Bereave It, Or Not by Thorne Lee
Amateur Sleuth

Bereave It, Or Not

by Thorne Lee


The most thankless task of Detective Daventry's career was the case of the mystified murderer. For because his victim was unknown and unmourned, the only gratitude due to Daventry would be a pat on the back from the Grim Reaper.


Table of Contents
  1. He Says He Killed A Man
  2. A Subhuman Frenzy
  3. He Was Following Me
  4. Bloom Detective Agency
  5. The Suicide of Dr. Runecker

Chapter 1

He Says He Killed A Man

The piece of cane was about two feet in length, splintered at one end. Blood had soaked into the whitish, ragged edge of wood; it reminded Daventry of a broken bone protruding through raw flesh.

“The sum of the evidence, Jim. That and a key ring. Five keys in all. From the corpse.” Daventry tossed the keys and the stub of cane on the polished walnut desk.

Inspector Eldred poked at the evidence with a short, fat finger. “Well, as I see it, he beat the poor devil in the face until the cane finally broke in half. Then he got scared and ran off with the top half, leaving this for us, the dumb bunny!”

Daventry lowered his tall frame into a chair and hooked his heels on the desk. “Nice deduction. Jim. Who told you?”

“I did.” The voice came from a corner back of Daventry. A big man filled the corner. His hair was thick, dusty brown. There was a kind of mongrel warmth in the blue eyes. The friendly shrug of his shoulders was like the wag of a dog’s tail.

“Hi, Brown,” Daventry said. “Find anything?”

“Naw. The trail ended at a lamp post about fifty feet from that little house which stands off by itself. You might say the prints were obliterated.”

A grin creased the hard brown of Daventry’s cheeks. “You might say it, but you never could spell it, Tod. Did the prints vanish into that little house?”

“Just a minute, Phil!” Inspector Eldred snapped. He was a small, severe, ordinary man who did not like too much independence in subordinates. “About this key ring. How come the keys were left on the body and nothing else? And get your ugly feet off my desk!”

Daventry didn’t move. “Just practicing for when I get your job, Jim. And the keys were overlooked because the guy kept ‘em in a funny place. Up here at the top of his pants in this little watch pocket under the belt. If you were going through a man’s pockets, you’d never think of that spot — “

“D’you think he went through his pockets? Was it robbery, Phil?”

“Robbery!” Daventry had trouble with the corners of his mouth. “Is it necessary to beat a man’s face to a pulp to rob him? No, I think that the murderer did not want his victim to be recognized or identified in any way.”


Daventry spread his hands. “What d’you expect at my salary, Sherlock Holmes?”

Eldred didn’t laugh. “Aren’t you men moving a little slow? The murder was committed Saturday night. All you have on Monday morning is a key ring and a hunk of cane!”

“Sunday is my day off, Jim.”

Eldred bit the end off a cigar as if it were Daventry’s head. “When you work for me you clean up murders quick!”

A buzzer sounded at Eldred’s elbow. He flipped a metal switch. The secretary’s voice came through, soprano and nasal:

“A man to see you, Inspector.”

“Tell him to — “

“He says he killed a man, and he wants to — “

“Killed a man?” Eldred snorted. “Haven’t I told you to send those manslaughter cases to Dooley?”

“It’s not like manslaughter, Inspector. Captain Wade sent him over. He says he killed a man with a cane!”

“A cane!” The cigar tumbled out of Eldred’s mouth. “Well for — what are you waiting for? Shoot him in here!”

Eldred’s black eyes blinked at his men. “Did I say we clean up murders quick?”

Daventry scowled. “Don’t count on it, Jim. Murder is a long, long business.”

Entering, the newcomer was tall and gaunt with a stooped question mark of a body. The natural position of the chin was just inches short of the hollow chest. He was like a man who had leaned over a fence for years, staring at the ground. His black hair was thin, grey at the temples.

He wore an oxford grey suit, frayed slightly at the cuffs and elbows. His long white fingers clutched a stump of brown cane, clotted with red and knobbed with a cylinder of gold. An icy glaze sealed the horror in his eyes. Here was a man, thought Daventry, who had looked on fear, had fought it, and had not escaped. He edged forward with little shuffling jerks as though his next move might be either to throw himself helplessly on his knees or to bolt wildly from the room.

“My name — is — William Fitzjames.” The voice was a hoarse rattle in his throat. A uniformed sergeant moved in behind him and closed the door.

“Sit down, Fitzjames,” Eldred said smoothly. “This is Lieutenant Daventry, Lieutenant Brown.”

Daventry glided out of his chair, swung it neatly behind the visitor, and scooped him toward the desk.

The inspector accepted the extend piece of cane from the visitor. He fitted the ragged points neatly with the broken stub on his desk.

“Talk about making ends meet!” he gloated, but his pleasure ended suddenly in a tight snarl of the lips. “Why did you do it, Fitzjames?”

“I killed a man,” the visitor breathed “We are aware of that. Why did you do it?”

The expression was glassy. “I don’t know.”

“Really?” The inspector nodded at his lieutenants as if to say, “Well, here comes a new song-and-dance!”

“I don’t know how to tell it. The whole thing sounds so fantastic — “

“Mmmhhh.” Eldred could evoke a sneer without moving his lips.

“It started on the street car.”

“Indeed. What street car?”

The man seemed to grope backward into his mind.

“I think he could do better without your help, Jim,” Daventry drawled.

Eldred frowned and huddled deep into his chair. “I’m waiting!” he snapped.

The story came in fragments at first, wrung out of the lips and out of something deeper than the lips. Then it seemed to disentangle itself from the emotions and to tumble forth faster and faster until at last it fairly emptied out of him, as though he hoped by the violence of his outburst to eject the total substance of terror:

“I always ride the same car … Same seat … The ‘G’ car on Brewster. At Seventh Street. Five-forty every night … I’m like that. I mean — I always do the same things … at the same times. What people call ‘being in a rut.’ I’m like that ….

“It started with the eyes … I mean there was a man who always rides — always rode the same car. I hardly noticed him, except that he was a short man with black hair and a black mustache. He always wore the same black hat and topcoat, and the coat had a kind of silk lapel … You don’t see coats like that anymore … very often ….

“One day — I don’t know what day exactly — it was different. I mean there was something different. I thought it was the eyes. The way they looked at me. I felt them first. I really mean I felt them. That’s what I mean the thing sounds fantastic. How can you feel a man’s eyes?

“I did feel them, though. Anyway, I turned one day and there they were way back in the end of the car. They were looking right at me, and at nothing else. Nothing else whatsoever ….

“Now, ordinarily you wouldn’t think about a thing like that, but he had never done it before that I ever noticed. I did get to thinking about it. I thought about it so much that I caught him doing it the next night. How can I tell you how strange it was? A man has a right to stare at anybody if he wants to, hasn’t he? But I tell you his eyes never once let go of me on that long, long ride to Glenarm. Never, never once did they let go of me!

“The eyes were not all. He began creeping up on me. Oh, not really creeping. This was more horrible because he wasn’t really doing anything he shouldn’t. He just kept moving closer on the street car. I mean each night he would be one seat closer, or two seats, or three. Always closer ….

“Now, I had known for a long time that this man got on the car at the same corner I did, because when you have to stand and wait you tend to notice the people around you. But it wasn’t until this — this queer sensation started that I noticed he got off at my corner too … That wasn’t a change of his habits, though, because when I got to thinking about it, I remembered that he always had gotten off at my corner.

~ End of Sample ~