Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page




Chapter 1


Detective Sergeant Frank DuShane, temporarily assigned as ordinary plainclothesman 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 10 minutes after 6 in the morning—when the telephone call for him came.

It came on the regular station phone, standing on the shiny wicket ledge next to “The Book,” and presided over by the big blue-uniformed, brass-buttoned, white-mustached day station sergeant.

The sergeant droned out somewhat puzzledly: “Somebody wants you, Frank, pers’nally.”

DuShane, in back of 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 white-washed, brass cuspidor-studded 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 plain-clothesman to conduct a very special investigation in this particular police area. In short, he stood in front of the cracked wall mirror delegated solely for the use of station sergeants, plastering his thinning hair down with the brass-chain-suspended 10-cent-store brush, with his other hand jerking his own 5-cent alumi-num comb through his scrubby and slightly grey-touched brown mustache, and even straightening his ever-tilting shiny blue bow tie.

Now the heavily uniformed, white-mustached station ser-geant—McCrearity by name—was clambering down off his high stool, and again speaking to DuShane. “Take your call over here, Frank. My blood pressure’s so damned low this morning, I’m going on in back for a couple of minutes, and tongue-lash hell out o’ them 3 rookie cops that was wished on me yesterday. It’ll put me in trim for the day’s work!”

And less than 3 seconds later, McCrearity, licking his lips, was letting himself out of the partitioned section of the room, by depressing the finger-button in the protruding mechanism of the spring-locked door next to the wicket.

DuShane 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 be-tween himself and the phone, casually picking up the instrument, and turning windowward so as to toss one blue-serge-clad shank lightly over the vacated stool. Now he faced the street itself, bathed already in the bright early morning sun-shine of this June day. In the nearer car track, a junk dealer’s rickety wagon, headed no doubt for the far North Side for the day, was making a large modern aluminum-gilded truck, deri-sively tooting in back of it, turn out.

“DuShane talking,” said the plainclothes police operator curtly.

“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. “I was afraid, Off’cer Du—no, Inspector Du—or would it be Lieutenant Du—”

“Make it Mister,” ordered DuShane curtly. “And then maybe we’ll get somewhere.”

The man on the other end eagerly took up this simplification of confusing police terminology. “Yes, Mister DuShane. Well, I’m glad I catch you. I was so afraid you had already, maybe yes, started for home, and—”

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

“Oh, I should have said, Capt—uh—ah—”

“Keep to that ‘Mister,’ ” ordered DuShane, with considerable asperity. “So, a’right, again. Who is talking?”

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

“Well,” returned DuShane, puzzled, “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 I’ve heard a good deal about it—from them that know. It—okay, bully-boy, what kind of a hot plate is sizzling under your pants, this bright morning of June the 23rd, A.D.?”

But it was at this juncture that the disquieting suspicion popped squarely into DuShane’s head that this whole thing was a cunning check-up on police personnel on “courtesy”—one of those things maliciously inaugurated every now and then by the mayor. And DuShane decided immediately to be polite, no matter how much it hurt.

“Here I am, Silver, back on the wire. Was talking to ‘Bully-boy’ Murphy, one of the rookie cops. Well, now about your dum—your place—’twas put up years ago, wasn’t it, by some scholard with too much inher’ted mazuma and a bug for old Rome and the Latin classicals, and what not? Even to puttin’ the possessy case o’ ‘Romans’ after that there hifalutin’ French ‘De’ what means ‘of the.’ See, I remember my own parish school days, heh? When Father Mullaney whipped a little Latin into—But anyway, gettin’ back to your hotel there, I’ve seen the two stone statutes enclosin’ the front door there on Pres’dent Street and bolting up the lintel stone. With leaves about their noble brows, and their speeches rolled up in their mitts—Cicero and Oak Park they rep’sent, don’t they?—no, Cicero and Catyline, I guess ’twas! And I’ve heard,” went on DuShane, “about the famous Roman bath you’ve got downstairs, with tiers of marble seats all around it. Or did have,” he corrected, “a few ownerships back of yourself! And I’ve heard about the rooms—with Roman numberals on the doors instead of regular digitals—and Roman scenes in sillywhoetty stenciled about the wall tops of each room, and with even a transylated saying, from the Latin classicals, painted acrost at least one wall in each, and—”

“Well, we ain’t got all them things today, Mister DuShane,” said the hotel proprietor glumly. “For the place has been goin’ down in the world, you know! And each propri’tor, includin’ myself, makes a change here, a change there. As for the fa-mous bath—well, most o’ the guests what hear about it like to go down and lamp it, yeah—but it ain’t piped with steam or nothin’ any more t’day—it’s just used by us for our laundry. The translated class’cal sayings on the walls—well, some of the rooms still have ’em. Others—well,” the speaker broke off, “we ain’t even no more got the status of a cheap theatrical hotel, as the place was all the years after it took its first tumble and up to a couple years back. We’re just today—”

“I know,” said DuShane grimly. “Yeah, I know, Stiver. You’re today a no-questions-asked hotel! Yes, no? For I saw a heav’y-veiled, wealthy-lookin’ woman—Glencoe or Winnetka stuff, maybe Beverly Hills stuff so far’s that goes—and a wealthy-lookin’ man—Lake Front Drive stuff—comin’ down t’gether, the other day—and without baggage—them marble stairs that lead from your second floor to your side entrance there on Canyon Street, well back o’ Pres’dent by the whole depth of your place. And I saw ’em get into different cabs out on Pres’dent Street, to go home to their matey-mates. Ain’t you afraid, Silver,” DuShane now taunted him, “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 DeRomanorum, gave a humorless 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. Nor did them as had the place before me, it being orig’nally a theatrical hotel, and—’nough said? In short,” the speaker explained, “this is a strictly cash-in-advance place. And anybody who wants to ‘out’ by the side entrance on narrow Canyon Street can go that way. We don’t have to watch our foyer stairs. Besides, the guests don’t like all their comin’s and goings observ—”

“Yeah, I know,” retorted DuShane, confident now that his own little observation had caused him to have the situation well in hand! “Like the veiled woman and the wealthy-looking man, both without baggage, heh?” Now he got defi-nitely tough. “Well, what’s on your mind, Silver?”

Now the voice of Hyman Silver dropped like the voice of a man who knew that pleasantries and banterings could no longer go on—that now had to come serious and distressing business, at least for a hotel proprietor.

“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 to keep you from wonderin’ whether ’twas a trunk, or a live alligator, or a suitcase full of dynamite, or what, the thing that was planted on me in the night was a human body.”


Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page