking
the tight cover from the little box she had brought, "I've simply got to
show you my clues. But I really don't think they're any good, because I
didn't know exactly where to look for them. Anyhow..."

She began to display her treasures. Vance humoured her and pretended to
be greatly interested. Markham, puzzled but smiling, came forward a few
steps; and Burns stood, ill at ease, at the other side of the desk.
Heath, annoyed by the frivolous interruption, disgustedly lighted a cigar
and walked to the window.

"Now here, Mr. Vance, is the exact size of a footprint." Gracie Allen
took out a slip of paper with some figures written on it. "It measures
just eleven inches long, and the man at the shoe store said that was the
length of a number nine--and--a--half shoe--unless it was an English
shoe, and then it might be only a number nine. But I don't think he was
English--I mean the man with the foot. I think he was a Greek, because he
was one of the waiters up at the Domdaniel. You see, I went up there
because that's where you said the dead man was found. And I waited a long
time for someone to come out of the kitchen to make a footprint; and
then, when no one was looking, I measured it..."

She put the paper to one side.

"And now, here's a piece of blotter that I took from the desk in Mr.
Puttie's office at lunch--time yesterday, when he wasn't there. And I
held it to a mirror, but all it says is '4 dz Sw So,' just like I wrote
it out again here. All that means is, 'four dozen boxes of sandalwood
soap.'..."

She brought out two or three other useless odds and ends which she
explained in amusing detail, as she placed them beside the others.

Vance did not interrupt her during this diverting, but pathetic, display.
But Burns, who was growing nervous and exasperated at the girl's
unnecessary wasting of time, finally seemed to lose his patience and
burst out: "Why don't you show the gentlemen the almonds you have there,
and get this silly business over with?"

"I haven't any almonds, George. There's only one thing left in the box,
and that hasn't anything to do with it. I was just sort of practising
when I got that due---"

"But something smells like bitter almond to me."

Vance suddenly became seriously interested.

"What else have you in the box, Miss Allen?" he asked.

She giggled as she took out the last item--a slightly bulging and neatly
sealed envelope.

"It's only an old cigarette," she said. "And that's a good joke on
George. He's always smelling the funniest smells. I guess he can't help
it."

She tore away the corner of the envelope and let a flattened and partly
broken cigarette slip into her hand. At first glimpse, I would have said
that it had not been lighted, but then I noticed its charred end, as if a
few inhalations had been taken of it. Vance took the cigarette and held
it gingerly near his nose.

"Here's your smell of bitter almond, Mr. Burns." His eyes were focused
somewhere far in space. Then he sealed the cigarette again in one of his
own envelopes, and placed it on the mantelpiece.

"Where did you find that cigarette, Miss Allen?" he asked.

The girl giggled again musically.

"Why, that's the one that burned a hole in my dress last Saturday out in
Riverdale. You remember...And then when you told me all about how
important cigarettes are, I thought I'd go out there right away. I wanted
to see if I could find the cigarette and maybe tell if it was a man or a
woman that had thrown it at me. You see, I didn't really believe it was
you that did it...I had a terrible time finding the cigarette, because
I had stepped on it and it was half covered up. Anyhow, I couldn't tell
anything from it, and I was awfully mad all over again. I started to
throw it away. But I thought I'd just better keep it, because it was the
first clue I had gotten--although it really didn't have anything to do
with the case I was helping you with."

"My dear child," said Vance slowly, "it may not have anything to do with
our case, but it may have something to do with some other case."

"Oh, wouldn't that be wonderful!" the girl exclaimed delightedly. "Then
we'd have two cases, and I'd really be a detective, wouldn't I?"

Markham had come forward.

"What did you mean by that last remark, Vance?"

"Cyanide may have been on this cigarette." He looked at Markham
significantly. "For the possible action of this drug, as well as the
possible means of its administration, I have only to refer you to
Doremus's remarks Sunday night."

Markham made a gesture of impatience. "For Heaven's sake, Vance! Your
attitude toward this case is becoming more insane every minute."

Vance ignored the other's comment, and continued. "Assuming my fantastic,
and probably fleeting, notion that this cigarette is the actual lethal
weapon we have been yearning for, many other equally fantastic things in
the case become rational. We could then connect several of our unknown,
nightmarish quantities and thus build up a theory which--within its own
limitations, at least--would glimmer with sense. Perpend: We could
account for Hennessey's failure to see the chap enter the office Saturday
evening. We could limit the knowledge of the secret door to Mirche and
his immediate circle--which, you must admit, would be logical. We could
assume that the crime took place elsewhere than in Mirche's office--in
Riverdale, to be specific--and that the body was brought to the office
for some definite reason. Such an assumption might offer an explanation
of the peculiar manner in which the police were notified; and it might
account for the difficulty Doctor Mendel had in determining the time of
death. For if the killing took place in the office, it could not have
been earlier than ten o'clock, since Miss Allen was in there at about
that hour; whereas if the killing took place elsewhere, it could have
been at any time within ten hours prior to the finding of the body."

Vance moved to the mantelpiece and thoughtfully tapped the envelope
containing the cigarette.

"Should that cigarette prove to have been impregnated with the poison,
and should it have been used as Doremus indicated such an item could be
used, then we're up against an utterly implausible coincidence. To wit,
we'd have two people, in separate parts of the city, murdered by the same
obscure agent, on the some day. And, added to that, we have only one
body."

Markham nodded slowly without enthusiasm. "Remotely specious. But----"

"I know your objections, Markham," Vance interrupted. "And they are mine,
too. My whole capricious supposition may be less than gossamer--but it's
mine own and, at the moment, I adore it."

Markham started to speak, but Vance ran on.

"Let me rave a moment longer ere you encase me in a strait--jacket...I
behold, as in a dream, the most comforting pastures into which my quaint
assumption might lead. It might even tie together the annoyin' factors
that have robbed me of sweet sleep--Mirche's ready admission concerning
his secret door; the hatred I glimpsed in the eyes of the Lorelei; the
mystic lore of the Tofanas; and the presence of the 'Owl' at the
Domdaniel Saturday night. It might explain the subtle implications in the
name of the cafe. It might even justify the Sergeant's haunting
hypothesis of a criminal ring. It might, conceivably, elucidate Mr.
Burns' migrat'ry cigarette-case with its scent of jonquille. And there
are other things now baffling me that might be assembled into a
consistent whole... My word, Markham! it has the most amazin'
possibilities. Let me have my hasheesh dream. A pattern is forming at
last in my whirling brain; and it is the first coherent design that has
invaded my en--fevered imagination since Sabbath eve. With the droll
premise that the cigarette was adequately poisoned, I can force a score
of hitherto recalcitrant elements into line--or, rather, they tumble into
line themselves, like the tiny coloured particles in a kaleidoscope."

"Vance, for the love of Heaven! You're simply creating a new and more
preposterous fantasy to explain away your first fantasy." Markham's
severe tone quickly sobered Vance.

"Yes, you're quite right," he said. "I shall, of course, send the
cigarette at once to Doremus for analysis. And it will probably reveal
nothing. As you say. Frankly, I don't understand how the smell could have
remained on the cigarette so long, unless one of the combining poisons
acted as a fixator and retarded volatilization...But, Markham, I do
want--I need--a dead man who was killed in Riverdale last Saturday."

Gracie Allen had been looking from one to the other in a bewildered daze.
"Oh, now I bet I understand!" she exclaimed exultantly. "You really think
the cigarette could have killed somebody...But I never heard of anyone
dying from smoking just one cigarette."

"Not an ordin'ry cigarette, my dear," Vance explained patiently. "It is
only possible if the cigarette has been dipped in some terrible poison."

"Why, that's awful, if it's really true," she mused. "And up in
Riverdale, of all places! It's so pretty and quiet up there..."

Her eyes began to grow wide, and finally she exclaimed: "But I bet I know
who the dead man was! I bet I know!"

"What in the world are you talking about?" Vance laughed and looked at
her with puzzled eyes. "Who do you think it was?"

She looked back at him searchingly for a few moments, and then said:
"Why, it was Benny the Buzzard!"

Sergeant Heath stiffened suddenly, his mouth agape.

"Where did you ever hear that name, Miss?" he almost shouted.

"Why--why-----" She stammered, taken aback by his vehemence. "Mr. Vance
told me all about him."

"Mr. Vance told you----?"

"Of course he did!" the girl said defiantly. "That's how I know that
Benny the Buzzard was killed in Riverdale."

"Killed in Riverdale?" The Sergeant looked dazed. "And maybe you know who
killed him, too?"

"I should say I do know...It was Mr. Vance himself!"

CHAPTER XVI

ANOTHER SHOCK

(Tuesday, May 21; 10:50 am.)

The appalling accusation came like a paralyzing shock. It was several
moments before I could collect myself sufficiently to see the logic
behind it. It was the natural outcome of the story which Vance had built
up for the girl the afternoon he had first met her.

Markham, with only meagre details of that rustic encounter and knowing
nothing of the tall tale spun by Vance, must have recalled immediately
the conversation at the Bellwood Country Club, in which Vance had
expressed his extravagant ideas as to how Pellinzi should be disposed of.

Heath, too, flabbergasted by the girl's announcement, must have
remembered that Friday--night dinner; and it was not beyond reason to
assume that he now held some hazy suspicion of Vance's guilt.

Vance himself was temporarily astounded. Weightier matters had
undoubtedly crowded the entire Riverdale episode from his mind for the
moment; but now he suddenly realized how Gracie Allen's accusation took
on the colour of plausibility.

Markham approached the girl with an austere frown.

"That is a grave charge you have just made, Miss Allen," he said. His
gruff tone indicated the intangible doubts in the recesses of his mind.

"My word, Markham!" Vance put in, not without annoyance. "Please glance
about you. This is not a courtroom."

"I know exactly where I am," retorted Markham testily. "Let me handle
this matter--it's full of dynamite." He turned back to the girl. "Tell me
just why you say Mr. Vance killed Benny the Buzzard."

"Why, I didn't say it--that is, I didn't make it up out of my own head. I
just sort of repeated it."

Although she obviously did not regard the situation as serious, it was
evident that Markham's sternness had disturbed her.

"It was Mr. Vance who said it. He said it when I first met him in
Riverdale beside the road that runs along a big white wall--last Saturday
afternoon, when I was with--that is, I went there with----"

Markham, aware of the girl's nervousness, smiled reassuringly and spoke
in an altered manner.

"There's nothing for you to worry about, Miss Allen," he said. "Just tell
me the whole story, exactly as it happened."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, a brighter note returning to her voice. "Why didn't
you tell me that's what you wanted?... All right, I will tell you. Well,
I went up to Riverdale last Saturday afternoon--we don't have to work at
the factory on Saturday afternoons, ever; Mr. Doolson is very nice about
that. I went up with Mr. Puttie--he's one of our salesmen, you know; but
I really don't think he's as good as some of the other In-O-Scent
salesmen.--Do you, George?"

She turned momentarily to Burns, but did not wait for a reply.

"Well, anyhow, George wanted me to go somewhere else with him; but I
thought maybe it might be best if I went to Riverdale with Mr. Puttie,
especially as he was taking me to dinner that night. And I thought maybe
he might get angry if I didn't go to Riverdale with him, and then he
wouldn't take me to dinner; so I didn't go with George, but I went to
Riverdale with Mr. Puttie. Don't you think maybe I was right? Anyhow,
that's how I happened to be at Riverdale...Well, we got to Riverdale--I
often go there--I think it's just lovely up there. But it's an awful long
walk from Broadway--and then Mr. Puttie went to look for a nunnery----"

"Please, Miss Allen," interrupted Markham, with admirable composure;
"tell me how you happened to meet Mr. Vance, and what he said to you."

"Oh, I was coming to that...Mr. Vance came falling over the wall. And I
asked him what he'd been doing. And he said he'd been killing a man. And
I said what was the man's name. And he said Benny the Buzzard."

Markham sighed with impatience. "Can you tell me a few other things, Miss
Allen, about the incident?"

"All right. As I already told you, Mr. Vance came falling over the wall,
just behind where I was sitting--no, excuse me, I wasn't sitting, because
somebody had just thrown a cigarette at me--that cigarette up there on
the mantelpiece--only it was burning--and I was standing up, shaking it
off my dress, when I heard Mr. Vance fall. He seemed in an awful hurry,
too. I told him about the cigarette, and he said maybe he had thrown it
himself; although I thought someone had thrown it out of a big automobile
that had just whizzed by. Anyhow, Mr. Vance told me to get a new dress
and it wouldn't cost me anything because he was sorry. And then he sat
down and smoked some more cigarettes."

She took a deep breath and hurried on.

"And then was when I asked him what he was doing on the other side of the
wall, and he said that he had just killed a very bad man named Benny the
Buzzard. He said he did it because this Mr. Buzzard had broken out of
jail and was going to murder a friend of his--that is, I mean a friend of
Mr. Vance's. Mr. Vance was all mussed up, and he certainly looked like he
might have just killed somebody. I was even scared of him myself for a
while. But I got all over that..."

She took a moment to survey Vance up and down, as if making a sartorial
comparison.

"Well now, let's see, where was I? Oh, yes...He was running away in a
terrible hurry, because he said he didn't want anybody to know about his
killing the man. But he told me. I guess he saw right away he could trust
me. But I don't know why he was worried about it, because he said he
thought he had done right to save his friend from danger. Anyhow, he
asked me not to tell anybody; and I promised. But he just now asked me to
tell what I meant about the dead man in Riverdale, so I guess he meant I
didn't have to keep my promise any more. So that's why I'm telling you."

Markham's astonishment rose as the girl rambled on. When she completed
her recital and looked round for approval, the District Attorney turned
to Vance.

"Good Heavens, Vance! Is this story actually true?"

"I fear so," Vance admitted, shrugging.

"But why--how did you come to tell her such a story?"

"The balmy weather, perhaps. In the spring, y' know..."

"But," demanded the girl, "aren't you going to arrest him?"

"No--I-----" Markham was left floundering.

"Why not?" the girl insisted. "I'll bet I know why! I'll bet you think
that you can't arrest a detective. I thought so, too--once. But Sunday I
asked a policeman; and he said of course you can arrest a detective."

"Yes; you can arrest a detective," smiled Markham, "if you know that he
has broken a law. But I have very grave doubts that Mr. Vance has
actually killed a man."

"But he said so himself. And how else could you know? I really didn't
think he was guilty either--at first. I thought he was just telling me a
romantic story because I love romantic stories! But then, Mr. Vance
himself just said--right here in this very room--you heard him--he said
that there was a dead man killed with the cigarette in Riverdale last
Saturday. And he was very serious about it--I could tell by the way he
acted and talked. It wasn't at all like he was making up a romantic story
again..."

She stopped abruptly and looked at the befuddled Mr. Burns. Judging from
her expression, another idea had come into her head. She turned back to
Markham with renewed seriousness.

"But you really ought to arrest Mr. Vance," she said with definiteness.
"Even if he isn't guilty. I guess I don't really think he is guilty
myself. He's been so awfully nice to me. But still I think you ought to
arrest him just the same. You see, what I mean is that you can pretend
that you believe he killed this man in Riverdale. And then everything
would be all right for George. And Mr. Vance wouldn't care a bit--I know
he wouldn't. Would you, Mr. Vance?"

"What in Heaven's name are you driving at now?" asked Markham.

Vance smiled.

"I know exactly what she means, Markham." He turned to Miss Allen. "But
really, y' know, my arrest wouldn't help Mr. Burns."

"Oh, yes it would," she insisted. "I know it would. Because there's
somebody following him wherever he goes. And George says he bets it's a
detective of some kind. And all the policemen around George's hotel look
at him in the strangest way. There's just lots of people, I bet, who
think George is guilty--like after they came to the house and took him
away in a wagon to jail, and everything. George told me all about it, and
it worries him terribly. He isn't at all like he used to be. He can't
sleep very well; and he doesn't smell so good. So how can he work?... You
don't know how awful it is, Mr. Vance. But if you got arrested, then
everybody would think that you were guilty and they wouldn't bother
George any more; and he could go back to work and be just like he used to
be. And then, after a while, they'd find the real person, and everything
would be all right for everybody."

She stopped to catch her breath; then quickly ran on with almost fiery
determination.

"And that's why I think you ought to arrest Mr. Vance. And if you don't,
I'm going to call up the newspapers and tell them everything he said and
all about Benny the Buzzard, and how he wasn't killed at the Domdaniel at
all, but somewheres else. I'll bet they'll print it, too. Especially as
Mr. Puttie was standing just behind the tree when Mr. Vance was talking
to me, and he heard everything. And if they don't believe me, they'll
believe Mr. Puttie. And if they don't believe him, they'll have to
believe the two of us together. And then I'm sure they'll print it. And
everybody'll be so interested in a famous man like Mr. Vance being
guilty, that they won't bother about George any more. Don't you see what
I mean?"

There was the zealous resolution of the crusader in her eyes; and her
disorganized phrases pulsated with an unreasoning passion to help the man
she loved.

"Good God, Chief!" blurted Heath. "There sure is dynamite there. You said
it!"

Vance moved lethargically in his chair and looked at Heath with a
satirical smile.

"You see what you and your shadowing Mr. Tracy have got me in for,
Sergeant?"

"Sure I do!" Heath took a step toward Miss Allen. His perturbation was
almost comical. "See here, Miss," he blustered. "Listen to me a minute.
You're all wrong. You got everything mixed up. We don't know there was a
murder in Riverdale. We don't know nothing about that, see? We only know
about the dead guy in the cafe. And he wasn't the Buzzard; he was your
brother----"

He stopped short with a jerk, and his face went red.

"Holy Mackerel! I'm sorry as hell, Mr. Vance."

Vance rose quickly and went to the girl's side. She had her hands to her
face in a spasm of uncontrollable laughter.

"My brother? My brother?" Then as quickly as she had burst into mirth,
she sobered. "You can't fool me that way, Mr. Officer."

Vance stepped back.

"Tell me,"--a sudden new note came into his voice--"what do you mean by
that, Miss Allen?"

"My brother's in jail!"

CHAPTER XVII

FINGERPRINTS

(Tuesday, May 21; 11:30 am.)

It was at this moment that Mrs. Allen, serene and self--effacing, was
guided into the room by Currie.

Vance turned quickly and welcomed her with but the briefest of greetings.

"Is it true, Mrs. Allen," he asked, "that your son is not dead?"

"Yes, it is true, Mr. Vance. That's why I came over here."

Vance nodded with an understanding smile and, leading the woman to a
chair, asked her to explain more fully.

"You see, sir," she began in a colorless voice, "Philip was arrested over
near Hackensack that awful night, after he had given up his job at the
cafe. He was with another boy in an automobile, and a policeman got in
and told this other boy--it's Stanley Smith I mean, a friend of
Philip's--to drive to the police station. He accused them of stealing the
car; and then, when they were on the way to the jail, the policeman said
that it was the same car that had just killed an old man and run off--you
know, what you call a hit--and--run murder. And this frightened Philip
terribly, because he didn't know what Stanley might have done before they
met. And then, when the car stopped for a light, Philip jumped out and
ran away. The policeman shot at him, but he wasn't caught." Vance nodded
sympathetically. "Then Philip telephoned to me--I could tell how
frightened he was--and said that the police were after him and that he
was going somewhere to hide...Oh, I was so terribly worried, Mr. Vance,
with the poor miserable boy so scared, and biding--you know, a fugitive
from justice. And then when you came that night I thought you were
looking for him; but when you told me my boy was dead, you can
imagine----"

Heath leaped forward.

"But you said that was your son down at the morgue!" He flung the words
at her.

"No, I didn't, Mr. Officer," the woman said simply.

"The hell you didn't!" bellowed Heath.

"Sergeant!" Vance held up his hand. "Mrs. Allen is quite correct...If
you think back, you will remember she did not once say it was her son.
I'm afraid we said it for her, because we thought it was true." He smiled
wistfully.

"But she fainted, didn't she?" pursued Heath.

"I fainted from joy, Mr. Officer," explained the woman, "when I saw it
wasn't really Philip."

Heath was by no means satisfied. "But--but you didn't say it wasn't your
son. And you let us think----"

Again Vance checked him.

"I believe I understand exactly why Mrs. Allen let us think it was her
son. She knew we represented the police, and she also knew her son was
hiding from them. And when she saw that we believed her son was dead, she
was very glad to let us think so, imagining that would end the hunt for
Philip...Isn't that true, Mrs. Allen?"

"Yes, Mr. Vance." The woman nodded calmly. "And I naturally didn't want
you to tell Gracie that Philip was dead, because then I would have to
tell her that he was hiding from the police; and that would have made her
very unhappy. But I thought that maybe in a few days everything would
come out all right; and then I would tell you. Anyhow, I thought you
would find out before long that it really wasn't Philip."

She looked up with a faint sad smile.

"And everything did come out all right, just as I hoped and prayed--and
knew--it would."

"We're all very happy that it did," said Vance. "But tell us just how
everything has come out all right."

"Why, this morning," resumed Mrs. Allen, "Stanley Smith came to the house
to ask for Philip. And when I told him that Philip was still hiding, he
said that everything had been a mistake; and how his uncle came to the
jail and proved to the police that the car was not stolen, and how it was
a different car that had run over the old man...So I told Gracie all
about it right away, and went to take the wonderful news to my son and
bring him back home..."

"How come then,"--the Sergeant's continued exasperation was evident in
his manner--"if you told your daughter all about it, that she said just
now her brother was in jail?"

Mrs. Allen smiled timidly.

"Oh, he is. You see, Saturday was such a warm night that Philip had his
coat off in the car; and he left it there. That's how the police knew who
he was, because he had his work--check in the pocket. So he went to the
jail in Hackensack this morning to get his coat. And he's coming home for
lunch."

Vance laughed in spite of himself, and gave Gracie Allen a mischievous
look. "And I'll warrant it was a black coat."

"Oh, Mr. Vance!" the girl exclaimed ecstatically. "What a wonderful
detective you are! How could you possibly tell what colour Philip's coat
was way over there across the river?"

Vance chuckled and then became suddenly serious.

"And now I must ask you all to go," he said, "and prepare for Philip's
home--coming."

At this point Markham intervened.

"But what about that story you were threatening to tell to the
newspapers, Miss Allen? I couldn't permit anything like that."

George Burns, with a broad grin on his face, answered the District
Attorney.

"Gracie won't do that, Mr. Markham. You see, I'm perfectly happy now, and
I'm going back to work tomorrow morning. I really wasn't worrying about
being guilty or about having anybody following me around. But I had to
tell that to Gracie--and Mr. Doolson--because you made me promise that I
wouldn't say a word about Philip. And it was Philip being dead and Gracie
not knowing, and everything, that made me feel so terribly bad that I
just couldn't get any sleep or do any work."

"Isn't that wonderful!" Miss Allen clapped her hands, and then glanced
slyly at Vance. "I didn't really want you to go to jail, Mr.
Vance--except to help George. So I give you my promise I won't say one
word to anybody about your confession. And you know I always keep a
promise."

As Mrs. Allen was departing with her daughter and Burns, she gave Vance a
look of shy apology.

"I do hope, sir," she said, "that you don't think I did wrong in
deceiving you about that poor boy--downtown."

Vance took her hand in his. "I certainly think nothing of the kind. You
acted as any mother would have acted, had she been as clever and as
quick--witted as you."

He raised her hand to his lips, and then closed the door after the trio.

"And now, Sergeant,"--his whole manner changed--"get busy! Call Tracy up
here, and then try to have that dead fellow identified by his
fingerprints."

"You don't have to tell me to get busy, sir," returned Heath, hurrying to
the window. He beckoned frantically to the man across the street. Then he
turned back into the room, and on his way to the telephone, he halted
abruptly, as if a sudden thought had left him motionless.

"Say, Mr. Vance," he asked, "what makes you think his fingerprints'll be
on file?"

Vance gave him a searching, significant look.

"You may be greatly surprised, Sergeant."

"Mother o' God!" breathed Heath in an awed tone, as he dashed to the
instrument in the hall.

While the Sergeant was talking with almost incoherent agitation to the
Bureau, Tracy came in. Vance sent him at once to Doremus's laboratory
with the sealed envelope on the mantel.

In a few minutes Heath returned to the library. "Are those babies on the
job!" He rubbed his hands together energetically. "They'll sure burn up
shoe--leather getting those fingerprints and checking up in the file. And
if they don't call me back in an hour, I'll go down there and wring their
thick necks!" He collapsed in a chair as if exhausted by the mere thought
of the speed and activity he had demanded.

Vance himself now telephoned Doremus, explaining that an immediate report
on the cigarette was essential.

It was nearly noon, and we chatted aimlessly for another hour. There was
a tension in the atmosphere, and the conversation was like a cloak
deliberately thrown over the inner thoughts of these three diverse men.

As the clock over the mantel pointed to one, the telephone rang, and
Vance answered it.

"There was no difficulty with that analysis," he informed us, as he hung
up the receiver. "The efficient Doremus found in the cigarette the same
elusive combination of poisons that bothered him so frightfully Sunday
evening...My jumbled story, Markham, is at last beginning to take
form."

He had barely finished speaking when the telephone rang again, and it was
Heath who now dashed into the hall. As he came back into the library
after a few moments, he stumbled against a small Renaissance stand near
the door and sent it sprawling.

"All right, I'm excited. So what?" The Sergeant's eyes were staring. "Who
do you think the guy was? But hell! You knew it already, Mr. Vance. It's
our old chum, Benny the Buzzard!... And maybe those boys down in
Pittsburgh wasn't nuts! And maybe the Buzzard didn't hop straight from
Nomenica to New York, just like I said he would!... Laugh that one off,
Mr. Markham."

Heath's excitement was such that it temporarily overweighed even his
respectful manner toward the District Attorney.

"What'll we do next, Mr. Vance?"

"I should say, Sergeant, that the first thing is for you to sit down.
Calm. A most necess'ry virtue."

Heath readily complied, and Vance turned to Markham.

"I believe this is still my case, so to speak. You most magnanimously
presented it to me, to rid yourself of my chatter last Saturday night. I
must, therefore, now ask a further indulgence."

Markham waited in silence.

"The time has come when I must act with dispatch," Vance continued. "The
whole case, Markham, has become quite clear; the various fragments have
fitted themselves together into a rather amazing mosaic. But there are
still one or two blank spaces. And I believe that Mirche, if properly
approached, can supply the missin' pieces..."

Heath broke in. "I'm beginning to get you, sir. You think that Mirche's
identification of the Buzzard was deliberately phony?"

"No--oh, no, Sergeant. Mirche was quite sincere--and with very good
reason. He was genuinely stunned by the appearance of the dead body in
his office that night."

"Then I don't get you, sir," said Heath, disgruntled.

"What's the indulgence you're after, Vance?" Markham asked impatiently.

"I merely wish to make an arrest."

"But I certainly do not propose to let you get the District Attorney's
office into hot water. We must wait until the case is solved."

"Ah! but it is solved," Vance returned blandly. "And you may toddle along
with me, to protect the sanctity of your office. In fact, I'd be charmed
with your company."

"Come to the point." Markham spoke irritably. "Just what is it you want
to do?"

Vance leaned forward and spoke with precision.

"I desire most fervently to go to the Domdaniel as soon as possible this
afternoon. I desire to have two men--let us say Hennessey and
Burke--standing guard in the passageway outside the secret door. I then
desire to proceed with you and the Sergeant to the front door on the
balcony, and demand entry. Then I will take action--under your vigilant
and restraining eye, of course."

"But, good Heavens, Vance! Mirche may not be waiting in his office for
your visit. He may have other plans for his afternoon's diversion."

"That," remarked Vance, "is a chance we must take. But I have sufficient
reason to believe that Mirche's office is a beehive of secret activity
today. And I would be rather astonished if the Lorelei--and Owen,
too--were not there. Tonight, y' know, Owen is sailin' for the southern
hemisphere, and this is his day for closin' up his mundane affairs here.
You and the Sergeant have long suspected that the Domdaniel is the
headquarters for all sorts of naughty goings on. You need doubt no more,
my Markham."

The District Attorney pondered a moment.

"It sounds preposterous and futile," he asserted. "Unless you have some
cryptic grounds for such an absurd course...However, as you say, I'll
be there myself to guard against any imbecile indiscretion on your
part...Very well." He capitulated.

Vance nodded with satisfaction and looked at the bewildered Heath.

"And by the by, Sergeant, we may possibly hear rumours of your friends
Rosa and Tony."

"The Tofanas!" Heath sat up alertly. "I knew it. That cigarette job is
right up Tony's alley..."

Vance outlined his plan to the Sergeant. Heath was to arrange with Joe
Hanley, the doorman, to give a signal if Mirche should quit the
dining-room by the rear exit. Hennessey and Burke were to be instructed
regarding their post and duties. And Markham and Vance and Heath were to
wait in the rooming-house opposite, whence they could see either
Hanley's signal or Mirche himself entering his office by way of the
balcony.

However, many of the elaborate and intricate preparations proved
unnecessary; for Vance's theory and prognostications with reference to
the situation that afternoon were entirely correct.

CHAPTER XVIII

JONQUILLE AND ROSE

(Tuesday, May 21; 3 pm.)

At three o'clock that afternoon Joe Hanley, who had been watching for us,
came to the corner of Seventh Avenue and informed us that Mirche had
entered his office shortly after noon, and that neither he nor Miss Del
Marr had been seen in the cafe since then.

We found the blinds at the narrow windows drawn; the door to the office
was locked; nor was there any response to our insistent knocking.

"Open up, you!" Heath bawled ferociously. "Or have I gotta bust in the
door?" Then he remarked to us: "I guess that'll scare 'em, if anybody's
there."

Soon we could hear the sound of scuffling and angry voices inside; and a
few moments later the door was unlocked for us by Hennessey.

"It's okay now, sir," he said to Markham. "They tried to sneak out the
wall door, but Burke and I forced em back."

As we stepped across the threshold, a strange sight met our eyes. Burke
stood with his back against the little secret door, his gun pointed
significantly at the startled Mirche who was but a few steps away. Dixie
Del Marr, also in line with Burke's gun, was leaning against the desk,
looking at us with an expression of cold resignation. In one of the
leather chairs sat Owen, smiling faintly with calm cynicism. He seemed
entirely dissociated from the general tableau, like a spectator viewing a
theatrical scene which offended his intellect by its absurdity. He looked
neither to right nor left; and it was not until we were well within range
of his somnolent gaze, that he made the slightest movement.

When he caught sight of Vance, however, he rose wearily and bowed in
formal greeting.

"What futile effort," he complained. Then he sat down again with a mild
sigh, like one who feels he must remain to the end of a distasteful
drama.

Hennessey closed the door and stood alertly watching the occupants of the
room. Burke, at a sign from Heath, let his hand fall to his side, but
maintained a stolid vigilance.

"Sit down, Mr. Mirche," said Vance. "Merely a little discussion."

As the white and frightened man dropped into a chair at the desk, Vance
bowed politely to Miss Del Marr.

"It isn't necess'ry for you to stand."

"I prefer it," the woman said in a hard tone. "I've been sitting and
waiting, as it were, for three years now."

Vance accepted her cryptic remark without comment, and turned his
attention back to Mirche.

"We have discussed preferences in foods and wines at some length," he
said casually; "and I was wondering what private brand of cigarettes you
favour."

The man seemed paralyzed with fear. But quickly he recovered himself; a
semblance of his former suavity returned. He made a creaking noise
intended for a laugh.

"I have no private brand," he declared. "I always smoke---"

"No, no," Vance interrupted. "I mean your very private brand--reserved
for the elect."

Mirche laughed again, and gestured broadly with upturned palms to
indicate the question conveyed no meaning to him.

"By the by," Vance went on; "in medieval times--when Madam Tofana and
other famous poisoners flourished--there were many flowers which,
romantic legend tells us, would bring death with a single whiff...
Strange how these legends persist and how examples of their apparent
authenticity crop up in modern times. One wonders, don't y' know, whether
the old secrets of alchemy have indeed been preserved to the present day.
Of course, such speculations are absurd in the light of modern science."

"I don't see your point." Mirche spoke with an attempt at injured
dignity. "Nor do I understand this outrageous invasion of my privacy."

Vance ignored the man for a moment and addressed Miss Del Marr.

"You have perhaps lost an unusual cigarette-case of checkerboard design?
When it was found it had the scent of jonquille and rose. A vagrant
association--it recalled you, Miss Del Marr."

No change was detectable in the woman's hard expression, although she
hesitated perceptibly before answering.

"It isn't mine. I believe, though, I know the case you mean. I saw it in
this office last Saturday; and that evening Mr. Mirche showed it to me.
He had carried it for hours in his pocket--perhaps that's how it took on
the smell. Where did you find it, Mr. Vance? I was told it had been left
here by one of the cafe employees...Maybe Mr. Mirche could----"

"I know nothing of such a cigarette-case," Mirche stated bluntly. There
was a startled energy in his words. He threw a defiant glance at the
woman, but her back was to him.

"It doesn't matter, does it?" said Vance. "Only a passing thought."

His eyes were still on Miss Del Marr; and he spoke to her again.

"You know, of course, that Benny Pellinzi is dead."

"Yes--I know." Her words carried no emotion.

"Strange coincidence about that. Or, mayhap, just a vagary of mine."
Vance spoke as if he were merely making some matter--of--fact point.
"Pellinzi died last Saturday afternoon, shortly after he would have had
time to reach New York. At about that time I happened to be wandering in
the woods in Riverdale. And as I started to retrace my steps homeward, a
large car drove swiftly by. Later I learned that a lighted cigarette had
been thrown from that car, almost at the very spot where I had stood. It
was a most peculiar cigarette. Miss Del Marr. Only a few puffs had been
taken on it. But that wasn't its only peculiarity. There was a deadly
poison in it, too--the modern equivalent of the fabulous poisoned flowers
that figured in medieval tragedies. And yet, it had been carelessly
tossed away on a public highway..."

"A stupid act," came in soft, caustic tones from Owen.

"Fortuitous, let us say--from the finite point of view. Inevitable,
really." Vance also spoke softly. "There is only one pattern in all the
universe."

"Yes," said Owen with arctic vagueness. "Stupidity is one of the
compositional lines."

Vance did not turn. He was still scrutinizing the woman.

"May I continue, Miss Del Marr?" he asked. "Or does my story bore you?"

She gave no indication that she had heard his query.

"The cigarette-case I mentioned," Vance went on, "was found on
Pellinzi's body. But there were no cigarettes in it. And it had no
pungent aroma of the bitter almond--only the sweet scent of jonquille and
rose...But Pellinzi was poisoned as by the smelling of a scent. And
again there crops up the deadly agent of ancient romance...Strange--is
it not?--how the fancy conjures up such remote associations...Poor
Pellinzi must have believed and trusted in his assassin. But all that his
faith encountered was treachery and death."

Vance paused. There was a tenseness in the small room. Only Owen seemed
unconcerned. He looked straight ahead, with a hopeless detached
expression, a sneer distorting his cruel mouth.

When Vance spoke again, his manner had changed: there was brusque
severity in his voice.

"But perhaps I am not so fanciful, after all. Whom else but you, Miss Del
Marr, would Pellinzi first have told of his safe arrival in New York? And
how could he have known, these past few years, that someone else had
sought and found a response in a heart which had once belonged to him?
You have a large enclosed car, Miss Del Marr--a secret trip to Riverdale
would have been an easy matter for you. The cigarette-case, with your
subtle fragrance, was found on him. Love changes, and is cruel..."

An icy chuckle came from Owen. His eyebrows went up slightly. The sneer
on his lips changed to the faint semblance of a smile.

"Very clever, Mr. Vance," he muttered. "Admirable, in fact. Patterns
within patterns. How easily man is deceived by fantasms!"

"The deceptive order of chaos," said Vance.

Owen nodded almost imperceptibly. His face again became a satirical mask.

"Yes," he breathed. "You, too, have a sense of esoteric humour."

"I doubt," murmured Vance, "that Miss Del Marr appreciates the humour of
death."

A strangled moan burst from the woman's throat. She collapsed into a
chair and covered her face with her hands.

"Oh, God!" It was the first break in her metallic composure.

A long silence followed. Mirche looked for a moment at Vance and back
again at the woman. His face had regained some of its colour, but a
haunted fear shone in his eyes--a fear as of a malignant ghost whose
shape he could not determine. I knew that questions he dared not utter
were crowding to his lips. Slowly the woman raised her head; her hands
dropped to her lap and lay there in an attitude of listless dejection.
The venomous hardness of her nature regained control. She was about to
speak; but she, too, checked the impulse, as if the gauge of her emotions
had not yet reached the point of release.

Vance slowly lighted one of his Regies. After one or two puffs, he spoke
again to the woman, and his words sounded lackadaisical, as if he were
putting a question of no particular moment.

"There is still one thing that puzzles me. Miss Del Marr...Why did you
bring the dead Pellinzi back here to this office?"

The woman sat like a marble image, while a disdainful cackle broke from
Mirche.

"Are you referring, Mr. Vance," he asked, in his erstwhile pompous
manner, "to the man found dead in this office? I'm beginning to
understand your interest in the unfortunate episode here Saturday night.
But I fear you have permitted your imagination to get the better of you.
The body found here was that of one of the cafe helpers."

"Yes, I know whom you mean, Mr. Mirche. Philip Allen." Vance spoke
smoothly. "As you said that night. And I have no doubt that you believed
it, and still believe it. But seeming facts act strangely at times. A
pattern is prone to change its design in the most incredible manner...
Is it not true, Mr. Owen?"

"Always true," replied the quiet spectator in the chair. "Confusion. We
are victims..."

"What are you two driving at?" asked Mirche, half rising from his chair,
as a dawning fear came into his eyes.

"The truth is, Mr. Mirche," said Vance, "Philip Allen is quite alive.
After you had discharged him and he accidentally left a cigarette-case
here which did not belong to him, Philip Allen did not return to this
office."

"Ridiculous!" Mirche had lost his suavity. "How else could he---?"

"It was Benny Pellinzi who lay dead here that night!"

At this announcement Mirche dropped suddenly back into his chair, and
stared with hopeless defiance at the man before him. But the facts had
not yet arranged themselves in his mind; and he began to protest anew.

"That's absurd--utterly absurd! I saw Allen's body myself. And I
identified it."

"Oh, I don't question the sincerity of your identification." Vance moved
closer to the dazed man. His tone was almost honeyed. "You had every
reason to think that it was Philip Allen. He is the same size as
Pellinzi. He has the same facial contours and colouring, and that day he
was wearing the same kind of unobtrusive black clothes in which Pellinzi
was sent to his death. You had just talked with Philip Allen in your
office a few hours earlier, and, as you said to me yesterday, you were
not surprised that he should have come back here. Moreover, death by
poison changes the look in the eyes, the whole general appearance of the
face. And, furthermore, wasn't Pellinzi the last person in the world you
would have expected to find in your office on that particular night? Yes,
the last person in the world..."

"But why--," stammered Mirche, "why should Pellinzi have been the last
person I would have expected? I knew by the papers that the man had
escaped. And it was wholly possible that he would have been fool enough
to come to me for help."

"No--oh, no. I do not mean just that, Mr. Mirche," Vance returned
quietly. "I had another and more cogent reason for knowing you would not
expect to find Pellinzi here that night...You knew he was dead in
Riverdale."

"How could I have known that he was dead?" shouted the frantic man,
leaping to his feet. "You yourself said it was Dixie Del Marr to whom he
would have appealed first, and--her car--her trip to
Riverdale-----Bah!... You can't intimidate me!"

"Then take it more calmly, Dan," said Owen petulantly. "There's far too
much upheaval in this putrid world. Confusion wearies me."

"Again I fear you have misunderstood me, Mr. Mirche." Vance ignored
Owen's complaint to his frightened henchman. "I meant merely that Miss
Del Marr must have informed you. I am sure you two have no secrets from
each other. Complete mutual trust, even in crime. And, knowing that
Pellinzi was dead in Riverdale, and that your--shall we say,
partner?--would hardly bring the body here, how could you imagine that
the dead man in this office that night was Pellinzi? How natural to make
a mistake in identity! Y' see: it couldn't be Pellinzi; therefore, it
must be someone else. And how readily--and logically--Philip Allen came
to your mind...But it was Pellinzi."

"How do you know it was Benny---?" Mirche was floundering, dazed by some
inner mental vision. "You're trying to trick me." Then he almost
shrieked: "I tell you, it couldn't have been the Buzzard!"

"Ah, yes. An error on your part." Vance spoke with quiet authority. "No
possible doubt. Fingerprints don't lie. You may ask Sergeant Heath, or
the District Attorney. Or you may phone the Police Department and satisfy
yourself."

"Fool!" snapped Owen, his drowsy eyes on Mirche with a look of
unutterable disgust. He turned to Vance. "After all, how futile it
is--this devilish dream--this shadow across..." His voice trailed off.

Mirche was staring at some distant point beyond the confines of the room,
alone with his thoughts, striving to assemble a disrupted mass of facts.

"But," he mumbled, as if protesting weakly against some inevitable
shapeless nemesis, "Miss Del Marr saw the body here, and..."

He lapsed again into calculating silence; and then a deep flush slowly
mounted his features, gradually intensifying in colour till it seemed the
blood must suffocate him. The muscles of his neck tightened; globules of
sweat suddenly appeared on his forehead.

Stiffly, and as if with effort, the man turned toward Miss Del Marr, and
in a voice of seething hatred, spat out at her a foul and bestial
epithet.

CHAPTER XIX

THROUGH THE SHADOW

(Tuesday, May 21; 4 pm.)

Again some powerful emotion broke through Dixie Del Marr's stony calm. A
violent primitive passion blazed in her. She rose and faced Mirche, and
her words came like an ineluctable torrent.

"Of course, you filthy creature, I let them think that the dead man in
this office--the man you had killed--was Philip Allen. A few more days of
doubt and torture for you--what did it matter? I had already waited years
to avenge Benny. Oh, I knew only too well your treachery had sent him to
prison for twenty years. And I could say nothing to save him. There was
only one way for me to square the injustice. I must wait silently,
patiently--I knew the moment would come some day...You liked me--you
wanted me. That thought was already in your beastly mind when you let
Benny get sent up. So I played up to you--I helped you in your rotten
schemes. I flattered you. I did what you told me to. And all the time I
loved Benny. But I waited..."

She gave a bitter laugh.

"Three years is a long time. And the moment for which I had waited came
too late. But I console myself with the thought that Benny's death was a
merciful end. He couldn't hope for anything, even when he had managed to
break jail. He'd always have been hounded by the police. But he went mad
in his cell, mad enough to think he could find real freedom from the
prison where your dirty double--crossing had put him."

Irresistible fury drove her on.

"But Benny never knew of your treachery. He thought you his friend. And
he came to you for help. But, thank God, he called me too when he got
back last Saturday. He told me he had phoned you before he reached the
city. You had said that you would help him; and I knew it was a lie. But
what could I do? I tried to warn him. But he wouldn't listen. He thought
that perhaps, after all these years, I might have reason to keep you two
apart. He wouldn't listen to me. He would tell me nothing of his plans,
except that you were going to help him..."

"You're insane," Mirche managed to say.

"Shut up, fool," sighed Owen. "You can't change the pattern."

"So I followed you, Dan--in the car you gave me, and with the chauffeur
you supplied from your own crooked gang." She laughed again, with the
same bitterness. "He hates you as much as I do--but he's afraid of you,
for he knows how dangerous you can be...I followed you from the time
you left here Saturday afternoon. I knew you wouldn't let Benny come to
you,--in spite of your vicious cruelty, you're a coward. And I followed
you uptown, and saw you go to Tony's place... Too bad Rosa didn't squint
in her crystal and warn you!... And then I knew what a dirty deal you
planned for Benny. But I didn't think you had the guts to do it as you
did. I thought that Benny was to die only when you yourself were safely
back here. How could I tell that you had chosen Tony's cigarettes for the
job? I thought I could still warn Benny before it was too late--I thought
I could still save him. So I followed you. I saw you pick him up from
where he was hiding, far up in the park; I saw you drive north through
River--dale; I saw you stop at a lonely spot around a bend, where you
thought no one could see you. And then I saw you place his body quickly
beside the road and drive off."

She swept us with a burning glance. "Oh, I'm not lying!" she cried.
"Nothing matters any more--except the punishment of this creature."

Mirche seemed paralyzed, unable to speak. Owen, still with his cynical
detached smile, had not moved. "Please continue, Miss Del Marr," Vance
requested.

"I took Benny's body into my own car, and I brought him back here when I
knew Mirche would be upstairs. I came into the driveway, as I always do,
and stopped close to the side door at the end of that passage." She
pointed toward the rear of the room. "No one could see from the
street--not with the car door open. And the ivy helped, too. Then I went
inside to make sure no one was in the hall beyond, and I gave the signal.
My driver carried poor Benny in here, as I had instructed him, through
that secret door; and placed him in the cabinet where I keep the cafe
records locked. Yes! I brought Benny back and placed him at the very feet
of his murderer!... You didn't know, did you, Owl, that a dead man was in
that cabinet when you sat here talking with me that night?"

"What of it?" There was no change in Owen's expression.

"And when you went out, Owl, I moved Benny to the desk and telephoned the
police."

I now realized that Vance had deliberately provoked the woman's frantic
outburst. As she was speaking he had made a sign to the Sergeant; and
Heath and Hennessey had surreptitiously closed in on Mirche, so that they
now stood guard on either side of him.

"But how, Miss Del Marr," asked Vance, "does your story account for the
fact that the jonquille--scented cigarette-case was found in Pellinzi's
pocket?"

"Fear!--the conscience of this animal," she retorted, pointing defiantly
at Mirche. "When he saw what he thought was Allen's body, his muddled,
frightened brain remembered that in his own pocket was that man's
cigarette-case; and as he knelt beside the body, I saw him slip the case
into the dead man's coat. The impulsive act of a coward, by which he
meant to rid himself of all association with what he thought a second
death. He shrank from any possible connection with another dead man."

"A reasonable version," murmured Vance. "Yes. A rather subtle
analysis...And you were content to let the truth regarding the dead man
emerge through natural channels?"

"Yes! After I informed the police of Allen's address, I knew they'd find
out the truth sooner or later. And in the meantime this creature would
worry and suffer--and I'd have plenty of ways of torturing him."

"The ethics of woman..." Owen began; then lapsed into silence.

"Have you anything to say before we arrest you, Mirche?" Vance's tone was
low, but it cut like a lash.

Mirche stared hideously, and his flabby figure seemed to shrink.
Suddenly, however, he drew himself up, and shook a quivering finger at
Owen. His veins stood out like cords.

Owen made a small contemptuous noise.

"Your blood--pressure, fool," he scoffed. "Don't cheat the gibbet."

I doubt if Mirche heard the biting words. Vituperation and profanity
poured from him. His wrath seemed to surpass all human bounds. His venom
left him a mere automaton--insensate, contorted, repulsive.

"You think I'll take the rap for you--without a word! I have knuckled
under too long already to your bidding. I carried out your dirty schemes
for you. I've shut my mouth whenever they tried to twist from me the
filthy truth about you. I may go to the chair, Owl--but not alone! I'll
take you and your poisoned, hypnotic brain along with me!"

He flashed a look at Vance, and pointed anew at Owen.

"There's the twisted mind behind it all!... I warned him of the Buzzard's
arrival, and he sent me for the cigarettes. He told me what I must do. I
was afraid to refuse--I was in his power..."

Owen looked at the man with calm derision: he was still aloof and
scornful. The play was drawing to a close, and his contemptuous boredom
had not abated.

"You're an unclean spectacle, Dan." His lips barely moved. "You think I
haven't prepared myself against this moment? You are the fool--not me.
I've kept every record--names, dates, places--all! For years I've kept
them. I've hidden them where no one can find them. But I know where to
find them! And the world will know----"

Those were the last words Mirche ever spoke.

There was a shot. A small black hole appeared on Mirche's forehead
between the eyes. Blood trickled from it. The man fell forward over the
desk.

Heath and the two officers, their automatics drawn, started swiftly
across the room to the passive Owen who sat without moving, one hand
lying limply in his lap, holding a smoking revolver.

But Vance quickly intervened. His back to the silent figure in the chair,
he faced Heath with a commanding gesture. Leisurely he turned, and
extended his hand Owen glanced up at him; then, as if with instinctive
courtesy, he turned the revolver round and held it out with meek
indifference. Vance tossed the weapon into an empty chair and, looking
down again at the man, waited.

Owen's eyes were half closed and dreamy. He no longer seemed to be aware
of his surroundings or of the sprawled body of Mirche whom he had just
killed. Finally he spoke, his voice seeming to come from far off.

"That would have meant ripples."

Vance nodded.

"Yes. Cleanliness of spirit...But now there's the trial, and the chair,
and the scandal--indelibly written..."

A shudder shook Owen's slight frame. His voice rose to a shrill cry.

"But how can one escape the finite--how cut through the shadow--clean?"

Vance took out his cigarette-case and held it for a moment in his hand;
but he did not open it.

"Would you care to smoke, Mr. Owen?" he asked.

The man's eyes contracted. Vance dropped his cigarette-case back into
his pocket.

"Yes..." Owen breathed at length. "I believe I shall have a cigarette."
He reached into an inner pocket and drew forth a small
Florentine--leather case...

"See here, Vance!" snapped Markham. "This is no longer your affair. A
murder has been committed before my eyes, and I myself order this man's
arrest."

"Quite," Vance drawled. "But I fear you are too late."

Even as he spoke, Owen slumped deeper in his chair; the cigarette he had
lighted slipped from his lips and fell to the floor. Vance quickly
crushed it with his foot.

Owen's head fell forward on his breast--the muscles of his neck had
suddenly relaxed.

CHAPTER XX

HAPPY LANDING

(Wednesday, May 22; 10:30 am.)

The following morning Vance was sitting in the District Attorney's
office, talking with Markham. Heath had been there earlier with his
report of the arrest of the Tofanas. Sufficient evidence had been
unearthed in the cellar of their house to convict them both--or so the
Sergeant hoped.

Dixie Del Marr had also called, at Markham's request, to supply such
details as were needed for the official records. As there was no question
of pressing charges against her for the part she had played in Mirche's
affairs, she was comparatively content when she left us.

"Really, y' know, Markham," Vance remarked, "in view of the woman's
primitive infatuation for Benny Pellinzi, her conduct, as we know it, is
quite understandable--and forgivable...As for Mirche, his end was far
better than he deserved...And Owen! A diseased maniac. Fortunate for
the world he chose so expeditious a way of making his exit! He knew he
was dying; and the stalking dread of a vengeful hereafter inspired his
act...We may well be content to call the whole matter closed. And,
after all, I did give the lunatic a vague promise to guard his aftermath
so there should be no 'ripples,' as he put it, to follow him."

Vance laughed dismally.

"What does it really matter? A minor gangster is found dead--a quite
commonplace event; a major gangster is shot--also an ordin'ry episode;
and the guiding light of a criminal band turns felo de se--well, perhaps
a rare occurrence, but certainly not important...And anyway, the year's
at the spring; the lark's on the wing; the snail's on the thorn-----I
say! how about some escargots Bordelaise later?"

As he spoke, the buzzer sounded, and a voice announced the presence of
Mr. Amos Doolson in the outer office.

Markham looked at Vance.

"I suppose it's about that preposterous reward. But I can't see the man
now-"

Vance stood up quickly.

"Keep him waiting, Markham! An idea smites me."

Then he went to the telephone and spoke to the In-O-Scent Corporation.
When he hung up the receiver he smiled at Markham.

"Gracie Allen and George Burns will be here in fifteen minutes." He
chuckled with genuine delight. "If anyone deserves that reward, it's the
dryad. And I'm going to see that she gets it."

"Are you out of your mind!" exclaimed Markham in surprise.

"No--oh, no. Quite sane, don't y' know. And--though you may doubt it--I'm
passionately devoted to justice."

Miss Allen, with Mr. Burns, arrived shortly thereafter. "Oh, what a
terrible place!" she said. "I'm glad I don't have to live here, Mr.
Markham." She turned troubled eyes on Vance. "Have I got to go on with my
detecting? I'd much rather work at the factory--now that George is back,
and everything."

"No, my dear," said Vance kindly. "You have already done ample. And the
results you have achieved have been superb. In fact, I wanted you to come
here this morning merely to receive your reward. A reward of five
thousand dollars was offered to the person who would solve the murder of
that man in the Domdaniel. It was Mr. Doolson who made the offer; and
he's waiting in the other room now."

"Oh!" For once the girl was too puzzled and stunned to speak.

When Doolson was ushered in he took one amazed look at his two employees
and went direct to Markham's desk.

"I want to withdraw that reward immediately, sir," he said. "Burns came
back to work this morning in excellent spirits, and therefore there is no
necessity-"

Markham, who had readily adjusted himself to Vance's jocular but
equitable view of the situation, spoke in his most judicial manner.

"I regret extremely, Mr. Doolson, that such a withdrawal is entirely out
of the question. The case was completed and shelved yesterday
afternoon--well within the time limit you stipulated. I have no
alternative but to pay that money to the person who earned it."

The man's gorge rose and he spluttered.

"But----!" he began to expostulate.

"We're frightfully sorry, and all that, Mr. Doolson," Vance cut in
dulcetly. "But I am sure you will be quite reconciled to your impulsive
generosity when I inform you that the recipient is to be Miss Gracie
Allen."

"What!" Doolson burst forth apoplectically. "What has Miss Allen to do
with it? Preposterous!"

"No," replied Vance. "Simple statement of fact. Miss Allen had everything
to do with the solution of the case. It was she who supplied every
important clue...And, after all, you did get back the services of your
Mr. Burns today."

"I won't do it!" shouted the man. "It's chicanery! A farce! You can't
legally hold me to it!"

"On the contrary, Mr. Doolson," said Markham, "I am forced to regard the
money as the property of the young lady. The very wording of the
reward--dictated here by yourself--would not leave you a leg to stand on
if you decided to make a legal issue of it."

Doolson's jaw sagged.

"Oh, Mr. Doolson!" exclaimed Gracie Allen. "That's such a lovely reward!
And did you really do it to get George back to work for the big rush? I
never thought of that. But you do need him terribly, don't you?... And
oh, that gives me another idea. You ought to raise George's salary."

"I'll be damned if I will!" For a moment I thought Doolson was on the
verge of a stroke.

"But just suppose, Mr. Doolson," Miss Allen went on, "if George got
worried again and couldn't do his work! What would become of the
business?"

The man took hold of himself and studied Burns darkly and thoughtfully
for several moments.

"You know. Burns," he said almost placatingly, "I've been thinking for
some time that you deserved a raise. You've been most loyal and valuable
to the corporation. You come back to your laboratory at once--and we can
discuss the matter amicably." Then he turned and shook his finger
wrathfully at the girl. "And you, young woman. You're fired!"

"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Doolson," the girl returned with smiling
nonchalance. "I bet the raise you give George will make his salary as
much as his and mine put together now--if you know what I mean."

"Who gives a damn what you mean!" And Doolson stalked angrily from the
room.

"I believe," said Vance musingly, "that the next remark should come from
Mr. Burns himself." And he smiled at the young man significantly.

Burns, though obviously astonished by the proceedings of the past
half--hour, was nevertheless sufficiently clear--headed to understand the
import of Vance's words. Grasping the suggestion offered, he walked
resolutely to the girl.

"How about that proposition I made to you the morning I was arrested?"
Our presence, far from embarrassing him, had given him courage.

"Why, what proposition?" the girl asked archly.

"You know what I mean!" His tone was gruff and determined. "How about you
and me getting married?"

The girl fell back into a chair, laughing musically.

"Oh, George! Was that what you were trying to say?"

There is little more that need be told regarding what Vance has always
insisted on calling the Gracie Allen murder case.

The Domdaniel, as everyone knows, has long been closed, and a few years
ago it was replaced by a modern commercial structure. Tony and Rosa
Tofana found it expedient to confess, and are now serving time in prison.
I do not know what became of Dixie Del Marr. She probably took a new name
and left this part of the country, to live quietly far from the scenes of
her former triumphs and tragedies.

Gracie Allen and George Burns were married shortly after that unexpected
and amusing proposal in Markham's office.

One Saturday afternoon, months later, Vance and I met them strolling down
Fifth Avenue. They seemed inordinately happy, and the girl was chatting
animatedly, as usual.

We stopped for a few minutes to speak with them. We learned that Burns
had been made a junior officer in the In-O-Scent Corporation; and, much
to Vance's delight, the fact came out that Miss Allen had, for
sentimental reasons, presented his card to Mr. Lyons of Chareau and
Lyons, when selecting her wedding dress.

As we walked with them a short distance, Burns, in the midst of a
sentence, suddenly stopped, and I noticed that his nostrils dilated
slightly as he leaned close to Vance. "Farina's original formula of Eau
de Cologne!"

Vance laughed. "Yes. I always bring back a supply from Europe... Which
reminds me: this morning I saw in a French magazine the name of a
perfume, which, after the indispensable work Mrs. Burns did on our case,
you might most appropriately give to the delightful citron--scented
mixture you made for her. It was called La Femme Triomphante."

Burns grinned proudly.

"I guess Gracie did help you a lot, Mr. Vance."

The girl looked from one to the other with a puzzled frown, and then
laughed shyly.

"I don't get it."



THE END





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