Lawyer-detective Gillian Hazeltine, working on an up-to-the-minute murder case, finds a new ally—an up-to-the-minute girl!
Burning Up the Wires
IN running away from her fashionable home and her loving parents, Rusty Tyler created almost as much excitement as if she were a public enemy breaking out of Atlanta.
The girl packed some suitcases and some hat boxes, loaded them into the rumble seat of her roadster and vanished from Lake Forest, the wealthy suburb of Chicago.
She left a note on the mirror of her mother's dressing table saying merely:
I am scramming. Don't worry. Love.
Five hundred miles away, as the crow flies, Gillian Hazeltine, the famous criminal lawyer, began to receive telegrams, He was, as it happened, Rusty Tyler's uncle. He was rather young to be the uncle .of a girt eighteen years old. His wife's oldest sister was Rusty's mother.
The first of the telegrams said:
Rusty has run away. May be headed your way. Advise if any news.
“Dan” was Rusty's father. He was a banker--the president of a large bank in the Chicago loop. He was socially prominent.
The second telegram said:
Myrtle is prostrated. If Rusty asks shelter of you, kindly refuse and send her packing.
Myrtle was Rusty's mother. Myrtle had named Rusty Rose Anne, which fitted Rusty about as appropriately as tile name Hyacinth would fit a destroyer. Myrtle was active in charity affairs, in country club, polo club and hunt club affairs. It would be unfair to call Myrtle a social climber. She did not have to climb. She had reached the top.
The next telegram said:
Newspaper report that Rusty eloped with Souse Fennel absolutely untrue. Souse Fennel has been located in Turkish bath and has not seen Rusty since Saturday night. Also disregard radio news broadcast that I have requested police to apprehend Rusty. It is a lie.
Gillian Hazeltine was beginning to feel a little uneasy. At first, he had believed that Dan, in his excitement, was merely sending out feelers in all directions; that he was sending hundreds of similar telegrams. But the more he thought about it, the uneasier Gillian grew.
For one reason or another, he had not seen Rusty for almost ten years, since she was eight. At that time she had developed an unexplainable and somewhat embarrassing attachment for him, a "crush." And in the intervening years she had written to him with regularity. Even as recently as her latest letter, received perhaps two months ago, she had asserted that he was quite the most wonderful man she had ever known, and she would always think so.
Rusty had always been a problem. The next telegram from Dan said:
Police reports from Gary, Indiana, indicate that she may be headed in your direction. Do not let her in your house. Tell her she must come home immediately.
The day advanced, and Gillian's uneasiness grew. If his wife were here, it would be different. But Vee was in Paris. She had gone abroad for the summer with an elderly aunt who loved to travel, and Gillian was spending the summer alone.
The next telegram said:
Myrtle and I have talked things over. Perhaps you can do something with Rusty. We have reached the end of our patience. She is incorrigible. I regret the day she was born. You have always had a tremendous amount of influence with her. Try to straighten her out. Keep her there and try to teach her to stop being a Bolshevik.
This telegram so alarmed Gillian that he was unable to concentrate on his work. It arrived shortly after he had returned to his office from lunch. He had an important brief to study in a will case involving several million dollars, but he could not put his mind to it.
He telephoned judge Gilbert and asked him to play golf. Judge Gilbert accepted. They met at the club and played eighteen holes. Gillian could not keep his eye on the ball or his mind on the game. Judge Gilbert was irritated. On the eighteenth green Gillian absentmindedly sank the judge's ball for a five-foot putt, and they quarreled and parted not speaking.
Gillian had not explained to the judge why he was so absent-minded, or why his game was off. The explanation would have sounded too silly.
On his way home, Gillian ran through a red light and almost collided with a truck. He could not get the picture out of his mind of Rusty driving madly toward Greenfield. He had heard that she was a reckless driver, that she had been arrested for speeding many times. He had the feeling of impending disaster. He could almost hear it rushing toward him.
He reached his estate on the hill above the Sangamo River in a state of dread. But Rusty hadn't arrived. There was, however, another telegram for him. This one was from Myrtle. And it was, like Myrtle herself, confused and hysterical.
I beg of you be firm with her. We have failed wretchedly. We have given her every advantage and every opportunity. Believe me, Gillian, the serpent's fang is not sharper than the disobedience of your only child.
When Gillian put the telegram down, his hand was shaking a little. There was a feeling in the air of an impending thunderstorm.
He told his Japanese houseman, Toro, to prepare one of the guest rooms for his niece, who would probably arrive some time tonight. Gillian had the fateful feeling that she wasn't going anywhere else, that she wasn't eloping with a Chicago gunman, or doing any of the other wild things which are sometimes committed by Chicago debutantes. No, she was headed for his house, and how would he cope with her?
He had dinner alone, but he ate very little. He seemed to have lost his appetite.
He, was smoking an after-dinner cigar on the terrace, and watching the glory of the May sunset, when the telegrams were confirmed and his fears verified.
There was the hot snorting of a car's exhaust as it climbed the hill from River Road, then the prolonged swishing-sound of gravel being displaced as the car was brought to a skidding stop.
He heard the voice of Toro, and the voice of a girl. Something tall and slender with mahogany hair came running across the terrace and threw its arms fiercely about Gillian's neck. He was kissed violently.
"Darling," a low contralto voice cried, “I'm here!"
Then she held her hands firmly on his shoulders, and looked adoringly into his eyes. She was almost as tall as he was. It was hard to say whether she was pretty or not. In the first place, Gillian was too stunned to notice. In the second place, her face was caked and streaked with dirt. She had driven through a dust storm. She was grinning.
“Golly," she said, “but it's good to be here. And isn't it a nice surprise? Aren't you overwhelmed?"
She didn't give him time to answer the questions. And apparently she didn't think explanations were called for. She threw her arms about his neck, kissed him again and then cried a little.
“Darling, you'll never dream how nice it is to be here. It's just like a refuge. Toro's carrying my stuff upstairs. I want to take a shower and change. I'll be right down."
She left him. Gillian sat down again. Trained as his mind was to deal with complex and baffling situations, he could not cope with this. If Vee were only here! He grew indignant. What right had this girl to burst in on his pleasant, easy life like this? His house, .he knew, would become a storm center if she stayed. He would not let her stay!
She reappeared in less than half an hour. She looked very clean and fresh and lovely in a green chiffon dinner dress. Her mahogany hair was brushed straight back. “Skinned rabbit," Gillian thought, and yet this coiffure was strangely appealing. just why, Gillian could not say. He could not say why she was appealing and lovely and stirring, but she was. Her eyebrows were shaved and replaced by arched lines of henna crayon. She used very little makeup--a little lipstick, a little powder, but no rouge or mascara.
Her face was a gamin's face. The eyes were dark green, the nose was too small, the mouth too wide, the face, as a whole, too thin. Yet she was lovely and she was exciting.
She stopped some distance away and gazed at him with what would have passed, in another type of girl, for demureness. He felt acutely uncomfortable. What did a man do about a niece who looked like this?
“Well," she drawled, in that low contralto, “do you like me?"
Gillian did not know why his answer to that question was a prompt and honest “Yes." He sensed a turbulence of the spirit in her, a rebelliousness, a wild and unsatisfied longing that appealed to him. He knew she was hard-boiled and ultra-modern. But he also knew that if he ever had a daughter, he would want her to be like Rusty--slender and fearless and rebellious against stupid things.
He did not learn for a while whether the rebelliousness he sensed in his niece was directed against stupid things or just everything in the fixed order. She did not explain herself until bedtime.
Toro brought her some supper. She ate it hungrily and told Gillian about her adventures on the road. She had been chased by a motorcop for miles. She had had a flat on a railroad crossing when a fast train was coming along. She had picked up a hitchhiker who had, in a brief half hour, tried to convert her to religion, then had proposed to her. And a terrible dust storm had almost blinded her.
She prattled on brightly and gayly, but said nothing about leaving home, nothing about her parents, nothing about the blue-chip society crowd of Lake Forest.
Gillian decided that it was nice to have such a gay, sprightly young person around. And he excused himself to send a telegram to Dan, telling him that Rusty had arrived and that she could stay as long as she liked.
At ten o'clock Rusty went to bed. Gillian went upstairs a few minutes later, and prepared to retire. His secretary had sent the brief of the will case to his house, and he intended to study it a while before turning out the light.
He was propped up in bed reading the brief when Rusty knocked at his door.
"Uncle Gillian, can I come in?"
Come in," he said.
She came in. She wore a blue dressing gown over her pajamas. Her hair was wild. Her eyes looked as if she had been crying.
She burst out: “Uncle Gillian, I've got to get a load off my chest. That's why I'm here. You've got to help me get straightened out."
“Sit down. What's the matter, Rusty?"
Rusty sat down on the edge of the bed and asked, "Is that terribly important?”
"It'll keep," Gillian said. “What's on your mind?"
The green eyes were wide and stormy. “I couldn't stand it any longer. I got so sick and tired and fed up with it I simply had to get into a good, clean, healthy atmosphere."
“Am I a good, clean, healthy atmosphere ?"
“You certainly are, darlings You're just about the only man left I have any respect for. The rest of them-" Rusty made a grimace with her nose.
“I think father brought it to a head--and mother, too--by insisting that I marry Jeff Hargrove. You don't know Jeff, but you've met a dozen like him. Good looking, rich, with fleets of cars and his own stable of polo ponies. He's utterly perfect. He's considered the most eligible man in Lake Forest. And you're the only man I know who won't think I'm crazy for simply detesting him."
There is more to this," Gillian remarked, “than meets the naked eye."
Rusty looked at him a moment. "Yes," she said, "there are other things. There's mother and there's dad and their whole crowd. Gillian, honestly, I'm so sick and tired of hearing about our civilization being on its last legs that I could scream. A couple of years ago it was the revolution. Great bloodthirsty mobs were going to sweep the country and kill the plutocrats. I know men who moved a year's supply of canned goods and smoked meat to hide-outs in places like northern Michigan, where they could hole in when the riots started. I mean, that's the point of view."
Rusty took a cigarette from the silver box on Gillian's bedside table, lighted it, and puffed furiously.
“Civilization!" she mocked. “Well, it is on its last legs for them. The tide's gone out and left them on the beach and they don't know it. They don't realize that the sea is still full of fish, big ones and little ones, carrying on the same old battles. I'm not going to be left high and dry on the beach!"
But there was puzzlement in her green eyes. Gillian knew what she meant. She was groping for something, but she didn't know what it was.
“Is something the matter with me?" she cried. “Is that it?"
“No," Gillian answered. " Nothing's the matter with you except that you don't know what you want. Do you?"
“No," she said thoughtfully. “I don't. All I know is that I'm just sick of these people who are waiting around for civilization to rot away. They're worried to death about Hitlerism and Naziism and Bolshevism. They don't realize that new forces have come into the world, and they don't intend to do anything about them. And the boys I know are the same. They take this silly attitude of let's eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we'll all be starving. It makes me furious!"
She puffed violently at the cigarette and squashed it in the ashtray.
“Gillian, in 1836, my great-greatgrandfather and my great-great-grandmother came to Illinois from Ohio in a covered wagon. Everything t h e y owned was in the wagon. They chopped down trees and built a log cabin, and they cleared ground and made a farm, and they worked like the devil and got more and more land, and they died with the satisfaction that they had licked the wilderness and started a fortune for their children. You see what I mean?"
"Yes, I see."
“Now their descendants and the descendants of other pioneers like them sit around on the verandas of country clubs built on that very ground, and drink dry martinis, and the husbands and wives outdo each other with sneaky affairs and quick divorces, and all they talk about is how civilization is going to pot!"
“Have you tried talking it over with your father?" Gillian asked.
“He's like all the rest of them. So is mother."
“How about Jeff Hargrove?"
“He's worth twenty millions in his own name, he never did a lick of work in his life, and he will probably die gallantly some day on the polo e , or in the barroom of his yacht. There's something in life somewhere, and I'm going to find it. You're real. You do things. That's why I came here. And you don't ask dumb questions."
"But I don't know the answer to your problem, Rusty."
“That's all right. I've got to work it out for myself. Do you mind if I stay here for a while?"
She looked at him so forlornly that Gillian reached out and patted her hand. Tears promptly filled the green eyes. But Rusty didn't sob.
“I don't want to do a thing," she said, “I want to do a lot of reading and thinking and sun-bathing. That's all. No parties. No dancing. No men. The quietest kind of life. Can't I read a little law?"
“Of course you can."
The tears were gone. She swiftly kissed him good night and went to her room.
In the morning her father telephoned. He said:
“I think you're the one man who can kick some sense into the little idiot, Gillian. Don't hesitate to use rawhide. Be hard-boiled."
Gillian promised to do his best. He hadn't the slightest intention of trying to sway any of Rusty's views. He was in perfect sympathy with Rusty, and not at all with her father, and he believed that she was capable of working out her problem--unaided.CHAPTER 2
RUSTY settled down to a quiet life.
She took sun-baths, read a great deal, mostly in Spanish, which she loved, and seldom went out. Gillian brought her law books to read, and when she told him she wanted to hear some courtroom cases, he let her sit at the counsel table with him, She would take in every word, and at night give Gillian her impressions and her opinions. He liked the way she saw through lies and evasions, and more than once she made useful suggestions.
There was one case in which Rusty demonstrated that she had a flair for courtroom trickery, and Gillian was delighted, because he was a master of that art.
He had undertaken to represent a woman who was suing a transcontinental bus company for injuries she had received in a wreck. The woman's nervous system had been shattered, but it was hard to prove this in court. There was no question about the bus company's liability.
The plaintiff was the only passenger who had been injured. A Negro tramp, who was stealing a ride on top of the bus, had been killed. Plaintiff was suing for $50,000, and Gillian believed she was entitled to that amount.
But the case was going against him. The woman was not attractive, and she made a poor witness. The jury was not inclined to sympathize with her.
Rusty sensed what Gillian sensed that the jury was more sympathetic toward the bus company than the plaintiff.
One morning, when court opened and the woman took the stand, there was a long covered box on the floor between the witness stand and the jury box. It was as large as a coffin.
When the plaintiff had taken the stand, Gillian innocently asked what the box contained. No one seemed to know. And no one seemed to know who had placed it there. Gillian removed the lid, and there, in the box, was a wax dummy of a Negro dressed as a tramp.
Gillian had instructed the witness to scream, and she now screamed loudly. He had told her to be so upset by the dummy that she could not go on with her testimony. She followed instructions.
Gillian now accused the opposition lawyers of having placed the box there for the sole purpose of annoying and distracting his witness. The bus company lawyers loudly protested their innocence. But the trick worked. The jury believed that the bus company lawyers had placed the dummy there for the purpose of annoying and distracting the witness. Their sympathy swung to the plaintiff--and Gillian won the case.
It was all Rusty's idea. Gillian was so delighted with her that he insisted that she study for the law. But Rusty didn't want to study for the law. She didn't know what she wanted until a young man branded with murder came violently into her life.
And if it had not been for Rusty…
But let us take up the case of the People versus Peter Brenn in the order in which the events occurred.
On the night of May tenth, Pete Brenn, a farmer who lived o the Clinton Turnpike about four miles out of Greenfield, went to a road house a half mile from his farm and killed a croupier named Julius Pool, who ran a roulette wheel there. Pete Brenn had made threats against the person, if not the life of Julius Pool; had told neighbors that he was going to the Golden Horseshoe and thrash Julius Pool to within an inch of his life.
According to police reports, duly recorded by the press, Peter Brenn went to the Golden Horseshoe, found Julius Pool in the office and, in the presence of two witnesses, attacked the croupier with such savagery that the witnesses were powerless to interfere; had dealt him a blow so terrific that Julius Pool had fallen, struck his head against a table and had cracked his skull, and had died without recovering consciousness.
Thereupon, Peter Brenn had disappeared.
It promised to be the kind of case that delights city editors. The murderer's disappearance would whip up public interest in the case. There was a woman involved, and Peter Brenn already had, so to speak, a public record.
When he had become a farmer, two years prior to the murder, he had come in for a good deal of publicity. He was the son of a once rich Greenfield family that had lost all its money. Peter Brenn had refused help from relatives, had denounced the pretenses of the once-rich who were still trying to keep up appearances, And he had announced his intention of becoming a simple dirt farmer.
The motive for the murder was somehow quite in character with what the public knew about the young farmer. According to the newspapers, Peter Brenn's sister Sylvia had been paying him a short visit. It had been her custom to go for roadside walks alone in the early evening. On the evening of May tenth, following her custom, she was talking a walk along the Clinton Turnpike when Julius Pool, the croupier, came along in his roadster.
He saw her and stopped, pulling the car off the road and across the path in such a way that Sylvia Brenn was required to walk around it. Julius Pool insisted that the girl go for a ride with him. According to her story, she had declined, not once, but several times, but had been over-ridden by the man's persistence. He was a tall and powerful man. When Miss Brenn got into the roadster, he had kissed her. She had fought him off, somehow escaped from him and had run into the woods and so home.
Sylvia Brenn, as the tabloids pointed out, had been a popular debutante in Greenfield until her family lost its money; and she had had a reputation for being an unscrupulous flirt. In the newspaper accounts of this roadside affair, there was an undertone of skepticism. It was intimated that Miss Brenn might not have told the whole truth to her brother when she came home that night.
But certainly the most interesting angle of the story was Peter Brenn's disappearance following his taking of vengeance.
For two days and nights, all the police forces of the State conducted a hunt for the homicidal farmer, with busses, trains and even airplanes being searched, and with radio cars scouring the countryside.
On the third day this search continued, and on the evening of that day the murderer paid a visit to Gillian Hazeltine. The lawyer and his niece had finished dinner and were on the terrace which overlooked the river when Peter Brenn dramatically made his entrance. The day had been hot, the courtroom had been stuffy, and Gillian and Rusty were both too tired to talk. They sat in the cool breeze that had sprung up, watching the last colors of the sunset darken and the twilight deepen.
A seven-foot hedge ran beside the terrace. There were sudden sounds on the outside of the hedge, then a man who looked like a tramp came plunging through it.
His clothing was torn. His face had been unshaved for several days, and now wore a thick black stubble. He looked dangerous. His hair, littered with bits of bark and twigs, war a black tangle. He had thick black brows, which were now bent flat over his eyes. His fists were clenched at his sides. He looked as if he had come prepared for violence. There was something of the primitive man about him.
Gillian and Rusty stared at him. Gillian had gripped the arms of his chair and was frozen in that attitude of a man about to spring up.
Rusty had just lit a cigarette. She puffed at it slowly and calmly and said, in her low contralto, “It's Peter Brenn."
Gillian had already recognized the wanted man, but he was shocked less by his identity than by his appearance. He had never seen a man who looked so disreputable and so ferocious.
With his fists clenched at his sides, Peter Brenn glared at the girl, then at the lawyer.
He said hoarsely, “Mr. Hazeltine, I want to talk to you. I'm going to give myself up, but first I want to talk to you. You've got to help me. I did not kill that man!"
Peter Brenn was shaking. Rusty said coolly, “You'd better sit down, brother. How long since you've had food?"
“I don't want food."
“Yes, you do. You want food and drink. I'll attend to it."
The wanted man said harshly: “Don't call the police--yet!"
I haven't the slightest intention of calling the police. Sit down!"
Peter Brenn looked at her as a hunted animal might have looked at her. His eyes peered at her with wild suspicion from under those flattened black brows. It made Peter Brenn look even more dangerous. He was certainly the violent type. But he sat down.
“Toro," Rusty called. And when Toro came, she said: “Bring this gentleman a whisky and soda, and the rest of that roast and some bread and butter."
The Japanese houseman looked Peter Brenn over without surprise. Toro never betrayed surprise. He said, “Yes, Miss Tyler," in his perfect English and departed.
“Now," Rusty said to their sudden guest, “calm down and collect yourself."
The young man glared at her briefly and addressed himself to Gillian. “I've been hiding on the river bottom for two nights and three days," he panted. “All day I've been hiding in these woods back here. Listen, Mr. Hazeltine. I wasn't trying to escape. I was trying to think things out. I know what the courts can do to an innocent man when the evidence is stacked against him."
“Is it stacked?" Rusty asked.
Peter Brenn ignored her. He kept his hot gaze fixed on Gillian in the fading light.
“I did go to the Golden Horseshoe to beat him up," he went on in that same tense, violent voice. “But he was dead when I got there. He'd just been killed. They'd just killed him!"
“Who?" Gillian asked.
“I don't know. It was a frame-up."
Gillian had heard such stories before. But he had heard, in the long course of his practice, few that were true.
“Can you prove it?" he snapped.
Peter Brenn ran the hooked fingers of one hand up through the bristling black stubble on his face and up into his thick, unkempt black hair.
“If I could prove it, I wouldn't have hidden.”
“If you can't prove it," Gillian said, how can you expect me to help you? In hiding out, you entirely lost what is known as the 'aspect of innocence.' Any jury in the world will weigh that."
“I hid," Peter Brenn persisted, “because I had to think things over. I did not kill that man. I went there--yes--to beat him up for insulting my sister. Those two men, Alec Salem and Mex Anderson, told me I would find him in the office. I went into the office. He was lying there dead. They knew he was dead, and they knew I hadn't killed him. But they accused me of killing him, and Mex Anderson grabbed me while Alec Salem phoned for the police. The moment I realized it was a frame-up, I broke away."
“Who is Alec Salem?" Rusty asked.
"The proprietor. Mex Anderson ran the crap table. I realized they'd gang up on me in court. They would testify me into the chair--to save themselves. One of them--or both of them--killed him. I happened to come along at a handy time. And that's the honest truth, Mr. Hazeltine."
Toro returned with a large silver tray, which he placed on a table before Peter Brenn. The young man hesitated a moment, then attacked the food. He ate ravenously.
Gillian and Rusty watched him in the gathering darkness. Gillian with the detached air of a lawyer to whom murderers and innocents accused of murder had been beating a path for many years, Rusty with the big-eyed interest of a girl fascinated.
She smoked one cigarette after another and did not take her eyes from the violent young man.
She said presently, "Well, Uncle Gillian, what are you going to do about it?”
Peter Brenn cried: “Mr. Hazeltine, you've got to stand by me. I swear it's a frame-up! But how am I going to prove it ?"
The point of Gillian's cigar brightened in the darkness, but he said nothing. He wasn't convinced. Looking at it legally, the odds were hopelessly against Peter Brenn. His hiding would prejudice any jury against him, and his violence was certainly not in his favor. He looked like just the kind of man who might beat another man to death.
Rusty intruded into his thoughts with her calm, low contralto: “Uncle Gillian, will you let me handle this?"
“This," Gillian answered, “isn't up your street, Rusty."
“But I've got an idea. I want Mr. Brenn to go upstairs, take a bath, shave and get into one of your suits. You're about the same size. I want to look at him when he's a little more civilized. I understand that a hot bath and a shave are wonderfully civilizing influences."
“I want to have a talk with him."
Gillian hesitated, not because he thought that Peter Brenn was dangerous, but because he didn't want Rusty's sympathies involved. If Peter Brenn swayed her, she would sway Gillian. And Gillian didn't like the looks of this case.
But when he protested, he discovered something new about Rusty; that she could be as stubborn as a mule. She advanced arguments until she wore him down.
“Even if you're not sure of his innocence," she argued, “the least you can do is to give him an even chance. You've got a great reputation for helping the underdog. The moment he gives himself up, every photographer in town will have his picture. And it isn't fair to let such a picture go before the public--and the potential jury that will try him."
She quoted Gillian's favorite truism; that most cases are tried by the newspapers long before they enter the courtroom.
He gave in finally, not because of sympathies for Peter Brenn, but because he liked and admired Rusty and her clever young mind. For a long time that was actually his sole interest in the case--Rusty's militant attitude.
All through the discussion, the object of it had sat in silence in the darkness, and when Gillian had given his consent to Rusty's proposition, the young farmer said explosively: “It's mighty white of you, Miss Tyler."
She called Toro and gave him instructions. Toro took the wanted man into the house. Gillian and Rusty waited in the darkness, discussing the case. Rusty was already convinced that Peter Brenn was telling the truth, but at the end of a half hour or more of argument, Gillian was still unconvinced.
He asked her how she could be so sure. “Rusty, I've had men and women trotting to roe for years proclaiming their innocence of crimes they've been charged with. Some are innocent and some are guilty. I've learned not to jump at conclusions. What makes you so sure?"
“There's no such animal."
“Let me talk to him, darling. I've been handling men all my life, and I know what makes their wheels go round."
Toro came out to say that Mr. Brenn was ready and waiting in the living room. . Rusty jumped up. Gillian followed her into the house.
Peter Brenn was standing in the middle of the living room with his arms folded across his chest. Gillian hardly recognized him. Except for a familiar grimness about the mouth and an untamed wildness in the eyes, under their thick black brows, Peter Brenn was a different man. Gillian decided that he had never seen a man who looked more masculine. He was not good looking in the usual sense, but he was striking. The suit of Gillian's that he wore fitted him snugly about the shoulders and emphasized his power.
Rusty, regarding him, had a look in her eyes that Gillian had never seen before; at least not in such measure. Her face was flushed, and her eyes were sparkling with excitement. Gillian had never seen her so beautiful.
She said to him: “Mr. Brenn and I will do the talking. Please sit down, Mr. Brenn."
And when the three of them were seated, “Now, I want to know everything," Rusty said in that low cool voice. But Gillian knew that she was controlling that voice with a great effort.
Peter Brenn told her what he had told her and Gillian before. He went into details. As if he realized that she was his only hope, he talked fully and freely, trying to answer her questions thoughtfully, trying not to be violent. It was his nature to be violent, but he controlled himself. And all the time he talked to her, he kept his eyes on Rusty, at first as if he were suspicious of her, then as if he were curious about her, and the rest of the time as if he had realized what a splendid and beautiful girl she was.
Rusty questioned him for fully two hours about the murder; she drew from him all the information he could give her relating to the Golden Horseshoe and to Alec Salem, Mex Anderson and the man he was accused of murdering.
There was something relentless about this pursuit of information that made Gillian admire her as he had never admired her before. Her brain was as keen as a surgeon's scalpel. And he regretted that she wasn't studying for the law. Given a few years, she would have made a wonderful trial lawyer.
When she had covered the subject of the murder, she then questioned Peter Brenn about his farm and his reasons for becoming a farmer. His answers fascinated her. He had come from the same kind of social life from which she herself had fled. It had disgusted him as it had disgusted her. With what little money had been left as his share of the family fortunes, when these fortunes collapsed, he had decided on a one-man back-to-the-soil movement. He didn't care whether he made money or not.
“At least," he said, “I'm making a living, I'm using my muscles, and I'm keeping my self-respect. I'm not on relief and I'm not going on relief. I'm fighting for my living--and I like to fight. I mean, I did."
Rusty drew him out. She wanted to get at the very bedrock of his philosophy. He thought the world economically, socially and politically haywire. He thought a great worldwide movement toward simplicity was called for. But he wasn't preaching. He had simply figured it out for himself, and he was living according to his beliefs.
Rusty said abruptly, “Uncle Gillian, you're going to take his case."
“B u t he hasn't a case," Gillian argued.
“Don't you believe he's innocent?"
“Whether I do or not isn't the point, Rusty. Alec Salem and Mex Anderson are old hands. I know Alec Salem. He's the smartest crook in this county. He has powerful political influence, He's as cold as ice and as hard as flint. He'll stick to his story on the stand. In spite of his reputation, a jury will believe him. He's too smart."
“You're smarter," Rusty said. it You can lick him. You're admitting Mr. Brenn is innocent."
Gillian shook his head. “I repeat, that isn't the issue, Rusty. When I take a criminal case, I must see at least a fighting chance to win. I have never lost a murder case. My prestige is based on that fact. People pay me the fees they do because they think I'm a miracle worker. I've never lost a case because I'm sure of winning before I start. The trial is so much window dressing. That may sound coldblooded, but it's the way I have to work."
“I'll help you," Rusty said.
He didn't smile. Such a statement made a day or two after she had arrived from Lake Forest might have amused him; but he had learned to respect Rusty's brain.
When she saw that he was not yet at the point of giving in, she said briskly: “Okay, darling. You'd better take him down town now. Turn him over to the police, then come home and we'll discuss it some more."
Peter Brenn got out of his chair and came over to Rusty with his hand outstretched. He was smiling a little.
It was the first time Rusty had seen
him smile, and the effect on him was
astonishing. It made him seem years younger, and it made him decidedly attractive.
He took her hand for only a moment, but that was long enough for Rusty to appreciate its strength and to feel its hard callouses.
Peter Brenn said huskily, “Miss Tyler, I can't ever thank you for this. I hope I can do something some time to repay you for it. Good by."
Good luck," Rusty said.
Gillian took Peter Brenn to police headquarters in his car, thus ending the hue and cry, and providing the morning papers with new and sensational material; he told reporters emphatically that he was not taking the Brenn case. Then he drove home to his waiting niece.
And the argument she had for him was unanswerable.
She said: “Darling, tell me frankly, am I or am I not your favorite niece?"
“You are," he laughed. “But-"
“One moment. Haven't I been an admiring and delightful companion to leave around?"
“Don't you think it's about time to grant me the first real favor I've ever asked?" "I do. But-” " Gillian," Rusty said in a lower voice than he had ever heard her use, "I want you to take Peter Brenn's case, simply because he is the man I have been looking for and intend to marry."
“Oh, no, Rusty."
“He is the man I have been looking for," Rusty repeated. “He has the courage of his convictions. He is strong and fearless. I like his violence. And I like his eyes. They're like yours. I intend to work on this case as I've never worked on anything in my life. He did not kill Julius Pool. I will find out who the murderer is. And I will put the blame where it belongs. And when Peter Brenn is free, I will marry him, if he will have me. That, Uncle Gillian, is my platform in a nutshell. Now--will you take the case?"
Gillian looked at the flushed face, the large eyes of his favorite niece and said, “Yes, Rusty, I will take the case."
Rusty kissed him, then: “Where will. I find the victim?" she asked, calmly.
Gillian shivered. In spite of his frequent professional association with them, he still disliked corpses.
“In the morgue."
"Will you make arrangements so that I can study it immediately?"
Gillian made the arrangements by telephone. Rusty insisted that she did not want him to accompany her.
As she left the house, she said, “It's important that no one knows who I am, Gillian. My name must not be connected with the case. From now on I expect to be spending a great deal of time around the Golden Horseshoe, and everything would be spoiled if people knew I was your niece. I'm going to become a detective."
“I gathered that. I don't have to warn you that you're taking your life in your hands."
“I'm not afraid."
She was like a different girl. He knew that Rusty was purposeful, but this was the first time he had ever seen her with a purpose to pursue.
He did, not hear her when she came in from her visit to the morgue several hours later. And when he arose next morning, she was gone.
THAT evening, at dinner, she told him she had examined the corpse and had already found a clue. She had proved to her satisfaction that Julius Pool's skull had not been crushed ;by striking the sharp edge of a table as he fell. She believed he had been struck with some instrument. She asked Gillian to have X-rays made. He said he would attend to it.
“Weren't you revolted?" he asked.
“Not at all. He w a s in excellent preservation. He was on ice.
The case of the People versus Peter Brenn followed the usual course of murder cases. The coroner's inquest named Peter Brenn as Julius Pool's murderer. John Redfern, assistant State's attorney, acting in the absence of his chief, Mark Storm, who was in Washington on a political mission, returned an indictment against Peter Brenn, which charged the young farmer with first degree murder. An early date was set for the trial, and Peter Brenn was locked up, having been refused bail.
The reports of neither Gillian's investigation department nor those submitted, as the days passed, by Rusty, gave him any reason to feel particularly optimistic.
His investigation department established what he had already suspected: that the State's star witnesses, the eyewitnesses to the alleged murder, Alec Salem, proprietor of the Golden Horseshoe, and Mex Anderson, crap table croupier of the establishment, were men with criminal records. Both had served time in different institutions for grand larceny, but these records were not sufficiently black to damn the two men in the eyes of any jury. There was no record of physical violence for either man.
Mex Anderson was actually a Mexican. He had been born Pedro Gonzales in the state of Chihuahua, and had changed his name several times after crossing the border.
None of these findings proved Peter Brenn's contention that he was innocent of Julius Pool's murder.
Rusty, in her old role of reckless, gin-drinking playgirl, which she had abandoned when she left Lake Forest, haunted the Golden Horseshoe as soon as it reopened. For two weeks after the murder, the notorious roadhouse was dark. Then it burgeoned forth, to reap the rewards of its notoriety. It had always been popular with what might be termed the lower sporting element, but with all the publicity it had received it now became the most popular drinking resort in that part of the State. Not only the better sporting element but the fast society crowd suddenly patronized it.
Alec Salem imported a good orchestra, enlarged his dance floor and his bar, and the gambling rooms ran full blast.
Rusty reported little of her activities to Gillian. She said that in all her experience, it was the wildest hot spot she had ever seen, and that she was being accepted more and more as one of the regulars. If she had trouble with men who were attracted by her loveliness and her apparent wantonness, she never mentioned it. Gillian suspected that she was an expert, in spite of her youth, at keeping men at their distance.
Such late hours were tiring her. Little dark areas appeared under her eyes, and she lost weight, but she lost none of her valiant spirit.
She told Gillian that she had proved to her satisfaction that Julius Pool had been killed in a small sitting room, and had been carried into the office, where he was lying when Peter Brenn found him.
“There are a pair of andirons in the fireplace in the sitting room," she said. “I believe Julius Pool fell and struck the back of his head against one of them--it has a large ornamental iron ball. That ball would fit into the concavity in the back of his skull that the X-rays show."
“You can't get very far with that," Gillian said.
“It proves that Peter was framed."
She had made several visits to the jail where the accused man was, and she was more than ever of the opinion that he was innocent, and that he was the one man in the world for her.
On her first visit she had wanted some information regarding Peter's acquaintance with Julius Pool, Alec Salem and Mex Anderson previous to the night of the killing. .
Peter Brenn was philosophical about his troubles, and grateful for her intercession in his case.
When she said, “Well, Mr. Brenn, how are you doing?" he had answered thoughtfully, “It's a nice hotel, but it's a little too hospitable. Once you're a guest here, they seem to want you to stay on and on!"
There was certainly nothing violent about the way he was looking at Rusty through the bars.
He said suddenly, “You're a swell person. Mr. Hazeltine's been telling me about your ideas--the way you walked out on that Lake Forest gang. It took a lot of courage."
“No," Rusty said, “it took a lot of impatience--the same kind of impatience that turned you into a farmer.".
He said, “Everybody thought I was crazy."
Rusty laughed. “That makes two lunatics in an otherwise sane and logical world. Now--tell me some more about Julius Pool."
She told Gillian that night about her talk with the prisoner. And she said she was worried because time was passing so rapidly and her opportunity had not yet come.
"I'm going to need money," she said. “A flock of it. In fact-five thousand dollars. It's only a loan, Gillian. I have ten thousand coming from my grandfather's estate, which is in escrow. Can I have five thousand--in large new bills?"
When the case came up to trial, she asked Gillian to take all the postponements he could possibly get.
“I'll have the proof for you as soon as I can get it," she promised, “but I need time--all the time I can wangle. You attend to it, like a darling."
Gillian attended to it. He secured postponements on ail possible grounds. But the public was interested in the case; the newspapers clamored for a trial. With such a weak case, Gillian could not afford to weaken it with a further request for postponement, and it was certain now that the trial judge, rapidly losing his patience, would have denied him anyway.
The case has got to go to trial," Gillian told Rusty one evening. . “Stall it along all you can."
I can't stall it along. Are you quite sure, Rusty, that you're on the trail of something?"
“Yet you don't even know who the murderer is."
“Yes, I do, Gillian. It's Alec Salem."
“Can you prove it?"
“Not yet. But I'm dead sure. There was bad feeling between him and Julius Pool--plenty of it. There's no question that Pool was hitting the till--pocketing some of his table's winnings."
“How do you know this?"
“I've talked to the servants. I’ve been very careful and deft about it, darling. I play I'm tight and drop foolish little questions, and they say a thousand useless words to one good one. But I've picked up enough of the good little ones. There's utterly no question about it; Alec Salem accused Julius Pool of chiseling on the profits, and it led to hot words--and to Pool's being killed. And Mex Anderson saw it. And at that highly opportune moment, Peter Brenn walked right into their hands. I'll have everything in a few days, Gillian. Have faith in me. I'm working on it. You know how slow these things are. Go ahead with the trial. Get a mistrial."
“Can you give me some idea when you'll have the information you want?"
“Give me three days. It will take just about that much longer."
“But, Rusty, it won't take the State two days to present its case. And my only witness of any account is Sylvia Brenn. I can't keep her on the stand
“Get a mistrial," Rusty repeated.
She went to the Golden Horseshoe earlier that night than usual. She had a date with a man for dinner, a man from Chicago, but she hadn't known him there. He was a strange and interesting personality, this Harry Thorne--different from any man she had known. She had thought at first that he was a gangster. He looked something like a gangster, of the dapper type, with clothes a little too carefully tailored, shoulders a little too wide, hips a little too snug. She had never seen colder, steadier eyes except in the head of a snake. . Harry Thorne did not talk about himself. He was quiet and infinitely self-possessed. Once or twice he made references to his commission business in Chicago, and Rusty guessed that he was some kind of racketeer. But his shell was hard and impenetrable.
All she really knew about him was that he carried a gun, a rod, in a bolster strapped under his left armpit, and that he loved to gamble. Every night he played poker with Alec Salem, Mex Anderson, and a fourth man, a fat man with turtle eyes, who answered to the name of Jack.
Rusty had met Harry Thorne at the bar, off the roulette room, when she had found out about these nightly poker sessions. Her sole ambition was to sit in that game.
In her easygoing way, she had struck up an acquaintance with the Chicago man, and he had asked her to dance.
He danced well, without trickiness, and Rusty knew that she danced divinely. He was easy to follow, and the. occasional feeling of that armpit automatic against her side was thrilling. In spite of her Chicago reputation, he was the first gunman she had known.
After that they had occasionally had a drink together and had danced frequently. She liked Harry Thorne because he didn't take advantage of her friendliness. He apparently accepted her as a good scout, and liked her a lot.
Meeting Mex Anderson and Alec Salem had, of course, been much simpler, although she could make no progress with them. They were now a pair of celebrities, the State's star witnesses in the Brenn trial. People wanted to meet them, to shake their hands, and to ask them the usual questions.
Rusty had followed this custom, but had varied it a little, in the case of Mex Anderson, by talking to him in which she spoke fluently. had spent several summers, as a growing girl, in Mexico City, visiting cousin, and had learned to love the language, and had mastered it.
When they were introduced, Rusty had exclaimed: “Tengo mucho gusto en conocerle, senor! (I am delighted to meet you.)"
And the Mexican fugitive had automatically answered, "Mucho gusto, senorita," before he realized that she had spoken in Spanish. Then he grinned with delight and cried: "Ah, usted habla mi idioma! (Ah, you speak my language!) "
“Si, senor!" she laughed.
For a few moments they had babbled in Spanish, Anderson learning that Rusty had spent several summers in “the City." Then the Mexican had bowed courteously and. said, “Mucho gusto en haberle conocido, senorita," and left her. (Delighted to have met you.)
And thereafter, when they met, they chatted in the language of old Mexico. It should have been a bond between them--she had hoped for that--but it wasn't. Mex Anderson was minding his business these evenings. His days were spent in court. He was a tall, thin, dark-skinned man with bad eves. At least, one cast in them made him took bad. His wariness made him difficult to work on.
And Alec Salem's urbanity, his air of ye genial host, being suavely cordial to everyone, made him quite as difficult. Rusty had her plan. All she needed was to sit in that poker game, but she must go about it smoothly. Mex Anderson was too wary; Alec Salem was too aloof. And the man they called Jack was a grunter. He answered all friendly overtures with grunts or silence. He was not interested in Rusty.
He drank little. He did not mix. He came to play poker.
Of all of them, the young man from Chicago was Rusty's one and only hope. But when, that night at dinner, she deftly brought the subject around to the game, Harry Thorne took the customary male attitude.
“It's for heavy sugar, Rusty," he said. "It's no game for nice little girls.”
“Maybe I'm not as dumb as I look," Rusty said provocatively. “And maybe my sugar is as heavy as yours."
She fearlessly opened her purse and let him see the bankroll she carried. He was shocked.
"You shouldn't carry a roll that big," he said. “And you shouldn't flash it if you do. There are tough hombres here."
“But I want to burn it up in that game."
“Keep it," Harry answered. “It's a cutthroat game."
“How are you doing?"
“I'm at the cleaner's. But wait till my luck turns!"
“Maybe I'd bring you luck. You have no idea, Harry, how I'm dying to sit in on a good tough game."
The Chicago man looked at her heavy-lidded. “Sister, do you know how much money I've dropped in that game in five nights? Twelve grand! Which makes it a nice little game for you to stay out of."
She was observing his eyes and mouth. while he spoke. His eyes were hard, and his mouth, always thin, looked suddenly cruel and mean. It made her heart leap. He was a poor loser--and an angry loser. And he had a gun! If she could only get into that game!
“Just a penny-ante set-up," Rusty said with scorn. “I thought you were playing for real money."
The heaviness of his look vanished, and he burst into laughter.
"You can't afford to drop five G's in a night," he said, sobering. “You're a good kid, and I won't let you."
“Harry," Rusty said, “you apparently don't get me. My grandfather left me a half million. You can't imagine how slow it bums! If I dropped five thousand dollars in a night, I wouldn't even miss it."
Harry was looking at her speculatively. “No," he said suddenly. “No, Rusty, I won't have you in that game."
“Who's the heavy winner?"
Rusty's heart leaped. It was almost too good to be true.
Harry said so-long to her presently, and went into the little sitting room where the game was played behind locked doors. Rusty wistfully watched him go. If she could not get into that game, Peter Brenn was lost!
THE case of the People versus Peter Brenn was meanwhile going smoothly enough--for the district attorney, John Redfern. Gillian Hazeltine had taken all of the postponements and delays the law allowed. He asked prospective jurymen endless questions, and presently aroused the irritable impatience of the Court.
Judge Bailey was presiding. Judge Bailey was a short-tempered justice at best, and Gillian's dawdling tactics finally got the better of him. Then there was the heat. On the day the trial opened, the courtroom was packed. Sun streamed in the curtainless windows. There was little or no ventilation. The judge, the jury, finally sworn, the lawyers, the witnesses, the courtroom attendants, the newspaper crowd and the spectators were all wretched with the heat and the mugginess.
The State began the presentation of its case. The medical examiner was called to prove that a man named Julius Pool, on the night of May tenth, and at a place known as the Golden Horseshoe, had been found dead of injuries inflicted upon his person, and that. his death had been directly due to these injuries.
State police officers who had been called to the scene of the murder gave their testimony as to the position in which the body had been found, and what witnesses had said to them.
Character witnesses, five in a row, now went to the stand and testified that in their estimation Peter Brenn was a dangerous and violent character. There was certainly no question, when they were through, that the accused had a dangerous and violent temper.
Gillian, in cross-examination, asked them endless questions, fighting every inch of the way, and trying, by every ruse and device at his command, to maintain in the jury's mind a reasonable doubt. With so little ammunition he was having heavy enough going. Long before the trial was well under way he knew that he had one of the toughest fights of his career on his hands. He had won cases as tough as this by his sheer brilliance in a court of law, yet he would never have entered this court of law so heavily handicapped if it had not been for his affection for Rusty, his belief in her, and his deep anxiety to help her.
He continued to fight that losing battle, putting into it every ounce of his courtroom skill and his genius and his uncanny understanding of juries. When he was not fighting he was doing everything in his power to delay the onward progress of the prosecution's juggernaut. Yet he played none of the tricks for which he was famous. His handling of the case had two results. Judge Bailey grew impatient with him, and John Redfern, the acting district attorney, grew more and more suspicious. He knew that Gillian Hazeltine seldom entered the courtroom without a bag of clever tricks, and he suspected that the master courtroom showman was preparing to extract some unpleasant surprise from his well-stocked bag. And he wondered what Hazeltine's defense could possibly be.
So did Hazeltine. He was, by this time, a little angry with himself for having come into court with nothing but eloquence to back up his belief in his client's innocence, and his belief in Rusty's cleverness. He believed that Rusty had simply bitten off more than she could chew.
He grew more and more worried. The jury sat and thoughtfully watched Gillian's darkbrowed client who sat glaring at each witness in turn, often muttering under his breath when they lied.
He was making a bad impression. No matter how meek and peace-loving he tried to look, he still looked like a violent young man.
The heat increased and the State's case grew stronger.
Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Tinkham, a farmer and his wife who were next-door neighbors of the accused, reluctantly testified that he had stopped at their house on the evening of May tenth, and told them that he was going up to the Golden Horseshoe and beat up Julius Pool to within an inch of his life.
The very reluctance with which they gave their testimony made it doubly damning. Oscar Tinkham was a gentle old soul, with silvery hair and vague blue eyes, who stared sadly at Peter Brenn, and recited his share in the events of that fateful evening in a low, tremulous voice.
Maria Tinkham. was a sweet-faced old woman who dabbled at her eyes with a handkerchief every time a question was put to her.
Yes, Mr. Brenn had paused at their front porch at a little after dusk that evening.
"What did he say to you, Mrs. Tinkham?" asked John Redfern, in his strong, confident voice.
“He said he was on his way to the Golden Horseshoe to beat up Julius Pool."
“Did he look angry?"
“Yes, sir, he looked very angry."
“And violent ?"
“Yes, sir; he looked violent, all right."
“Did he leave at a walk or at a run?"
“He-he ran, sir."
The jury, studying the accused, could visualize it so easily. That blackbrowed young man making the threat, then running up the road to “beat up Julius Pool!”
Gillian brought out, in cross-examination, that the Tinkhams had a high opinion of their young neighbor. He was usually a very pleasant and spirited young man, a bard worker who minded his own business, and gladly took and quickly acted upon expert advice in farming matters.
The day grew hotter. Judge Bailey's face grew purple. John Redfern's face was magenta. By the end of the afternoon session everyone in court was limp.
There was a thunder shower during the night, but by dawn the heat and humidity had increased.
The State put its star witness on the stand that day. Alec Salem came first. He made an excellent witness. He resembled W. C. Fields a little, and he had a certain charm.
But more than that, he brought to every question put to him a thoughtfulness, a care that impressed everyone in the courtroom. He had the air of a man who wanted to be scrupulously honest.
“When the accused came into your roadhouse that evening, did he seem angry, or excited, or in a wrathful frame of mind?"
“Yes, sir. I remember how red his eyes were. And how his lips were drawn back from his teeth."
“Did he ask you where Julius Pool was?"
Gillian objected to the question, and it was re-phrased.
The witness: “He asked me where he could find Julius Pool, and I told him. I said, 'You'll find him in the office.’"
“Then what happened?"
“He ran into the office where Julius Pool was, and this terrible row started. One of my employees, Mr. Anderson, was standing near me. We ran to the office just in time to see Mr. Brenn strike Pool a terrific blow in the jaw. We saw Pool go stumbling back, trip and fall, striking the back of his head on the corner of the table. Then we grabbed Mr. Brenn, and I phoned for the police. But he got away from Mr. Anderson. "
Peter Brenn was muttering again under his breath and straining forward in his chair. A bailiff hovered near by, prepared to take action if the accused became violent.
Gillian did what he could in cross-examination. He brought out the fact that Alec Salem had a prison record. He tried to confuse the witness, and to make him contradict himself. But Alec Salem was impossible to shake. He was calm and imperturbable and unfailingly courteous. When Gillian resorted to the familiar trick of roaring at him, of trying to trap him into contradictions, Alec Salem regarded him gently and kindly--and would not be trapped.
There, if Rusty was right, sat the real murderer of Julius Pool, and there was nothing Gillian could do about it.
That evening he had another talk with Rusty. She said she was still trying to get into that poker game. Once she got into the poker game, they would win the case. But she was tired. She was having dinner again with Harry Thorne. She hoped, tonight, to persuade him.
“The State will finish before noon," Gillian said. “Mex Anderson is their last witness. Redfern has notified me he will finish by noon. I can't ask for another postponement. And I haven't a case, Rusty."
“You won't need a case," she said grimly.
In the morning Gillian found a note from her under his door. “No luck," it read, “but I still have hope. Try for a mistrial. I must have time."
Gillian read it wearily. Then he looked at the thermometer hanging in the shade outside his window. It said “93.” Hotter than yesterday. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. There was no breeze. The air lay over the countryside like a steaming blanket. And it would be hotter in the city.
As Gillian drove into the city that morning, a vision of the new Federal building came into his mind--a beautiful white marble building which had been completed recently. It was the first Federal building, aside from the old postoffice, in Greenfield. Heretofore, all Federal cases had been tried in the county courthouse, or at the State capitol. With Greenfield's recent growth and consequent political importance, it had been easy for a State Senator to secure the appropriation for the new Federal building. No cases had been tried in it so far, but it was ready. It had been completed a day or two before.
Thinking of it, Gillian groaned. It was air-conditioned. Cool breezes, wrung dry of their moisture by clever machinery, blew through it.
Gillian suddenly said, aloud, “Hey!" as if he were calling to some passerby. But the only passerby was a thought. He nailed it as it passed.
When he entered the stuffy courtroom, a few spectators sat limply in their seats, listlessly fanning themselves with palmetto fans or straw hats or newspapers. It was the hottest and muggiest day so far.
Gillian waited for the jury to file in, for the prisoner to be brought in, for judge Bailey to appear. He walked to the bench and called to the district attorney: “Come here a moment, John, I've got an idea."
The district attorney came over, looking suspicious.
"Judge," Gillian said, “we can't go on in this heat. You and I and John and the jury are at the point of collapse. Now, I suggest-“
“Oh, no, you don't," Redfern said promptly. “No more postponements, .Gillian. I'm sick of postponements."
“Yes," the judge agreed, “we're sick of postponements, Gillian. Let's get this washed up. How long will it take you?"
“I have a lot of witnesses," Gillian answered. “I honestly don't know when I've had such a lot of witnesses."
Judge Bailey glowered at him. “Gillian, I don't know what you're up to, but I, positively will grant no more postponements. The way you've kept us simmering in this ungodly heat-“'
“But I was only about to suggest," Gillian said, "that we adjourn to a place that's cool."
“There's no such-" Redfern began irritably. “The new Federal building?" he asked with sudden animation. “Is it completed?"
“Exactly!" Gillian affirmed. “It was finished two days ago. It's air conditioned. It's breeze--swept! None of the courtrooms are being used yet, but they're ready for use. It will take only a moment to get permission. How about it, judge?"
Judge Bailey was beaming. “A fine idea," he said.
John Redfern did a little telephoning, He returned to announce that, so far as he was concerned, court could adjourn to the new Federal building at once.
Judge Bailey made the announcement. And so his court--jury, bailiffs, prosecutors, attorneys for the defense, the defendant, the newspaper men and the spectators, moved en masse to the new Federal building and took possession of a large, deliciously cool courtroom. And there the business of the trial was resumed.
Mex Anderson took the stand and gave testimony, word for word, in support of the testimony Alec Salem had given on the stand the day before.
True to his promise, John Redfern wound up the case for the State before noon. Gillian promptly put his two witnesses on the stand, one after the other, first, the accused, then the accused's sister. He examined them almost perfunctorily. He had Peter Brenn tell his story of the night of May tenth. And he had Sylvia Brenn tell her story.
It was so obvious that the jury did not believe a word Peter Brenn said that John Redfern took very little time with his cross-examination. And in the case of Miss Brenn, he waived cross-examination.
Redfern’s address and Gillian's address to the jury were brief.
The newspapermen sprawled at their tables and gazed at Gillian with frank wonder. They had never seen him put on such a spiritless performance in a courtroom. It was as if he and Redfern had suddenly agreed that there was to be no fight. It was obvious to them that this case was in the bag.
Even judge Bailey seemed puzzled. He said, when Redfern had finished his rebuttal arguments: "Gentlemen, I see no reason why this case should not go to the jury this afternoon." And he made his charge to the jury, and the jury retired.
The jury was out less than an hour. When they filed back into the box, Gillian sprang his trap. He had been waiting all day long for someone else to spring it. He had been amazed that judge Bailey or John Redfern had not suddenly made the discovery. It was amazing. It was incredible. Gillian had shot at the moon and hit the moon.
“Your honor," Gillian cried. “just a moment!"
Judge Bailey looked at him coldly. “I see no reason," his honor said, “why there should be any delay at this point. The jury has come to an agreement. We will hear their verdict."
The clerk faced the jury, and the members of the jury stood at their places. But before the clerk could drone his question, Gillian spoke again.
“Your honor," he said urgently, this can't go on. It has just occurred to me that this trial is illegal."
Judge Bailey bent down and peered at him over his glasses. “Illegal?" he snapped.
"Yes, your honor. Today's session of this trial has not been conducted in the State in which the murder occurred. We are on Federal property at this moment and have been all day, your honor. We are, so to speak, on a Federal island. It is part of no State!"
There was a sudden uproar in the courtroom, and a great deal of laughter from the press table, which had waited these many weary days for the astute Mr. Hazeltine to remove something interesting from his well-stocked bag of tricks.
One reporter said, “Nuts! Mistrial!" and walked out of the room.
Judge Bailey was purple with wrath. Yet it ought not to have been necessary for Gillian, or anyone else for that matter, to call the fact to his attention. The same was true of John Redfern, who was a clever and an experienced attorney.
At all events, the judge logically could not hold Gillian Hazeltine in contempt. Gillian made of him a laughing stock, which was unfortunate, yet he and Gillian had long been political enemies, and Gillian had perhaps seen fit to kill two birds with one stone. But there was nothing the judge could do about it. For John Redfern, Gillian had no sympathy. They were sworn enemies, and he was glad to take this poke at the acting district attorney's pompousness and self-importance.
To Rusty he said that evening,
Well, sis I've got you your delay." And when Rusty heard his account of that day's doings, she went into convulsions of laughter.
Rusty said he was a darling, kissed him goodnight, and went out somewhat wearily to have dinner once more with Harry Thorne.
THE Chicago man was still adamant--he would not let her in that poker game. And behind his stubbornness was an increasing ugliness. He had come from Chicago to make a poker killing. His losses to date were more than twenty-five thousand dollars.
Rusty would not give in. The next night she had dinner with him again, and again on the following night, and on that night he suddenly weakened.
He said, "All right, babe; we'll speak to Alec and Mex."
Alec and Mex were at the bar with Jack, the grunter. Rusty squeezed into a space between Mex and the proprietor. And Thorne did the talking.
“Boys," he said wearily, “we've got a new customer. Rusty has been begging to sit in our game, and I said she could. Is my name enough on her ticket ?"
There was something a little nasty about the way he said it. There was a faint grumbling of disapproval, but this stopped when Rusty opened her purse and demonstrated her ability to enter a table-stakes game.
“Let's get goin'," Harry said.
"Just as soon as I've washed my hands," Rusty answered. “I’ll meet you at the table. Order me a Scotch high, Harry."
She left them. There was a telephone booth in the ladies' room. Rusty entered it and dialed Gillian's number.
She said breathlessly to him: “It's all set. I stood close enough to Mex at the bar to do the first half of it. The showdown will be at eleven sharp. It's now nine-forty. Does that give you time?"
“I think so."
“Sure you can round up someone from the D. A.'s office and a detective they don't know too well out here?"
“Eleven sharp," Rusty said.
“We'll be there."
She now went to the little sitting room, off the bar, where, according to her theory, Julius Pool had been murdered and then dragged into the office some distance down the hall.
The four men were already seated about the baize-covered table with its brilliant overhead light. Rusty sat down, paid cash for a pile of chips, and tried to prevent her heart front jumping completely out of her ribs.
She sat with Harry on her right, with Alec Salem beyond him. Mex Anderson, alias Pedro Gonzales, was almost directly across from her, and Jack, the grunter, sat at her left.
Alec Salem, heavy-lidded, told her the rules. They were simple. Table stakes--no limit. The deal changed with each hand. The deck changed with each round.
The game was stud poker.
Rusty had played very little poker, except for the inevitable games of penny-ante and such low-limit games into which she had been drawn at parties.
She tried to control her expressions, not to go from deathly white to flaming rose every few seconds, and to make her hands and her voice steady. She had expected to lose a large portion of the five-thousand-dollar stake with which she went into the game. She promptly began to win.
At the end of an hour, she was well over a thousand dollars ahead.
By a quarter of eleven, she was close to two thousand on the black side.
She didn't want to win, but she wasn't going to lose deliberately. For the others, Jack was holding about even, as was Alec Salem. Mex was a substantial winner, and Harry Thorne was, in his own idiom, "giving the damned party."
He played a cold game of poker. His expression was uniformly wooden, but behind his eyes flickered an ugliness that set Rusty's heart to racing with delight. For the others saw that ugliness, too.
It was a strange game. Harry Thorne was the only man at the table who wore a coat. He never took his coat off, he had once said, except when he was going to bed. The reason was fairly obvious: the gun he always carried in that shoulder holster. He did not pretend he wasn't carrying a gun every moment of his waking day. He referred to it playfully as “life insurance."
But he wasn't in a playful mood now. He seldom spoke. He played a methodical, mechanical game, and behind his small eyes flickered, like a flame, his ugliness.
Precisely at five minutes of eleven, Rusty said, “Gentlemen, I'm thirsty. Can't we have another round of drinks ?"
Alec Salem pressed a button. Then he got up and unlocked the door for the Negro waiter to come in. Drinks, were specified.
And in the moment of relaxation, Rusty acted. She said in Spanish, laughingly: “Pedro, perhaps you would like to talk some business. That is why I'm here--on business."
The Mexican grinned at her. And, in Spanish, replied: “Senorita, that is a strange remark. What is this business you have to discuss ?"
“Keep smiling," Rusty rejoined. “You'd better. You have an ace of spades in your left hand hip pocket. Don't reach for it, or I'll spill the beans!"
Pedro Gonzales, alias Mex Anderson, stared at her a moment, and the color swiftly left his swarthy face. It was now the color of an over-ripe lime, very yellow with stains of tan.
In Spanish, he called her names. Few of them could be repeated here. Few of them, fortunately, Rusty understood. But she knew what he meant by the Spanish equivalent of rat, double-crosser, and a few similar epithets.
"You did that at the bar," he accused her.
“Yes, I did it at the bar. Do I tell the big loser, the gentleman with the gun under his coat, that you have an ace of spades in your pocket--or will you talk?"
Mex Anderson sent a terrified glance at Harry Thorne. He must have known precisely what would happen to him if Rusty insisted that he be searched. He must have known precisely what Harry Thorne would do to him in split seconds.
Still in the language of Romance, Rusty said: "You are on a very hot spot, Pedro."
“Say!" Alec Salem interrupted. What is this? Let's get on-"
Rusty smiled at him ravishingly. "We have just discovered we know somebody." Then, again, in Spanish, “Pedro, you will make a confession, quick, or I will tell Thorne you have that hidden ace."
The Mexican's eyes looked sick. He glanced at Harry Thorne again. .
“Will you tell the truth, now, about Julius Pool's murder, or-"
Si, si!” he hissed.
The waiter had brought the drinks. The door was open. Beyond, at the bar, Rusty saw Gillian and two strange men. She called: Come in! Come in!"
The four men at the table were too astonished to move. Rusty saw the Mexican's hand dart behind him and she cried: “Harry! Keep your eye on that man!"
“What's this all about?" Thorne snapped. “Is this-"
“No," Rusty said quickly. “It's not a gang-up on you. Gillian, Mex wants to talk. Mex, start talking!"
The Mexican was not looking at her, but at the deadly black little eyes of the man from Chicago. He started up from his chair.
Thorne snarled: “Sit down!"
He sat down. He was trembling. Rusty's trick had accomplished all that she had hoped, and more. It had completely broken the Mexican's nerve.
Alec Salem was sending sharp glances here and there. He was pale. He looked at the detective and the man from the D. A.'s office and at Gillian, who were ranged behind him. He suddenly shouted, “What the hell?"
It had been nicely engineered. As he started up, the detective pushed him back without gentleness.
Rusty said, above the small bedlam: “Pedro, who killed Julius Pool?"
“He did!" the Mexican said shrilly, and pointed at Alec Salem. “He killed him in this room. He fought with him because Pool was stealing money from him! He smashed him in the face with the butt of a bottle, and Pool cracked his skull on that andiron!"
Alec Salem uttered a savage, animal sound and leaped out of his chair. But before he could reach the Mexican, the detective and the young assistant district attorney were roughly pulling him back into the chair.
There followed confusion, but it was orderly confusion. Gillian went to headquarters with the young assistant district attorney and Pedro Gonzales, to take down his statement before he changed his mind.
A police car took Alec Salem to jail. Rusty remained behind to make such apologies as she could to the wrathful Harry Thorne. He wasn't wrathful because he had lost a total of almost twenty-eight thousand dollars. He was wrathful because Rusty hadn't taken him into her confidence.
"You just made a sucker out of me," he complained.
“But I had to, Harry. There wasn't any other way that would work. I hated to fool you. You're a square shooter. I had to use you and your hatred at losing so much. I knew you'd shoot Mex if you found he had that ace in his pocket, and that was my ace in the hole. Will you let me buy you a drink?"
“No," Harry Thorne growled. “No girl with your nerve can buy me a drink. The drinks are on me. And it's going to be champagne."
* * *
Peter Brenn, once the majestic machine of the law was set into motion--in reverse--so to speak--was duly freed. Alec Salem was tried and sentenced to a life of hard labor. He escaped the death penalty because his unfailing charm, his suavity, made such a great impression on the jury.
In speaking about this entire episode, Gillian Hazeltine likes to conclude by remarking that Alec Salem's case was not tried in the new Federal building.
But the conviction of Alec Salem and his sentencing to life imprisonment, and the punishment meted out to Pedro Gonzales, alias Mex Anderson--ten years, for perjury and for his efforts to obstruct these same wheels of justice--the episode did not come to a conclusion with these important convictions.
It did not come to a conclusion at all. The most important conclusion of the episode is still pending.
Soon after Peter Brenn's release from the toils of the law, he came around to the Hazeltine house to thank Gillian's red-headed niece for her efforts in saving him. Rusty was very gracious with the young man. She accepted his thanks sweetly and calmly, and he went away.
This sort of thing went on for about a month. Gillian was curious, but he asked no questions. Then, one night, he heard voices raised in violence. He hastened out on the terrace.
Peter Brenn and Rusty were quarreling. They were exchanging fighting words, but what the trouble was about Gillian never knew. For, as he approached, Peter Brenn took Rusty savagely in his arms, kissed her with the utmost violence, and carried her to his roadster. Later, Rusty telephoned Gillian that they had just been married.
“We are spending the honeymoon," she said in that low contralto voice of hers, “on Peter's farm."
A month passed. Gillian dropped in at the Peter Brenn farm on one pretext or another any number of times. No matter when he dropped in, or on what pretext, he found Rusty divinely happy. She usually wore a long apron over her dress, or a pair of skimpy overalls.
Usually, Peter was hard at work in the fields, and Rusty was hard at work in the house. Gillian did not have to ask her whether or not she was happy. He had never in his life seen such a happy girl.
The one-girl rebellion of 1935 was over.