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SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL
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After Midnight by Marthé Neville
For a moment her white lips quivered. "I — I — there's a dead man out there by the green-houses."
Amateur Sleuth

After Midnight

by Marthé Neville

Black Mask | Aug. 1920 | Vol. 1, No. 5 THE RED FILE | Mar. 12, 2017 | Vol. 3 No. 11 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef24

Willoughby is jealous of his wife's relationship with the new gardner. But who is the mysterious man and how does a faithful wife's relationship with him lead to murder?

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Table of Contents
  1. The Gardner
  2. The Body of A Man, Unquestionably Dead
  3. It Is Murder
  4. No Indication of Foul Play
  5. Mr. Allering
  6. The Dead Man Took A Drink
  7. No. 9672
  8. The Fine Art of Poisoning

Chapter 1

The Gardner

“Good night, Mr. Lannen,” Louis Willoughby extended her hand.

“We breakfast at nine,” she said “I’ll see you then. I hope you sleep well.”

“Thank you, I’m sure I shall.”

She gathered the folds of an embroidered chiffon gown about her and slowly mounted the stairs. Lannen stood leaning against the newel post and watched her ascend.

As he turned away, he faced his host. The cold metallic glitter in the older man’s black eyes gave him a strange uncomfortable feeling.

“Well?” said Willoughby.

“She’s charming, Andrew; you should be proud of her. She has improved wonderfully in the three years since I saw her.”

A slow smile crept about the drawn lips of the physician. It did not extend to his eyes, but became lost in the heavy mustache and Van Dyke beard he wore.

Lannen again shivered. The snaky glitter in his physician-friend’s eyes fascinated him. He wondered if it could be true; that the woman who had just left him, with purity written on every curve and line of her, could be the wanton thing her husband fancied; that she had so forgotten herself and her social position as to stoop to an intrigue with her gardener.

It seemed impossible of Louise Willoughby. Yet many changes had taken place during the three years he had been abroad. He had not known her well before his departure, perhaps he did not know her at all now.

“Come up into my laboratory,” Willoughby said suddenly.

He closed the windows and switched off all the lights with the exception of one held in a bronze Venus at the foot of the stairs.

“Andy,” Lannen said as they entered the heavily odorous room, “I’d rather you said nothing more about this to me. Some day you will be sorry for having taken me into your confidence; and then our friendship will end. There are some things a man has no right to discuss with another. I don’t need to remind you of that. This is one of them!”

“I’ve got to talk to some or go mad! You think it’s my imagination! You think I’m a jealous fool! I tell you I know. From the day that man came here, she has been different. I’ve watched them—I’ve seen his arm around her, I’ve heard him call her Louise—”

He broke, and buried his head on his arms he had flung on the table before him.

Lannen gripped his shoulder and shook him. “Why don’t you send him away?”

Willoughby raised his bloodshot eyes. “And admit defeat? Give him the pleasure of saying he was fired because Andrew ‘Willoughby’s wife fell in love with him!—Never! Besides—” he sprang to his feet, and paced the little room nervously, his long hands with their gnarled crooked fingers, stained with chemicals, twitching and pulling at his coat as he walked “—how do I know that she won’t go with him if I send him away ?”

Lannen remembered the brief glimpse he had had of the gardener. A slim tall fellow, little more than a boy, with close cropped dark hair, a pale almost ethereal face, a quiet unassuming manner.

“How long has he been here?”

“Allering? Six weeks!”

Willoughby hit the glass-topped table nervously. As he did so a tiny vial of amber covered liquid fell over, knocking the stopper out of it. A pungent sickish odor filled the room. The doctor gave a startled cry.

Flinging a small rubber blanket over the table, he lifted the vial gingerly. He placed the stopper back in it, carefully keeping it away from his face. Then he covered it with the rubber. He had become ashen colored. As though unable to speak, he motioned to Lannen to throw up the windows.

“Damn careless of me,” he muttered a moment later.

He placed the bottle high up in a cabinet above him, then he locked the door of the chest. “Damn careless. It’s an experiment of mine, Arthur. Dy’e feel alright?”

Lannen laughed uneasily. “I shouldn’t care to remain in here long with that odor. It’s heady, to say the least.”

Willoughby poured some liquid from another bottle into a small glass and handed it to him; then he took a draught of it himself. “Drink this. It will overcome the effects of the other.”

Suddenly he became tense. The glitter in his eyes became more pronounced.

He seemed to be listening to something. The warm salt air blowing through the window brought a hint of the distant sea—and something else.

“What is it?” Lannen gasped.

The quivering of Willoughby’s wide nostrils, the sudden snapping of the glass’s stem intrigued him.

“Listen!”

A long sort of growl—then a long drawn howl from a dog some place not far off was all Lannen heard. There was another howl, then silence. The color came back to the physician’s face. He smiled apologetically.

Lannen stared at him in bewilderment.

“What is it?” he asked again.

“I—I thought I heard her come down the stairs. I was listening to hear if he met her!” The man’s tongue seemed to be thick. He spoke with difficulty.

“Buck up, old man, buck up!” Lannen gave him a reassuring slap on the shoulder, but at the same time he glanced apprehensively over his shoulder out of the window toward the gardens beyond.

Again the long rumbling howl of the dog penetrated the night air. The older man suddenly lurched forward into a chair and began to sob in a broken hearted way. At that moment Lannen fancied he saw a face at the open window, but before he could ascertain whether it was his imagination or not, it had vanished; but to him it seemed he had seen a young pale face with smouldering dark eyes and close cropped hair.

“Whew!” he exclaimed. “What’s wrong with me?”

~ End of Sample ~


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