“Roll ’em up, Snod! Time to get up!”
Snod opened his eyelids narrowly and then closed them again. He began
experimenting slowly with his head, burying his chin in his long neck
and stretching his shoulder muscles.
“Any news?” his voice was still somnambulant.
“Lots! Got your wits about you?” Matt Higgins began pulling himself up
on one of the stools and his voice was grating. The old deserted
laboratory building was on the side of the hospital where no afternoon
sun ever penetrated. It was now inky black in the room.
“Where do you think my wits would be? In this feather bed?” Snod replied
sarcastically, raising himself to a sitting posture, and rubbing his
aching neck with his hands.
“Stinks like a skunk in here!” Snod stood up carefully and walked toward
one of the dusty lab sinks. He turned on the tap and stuck his head
“Men have it over women in lots of ways,” he said as he took his
handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his dripping face. “What’s the
“After you went back to sleep I went to MacArthur and he was as
frightened as an old maid in a harem. All up in the air … hundreds of
feet. Said tomorrow is visiting day throughout the hospital and that it
will be all over town by tomorrow night about the nurse being murdered
and that after last night … you know … the-you-you-must-do-something
“So I made him come across with all he knew and sent for Rogers. He’ll
be here by six on the mail plane or eight via Chicago.
“The man everybody but MacArthur suspects is young Sterling.”
“The hell you say!” Snod continued placidly waving his wet handkerchief
in the dead air.
“Yep. I’ve seen him and he’s not guilty.”
“Nothing concrete. Except he took me over his building. Left his dying
father at MacArthur’s request, because I was supposed to be a friend of
the old man. He’s worried, jumpy, nervous as a cat locked up, but he’s
square or I’m a ninny.”
“You’ve been one a long time, Matt. Still, if he’s where we can keep an
eye on him, just in case a real unbiased detective, like me, for
instance, should disagree with you, I suppose we’d better not tell Lil.
If she ain’t improved since this morning, she might do a real fade-out,
and then where’d we be, with MacArthur pressing for immediate action? In
hell! Who else charmed the pants off you, mister?”
“Shut up, Snod. We’ve only twenty minutes before you go back on!”
Snod groaned deeply. “A light luncheon, before I again enter the
dominion of women?”
“Eat out of the ward refrigerator and shut up!
“MacArthur gave me the head of all nurses, the leavings of a general
gone senile, and she took me to all of the clinics. So I could look the
doctors over. Administrator from a distant hospital line, you know….
I’ve hammered into MacArthur that it’s a crazy doctor.”
“Could you find one, Sherlock?”
“Didn’t see anything else! Crazy ain’t the beginning of it! First we
took in the Eye Clinic, all the wards dark and dismal and the air full
of unuttered screams, and people putting their hands up close to their
faces to see if they are better.
“That’s run by an old soft soap artist with hair and complexion like the
guts of a soft-boiled egg. Pure and precious. Pat the tail off a
Shetland pony and grab out your eye ’fore you knew it. Peters. Doctah
Petahhs. Princeton ’92 and Sons of Cincinnati rosette.”
“Your control?” Snod’s voice was casual and flat. “Snappin’ out eyes
gets a man in the habit of murdering, Mr. Higgins.”
“Aw hush, you little pan-toter. He’d run from a Pansy in a dark alley.”
“So would I.”
“From there,” Higgins’ voice was stern, “we went on to see the kids. The
pediatrician’s square. Eyes like a searchlight. Kids play around him.
Kids and dogs know. He does not suspect Sterling, and he knew I was a
detective. He didn’t say either.”
“Didn’t anybody utter a word this morning?”
“Snod! Gimme a chance!”
“Birds of a feather … you sound as loony as the rest, Matt!”
Matthew Higgins flew off the handle. The darkness concealed his steely
eyes, but his voice was clear and hard.
“Are you telling me, or am I telling you? Ever been in a slaughter house
where they were doing everything from little pigs … on up?”
“Sorry, Matt. Might have known it would get you! The trouble with you is
you are up against the medical profession, and the medical profession is
composed of men who wait until you are down to hit you, and you ain’t
“Ain’t they queer, Snod? I didn’t see but two he-men this morning, and I
saw at least ten doctors, and about half of that ten, I’d be damned if I
could tell you what they was.”
“Statistics show that one-third of the silk underwear sold in the United
States is bought by doctors.” Snod was grave and authoritative.
“I believe you, kid!”
“They buy it for the nurses!” Snod continued monotonously.
“Aw … dry up! … From the kids we went to the Maternity Clinic, and
speaking of he-she things! Well he wore pants and a vest, but he talked
like a nervous wife of fifty and his hands were always twisting….”
“I know. A rat catcher!”
“They call him Prissy. How did you know?”
“And he believes Sterling is the murderer,” Snod announced.
“Say, you been sleeping all morning?”
“Yeah. But I’m a real detective. An obstetrician is the busiest animal
on God’s earth. He don’t have time to change his undershirt. Any woman
can call him at any hour, and what do you expect from a man in that fix
but gossip, mister? ’Spose you spent your life….”
“Aw, naw!” Matt’s response was definite. “He and Peters are buddies.”
“Sissies. It takes guts to fight death, and skill to be a doctor. Guts
is masculine, skill is feminine. They’re sissies.”
“It takes more than that to be a urologist, Snod. The one here holds out
in a clinic where you see men … Jesus! … The damnedest looking
liquids suspended over the beds hitched under the sheets with rubber
tubing and patients who curse your soul black if you so much as sneeze
as you pass them!”
“After the ball is over,” Snod inserted flatly.
“Well, believe me, that doctor is all man.”
“Have to be. Urologists rule men and men rule the world, Mr. Higgins.”
“Yeah? He believes young Sterling is innocent, and he knew I was ‘a
dick’ the minute he laid eyes on me.”
“And how do you know that? Personal charm? Or just ‘two strong men face
Higgins ignored the remark and continued:
“Offered me a good cigar, and looked me smack in the eye, and then says,
‘A friend of Doctor MacArthur and Dr. Bear Sterling is always welcome in
my clinic, sir.’ He’s the bird made MacArthur hire us against the
opposition, or I’m a green one.”
“You are that, too. But you are right about him. Everything comes to a
G. U. including ‘dicks’.”
“How do you know?”
“My grandmother told me. What about the psychiatrist?”
“Ever faced one of those birds?”
Snod had felt his way back to the couch and sat down.
“Nope, but I seen ’em telling fortunes at Coney Island.”
“You crazy? This fellow here is ’bout ten thousand jumps from a tent.
Got a building with swimming pools, and roof gardens and woodwork
painted green and locks on all the doors….”
“And a staff of old maid nurses and unmarried women doctors, who are
always telling you ‘sex done it.’ Night-prowling alley cats, at heart.
What about him?”
“His name is Hoffbein, and he’s got a little body like the tripod of a
camera, without the stiffening, holding up his mentality. Got a head
like a German. All front, with oriental black eyes, a controlled sissy
mouth, a beaky nose, and no back.
“He slithered all over the clinic with us, and God that was gruesome!
Perfectly healthy people, eating saltpetre in their food and wondering
how long before they’d be nuts! And him saying, ‘Routine, as you of
course know, is the basis of all recovery.’ And way down below a voice
“He ain’t a man, he ain’t just a sissy, he ain’t even a human being. If
you put a bullet through him, it wouldn’t even kill him.
“And he’s the thing we got to catch. He’s it!
“He’s so crazy that you ain’t sure whether he’s crazy or not. He’s the
control. He’s the person who is working the Kerr women and Lil is right.
And he knows I know it, too.”
“Charm it out of you?”
“After I’d seen the Surgical Clinic, and was always trying to ask
intelligent questions about costs and that kind of thing to the man who
is Bear Sterling’s assistant, Miss Carruthers took me to Cub Sterling
and I told you about him. But I saw the Head Nurse, Miss Kerr, too. And
then I knew I was right. Seen her?”
“Last night. During the Battle of Roses.” Snod’s reply came through the
darkness with confirmation.
“Then I ditched Miss Carruthers and went back to the Psychiatric Clinic
and into Hoffbein’s office before anybody realized I was there. He was
sitting in a room with bare walls, at a bare desk, and when he looked up
and saw me, he almost lost his ‘control.’
“He looks up and his eyes lost their whites like a horse, and he says
“‘Yep!’ I said, ‘You’re right.’
“Then I walked over and sat down in a chair beside his desk, and we
looked at each other and he tried to make me feel like the furniture in
the room was melting and running together and so I says:
“‘I know the multiplication tables well as Kim did, Doc. The last person
who tried that hypnotizing stunt on me was the head of a snowbird ring
at Atlantic City. She is making dresses in the Federal Pen in Atlanta,
now. What about Miss Kerr?’
“He turned red like a cooked beet and then he switched his head like a
sparrow and says:
“‘Miss Kerr is a nurse in this hospital and a very trusted person. Your
name? Real name?’
“‘Don’t matter a tinker’s damn, Doc! Miss Kerr was a patient of yours
some years ago and you used to hypnotize her to put her to sleep and
this doll, the doll which is always left by the murderer in Medicine
Clinic, was found in her desk and you knew it yesterday. What about Miss
“He looked kind of scared a minute and then he turned on me
confidentially and says:
“‘If you want my opinion, Mr…, these unfortunate occurrences are the
work of Dr. Sterling, Junior. An excellent example of a man who has
devoted the best years of his active life entirely to his profession. To
speak plainly, sexual abstinence has caused an inversion of that natural
energy by which a man obtains his balance, and is responsible for his
aberration. When a man devotes himself entirely to any profession he in
time becomes somewhat unbalanced. If you understand…?’
“‘You bet I do, Dr. Hoffbein. You are in a rotten position, and all the
evidence you have been trying to build up against young Sterling in
every staff meeting for a week won’t hold water _fifteen minutes_ if you
can’t explain to me by four o’clock about the doll….’
“He stiffened and replied: ‘I’m going to Miss Standish’s funeral.’
“‘See you there, then,’ I said, rising.
“At the door I turned and his eyes were spraying venom on me like a
snake’s fangs, and he says:
“‘What patients tell me in confidence, I will never….’
“‘Reveal on the gallows,’ I finished slowly. ‘Think it over, Doctor!
You’ll be guarded till you make up your mind.’
“Then I shut the door, hard, and came here.”
“Who is watching him?”
“A local man the dick at the Roosevelt got me. It’s five to three. You’d
better be moving….”
Snod rose slowly. “Where are you going? What shall I tell Lil?”
“To scare the guts out of the Kerr women. Tell Lil she’s right.”
Snod left the building by the basement door and started up the service
corridor toward the Medicine Clinic. Matt Higgins rolled his overcoat
carefully in the crumpled copy of _The Morning Call_, hid it in a corner
of the room and left the building by the main corridor door. Since it
was three o’clock and the duty changes were at two and five, he took a
By two-thirty the patients on Ward B had been bedded down for their
afternoon nap. Two student nurses were on duty. Miss Kexter was off for
Sally Ferguson lay in her bed, her arms locked above her head, her knees
crossed and making a tent of the covers. She was smoking her last
cigarette, inhaling slowly and gazing from the window. She had slept all
night, a loggy black sleep, and was fatigued and internally trembly. A
boredom, a lassitude and a loneliness were descending.
An overpowering desire to see Cub, backed by a hundred residents and
internes, if necessary … just to watch his eyes change and slip over
hers … to see again, even at a distance, the nice way the black hair
grew below his white cuffs and over the knuckles of his fingers … to
hear from his own lips that, “Doctor Bear Sterling is doing nicely,
thank you” … instead of having it smirked by prim nurses….
The ash-laden tip fell upon the covers. She flounced them and decided
even if his father died, even if _The Call_ was bombed, she had Cub
forever and he had her and they both knew it, and life was going to be
complete … yet!
The door to her room breathed gently inward. A man wiggled through and
closed it. For a moment he stood entirely silent, then his beady black
eyes snapped and his bumpy body relaxed.
The rush of asthmatic air made Sally slide her eyes and gasp:
“Jumbo! Where did you come from?”
Her voice relaxed into amusement and continued:
“You are an angel from God. Give me a cigarette!”
Without withdrawing his thumbs from his vest armholes, he pushed two
fingers into a pocket and flipped his cigarette case onto the bed.
Sally’s eyes narrowed. Jumbo had a spell of his “scoop hysterics.”
Something was up! She lit the new cigarette and remained silent.
The words splashed out of the man.
“Hell of a time getting in. No visitors. You ain’t lookin’ sick, Ferg.
Sneaked up the porch stairs. Half hour stomach travel and five minutes
walking. I ain’t got time to ask polite questions.
“Listen, Ferg. You been here long enough to get the dope. What is it?
Come on, kid! What about this Cub Sterling? Bucks wants to….”
Sally kept his eyes on her body and fought for time.
“Bucks. In case you’ve forgot, Ferg, he’s City Editor of _The Call_ and
saving six columns on the front page for this Sterling story.”
Sally took the cigarette from her lips and said crisply:
“Why don’t you quit bubbling, Jumbo, and tell me what it’s all about?”
“About. Je-sus Christ, Ferg. About! It’s about this guy Sterling
murdering patients in that ward out there. Bucks says you’ve had time to
get ‘in’ and it’s up to you to get the dots on him. Four people gone out
in the same bed since Thursday. All patients of his. Done between eleven
and twelve at night. He jabbed ’em with a hypodermic. For four days
we’ve known hell had burst loose up here, but we couldn’t squeeze blood
from no tick. Then this morning a woman dropped a bunch of red roses in
the service corridor and we got a tip.
“The Attorney-General’s trying to get the Governor to ‘hush’ it … but
Bucks says he can fry his tail in hell. It’s the biggest story west of
the Mississippi in twenty years and he ain’t goin’ to lock those presses
’till ten tonight. In the meantime you got to….”
As usual when excited, Jumbo walked up and down and did not look at the
person he was addressing. That habit gave Sally time to take the shock
before he turned.
She held the cigarette between her lips to keep them from trembling. Her
feet were flat upon the mattress, pressing against each other
desperately. Her voice was hail-fellow and confident. She said:
“Thanks for the chance you and Bucks are giving me. It’s white! Darned
white! And lucky, too, Jumbo. He’s my doctor. Due to come to see me in
about half an hour. You go back and tell Bucks to give me till five.
It’s now a quarter to three. I’ll get the story! Gimme a pencil and some
paper. Beat it, before somebody comes in…!”
“But Bucks said….”
“You tell Bucks Hammond if he wants this story, he’ll get it …
provided he gives me a little time. I know the ropes around here. I know
the man. The only way to muff it is for you to stand there till you’re
caught! Quit sucking your tongue like a lolly-pop and beat it. If you
are not back by five I’ll wrap my story in a cake of soap and sling it
out that window!”
Jumbo tripped to the door, turned and said:
“You’re a swell kid, Ferg! Everybody’s missin’ you!”
“Been one twenty-four years! Tell ’em hello, Jumbo!”
After he was gone Sally Ferguson pulled the sheets over her head and
sobbed dryly for five minutes. Then she tiptoed over to the washbasin,
put cold water under her eyes and got back into bed.
Her mouth was set. Her head was very high.
He was as innocent as she was and … by God … she’d prove it. But you
couldn’t prove anything lying here being policed every pulse counting.
You had to get out and think and….
She rang her bell; when the student nurse came, she smiled wanly and
“Dr. Mattus and Dr. Sterling said I might get up for a while this
afternoon. Will you bring me my clothes now? They said from three to
The girl drank the smile. When she returned with the clothes she
“Can you manage alone, Miss Merriweather? The other nurse has the cramps
and doesn’t want to report off duty, less she has to. So I’m doing most
“Sure,” Sally smiled. “Poor kid!”
The girl turned from the door and said, “Ring if you need me!”
A terrible strength began to flow through Sally. A strength which
centered just under the skin and left her vitals hollow and quivering.
It took ten precious minutes to dress. Inside, and with every motion of
pulling on stockings, adjusting garters, smoothing her hair, inside,
deep inside, her consciousness sang:
“Cub Sterling, you are not! You are not! Cub darling, I love you! I love
The deep singing was like a walking cane as she started across the room
for the door. She pulled the knob, hesitantly, ascertained the student
nurse was out of sight, and gathering all of her strength, ran the few
feet to the screen porch door. When her knees gave way she was on the
concrete steps, halfway down to Ward A, and Ward A was the ground floor.
A wild mental clearing made her understand that with or without
strength, she had to reach that porch off Ward A, get over the railing
and drop to the ground, before the nurses began rolling the patients out
for their afternoon airing.
Ten minutes later, a young girl, walking with an erectness every motion
of which hurt, entered Otto’s restaurant and leaned against the deserted
She fastened her violet eyes into Otto and said:
“I love Cub Sterling as much as you do. I think I can save him … if
you’ll lend me a dollar for two hours….”
The money was in her hand before Otto could open his lips. When he did
open them, the girl was already in a taxi-cab, and the cab was coasting
down the hill from the hospital.
When Miss Carruthers, in response to a telephone call, brought Evelina
Kerr, student nurse, to Dr. MacArthur’s office, Matt Higgins rose from a
chair and said:
“Miss Carruthers, Dr. MacArthur just stepped out a minute…. He asked
me to wait until he returned and ask you to please let this nurse…?”
His “silver threads” smile brought an immediate acquiescence. The old
lady smiled, backed out, and Higgins offered the student nurse a chair.
She sat upon the edge, her narrow feet together and the bony ankles
pressing against each other. Higgins offered her a cigarette. Her
refusal was jerky.
“Excuse me,” he said walking toward the door. “My mistake. I don’t want
to get you thrown out.”
She flinched slightly and her round chin tried for a well-bred hauteur.
When the door was closed, Higgins looked squarely, slowly, with open
summary, at the girl. She thought he was flirting. When his eyes began
their spreading lid trick, she felt as though he were pointing the
muzzle of a pistol toward her. She tried to fight his silence with
“Who are you? Why are you looking at me that way?”
Higgins laid his head against the door. His lids continued widening.
Her words beat the air:
“Stop looking at me! Stop it!”
His words were like an ice cloth against her brain:
“Why don’t you quit lying, girlie?”
The battle was uneven. Perfect physical control against shattered
nerves. Her close-set eyes began to ferret. She made a last effort to
hide behind her sex.
“I’m not lying. I don’t know what you are talking about! You are crazy!”
Matt’s eyes stayed steadfast. He said very slowly:
“No … it’s your aunt who is crazy!”
Her beaten nerves threw the battle back to her body. She leaped to her
“She’s not. She’s not! I swear to God she’s not!”
Higgins walked over and clenched his hands into her shoulders.
“Look at me!”
She fought to get loose.
He increased, gradually, his hold.
“Look … at … me…!”
Her piglike eyes cringed before his steel ones.
Quickly, unexpectedly, he released his hold and smiled at her. His voice
“Kiddo, I’m sorry for you. Sit down!”
She fell into a chair and began dry-sobbing. He filled a glass from the
thermos jug on the mantel and placed it against her lips. And while she
drank, with his free hand he soothed her ugly little forehead as one
soothes a terrified child.
Kindness was the one thing the girl had never known. She couldn’t fence
Higgins’ reasoning voice suggested:
“Tell me about it, won’t you?”
He took the glass and set it upon the table. Then he took her sweating
hand and held it protectingly in his.
The words cascaded out of her:
“She’s not killing them! I swear to God she’s not! She’s … she’s … I
can’t tell you … she’ll have me thrown out…. I can’t! I can’t!”
Higgins put his other hand beneath the hand he was already holding.
“Go on!” he ordered in a monotone…. “She’s…?”
His eyes picked into the shady depths of her close-set ones. He smiled
The girl’s terror fell away. She whispered:
“She’s … taking … morphia-off-the-ward-I’m-on-in-her-clinic. At
night. Between the supervisor’s rounds!”
Neither the pressure of his hands nor his voice changed.
“Is she an…?”
The girl’s whisper was almost inaudible….
“I … I … think … so….”
Higgins’ voice became stern.
“Then how do you know she’s not … the murderer?”
The girl shot back instantly:
“Because she … didn’t come until I notified her … the night … the
nurse … went out!”
“Maybe you didn’t see her.”
Her words came in gasps:
“I … I … counted-the-tablets … when-I-came-on … duty …
and-when-I-went-off. They … checked…!”
“Perhaps she didn’t take any to throw you off the track. Had you thought
The terror in her eyes and voice made Matt shiver.
The word was a wail.
He changed his tactics immediately.
“That’s not likely, though. When the urge is ‘on’, nothing … not even
murder … can stop it.”
He had risen while he was talking and opened the door into the corridor.
Ten minutes had passed. Dr. MacArthur entered. Higgins said to the girl:
“You have nothing more to worry about. Dr. MacArthur and Miss Carruthers
will stand behind you … till you graduate!”
Then he went out of the Administration Building, down the main corridor
of the hospital. The corridor was nearly empty. In the distance five
probationers, with new text books under their arms, were coming toward
him, but they were the only people in sight. The wards had settled down
for the afternoon, the white nurses were off duty, and two student
nurses on each floor and the head nurse of each building were on duty.
The internes and resident were doing lab or case studies.
After he rounded the corner and started toward Medicine Clinic, he met
more people and an air of increased tension. The tension was especially
plain in the orderlies and maids. He remembered that he had forgotten to
tell Snod about the roses, and considered going up to Ward B after he
entered Medicine Clinic, then decided to let it slip. That would be
dangerous. Even though he had his group cornered there was no reason to
take unnecessary chances.
Good thing he had spent part of last evening checking up on Miss Kerr’s
past. Now that he had the dope information….
Lil Parkins was the best woman he had ever worked with. She smelt people
like a dog. Kind of sixth sense and she never missed. Her hunches had
made his reputation.
The explosive air hung over him like a pall. Through an open door he
could see Miss Roenna Kerr, her flat feet primly under her desk, her
white pompadour overhanging her lean face….
He walked straight into her office and closed the door behind him. Her
pen dropped from her fingers and she turned her long head. Then her face
became as devoid of expression as a mule’s. Panicky and blank with fear.
But her long years of training came briskly to her aid.
“What can I do for you? Is there something in the Clinic that you failed
to see, Mr. Immerheld?”
“I’m not Mr. Immerheld of Cornell Medical Center, Miss Kerr. I am from
New York, though, and you can be so good as to tell me,” his gray eyes
narrowed and tried to make her china blue ones rise above his necktie,
“how you happened to have this?”
He drew from his back pocket the doll in the blue dress and frilled
bonnet, that Mattus had found in Miss Kerr’s desk, and turned it over on
The raucous, “Pa-pa! Pa-pa! Pa-pa!” kept repeating itself slowly and
“Turn it over! Turn it over! I’ll tell you,” there was relief in her
“My niece had a P. M. several … about … a week ago … and went to a
street fair and won it. She brought it to me….”
Higgins seated himself carefully in a chair beside her desk and said:
“Half an hour ago the doll that your niece won was lying in her top
Without intending to do so, her china blue eyes raised to his and he
shot past her protective covering into her unprepared ear:
“Is morphia quicker than cocaine?”
From inside, without intention, she answered:
Then she realized what she had said and opened her lips to make a
statement about “depending upon the condition of the patient….”
Higgins did not allow her to utter the words. Once an addict has
acknowledged the habit, he knew she was powerless to refrain from
talking about it.
“What’s the shot you use?”
“An eighth used to do. It’s a half now….”
Her hands began to flutter wildly. Higgins turned the doll over again.
Its nasal whining raised the electric tension.
His voice cut through the whining. He said:
“It was clever of you not to take any tablets the night you did the
“I didn’t! Before God, I _didn’t do_….”
“You don’t like Cub Sterling, do you?”
The question shot at her like a bullet. She staggered internally.
“Dr. Hoffbein doesn’t like him, either! Dr. Hoffbein used to put you to
“After what?” she defied and cowered at the same time.
“After that woman doctor you lived with died.”
“That’s not so. How do you know that?”
“He didn’t tell you either. He just called me….”
“Maybe it’s in your case history, then….” He leaned quickly forward.
“Why did you hide the doll?”
“To protect my niece.”
He changed his tactics:
“Did you use your own syringe on the nurse?”
The old woman’s facial muscles contracted. Her yellow teeth laid bare
against her purpling lips. Her bust relaxed hopelessly and then she
began to talk, openly, helplessly:
“I didn’t do the nurse. Really, I didn’t. I didn’t do any of them! … I
… I … was … there … Monday … but….”
“Who did … them … if you didn’t?”
Her china eyes protruded.
“One … one of … the Cub Sterling’s!!!”
The words bit through her old teeth:
“There are two of them! … Two…! … Two Cub Sterlings…! I _saw_
them that night … of the first traceable murder Monday night! … I
was coming out of the Medicine Closet with my … and one of them was
bending over the patient in Bed 11, and one of them was shadowed against
the window shade bending over the patient in Room Two.
“And the one … bending over the patient in Bed 11 …” her words began
to burst … “_saw me_! I know _he saw me_! …”
Higgins cut in sternly:
“It was your duty to … investigate….”
Her hands began to pick her bosom wildly.
“I couldn’t…. I couldn’t…. Don’t you see I couldn’t?”
“Why didn’t you tell Dr. Hoffbein…?”
“Because … because … he had said if … I ever went back … to my
… habit … on duty….”
Higgins nodded grimly and hunched forward.
“Who around this hospital looks like Cub Sterling?”
“Nobody! I swear nobody! Oh, God, I’ve been over every single face since
then … in my mind … and on sight…. Nobody!”
“One of those Cub Sterlings was a man who knew you were taking dope,
Miss Kerr … who knew that when you saw him … you’d keep your mouth
shut. Who knew…?”
“Nobody but … my … niece! That’s why I took the doll. To keep the
Staff from … grilling her … I was afraid….”
“You are missing out somewhere. Who checks the dope?”
“The floor nurse, once a month. She gives the sheet to me and I turn the
clinic sheets over to the pharmacy….”
“Ah, the pharmacy! They knew, Miss Kerr!”
“No! No! They didn’t know. I … I … changed … the sheet from Ward B
… the day I turned it in … so as to cover….”
“When did you turn it in?”
“The day of the first traceable murder.”
“Take your telephone, Miss Kerr, and ask the white nurse from Ward B if
the pharmacy called her to check her figures.”
“She’s off duty now.”
“Get her in her room!”
The old nurse hesitated and cringed.
Higgins’ voice cut her into action.
“If you want to save your own neck … take it!”
When Miss Kerr hung the receiver back upon the hook she whispered:
“They did. She … read them … her pencil memorandum … on
Higgins rose steadily and said carefully:
“If you go on as though nothing has happened, you may get off … scott
free. As soon as I step from this door, until I return, there will
always be somebody watching you. Is the pharmacy next to the
Her wilted voice responded:
“Yes. It is off the main corridor … but I can’t go on! I _can’t_!”
He stood against the closed door and snapped:
“Would you rather have a chance to resign … or spend the rest of your
life in the pen?”
“You are not off duty until seven! Understand?”
The old pompadour shook carelessly.
Higgins opened the door and started through the lobby and up the main
corridor toward the pharmacy. His brain was reeling. He was dizzy.
Two Cub Sterlings! God Almighty! Suppose she was lying? Suppose? … She
was too frightened to leave, though…. The best thing to do was sit
tight and look over the pharmacy staff.
When Snod Smooty came back on Ward B, he found two student nurses on
duty and the women remarkably quiet. They were still subdued by the
grandness of Dr. Cub Sterling’s leaving his dying father to come to see
about them. They were excited over his furrowed face and his sudden
ageing. They didn’t call it that, but they felt it, profoundly. To the
funeral-wake-type, death is always as exciting as birth, and the death
of a famous doctor….
Snod tiptoed up to lower a window shade near Lil Parkins’ bed. She was
sleeping peacefully and contentedly. The same feeling of admiration
which the other women had experienced for Cub Sterling had taken the
form of protective relaxation in Lil Parkins. He would see that nothing
happened to her. He had told her to go to sleep.
An expression of sudden warmth lay over the colorless features of Snod
Smooty as he looked at Lil. A grand girl, Lil! And a swell detective! Do
anything for a pal. Nursed him through pneumonia last fall, just because
he was her friend….
The day orderly beckoned to him and he went back to washing dishes. They
worked quietly and with the doors closed. One of the nurses came to say
she was going off the floor a minute.
The day orderly was a squashy fellow who talked all the time. Snod had
known it soon as he set eyes on him. He finished the saucers and left
the man still talking. His garrulousness had put Snod’s nerves on the
jump and he was hungry, too.
Three-thirty and the fool wouldn’t leave him long enough to get even a
bottle of cream outa the ice box! Maybe a cigarette would help….
Snod eased over toward the door and through it. Halfway up the ward
corridor, he caught sight of chubby Bessie Ellis sitting up in her crib
and playing with a doll … exactly like the two Dr. MacArthur had shown
He ran noiselessly to her crib and smiled at her. They were friends
immediately. As he passed the medicine closet he saw the single student
nurse coming out of the nurses’ lavatory.
When he smiled at Bessie he took hold of the foot-board of the crib to
steady himself. She was six, and the pink dress of the doll looked
pretty against her brown curls and eyes.
It was the hardest job he had ever tackled. He said slowly, and his face
was innocent and friendly:
“Where did you get that new dollie Baby?”
“Dr. Cub jes’ gave her to me….”
Snod reeled from the bed and staggered toward that of Lil Parkins. The
other women were still asleep. Some of them were snoring. He leaned over
and peered behind the drawn curtain.
Lil’s eyes were wild with fear and her face began to contract.
“Stop it!” Snod’s voice was harsh and heavy. “Tell me! You all right?”
She nodded weakly and her intense features began kaleidoscoping her
“God Almighty! It’s Dr. Cub Sterling. I trapped him … cold…. He
thought I was asleep and when he leaned over me … with the
hypodermic….” her profile shadow convulsed against the white pillow,
“I … opened … my eyes. He had pulled the curtains to … get me…!
“I said, ‘You!’ and started to scream … and he drew back and his eyes,
Snod. Oh, God … run mad, together. Crazy! And then he cocked his left
shoulder, shrugged, lowered his curly head and bowed himself … out.
“It’s spells, Snod. He wasn’t that way this morning. His eyes! I
couldn’t scream. My heart….”
“Rest it, kiddo, till I get Matt.”
Snod coiled around and his eyes with the sudden sharpness of great
stress saw the tall figure with the high shoulder walk out of the linen
closet and enter the elevator.
And then swiftly, noiselessly, and panther-like he followed.
The elevator door closed just as he reached it.
Three minutes later Snod Smooty slouched up the main corridor. Nobody
was in sight, either way, except in the distance was a man. The man wore
a white hospital coat, and Snod eyed him hopelessly; then Snod’s eyes
The man’s left shoulder had lifted and from the left patch pocket there
was dangling a frilled pink organdie doll bonnet!
Snod gathered his muscles and began to run….
He was almost up with the man when a panicky woman opened a side door
and halted his progress.
She fell into his arms, before he could sidestep her, and the agony of
her face made him involuntarily support her.
“The Maternity Clinic. Quick! For God’s sake, quick!”
Snod looked both ways. Only the tall figure was visible.
“For God’s sake, hurry!”
He gathered the tortured body of the woman into his long arms and began
running with his back to the retreating figure.
Nature had tripped him, and he knew it.
When he had helped the orderly inside the door of the Maternity Clinic,
who awaited such emergencies, to get the panic-stricken woman onto a
handy stretcher, Snod turned swiftly and started slowly back toward the
MacArthur would know where Matt was. No use trying to locate him through
God in Heaven! Young Sterling! And they had been so damn near framing
three innocent people! Within that space of a hundred yards, he must
readjust his mind.
His ineffectual thin body shambled innocuously along….
Behind him there burst upon the air the perfect trilling of a robin.
Snod slid over to a window and looked stupidly at the grass in the back
Matt Higgins drew alongside and asked loudly:
“Beg your pardon, but could you tell me the way…?”
Snod began pointing through the window at the different buildings. His
eyes followed his fingers. His voice, once it had formulated an action,
was like a scimiter blade. It shimmered:
Higgins was harassed and hot. He was measuring his forefinger against
the left thumb.
“Gone to train to meet dead nurse’s mother. There are two Cub Sterlings,
old Kerr says. Just confessed. Claims she’s seen ’em. On my way now….”
Snod’s loose hands continued their flappings.
“Kerr’s innocent. Two? Jes-sus! One Cub Sterling just tried to murder
Lil. She frightened him off!”
Higgins face grayed.
Snod snapped, “I nearly caught him. Had a doll bonnet hanging from his
pocket, walking up this corridor five minutes ago. Pregnant woman….”
A smile almost split Matt’s lips. Words knocked it off:
“I’ll call MacArthur at the station. Have him get the sheriff to send a
warrant immediately. No! I’ll get the kids’ man. His brother is
Attorney-General. He can act quicker. Then I’ll watch Cub Sterling,
until they come. Give me time to think. Something don’t click. I still
don’t believe it…! You go to the pharmacy before you go back to Lil
… over there … and see if the pharmacist is in … if he is watch
him until I come….”
Snod’s hands continued their waving. But his eye was out upon the
corridor. He hissed:
“A running man…. Turn around, Matt!”
Matt whirled. Ahead, almost through the door into the Administration
Building, and round the statue of Elijah Wilson, careened Cub Sterling.
Higgins’ legs were in motion and his words shot back:
“I’ll follow this one. You watch out for Lil! The other may try
Snod’s face remained blank. His biscuit watch was in his hand. Four
doctors were coming up the corridor. His deferential voice followed
“You have five minutes to make that train, sir.”