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THE MYSTERIOUS MR. I
 

 

~ I ~

 

It was exactly 4:10 in the morning—at least by the greasy clock in the window of the all-night Greek restaurant close to the street intersection—as I hopped off the Clark Street car at Chicago Avenue to size up the offices of MacLeish MacPherson, M.D., to try to estimate just what luck I might have on the morrow in my strange mission to him. Under my left arm, in the snug brown paper wrappings with which I had invested it, I hugged the curious object that was to form the basis of that mission.

Whether sizing up the windows, and the building containing them, of the stingiest, greediest surgeon—at least so I had gathered!—in all Chicago; the man who—as I’d also gathered!—could outbargain 4 Scotchmen and 20 Armenians—would give me any clue as to the outcome of any dealings with him, was problematical, perhaps. But—lo and behold!—that operation was to reveal something almost as valuable: MacLeish MacPherson was actually in his offices at this outlandish hour, either not having gone home at all last night—or having, for some reason, come down early! For a tall shadow moved freely hither and about, against lighted translucent shades in that second story whose four tall narrow windows carried, respectively, the words, silhouetted against the light: Eye—Ear—Nose—Throat.

I stood on the corner wonderingly, and surveyed the ancient four-story red-painted brick building across the way which housed the office of MacLeish MacPherson, M.D. No one paid the least attention to me, for this was one of those uptown corners that never, apparently, go to sleep. A night-life junction made by bedraggled pawnshop-studded Clark Street running north and south—and down-at-heel Chicago Avenue running east and west. A newsboy across the way called out morning papers lustily; the cigar store on the corner right in back of me was brightly lighted; from up street, somewhere, the strains of the orchestra in some dime-a-dance dancehall, still operating, were audible; a score of persons, crossing the street—or lounging on the corners —could be counted. But whether or why MacPherson was down in his office at this hour, he’d certainly picked a dingy enough corner to practise on. And a dingier building, to boot, to practise in. Even by the artificial light from the street lamps and few lighted shops, one could see that its red-painted brickwork needed a good tuck-pointing all over. And, even by the light through the shades, it could be seen that the gold leaf comprising MacPherson’s name—four times repeated!—and his specialties —was cracked and missing at the corners of some of the letters. And with the several degrees which MacLeish MacPherson held from Paris and Vienna universities, he might have been in the Loop, a foremost specialist.

But the silhouette, moving hither and about against the window shades, was decidedly no janitor with mop and pail. And so, since my man—for some strange reason—was in, I hoisted my odd parcel tighter under my left arm, and crossed Clark Street. Continuing on past the corner, however, to find the entrance to the red-brick building, since plainly no entrance faced Clark Street. And I found it shortly. Just a wooden arch, lighted with a sickly street light, on Chicago Avenue—an arch which hadn’t seen paint for ages. With a tall flight of worn, wooden stairs inside, leading up to the first floor. And the blue enamel sign of some outfit of doubtlessly quack dentists—“Dove Brothers, Plate and Pyorrhea Specialists”—nailed to the upright of each step.

Inside, the first-floor landing, lighted by one large ceiling light, showed two rows of office doors—6 doors in all—with ground-glass fronts—and each, without exception, dark. The ceiling was tall, and the whole place dampish. There was no elevator, either side, going to those further floors—and, even if there had been, it wouldn’t have been running at this hour. But a narrow stairway in the west wall led upward. So I went up it.

The second floor was like the first. A lesser ceiling light giving the illumination up here. But added to by two lighted door panels. One of the two was that of the Dove Brothers, Specialists, who, in spite of all their blue enameled signs visible on the steps leading in from Chicago Avenue, were evidently just a one-room office; for the light inside was so brilliant that I could see right through the ground-glass panel of the door, making out the free end of a partition wall on one side of which were seats for waiting patients, and on the other side of which were two dental chairs; in fact I was easily able to make out the blurry figure of a man, with forceps or something in his hand, working—strangely enough, again, at this hour of the morning—on a patient in the farther chair.

The door bearing the black painted letters marking the office of MacLeish MacPherson, M.D., was directly across the way from—and one door north of—that marking the cubicle which housed the Brothers Dove—or at least, just at the moment, one of the brothers Dove. And I opened that door, and entered MacPherson’s place.

A small anteroom greeted me, uncarpeted, with two benches and four stiff-backed wooden chairs. A wooden railing, with a gate in it, ran across the farther side of the anteroom, and in the cut-off rear portion sat an ancient reception desk. The whole place was lighted by but a single pendent bulb, without even a shade. The anteroom—three sides of it, anyway—had been made by running partition boards from floor to ceiling. Cutting it virtually out from some larger room which, measuring at least from Clark Street outside, spanned not less than four windows. The reception desk back of the railing showed no signs of paper, or ink, or records, or in fact, of any usage whatsoever. Nor did it even have a chair, swivel or otherwise, attached to it. Which meant that, even in the daytime, no blooming office or reception girl graced MacPherson’s offices. And the reason for which, from what I had heard of MacLeish MacPherson, was obvious enough. Office girls, blooming or otherwise, cost money!

A door in the farthest expanse of partition board was a few inches ajar. And at the sound of my entrance into the ante-room, it swung open wider, and MacLeish MacPherson—as so he was shortly to admit himself to be!—came through it.

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