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AT the entrance to the Esmeralda detective office, Detective-Sergeant Stanton made the mistake of letting go momentarily his hold on the gentleman he was escorting to these awesome precincts.

“Get on!” he growled in the tones that one uses to a refractory horse.

Michael Revel wrapped his arms about a stone pillar in the doorway, and imitated a limpet.

“Ho!” he exclaimed with extreme indignation. “And who do you think you’re pushing about, I should like to know?”

“You, you beer-sodden imitation soldier!” panted Stanton, struggling to prise free the limpet without using actual violence.

“Ho!” said Michael again. “Don’t let the battledress fool you. Allow me to inform you, my good man, that you are no longer dealing with a common soldier. Four-three-seven-owe-seven-owe Temporary Warrant Officer (First Class) Revel, M., is no more. Michael Revel, Esquire, a free citizen of this island, has come into his own. You betcha!” he added, wagging his head solemnly. “As from 0800 hours this morning!”

“Will you get inside?” snarled Stanton.

“No,” said Michael uncompromisingly, shaking his head so vigorously that his beret fell off.

“Oh, Lord!” The detective gave it up. He took off his hat and dabbed at his forehead. “If it wasn’t you, Revel—if you weren’t a pet of the establishment—I’d use ordinary methods, and you’d be inside before you could say Jack Robinson.”


“Jack Robinson,” repeated Stanton automatically.

“Who’s he? What’s he done?” asked Michael interestedly.


“But I don’t wanna go inside. I wanna go back to my ol’ pal Spike—it’s his turn to pay for the drinks—”

“What’s going on here?” demanded a large man, suddenly appearing in the doorway.

Michael greeted the newcomer with a howl of delight. “Hail! smiling morn, smiling morn . . . Walshie—my ol’ comrade in crime!”

Detective-Inspector John Walsh, as patient and tolerant a police officer as ever drew breath, looked inquiringly at his sergeant. “What’s it all about, Stanton? . . . Great Scott—he’s tight!”

“Tight? He’s as pickled as a bumblebee full of honey!”

The simile may have been somewhat unusual but the diagnosis, I regret to have to state, was perfectly correct. Michael Revel had indubitably consumed more alcoholic refreshment than is deemed wise or even usual at two o’clock in the afternoon.

To err is human, to forgive divine. And I think Michael is to be forgiven this lapse from grace, for only once in a lifetime, as a rule, is a man discharged from service in the Armed Forces; and when that happens it is most definitely an occasion. Not that they do actually discharge more or less fit personnel from the Eulalie Island Armed Forces—the Temporary Staff and Home Defence Units, that is. They march you out through Routine Orders to an area pool on I.L.W.O.P.; these mystic letters standing for Indefinite Leave Without Pay. The idea being, I suppose, to keep you on a string so that if another war sneaks up on them unexpectedly, the Powers That Be can yank the string and pull you back to servitude with the minimum of warning and at an instant’s notice. But outright discharge, or indefinite leave without pay, the circumstance is an occasion to be celebrated in time-honoured fashion; and it is only fair to add that in celebrating his own release, and that of some half-dozen mess mates, Michael had been more sinned against than sinning.

To begin with, he and the other half-dozen had been given a rousing send-off by Whipple Camp Headquarters Sergeants’ Mess, where the bar had been opened for that special purpose at an unlawful hour according to Camp Standing Orders, King’s Regulations, Army Instruction No. 374, Section 5, Subsection 3, Paragraph 7, and probably a few other minor military statutes. Then, on their arrival at Esmeralda, the party had visited various hostelries, where they had had one all round for auld lang syne, one for luck in civvy street, and one for the road—it was during this period that Michael had become detached from the main body, had drifted into the wrong bar and been subsequently salvaged by Detective-Sergeant Stanton.

But in addition to this, and before the party had left Whipple, the president of the mess, who was the Camp Sergeant-Major and who should have known better, had mixed and insisted on their drinking some secret hell-brew of his own that he called a Whipple Wopkakker. I don’t think it was altogether the post-war plonk that was Michael’s downfall; I think it was the Wopkakker, the devastating qualities of which I would place next to hashish. The fact that Michael was still on his feet at two o’clock in the afternoon is pretty fair tribute to his staying powers. . . .

He now unhooked one arm, settled his horn-rimmed glasses more firmly on his undistinguished nose, resumed his death-defying grip of the pillar, and burst unmusically into song.

“Walshing Matilda, Walshing Matilda, you’ll come a-Walshing—”

“Shut up, you noisy little devil!” hissed Inspector Walsh.

Mr. Revel took this as a compliment. He nodded his head in high approval. “Noisy little devil—that’s me. Revel, the devil. The oracle. The shaker-up of stagnant detectives. Mustard Mike—”

“For heaven’s sake, come inside! You’ll give the place a bad name.”

“It’s already got a bad name. And I don’t wanna go inside. I wanna stay outside. Why, forsooth,” demanded the inebriate with considerable hauteur, “should I enter this dismal den, this murky bourne from which no man returneth? No, siree. I wanna go back to my pal Spike—”

Walsh and Stanton exchanged meaning glances, and the inspector’s lips pursed in a soundless whistle. “Oh! I see. . . .”

“Yes,” said Stanton. “Once again he’s found a body for us, a live one this time for a change. Only it got away from him when I appeared on the scene. And now that I’ve succeeded in dragging him round here, he won’t go in. Sheer cussedness, that’s what it is. When he’s sober you can’t keep him out of the place, when he’s tight he won’t go in.”

Michael shook his head again, vigorously and at length. “No, siree! Gimme the great outdoors. Hey, for the open road!”

“Hey, for a thick ear!” growled Walsh, bending down and picking up Michael’s beret. “Bring him in, Stanton.”

“But he won’t go in. Short of donging him one—”

Stanton glanced up at his superior officer. “Is that an order, Inspector?”

Walsh smiled faintly and shook his head. “Not that way, not for the office mascot. Here, take his cap—I’ll fix this. . . . Revel! Revel, you fathead!”

“Peep-bo!” said Michael, hiding his head coyly behind the pillar.

The burly inspector wasted no more time in mere words. He raised his hands and poked Michael under the armpits with two searching forefingers. The ticklish Mr. Revel yelped like a startled puppy and incontinently released his hold on the pillar; whereupon both detectives swooped on him, hustled him inside, down the passage and into Walsh’s office, and dumped him on a chair. Then they both heaved a sigh of relief, and the inspector sat down in his own chair behind the desk and regarded his young friend gravely.

“What have you been up to, Revel? You can’t go home to Fleur like this.”

Since he had let go of the pillar, Michael had been troubled by the disconcerting way the floor was heaving beneath him. He took off his glasses, but that didn’t seem to help much, so he put them on again. He raised his head and stared owlishly at the big man behind the desk as if he were seeing him for the first time.

“Ah! Detective-Inspector Walsh, I believe. How do you do, Inspector?”

“You’ll get no sense out of him in this state,” muttered Stanton. “Better sober him up first.”

“Inspector Walsh,” repeated Michael solemnly, nodding his head like a mandarin. “The Great Detective—the Chief of the Gestapo—the terror of the underworld—”

“Hold his perishin’ head still,” begged the terror of the underworld. “He’s making me giddy. That’s better. . . . You might be right, Stanton. I should say some coffee, hot, black and fairly strong, would help him along a bit.”

“Yeah. I’ll get some from the kitchen. Probably a bit of food wouldn’t do him any harm either—I’ll bet he’s had nothing since breakfast. Nothing solid, that is. I’ll get some sandwiches as well.”

“Walsh,” said Michael, and a plaintive note was creeping into his voice; “Walsh, I wish you’d keep still.”

“I am still,” protested Walsh mildly. “It’s you—you’re wobbling about like a jelly in an earthquake. . . . Hold on, Stanton!” to the retreating sergeant. “I think he’s going to sober up quicker than we expected—dammit, look at his face! He’s going green. . . .”

“He’s going to be sick,” said Stanton with the dispassionate composure of a scientist.

“Not in my office, he isn’t!” Michael’s eyes had dropped to the floor again—it seemed to be tugging at him, and he swayed alarmingly on the hard, uncomfortable little chair. “Hey! Oi!” cried Walsh. “Grab him, Stanton—quick. . . .”

But Stanton was too late. And it is due to the fact that he was too late to prevent Michael plunging to the floor that both men are alive today. For at that moment there was a crack! from the street the other side of the iron railings just outside the window, a shattering of glass, and a bullet buried itself in the opposite wall, having first passed through the space that would have been occupied by Mr. Revel had he been still sitting on the chair, and having missed Detective-Sergeant Stanton by inches as he was rushing back from the door of the office.


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