Fear by Pettersen Marzoni
Crime

Fear

by Pettersen Marzoni

THE RED FILE | Feb. 26, 2017 | Vol. 1 No. 5 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef44

John Barnes found the perfect scheme to get rid of his penny-pinching partner. But when a clerk blackmailed him for more and more control of the company, how far would he let the man go before his anger overwhelmed his fear of exposure?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

A Long Story

Hartley Brentwood, of Barnes, Brentwood and Company, was found in his apartment at 6 o’clock in the morning with a bullet wound in his head and a half-smoked cigarette in his fingers.

“Yes, I killed him,” John Barnes, senior member of the firm, told Inspector Thorne, of the police department, three hours later when that officer found him at his country place. “I am ready to go with you.”

The tragedy had shocked the world of finance and society. Barnes and Brentwood were the only members of the firm of Barnes, Brentwood and Company, bankers, which controlled the destinies of half the country’s industries. For fifteen years, they had been business associates and leaders in finance.

Barnes had made no attempt to avoid arrest — none even to hide his crime. An elevator boy had seen him leave Brentwood’s apartment late the night before. The shot apparently had not been heard, because Brentwood’s body had not been discovered until that morning by his valet.

“Why did you do it?” Thorne asked the banker the usual question, but he did it with unusual interest. He had been searching for a motive on his way out, but he could vision none.

They were on the train then, returning to New York. Barnes offered to use one of his cars for the short ride, but Thorne was afraid to take a chance in spite of his apparent submission. Before Barnes answered, he looked toward the gleam of metal under his sleeves where the handcuffs showed.

“Would you mind holding a cigar for me, Inspector?”

Thorne looked at him a moment, then leaned over and unlocked the cuffs.

“It’s a long story,” Barnes began, with a sigh of relief as he drew deep on his cigar.

Back to Top

Chapter 2

I Didn’t Argue

Fifteen years ago my firm was Landis and Barnes. We were bankers and brokers of the old school. At least Landis was. Conservative, more conservative than there was any need for. We had a safe business, but there was nothing in it. When I had started in as a clerk for old man Landis my one ambition had been to get in the firm. He was a leader then and he looked like he had a grip on the world. But when I did arrive I saw it was only a beginning.

Landis wasn’t really old physically, but his ideas were old. Younger men all around him had passed him in the race for money. He really didn’t care an awful lot about making money. I liked him but I had to get ahead. It was just bom in me. However, he controlled the business and poohpoohed every real idea I brought to him.

We went right on making money his way, but it wasn’t my way. I knew it was the time to cut loose for big things and I started planning on them. I couldn’t leave Landis, because I needed his help for a while.

Just about that time Brentwood came to work for me. I had insisted on a private secretary. Landis never could see the need of one. I even had trouble persuading him to hire enough stenographers. He wasn’t tight — he just couldn’t see the need of them. But I insisted on the secretary idea. I needed one; it wasn’t a question of style; so Brentwood came in with me from the main office.

You know what he looked like recently. Then he was only about 25, and he was handsome. He had played football at college — fenced, too, I believe. He showed the results of both in his size and manner. He was one of those men who look like statues or models for clothes advertisements. I believe that was one reason I took him. I didn’t go to college myself. Didn’t have time — had to make money.

Brentwood was always well-dressed. He wasn’t making much, but I believe he had a small income from some money an aunt had left him. Besides that I hadn’t heard then of any vices he had. Of course, he took a drink now and then and he smoked, but no one ever called him a spendthrift.

He had a social position — I didn’t — and he went places then I couldn’t get in. I never wanted to. Don’t get the idea I was jealous about that.

I got everything in the world I wanted, even if I did have to pay for them. I wanted money, because money was power and power was my dream. I have both. At least I had them until last night.

Whatever had made me bring Brentwood into my office as private secretary, he justified my choice before he had been with me a week. He started right in taking minor details off my hands. I had more time for getting some of my big plans straightened out.

But the size of my plans didn’t help me any. Landis was a fool. If we made six per cent he was satisfied. If we made eight he thought we were beginning to speculate, and if we made ten, which happened as often as he let me have my way, he thought it was illegal. I wonder what the old man would say if he had lived until now.

I wasn’t going to be tied down to a rock like that, and by the time Brentwood had been with me a year I had too much time on my hands to stand it any longer. Then I hit on the scheme.

I would have preferred to do it with Landis. He had been good to me, but what I had in mind I couldn’t even talk to him about. He would have fixed it so I couldn’t get in with anyone else. I needed his money and other things he had. They made the thing possible so I went after someone else.

Even though Landis wouldn’t listen, other firms had been getting a line on me. Whenever the firm put over anything big they all I knew I did it.

You remember Old Tom King. Crooked as a snake, but he knew how to make money. I had met him at lunch once or twice, but he had kept track of me, I knew, from things he said. He never ate anything but crackers and milk. He saw me order the same one day, so he took more interest in me. I thought he would.

When I decided it was time to put over my scheme, I picked out King for the second man. It took two of us. I knew he would be the best I could find and he would be willing to do it, too. But I had to tie him up some way. I had made up my mind that I would double-cross Landis if I had to, but I was going to protect myself.

I went to King’s house one night and told him my plan. Not all of it, just enough for him to see that it would work if properly handled. He wanted to know everything, but I wouldn’t tell him unless he consented to sign an agreement to put the thing through.

That agreement was a risky thing, because what we were going to do would put us both in jail, if we were found out. He objected to putting his name to anything, but I convinced him of the big possibilities, and he said he would sign.

You couldn’t take a single chance with King, so I went to my office that night to get the agreement ready. I knew how to use the typewriter, so I wrote it out. I made a carbon copy for myself.

It was not eight o’clock the next morning when I reached my office. I was so anxious to get the deal started and through with I hadn’t slept any, and I wanted to be down where things were going to happen. I was surprised to hear the typewriter clicking when I let myself in, and there was Brentwood. I wondered what had brought him down so early, and he offered a pile of letters as a reason, so I felt satisfied.

By nine o’clock King had signed the agreement, and when the market opened we started to work. You remember when C & Q broke about 50 points. King and I made a fortune, but it broke Landis. He lost his head when he saw the market slipping, because most of his money had been tied up in C & Q. He tried to hold it up, but we had our plans worked out too well. We sold short and I delivered Landis’s stock until we could cover. We did all right.

Landis lost his nerve with his money and shot himself. I was sorry, because I had liked him and he had a wife and a boy. But he had no business in the game anyway. I was glad he hadn’t connected me with the break. No one else did either.

About six months after Landis was dead I took over the business as Barnes and Company.

I saved a little money out of the wreck for Mrs. Landis and she was comfortable. She was a fine woman and my little girl Lucia played and went to dancing school with her boy.

Everything started out fine for me. Landis’s conservative reputation helped me out then on account of the time we had been together and I had plenty of money to back up anything I started. I had every chance in the world.

Then this hound Brentwood began. I had put him in charge of one of the departments in the new firm and he was making good. He had been there about three months when he came up to my house one night.

He had been there before, at formal dinners once or twice when my wife had thought it necessary to entertain, but there had never been any friendship between us.

This night he asked for me and came into the library. I was feeling pretty good. I had put over a fair-sized deal that day and dinner had been comfortable. We didn’t have any guests.

I was surprised at the visit, but I didn’t let on. I offered him a drink and a cigar. He refused the cigar and lighted one of his own cigarettes. Always had ’em made for him, he told me. He didn’t waste any remarks about the weather or my health.

“When are you thinking of increasing the firm, Mr. Barnes?” he began.

That surprised me. Nothing I had ever said to him had indicated any intention of taking in any partners. I didn’t need any. All I needed was money and room. I had had two partners and I didn’t want any more. Landis was dead and King, too, had died about a month before. Apoplexy, I believe.

At first I started to bawl him out, but I thought better of it. Maybe he was trying to lead up to some idea with a joke. I had been with Landis too long and saw how much a man could lose by not listening to ideas.

“Do you want to buy in?” I asked him. If he did have any scheme I was ready to listen to it in the hope it was worth while.

He seemed to be surprised. He knew I had a temper. He had been in my office for a year. I guess he was all set for a fight right away. But he smiled and went on:

“Not buy exactly, but I think it can be arranged to suit us both.”

“Like hell, you do!” I yelled.

I was more than surprised. I thought he must have gone crazy, but I didn’t like his smile. He didn’t say anything, just sat there and smiled at me.

He didn’t look like a crazy man, and I began to wonder. All the time he had been with me he had been perfectly sane and he had never tried to joke. He was efficient and always on the job. What had happened to make him start out like he had was a mystery to me.

“What do you mean? Have you been drinking or dreaming?” I tried to keep myself in hand, because at the back of my brain something had started to stir. Men with brains don’t usually have crazy schemes, and I knew he hadn’t been drinking and he wasn’t the sort to dream without something to base it on.

I began to think of reasons for him getting up the nerve to say what he did.

It took nerve and something else. I had never let him in on anything, and outside of the deal with King there hadn’t been anything that could really cause trouble. And that King deal was safe. I had written the only papers in the thing myself. After the deal was over King and I had taken care to burn them.

But he had to have some reason, and I was losing my temper again. All the while he just sat.

“Listen, Brentwood,” I told him then, “I don’t know what you are talking about, but the only satisfactory arrangement you can reach with me is to be ready to find another job by the first of the month. You are leaving us then.”

“I am afraid you are wrong, Mr. Barnes,” and he reached into his pocket. He brought out a leather case and from it he took something and unfolded it very carefully.

I couldn’t make out what it was at first. It was black, about the size of a letter sheet, then I saw it was a piece of carbon paper.

Even then I didn’t get on right away. “Did you ever see this before?” and he held it up for me to see.

The marks of the typewriter stood out. I couldn’t read them but I knew what it was. I remembered the morning of my deal with King and Brentwood being down at the office early. When I wrote the agreement with King I forgot all about the carbon paper. I really didn’t realize until then that the carbon would carry any record. I must have just dumped it into the wastebasket when I finished.

Brentwood was watching me, and he must have known what I was thinking.

“What is it anyway?” and I tried to keep my voice what it had been before. But I was beginning to get nervous. I had been learning things about Brentwood ever since he began the conversation.

“Do you want me to read it to you, Mr. Barnes?”

As he asked the question he smiled again. I had stood all of that smile I was going to. It must have made me lose my head. I couldn’t take a chance on that thing coming out with Landis not yet dead a year. I had to have that piece of carbon.

He sidestepped me as I rushed and grabbed me from behind. I told you he bad played football.

“There is no need for excitement, Barnes,” he dropped the “Mr.” then. “You can’t get this away from me without killing me. You had better listen to reason.”

I saw I couldn’t manhandle him. I never have been a strong man, and his grip on my wrists was like iron.

“Well, say what you’ve got to say,” I managed to control my temper long enough to get it out.

“Suppose we outline a few possibilities first,” he began. “There isn’t a chance of convicting you of anything by this piece of carbon paper by itself. The district attorney couldn’t use it as evidence without something to back it up. But what happened to C & Q about nine months ago everyone knows.

This little piece of paper tells what was going to happen before it ever did. It also mentions the matter of Landis’s stock. Old King may be dead, but he still has a grip on you.

“I don’t want to take this to the district attorney. I wouldn’t have to, as far as that goes. Public opinion would be enough, if I made this public. It would be an unpleasant scandal and it might be hard for me to get located profitably after having been so intimately connected with you.

Besides there isn’t anything one-tenth so good as what you can give me. For a twenty per cent interest in the firm I will tuck this little piece of paper away in a safe deposit vault and the world will move merrily on.”

He had turned me loose and we were sitting facing each other. I believe then was the first time I had ever had a good look at his eyes. They were close together and there was a kind of murky green fire playing around way down deep. His whole face was different.

There wasn’t anything to it. I argued with him about how the district attorney would laugh at his romantic idea of using a piece of carbon paper, but he had me scared and he knew it. Then I agreed to his plan with an amendment that he burn the paper.

He laughed then, and it was a long way from a chuckle. He must be laughing like that now, knowing what is going to happen to me.

“Burn it, and let you get me like you did Landis,” he wanted to know. “I know you, Barnes, and there is nothing you wouldn’t do to make money. My proposition is made and it goes. You can take it or leave it.”

I took another look at that face, and I agreed. He smiled then and drew out a little pile of papers from his pocket.

One was articles of agreement for the partnership, providing for the change of the firm name. The others were notices for the papers of the change. I signed them all and then I wondered how he had happened to look for the carbon. I hated to ask him, but I had to know.

“You have a bad habit of leaving things around,” he told me when I did ask. “Besides that I have been with you long enough to see your crooked brain work. I saw you make a play at Old King one day at lunch. You remember, the day you had crackers and milk. I knew you usually had roast beef and all the vegetables you could find on the menu, finishing up with pie.

“I saw you meet him other times, and I knew that you were discussing trouble for someone.

“You may not remember, but I helped you check over the securities in the Landis safe deposit box one day. Then I began to watch you. I knew something was coming, and that you would make a fortune. I wasn’t going to be left out.

“The night before you went up to King’s house you did a little figuring on your scheme. You burned some of the papers, I found the ashes, but you must have crumpled up one of them without thinking about it. I don’t mind telling you I found it in your wastebasket. I had discovered a search of that basket every night was usually worth while.

“I heard you call Mrs. Barnes and tell her you were not coming home for dinner, and I followed you until I saw you safely in King’s house.

“When I came down next morning I met the night watchman leaving and he remarked that you must be trying to check me up, because you had been down to the office the night before using the typewriter. You see I had a pretty clear trail.”

The cigar I smoked that night was the last comfortable one I have had until this. There hasn’t been a moment, until last night, that I haven’t thought about that piece of carbon paper. And don’t think Brentwood let me forget about it either.

He didn’t mention it for a year. Then he came in and remarked that he thought he was growing more valuable as a member of the firm. I wasn’t quite cowed then and I let myself go for a minute, but he brought me up sharp. Oh, he had me, all right. I agreed.

The next time came about two years later. He asked me up to his apartment to dinner that night. I went, and he asked for another five per cent. There wasn’t any argument at all.

Don’t think that Brentwood wasn’t making good. He had a genius for finance. He never had a scheme that failed. Of course, we didn’t make millions out of everything he brought up, but we never lost and he worked hard.

My dinner engagements with him came about every two years, which brought us up to six months ago. I never had anything to do with him outside of the office except at dinners at my house, formal dinners, when he was just one of the guests.

Each time I went to his place he had a five per cent larger interest in the firm. The last time left him with a full half.

I had begun to take it for granted. I knew that every two years I would have to eat all alone with him and listen to his rotten talk about women. He was a cad, and he knew I hated his stories. That’s the reason he told them.

Then after dinner he would make his same smiling demand and there was nothing for me to do.

Did I tell you that I hadn’t had a peaceful moment since he showed me that paper? I couldn’t tell my wife about it. She is a wonderful woman. She doesn’t even suspect that I was mixed up in the Landis affair.

You are the first human being I have been able to tell this thing to after fifteen years of living it. Fifteen years is a long time. I don’t want your sympathy. It’s all over now and I want to get it off my mind.

But that doesn’t make any difference about my shooting Brentwood. As I said, he called on me last about six months ago. I thought then that I would have two more years of almost peace, when something else came up.

You may have seen a picture of my daughter Lucia. It was published last winter when she made her debut. She is her mother all over again, and I am just “daddy” to her.

She has always been my pal, since she was a little girl. And she is now, too.

Anyway, she made her debut last winter, and Brentwood started coming to the house more frequently. I would come home in the afternoon and find him at tea. My wife asked him to dinner two or three times, just with the family. She had never seen him ask for a larger share of the firm.

It kept up so that I began to have a big fear, bigger than my fear of Brentwood and his carbon paper. Suppose my girl should fall in love with him.

A couple of nights ago by some chance she was staying at home. She came into the library where I was trying to read, and I decided to try to find out how much she liked Brentwood.

She came over and sat on the arm of my chair and pulled my hair.

“Where is Brentwood tonight?” I started to question her.

“Pining away in some dark den, probably. I refused to let him come up. I told him it was daddy’s night.”

I patted her hand, but still that didn’t mean anything.

“It seems to me he is coming around pretty frequently these days.”

“You are not the only one who thinks so,” and she blushed.

Fathers may be stupid, but I knew my daughter and there was a great load gone off my mind.

“Who is he?” I tried to be very stern.

Then she slipped down into my lap and told me it was young Landis. The boy had more push than his father and was a comer. I liked him. They had decided that he was to come to see me the next day, and she had stayed at home to tell me about it. Her mother had already given her approval.

Young Landis came to see me yesterday. I liked the way he talked and I told him I was glad that Lucia had chosen him. When he left I felt so good I told Brentwood about it. I had to tell someone, because it meant so much to have my girl happy. He said that Landis was to be congratulated and left it at that.

His manner meant nothing to me, and I had about decided to give myself a half holiday, when he came into my office and invited me to dinner that night. He saw I was happy and he wasn’t going to let me be. He knew I wouldn’t refuse to go.

I went.

Everybody knows that now. He was just the same at dinner as ever. The same boasting of his amours. I managed to live through it, because all the time my mind was busy wondering whether I could argue him out of asking for a larger share of the firm right at present. I wanted to give Lucia and Landis a start and I had to get all the returns I could get to do it properly.

But it wasn’t money he was after.

“I am not going to keep you in suspense, Barnes,” Brentwood began. “The reason I invited you up here immediately was to prevent you making the mistake you did this morning. It will never do for you to announce Lucia’s engagement to too many people. They might not understand it later.”

“Understand what?” I demanded. I didn’t need an answer. I knew what he meant, but I had to have him say it.

“Because, Barnes, you will have to arrange for her to marry me.”

I didn’t argue.

I shot him.

Back to Top

Chapter 3

The Carbon Paper

Barnes finished his story as the train was crashing over the switches of the Grand Central. When they reached the station, the banker reached out his wrists for the handcuffs, but Thorne apparently didn’t see the movement, as he led the way out.

After Thorne had deposited his prisoner at the Tombs, his one thought was the piece of carbon paper in Brentwood’s safe deposit box. A brief sketch of Barnes’s story procured an order for his entry to the box.

Buried under a mass of bonds, securities and letters Thorne found an unmarked envelope. In it was a piece of carbon paper, carefully folded once.

The detective had brought a mirror with him, and he held it before the carbon to read the damning evidence. With staring eyes he read:

Mr. Blair Townley,
Chairman Charity Ball Committee.

Dear Sir:

On instructions from Mr. Barnes I am enclosing herewith a check for $10 for tickets No. 313 and No. 314 to the Charity Ball.

~ The End ~

Back to Top