The Cupola

As the taxi woggled downhill, Jumbo’s words pushed past the busy
clicking of the meter into Sally’s weary brain. Once inside her
consciousness, they rolled around like brightly colored Christmas tree
balls, and butted into each other and crashed. Far down beneath the
shattering concussions her mind began reverberating:

“Think it over, think it over, think it over.”

Twice she decided to go to Bucks and then she knew it would be hopeless.
They couldn’t help if a big story broke. They didn’t make the news. They
… they were like buzzards … and she must do something to keep them
… from….

Murdering patients…. Oh God! Oh God! … No! … They are wrong!

She pushed her curly bright hair back from her sweating forehead, and at
_The Call_ building gave the driver the dollar, and slipped unnoticed
into a crowded elevator and out again in the main hallway of the sixth
floor.

This wouldn’t do. Somebody might come along.

She leaned against the wall for a moment, then decided to walk up to the
seventh floor. There was a vacant suite of offices on the corner;
perhaps if she went where there was plenty of room her brain would get
… wider….

Half way up the marble stairs began rising and hitting her in the face,
and then slipping back so that she couldn’t quite reach them when she
stepped. She slumped and rested.

If Cub’s arms were only around her now. How many murders had there been?
Four! Jumbo had said four, and the last a nurse. The night he brought
the last cigarettes. She hadn’t seen him since the morning after … the
nurse…. Not since Dr. Bear began dying … but she knew! She knew!

Oh God! God! It wasn’t Cub! It wasn’t! A murderer couldn’t kiss you so
that your soul ran up and spread out flat under his lips…. A murderer
couldn’t look at you so that you said you were sorry, even when you
tried not to be…. A murderer’s hair wouldn’t fold into little waves
where it spread under the curve at the back of his neck.

But how could you tell a paper that? How could you make a city editor
understand … when you had no proof … that a man was innocent and
framed?

There must be some way! You had to think clearly to see it, and the
place to think was upstairs with the whole world spread out below in
orderly rows and streets. Just as the sun spread over the city, and
strengthened it, so control made it possible…. Two hours! Less than
that now….

She clenched her fists tightly and rose with studied steadiness.
Necessity cleared the brain. Working in a newspaper office taught that
the best ideas came under pressure. She had gone out on enough murder
stories to know the person who worked his brain … could beat anything
… even newspaper reporters and … police.

By the time Sally reached the door of the vacant suite, the seams of her
stockings were straightened and her reddening eyes carefully and
painstakingly dry. There was an air of jauntiness about her small
figure.

She had a head and was going to use it!

Her violet eyes had changed to the deep purple and iridescent white of
orchids. She closed the door and stood against it. Then her irises
focused.

A stooped, intent figure was silhouetted between the rows of windows and
the long city vistas below. For a second her artistic sense forebade
speech.

Like an apple tree, gnarled and buffeted by too much winter, the thin
shoulders, flat chest, beak nose, and long hands ribboned with purple
veins, strained after the peering eyes which were hidden by a pair of
binoculars. The dirty white hair drawn into a tightly furled knot, on
the upper front of the head, helped Sally recognize the
next-to-the-oldest-employe of _The Morning Call_. She momentarily forgot
Cub Sterling.

“Emma! What are you doing?”

Emma wheeled around, and the binoculars fell from her hands. Sally moved
with extended palms to catch them.

“Oh, it’s you!” Emma’s voice was pleased and birdlike. “They don’t drop,
Miss Ferguson. Mr. Bucks told me you was on vacation. Did you have a
nice time, dearie?” She reached toward the long leather thong which held
the binoculars around her scrawny neck and then embarrassment replaced
pleasure.

“What _are_ you doing?”

“Well, I tell you, dearie. Whin I can’t git inta th’ offices on six
ri-away, I jes’ comes here for a little while and takes in the city …
kinda. It helps a lot, sometimes, for bein’ lonesum, Miss Ferguson.”

The news-story instinct welled up. Sally eased down into a window sill.
Perhaps, if you shifted the mind completely….

“Where did you get them?”

“Well, dearie, it’s like this: My boy … you know … what was killed
at the Argonah, had ’em.” Emma’s lower jaw dropped. “His buddy … my
boy had got ’em off’n a dead German General, and you kno’ what fine
things Germans makes … well, his buddy took ’em off’n my boy’s body
after … and brought ’em back to me. And, Miss Ferguson, he seys whin
he give ’em to me, he seys, ‘These is t’gif ye a chancst t’see life.’

“Ain’t that sweet, dearie? And they’se bin the greates’ consterashun thu
m’sorrow. Whin I gits t’thinkin’ ’bout my boy and wishin’ f’
gran’chillrin … you kno’ … I jes’ comes up here and takes in a few
lifes.”

A swell newspaper story! “Vicarious living,” Sally muttered.

Emma, heard it and protested:

“No mam! Nuthin’ like that! I never looks beyond Second Street, Miss
Ferguson. Two blocks this side of Beeker Street is an awful nice
I-talyan neighb-hood. It’s sweet t’see th’women nursin’ babies on
do’steps. That’s helped me an awful lot … sometimes….

“Wouldn’t you like to take a look, dearie?”

Emma removed the thong from her neck with the care a concert master
saves for his violin. Her face had now a deep, sweet warmth. Miss
Ferguson had given her five dollars at Easter and at Christmas and this
was a chancst….

Sally saw the look and rose. The folds of her blue crepe dress molded
the curve of her slender thighs as she lifted the thong carefully over
her head, adroitly around her white cowl collar, and walked toward the
window.

Emma stood proudly by and suggested:

“If you look tword the sout’wes’ down by Sears, Roebuck, you kin’ jes’
catch a piece of the bridge ’roun’ th’corner buildin’. It’s awful prutty
at sunset.”

Sally, who was something of a football fan, realized these were
eight-power Zeiss binoculars. They brought the city out with startling
clearness. She looked for the University, and on out toward Sears,
Roebuck and across the river. Then she began picking out the Italian
district near Becker Street and the Speakeasy just around the corner
near Pershing Road.

“They’re wond-er-ful, Emma!”

“Ain’t they gran’?”

Suddenly she remembered about Cub, and trained the glasses upon the
Elijah Wilson four blocks uphill. Cub was over there … somewhere….
Cub was….

She began going over the building carefully. How pink the bricks were in
the afternoon sun! The trees up Wilson Boulevard looked so green and
feathery! How….

Her eyes found the cupola upon the top of the Administration Building.
She had always wanted to see what was in that cupola! She unscrewed the
lenses to their full power. They came into focus. One of the grimy
windows was open. How lucky! She trained them into it.

Scissored against the far white wall was Cub Sterling sitting at a small
table. His hand held a hypodermic syringe. He was laughing….

God Almighty!

Sally staggered as if she had been struck. Emma, supporting her,
soothed:

“I orta told you, dearie. If you looks too much you gits dizzy.”

“Emma,” her tone was parched and pleading, “look through these at the
cupola of the Elijah Wilson Hospital and tell me what you see.”

The old woman took the binoculars, readjusted them … it seemed to
Sally that she used a thousand years … and said:

“Shucks, honey, I don’t see nuthin’ but a curly-headed man settin’ at a
little table writin’ in a book…. H’m … he’s awful nice lookin’!,
too….”

Sally snatched the glasses and spread her feet to prop herself while she
projected them. Her eyes, as she stiffly moved the dials, were filmy,
but within seconds she had the lenses magnifying the cupola and as a man
might repeat by rote what he knew by heart, she forced her
horror-stricken eyes to focus again.

What they saw was Cub Sterling sitting at the same small table, a pen in
his hand, writing swiftly and absorbedly in a small book. Behind him was
the same big red splotch … as if a bucket of blood had been thrown
against the wall … the same … small medicine case between two of the
sooty windows.

But before him, upon the table, was the hypodermic syringe. Her eyes
kept coming back to it over, over and over, as the eyes of a bird
fascinated come back to a snake. And upon his face, as he wrote, was the
awful look which she had never seen there, until he held that syringe up
and laughed.

As she gazed, like an echo in the distance, little things about him
began to be unfamiliar. There wasn’t so much distance under his ear and
collar, where she had buried her nose. And his hair wasn’t that long …
not nearly…. He had just had his hair cut … Tuesday….

Maybe that was somebody else…. Maybe….

The glasses began slipping from her hands and while they fell, with the
rapidity of a panic-stricken brain, she decided.

If it was Cub and she telephoned him and told him she needed him
terribly and to come right away and he came, then it wasn’t Cub. And if
he didn’t come, but stayed right there in that chair all the time….

Well, you had to know … sometime….

“Emma,” her voice was crisp and had lost its note of friendly equality,
“put those binoculars to your eyes and watch that man in the top of the
hospital till I come back…. Don’t take your eyes off of him _for one
second_. It’s … it’s … whether I’m ever happy depends on his sitting
in that chair till I come back.”

The bent old woman took the glasses, tremblingly, and Sally was halfway
down the hall of the seventh floor before the cupola was in focus again.

As she ran she debated whether to take a chance and call from the
newspaper office. The open door of a suite of legal offices flashed by.
She wheeled and entered. None of the stenographers was in the outer
office.

Steadying herself against a typewriter desk she snatched up the
telephone:

“Wilson 2000. Hurry, please!”

She had called it two weeks ago for a news story!

In response to the hospital operator’s, “Lijah-Wilsin,” she said:

“Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior.”

The voice died away and then came back:

“Dr. Sterling’s ’phone doesn’t answer.”

“Call him on the loud speaker, please. It’s terribly important.”

She could hear the weary, raucous rasping, which was penetrating every
corridor of the whole hospital:

“Docterr Ste-earling. Doct-terr Eth-err-ridge Ste-earling-Junyior….”

Every day of the month on the calendar tacked to the far wall hit her in
the face … Monday, the ninth … Monday, the sixteenth … before she
heard Cub’s:

“Dr. Ethridge Sterling, speaking.”

“Cub … can you come to room 708 in _The Call_ building, right
away…?”

“What? … Salscie…? Where are you? How did you…?”

A terrible calm invaded her.

“It’s me, Cub! I walked out of the hospital. I had to…! Something
awful…!”

“What?” the rising concern of his voice seemed to be put on, and then
his, “I can’t leave Father. He’s….”

She braced herself for a final effort and begged:

“I know. But I’m in _terrible_ … I need you, darling!”

“But, Salscie….”

“Room 708, Cub! …”

She threw the telephone from her and reeled into the hall and toward the
vacant suite. Her eyes were right! Cub was not coming. Cub was …
was….

With a listlessness which portrayed great physical effort, she pushed
the door open and looked toward the stooped back of Emma; then she
swayed steadily toward a low Window sill and sat down. Her eyes were the
color of clouds before a thunder storm and she leaned her head against
the casing.

Then with that funny clearness which is always part of terror, she began
to count the carpet tacks on both sides of two planks in the floor. One,
two … his voice was foggy and distant … six, seven, eight … he was
irritated…. “I can’t come. I can’t come!”… Cub Sterling was a
murderer … a maniac….

As the thought began forming in her mind she revolted, and the revolt
brought energy. Within half a minute after entering the room, she was at
Emma’s side, begging:

“He didn’t move, did he? He didn’t move, Emma?”

“Not as I seen, but twicest I sneezed and los’ him, Miss Ferguson. But
whin I got him back in, agin, he was settin’ jes th’ same and writin’
away … liken he is….”

Sally grabbed the binoculars and twisted them painstakingly as she
placed the strap over her head. If he hadn’t moved, then perhaps … but
he might have heard the loud Speaker and gone to a ’phone while Emma was
sneezing … would the loud speaker penetrate into that cupola…?

When she focused the figure again she began scrutinizing it. He had
turned. Only his back and high shoulder … but the distance from his
ear to his collar wasn’t wasn’t….

Nobody but Cub had shoulders like that! Nobody except Cub sat that
way….

There was only one Cub Sterling in the world and in spite of every
little thing which wasn’t right this was he. And if he sat in that chair
another ten minutes she would never walk and talk again … and if he
didn’t sit there but came to her….

She staggered back at that thought and Emma ran to her.

“Don’t git yourself so excited, dearie. What’s that big-headed man to
you? He ain’t nuthin’ but a doctor’s helper, doin’ his regular….”

Sally kept the glasses carefully focused and said, quite calmly:

“Did you ever seen him before, Emma?”

“Not as I kin recklek. But thin I ain’t no jedge. I ain’t no crazier
’bout lookin’ at hossbittles thin I is ’bout bein’ in thim, Miss
Ferguson. I tell you lots of my frin’s done gone up to thet hossbittle
and ain’t never bin heard frum since. Ef a body’s goin’ to die, he’s
goin’ die, hossbittle or no hossbittle, I says. Look at my boy en the
Argonah! I recklek whin he got hurt in a football scrimpage, over at
Western High and they tried to take him to….”

Her chatter, like water in a distant bathtub during a bad dream,
splashed past Sally’s brain. Then it ceased to register, for the man at
the table had risen and was opening a drawer in the medicine cabinet.

And hope sprang suddenly high in Sally’s heart. His shoulders squared
and were flat! Cub stooped….

But the shape of the head and the way the hair curled at the back of the
neck sickened her, horribly. It was only when he reached in a hip pocket
and drew out a handkerchief … Cub carried his in his white coat breast
pocket….

Then he reached back toward the table for the hypodermic syringe, and
held it up to the light again…. And his left shoulder rose … and
Sally Ferguson’s eyes floated hopelessly, the stiff tensity of her body
began to relax … she staggered forward….

Coming up the hall was the sound of running feet and they sounded like
the feet of running men….

The door swung open. The note of relief in Cub Sterling’s voice as he
said “Salscie!” stiffened her relaxing muscles and gave her the power to
turn.

Matthew Higgins had come out of the Administration Building as the long,
lank body of Cub Sterling shot into a taxi at the stand.

Higgins had jumped another cab.

Sally Ferguson turned and swayed toward Sterling as Matthew Higgins
stepped inside the door and it was he who caught the incredulity, the
anguish, the blind hope of her voice.

“Cub! Are you _really_ Cub?”

As Sterling reached her his voice was stern.

“What is it? You _must_ tell me,” his eyes cut into her clouding ones
and Matthew Higgins stepped alongside and said curtly:

“Poison her too?”

Sally Ferguson’s lids began lowering and she gasped, holding up the
glasses with her ebbing strength:

“Look, Cub! The cu-po-la!”

The words faded with her closing eyes, and the final horror in them made
Cub Sterling lay her head against his chest, place his long arms under
her breasts and raise the binoculars, which were still suspended around
her neck.

“Lan’ sakes. It’s only a man. Jes, a doctor’s helper. And I seys….”
Emma had found her voice at last, but Cub Sterling cut in:

“God Almighty! Look! And tell me what you….”

His words were directed toward Emma.

Matthew Higgins took the glasses from Cub’s hands and Sally’s neck
before Cub said, “Tell me….” The expression on his face had convinced
Higgins that he saw … something … vile.




A silence, like the high hysteria after a buoy-bell, spread over the
waiting doctor. His eyes, livid with fear, turned upon the florid, gray
figure of Matthew Higgins. And it was Higgins’ voice that brought Sally
Ferguson out of her purple palaces. Its steadiness was more hysterical
than any word that had been uttered.

“A man with his head turned away from me … sitting at a small table
writing in a book, his left shoulder is … he is reaching for a
hypodermic syringe and holding it up and…. The murderer! … The
murderer! The crazy doctor! The other Cub Sterling!”

The glasses hit the floor with a thud and Matthew Higgins started down
the hallway before Cub Sterling and Sally Ferguson turned around. He
must reach Snod … reach Snod. In the same legal offices from which
Sally had telephoned he grabbed the receiver and ordered:

“Elijah Wilson Hospital, immediately!”

“Number? Number? Number?”

“Give it to me. I don’t know it.”

Sally reached the doorway and sighed:

“Wilson 2000.”

When the connection was through Higgins rasped:

“Dr. Henry MacArthur.”

The nasal whine of the placid operator came back:

“Dr. MacArthur’s ’phone doesn’t answer.”

“Then give me Ward B, Medicine Clinic.”

“We never connect ‘outside’ with the wards.”

“To hell with you!” Higgins threw the ’phone from him and followed the
running figure of Cub Sterling toward the elevator shaft. Sally Ferguson
eased in as the door slipped to, and said to the operator:

“Will, non-stop one. For God’s sake, quick!”

Higgins’ head cleared. “Who is he?” Cub nodded vacantly.

As they ran from the building Cub Sterling jumped in beside the driver
of a cruising taxi and ordered:

“Elijah Wilson. To hell with traffic lights! Five dollars if you do it
in two minutes!”

Matt Higgins pulled Sally Ferguson into the back seat and slammed the
door.

They began their wild, uphill snaking in and out.

Matt Higgins said:

“If we are not there in seconds, that devil will be…. Who is it,
Sterling?”

Cub took his panic-stricken eyes from the approaching hospital and said:

“I don’t know, Mr. Immer….”

“Higgins. Hired by Dr. MacArthur to … a New York dick, doc.”

Sally’s “Oh” was spontaneous.

Higgins turned and smiled.

“But it took a lady…!”

The cab drew up at the hospital. Cub Sterling was out and up the steps
before the driver applied the brakes. Matt Higgins tossed him the money
and he and Sally caught Cub before he was halfway up the main staircase
in the Administration Building. They reached the second floor and ran
around the octagonal railing, through which Sally caught a glimpse of
the statue of Elijah Wilson, far below, and on to the third floor. There
Cub turned, wild eyed.

“Damn it!”

“Which way?” Higgins demanded.

“I don’t know…. I’ve never been….”

Higgins began systematically opening doors and looking for an outlet.
Little streams of late afternoon sun filtered through the cracks. The
hospital was deathly still. All of the people off duty were preparing to
go to Rose Standish’s funeral.

Sally’s hands continued wringing themselves, and she begged:

“Cub, isn’t there some way … another stairs, Cub?”

He swirled without a word and ran down to the second floor again.
Higgins and Sally followed, hopefully.

Another stairs … behind the pharmacy … where Rose Standish had
kissed his interne … perhaps that went up as well as down….

They reached the door that opened onto the enclosed stairway. Cub pulled
the knob savagely. The door flew open. He peered into the darkness.
Matthew Higgins thick body brushed him aside. The detective pushed onto
the narrow landing and struck a match. Caticornered from the stairway
that led down to the pharmacy, a rusty door-knob caught the reflection.

“Locked!” his discovery was like a curse.

Sally stood in the doorway that led to the second floor and moaned.
Fatigue. Blinding fatigue was beginning to….

Cub Sterling moved over to Higgins’ side and said “Let’s bust it!”

They propped their feet upon the opposite wall and laid their shoulders
against the flimsy panels. The match was out and the veins in their
necks began choking them.

Far down below Sally heard the clanking bell of an approaching
ambulance; it hid the scrunching of the wood from her ears.

She stepped onto the landing and tried to see. Before her eyes were
accustomed to the dark, the heavy breathing of the two men seeped into
her like a narcotic. She lay weakly against the wall.

The breathing had ceased for half a second before she opened her eyes.
Through the final screech of the bulging door she heard Higgins’ voice.

“Footprints!”

He and Cub were through the hole and halfway up the narrow, winding
stairway. She could see Higgins’ match ahead as she scrambled through
the jagged panelling.

The steps were high and horrible. She lost all light when Higgins
rounded the turn. When she staggered up, again, Higgins had his hand
upon a knob and was ordering, in the heavy darkness:

“Stand over there, Sterling!” and then, “It opens out and is….”

He turned the knob, and a rush of yellow sunlight filled the twisting
stairs. They pushed on into it. The last three steps extended past the
cupola door and into the octagonal room.

Higgins, Cub and Sally stood upon these steps and looked.

Their gray, brown and violet eyes mirrored beside the white medicine
case, a raised glass in hand, the counterpart of Cub Sterling … gone
insane.

The late afternoon sun played upon the bushy hair, upon the similar, yet
dissimilar faces. It caught each feature, as it catches mountain crags
and emphasized it. The same white coat, the same carriage, but not the
same eyes.

It was the eyes which froze all three spectators into a paralyzed
horror. They were the color of Cub Sterling’s, except that they centered
upon his own eyes with a blistering, venomous, consuming hate, and that
hate was confirmed in the crooked, violent twist of the almost rigid
lips.

The lips opened, the man gave his left shoulder the hysterical twist and
drained the glass, but even with his head thrown back, his eyes bored
into and scorched the brain of Cub Sterling, and held Matthew Higgins
inert with horror.

It was Sally’s, “Peaches! I smell peaches!” that brushed past their
fear.

“Cyanide!”

As Cub barked the word, the tall man stiffened gauntly, his eyes still
intent upon Sterling’s; then his body, like a palm tree in a hurricane,
cracked suddenly forward.

The medicine cabinet was within ten feet of the steps upon which
Higgins, Cub and Sally stood, and the man fell so that his head just
brushed the railing. His hands automatically spread through the railing
and caught Sterling’s knee.

The fall threw his hair forward and Matthew Higgins snapped:

“Who is he?”

Cub’s eyes began disentangling themselves from the glassy vileness of
the dead man’s stare. Matthew Higgins reached down and savagely yanked
at the stiffening hands around Cub’s knees.

Sterling, his own hands gripping the railing for support, endeavored
vainly to make his reeling mind bring his tortured eyes into focus.

Matthew Higgins threw the dead man’s hand heavily back upon the floor;
the body rolled half over.

Higgins rasped:

“Doctor who?”

Cub’s brain snapped. His eyes focused.

“God! Baldy! It’s Baldy!”

He lay upon the railing and carefully repeated in a dead monotone:

“Baldy Rath … bone … Baldy….”

“Who’s he?”

The sentence did not cut through and Higgins bellowed into Cub’s ear:

“Doctor Rathbone … who’s he?”

It reached. Cub stood straight and clipped:

“Baldy Rathbone. Not doctor. Chief pharmacist of the Elijah Wilson. But
why in God’s name! Baldy Rathbone!”

The incredulity returned. He looked again at the inert body with its
eerie features.

Higgins nodded slowly….

The long hair had flopped so that the wide part again led to the shiny
spot….

“The book!”

When the sentence finally reached Sally’s lips, it whipped both Sterling
and Higgins into action. They ran across the room and the sun took their
gray and brown heads and played upon them. Through the cob-webbed
windows it shone with prismatic beauty onto the now expressionless face
of the dead man.

A terrible desire to get away from that hideous beauty gave Sally the
will to mount the remaining steps and run to the table and to Cub.

Through the single open window, the late spring breeze played gently. It
brought a hush to the horror-stricken air and a single fly entered, flew
directly to the dead man’s face and began walking upon his crooked lips,
up his relaxed cheek and around his glassy eyes.

Matthew Higgins held, in his blunt hairy hand, a small stiff-backed
notebook, such as the Elijah Wilson used for ward-addresses. The back
was checkered and the pages ruled. It was open at a half-written page.
The ink was still wet and the small, finely formed script stood out
heavily.

Cub read over his shoulder:

“Cupola…. May 19th, 3:55 P. M. I have just failed to administer to
the patient in Bed 11, Ward B, Medicine Clinic, a hypodermic of
coniine. She opened her eyes suddenly and recognized me as … Cub
Sterling! Nothing could be more fortunate.

“Beforehand I presented to Bessie Ellis my usual token. I was followed
by an orderly whom I suspect as a detective. I got away … but at
last … at last … my brother may be arrested…. It has worked,
perfectly!”

“My God! Lil!” Higgins said savagely as he dropped the book onto the
plain deal table.

Nobody paid him any attention.

Cub Sterling said, “‘My brother?’”

And Sally Ferguson picked up the book and began reading aloud from the
first page. Her voice was thin and pointed and she read:

“In 1883 there came to Heidelberg as a medical student a young
American named Ethridge Sterling. He had studied at the Hotel Dieu and
in New York. He lived at the Eagle Inn and attended lectures in
surgery under Klotz.

“As a chambermaid at the Eagle Inn, there was a young Bavarian girl,
Gretchen Seinrich. She was fair to gaze upon and full of country
spirits.”

Cub Sterling had sat down, his head buried in his cupped hands. Matthew
Higgins rested against a corner of the table. He was suddenly old. Lil
Parkins … for many years….

They both listened, vacant of expression, and at the same time horrified
with interest, to Sally’s voice:

“From the spring of 1883 to the fall of 1884 young Sterling prevailed
upon Gretchen Seinrich to live with him and she did so. I like to
believe they were in love. I know she always was in love with him.

“In October 1884, Sterling was suddenly called back to New York by the
unexpected death of his father. He promised to write. He never did so.
He promised to send his address. He did not do so.

“The last night he spent in Heidelberg he spent with her. While she
was still asleep he arose and wrote the note containing all of the
above promises, and before she woke he had packed and gone….

“And I was conceived….

“She returned to Bavaria and went to work as a seamstress. After my
birth, my mother determined to come to America and find my father …
and so she went to work at a more profitable profession … the
oldest.”

The utter and terrible stillness of Cub Sterling was more frightful than
any words would have been.

“Go on!” Matthew Higgins was relentless and Sally continued.

“It took three years to earn enough money to come to America and then
it took years of blind wandering to reach this hospital and….

“When she reached it, her great love had grown, through endless pain
and privation, to a great bitterness. She determined to reveal the
Great Dr. Sterling and ruin him, and by mistake when she asked to see
him, she was taken, instead, to his father-in-law, Dr. Jemison, and it
was through the door of Dr. Jemison’s office that she saw Ethridge
Sterling standing with his arm around Dr. Jemison’s daughter.

“She had a heart attack. Dr. Jemison pronounced her dead, and she was
carted back through the dispensary door and handed over to a German
Society for burial. The president of the society was Otto Weber. He
burned her papers and I, then nine, was put into an orphan asylum.

“My father was already famous. He was Otto’s best customer. But what
we learn in the first eight years of our lives … if it is bitter …
we never forget….

“At the asylum we had candy at Christmas and mush for breakfast, and
the Elijah Wilson operated upon us, free, when necessary. I remember
quite vividly when I was operated upon. Double hernia, and endless
pain, and a dispensary consultation. Dr. Sterling was designated to do
the operation.

“Upon the day slated, his son was born and my case was turned over to
an assistant resident. A man killed in the War….”

“Fegus,” Cub’s voice was low.

“The doctor had never done the operation before. I was his first …
the incisions were too deep.

“I lost my mother before I really knew her and my manhood before it
began….

“I lost both of them because my father was Dr. Ethridge Sterling, of
the famous hands.

“At sixteen, when the boys in the orphanage discovered my inabilities,
I determined to ruin my father … and began studying pharmacy with an
idea of becoming connected, eventually, with his hospital.

“The orphanage farmed me out to a pharmacist. Otto Weber had become a
political influence. I went to him and worked upon his sentiment. It
was he, and the excellency of my work … and why not? I am the son of
Dr. Sterling … that persuaded the Attorney-General to recommend me
to Dr. Barton and Dr. MacArthur as assistant pharmacist.

“I passed my state boards brilliantly. I entered the pharmacy of the
Elijah Wilson, the same year that Cub Sterling entered medical school.

“He spent ten years studying the science of medicine. I spent those
ten years perfecting myself in the science of murder. At first I
intended murdering the patients of my father, slowly, occasionally,
over a period of years. Then I perceived if I waited until Wilkins
died, became promoted as Chief Pharmacist and murdered my brother’s
patients, I would doubly ruin my father….

“Then the gods smiled…! Through the losing of my top hair, I,
unconsciously, grew a nickname. For five years now, I have catered to
that nickname. I shaved my center part to accentuate my bald spot. I
pomaded my long front hair, which naturally is curly as my brother’s,
to slick behind my ears … to change my forehead line.

“There is not a famous doctor around this hospital who would not
testify as to my baldness….

“Around a hospital where so many people are constantly passing at
stated intervals to stated places, the eyes of even a good observer
become dulled into ‘seeing,’ when a person resembling a familiar
doctor passes at an unexpected time, that doctor!

“It is upon that knowledge, a sudden assumption of my brother’s queer
angularity, and the combing of my recently washed hair to cover my
bald spot, that I have built my resemblance … not upon the
features….

“Some day I shall be caught. When I am caught my father will be caught
also.”

“Is that all?” Higgins was still relentless….

Cub Sterling’s head jerked up from his folded arms and he said:

“God! It’s enough!”

Sally Ferguson’s voice out into him:

“There is a diary of the murders, too.”

Both men rose and came to her side. Their movement disturbed the fly and
he began circling around the dead man’s head.

Sally’s voice drowned out his buzzing.

“Cupola, Friday, May 13th … 1:00 A.M. I have just committed my first
murder upon the patient in Bed 11, Ward B. I know I have just
completed it, because I filled, myself, the prescription to which I
added Datura stramonium. The medicine was to be administered at
midnight. The dose should, with the heavy bromide I included, have
acted in an hour. It is unexpected and therefore not likely to cause
an autopsy.

“The patient is one of my father’s and also under the care of my
brother.

“And she is now dead.”

“Cupola, Sunday, May 15th … 1:00 A.M. The murder of the second
patient in Bed 11, Ward B, is now completed. I tripled the
prescription dose of Digitalis. It was to be administered at 12 M.

“She is a patient of my brother and observed by my father. Though
autopsy is performed the condition of the organs will be such as not
to suggest chemical analysis. Therefore I am protected.

“So far suspicion is not aroused, but patience is not a virtue in
which I have been lacking. It takes time to make a reputation and time
… to … my candle is almost gone….”

“Cupola, Tuesday, May 17th … 1:15 A. M. I have just returned from
Ward B where by the use of coniine administered with a hypodermic
syringe, I have murdered the patient in Bed 11. My first traceable
murder. Peters and Paton nearly caught me. If murdering ugly women is
so much pleasure; a pretty woman…. Tonight I began an intriguing
custom. I left upon the crib of Bessie Ellis a Ma-ma doll.

“Miss Kerr was on the ward at the time. She is stealing morphia again.
So … even should she have recognized me, she will deny all
knowledge. Most fortunate!

“The staff meeting yesterday, at which my brother escaped all censure,
forces me into action. This autopsy will reveal murder and begin, I
hope, the suspicion. My plan is working splendidly! But why not?
Fifteen years’ patient study are behind it. I am tired and it is
late…. Seeing Peters and Paton was luck….”

“My eyes … I can’t….” Sally wailed.

Matthew Higgins took the book from her hands; the fading light was
eerie. Cub Sterling put his arms around the girl and drew her into his
lap. She began to shiver and Higgins read:

“Cupola, Wednesday, May 18th … 1:30 A.M. The Gods are on my side. I
have just murdered Rose Standish. She was a pretty woman, and my
father had ordered a sleeping potion … then he came by and asked me
privately to make it bread pills. I did … plus an African sleeping
drug. Ah! the murder drugs are so fascinating and Heddis searched for
the obvious potions, only.

“Ah, luck! Ah, irony! Bear Sterling helping his illegitimate son to
ruin his legitimate one.

“Rose Standish was asleep by midnight. The student nurse nearly caught
me. It was exciting! She will testify against my brother.

“Yesterday I was called before the staff to check drugs after Heddis
settled upon coniine. It is all so damnably easy. Of course no house
sold the supply. I made it from the hemlock I gathered in the
mountains of Pennsylvania when I was east on vacation. I had thought
so long about what to use. Something which we did not keep in the
pharmacy. I used to think something untraceable … and then when I
met Heddis I saw he would discover….

“Then coniine came to me. Out of a volume of Plato I found in a
pullman seat in the Broad Street Station coniine came to me. Coniine,
such a word! Coniine!

“The suspicion is growing. My brother and my father are panicky.

“I put another doll upon Bessie’s crib. I passed no one in the
corridor. Rose Standish was a pretty woman….”

“Crazy. Dead crazy!”

Higgins’ nerves were jumpy too.

“Anything else?” Cub’s voice had become relentless, now.

“Yes?”

“Cupola, Wednesday, May 18th, Noon. My father has pneumonia and will
die without the knowledge of my brother’s ruination unless I act
quickly.

“There must be a daylight murder within the next twenty-four hours. If
there is no patient in Bed 11, then upon the patient in a
corresponding bed upon another floor.

“Before he dies, my brother must be under arrest….

“It will take careful planning to execute a daylight murder … but
years of careful planning prepare one….”

“God! It makes me sick to read it! Lil Parkins, the best woman….”

“A detective you put in the bed…?”

Higgins nodded flatly, and turned the pages. At the back of the book was
written, upon the stiff cover:

_Murder Chart_:

May 13th, 1:00 A. M.—goitre—E.S. & E.S. Jr.—Datura stramonium
May 15th, 1:00 A. M.—heart—E.S. & E.S. Jr.—overdose Digitalis
May 17th, 1:15 A. M.—operative E.S. obs. S. Jr.—Coniine
May 18th, 1:30 A. M.—nurse—E.S. Jr. obs. E.S.—Coniine
May 19th, 3:40 P. M.—heart—House & E.S. Jr.—failed to murder but
ruined E.S. Jr.

The sunset breeze wound in the window and loosened the bands of Higgins’
heated brain, and the hysterical tears of Sally Ferguson. She buried her
head in Cub’s shoulder and sobbed horribly.

Her sobs were long and rending and they forced Matthew Higgins into
instant action. He struck a match, tore the pages from the front of the
blank book and put them over the match.

The yellow-red flames ran up the crinkling paper as Cub Sterling’s legs
began untangling themselves and he threw Sally aside.

“Aw, what’s the use?” Higgins’ gray eyes shot into Cub. “He’s dead and
your father’s dying. The body and the murder chart’s all we need.”

The contact with Cub had revived Sally’s fight.

“How can we stop _The Call_?”

Higgins snapped around.

“Who owns it?”

Cub was half across the room toward Sally. He swerved.

“Barton told me half an hour ago that the Attorney-General had just
bought it…. Now I see….” His voice shattered.

Sally ran toward him. Higgins pushed a chair under his bending legs.

The fly rose from the dead man’s face and slipped with the curling smoke
out of the open window toward the distant river.

Continue Reading

The Third Doll

“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
under it.

“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
dope, Matt?”

“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
line….

“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.”

“Huh? Howd’y’know?”

“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
used to….”

“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
to 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
wailing ‘Rock-a-bye-baby.’

“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
slow, ‘So.’

“‘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
Kerr?’

“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
chance….

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
the afternoon.

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.

“What? Who?”

“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
said:

“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
five.”

The girl drank the smile. When she returned with the clothes she
apologized:

“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
of…?”

“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
you!”

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
bar.

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.
It missed.

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
words.

“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
feet.

“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
was deep.




“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
against it.

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
again….

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.

“For herself?”

“Yes!”

“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
of…?’”

The terror in her eyes and voice made Matt shiver.

“No…!”

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
its stomach.

The raucous, “Pa-pa! Pa-pa! Pa-pa!” kept repeating itself slowly and
insistently.

“Turn it over! Turn it over! I’ll tell you,” there was relief in her
voice.

“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
bureau drawer!”

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:

“Yes. Much.”

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
nurse….”

“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
sleep after…!”

“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?”

“Dr. Hoffbein.”

“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!!!”

“What?”

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
Monday….”

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
Administration Building?”

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?”

“Resign!”

“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
them yesterday.

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
thoughts:

“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
narrowed.

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
Administration Building.

MacArthur would know where Matt was. No use trying to locate him through
Miss Kerr.

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
garden.

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:

“Where’s MacArthur?”

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.

“W-h-a-t?”

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
again….”

Snod’s face remained blank. His biscuit watch was in his hand. Four
doctors were coming up the corridor. His deferential voice followed
Higgins:

“You have five minutes to make that train, sir.”

Continue Reading

The Control

Matthew Higgins laid down _The Morning Call_ and smiled vaguely. It had
been a long time since he was in the Middle West, and you got out of the
way of remembering it. He finished his coffee, motioned for his check,
paid it, leaned over the bar and said:

“That’s the best coffee roll I ever had outside of Paul’s.”

Otto beamed and cocked his head slowly.

“Fank you! Fen I fus cum to dis country, I vork in Paul’s. Two vyears.”

Matt put his weight in his shoulders and his voice was admiring.

“Why did you come West?”

Otto began wringing his towel helplessly.

“Vell, my vivfe vus humsic, so I tried to make into a Jerman settl’ment
… an’….”

He stood silent a moment. All of his verve wilted.

Higgins interposed, “Any news around town?”

Otto peered over his glasses pleasantly.

“Ve reever made four inchers, las’ night. Eif she continuers….” He
threw out his hands. His face flashed sober and he drew his hands over
his abdomen and said carefully:

“Docturr Bearr Sterlink is … dyin … k.”

Matt squared his shoulders and sat straight on the stool. He stretched
his torso upward.

“Great man I guess … that Bear Sterling! Saved the lives of lots of
people…!”

Otto reached over the counter and began carefully balancing the dishes
and his words.

“Yess. Lots. Lots of people. But even great men half der veak spots….”

Matt Higgins poised a spoon upon the saucer of the cup Otto was lifting.

“What do you mean … ‘weak spots’…?”

“Vell…,” Otto’s conscience and his philosophy collided. He peered over
his glasses again.

“Du … did you kno’, Docturr Bearr Sterlink?”

Matt Higgins shook his head definitely.

“By reputation, only. What’s his weak spot?”

Otto closed his lips completely and turned his back. When the dishes
were safely deposited, he said:

“Sum men are veak vid de knife, sum aroun’ de heart, sum like me, aroun’
de stumack…! Sum ven ve are young…. Sum ven ve are studients…. Sum
ven ve are in bed….” He whirled quickly and threw out his hands. His
head nodded the periods to his sentences.

“Ve all haf dem!”

An interne burst through the door and begged:

“Otto, gimme some coffee quick! Quick, Otto! Black!”

Matt Higgins noted the boy’s blanched face and shaking hands.

Otto soothed:

“Fut vus hit, Docturr?”

The interne gulped the coffee and shook his head pleadingly.

Otto leaned across the counter and ordered:

“Fut … frightened you, Docturr?”

The boy put down the cup.

“Hell!” he strode toward the door, “I ain’t frightened. It was a nigger
baby with a severed head. It just got my guts … that’s all…!”

When he was gone Otto turned to Matt Higgins, shrugged and smiled.

“Hiss iss … fear!” he said.

Then leaning upon the counter he asked:

“Vy did _you_ cum Vest?”

Matt looked him straight in the eyes and replied:

“I’m a New York gangster, on vacation, come to see my kid brother
interning at the hospital.”

Otto perked his head.

“Maybe … I know him.”

Matt Higgins shook his head.

“No. You couldn’t know him. He’s high-hat as hell. Only lets me see him
half a day every six months…. He’s my … weak spot!”

He slid from the stool and stepped aside. Four medical students jostled
through the door.

Otto mopped his counter, slowly, thoughtfully, painstakingly.

Matt Higgins tipped his gray hat over his narrowed eyes, and went
through the door.

That man knew something … but there was no use trying to get him
to….

He turned down Beeker Street and made his way over to Wilson Boulevard,
one end of which was façaded by the Elijah Wilson group; the other was
bounded by the River. He looked back over his shoulder to see if he
could get a glimpse of anything denoting the river. Only a curling line
of smoke from a ferry-boat.

The air was clear, still and comforting and the people all walked like
New Yorkers. But the women didn’t amount to much. No good legs. No
poise. No New York verve.

He looked at his watch as he entered the tall iron gate and approached
the main entrance. It was eight forty-five.

At the main entrance he took off his gray overcoat and stood back to let
two nurses pass. They weren’t much.

He passed the statue of Elijah Wilson, went on into the main corridor
and turned to the left. He walked with the air of a man who knows where
he is going and is not to be stopped by trifles. Long experience had
taught him that demeanor could get one almost anywhere. Especially in a
hospital.

Nurses and doctors passed, returning from breakfast. The faces of the
lovelorn and the love-lettered were revealed by every passing window.
Intermingled with all of these were a group of abnormally sad faces, and
then he remembered that today was the day of that nurse’s funeral. She’d
been a pretty little thing, too. Her fragile little corpse had skipped
rope in all of his dreams last night! He quickened his pace and his
hairy hands were clenched in his pockets.

Halfway down the main corridor he stopped ostensibly to look from a
window at the back garden of the hospital. He took in the approaching
people in both directions at a glance. They were all of them distant
enough to risk it.

He walked several feet further, began walking close to the wall, and
faded into a door. The door opened into what had been the old laboratory
building, and with the renovating of the hospital had been left vacant.
The corridor was lighted by a series of tall windows at the far end. The
brilliant morning sun sifted through them vaguely. The grime and dust of
the panes and of the intervening corridor made its trickle thin and
eerie.

Matthew Higgins closed the door softly and stood silently against it for
a second, listening. Then he accustomed his eyes to the light and looked
at the floor. In the center were the tracks he and Dr. MacArthur and
Snod had made last night. On the far side were the tracks which he and
Snod had agreed Snod should make this morning.

He shifted his hat upon the back of his head and began walking up the
corridor next to Snod’s morning tracks. Halfway up, he stopped and
listened. Then he threw his overcoat over his shoulder and approached,
cautiously, the door of the laboratory they had decided upon. On tiptoe.
Silently. His weight was thrown forward with the expert training of a
toe-dancer. Slowly, melting into it as he did so, he pushed open the
door of the laboratory.

It was darker than the corridor. The outside window blinds had been
closed for several years. He stood silently several seconds and then
decided to chance a match. He took off his hat and struck it carefully
in the shadow the hat provided. Then when it was well-lighted he lifted
it and surveyed the room.

The dusty lab sinks, the rotting rubber hose, the two stools with their
cane bottoms gone, and upon a bamboo couch in the corner Snod Smooty,
his face totally devoid of expression, sleeping with the abandon of an
infant.

As the match burned low in his fingers Matthew Higgins leaned over and
watched Snod Smooty sleep. This was the first time in ten years he had
known Snod to sleep with someone watching him.

The night must have been a swell affair! The smell of smoke reached
Smooty’s consciousness; he turned over suddenly and opened his eyes
completely. His face was still blank with an effort to see in the
darkness, and his voice came huskily:

“Matt?”

The answer was in keeping with the dimness. The match had burned out and
Matt Higgins was killing it on the floor with his toe.

“Yeah. Wake up! Any news?”

Snod Smooty raised his slim body to a sitting posture and slung his thin
feet to the grimy floor. He ran his left hand through his colorless hair
and wiped out his eyes with the right palm.

“Cigarette?”

Matt Higgins took _The Morning Call_ from his overcoat pocket and placed
it over the hole in one of the stools. Over that he folded his overcoat
and raised himself onto the stool.

“Better not. Watchmen or something. How was the night?”

Smooty put the unlit cigarette sullenly in his hip pocket and said
sweetly:

“Hell all the time … and then some…. ’Bout ten a drunk naval
officer-beau of the dead nurse brought her a bouquet of red roses,
darling. Thought she was doing duty on the ward. Didn’t know about her
death. Shook the guts outa that student nurse when she told him and then
began playing hide-and-seek under the patients’ beds with me.”

“The devil!”

“Yeah, himself! I got him outa the hospital, socked him, and tucked him
into a parked car to sleep it off. Went over him first, though. William
Brady, U. S. N. Loot. J. G.

“Then I went back to the ward. And he had left the roses on the bed of
one old blattering fool and she took it that she’s next to go and can
she scream! So loud the others couldn’t make a squeak. Well, the Jew
doctor got there and a mess of nurses and hen medics and give them all a
bromide and then they needed bed-pans again … and then … they had to
have a drink of water. And then another bed-pan around. Like salt and
pepper, you know. Now I see why the Waldorf makes money. Pay toilets for
ladies.”

“And Lil?” Matt’s voice was demanding.

“Lil’s lost her nerve, Matt. Swears if you don’t get her outa there by
this afternoon, she’s going to walk out. Says the examination she had to
get in that damn bed was just like being frisked naked. During
pan-rounds we had some conversation.

“She’s took it into her head that that student nurse, the niece of the
head nurse, is doing the murders. She’s took it that the girl is like
that moll she caught in the circus last spring (she says you know which
one) working for a hypnotist and selling dope. Damn if Lil ain’t decided
that the head nurse of the clinic, Miss Kerr, who got her stout old tail
up there before it was all over, ain’t making her niece work for
somebody … ain’t both of them working for some control … who is
having them murder patients.”

“Lord God! That ties up, too…. Go on … finish your story.”

“It’s Lil’s idea, Matt, that they are doing it because they hate young
Sterling and are trying to ruin him, and get him out … and nothing I
could say … between bed-pans and glasses of water … could change her
mind a nits worth. When Lil is out of reach … you know what I mean …
she’s hard to reason with.

“And she’s got the creeps bad as the rest of them, now, and told me if I
let that little bitch come within fifteen feet of her the rest of the
night she’d….

“So after we’d gotten all them females quieted inside and out, I had to
spend till seven this A. M. doing things that would keep me where I
could see the nurse. Sweeping corridors and asking questions and messing
up the guts of the electric refrigerator and, you know … having the
hell of a good time….”

He threw out his hands futilely.

“Women who can walk and talk is bad enough, but when they ain’t got
nothing to do, except lay out in bed … thirty strong … I ain’t been
this tired since I worked in a prison camp in Germany in ’16.

“That student nurse and her aunt suspect me, too. And I had to put up
some alibi about having been a hospital orderly in London and when I was
always in the place I was told not to be, that was the way … you
know…. Lil says if I ain’t back on the ward by three this afternoon,
time the aunt usually makes floor rounds, pretending to be learning the
ways from the day orderly, she will be outa there … and … you
know….”

“Good work, Snod.” Higgins complimented, and then ordered, “Good idea.
Be back on by three. Sleep here this morning. After last night, the
murderer will either strike quick, or lay off for some time. I’ll wire
for another man this morning; but he may not get here until tomorrow….
We’ll have to do double time all around….”

Snod’s voice was flat and caustic.

“Yeah.”

Higgins ignored it and said:

“After you went on, MacArthur and I had another talk, and he took me to
see the nurse’s body. Lovely thing. Seems this coniine can be prepared
synthetically but the toxicologist laughs off the idea that it was. Too
hard to do. And I brought out that however prepared the first thing to
do was to stop the ‘shots’. MacArthur agrees, but he won’t commit
anybody. You were right. I told him it’s a crazy nurse or doctor and he
had apoplexy. He’s straight. I like him. I’m to see the heads of all
departments today and see what I can find out, unobserved. And I’ll meet
you here again at two-forty, before you go back on the ward.

“If Lil’s right, they are working for the psychiatrist, and if she’s
not, then it’s the man MacArthur is shielding. See anybody last night
took your eye?”

“No. They were all too shocked. The murderer wasn’t there.” Smooty, who
had a habit of talking “in character” was too interested to “think” as
an orderly. “The person in authority was the Jew and he’s white. Jew
doctors are! Those Kerr women, head nurse and student, took it too
calmly.”

“Want any breakfast?” Higgins asked from the door.

“No. Just a bed-pan, please!”

Snod’s voice fluted after him.

With the overcoat, Snod Smooty made himself a pillow, and was asleep
before Mr. Higgins had retraced his steps halfway up the corridor.

When Higgins reached the place where the basement steps came up into the
corridor of the vacant building, he struck another match, again under
the protection of his hat and looked for the tracks he and Dr. MacArthur
had made last night. Then he descended the steps and stood in the dark
basement corridor. He stood erect, with his shoulders thrown back,
listening. When the silence assured his mind and hurt his eardrums he
began walking up the basement corridor, toward the entrance into the
main service corridor, which ran directly under the main hospital
corridor. He and Dr. MacArthur had decided the best way to get out of
the lab building would be through the service corridor, the door of
which had a spring lock, and then up the service elevator to the main
floor of the Administration Building.

The basement corridor was black as night, but totally dead. The worn-out
odor of old chemicals mingled with that of damp plaster. The smell began
to permeate his nostrils and made each creak of the sagging floor hit
his brain like a pistol shot. The soft blackness closed in like a
sweating fog.

He began to feel as a swimmer feels against strong tides. The door at
the end of the corridor was diminishing as the door in _Alice in
Wonderland_, or had it been Alice who diminished? He had just convinced
himself that the last sound and the newest smell were caused by a
leaking water tap and an escaping gas jet, when something struck his
foot, ran up his pants’ leg to his waist, and down the other side.

Rats!

He jumped with the agility of a fencing expert into an open door and
threw up his arm automatically. He stood with his muscles flexed,
listening and beginning to feel the beads of perspiration starting under
his arms and trickling down his thighs.

And then he laughed at himself and tried to lower his arm. It wouldn’t
come. He tugged and he could feel his coat sleeve beginning to give. The
tap continued its regular drip, drip, and his nerves became strung and
he reached his free hand in his pocket and drew out a match and lit it
upon the seat of his pants, regardless.

Then he saw the trouble instantly. His arm was caught by a long iron
hook suspended from the ceiling. He looked around and saw the room was
full of such hooks.

“Wuuh!”

The ejaculation came naturally. He was in the room where they had once
hung the cadavers. His coat was caught upon a cadaver hook! And with the
realization his reflexes began working automatically. He leaped and
freed his arm and struck his head upon the ceiling.

Then he leaned against the wall and shivered. The feel of the burning
match against his flesh brought him to, like a pain.

“Fool!” he muttered reprovingly and his perspiring body was seared dry
by a consuming shame. “Lighting matches in a basement with escaping gas
and getting hysterical over rats. Get out of here!”

He regained the corridor and proceeded quickly in the direction of the
door. When his hand was upon the handle he stopped for a moment to
consider and get himself together.

Was Snod safe in this building? Had those feelings he had just been
through been entirely hysterical or were they partly occasioned by the
presence of the murderer, somewhere, in that basement?

He checked over it all step by step and decided that they were pure …
might as well admit it … pure hysteria. An innate fear of dead people,
which he knew perfectly well he had had ever since that boy in Mexico
took so long to die when he shot him fifteen years ago. And he had
glassed his eyes on him when he finally did go.

Nobody but Snod was in this building. A murderer left tracks just like
any other man and he had examined all of the tracks.

You had to take a chance….

He snapped the spring lock and stepped out into the service corridor.
The door slammed behind him and he looked both ways.

The corridor was whitewashed and brilliantly lighted with electric
lights, like a subway station. In the distance were two orderlies
pushing two large laundry bins. They had their backs to him. In the
other direction were three maids standing around a woman who was talking
hurriedly and gesticulating wildly. They were standing in a knot and did
not see him. He started to walk and as he lifted his foot it caught upon
something. He looked down.

He had kicked a huge bunch of American Beauty roses from in front of the
door. Somehow he side-stepped them and began making his feet rise, fall,
and move.

Should he go back? Should he go on? Should he pick them up? The great
thing was to keep moving … the great thing, and by the time he had
begun moving he had decided to ignore the flowers … temporarily …
and try to remember MacArthur’s directions. Past the print shop, past
the laundry entrance, and then the first door to the left….

He had accomplished the print shop when he discovered that walking
beside him was a small faded woman, and she was carrying the roses. And
then he decided to find out.

“Is this the main corridor of the hospital?” He had removed his hat and
was giving her the “somebody’s mother” treatment. “Pretty flowers!”

She began to gasp out respectfully:

“No, sir. Take the elevator there, Doctor,” she pointed. “Pretty, ain’t
they? Miss Kerr told that maid,” she pointed again toward a retreating
figure, “to bring them over to the Nurses’ Home for Miss Standish’s
funeral (she was of that simple class which believes everybody knows her
acquaintances) and an orderly in the corridor told the maid….”

The elevator door opened and Matt Higgins had learned all he needed to
know, immediately.

He gave the woman his “silver threads among the gold” smile and asked
the elevator boy:

“Is the main corridor above this?”

“Yes, sir. Lost? It’s easy to get lost around here.”

They reached the main floor and Matt Higgins stepped from the elevator
and began walking toward the entrance from the main corridor to the
Administration Building.

He was dead tired….

But when he saw Dr. Henry MacArthur, through the open door of his
office, he knew that whatever he had just been through he must hide.

The last man he had seen with that look of steely panic was the
president of the bank in Wall Street during the first days of the 1929
collapse. That kind of panic was followed by icicles of fear in the
brain and after that….

“Good morning, Doctor,” his voice was calm and confident.

With its tone, MacArthur’s courtesy revived, but it was automatic. He
rose with an obvious effort and motioned the detective to a chair,
closed the door into the corridor, and offered Higgins a cigarette.

“Thanks.”

Neither of them noted the brilliant sun upon the mahogany director’s
table, nor the glint it gave the diamond upon the finger of Elijah
Wilson in the portrait hanging behind MacArthur’s desk.

MacArthur re-seated himself, rubbed his eyelids listlessly and then, his
blue eyes upon Higgins’ gray ones, asked:

“You know about last night?”

Higgins nodded and replied:

“We must do something, Doctor. After that the murderer will either
strike immediately, or wait indefinitely. In either case, we need a man
on the ward day as well as night. May I call the agency now?”

“Why not use a local man?”

Higgins shook his head decisively.

“Too much depends on the man to take someone I am not sure of. With your
permission?”

He reached for the telephone and MacArthur said, “You have it.”

“New York. Digby 4-3872. Mr. Anderson. James P. Anderson. Put it through
right away, please.”

He held the receiver and put his hand over the mouthpiece. Dr. MacArthur
began pacing the room. He carried himself with a brittle straightness,
and Higgins watched him closely while the girls were saying,
“Indianapolis? Chicago? Hello Buffalo?” … and then … “New York?” and
then Anderson’s voice.




“Anderson?” Higgins knew the voice immediately. “Higgins. Can you get
Rogers on the Westbound mail plane in twenty minutes? Then the other
plane and he’ll have to change at Chicago, or charter a plane from
there. Yes, shaping up. No news yet. Good! O.K.”

MacArthur wheeled.

“He will be here this afternoon?”

Higgins pushed the telephone over upon the desk.

“If he makes the plane leaving in twenty minutes. Otherwise about eight
tonight. Next to Smooty I’d rather have him than any man on the force.

“Smooty passed himself off as an orderly from a London hospital and will
go back on at three to watch things and learn the Elijah Wilson routine
from the day orderly. So you can rest easily, as to the vigilance,
Doctor.”

His voice, like his person, was strong and commanding.

Dr. MacArthur slackened his pace and Higgins continued:

“Doctor, Miss Parkins thinks that the head nurse and her niece are
mediums murdering for some control … some doctor….”

Dr. MacArthur sat down suddenly and an imperceptible shadow of relief
passed over his graven face.

Last night he would have exploded at the mere mention of such an idea,
while this morning….

His voice was old and unconvinced.

“I don’t believe it, Higgins. I have known doctors by the thousand.
Good. Bad. And indifferent. But I do not believe any doctor….”

“A crazy doctor?”

MacArthur threw up his hands helplessly.

“A crazy somebody, yes. But not a doctor….”

Higgins decided to pass up the point and continued:

“Whoever it is must be caught quickly. I suggest we give up the idea of
putting me through as a patient. Last night it appeared feasible but I
spent most of the night thinking, and I feel certain, Doctor MacArthur,
that after the episode on the ward, we must hasten everything. Put me
through the hospital as a member of the administrative staff of some
distant hospital. Thereby I get a chance to see the heads of every
department, including the Psychiatrist, and the Physician-in-Chief….”

Dr. MacArthur winced. Then that was the man! Higgins continued,
placidly, “And decide who I must question, and also permit me … if
necessary … to get about the hospital suddenly. After last night….”

Dr. MacArthur interrupted him. His panic was welling up.

“I’ll agree to anything … almost, Mr. Higgins. After last night action
is vital. Tomorrow is visiting day throughout the hospital. By tomorrow
night relatives of every patient on that ward will know that Rose
Standish was murdered! And we cannot avoid their knowing it. If we close
the ward to visitors … we have never in all the years the hospital has
been in existence done … that! Public confidence is our greatest
asset. Has been. What shall we do? The newspapers, the police, the
reputation of the hospital, d’y’see?”

“Too well, sir.”

But the tension was wearing itself out in speech and Dr. MacArthur went
on:

“The hysteria among the nursing and medical staffs was bad enough, God
knows, but before today is over, we must face the hysteria manifesting
itself among the menial staff. How can a hospital run without orderlies,
electricians, cooks? If the menials become hysterical…?”

“They already are, Doctor. When I came out of the basement entrance of
the old lab building into the service corridor fifteen minutes ago, my
feet caught upon a bunch of red roses.”

“What?”

“I said, sir, my feet caught….”

“I heard you. Where did they come from?”

“They had been dropped, Doctor, by a maid who had been ordered by Miss
Kerr, the head nurse in Medicine Clinic, to take them over to the
Nurses’ Home for the funeral of Miss Standish. An orderly told the maid
where they came from….”

“God!”

The panic re-entered Dr. MacArthur’s eyes and Higgins took advantage of
it.

“You are right about time, Doctor. It’s everything. To save time I must
have every atom of knowledge which you have. Last night I hoped to work
independently, but now….”

He leaned forward and shot his gimlet gray eyes into the horror stricken
ones of MacArthur.

“Is the man everybody but you suspects, young Sterling?”

MacArthur’s groan was evidence.

“Well, I thought so. Last night you suggested I question him last on
account of his father.”

MacArthur’s fight seemed suddenly to return and he shot back:

“This morning I demand it. His father will be dead by midnight. I
appreciate your position, but I must ask you to respect my wishes. Have
you given up the idea that Bear Sterling is implicated?”

“No, sir. But we cannot await another murder to clear him.”

“Precisely. Nor anybody else, Mr. Higgins. I see that. But I also see
that if Cub Sterling does not leave his father’s side today and is not
questioned until after his death, supposing … the other … to be
correct … you will have not lost anything. They must all be checked,
automatically, since you believe the murderer is a crazy doctor. Check
them today, Mr. Higgins. And if….”

He rose and began to pace the floor, and his figure was more than erect.
It was almost illuminated.

“You belong, sir, to that type of man which can appreciate trust between
strong men. Between Cub Sterling and his father such a trust has always
existed. Within twenty hours it will be broken and … why, Mr. Higgins,
if you wish, I shall sit outside the door of the room in which he is
fighting for Bear’s life, from now until you release me…. But my
position … d’y’see?”

“I do, and I respect you for it, Doctor. But the two men who have
attended all of the dead patients were the Doctors Sterling. Regarding
the questioning, I shall do as you desire, provided, sir, that when the
superintendent of nurses takes me to Medicine Clinic, you will insist
that Dr. Cub Sterling accompany us over the clinic, in precisely the
same manner in which the other men are to do. Thereby I can at least
judge the man. Otherwise I throw up the case, here and now. My position
would be hopeless, if I were to be denied at least a summary … not
made through the eyes of personal esteem and family fame … of one of
the two chief suspects. Perhaps it is brutal to put it so, but the chief
suspect in the eyes of the nursing and menial staffs.”

“I know it, Higgins. I’ll do as you wish.”

His voice and his face were parched and sad.

Their eyes locked again and Higgins said:

“You brought me here to find the criminal. In many things we shall have
to fight each other. Mainly because all evidence points to a crazy
doctor and you cannot accept the evidence. Somehow I’m glad you can’t,
Doctor.”

Higgins stretched out his large hairy hand and Dr. MacArthur gripped it
firmly.

Then MacArthur looked at his watch and reached for the telephone.

“Superintendent of nurses, please.”

“Miss Carruthers? Dr. MacArthur. Will you please come over to my office
immediately?”

As he hung up, he seemed to have regained his old authoritative manner.

“About Miss Standish’s funeral. Do you think it worth your while to
attend? Would a murderer of this type go to the funeral of a person he
had murdered?”

“Hardly, Doctor. What time is it?”

“Four-fifteen.”

“The Kerrs?”

“Have both asked to come.”

“Then I will.”

They were interrupted by a knock upon the door and the figure of Miss
Carruthers.

Dr. MacArthur rose and smiled her into a chair.

“May I present Mr. Immerheld, Miss Carruthers. He is on the
administrative staff of the Cornell Medical Centre, and I want him to
see the Elijah Wilson. He came unexpectedly and this morning I am upset
about Dr. Sterling. Mr. Immerheld used to know Dr. Sterling … and
understands…. Will you please take him around, and see that he sees
the heads of all clinics? Cornell has been very kind about approving our
rebuilding plans and Mr. Immerheld has been a great prop … to the
hospital. His advice….”

Miss. Carruthers smiled politely at Matthew Higgins, and rose.

“I shall be delighted, Dr. MacArthur.”

Her voice, body and face were brittle, and at the same time
authoritative. She was the spun-glass skeleton of what had been a
buxomly commanding woman.

“May I leave my hat, Doctor?”

Higgins rose and stood beside Miss Carruthers; as he opened the door, he
gave her the “silver threads among the gold” look and she took it as
sand does water.

Dr. MacArthur’s voice halted their pleasant unity.

“By the way, Miss Carruthers. Will you be so good as to telephone Miss
Kerr just before you go to Medicine Clinic? I am especially anxious for
Mr. Immerheld to meet Ethridge Sterling. Go over the building with him.
He knew Dr. Bear when he was….”

His voice faded and hers filled the gap.

“Certainly, Dr. MacArthur.”

And as they started up the corridor, her words floated back:

“As a great teaching hospital, Mr. Immerheld, the Elijah Wilson has
always….”

“Been free from crazy doctors.” Dr. MacArthur thought and his hands
pounded his desk … hopelessly.

“What are you smoothing my bed for?” Lil Parkins’ voice was irritable.
She had been awake for twenty hours now and her nerves were fraying.

“Rounds.” Miss Kexter, the day white nurse, was brisk and snappish.
These murders were beginning to get on her nerves. Not that she was
scary. Or that she had liked Rose Standish. But just the same, those
roses against her face, when she had gone to breakfast, and gone up to
“look at her,” left the stomach kind of…. And then “Foots” Kerr was
trying to behave….

Lil Parkins looked her over casually and decided that she was out of it.
Spineless as a stick of cooked macaroni and … and….

The conversation in the ward had died and all of the women were either
sitting or lying respectfully still. Dr. Cub Sterling, Dr. Mattus had
telephoned, was going to leave his dying father and come down to see how
they were.

The lull was welcome to Lil Parkins and she felt, suddenly, for a few
hours at least, she was safe and free to just relax a little.

She awoke to find a tall, angular man with bushy hair leaning over her
and saying, “Pretty fair. Considering. Strengthened in the night?”

The Jew doctor, who had admitted her, stood beside the tall man whose
left shoulder was cocked at a queer angle.

“Good bit, Dr. Sterling. When she came in….” he slid off into medical
terms and Lil Parkins’ face took on one of its flashes of sudden
intensity and Cub Sterling’s responded. His response was slow and he was
tired, but his eyes were gorgeous and his hands were soothing.

“Pretty tired, weren’t you?”

The question was put in the voice one used with a social equal and Lil
Parkins knew she really liked him. He recognized that she wasn’t just
“another free patient.”

“Has your name come back?”

He had straightened up and stood at the foot of her bed looking kindly
into her eyes. With a supreme effort, Lil knew that she must manage to
act, really act!

She shook her head slowly, and her face faded blank again.

“It will,” he said confidently. “What you needed was rest. How did you
get that scar?”

He pointed to one halfway up her left forearm and Lil, mesmerized by his
eyes, actually told the truth.

“In the circus. Trapeze work.”

“With that heart!” his voice carried both reprimand and admiration,
“What circus?”

“Ringling Brothers.”

“You did!”

The heart case two beds up was sitting boldly erect. “You don’t say? An
old trouper! Well, I’ll be doggone! Ringling Brothers, too! Top-notcher
ain’t you, kid? Is Fred Bradna still ringmaster? How far out did you get
last year? Playing Texas this spring? Is Old Bill, the bull elephant,
you know … still alive…?”

Dr. Cub Sterling laughed spontaneously and every woman in the ward
smiled.

“You’ll have to wait till she’s better. And then she’ll remember
everything.”

His voice was crisp and final. The other doctors had passed on and were
discussing Mrs. Witherspoon’s condition. Cub Sterling joined them, but
he turned suddenly and smiled into the limpid, waiting eyes of Lil
Parkins.

“Go to sleep!”

His lips formed the words noiselessly, and her tension snapped and her
eyes began to close, listlessly.

Cub started toward Room Two. Mattus’ voice halted his steps. Mattus
said:

“She’s all right, Doctor! Slept clear through it! I just saw her ten
minutes ago. Your father’s latest tank of oxygen is half gone, sir. Do
you wish me…?”

Cub nodded silently and walked down the corridor toward the waiting
elevator.

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