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Did She Fall?


Thorne Smith



SOMETHING scraping across the floor. Something scraping across the floor. Now what in hell did he mean by that?"

Munson, as he wandered about the room, was entertaining himself with the mumblings of his own voice.

"Scraping, scraping, scraping," he continued under his breath. "What was scraping? Didn't sound like a lie. Didn't work in anywhere."

Once more he returned to his chair and sat down. Why was he so convinced that Daniel had not shot Lane Holt? All the facts cried out against him. Less than three-quarters of an hour before the man was found shot through the head, Daniel had told him he did not deserve to live and had predicted his speedy death. "I have a strange feeling that you won't live much longer"— those were the exact words he had used. Now, here was Holt dead, obviously murdered.

Then, there was the gun. Munson cast the revolver a disgusted glance. He knew what marks were on that gun—Daniel's finger-prints. Munson would see about that later. But why had he tossed it over there by the window? Damn fool thing to do. And the bullet the doctor had extracted from Lane Holt's brain had been shot from Daniel's revolver. All the pieces fitted together perfectly. And Daniel had been caught with an incriminating statement written by the dead man crushed in his hand.

Judson had put it conservatively when he observed that the case looked fairly simple. It was altogether too simple. Either that, or Daniel, convinced that any moment he would be charged with the murder of Emily-Jane, had decided to make a clean sweep of things.

Munson got up and walked over to the table. He seated himself where Holt had sat, and leveled his eyes on the revolver on the floor twelve feet away, near the window directly in front of him. Munson noticed that the window was about two inches open from the bottom. This fact did not impress him at the moment. He closed his eyes and let the stillness of the room settle round him. He was not thinking now. His brain was merely receiving impressions. Over there on the bed lay a dead man. And just before he had become such a dead man something had happened to his mind. Munson could feel once more the crazy eyes of Lane Holt furtively looking at him. Yes, undoubtedly, the man had been mentally unbalanced, morally and mentally warped through a conflict of fear and hate. Made melancholy, perhaps, from brooding over the death of Emily-Jane. What did this mean? How could he work it in, use it to help Daniel?

Munson took Holt's statement from his pocket and smoothed it out on the desk. For some minutes he studied the writing. There was something peculiar about that writing, a mechanical difference rather than an expression of the writer's personality. Well, he'd have to see about that, too. And there was that handkerchief on the floor at the left side of the chair. Subconsciously Munson was laying the foundation of his investigations. Suspicions, impressions and questions were lying fallow in his mind. For the time being he had completely dismissed all consideration of the first murder. That would have to wait, although the motive for the murder of Lane Holt must have sprung from that of Emily-Jane. The two were inseparably linked, results of the same situation.

Leaving the table, he walked over to the bed and drew down the sheet. There was Lane Holt, the once jaunty and debonair lover of Emily-Jane. Shot in the left temple at close range. Why the left temple? Why not? Well, for one thing it was the side nearest the door. Yet because of that very fact it was the most awkward side to approach. Daniel would have been forced to squeeze himself in between the open door and the table. Much easier to go round the other way, much easier and more natural. But Munson was not greatly interested in the bullet hole in Lane Holt's head. His eyes were intently studying every detail of the man's hands now lying curled and useless on the spread. Munson bent over and scrutinized those hands. "An immaculate devil," he thought as his eyes dwelt on the meticulously manicured nails. Then, carefully taking the dead man's wrists he raised the hands and inspected each finger in turn.

Gradually, yet with increasing momentum, a grin, a grin of almost beatific proportions, broke the severe lines of Scott Munson's lips. Then the grin, having achieved its triumphant climax, suddenly collapsed. Munson recovered the figure and turned away.

"Oh, hell," he reflected, and a look of discouragement settled on his face. "What's the good in getting him off one murder charge if only to bring another one against him?" Still, the other charge would be more difficult to prove than this one. Here everything was all set up. Just waiting for some jury to pounce upon. The murder of Emily-Jane was a great deal more complicated. There were other persons involved. No, he would have to get Daniel out of this scrape no matter what might happen in the future. Very easy to say, but how was he going to do it?

In the kitchen the Shays were hovering over a belated meal. They felt somewhat despised and rejected, having been so summarily dismissed from the scene of the crime. Their appetites remained unimpaired.

"And to think," remarked Officer Shad impressively, arresting the upward progress of a skilfully laden fork, "just to think that only a few short hours ago I was locked in a desperate struggle with him. My ear will bear the marks of his teeth to its grave."

"Well, the back of him just escaped bearing the marks of my bullet to its grave," observed Officer Red. "If it hadn't been for Mr. Munson it 'ud have gone in plop. I had a dead bead on it."

"A dangerous case, this," said Officer Shad. "I wonder who goes next? Looks to me like a sort of a general killing off."

"They call it the process of elimination," came sententiously from Red. "They go on and on and on, until only one is left, and then he gets all the money."

"Whose money?"

"All the money there is."

"In what?"

"All the money there is in the will." Officer Red was quite convinced about this. "There's always a will in cases like these, and that naturally leads to elimination."

"Naturally," agreed Shad.

"Now, the way I figure this case out, that guy Holt must have been a collateral cousin. Get me?" Officer Red fixed his companion with a politely skeptical gaze.

"He certainly was mean," once more agreed Shad. "The way he went after my ear."

"And being a collateral cousin he comes in under the will," continued Red. "And that starts all this bumping off business. They're all after the money, and"— he lowered his voice—"the old lady bears watching. From the way she bustles us about and keeps shooing us out of the house you can tell she doesn't want us around. No, sir. She's afraid of us. And did you ever notice how she keeps peering into things like she was looking for something? The will. That's what she's after, mark my words."

He leaned back in his chair with a complacent expression on his face, which, if anything, was a few shades redder due to the exertion caused by eating and talking at the same time.

"I wonder where that will is ?" mused Officer Shad. "It would be a feather in our caps if we could find it."

"Then keep your eye on the old dame," said the master mind of the pair, "and look in places whenever they let us in the house."

"It must be a mighty valuable will," said Officer Shad, "what with two killings and one stabbing already."

Further elucidation of the case was interrupted by the appearance of Dora. This superior and comely domestic eyed the pair with a look of disgust that bordered almost on loathing.

"Mr. Munson wants you two," she said. "He's up in the room with the corpe."

"The what?" from Officer Red incredulously. "I said it," snapped the girl. "The corpe."

"No, no, my dear," said the officer gently. "It's not corpe. The word is corpse."

"And," put in Officer Shad admonishingly, "you certainly should get to know that word with nothing else but corpses knocking about here."

"I wish you were knocking about with them," retorted Dora, as the officers marched from the room.

Munson was back in his chair when the Shays answered his summons.

"The grounds are unguarded, sir," announced Shad. "Well, you can give the grounds a rest for a while," said Munson. "No one is trying to get away now. I have more important work for you to do."

Uneasy glances passed between the officers.

"Yes," continued Munson, "I want you to watch me."

"You mean," Shad's voice was uncertain, "to see that they don't do you in ?"

"Among other things," replied Munson gravely, "but just now I want Shad to make a circle round that gun down there. Don't touch it."

Shad walked down to the gun, then gingerly circled round it, carefully placing his long feet the one in front of the other. Munson watched him abstractedly. Presently he asked, "Now what, may I ask, do you think you're doing, Shad?"

Shad looked up from his delicate task. "Making a circle around the gun," he replied. "Like you said."

"Not like I said at all," snapped Munson. "Here, take this piece of chalk and draw a circle round the thing."

"A perfect circle?" asked the officer, "or just rough?"

Munson looked at the crouching Shad a long time. No one will ever know what thoughts were passing through his mind, what violent impulses he was controlling. At last he rose wearily and walked down the room. With a piece of white chalk he carefully marked the position of the revolver, then thrusting a long pencil into its barrel he carried it back to his chair. Shad looked at Red with eloquently elevated eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, then stood up and idly watched his chief.

Scott Munson was humming under his breath. Still humming he raised his eyes and looked so pensively upon the Shays that those two worthies began to shift about uncomfortably. "Come here, boys," he said pleasantly. "I want you to see what I see in case my testimony requires corroboration."

The officers allowed themselves to draw near. "Do you see the trigger guard on this revolver?" asked Munson.

"We do," vouchsafed Shad, hoping thereby to reinstate himself in the good graces of his chief.

"And do you see a small piece of thin, strong thread attached to it?" Munson could not keep an element of excitement from his voice.

"We do." This time they spoke in unison.

"Well," continued Munson, "what do you think it's there for?"

A heavy silence, at last broken by Officer Shad.

"Maybe," he said, "there's two revolvers just alike in the house and they tied that thread on to one of them so they could tell them apart like they do with tooth-brushes."

"And you, Red. What's your conjecture?"

"I conject," replied Red brightly, "that the gun was hung on the wall somewhere."

"Thank you both," said Munson dryly. "You stay here until I return, and don't go monkeying round with that body on the bed."

Both officers hastily disclaimed any intention of so doing. As a matter of fact, since entering the room they had sedulously avoided even glancing at the sheet-covered body. They would have preferred not to have been left alone with it.

When Munson returned he had established the fact that the butt of the revolver bore three clear finger-prints made by Daniel. He had compared them with aset already in his possession. He wondered moodily how he was going to be able to laugh that off.

"Now for a look at the corpse," he said briskly. "Come over here, boys."

The boys approached the bed, but it was plain to see that their hearts were not in their feet. Munson pulled down the sheet.

"I want you to pay particular attention to the hands," he said.

Munson raised the hands so abruptly that the officers started back nervously.

"Did you want us to sniff them ?" asked Officer Red.

"That will hardly be necessary now," replied Munson. "Just look at them. You observe that the two fingers next to the thumb on the left hand are slightly smeared with ink, don't you?"

Yes, they observed that.

"Well, remember it," said Munson. "Now, Shad, go over there by the table at the left-hand side of the chair and draw a circle round that handkerchief on the floor. Don't cut up any more capers."

This time Shad did splendidly.

"Now come with me," said Munson. Followed by his staff, he left the room and locked the door. He hurried downstairs to the library and called up Manning on the telephone. Dr. Manning was on the point of leaving for the club, an attractive feminine voice informed Munson. She would get him. She did.

"Now, what is it?" came Manning's voice.

"Have you heard our latest joke?" asked Munson.

"Oh, it's you, Munson," the speaker at the other end of the line replied. "Thought I recognized your voice. No, I haven't heard a damn thing. Just got up. A swell night. What is it?"

"Lane Holt was shot to death in his room at about one o'clock today. Daniel has been detained at the village lockup pending the inquest. It will be held at four tomorrow afternoon." Munson spoke tersely.

A series of "Good Gods" dropped heedlessly by the horrified doctor had accompanied Munson's information. Now that Munson had ceased speaking, Manning had the field to himself. He proceeded to take advantage of it. Finally he drew breath and asked, "But did he really do it, Scott?"

"They have an absolutely water-tight case against him unless I can break it between now and the inquest. You've got to help me."

"Anything. What do you want ?"

"Did you ever play golf with Lane Holt?"

Manning's answer to that and several following questions ended with : "I'll be on the dot tomorrow to testify to that effect. Any reporters yet?"

"Thanks for reminding me," replied Scott. "I have just the boys for them. Good-by, Manning." He snapped the instrument down and favored his staff with a broad grin. "I've a wonderful assignment for you," he said.

Suspicion sullied the eyes of the officers.

"Yes," continued Munson. "A wonderful assignment. You go out there on the lawn and keep your eyes open for newspaper men. Don't let them near the house. They don't wear badges on their sleeves or cards in their hat bands. They look very much like anyone else when they're sober, but they don't know the meaning of truth the way you and I understand it, and they'll lie you into a cocked hat if you give them a chance. They'll even go so far as to adopt disguises just to get themselves into the place. Now, I rely on you boys to stop all that. We've had trouble enough already. The women are in on this, too. Go out and protect them."

"Oh, we know how to handle those birds," began Officer Red. "I remember once—"

"March!" interrupted Munson, and the boys left the room.

Munson went to the window. He had caught a glimpse of June Lansing on the veranda. There she was, all sprawled out in a chair, the whole rangy body of her. And she was looking comfortably miserable. Munson was aware of June's penchant for lolling away the hours doing nothing or as little as possible and enjoying herself hugely. Now, however, she did not look as if she were greatly enjoying her slothful repose.

Her eyes were open, those funny eyes of hers, but they did not see, or were not conscious of seeing. All receptivity to life and the movements of life seemed to have passed from them. Blankly and flatly they gazed at nothing.

Munson stepped through the French window and quietly approached her. "June," he asked, "do you happen to know where Daniel kept his revolver?"

June did not stir. She was beyond being startled. "I haven't the slightest idea, Scott?" she replied coldly.

"June," said Munson. "Look at me."

The girl raised her eyes to his.

"I'm working for Daniel in this."

"Do you mean that, Scott?"

"I'm the only one left to do it, and I'm going to get him off. He'll be a free man tomorrow."

"Oh, Scott, are you sure?" She was not much at giving a public demonstration of her feeling, but in this instance she was unable to keep the depth of her anxiety from showing itself in her voice.

"Unless my mind has gone all bad," replied Scott, "I'm fairly sure I'll be able to throw a large-sized monkey-wrench into the works."

"But things look pretty bad for him, don't they?"

"Couldn't look worse," was Munson's frank reply. "That's what gives me hope. There's such a thing as looking too damn guilty."

"He always keeps his revolver in the right-hand top drawer of the library desk," said June. "It was there only yesterday. I saw him handling the ugly thing and I made him put it away. Daniel is in no frame of mind to be handling dangerous weapons."

"Did anyone else see him handling that revolver?" Munson asked quickly.

"No," replied June. "That is, no one paid any special attention to him. Lane Holt passed the door on his way upstairs. He just glanced in and kept on going."

"You'd swear to that?"

"Most certainly. Why not? It's a fact."

"Thanks, June," said Munson cheerfully. "You've done me a world of good. Also Daniel."

He returned to the desk in the library and sat down at it. For a long time he surveyed the smooth dark surface before him. There were the leather-tipped blotter, the scissors, and the paper-knife. Several books stood at one end, at the other a roll of blue-prints. Daniel was forever planning the building of something or other and not doing it. And there were the pens. Yes, there were the pens—three of them straying at random across the desk. Those pens. Munson became very still as he looked at them. There was something wrong about those pens. What was it? They looked lost and out of place. He never recalled having seen them that way before, or had he? Damned if he was sure. He reached out a hand and delicately felt the surface of the desk beyond the edge of the blotting paper. Something heavy had rested there once. There were faint scratches. He could feel them and he could see them. He closed his eyes and thought about the desk to the exclusion of everything else. There should be an inkstand. There always had been an inkstand, one with a place for the pens. Funny thing—with his eyes closed he could see it perfectly. There it was. A long flat slab of bronze pierced by two wells. And the base of the stand was grooved to accommodate three pens, to be specific, the three pens now lying in disorder on the desk.

Munson rose quickly and left the room. Betty was in the kitchen drinking tea, but at his request she willingly put down her cup and followed him to the library.

"Betty," he said, "you take care of this room. I see you messing about here every day."

"Yes, sir," replied Betty. "Not exactly messing, Mr. Munson."

"Of course not. Far from it." Munson laughed with agreeable hypocrisy. "Just my way of putting it. Now where's the inkstand, Betty?"

Betty looked at the desk in surprise, then her expression changed to one of indignation. She eyed the desk accusingly.

"Why, it's gone, Mr. Munson," she said. "It isn't there. And it was there this morning."

"You know that?"

"I know it, sir."

Munson remained silent, then he turned and paced the length of the room and back. If Lane Holt had taken Daniel's revolver he might have also taken the inkstand, but there was no proof that he had taken either. And what did he want with the inkstand? There was a bottle of ink in his room. Munson stopped in front of Betty.

"Where were you around one o'clock today?" he asked her.

"Standing out there in the hall," replied Betty, pointing to a spot just outside the wide door.

"See anything of Lane Holt?"

"I certainly did, sir. From the time I told what Tom and me had seen down at the Rock before him in Mr. Dan's study I kept looking out for that man. His eyes had scared me proper. So when I saw him coming out of this room, I just eased myself out of his way."

"Where did he go after he left this room?"

"He went right on upstairs."

"Was he carrying anything, Betty? Think hard."

"No, sir. He had his handkerchief in his hand." "Was it a large handkerchief, did you happen to notice?"

"Yes, sir, now that you come to mention it, I remember how it hung down."

"Do you think he could have been using it to cover something he was carrying?"

Betty gave a quick cry of triumph. "That's it, Mr. Munson," she said. "I should have known it right off."


"Because his arm hung flat to his side like it was glued there."

Munson's smile of gratification was swiftly changed to one of consternation at the sudden sound of revolvers being discharged at top speed.

"Oh, mother!" cried Betty, flinging her arms round Munson. "We'll all be murdered now."

Munson disentangled himself from the throttling embrace of the girl and rushed out to the veranda just in time to see a black-clad figure disappearing down the road at great bounds. Its arms were waving wildly in the air. In the general direction of this industrious figure, Officers Shad and Red were merrily discharging their revolvers. Munson lost no time in reaching the scene of action.

"Now please tell me," he said in a tired voice, "just what in God's name is the meaning of this maddened fusillade?"

"A reporter," said Red briefly, eying his smoking weapon with approval.

"Did he say he was a reporter?"

"He did not," put in Shad with a sardonic laugh. "That's the funny part about it. He said he was a preacher. And damned if he wasn't disguised like one. White collar and all. Kept insisting on seeing Aunt Matty. Said that with all the sorrow that's visited the house he thought he'd drop over and have a little talk with her. But he didn't fool us. Not for a minute."

At this point Officer Red laughed cynically. "No," he said, "he didn't get away with it. We told him to beat it, and then we pulled our guns and banged away."

"Did you swear at him, perhaps?" Munson's voice was almost timid as he put the question.

"Did we swear?" repeated Shad, and rolled his eyes at his brother-in-arms. "Did we swear? Mr. Munson, you should have heard us. We used every bad word we could think of. He'll never come back here any more."

Munson's hand sought his forehead. "Oh," he said, and, "Oh!"

"Anything wrong?" asked Officer Red solicitously.

"No, certainly not," replied Munson. "Everything's splendid—dandy." He let his eyes rest on his staff. "Did this man happen to mention any name?" he asked.

"Sure," said Red promptly. "He called himself the Reverend Williams. Horace Williams in full."

Horace seemed to strike some responsive chord in both of the officers, for at the very mention of the name they started in laughing, and continued for some time with ever-increasing volume.

The Rev. Mr. Horace Williams. That was the name of the particular man of God Aunt Matty had been hoping would call. Munson remembered it distinctly. She had been expecting him to tell her just what the world was coming to, and now, no doubt, the Rev. Mr. Williams was wondering about that himself.

"Did we do all right, Mr. Munson?" asked Officer Shad, wiping the tears and sweat from his long, lugubrious face.

"Quite all right," said Munson weakly, "but don't mention the fact up at the house that you scared the Rev. Mr. Horace Williams out of ten years' growth. It might get to Aunt Matty's ears."

"Then it was a real preacher?" asked Red, his eyes wide.

"I'm very much afraid it was," Munson smiled faintly.

"Gord," breathed Officer Shad. "And all those words we used."

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