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Detective Sergeant Frank DuShane, temporarily assigned as ordinary plainclothes-man to the Depot-View Police Station, on the down-at-heel south fringe of Chicago’s great downtown district, was just about to go off duty for the night—it being now 10 minutes after 6 in the morning!—when the telephone call came on the regular station phone, standing on the shiny wicket ledge presided over by the big blue-uniformed, brass-buttoned, white-moustached day station-sergeant, who droned out: “Somebody wants you, Frank, pers’nally.” DuShane, himself behind the wallboard partition that held the booking wicket and at the same time cut off the front tall-windowed section of the station from the rest of the big whitewashed room, was at this moment in the act of fixing up his appearance preparatory to going off duty. A procedure which involved very little inasmuch as he had been assigned to this station as special plainclothesman to conduct a very special investigation in this particular police area. He leisurely completed his beautification process by carefully depositing back on his thinning hair his black derby hat, meticulously arranging its exact set and angle, and then only turning and strolling across the wood-floored space between himself and the phone, and casually picking up the instrument. “DuShane talking,” he said.

“I—I sure am glad I catch you,” returned a voice in which there was great relief of tone, coupled with a slight but definite thickness of utterance that betrayed the speaker clearly to be a German Jew. “I was so afraid you had already, maybe yes, started for home, and—”

“Well, I ain’t,” assured DuShane. “As you can roughly figger out—since I’m right on this here wire.” And added irritably: “And so now—who the hell’s talking, anyway?”

“Well, this is Hyman Silver, Mister—DuShane. Propri’tor of the Hotel Romanorum—on West Pres’dent Street—you maybe know the hotel?”

“Well,” returned DuShane, “I know the dump—by sight. For I certain’y been past it often enough with other detectives—partic’ly while assigned here from the Bureau. And heard a good deal about it—from them that know. You’re today a no-questions-asked hotel! Yes, no? For I saw a heav’y-veiled, wealthy-lookin’ woman— Glencoe or Winetka stuff, if anything—maybe Beverly Hills stuff so far’s that goes—and a wealthy-lookin’ man—Lake Front Drive stuff, him—comin’ down t’gether, the other day—and without baggage!—them marble stairs that lead from your second floor—your first room-floor, that is—to your side entrance there on Canyon Street, well back o’ Pres’dent by the whole depth of your place. And saw ’em get into different cabs—both of ’em!—out on Pres’dent Street. Ain’t you afraid, Silver,” DuShane now taunted, “that in maintainin’ a side stairway, ’way off from your foyer and main stairway, people—will beat their bills?”

Hyman Silver, proprietor of the Hotel Romanorum, gave a humourless laugh. “Well, Mr. DuShane, I admit that the highbrow that built this hotel didn’t know Human Nature. But we don’t worry here about that side-street exit at all. This is a strictly cash-in-advance place. And anybody who wants to ‘out’ by the side en-trance on narrow Canyon Street can go that way.”

“Well, what’s on your mind, Silver?”

“Mr. DuShane,” the hotel proprietor said, “somep’n’ was fetched into my hotel last night. And depos’ted—in one of the rooms what’s on my first room-floor—the second floor, of course. And the thing that was planted on me in the night was—a human body.”

“A body?” ejaculated DuShane. “Well, where the hell was you?—or your all-night room-clerk? Fetched in, this body, you mean, by that same side stairway we been talking about? If so—”

“No, Mr. DuShane. Them what fetched it into my place maybe went out that way—I wouldn’t know—but they fetched it up and in by way of the firescape—on the west or alley side. The reason I know is that the swinging, counterweighted stairway o’ the firescape is down this morning. To the ground. And a long 8-foot len’th of stiff, heavy wire, with a bent hook on the end, is still ’ttached to it, showin’ they reached up in the dark and pulled it down. And the window of this room was way up. And—”

“Any persons in rooms whose windows open near the firescape—to the sides or above?—hear any of all this firescape lugging?” inquired DuShane, still a bit sceptical about this unusual incident. “Though I suppose,” he now added, in fairness, “it is too early to’ve inquired.”

“Wasn’t any rooms rented on that side of the house, Mr. DuShane,” returned the proprietor lugubriously. “They’re hotter’n hell in summer. We rent from the street sides first—then start in on the alley side. We never got full up so far as even the alley side, up to any part of last night.”

“Oh yeah, I see. No witnesses, then, to sights, sounds, nor gruntings? Well, I guess the long hooked wire, and the firescape stairway down on the ground, tell the facts pretty well. The ingress. So—go on with your tale?”

“Yes, Mr. DuShane. Well, how they went out after they fetched the body in, I wouldn’t, as I say, know. Maybe they—they just went back down the firescape, and rejoined the car what brought ’em here: or maybe, again, they went out by that side entrance of ours, and rejoined the car up street or somethin’—I just wouldn’t know, either. For—”

“How in hell,” demanded DuShane helplessly, “do you know a car even brought them—whoever they are?”

“I don’t know nothing, Mr. DuShane. Other than that a big fine car, Rolls-Royce-like, slithered out the alley mouth last night, at around 10 o’clock or so, wound past the front o’ the hotel, and dis’ppeared. Where, I wouldn’t know. I didn’t even see all this. My night-man mentioned it, that’s all.”

“Well, what kind of a body was it? Some medicalschool stiff—maybe? Or—or some hit-and-run victim from the alley itself?”

“No, Mr. DuShane. It—it was a murdered man.”

“Oh-oh! Shot somewhere, eh?”

“No, Mr. DuShane. It’s the body of a man who ain’t nothing less than a—a ragpicker! He’s a black Negro, ’bout 30 years old, ragged and dirty. Wearing different shoes each foot, a high one and a low one. No socks at all. The high black shoe is laced with twine. The other one, a tan oxford, held together only with a rusty—a rusty paper-clip! Burlap pants—”

“Burlap—pants? For the love o’—”

“Yes, Mr. DuShane, and hand made—for they’re sewed with coarse, dirty, once-white grocer’s string. And he’s wearing a filthy tattered shirt so black that—well, it’s obvious it ain’t been changed for months. In fact, when you put your nose close to it—it smells of garbage. His nails is just bulging with dirt and ashes and—”

“Ashes, eh? Ragpicker type, all right. Go on?”

“—and he’s even wearing a belt to hold up his burlap pants that’s nothin’ but a len’th of—of clothesline.”

“I see. That is, I see like a bat under a thousand-watt lamp. For a body such as you describe is enough to suggest that a hotel where it’s found is nothing but a dump—but all right. Well, it seems to me, Silver, that this is just a routine affair, no matter how it looks to you. So I’ll make a report to the station-sarge here when he gets back to his stool—and before I go off duty—I’m going off now, you know. Maybe,” he ventured, but ironically, “McCrearity may even be able to figure out why they lugged the body into your place!”

“Mr. DuShane,” Silver begged fervently, “don’t turn this over—to your station chief. He’s—he’s a hard man, that McCrearity—with a rep’tation for arresting ever’body connected with a—you see,” he added lamely, “you was pointed out to me the other day as an off’cer who’d been on the Hom’cide Detail at the Detective Bureau in your day—rather, as a p’lice invest’gator who didn’t— didn’t go haywire in a killing, and suspect ever’body about, as havin’ somethin’ to do with it. And accusin’ ever’body, bar none, of lying like hell. And of concealing clues. And—and whatnot. The party said you had lots of exper’ence—in strange murders. So won’t you come over yourself—and take over—first of all? For this murder,” finished Mr. Silver, like a man playing a high trump, “contains an angle so—so damned strange, that it’ll—it’ll knock you for a row. For two rows, Mr. DuShane. In short, you may think you’ve just heard about a simple case of a black ragpicker, bumped off and dumped on to a decent hotel. But you—you ain’t heard nothing yet. Nothing, see? So will you come?”


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