Dr. MacArthur flapped the yellow telegram helplessly and wondered how to
face them. Through some pull or other they had made the mail plane from
New York and would be in his office in fifteen minutes.
Two men and a woman. Three detectives; and he had never faced a
detective in his life. How did a man treat detectives? Must one defer,
Probably Harrison would know. A urologist had every profession in his
grip sooner or later. He reached for the telephone. Dr. Harrison laughed
at the question. It was the first time he had laughed since entering the
hospital that morning, learning of Rose Standish’s death and realizing
that Bear Sterling’s was only a matter of sixty or seventy hours.
“You are tired, aren’t you, Mac? Give ’em some infant feeding and a dose
of paregoric once around! Buck up, old man! I suggest you tell the
truth, the whole truth, and let them create their own suspicions.
“Remember they were hand-picked by the Rockefeller Foundation. They are
intelligent. Newspaper reporters grown up … and you’re a whiz with
newspaper reporters. Call me if you need me. ’By!”
Dr. MacArthur was reassured. Like an oak, Harrison! Tried, staunch and
His secretary entered and said, “Two men and a woman to see you, sir.”
“Show them in, please.”
The two men were carrying handbags and overcoats. The first was tall and
dignified. He had a long square body. Everything about him was muscular,
under perfect control and heavy-set. His eyes, suit, overcoat, and hair
were gray. His teeth were strong and even. His eyes showed the same
steely calm that Bear Sterling’s had. Judgmatical. The enemy was death;
the man you were after, or yours. So far he had been lucky, and he had a
lucky man’s nonchalance.
“Dr. MacArthur? Matthew Higgins is my name.”
His voice was deep and buoyant.
His handclasp was like a vice. It steadied Dr. MacArthur like a cup of
The voice continued:
“Mr. Smooty, Dr. MacArthur.”
Smooty was slight. His body and face were completely relaxed and pastel.
Green eyes melted into mild cheeks. He had the utter inactivity and
extreme alertness of a clown and the fading quality of a chameleon.
His grip was like that of a contortionist. One had to find it.
His voice was colorless.
“Delighted to know you, Doctor.”
Mr. Higgins turned to the woman and said:
“I beg your pardon, Miss Parkins. I should have introduced you first,
but air-travel leaves me woozy. Miss Parkins, Dr. MacArthur.”
MacArthur was her kind and she sensed it. She stretched her capable hand
and smiled. Their summary was like sun on metal.
One could never lose memory of her physically. She was tall,
square-shouldered, with the long, slender legs of a gracefully tall
woman. Her face was ugly and expressive. The nose was too short, the
mouth too wide, but the flashes were sudden and revealing. They were as
vivid, highly original and occasionally blank as heat lightning. And
massed in with her extreme directness was a wistful, childlike appeal.
Her limpid eyes flashed into life as Dr. MacArthur carefully seated her,
took her coat and motioned the men to chairs.
“A pleasant trip, I hope?”
His voice was old and courteous.
“Very,” the gray man was the spokesman. “This letter,” he drew a thick
envelope from his inside coat pocket and handed it to MacArthur, “we
were instructed, Doctor, to request that you read it immediately upon
Dr. MacArthur took the letter and carefully tore the flap.
“Thank you,” he said looking up. Then he rose and offered the men and
the woman cigarettes, struck a match and extended it to the woman. He
always offered newspaper reporters cigarettes, and Harrison had said
Miss Parkins smiled, took the match, lighted, and passed it.
Dr. MacArthur returned to his chair and began reading and she said,
“Three on a match. Unlucky!”
Then they were silent. The air was full of estimation. The letter was
long, and evidently from the head of the detective agency. It was
addressed to Dr. MacArthur and said:
“Mr. Higgins has been in our employ about fifteen years and handled
many executive jobs. Your request was for a man capable of
impersonating a well-to-do patient, or a member of the administrative
staff of a distant hospital; a man who may be given full run of the
hospital and thereby an opportunity, we gather, to question, without
creating suspicion, in every department. We have recently had Mr.
Higgins upon a job necessitating the trapping of an embezzler within
one of our largest New York hospitals. He has our complete confidence,
a worldwide experience with people, and an excellent judgment of men.
We have found him especially successful in catching mental criminals,
and from Dr. Bridgman of the Rockefeller, we judge that is your
“Mr. Smooty has long experience in impersonations. He has done
confidence work in Sing-Sing, department stores, and as a hotel
detective; also we have used him in the Pennsylvania Station. His
nondescript appearance is an excellent foil for his capabilities. You
asked for a man who might be placed as a menial.
“He and Mr. Higgins have worked together for many years and are among
the first ranking detectives in America. Mr. Smooty is originally an
Englishman and has also done work for Scotland Yard and in the British
Dr. MacArthur took his handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose.
This was the first time, to his knowledge, he had ever sat in the
presence of a Scotland Yard man. And as a little boy, next to being a
dogcatcher, to belong to Scotland Yard…. It left him rather awed.
Maybe the woman was a Russian Grand Duchess!
He returned his attention, his eyes had never left it, to the letter and
“Miss Parkins has done international and character work for us for
about five years. She, in our opinion, is capable of any situation
where courage, brains, and mixing abilities are required. Within the
last year we have had her upon one of the big liners between New York
and Cherbourg, on the road with the circus, and living as an immigrant
on the East Side. During the war, she worked for the Government in
Mexico. She, we understand, you desire as a patient on a ward of
medical women. She has an unfortunate, and slight, heart ailment,
which will serve to divert the suspicion of even your staff.
“The terrible delicacy with which the situation must be handled has
occasioned our sending what we consider the three most able people in
New York. Miss Parkins was taken off political work today at the
insistence of Dr. Bridgman, through whom we were contacted, and who
seems to feel that the patient in the ward of medical women is the key
person. All three people were interviewed by and met with the approval
of Dr. Bridgman.
“Our terms, which at his suggestion we state, are $2000.00 per week
“Awaiting your orders,
Dr. MacArthur carefully folded the letter and decided to take Harrison’s
advice. Two thousand dollars a week … it took brains and plenty of
them to be able to demand that!
The late afternoon sun had left the room. He looked up and discovered
the room was semi-dark, and the three people were sitting motionless.
The door into the corridor was still open; he had been too rattled to
close it when they entered. The measured and constant footfalls of the
thousands of feet had padded into his consciousness so long that he
didn’t sense it, but they must.
He rose, closed the door, turned up the lights and said, as he walked
toward the windows to lower the shades, “Sorry to subject you to all of
that racket. Time for duty changes. Hospitals are noisy places.”
Mr. Higgins had risen and was pulling down the shades, too.
“So is New York, Doctor.”
Dr. MacArthur nodded and returned to his desk. He looked at his wrist
watch and said:
“Miss Parkins, Mr. Higgins and Mr. Smooty, if we are to get Miss Parkins
on Ward B as a patient tonight, my résumé must necessarily be shorter
than I should desire.
“You were sent for because there have been committed in the Elijah
Wilson Hospital within the last week two traceable murders, proved by
autopsy findings, and two deaths … in the same bed. The deaths (we
presume them murders also) preceded the murders. The last person
murdered was a nurse who volunteered to go into the bed in an effort to
solve the mystery.”
Mr. Higgins moved restlessly.
“I know we have been slow in calling you in, Mr. Higgins. But this
decision was only reached after a series of long and irascible
conferences, and frankly I was against it, until the nurse was murdered.
“A hospital, you see … a great hospital … lives, breathes, exists,
as a fountain of hope. It is trusted by _everybody_. For more than forty
years the Elijah Wilson has lived up to that trust. We have received
endowments, and large ones, to add units to our plant for the teaching
of medical students. We were started, have been perpetuated, and are
famous as a great teaching hospital.
“Now a teaching hospital, Miss Parkins, exists upon the fact that it has
more patients than beds. When you have that situation reversed, the
hospital is doomed. D’y’see?”
The three people nodded, and Dr. MacArthur continued:
“If any of you three walked out of this room and gave to the press of
this country the information I have just given you in the last five
minutes, you would automatically ruin the future of every medical man,
resident, student and interne here, the hope of renewed health in a very
large portion of suffering humanity, the years and painstaking labor of
many famous men, now dead, whose lives were given, as bricks are given,
to the building of this hospital’s justified fame.
“It has been upon the complete realization of that grave responsibility
that our hesitation was based. I admit that we were mistaken, but our
situation was so unexpected, so unparalleled, and so terrifying, that we
dared not alter one straw for fear of losing our needle in this great
haystack. There are at least fifteen people who may have been guilty of
this crime. If they suspect…?”
“Have you any suspects, sir?”
“Yes, Mr. Higgins. That was why I finally succumbed to sending for the
best detectives that this country has to offer. My nursing and medical
staffs are beginning to suspect themselves … and each other….”
“I see! I see, Doctor.”
“All four patients were nursed and attended by the same staff members?”
“Yes, Miss Parkins.”
“Then I suggest, in fact, request, sir,” Mr. Higgins intervened, “that
you do not tell us who your suspects are. It will cloud our work. An
open mind and a lack of tradition…. Oh, no. Doctor, … we are
completely aware of that and will guard it, sir, with our lives…. I am
referring to personal tradition with reference to staff members….
“A lack of belief in the honesty of any man we contact because he is
famous, or brilliant, or noted, will be one of the most invaluable
things we can have.
“Now to return to the murders. What do the autopsy findings show,
“That they were committed with the same drug. Coniine, the active
principal of hemlock. Administered hypodermically and in the first case
which took effect in a little over an hour and in the second case within
less than forty minutes. The second dose, that given the nurse was much
larger. Our chief pharmacist has checked the supply sources. We have
never had any coniine in the hospital, and it can be secured from only
three houses in the country. None of them reports recent sales. We have
wired all three.
“Who, qualified to administer a hypodermic, had access to the patients?”
Mr. Higgins’ voice was low and sudden.
Dr. MacArthur’s was clear and calm.
“The entire nursing and medical staff practicing upon that floor.”
Mr. Smooty sat blankly by. Miss Parkins took her second cigarette from
her mouth and asked:
“Are the hypodermics compounded in the pharmacy?”
“No. On the floor. By the nurse on duty, acting only upon prescription
from the attending physician. The medicine closets on the ward … and
every floor of that building … have been searched after each murder.
They reveal nothing.”
“When were the murders discovered?”
“At night, Miss Parkins. After midnight rounds made by the student
nurse. Perhaps I had better give you a full picture. The ward contains
thirty beds, in four rows, each seven being separated by a glass
partition. The two extra beds are in rooms for dying patients. Each ward
has a day white (graduate) nurse, and four student nurses on duty. Their
duty changes as to hours are not important to this case.
“The white nurse goes off duty for the night at seven, and leaves her
instructions with two student nurses who prepare the ward for the night,
and go off duty at nine, when a single student nurse (bringing the total
of student nurses to five) usually a pupil within the last six months of
training, comes on and ‘beds the ward down’ for the night and remains on
duty until seven the following morning. It is her business to give all
night hypodermics and medicines, and make regular rounds upon the
patients to see how they are. On the ward with her is an orderly, who
runs any sudden errands and helps with any manual labor. He usually
remains in the ward-kitchen washing dishes and preparing the breakfast
trays and cleaning the ward corridors, etc. The orderly on this ward has
been there twenty years, and is not capable of any remarkable murder. A
trusted menial. He has been ordered into bed, as a suspected typhoid
carrier, tonight, and it is his position which you are to fill, Mr.
An imperceptible nod was Mr. Smooty’s only acknowledgment.
Dr. MacArthur continued:
“Over the entire building at night there is a night supervisor who makes
floor rounds upon the student nurses in charge and is available in case
they get into difficulties.”
“Where was she during the murders, Doctor?”
“During the first one, in the lavatory, Miss Parkins, and during the
second her telephone did not answer and she was making rounds in the
“I see. The student nurse…?”
“Don’t go into her,” Mr. Higgins ordered. “Take her with an open mind.
You and Smooty tell us about her tomorrow.”
Higgins leaned forward and asked:
“Any way to enter the ward, except by the corridor?”
Dr. MacArthur hesitated a moment; his eyes narrowed suddenly.
“I hadn’t thought of it, sir, but there is. In the rebuilding, the porch
of each floor, upon which the convalescent patients are rolled, is
connected with the porch of the floor below by a narrow concrete
stairway. Wide enough to permit a stretcher, as a matter of fact.
Satisfies fire regulations and does away with fire-escapes.”
“But the door to that porch is always locked at night. The key is on the
inside. All of our combined evidence points to an entry via the ward
Higgins nodded again.
Then to Dr. MacArthur he said:
“Outside of the autopsy findings are there any pieces of evidence which
re-occur after the murders, Doctor?”
“Yes. After the first, the student nurse claimed that she felt someone
on the floor, but was boiling a syringe and could not leave and that a
patient said it was….”
Mr. Higgins stopped him.
“That is just what I do not want to know.”
“Anything else?” Miss Parkins insisted.
“For six months, Mr. Higgins, we have had on that ward a little girl, a
chronic nephritis …” he looked over his glasses and explained to Miss
Parkins, “a kidney ailment of a very stubborn sort…. She is really
pretty and quite a favorite throughout the hospital. Upon her crib, the
morning after the first traceable murder she found a doll.”
He opened his desk drawer and took out the Ma-ma doll. Miss Parkins
reached for it to straighten the bonnet, and it howled. She turned it
over quickly and Mr. Smooty said, “Jesus Christ!”
It was the first response he had made to any of the information. Mr.
Higgins ignored it and said, “Finger-prints?”
“It had been handled by many people when we got it, sir.”
“Yes. Of course. After the second murder, Doctor?”
“There was no doll upon her bed, but this doll was found….” and he
reached for the Pa-pa doll and handed it to Mr. Smooty, whose green eyes
were like pin points.
“Where, Doctor?” his voice was again colorless.
But his interest was so concentrated that he forgot and turned the doll
over and it whined, “Pa-pa.”
Everybody jumped and Mr. Higgins reached for both of them and laid them
on the mahogany table upon their backs. They closed their eyes and Miss
Parkins looked at the crisp bonnets, dresses and panties and shivered.
Two dolls. Two murders.
“I think we should know where it was found, Doctor,” Mr. Higgins’ voice
“In the desk of the Head Nurse of Medicine Clinic, sir. A doctor looking
for case charts discovered it, accidentally.”
“Is she friendly with the night student nurse?” It was Smooty who spoke.
“She is her aunt, gentlemen,” and then Dr. MacArthur cleared his throat
and continued, “She was one of the first head nurses when the hospital
was young. Her work has always been well executed. A very trusted
“Especially antagonistic to any doctor?”
“The head of the clinic, Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior, affectionately
known as ‘Cub’ Sterling. He is on probation, very confidentially, as
head. The physician-in-chief died of a heart attack last spring, and Dr.
Sterling, who has done very brilliant work, has temporarily his chief’s
place. His father is Dr. Ethridge Sterling, possibly you have heard…?”
“The surgeon. Bear Sterling! I should say so!” Higgins responded. “Why
is the head nurse antagonistic?”
“I do not know. Perhaps because she is getting old and is afraid of
retirement if Sterling remains in charge.”
“I see. Pretty ugly situation you have been in, sir.”
“It isn’t I, it’s the hospital. Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Senior, is dying
of a heart attack complicated by pneumonia brought on by this situation.
One of our graduate nurses has been murdered…. Frankly, your coming
shifts a great weight from my shoulders. And I should like to say if I
have failed to make anything clear, question me. We are all a bit
shell-shocked, I dare say.”
“Yes, there is, Doctor. Did Dr. Sterling, Senior, see all of the
murdered patients, too?”
“He did. He performed the autopsies on all except the last one. The
“Has any person been murdered since he has been out of the picture?”
Mr. Higgins’ weight was behind his words.
“I don’t believe I understand you, Mr. Higgins,” Dr. MacArthur gripped
his chair arms, and his sensitive mouth looked like blistered flesh.
Mr. Higgins ignored that and attacked his eyes.
“Sorry, Doctor, but that is exactly the reason you sent for us. To
understand things. Please answer my question.”
“He was taken with double pneumonia last night, and Rose Standish was
murdered last night. The bed is empty now.”
“But he saw her and left a sleeping potion of which you told Dr.
Bridgman over the ’phone and after that was administered she was
“Please, Mr. Higgins,” Dr. MacArthur’s knuckles were white against the
desk, “I have learned that potion was … bread-pills…. He had hoped
to calm her nerves and yet leave her capable of catching…. I would
swear before God that Dr. Sterling….”
“Of course you would, sir,” there was admiration in Mr. Higgins’
response, “but painful operations are often necessary, and since he is
the only person who has retired from the case, since the beginning, I am
obliged to know what developments have taken place since his retirement.
It’s like chess, Doctor, your moves depend upon your position.”
Dr. MacArthur had regained complete control of himself and Miss Parkins
had risen and poured out a glass of water from a thermos bottle upon the
mantelpiece which she was holding out to him. She smiled and said:
“It’s been a long strain and you have stood it magnificently. Is there
anything else you wish to tell us before Smooty and I go?”
Her strength passed through him and he straightened himself, and Mr.
“If brought in as an accident, what are the chances of Miss Parkins
being put in this bed … number…?”
The eyes of the other three people were upon Higgins, inquiringly.
“Because, Doctor, in view of the information I now have in hand relative
to the head nurse and her niece … by the way, what are their names?”
Only Mr. Smooty’s lips fought to remain a straight line. The
concentration of the other three was too intense to notice the
Mr. Higgins placed his gray eyes upon Dr. MacArthur’s blue ones and
“If Miss Parkins goes on the ward in a routine way as a patient, she
will automatically be suspected by them and therefore become less
valuable to us. But if she falls upon the street with a heart attack
within four blocks of the hospital, arrives at the accident room
entrance in an ambulance, and is admitted to Ward B, Bed 11…. You
“Can we be sure that she will be placed in Bed 11, sir? That the staff
in the accident room will admit her for medical treatment and that she
will be sent to that floor and put in that bed?”
“A moment and I’ll see.” Dr. MacArthur reached for his telephone and
“Superintendent of nurses, please. Miss Carruthers? Dr. MacArthur. Will
you please ascertain for your _own_ information the vacant beds in
Medicine Clinic and their location, and call me back immediately? Thank
He turned to Miss Parkins and said:
“What kind of ailment is it? How bad?”
“It’s a false angina, and during the attacks causes extreme palpitation.
By intense excitement I can create a definite change in my heart action,
and the other symptoms are permanent.”
“I see. Given you much trouble?” MacArthur was solicitous.
The telephone interrupted.
He answered and took his pencil, wrote upon a memorandum pad and
“Medicine, Ward A—7 & 8, Ward B—11, and 5th floor, rooms 502 & 514.
“An unknown accident case, with a heart ailment, Mr. Higgins, picked up
on the street and admitted through the accident room, would undoubtedly
be placed in Bed 11, Ward B. Ward A, which has two vacant beds, is
medical men, and floor five is private rooms. You are too well-dressed,
though, Miss Parkins.”
“If her pocketbook contained only one dollar and she had no addresses
upon her person, Doctor?”
“They would not take a chance on someone paying for a private room, Mr.
Higgins. You are right. The only chance is whether she can pass the
accident staff, as I see it.”
“That is a chance we have to take,” Mr. Higgins decided.
He looked at his wrist watch and said:
“One more question, Doctor, and then, with your permission I should like
to have some private place where I may talk to Mr. Smooty and Miss
Parkins before we turn Miss Parkins out upon the street and you take Mr.
Smooty to the head orderly.
“Two more questions, now I think of it. The first: How is the hysteria
throughout the hospital? The second: You expect, of course, that Mr.
Smooty will be suspected as a detective?”
“Since the last question has the shortest answer, I will go to that
first. That seems to me unavoidable, Mr. Higgins, and perhaps will work
to our advantage. It will focus attention, from the nursing, medical and
menial staffs, upon one person.
“As to the hysteria in the hospital. It is at a dangerous level and
rising hourly. Not among the patients, yet…. Thank God! … with the
exception of the patients on Ward B and they have been told that Miss
Standish, the nurse, hemorrhaged (we put her in as a tubercular suspect)
and although they probably believe her dead, they have no proof. And
their attention has been diverted by the terrible condition of Dr.
Sterling, Senior. He has always been a great favorite throughout the
wards. Patients love him. The other patients, on the other wards are too
segregated and many of them too dangerously ill to be excited or aware
of the situation.
“According to Miss Carruthers, our superintendent of nurses, to whom I
was just talking, the hysteria among the nursing staff is serious.
Before the death of the nurse they took the excitement mildly, with the
exception of the people in Medicine Clinic who were questioned.
“With the exception of the General Staff, the toxicologist, the chief
pharmacist, and the staff of Medical Clinic, no persons in the hospital
have any definite knowledge as to whether these patients are murders or
“Perhaps it is that lack of knowledge which has so increased the fever
heat among the medical staffs. They suspect, but they _do not know_. And
half knowledge, and especially around a hospital….”
He threw his hands out hopelessly.
“Since the death of the nurse, the entire medical and nursing services
have been at a breaking point. Their internal pressure can be felt in
every dining room. Something must be done and done immediately. That is
one of the reasons I approve of the word getting around that a detective
has been put on Ward B at night….”
“A wise attitude, Doctor. Now if you will be so kind as to give us a
private room and a few minutes?”
“I suggest you use my office and allow me to retire. After Miss Parkins
has gone, I will show you a room in which you and Mr. Smooty may meet,
when you desire. A laboratory in an unfrequented part of the hospital.”
He rose wearily and passed out of the door and closed it carefully
Mr. Higgins lit a cigarette and turned to the other two.
“What do you make of it?”
He questioned both of them in one sentence.
Miss Parkins answered, “He’s square. But he is shielding someone.”
Mr. Smooty inserted his sentence at the end of hers. “Honest as the
King. But worried sick. There is somebody he considers innocent, that
the others have dots on. All I got to say is somebody around here is
crazy as hell.”
Mr. Higgins, who had never been sick a day in his life and never slept
in a hospital even so much as one night, had a healthy man’s antagonism
for the medical profession.
“Toughest job we’ve ever had. He’s square all right, but how the hell
can you catch a murderer in a hospital? You are right, Snod. Somebody
around here is crazy as a tick. And lots of people are lying. One thing
you got to remember is you are up against professional liars. All nurses
and doctors are professional liars. Didn’t one tell me my mother was
‘doing nicely’ when she had been dead an hour? So watch everybody in the
same way you watch a spy.
“He’s also covering somebody that everybody else believes guilty. I
think I know whom he is covering. But that’ll wait. He suspects that
head nurse and her niece. That’s plain as day. And he didn’t tell the
truth about why he thinks she is doing it. There’s somebody behind them,
in his mind.”
He stopped for a moment to draw breath and Miss Parkins flipped her
cigarette and said:
“Matt, I’d like a gun, if you don’t mind?”
“You scared, Lil?”
“No. I’m never scared. Especially when I have a gun.”
“Don’t be a fool, Lil.” He put his big square hand over her capable one.
“They’ll strip you to the bone when you go through that accident racket.
A gun is out of the question. You’ll have Snod.” He motioned to Mr.
She smiled but she wasn’t reassured.
“He is slow as hell about wiping dishes when you are having a Sunday
night supper. I couldn’t get him out of that kitchen till I’d been dead
Smooty’s green eyes took on life for the first time since he had entered
the room. He said.
“A hospital’s duty is to protect everybody. I’ll be a member of a
hospital staff in twenty minutes, Lil.”
She shrugged her square shoulders and her limpid eyes begged.
“The murderer is a member of the hospital staff, Snod. He’ll beat you to
“For God’s sake, Lil! Hold on to yourself!”
“It’s those damn dolls,” she laughed.
Higgins smiled strongly into her eyes and threw his overcoat over the
dolls. “There’s enough hysteria around here as it is. Don’t add to it.
Unless Snod has something to say I guess you might just as well sneak
out and do your fainting fit. Want me to send you flowers when you get
sick, little girl?”
“Hush, Matt. Flowers are not funny in this case.”
She opened her handbag and took out three hundred dollars in fifty
dollar bills and counted them carefully. Beside them she laid the cards
of a speakeasy on West 11th Street and of one on 44th. She opened the
zipper center of the black alligator bag and took from it her
identification card with the agency and the picture of a man in an
officer’s uniform of the British Intelligence. Near these she spread a
large white silk handkerchief into which she scooped the outlay, and
then removed from her wrist a large sapphire and diamond wrist watch.
She closed the bag, first counting the money remaining. One dollar bill
and three dimes and a nickel. Then she tied the contents of the bag in
the large silk handkerchief and handed it to Higgins.
He took it carefully and put it in his coat pocket.
“Going, Lil?” His gray eyes looked up into her limpid ones confidently.
“Now. See you later.”
She opened the door and disappeared.
Miss Evelina Kerr, student night nurse on Ward B, Medicine Clinic, shook
down the thermometer and inserted it into the mouth of the new patient
in Bed 11, with an air of relief, and just a touch of condescension.
“Good evening. Have you remembered your name?”
Miss Lillian Parkins weakly shook her head and her eyes were sad.
Miss Kerr, who had been over the clothes in the locker, knew that the
coat was expensive and the fur good, but that she had no money, so gave
her her “free patient” smile and passed on.
Lillian Parkins lay inert and tried to clear her mind. A long plane
trip, then the terrible strain of appearing ill before the prying eyes
of two internes and that little Jewish resident doctor had left her weak
as dishwater. A touch of straight scotch was what she needed…. It was
damn hard to relax and veil your eyes and yet see everything. Still that
was the game, that was what made the job so … fascinating!
That girl’s eyes were too close, and there was an ugly sense of triumph
when she had found her in the bed, and a nasty condescension, and a dead
voice, creepy kind of! Somewhere she had seen a woman who moved like
that with a voice like that, a stubborn little mind like that who …
who … hands like snakes, or bananas, who … was it?
She closed her eyes to keep the life out of them, and began to check
cases. On the Leviathan last year, in that Welfare Island group in May,
doing that route collecting for pimps on the Southern circuit? No! None
of those, but somewhere within the last eighteen months….
Ah, she had it. That medium who worked for the hypnotist in the
side-show and peddled dope in the circus. That vicious little adder who
had tried to throw acid in her eyes when she caught her with the goods.
The goose-flesh began to stand out on her arms and legs. That’s who she
was, the same automaton voice, the same kind of little snake, out
working for a python and she had to face her without so much as an
automatic and go to sleep while she was doing it. Not go to sleep. Not
on your life. Feign sleep! Feign sleep for ten hours, and then somehow
manage not to have a real heart attack and pass out honest!
Swell job this was! Lots of fun! If she could get her hands on Matt
Higgins now! Somehow she had to have a word with Snod. And quick!
Around her the monotonous conversation of the ward was droning, but
since she was supposed to be too weak to talk, she closed her mind to
it. Except for the realization that these women were afraid of the
night. Had stood the day, but were afraid of the night and wanted to
tell her about the bed. Wanted desperately to warn her … somehow. The
lapping conversation and her own preoccupation made her unaware of Miss
Kerr’s return, until she felt the thermometer eased from her lips, and
Reptile who moved like that would have a hypodermic in you before you
She kept her eyes closed and pretended complete fatigue. Miss Kerr’s
pleasure at her presence seemed to increase. She said briskly and
“You’ll be around before you know it. Your pulse and temperature are
pretty good, considering. Your medicine will be along in a minute and
then you can have a good night’s sleep.”
Miss Parkins opened her eyes feebly and gave her the fading lily smile.
Miss Kerr returned it with the “miserable object” expression.
But had Miss Lillian Parkins been less of the consummate actress, the
glimpse of Snod Smooty, late of Scotland Yard and the British
Intelligence, now arrayed in the nondescript white coat of a hospital
orderly, and carrying, as a hotel porter might bags, an assortment of
bed-pans, would have shattered her facial control.
He was on the ward before Miss Kerr had seen him. His face was as vacant
as a concrete highway and his voice was as deferential as a butler’s.
“Here you are, Miss.”
The laughter of the women made Miss Kerr ease around, and when her slow
eyes had taken in the situation, her routine mind exploded into wrath,
“Who told you to do that? You are not supposed to bring the bed-pans on
the ward. I … I….”
Smooty swallowed like a hurt child and one pan started slipping toward
the floor. Miss Kerr slunk forward and caught it.
Mrs. Witherspoon spoke up:
“Don’t be upset, Miss Kerr. We understands. And now thet he’s here….”
Miss Kerr looked appraisingly toward Mrs. Witherspoon and tried to deny
A very insistent telephone commanded her attention and threw her routine
existence out of whack. She was told to prepare for a new patient and
spent five minutes explaining to the night superintendent that the bed
was already given to an accident room case and the patient would have
The orderly took advantage of the opportunity and began handing out pans
along the side of the ward where Miss Parkins lay. It was Mrs.
Witherspoon’s, “Pull the curtains. Pull the curtains. Quick!” which gave
him an opportunity to speak to Miss Parkins unobserved.
He said, “How are you?”
“I’ll watch her, close.”
“Stick to her, Snod. For God’s sake!”
His eyes came to life and strengthened her.
“She won’t do anything tonight. She won’t get around an old pan-handler
like me. If you are scared as you say you are, you must have the….
Here’s a pan!”
He thrust one at her and moved on.
Miss Kerr re-entered the ward and said crisply, “William.”
“Horace, mam,” he corrected as he handed the circus performer her pan.
The girl was disconcerted by the correction.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, really. The thing that matters is that you are
to stay off this ward unless I call you. There is plenty of work for you
in the kitchen. Go down to Ward A and get me a syringe. I’ve already
called Miss Wilson about your coming.”
Snod Smooty looked blankly up at the nurse.
“A hypo syringe?”
“Yes. Of course. Why?”
He thought he detected a slight dilation of her pupils, and replied
“You see, Miss, at St. Giles, in London, we always called enemas
syringes. I jus’ needs to know, you see.”
“Were you there, Horace?”
“I ain’t braggin’ Miss, but I was an orderly there four years. That’s
how come I brought the bed-pans; we done it that way!”
He threw his helpless hands out in an explanatory gesture and shambled
down the corridor.
Miss Evelina Kerr sat down at her desk to regain her control. She should
have gone on with the routine. But she sat down. Things weren’t going so
well. That man was a detective as sure as life and he was lying, and
Aunt Roenna ought to know….
She picked up the telephone and started to take the receiver from the
hook, and then she jumped up and somehow smothered a scream.
Standing over her, peering down into her little, piggish eyes with his
steel-gray slits was a tall, fat man, in a blue uniform with brass
buttons. In his right hand he held a bunch of red American Beauty roses,
and the other was in a side pocket.
Miss Kerr thought he was a policeman and the left hand was upon his
pistol holster. He carefully placed the roses in the elbow of the left
arm, and with his right hand drew her out into the ward. His grip was
strong and heavy.
By that time Miss Kerr had regained her breath. She tried to snatch her
arm away and cringed when she failed.
“What do you want?”
“To shee the night nurse on Ward B.”
“I’m the night nurse.” Her voice still quaked.
Gripping her like a vice, he stuck his thick face into hers and the
stench of his breath reached the whole ward.
“Y’re not Rhosh Standziz! Where is Rosh?”
Then swaying as a top-heavy steamer might when tied to a brittle
mooring, he turned to the ward and announced:
“I’se bin in luz wiz Rosh, scincz … sincz … sincz …” he shook his
head helplessly and the motion seemed to straighten his tongue,
temporarily…. “I just came back from China Station. They said over the
’phone last night Rose was on Ward B.” His voice clouded again. “Sho I
brought her shum r … r … rhozes.”
He laid the flowers upon a bed and took Miss Kerr’s face in both of his
hands. By that time every woman on the ward was sitting bolt upright
regardless of her condition. A fly would have sounded like an airplane.
Crushing her face with his hands, he demanded:
“Swhere iz Rosh? Zhu! Phoo! Zhu ain’t Rosh!” and then his voice took on
a hide-and-seek tenor.
And he crushed with more force, and they both swayed.
“Swherah … iz … Rosh?”
Lillian Parkins sat like a race horse at the starter. Every time he
crushed the nurse, she thanked him … silently….
He swayed horribly and they staggered.
He increased his grip and his voice was brutal.
“Stell me! St-ell me! Swhere iz Rosh?”
“Rose is dead!” Miss Kerr’s voice had taken on life at last. Every woman
in the ward heard her remark.
And it was Mrs. Witherspoon’s horrible, scrunching scream that came like
the brakes of a truck after an accident, which shocked the other women
into silence and brought Horace, the new orderly, up the corridor on the
And with that scream the brain of Lieutenant Brady, U.S.N.
disintegrated. He loosened his grip upon the student nurse and flung her
to the floor.
“Rosh iz dead! Dead in a hoshbittle!”
He began skipping around as a child might and singing monotonously,
“Ring aroun’ de Roshy! Rosh’s dead. Rosh’s dead. Ring aroun’ de Roshy.”
Then he caught the approaching Horace out of the corner of his eye and
He began rolling under the patients’ beds, playing a literal
hide-and-seek with both the student nurse, who had staggered to her
feet, and the nimble orderly who was saying in a loud voice.
“You are dead drunk! You … fool!”
The final scramble took place under the bed of Lillian Parkins and Miss
Kerr ran to the telephone to call the night superintendent.
As Snod Smooty caught one foot of the big man and began pulling, Lillian
Parkins leaned over the side of her bed and hissed:
“Don’t let that bitch get within fifteen feet of me! Tell Matt that
examination was worse than being looked over for a harem. If he doesn’t
get me out of here by tomorrow night, I’ll walk out. Get the sailor out
quietly, Snod. He loved that dead nurse.”
Apparently paying no attention, Snod Smooty managed to keep the scramble
loud enough to cover Miss Parkins’ remarks.
He gave the sailor a little jujutsu and had him swaying down the
corridor before Miss Kerr had found the night superintendent. They
disappeared to the sailor’s monotone which had sunk to the note of a
child trying to lull himself to sleep.
“Ring aroun’ de Roshy! Rosh’s dead. Rosh’s dead. Ring aroun’ de Roshy!”
Snod Smooty carried him over his shoulder down the stairs and out of the
side entrance. Upon the curb stone he stood him against a parked
automobile and then socked him under the jaw. As he fell, Snod opened
the automobile door and laid him out upon the back seat to sleep it off.
Snod’s colorless face was tender and old. He wanted a cigarette. Worst
scene he had ever witnessed and he’d seen some hellbenders in his day.
But Lil was as hysterical as any of them.
He shrugged his shoulders and re-entered the building. That was the
trouble with women. They made good detectives, where men were to be
caught, but with women…!
It was Mrs. Witherspoon’s second and blood freezing scream that made Dr.
Mattus close his mind to his own bad heart and forget to button his fly.
The piercing horror of her high agonized wail hung over the corridor
like poison gas. He tore through it and the effort made his knees
What was it? What terror had entered her soul?
When he reached her, she was sitting bolt upright, her weak eyes ablaze,
and gazing with fixed horror at a large bunch of American Beauty roses
which lay upon the foot of her bed.