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THE WHITE CIRCLE
Kirk Solfedge, hopping out of the yellow taxi cab that had brought him to the corner of Cotton Tree Road and Fordyce Boulevard, Washington, D.C., examined carefully under the bright globe-shaded street light piercing the early-December darkness of 7 in the evening, the dollar bill he was about to extend to the driver.
Found it was a dollar, all right, and not a two or a five— which wouldn’t have been so good!—waved away the change, and found himself almost immediately alone on the corner, with tall modern flatbuildings and apartment hotels running in both directions, to both sides of him.
Excepting for, of course, the old house on the very corner where he stood. Or, rather, standing well back of the two streets making up the corner.
“So-o,” he was saying now grimly, “somebody in yonder house—Ramble House by name!—knows the answer—if any!—to keep a man from going to jail for a good long time—and having his reputation blasted for all time to come!
And, morosely, he shook apart the edges of the brown-plaid light overcoat he wore, and from the breast-pocket of the neat salt-and-pepper coat beneath drew forth the disconcerting communication he’d received late this afternoon at the drafting office where he worked. From a certain shrinking, more or less beaten courts secretary in Washington, who plainly possessed no less than a heart of gold!
Consisting of but a single sheet of legal-sized paper, it carried its practically anonymous message in typewriting, single-spaced as to lines, the latter in so-called “miniscule” type to boot, and with the lines running almost to the edges of the paper, each side. Its signature—had it had one!—or its heading, likewise—had it had one!—would have had to be, in view of the identity of its writer, as Kirk himself knew, “Christopher Starwalt”. But it was cautiously minus these features—and for mighty good reasons!
For it began:
December 7th, 2:30 p.m.
Dear Mr. Solfedge:
Unless you want to serve some time in prison, or worse—and be blasted and ruined, for the rest of your life, by what will be brought out in the hearing to do this, you’d better take it on the heel-and-toe before 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. Or, if you prefer me to put it that way, before the hour when you appear in court to receive what you think is a modest $25-or-so fine, and the routine closing of the case which brought you into the courts.
For I’m sorry to have to tell you that Judge Scheidt Harnishmacher, District of Columbia Criminal Courts Judge, secretly issued a quiet bench warrant for you this afternoon on the charges of:
Being a sociological “monster.”
You know what I mean, don’t you? Our streets swarm with them, in different guises—different forms.
“Ow!” groaned Kirk. “everytime I reach that line my flesh just crawls! Blasted—for life? I’ll—I’ll be blasted for all the lives I’m ever to have on the Wheel of Lives. I’ll—”
Having blinked violently, as he’d groaned “Ow!” he went on from a line back of his blink:
different guises—different forms.
The charge is to be launched on your unsuspecting head publicly—with fine fan-fare, incidentally, for ye judge!—but 100-percent promotion of a certain German psychiatrist practising here, and his new screwball book called The Monster in Modern Society—when you show up in court, and are safely under the bailiff’s “custody”, on the warrant the judge will himself read to you. Indeed, the whole idea is to make this German psychiatrist, who is a friend of the judge’s, from there on a much-in-demand courts’ witness—yes, expert!—in all cases devolving about “monsterism” in any form, at the nice, fat usual fees of from $100 to $200 for testifying. You know?
As Judge Harnishmacher’s secretary who knows all that goes on in his office, and almost in his mind, I am in position, Mr. Solfedge, to give you a mighty straight info, really and truly from “the horse’s mouth”. I do so here merely because I liked you immensely, in the brief meeting we had at the Courts Building. I believe you’re all right. And trust, to 100-percent, that you will destroy this warning to the last ash, and never reveal it.
Judge Harnishmacher’s ability to give you the works rests, unfortunately, on—
“Jupiter!” groaned Kirk again, at this point. “How was I ever to dream that that simple little affair—all good fellowship and decent-mindedness on my part—could turn against me like this? Why, I’ve already blasted my whole life—for whether I stay, and get publicly categorized, and judged—or take it on the heel-and-toe—my life’s blasted anyway—for no other reason than—”
“Excuse me, sir, but do you, by any chance, know who owns, runs, or lives in yon—yon museum-piece facing us from over yonder?”
The question came from—as Kirk, looking up suddenly from his letter, saw—a high-foreheaded man of about 46, with bookish gold-rimmed spectacles, encased in sepulchral black overcoat and square derby hat, who had come quietly from across the street in back of him. The fellow could have been an author or some sort—he radiated that; he could also have been a process server. He could have been a detective. He could have been an architect. He could have been a wax-worker. He could have been an organizer for Chinese tongs. He could, in all fair logic, have been of any of 101 different occupations.
“I’m sorry,” said Kirk, not even bothering to peer forth at the architectural subject of discourse, “but I’m a stranger hereabouts myself. Though when it comes to yonder residence you’re obviously referring to, I could have a bit of interest. For—d’ya mind telling me—why you ask?”
“Oh,” said the other man, “not at all, I guess. I’m an—an author. Figuring to do a biography of one Major Horace Tarwater, who I happen to know built that place decades and decades ago. Calling it Ramble House. A highly erratic individual, as far as I can gather, and he let himself go, so I also understand, in the building of his then far-outside-the-city eyesore! I happened to be near here just now, and thought to look it over before calling officially at it tomorrow. And sort of thought to find out who occupies that museum-piece from out of the past today—who and what lives in—who—”
Kirk shook his head.
“Sorry,” he said, “but I can’t tell you as much about that—that mausoleum of lumber yonder as if you went up to its front door, and rang the bell, and asked.”
The other made a moue with his hands.
“Well, I’ll do all that tomorrow when Heaven’s good sunlight is on it and through its probably dubious interior. Well, excuse my bothering you while you’re reading your letter from your—ah—sweetheart?”
“Don’t mention it,” assured Kirk.
The man in the squarish derby and sepulchral black coat turned, crossed the street sidewise of Kirk, and, whether really author, or process-server, wax-worker, detective, tong-organizer, or what, was gone in the darkness of the further thoroughfare in that direction.
Kirk, with a shrug, went on with the disconcerting letter in his hands. For now set forth in it he knew—from merely having now read it six times already!—was the somewhat foolish thing that had been done in Washington by a man named Kirk Solfedge. The “somewhat foolish” thing having now, thanks to several devilish but invisible factors in it, turned miraculously into a Crime, Grade A!
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