The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1929
Kruschen Kant, Private Investigator, ran his eyes over the final page of the Directory, then cupped a haggard face in his hands.
"Names and names and names." he murmured bitterly, "and any one of them might be his."
A knock sounded at the door. The great detective's features immediately assumed their wonted expression of inscrutability.
"Come in," he called out, in dynamic tones that gave no indication of his intense mental strain.
The door opened. The detective leaped to his feet in horror. Through the open doorway, twenty-six corpses tumbled forward into the room and lay in distorted postures upon the carpet.
In the twinkling of an eye. Kant had leaped to the doorway and was sweeping the corridor with his hawk-like gaze. Several people were lounging about, but they took not the slightest notice of him. With a baffled look upon his fine-chiselled features, the great detective closed the door of his consulting-room and stared down at the corpses. He uttered a cry of amazement.
All of them were dead!
He seized a mirror that lay on his desk and held it before his lips. A slight film clouded the glass.
"I appear to be still alive." he muttered.
"Well?" inquired a gentle voice behind him.
He whirled about—and stared into the menacing muzzle of an automatic. There was a man in the room! A thin man with green eyes!
"The Mucker!" came hoarsely from the lips of the detective.
"Well?" inquired the intruder, with sardonic amusement.
Kruschen Kant steadied himself.
"What do you want?" he asked, striving to keep a tremor from his voice.
The eyes of the intruder glittered.
"Your life!" he said, simply.
This was like The Mucker, flashed through the mind of Kruschen Kant. Yet, why not? Who had hunted The Mucker more than he? Whom had The Mucker—that mysterious creature who had messed up the cities of nine continents with his brutal murders—more reason to hate and to fear than he? The Mucker!—whose good name was slowly but surely disappearing before the discoveries of Kruschen Kant—surely The Mucker must desire his life. Kant laughed.
As the automatic spat forth its bullets, Kant moved aside and let them go past. He felt the last bullet graze his collar stud. The Mucker cursed and crunched the weapon into fragments as the detective leaped for him.
There was a startling interruption. Kant, pausing in mid-air, saw from the corner of his eye the door swing open and twenty-six more corpses page 22 fall into the room. Amazement turned him to stone Fifty-two murders—if they were murders—all in one day! What a bag! Professional admiration shone in his eyes. Lowering himself to the floor, Kant turned to The Mucker.
The Mucker had disappeared!
The detective dashed to the window and drove his fist through the glass. A man in the uniform of a Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard stood in the street looking up at him. No one else was in sight.
"Bah! the Police!" snarled Kant. He carefully replaced the broken glass and turned from the window. His eyes sought the corpses. His jaw dropped.
The corpses had disappeared!
His brain working with appalling clarity, Kant rapidly recalled, combined, and permuted all the thoughts that he possessed. In vain. His skull bulged under the strain of his efforts, but no solution of the soul-tormenting problem presented itself. He feverishly snatched at his telephone.
"Scotland Yard." he barked. He listened until the sound of a tired feeling came through the earpiece.
"Well?" drawled a voice.
"Is that the Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent of the C.I D.?" he snapped.
The reply froze him.
"This," said the voice at the other end, "is The Mucker."
Kant dropped the receiver as if shot. His eyes, fixed on the mouthpiece of the instrument, dilated with terror.
From the mouthpiece of the telephone, blood was dripping—drip, drip, dripping. As if in a trance, he counted the drips. There were twenty-six of them!
"God!" he breathed. "The corpses!"
A band seemed to tighten round his heart. Half automatically he turned. Slowly, very slowly, the door was opening.
The air was suddenly rent by a fearful explosion.
Certain masculine qualities in Miss Benzoline Bernarr's make-up must have been apparent to the eyes of Urban Drift, the latest and youngest Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent of the C.I.D. as he watched her glide to the sideboard. Her limbs moved with the suppleness of the tiger. Slim though she was—and she was very slim—her Arto-Sylk hose barely concealed (if concealed be an appropriate word) her muscles of whipcord. The grace with which she rapidly mixed six oyster cocktails and as rapidly tossed them off. more than suggested the movements of a boxer. A certain beauty, not entirely artificial, distinguished her face, despite its almost hatchet-like thinness. Beneath the exquisite artistry of her complexion could be discerned an engaging pallor, relieved by her lambent eyes—pools of mystery, in whose fathomless depths strange green flickers seemed to come and go. Her frock—a daring creation—was of page 23 diaphanous buckram of a deep ultramontaine white that matched the delicate art shades of her closely-tangled hair.
Urban Drift was somewhat akin to her in appearance. A beholder who beheld him beholding her would have leaped to the conclusion that they were brother and sister. Indeed, had either been attired as the other, or conversely, it would have been impossible to tell them apart. The Fates, however, had been content merely to make them affinities.
Benzoline turned from her spiritual exercises with a sigh and faced the young man.
"Can't be did," she said gently, but not unbrutally.
Urban Drift's face clouded.
"Look here," Benz," he entreated. "My preferment guarantees me more of this world's goods than I can possibly use. I must share them with somebody—why not with you?"
"My dear man," said the girl, "you have strange notions of my standard of life, but that is not the point. I simply cannot."
"Won't you tell me why?" he urged.
No, Urb," she answered, "I cannot. Our lies way apart; isn't that enough? You are a D.D.D.S.C.I.D.; I am a—what?"
"Yes—a what." he murmured despondently. "I often wonder, Benzoline, why you come and go so often and so mysteriously as you do, and where you go when you do go." He sighed.
"Urban," she evaded, "you travel a little yourself. You were in China yesterday, in Patagonia the day before, and in Glaxoslovakia the day before that."
"My work carries me afar," he said, shortly. "How do you come to know so much of my movements?"
She laughed mysteriously. "Woman's intuition. Urban," she smiled. "You look into my eyes so much that I can see everything in yours."
He regarded her queerly.
"Do you know, Benzoline," he said slowly, "these green eyes of yours remind me of somebody."
Her frame imperceptibly grew taut.
"Somebody," he went on, his voice gathering in slowness as it proceeded, "whose eyes are green. Somebody whose green eyes look everywhere and see everything— who is everywhere and is seldom seen, yet is known to all. Somebody—"
She stayed him with a gesture.
"You mean—" she whispered.
"Yes," he said, harshly.
She broke the tension with a laugh
"Why. Urban." she cried. "Your own eyes are green. Look at them!"
Her mocking finger seemed to work a curious change in him. Not a muscle of his face moved, yet for a moment it might have been a different being that looked from behind it at the taunting girl. If she had been of a shrinkable type, she might have shrunk. But she merely laid her hand on his arm and returned look for look.
"Urban," she said. "I do not understand your moods, but you looked page 24 then as if you might have killed me without compunction. Have you ever killed a human being. Urban?"
His eyes (already mentioned) glittered, but he said nothing. She removed her hand.
"Never mind, then." she said. "Tell me another time. But I would like you to tell me this. Urban—"
"Well?" came from him as if he were speaking from afar. A sinister expression flitted across his thin face.
"Would you," she asked, and as she spoke her manner was that of a tigress about to spring, "would—you—ever—kill—me?"
The reply of Urban Drift. D.D.D.S.C.I.D., was to dash incontinently from the room. A moment later his motor-cycle could be heard chugging into the distance.
As the sound died away, the girl did a strange thing.
With a strength that many men could not have equalled, she lifted the massive Eorgian sideboard away from the wall. Her fingers explored the panelling behind until they encountered a button. She pressed it. The panelling swung open like a door.
Through the aperture twenty-six corpses tumbled forward into the room and lay in distorted postures upon the carpet!
Over the corpses leaped a man who was very much alive. A thin man with green eyes!
The Honourable Citron Peale, High Chief Commissioner of the Blundon Police Force, examined with interest the spherical object that lay on the blotter in front of him.
"It's a human eye-ball all right," he observed. "Anybody know whose it is?"
First Assistant Chief Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent Orville Wonk and Second Assistant Chief Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent Ardshott Dagg convinced the Chief by their silence that they were completely uninformed on the point.
"You have advertised it. of course?" prompted the Chief, thoughtfully prodding the eye-ball with the nib of his fountain pen.
"Yes, sir, in next month's Police Gazette, sir," Dagg assured him.
"Good." commended the Chief, "although I shouldn't think its owner would have much further use for it. . . . Where did you get it?" he asked.
"I noticed Bogginson giving it to the Police Cat, sir," Wonk informed him. "Bogg went very snakey when I butted in and took it away. You see. sir, the Orderly of the Cat's Mess is away with the crowd to-day, and the Bogg appeared to think the creature needed food."
"Ghoulish fellow, Bogginson, for a D.D.D.S.," commented the Chief. "I sometimes think that he's a bit of a cat himself, with his queer green eyes and the way he is always on the prowl after something. I shall have to speak to him seriously about pampering that cat. . . . Still, I don't know. It's an estimable cat—a very estimable cat. I know for a fact page 25 that it catches things sometimes. That's more than I can say of you fellows."
He looked expectantly at the others, who, true to their discipline, burst into a loud guffaw.
"Bull's-eye," howled Wonk.
"Lummy, Chief, but you're a caution," gurgled Dagg, wiping his eyes.
The Chief permitted himself a smile and then became serious.
"To get back to our muttons, boys," he said, "did I understand you to say that the lads were away for the day?"
"Yessir," said Wonk. "It's a Policemen's Holiday to-day. There's been a lot of crime lately, sir, and the poor fellows' feet have got so tender from chasing criminals that I thought I might as well let 'em have a day off."
"Um," frowned the Chief, "I can't say that I altogether approve of your action. It leaves me with a feeling of unprotectedness. Suppose a cat burglar were to come around now: what could we do? How many of the men are jollifying?"
"Let me see, now," said Wonk.
"Fifty-two, sir," put in Dagg. Wonk lifted interrogative eyebrows at him. "I saw them fill two buses—one for the cricket ground and one for the football park. Each bus, as you know, is licensed to carry twenty-six passengers. Twice twenty-six is fifty-two. It's quite easy to work it out, sir, if you'd like to try it."
The Chief made some intricate calculations on his blotter.
"By Jove, Dagg, I believe you are right!" he exclaimed. "I must really get you to show me some of your modern methods one of these days."
Dagg looked gratified.
"Oh, by the way," exclaimed the Chief. "There's still this matter of the eye. Do you know where Bogginson got it?"
"I can tell you that, sir," said Wonk. "He found some kids playing marbles with it outside Kant's place this morning."
"What, not that Kant chap who's always trying to take away our customers?"
"The very same, sir."
"Um," mused the Chief. "Come to think of it, there's an evil look about this eye that somehow reminds me of Kant."
"Good heavens!" ejaculated the detectives.
"What's stirring in your mighty brains now?" inquired the Chief.
"Kant hasn't been seen since yesterday," said Wonk, in an awed voice.
"Well, what of that?" inquired the Chief. "I haven't seen Father Christmas since I was a kid, and there's lots of people—mostly Police— that I haven't seen since yesterday."
"Yessir, but we've been keeping this chap Kant under surveillance," explained Wonk.
"Damn good word, I must make a note of it," said the Chief. "And why," he inquired, "have you been keeping this Brummagem sleuth under—er— surveillance?"
"Er—pardon, sir," said Wonk, nervously, "but the reason is confidential."
"Confidential be damned!" roared Peale. "Out with it, man."
Wonk moved round the table and leaned over the Chief.page 26
"Fact is, sir," he whispered, reluctantly, "we suspect that Kant is the— oh, my God, look!"
The eye-ball on the blotter was glowing with a horrid life. In the circle of the pupil was an image-an image tiny, yet uncannily distinct—the image of a head—the head of a thin man with green eyes!
"The Mucker!" burst from Dagg.
A low chuckle sounded in the room. The three men looked up. The electric light went out and the room was plunged into darkness.
Through the darkness a pair of green eyes glared malevolence at them.
"Flash 'em," barked the Chief.
A beam of light darted from Dagg's torch. In the Chief's hand was a smoking automatic. On the floor, where a pool of blood was slowly forming, twitched the body of—
"The pride of the Force," said the Chief, bitterly. "Juggle the switch, Dagg."
Moving to obey, Dagg collided with the table and dropped his torch. The beam shone on the blotter where the eye had lain. But now, in place of one eye, two eyes glittered up at him from their sockets in a decapitated human head!
It was the head of Kruschen Kant!
Dagg hurled himself in the direction of the switch. Someone was fumbling with it. The room was suddenly flooded with light.
In the doorway stood D.D.D.S. Urban Drift, with a sardonic expression on his face. The bewildered Dagg stared at him.
"Nice quiet place to commit suicide in, Dagg," sneered Drift. "What would the Chief think of it, I wonder, if he were here?"
"Why—why—," stammered Dagg, confused by the other's words, "the Chief is here."
He twisted about—and his hair crept at what he saw.
Gone were High Chief Commissioner the Honourable Citron Peale and the First Assistant Chief Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent Orville Wonk! Gone was the eye! Gone was the body of the cat! Gone was the head from the blotter!
Dagg stood like a man turned to plasticine.
"Who's that?" snapped Drift, pointing to the window.
Peering through the glass was a human face. It was the face of a thin man with green eyes!
"The Mucker!" hoarsely cried Dagg, as his legs gave beneath him.
"Bogginson!" snarled Drift.
(To be continued.)
(Editorial Note.—Mr. Edgah Wallop suggests that we offer a prize of £100 for every successful guess at the identity of The Mucker. We hesitate to do so from a suspicion that Mr. Wallop's collection of characters with thin faces and green eyes is inexhaustible. We have a further suspicion that Mr. Wallop could not himself make a successful guess. Nevertheless, our confident expectation is that the next issue of "The Spike" will sec the threads of the story combined in a fashion that will enable it to fit comfortably into the deepest recesses of our W.P.B.)