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THE CHAMELEON

 

~I~

 

$100,000 reward!

In cash!

To the person—or persons—who should return Gilrick Sandringham, escaped lunatic, to Birkdale Insane Asylum, Kaskawa County, State of Illinois, before midnight tonight!

What a contretemps!

For I assuredly held the key—such as it was—by which Birkdale Asylum might regain its noted prisoner, allegedly a homicidal paranoiac.

While I, at the same time, knew of the existence of that certain salmon-colored oblong slip of paper—that judgment note for $100,000!—which could engulf that reward money more swiftly than an amoeba flows about a grain of food.

And as I stood in front of the big steel automatic checking cabinet, in the huge many-pillared waiting room of the vast Central Passenger Station at Chicago, closing the steel door of one of the self-locking compartments on my lone package, with its strangest of strange contents, my eyes absently on the big clock up at the train gates whose minute hand was now just passing the hour of 8:30 in the morning, I reflected dubiously on the seemingly unsolvable problem confronting me.

The problem, in short, involving the collection of that reward—if, as, and maybe!

For not for a moment, I realized, could I overlook the fact of that ironclad $100,000 judgment note—fatuously given 7 long years ago as a mere “courtesy convenience” to Gustav Shrik, “family friend” and Chicago banker with then badly tangled affairs, and today still in his possession—locked tight, moreover, in his personal safe in his apartment on Logan Boulevard—worthless at the present moment, yes—but waiting—waiting—waiting—for just such a bare possibility that its signer might come into an inheritance—a lottery winning—or what-has-one! For as to the claim of that flint-hearted, square-headed hypocrite that his parrot had conveniently “eaten” the note long, long ago, the claim was, of course, not worth the breath used to utter it. For had not the note been actually seen?—full 5 years later than that claim?—and in that very safe?—by Shrik’s girl-secretary, more friendly, fortunately, to signer than to payee!—and the information conveyed just before she met her death that very night in a taxicab accident?

So—there was the rub!

For rewards for the return of lunatics—whether dangerous or otherwise—are not passed out, on delivery, at the doors of asylums in the forms of hatfuls of currency which the beneficiary can carry off. No! The delivery to Birkdale of its noted guest—did I achieve the same—would mean national publicity—reporters—cameramen—newsreels—legal claim-papers to be filled out; days—one—two—three—four—maybe a week—of inevitable red tape. And long before that hundred thousand dollars, held in escrow—as it appeared from the news story I had belatedly read early that morning—by the First National Bank, and unassignable by the beneficiary, could possibly change hands—Gustav Shrik, with his quite valid note, would have greedily grabbed every penny of that reward money.

What a problem! What a problem!

Fifteen hours—and 29 minutes—in which to open and close the doors of Birkdale Insane Asylum upon its most valued guest.

A hundred thousand dollars reward for so doing. But unassignable!

And a hundred thousand dollar judgment note—waiting, like an ugly black spider, for just such a one-in-a-thousand chance.

And frowning, I closed tightly—and locked—the steel door of the checking compartment on the skull of O Lily See Chung-Wung, once-active Mongolian lady who now surveyed the world through cavernous eye sockets, and smiled on it from under a lone row of grinning upper teeth!

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