The Spike or Victoria College Review October 1929
A perfect lady into whose drawing-room twenty-six corpses had suddenly intruded might have been expected to give some evidence of training in voice production or, at the very least, to lift her eyebrows in mild surprise. Miss Benzoline Bernarr's reception of her grisly visitors clearly indicated that she fell short of ladylike perfection. No sound issued from her lips other than that which the most casual of glances might produce. Her eyebrows preserved complete composure. It was the thin gentleman with the green eyes who broke the silence.
"Cheer, cheer," he ventured, "the gang's all here."
"Minus how many?" inquired Miss Bernarr, coldly.
"Dicken," protested the green-eyed person. "I don't want to turn the place into a morgue."
"Squeamish?" queried Benzoline.
"Not a bit," grinned the other. "I like a smoke-oh now and then, that's all. A master mind can't work and think at the same time."
"Master mind's right," returned the lady, with a wry twist of her mouth. She bent a thoughtful gaze on the corpses.
"Any kick left in them?" she asked.
"There's no telling," rejoined the man. "Perhaps I'd better fix 'em properly for once and for all."
"Do," said Benzoline Bernarr. "I'll change."
The scene which followed would have intrigued the eye of a moving picture producer. The remarkable Miss Benzoline Bernarr turned to a dainty-looking Vance Vivian escritoire, from a hidden compartment of which she extracted a complete outfit of gentlemen's clothing. Then, with a complete absence of feminine modesty, she rapidly divested herself of her feminine garments—a very simple procedure—and donned the male attire. Her gentleman friend had meanwhile procured a wicked-looking carving-knife and was busily occupied thrusting it through and through the corpses. He concluded his gruesome task with a happy sigh.
"All quiet on the Western Front," he announced, straightening up. His eyes rested appraisingly on the transformed Benzoline. "Shift some of that truck off your frontispiece and you're set," he enjoined.
The lady (if we may continue so to term her) sprayed a little caustic over her complexion, then vigorously rubbed lips and cheeks with emery paper. When the last of the synthetic pulchritude had been removed and her mirror assured her that her face was in a state of nature, she turned.
Her face was the face of a thin man with green eyes! ... A man? It might be more accurate to use the term she-man or he-woman—but this is anticipating.
"Now," she-he said, smartly.page 42
"Peale?" inquired the man.
They entered the opening in the wall and the concealed door swung" to behind them. A torch in the hand of the lady-gentleman lit up the bold lettering of a sign:
"Our Secret Passages Still Lead the Way! Convenient Crimes, Ltd."
The mysterious couple found themselves traversing a dank underground tunnel into which the light of day could never have entered. Vines of edible mushrooms trailed over the walls. An occasional stalactite would drop from the roof and hurriedly scuttle away from them. Glow-worms hissed at them from dark corners. Now and again the roots of some busy plant would thrust down at them, dislodging fragments of earth.
The pair at length found their way barred by a blank wall. After listening for a moment, the He-She pressed his-her finger on what appeared to be a bell-push. An opening appeared before them. They stepped through into a large room.
Neatly arranged upon the floor of the room lay twenty-six corpses!
A table stood in the middle. On the table rested a decapitated human head and an eyeball that glowed with a strange, uncanny light.
Admiration shone in the eyes of the thin man as he started towards the table. An abrupt gesture from his she-companion made him pause. He turned to him-her.
"Listen," whispered the he-female.
A murmur of voices came through the wall opposite to that through which they had entered.
The lady man appeared to make a rapid mental calculation; then she (he) darted to a portion of the wall at some distance from the part through which the voices came and again pressed a button. A door swung open and revealed a balcony bathed in daylight.
The Him-she emerged on the balcony, leaving her-his companion behind. She-he moved quietly to a window nearby and peered through.
A room. Two men staring at her (him). A sudden cry.
"The Mucker!" came to her (his or its) ears.
"Bogginson!" came with a snarl.
Benzoline, Bogginson. He. She. It. Her or Him. or however the mysterious creature knew himself or herself (as the case might be), opened the window and jumped lightly over the sill into the office in Police Headquarters of High Chief Commissioner the Honourable Citron Peale.
A revolver which appeared to be about the size of a house looked him-her-it in the eye. Behind it. smiling in a dreadfully sinister fashion, was the face of D.D.D.S. Urban Drift!
Left to himself in the hidden room from which the mystery lady, the masculine-feminine Mr. Miss Benzoline Bernarr Bogginson. had made a furtive exit, the thin gentleman with the green eyes turned his attention to the page 43 ingenious article of furniture which stood in the middle of the room. Several sections of deal boarding had been joined together so as to form a level platform of rectangular shape. To the under surface of this platform were affixed, one at each corner, slim, tapering lengths of wood, the purpose of which obviously was to raise the platform to a distance from the floor that would enable a person of average height to place his hands upon it without stooping. That this admirably designed structure could be used also as a rest for inanimate objects was evident from the fact that there now lay upon its surface two things possessing no capacity for locomotion.
The two things were a decapitated human head and an eyeball that glowed with a strange, uncanny light!
Approaching the table (for such was the nature of the structure) the thin man with the green eyes surveyed with interest the grisly relics lying thereon. He took the head into his hands and tenderly regarded it.
"Alas, poor Kruschen Kant," he soliloquised, caressing the gruesome object. " So this is what you have come to, old bean. What a head. What a head."
He turned it over and over, then peered at it more closely. At the base of the neck, in the region of the cervical vertebrae, appeared the tiny letters " D.R.G.M."
"Made in Germany," mused the man. "Czecho-slovakia still has far to go."
He laid the head down with a sigh.
"Now for the dirty deeds," he muttered. Rolling up his sleeves, he reached backward over his shoulder and from a concealed scabbard lying along his spine he extracted a murderous-looking carving knife.
Approaching the nearest corpse, he bent down over it and listened.
"Still ticking, old top," he murmured affectionately. "Excuse me, won't you."
The blade rose, and fell. The man grinned with savage satisfaction as a tremor passed through the recumbent figure.
"A crime a day keeps the blues away," he remarked. "Next, please."
With grim relish, the thin man with the green eyes repeated the performance on corpse after corpse until only one remained.
"The lucky last," he gloated, wiping his brow. His eyes widened as he looked down. "I say," he protested, "this is not part of the consignment."
He bent down and listened intently. Then he laid the carving knife on the floor and proceeded to turn out the pockets of the remaining object of his attentions.
"One pair of handcuffs. One knuckleduster. One thumbscrew. One Manual of the Third Degree. One How to Catch Things. One tin of Palm Grease. Two bottles of Nose Bleach. Three phials of Anti-Phat. Four hip-pocket flasks. Five packets of Send-me-to-sleep. Twenty betting charts."
The thin man paused in his inventory to examine the figure's boots.
"By gum," he breathed, in awed tones. "I do believe he's a john. Where's his warrant card?"page 44
Further search brought a paper to light. The thin man rose and walked to the other side of the room to examine it.
"To whom It may Disconcert," he read. "The bearer, being too heavy for work, has been appointed a Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent of the Blundon Metropolitan Police Force. Name: Ardshott Dagg—"
A sudden sound in the room made him turn hastily. He gasped.
The last corpse was rising to its feet and reaching for the knife that lay on the floor!
The thin man with the green eyes darted forward. He was too late. The corpse of Ardshott stood upright, carving knife in hand. The eyes of Dagg stared at the man with dreadful intensity. The man backed away from him.
"Dagg," he snapped, "don't you know me?"
Dagg seemed suddenly to recover the full possession of his consciousness. A look of savage delight spread over his face.
"Know you?" he gloated. "Yes, I know you."
His voice rose to a yell as he sprang forward with upraised knife.
"Hands up," he bellowed, "Kruschen Kant—The Mucker!"
Kant, his back to the wall, felt his fumbling hand make contact with a button.
Bogginson (if we may venture so to name him) eyed with unconcern the weapon in Drift's hand.
"Quaint piece of ironmongery, Drift," he commented. "Does it go off?"
"Only when I point it at somebody," grimly replied Drift.
"Point it at Wonk, then, there's a good fellow," suggested Bogginson. "He looks like a touch of the liver."
Wonk's face muscles creaked in an effort to achieve the sternness of countenance enjoined by the Police Regulations.
"Beat it, Wonk," ordered Drift, keeping his eyes fixed on Bogginson, "and find the Chief."
"Where—where—" stammered Wonk.
"Ask a policeman, damn you!" snarled Drift. Wonk gave him a hurt look and left the room. Drift lowered his weapon.
"Now, Bogginson," he said, sharply, " come across."
"What do you mean?" demanded the other, his eyes narrowing.
"You know blanky well what I mean," said Drift, savagely. "Who and what the blanketty-blank-blank-blank are you?"
"I never could resist a question couched in Middle English," said Bogginson. "But—pardon my inquisitiveness—why do you ask?"
"Because," said Drift, biting his words, "you look like—"
The two men stared at each other in a silence so tense that the furniture in the room could be heard growing out of date. The silence was broken by the clicking of Bogginson's brain as he came to a sudden decision. He folded his arms haughtily.
"I am—" he commenced.page 45
Urban Drift's finger itched on the trigger of his revolver.
"The cock-eyed world awaits the glad news," he growled.
"—the Honourable Citron Peale, High Chief Commissioner of the rummiest collection of pavement sheiks the cock-eyed world has ever possessed!"
Urban Drift's mouth fell wide open. His eyes goggled. Beads of sweat gathered on his brow and dropped to the floor with echoing splashes. Brilliantine sprayed the air in all directions as his glossy locks heaved and stood upright in astonishment.
"And," resumed the other, in chilly tones, "you are not The Mucker."
The blood rushed to Drift's tongue.
"Curse you," he ground out, "how do you know?"
"The High Chief Commissioner knows everything," was the calm reply. "For your tactless commination, I will show you something that will peeve you to the marrow."
Whipping round to the Highchiefcommissionerial desk, the remarkable individual thrust his hand in a bottle of red ink and smeared his lips and cheeks with the fluid. Dipping a pen into black ink, he carefully pencilled his eyebrows. Then he took out his pocket handkerchief and draped it about him. He turned.
Urban Drift almost fell through the floor.
"Benzoline," he croaked, his eyes squelching as they started from their sockets and jerked into them again.
"Peale," corrected the other, gently.
Urban Drift struggled with his emotion, threw a fit, turned a somersault, stood on his head; then, with an eldritch screech, he precipitated himself at his Chief. The latter moved aside.
A portion of the wall suddenly swung out and a man fell backward into the room. There was a sound like a shot as two heads came together. Urban Drift and the newcomer sagged quietly to the floor and lay like logs.
"In the nick of time, Dagg," said Peale. "I was expecting every moment to be my next."
"Now, let me get your story straight, Dagg," said the High Chief Commissioner to the man sitting before him. "Somebody chuckled. The lights went out. I shot the cat. You got a crack on the head. When you woke up, there was Kant going through your pockets."
"That's right," said Second Assistant Chief Deputy Divisional Detective Superintendent Ardshott Dagg. "And the room was full of millions and millions of corpses, every one of them barbariously mutilated."
"Good," said the Chief.
"Eh?" said Dagg, startled.
"One thing at a time," said the Chief. "The problem is—"
"Who done it," decided Dagg.
"Brainy. Brainy," commended the Chief. "You have a penetrating intellect, Dagg."
Dagg made an effort to look like a gimlet.
"First of all," said the Chief, "who was it that chuckled?"
"The Mucker," said Dagg, promptly.page 46
"A most brilliant guess," said the Chief, "but wrong. It was the cat."
"What!" exclaimed Dagg.
"Yes," said the Honourable Citron Peale. "I taught that chuckle to the cat myself. It was a Cheshire cat—a most intelligent creature. Poor Angelica, poor Angelica."
He turned aside to wipe away the tear that glistened in his eye. With a sympathy born of loyalty, Dagg turned aside also and blew his nose.
"Let us be strong," said the Chief, resuming his professional manner. "The next question is: Who killed Angelica?"
"Why, you did yourself, sir," said Dagg.
"Wonderful, wonderful, Dagg," said the Chief, in a pleasant manner, "but wrong again. Let us, however, assume for the moment that I killed the cat. What comes next?"
"Who was it konked me," suggested Dagg.
"You have the gift of consecutive thought, Dagg," said the Chief. "Who, indeed, was it that konked you? Who would find it in his heart to konk you?"
"The Mucker," growled Dagg. "That blighter there." He pointed to the unconscious form of Kruschen Kant. The Honourable Citron Peale shook his head.
"Undoubtedly it was The Mucker who konked you, Dagg, but Kant is not The Mucker."
"Blimey Charley, sir," protested Dagg. "What about in there?" He jerked his thumb in the direction of the concealed door, which was now closed.
"Dagg," said the Chief kindly, "Kant is, next to myself, if I may be permitted to say so, the most amazing deteckative in the annals of crime. He was my collaborator in the dangerous and difficult business of hunting down The Mucker."
"But the corpses,"remonstrated the bewildered Dagg. "He hacked them about something cruel."
"I told him to do so," said the Chief calmly.
Dagg looked worried. "I really don't get you, sir," he said.
"They weren't corpses at all," said the High Chief Commissioner. "They were merely outsize rubber dolls made up to look like corpses. Wonderful jobs, too. Each doll was fitted up inside with an ingenious mechanism that permitted it to execute a variety of human movements. The Mucker played all sorts of monkey tricks with them. Sometimes he'd get tired of them and hack one or two of them about. That's why everybody's after him for murder."
"Lummy," gasped Dagg, "then he hasn't done any murder at all?"
"I wouldn't say that," said the Chief. "He had a shot at Kant, but one of his pets blew up in Kant's office, and that put us on the track. And he's killed Angelica. Poor Angelica! I'm going to get him for that, if for nothing else, Dagg."
Dagg shuddered at the look in the Chief's eyes.
"Rummy go, sir, fitting up a corpse factory, as you might say sir right here in Police Headquarters," he said uneasily.page 47
"Riddling the place with secret passages, too," added the Chief. "And secret doors and what not. One thing the Police will not stand, Dagg," he declared, glaring at his subordinate, "is to be poked borax at. It's blasphemy, that's what it is!"
"I say, Chief," said Dagg, in a disturbed voice, "who is the swine, anyway?"
The Chief looked at him solemnly.
"You—" he said.
Dagg's chair overturned with a crash as he sprang to his feet.
"—are not The Mucker," continued the Chief.
S.A.C.D.D.D.S. Dagg righted his chair and slumped into it weakly.
"Lummy, Chief, you gave me a turn," he muttered, wiping his brow. "You've got a slow-motion style of speaking sometimes that gets my Angora."
The Chief permitted himself a wintry smile.
"Leave The Mucker to me, Dagg," he advised. "Kant and I must have the honour of his arrest. Kant—because The Mucker is his first case and, consequently, the only criminal that has baffled him and got away. I—for several reasons, the only one of which you need know is that he killed Angelica."
"But—but," stammered Dagg, "you said just now that you had killed Angelica."
"My exact words, I think," said the Honourable Citron Peale coldly, "were 'Let us assume that I killed Angelica.' Now, carry out your orders and assume that I killed Angelica."
He watched Dagg closely as the latter assumed a satisfactory appearance of assumption.
"That's right," he approved. "There's no need for a subordinate Police officer to know too much. Understand?"
"Yessir," said Dagg promptly.
The Chief transferred his attention to the two men lying on the floor.
"Some people will do anything for a rest," he commented. "I suppose we'll have to coddle them a bit now. Give me a hand, Dagg, and we'll stick them in the cells until they see fit to wake up. I'll take Kant. You take Drift. When that young blighter is on his feet again, he'll join the army, if I know anything. There's too much of the lady-killer about him for my taste."
They passed through the doorway, each with an unconscious man slung over his shoulder.
As the sound of their footsteps receded, the concealed door behind the High Chief Commissioner's desk opened and there stepped into the room—the Honourable Citron Peale!
A Citron, however, whose face was distorted with rage, whose lips were drawn back in a ferocious snarl, whose demoniacal eyes revolved in their sockets, showing now green, now grey, now, red, white and blue.
This gentleman closed his remarkable eyes, lifted his tightly clenched page 48 fists in the air, and vented a string of remarks in agonising silence. The atmosphere of the room rapidly assumed a purple tinge.
The telephone rang.
"Well," snarled the intruder, snatching up the receiver.
A voice asked a question.
"This," spat out the mysterious creature, "is The Mucker."
Producing a syringe, he filled it from the bottle of red ink and squirted the contents into the mouthpiece of the telephone. Diabolical satisfaction showed in his features as sounds of dismay came over the wire. Then he sighed and dropped the receiver.
"Can't get a kick out of it any more," he muttered, with an evil sadness. "Anyway, I got their darned old pussy."
He opened the window, took an aeroplane from his pocket, and seated himself in it. The sudden whirr of a propellor. Then silence.
The Mucker had escaped!
(Editorial Note.—This sort of thing cannot be allowed to proceed any further. In order to reassure readers of the Spike it may be mentioned that the case of Mr. Edgah Wallop has been referred to the Psychological Clinic for investigation and appropriate action.)