At six o’clock on Saturday afternoon, November 18, 192—, the reporters’ room in the Chicago Leader Building was almost deserted. Only two of the staff had remained after the last edition of the paper had gone to press.
“I can’t see it your way at all, Rollins,” remarked Griffith Dawson, shaking his head. “Nobody can convince me that a man has a better chance to get away with a killing if he does it on the impulse of the moment. That statement doesn’t make sense nor sound reasonable to me. Why, if—”
“Hold on a minute, Griff!” interrupted Rollins. “I know just what you’re going to say. You believe that a really clever chap should be able to plan a murder and foresee every possible contingency. You think he could take such exhaustive precautions that not even the most trifling item which might furnish a clue would be overlooked. That’s what you are thinking, isn’t it?”
“That,” replied Dawson “is precisely what I mean. I’m not forgetting for a minute that you pulled off two big murder beats for the Leader a year ago. I don’t claim to be any good as a sleuth, either. But it stands to reason that the more brains a man puts into any crime, the less apt he is to be caught. According to your sayso, that isn’t true at all. You think that a man who commits deliberate murder has no chance on earth to avoid conviction. Well, maybe you are right, Bob, but I don’t believe it. Anyhow, I wish you’d explain.”
“All right, Griff, I will. You and I have been good friends for 3 years. Let’s suppose we go out walking together in the country through some woods. Suppose then you thoughtlessly make an insulting statement about a girl whom I am crazy about. Of course I get sore and come back at you good and strong. Let’s say I call you one of those names that you must smile when you say. Then you become angry too and lambaste me with further insults about the girl and myself. We both get fighting mad in a minute and curse each other to a fare-you-well. Then I pick up a club or a piece of wood or a rock and bang you over the head with it, kill you, leave you there, and come straight back home without speaking a word to anybody.
“The whole incident was unpremeditated. It was a crime of passion pure and simple, and unless some witness saw us together or my conscience forces me to betray myself, there isn’t one chance in a thousand of my being caught. The reason is that no living man but myself knows of a motive for the killing. There’s the distinction, Griff. A planned murder always presupposes a motive, and when the true motive is known, it’s always possible to find the man who committed the crime,”—and Rollins paused for Dawson’s comments.
“I understand all that, Bob,” retorted the latter. “But suppose I had a secret motive for bumping you off and that nobody on earth knew I had such a motive except myself. Suppose I inveigled you out into the woods and then cracked you over the bean just as you said. If I did that, I surely would have cooked up some sort of alibi beforehand, and that is something I would not have done if I had killed you in the heat of anger. How do you dope it out that the killing could be traced to me more easily because I had planned the whole thing beforehand? Tell me that, will you?”
“There are several reasons, Griff. The first is that a real motive did exist before we took our walk together. Any pre-existing fact can be found if the fellow who is looking for it searches long enough and hard enough. Here, too, is a second reason. You would surely have planned in advance all the details of the murder. You would have made sure, before we started out, that a club, slung shot, or rock would be waiting handy for your use. You would have taken excessive care not to be seen with me before the crime. Your prepared alibi—no matter how carefully arranged—would be a false one and could therefore be proved fictitious on thorough inquiry. Probably, too, you would wear gloves or erase your fingerprints from whatever weapon you used and would have overdone your precautions in other respects. It is this excessive care which would be likely to betray you.
“Now let’s look at a third reason. It is almost certain that some unexpected happening which you could not possibly have foreseen would occur. It might be only the veriest trifle, but it would upset your plans to some extent, if you observed it, and you would be forced to find some quick way to make it jibe with your program or wipe out its evidence. You couldn’t wait and study over it. You’d have to do it instantly. Let’s suppose that little trifle passed without your notice. Then it would probably indicate to the searchers for evidence that the killing resulted from a motive—and it might eventually point to you as the slayer. No, sir! Successfully premeditated murder is impossible if the investigators of the crime have good brains and use those brains correctly.”
“I hear what you say, Bob, but that doesn’t mean that I’m convinced,” remarked Dawson. “Anyhow, there’s no use arguing about it. What have you got on for tonight? It’s only six thirty now. I say let’s eat and take in a show after dinner. Are you game, old sox?”
“Can’t do it tonight, Griff. I’ve got a date with my best girl for a party and I’ll have to clean up and dress before I go. By the way, look at this note from old Bostock. Wonder what he wants to see me about on Monday. I fluked pretty badly twice this week. Maybe I’m getting canned.”
“Don’t worry, Bob! Bostock’s bark is a darn sight worse than his bite. You’ll smooth his fur down all right. Well, here goes nothing! See you on Monday, Bob. Good luck and so long!”
“Good-bye, Griff! I’m going to take the L for the North Side. Take care of yourself and don’t murder anybody until I see you again.”
Less than two hours after Robert Rollins and his friend had parted company at the Leader office, a well-dressed gentleman, whose rugged features and iron-gray hair denoted middle age, came slowly round the corner of Clark and Adams streets and strode westward. The electric clock in the lobby of the Meyers Building—a somewhat superannuated structure, located on Adams Street a short distance west of La Salle—pointed to eight thirty as the man entered.
As the chill autumn air breezed through the open doorway, John Harvey, the trusted and trustworthy night watchman, looked up and smilingly greeted his incoming visitor.
“Wull! Wull! Is it ye comin’ back agin, Maister Stevens? Are ye wurrkin’ late the nicht? Shall I take ye up to yer shop or wull ye set here awhile?”
“Take me up, please, Harvey. I shan’t stay in the laboratory more than a couple of hours, but I’ve got some reactions to watch that can’t wait over till Monday,”—and presently the pair were transported by a waiting elevator to the topmost floor.
As Harvey descended in the car, his visitor walked thoughtfully down the dimly lighted hallway toward the rear of the building. No office showed any sign of occupancy; only the ribbed glass transom of the lavatory showed light. The incomer stood before a door which bore above it the number 713 and upon its massive oaken panel a heavy brass plate, engraved on which were the words:
Alexander F. Stevens
Taking then from his trousers pocket a leather key-container, Stevens selected a long, thin, finely corrugated key, applied it to the lock, shot back the bolt, and entered the room. A moment later a light gleamed through the transom above, the door was closed and locked—and Stevens was alone.
Inasmuch as the laboratory office of Alexander Stevens is the stage upon which many of the strange events of our drama will be enacted, it may be well to describe it fully.
Had some stranger accompanied the chemist in room 713 on that fateful evening, he would have observed that a photographic dark-room, about six feet square, occupied the left-hand corner, just behind the entrance door.
On the right and toward the front of the laboratory four long shelves upheld many neatly labeled glass-stoppered bottles, flasks, and containers, each with some powder, crystal, or liquid within. Upon the shelves were also retorts, test-tubes, siphons, mortars, scales, vacuum tubes, and other chemical or electrical apparatus. Beneath the shelving reposed a good-sized dynamo and electric motor. Adjoining the shelving and near the door stood a porcelain sink, with gleaming metal faucets. A table stood beside the sink, and another beneath the rows of shelving—all this along the eastern wall.
At the far end of the room, facing a wide alley, were two windows, glazed with frosted glass. Outside these windows, imbedded in the stone sills of the building, were ten thick steel bars, five to each window, spaced about six inches apart. In fact, the room was a veritable fortress, well calculated to defy entrance to any invader not equipped with sledges and dynamite, for the door and transom were of three-inch oak and the lock was of massive type, such as is rarely seen outside of a stronghold containing treasure.
Between the windows stood a large oaken flat-topped desk, upon which reposed a telephone, desk fountain-pen, calendar, and blotter.
Above the desk—projecting outward about twenty inches from the wall between the windows—was a T-shaped brass arm containing electric wires. To each of the outer ends of the T was attached a green-shaded bulb for lighting.
It would be clear to the most casual observer that photography had lately been the principal occupation of the tenant of room 713. Scattered about the laboratory in somewhat disorderly fashion were two tripod cameras, several portable electric reflectors, some background screens, boxes of plates and films, a safe, a table, and four chairs. Here could be found every needful appliance for the photographic art, and these utensils had served their master well.
Such was the condition of room 713 in the Meyers Building at nine fifteen o’clock on the night of November 18, 192—, as its tenant sat before his desk in his oak swivel-chair, thinking and waiting.
At that same instant John Harvey, in the lobby six floors below, reached for his pipe and tobacco-pouch, only to find the latter empty. With Clark Street and cigar-stores only a block and a half away, it would require but a few moments to obtain a fresh supply, and that might be his last opportunity for the night. To a smoker Harvey’s decision would be obvious. He went.
Scarcely had the form of the outgoing watchman reached the corner of La Salle Street when a muffled, overcoated figure, wearing a short brown Vandyke beard, stealthily crossed Adams Street, peered cautiously through the glass windows into the Meyers Building lobby, swung open the heavy door, and commenced to ascend the dim stairway. Unseen by any mortal, he reached the topmost floor, crept on tiptoe down the deserted hall, entered the lavatory, and two minutes later knocked on the door of room 713.
Although the pockets of the intruding visitor contained such unusual items as a burglar’s short jemmy, a pair of chamois gloves, and a tiny paper packet wherein were certain deadly crystals, it would seem that there was no need for their use, for the tenant of the laboratory answered his knock at once, gave him hearty welcome, and ushered him into the well-lighted room.
At precisely ten thirty o’clock that same evening the corpse of Alexander Stevens sprawled in grotesque fashion, with the upper part of its torso upon the desk, and the laboratory lights extinguished.
Three minutes later John Harvey was informing a stranger who—apparently—had just entered the lobby that Dr. Wilson, a tenant of a second-floor office, could only be found at his home at that late hour. With profuse thanks the visitor then departed and Harvey resumed the half-doze from which he had been awakened.
To Robert Rollins, returning a little before midnight from the dance which he had attended with his fiancée, Eleanor Stevens, and her friend Alice Lane, the world was a delightful place to inhabit. As he parted from Nora at the door of Alexander Stevens’ unpretentious home on the North Side near Lake Michigan, his final words were: “Make it soon, dearest! Please do! I’ll be out to see you tomorrow evening and talk with your father. Maybe you will tell me then. How about it, Nora?”
“Honestly, I can’t decide yet, Bob. You know why. You can talk it over with Dad tomorrow if you want to, but I can’t promise unless he changes his mind. Good night, dear. Come around early!” and the door closed against Bob’s further pleadings.
Next morning, as the gentle-faced gray-haired maid who had faithfully worked for the Stevens family for ten years was giving Nora and Alice their Sunday morning breakfast, Nora said: “Sarah, what do you suppose Dad meant by calling up last night and leaving word that he had to go out of town? I just can’t imagine. It seems so queer. He never does things like that. I’m worried. Really I am.”
“I don’t know, Miss Nora. I couldn’t hear him very well. His voice sounded sort of strange like. He just said: ‘Listen, Sarah! Tell Nora I have to run up to Milwaukee on business, but I’ll be home Tuesday night or Wednesday morning sure.’ That’s all he said, and then he rung off. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure everything’s all right.”
“What time did he call, Sarah? Did you notice?” asked Nora.
“It was exactly quarter after ten. I looked at the hall clock,” replied Sarah. “I had got back from the movies at nine and worked an hour on my aprons.”
“Well,” commented Nora, doubtingly, “it’s mighty funny. What do you suppose could make Dad want to meet somebody in Milwaukee on a Sunday, Alice?”
“Goodness! How do I know? It is kind of odd, but cheer up! I don’t see anything to get anxious about. He’ll surely telephone or write tomorrow. Now take your mind off of Dad Stevens and tell me about Bob. What are you going to do with that poor boy—take pity on him and name the fatal day, or keep him teetering on the anxious seat?”
Nora Stevens sat for a moment in silence. The look of worry on her face visibly deepened. Finally, in thoughtful tones, she said: “Honest, Alice, I don’t know what to answer. I’ve known Bob and loved him since I was fifteen. I’d do almost anything for him, he’s such a dear. Just about the finest boy in the world!”
“What’s the idea of waiting, then?” inquired Alice. “If he’s such a wonder, why hesitate? Not money enough? Is that it?”
Nora bridled up. “That’s not what’s worrying me at all. You know it. I’d marry Bob tomorrow, but I can’t bear to leave Dad, and Dad swears he won’t live with us if we get married. Says no home is big enough for a father- (or mother-) in-law. If we could all live together, it would be heavenly, but Dad says no! That means I should have to leave him if I married Bob, and I can’t do that, Alice. I simply can’t,” and Nora paused, almost on the verge of tears.
“Doesn’t your father like Bob?” asked Alice.
“Oh yes! Dad thinks he’s splendid; says Bob is just as clever as he can be. That old mind of mine! Wish I could make it up!”
“Nora Stevens, you ought to be spanked. You don’t know your own luck. If you don’t want Bob Rollins, give him to me. I’ll take him in a minute and go downtown this afternoon and get a license,” retorted Alice, with emphasis.
“No indeed!” said Nora; “I’m not passing him along to anybody just yet. Besides that, you’re a lot too anxious, young woman! You just stop bothering me about Bob. He and I will scrap it out together, somehow!”
At seven o’clock that same evening there was a threesome—Nora, Alice, and Robert Rollins—in the Stevenses’ living-room.
“Now quit worrying, Nora!” said Bob. “Milwaukee is only a few steps away. Let’s telephone your dad at his hotel tonight.”
“But I don’t know what hotel he stops at. He never went off before without telling me why he had to go. Besides, I know there has been something troubling him lately. Maybe it’s that new color-process of his, but I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean by ‘color-process,’ Nora? You never spoke of it before. Is it something secret? Do you mind telling me about it?”
“Surely not, Bob, dear! I didn’t speak of it before because Father asked me not to mention it to anyone until he had it perfected. Wait a minute! I’ll show you a print he made day before yesterday. Here! Look at it!”
“Gee whiz, Nora! Do you mean to say those colors are printed on that paper by exposure to light? I’d swear they are painted on—and mighty darn good painting, too! Those ferns and that orchid are as natural as life. Why, if an artist could paint a picture as well as that, he could make a fortune.”
“Let me see it, Nora,” exclaimed Alice excitedly. “Why! It’s simply wonderful. It must take a lot of time and a good many operations to do it, eh?”
“No, it’s not painted, Bob,” Nora assured him. “And it’s not done by the sun, and it only needs one operation, Alice. Father coats the film and the printing paper with some new kind of emulsion he has invented. He exposes the film with a four-color rotating screen passing over the lens during the exposure. Each color screens the lens for a tiny fraction of a second. After that he develops the negative with a special developer. When the negative is dry, he prints directly from the film on to a special paper, but uses four intensities of light at the same time. I don’t understand it at all, but this is how it comes out. Dad just got it perfect ten days ago. Oh, Bob! I’m so worried about Father! Couldn’t I reach him somehow in Milwaukee tonight? There must be some way to find him. Can’t you think of one?”
Rollins pondered the matter for several minutes, during which Sarah served sandwiches and coffee to the trio.
“Yes, Nora, I believe there is,” he said. “Your father is the sort of man who would never stop at a second-class hotel, and there aren’t so very many first-class hotels in Milwaukee. I’ve got a good friend there, Harry Stoddard, and he’s certain to be home on a Sunday evening. I’ll call him up right now and get him to telephone to all the good hotels in Milwaukee and get in touch with your father, and then Mr. Stevens can telephone to us right here. I’ll bet anything you’ll be talking to your father in less than two hours, Nora, so don’t worry.”
Eleanor Stevens brightened up at this suggestion. “That’s splendid, Bob!” she said. “I’ll go out and let Sarah off from putting away the dishes, while you telephone. She’s been in the house all day, poor woman, and she wants to go down and take in the movies tonight. You can go now, Sarah; I’ll finish the rest.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Nora!” cried Sarah delightedly from the pantry. “After Mr. Rollins gets through, I’ll telephone that I’m coming. You’re the dearest soul in the world.”
Rollins at once put in a person-to-person call for his Milwaukee friend; Sarah quickly finished her brief phone talk in the interval, and five minutes later Harry Stoddard and Robert Rollins were on the wire together.
“I’ll find Mr. Stevens, sure,” he said. “Just hang on and wait for me to phone you back. Mr. Stevens may be out somewhere, but I’ll get him if he is and have him call you up when he gets home. Hold your horses, Bob, and don’t fret! You’ll get a call from him or me before midnight, sure.”
After this matter had been disposed of, the minds of all three were again at ease, and their conversation regarding the color-photograph was resumed.
“Listen, Nora! I’ve seen a few miracles; the radio is one; but this picture here is another. It’s the most marvelous thing I ever saw. Has your father applied for a patent?”
“No, Bob, he says he isn’t going to! He’s going to use it himself for a year or so until we have enough to keep us in comfort, and then he is going to publish the formula in the scientific magazines. He’ll detail the whole process so that everyone may use it. Dad never did care much for money, and he says the world needs all the beauty it can get.”
“Nora Stevens!” declared Alice; “your father is the biggest fool on earth, but I’ll say he is one of the biggest men on earth to do a thing like that. When did he first start working on this?”
“About six years ago, while he and Edward Folsom were partners. They worked together on it, but made no headway at all. After Mr. Folsom’s health broke down and he had to dissolve the firm and go to California, Father kept right on. He told me often that it was pretty discouraging, but he wouldn’t quit. It is only in the last two months that Dad has had real success with it.”
“Nora, dear!” interposed Rollins; “you know I’m on the Leader, and you must realize what it would mean to me if your father would let me write up this discovery. It would be one of the biggest beats in years. Would he let me print it, do you think?”
“No, Bob, old dear! He wouldn’t let you, I know. Father intends to keep it an absolute secret until he has put it on a commercial basis. He has told me so, and we must none of us breathe a word about it until he lets us. Promise me! Both of you. Will you?” The pledge of silence was readily given, but Rollins resumed his inquiry. “Let me look at that picture again. Nora, that photo is almost incredible. If your father should keep his process as a monopoly, the Stevens family would be multimillionaires in a few years. Really, it’s so wonderful that it’s dangerous. If some unscrupulous person should learn of it, he might stop at nothing to steal the invention. What’s your opinion about it, Alice?”
“I think Bob is right, Nora. Everyone knows that there are men in this world who are like that. If it wasn’t a dead secret, I’d be really frightened about it. Does anyone except us three know of this invention? Who is there besides your father who knows where he keeps the records of how he does it—or does he just remember it and keep it all in his head?” inquired Alice earnestly.
“Don’t worry, Alice! Dad told me yesterday that every single item of the formulae comprising his process was down in black and white and was safely put away in his office safe. No one but a chemist would understand it anyhow, he said. Let’s talk about something else for a change. This is too exciting. How’s the newspaper business, Bob, old dear?”
“Well,” replied Rollins, “the business is all right, so far as I know, but there’s something wrong with me, that’s sure. Twice last week I threw old man Bostock down, and the other papers beat us. Both times I was so concentrated on one assignment that I didn’t even see a bigger story, and let it get past me. Right now I’ve got a note in my pocket from the old boy telling me he wants to see me the first thing in the morning. I’ll sure be one lucky kid if I’m on the Leader this time next week. I’ve got no kick coming, Nora; it’s all my own fault.”
“Oh Bob, honey, I’m so sorry. I do hope it isn’t as bad as you think. Let me know tomorrow, surely, won’t you?” Nora pleaded.
Alice broke in: “Bob Rollins, I don’t believe it. Have they forgotten what you did last year in that Howerton murder case? And that Garwood robbery, too! Both times you found out who it was that did it, and the Leader said so when they were convicted and afterwards. Don’t you ever believe they are going to fire you. No, sir! They’d be crazy to do that, and if that’s the kind they are, you’re crazy to keep working for them. Don’t you worry! They’re not going to do anything of that kind, and I know it.”
“I certainly hope you are right, Alice, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In the newspaper game it’s what you do that counts, not what you did a year ago. Anyhow, I’m not shooting any alibis. If I stay, I’ve learned a good lesson, and if I’m fired, I’ve learned two lessons. Well, here’s hoping for luck when they bring the case of Robert Rollins before the court. But let’s forget my little troubles for a while. Tell me something, Nora! Why does your dad keep those important records in that old ramshackle laboratory of his?”
“I don’t see why he shouldn’t keep them in his office, Bob. It’s awfully strong, really. I never saw a stronger place except a jail.”
“What do you mean by that? How could an old shack like the Meyers Building be strong? It was built before the World’s Fair, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Why, I guess I didn’t tell you, Bob! Dad spent three hundred and fifty dollars on his office about six months ago, fixing it up. He felt pretty certain he would make a success of his process and he wanted to feel absolutely sure that no one could steal it. He had heavy steel bars put close together in each window-opening and they’re cemented deep into the stone. There’s a heavy oak door and transom in the entrance, and the hinges and lock are the best that money could buy. The lock came from England. Banister’s superintendent got it for him and they had a special key made for it so that there can’t be a duplicate. Dad told me he would have to get the Fire Department to get into his office if he ever lost that key. He even used to put his key-case under his pillow at night to make sure it was safe. There is no building within twenty feet of his office windows, and if anyone tried to get in, he’d have to use an acetylene torch to burn off those bars. His safe is a first-class one and supposed to be burglar-proof. I don’t see what more Dad could do, do you, Bob?”
“No! That certainly looks as if he had used every precaution he could. I’m certainly glad, Nora. Your dad is too fine a man to lose out right after he has hit the bull’s-eye. It’s better to be safe than sorry; that’s why I asked.”
For the next three hours the conversation ebbed and flowed. Eleven o’clock struck. Then half after eleven; and still the telephone was silent. Sarah had returned from the movies. Alice was fidgeting in her chair and vainly trying to form sentences; all were without meaning. Nora had sunk into brooding silence.
Finally at a quarter to twelve the bell of the telephone rang and Rollins sprang to answer. Harry Stoddard was on the wire.
“What’s that, Harry? Every one? How many? Are you sure? Positive you didn’t miss one? How about the cheap ones? . . . No, of course not. Which hotels did you go to personally? Did you look at today’s registers as well as yesterday’s? . . . Yes, I’m awfully sorry. Can’t understand it at all! . . . No, I don’t see what more we can do except make another try tomorrow. Thank you, Harry! Good-bye!”
Rollins turned to the two girls, whose anxious ears had only too clearly absorbed the meaning of his talk with Stoddard.
“Harry can’t find him, Nora. He’s looked all over, so it’s likely your father is in Chicago yet. I’m going down to Police Headquarters now and learn if Mr. Stevens has met with an accident and been taken to a hospital. I’ll telephone you as soon as I find out what’s happened. Don’t worry, girls, I’m sure it’s nothing serious. Good-bye!”
Less than five minutes later the Stevens doorbell gave forth a hesitant tinkle. Nora had already gone upstairs. Sarah, the housekeeper, had retired for the night; hence Alice was compelled to answer the feeble summons. Bob Rollins was standing on the threshold as the door was opened.
“Listen, Alice!” he whispered hoarsely. “I’ve got two flat tires, with only one spare, and that spare needs pumping. Looks as though I must have picked up some tacks or nails somewhere today. Anyhow, I can’t drive home tonight, so I’m going to put the car behind the house, right next to Nora’s garage. I’ll take the L downtown, to the Sanford, and send someone to fix up the car tomorrow. Will that be all right, Alice?”
“Bob,” said Alice, “I’m glad you came back. The minute you left, Nora started sobbing and moaning, and now she’s almost crazy. I can’t do a thing with her. She’s upstairs crying this minute. I’m going to give her a sleeping-powder if I can find one—which I doubt. Anyhow, I want you to call me up early tomorrow morning and see how she is. She insists there’s something desperately wrong about her father’s absence, and I’m beginning to believe it myself. Will you do it, Bob?”
“I surely will, just as soon as I can, and you be waiting for it. Good night, Alice!”
For fifty yards Rollins trudged thoughtfully through the moonless somber darkness toward the Bryn Mawr station of the L and—“Stick ’em up! Quick!” came a hoarse voice beside him, and a hard unyielding object was pressed against his ribs.
Rollins involuntarily obeyed the command.
His eyes, not yet accustomed to the dense gloom, could only detect vaguely the form of the thug, nor had he yet fully awakened to his danger.
A strong hand grasped his left shoulder. “Right-about face! Walk toward that tree!” The hand pulled him partly round, and for one brief instant that deadly sharp pressure on his ribs was gone.
Quick as a flash Rollins bent forward until the tips of his right fingers touched the ground. At that same instant he shot his left foot backward and diagonally upward with all his might.
Certain bygone lessons from an old French comrade in the deadly Gallic art of savate—foot-fighting—were now to serve him well. As Rollins bent double, while delivering this tremendous backward kick, which apparently landed solidly on human flesh, he received a smashing blow on the upper muscles of his back. Had he been standing upright, as before, his skull would surely have been shattered.
Before another second had elapsed, his assailant had secured a football tackle around Rollins’ knees, and both men were rolling on the gravel beside the walk, locked in desperate embrace.