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Transcript

Secret Agent X, November, 1936
Beyond Murder
by Phil Richards
Stanley Henshaw didn’t even bother about an alibi. For the corpse would provide one.
HE car rolled into the garage. The
engine choked off and presently a
door slammed. In the library of Dr.
Chappell’s lonely retreat, Stanley
Henshaw caressed a bulky manuscript. It
was a typed carbon copy of “Swan Song.”
Henshaw’s eyes were little flames of
avaricious intelligence. His mouth
tightened in an unholy smile, showing the
ugly double upper lip of greed. He was
ready for murder.
Stanley Henshaw glanced in a
mirror and permitted himself a chuckle at
his expression of inhuman gloating. He
prided himself on the Mephistophelian
cast of his refined and sensitive
countenance. There reflected was the
remarkable face of an intellectual
cutthroat.
He heard Dr. Chappell enter the
back door. Again Henshaw glanced at the
mirror, and agreed that now he looked the
soul of good humor.
His eyes fixed on the manuscript
with the loving gaze of a father. “Swan
Song” represented a lifetime of high
intellectual pursuit. After forty years
building up a philosophic proportion that
gave Dr. Chappell an understanding which
few men achieve, the professor then had
spent thirty years assembling material for
“Swan Song.” The actual writing had
encompassed three years of intensive
labor, ten to fifteen hours a day. Stanley
Henshaw had done the secretarial work.
“Swan Song” possessed the
precious quality of literary permanence—
universality. In its thousand and one pages
life was stripped to the naked elements,
harshly, brutally, with the cruel finesse of
a surgeon’s scalpel. Dr. Chappell had
performed an autopsy on the living.
“It’ll have the financial success of
‘Anthony Adverse,’” Henshaw told
himself. “I’ll make half a million dollars
out of it alone. And my twenty short
stories that I wrote to Chappell’s
suggestions— Now they’d only bring fifty
dollars a piece. But remember what the
French publisher told Alexander Dumas.
‘Make a name and I’ll publish anything
you write.’
“After ‘Swan Song’ is published,
I’ll easily get seven thousand apiece for
them. Then a long-term Hollywood
contract at five grand a week. Lectures at
two thousand a performance. In one year
I’ll clear a cool million.”
Henshaw used the first person, for
by the simple process of murdering Dr.
Chappell and changing the title page on
“Swan Song,” the colossal work would
become his. No one else knew about the
novel. Since retiring after thirty years as
professor of philosophy at Fenwick
University, the doctor had been a recluse.
“What pathetic morons are the
bank presidents and stock swindlers who
steal dollars!” Henshaw thought. “They
get nothing but dollars. Overnight I’ll
cease to be a thirty-a-week secretary and
small-time writer, and take my place
among the aristocracy. I’ll marry into the
Social Register. I’ll get on the preferred
lists of Wall Street tycoons. I’ll have my
yacht, my racing stable. I’ll back musical
T
Secret Agent X
2
shows for talented and sympathetic little
darlings.
Chappell entered. He looked like a
very, very tired Longfellow. “I’m burned
to a rind, Stanley,” he said wearily in a
cultured, resonant voice. “I have a
premonition that shortly the inexorable
surge that is life will force me out—for a
fresh, unbattered casing to carry forth its
mystery.”
The old man dropped into an easy
chair.
“You need rest, doctor,” said
Henshaw softly. Gently he stroked the
doctor’s forehead—a nightly duty.
“Ah,” murmured Chappell, “those
soft, womanly hands. Soft, womanly
hands, Stanley, have contributed the major
catastrophes to mankind—”
Henshaw soothed Chappell into a
catnap. Madness burned in the secretary’s
eyes. He was completely the man-devil,
mastered by the killer urge. He smothered
a pillow against the old man’s face.
Chappell gave a convulsive jerk, uttering a
choked, muffled cry. The will to live
asserted itself, and he clutched Handsaw’s
wrists. But age-hardened arteries and a
septuagenarian heart require much oxygen.
The fingers slipped away, and a falling
hand waved in what seemed like a
mocking gesture of farewell.
Chappell was dead. There were no
marks of violence. The hectic tinge of
suffocation would soon vanish. Henshaw
congratulated himself. His hands shook a
little, but it was from the ecstatic
anticipation of the glamorous future. He
had a marvelous feeling of
accomplishment.
Outside, he determined that he was
quite alone. The nearest house was more
than a mile distant. Carrying the body to
the garage, he placed it behind the steering
wheel. He started the engine, and thrust
the end of a tube, attached to the exhaust,
into the corpse’s mouth, forcing carbon
monoxide fumes into the lungs.
Lambert, the police chief in Clear
Lake, didn’t concern Henshaw. To
Lambert it would be a simple case of
suicide or death by accident. But Nick
Forbes, the private dick from New York,
was vacationing in Clear Lake. Henshaw
had heard some unnerving things about
Forbes.
EAVING the car running, Henshaw
returned to the house and put the
tubing through a meat grinder, disposing
of the hashed rubber down the drain.
Nothing to fear from that source. And
Forbes would be unable to find a motive
for murder. Beyond his pension, Chappell
had possessed no money.
Henshaw typed a new title page for
“Swan Song.” The original manuscript
Chappell had taken to his safety-deposit
box that day. But Henshaw had a key to
the box and the authority to open it.
There’d be no trouble substituting the page
carrying his by-line.
Retiring, Henshaw fell asleep with
the assurance that he’d fathered a perfect
crime. Hours later he awakened with a
start. In the closed garage, the engine was
still running. But some one had been
talking—in a foreign tongue.
Then he laughed. It was he.
Henshaw had studied Swedish, so he could
make a proper speech of acceptance when
“Swan Song” won the Nobel Prize for
literature—another fifty grand. He’d been
reciting the acceptance speech aloud in his
sleep.
In the morning he went to the
garage. The engine had stopped. Rigor
mortis—the stiffening of the body after
death—held the corpse rigid. Henshaw ran
to the next house and telephoned the
police.
As he anticipated, Nick Forbes
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Beyond Murder 3
accompanied Lambert. The dick’s
physique added to Henshaw’s confidence.
These brawny men were usually obtuse.
Then he looked into the probing,
dissecting eyes, and his jaw sagged.
Behind those eyes was a razor-sharp
intelligence.
Henshaw was subdued. “The
doctor has been sorely troubled with
insomnia. No doubt a sedative was taking
effect when he drove into the garage. I’m a
very sound sleeper, or—”
“Probably suicide,” commented
Lambert. “Insomnia can sure play hell
with a man. When they get as old as
Chappell—”
“Had the corpse stiffened when
you found it?” Nick interrupted,
Henshaw bowed his head. “Rigor
mortis had already set in.”
The dick nodded. “It occurs
usually two to six hours after death.” He
turned to Lambert. “Any marks of
violence?”
“Huh?” grunted the chief. “Ain’t a
scratch or a bruise on him. You trying to
make a murder case outa this?”
“Not trying to,” said Nick coldly.
The insinuation sent the hint of a
chill through Henshaw. “Why, it’s absurd
to think— The doctor died of carbon
monoxide poisoning—”
“He died of ordinary suffocation,”
said Nick, “probably caused by being
smothered with bedclothes or a pillow.”
Henshaw struggled for control, but
his philosophy deserted him. Fear
embraced him in its strength-sucking
tentacles. His hands were corpse-cold,
though his head felt as though the four
thousand volts of the electric chair were
shocking through it.
“An examination of the lungs—”
Henshaw faltered.
“A drop of the blood will be given
the tannin precipitation test,” said Nick.
“In the meantime—”
Deftly he snapped steel cuffs on
Henshaw’s bony wrists. Henshaw shrank
back, uttering throaty sounds. He couldn’t
have slipped up. Unmasked terror showed
on his quivering face. He tried to talk, but
words clotted on his tongue.
“I’ll be damned!” exclaimed
Lambert.
“He’s guilty as hell!” rasped Nick.
“Last night Dr. Chappell brought me the
manuscript of a novel that culminated his
life’s work. That’s why I’m here. He
wanted the royalties to endow a chair of
philosophy at Fenwick University.
“He’d often heard Henshaw talking
in his sleep—in Swedish. He pieced
together fragments and found they made
up an acceptance speech for the Nobel
Prize for literature. Naturally, he believed
Henshaw planned to steal his manuscript.”
The killer recovered sufficiently to
smile derisively. “Why, the old fool was
trying to rob me of my own work!” he
grated the lie.
“The law probably would accept
that,” said Nick, “and list the case as death
by accident—if you hadn’t tried to make it
appear like carbon monoxide poisoning.
We won’t have trouble busting a jittery
guy like you wide open. You smothered
Dr. Chappell!”
“He died from carbon monoxide!”
snarled Henshaw, gesturing at the
stiffened form.
Nick shook his head. “You don’t
know your geography. When carbon
monoxide, in a fatal quantity, unites with
the haemoglobin of the blood to form
carbonyl-haemoglobin, the corpse does
not pass through a period of rigor
mortis!”

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