The Half-Asleep Girl by William H. Kofoed
Amateur Sleuth

The Half-Asleep Girl

by William H. Kofoed

Black Mask | Nov. 1920 | Vol. 2, No. 2 THE RED FILE | Apr. 9, 2017 | Vol. 2 No. 8 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef37

When wealthy young Fleming Metcalf Knibbs is robbed by a sleepy-eyed young girl, he finds himself drawn to her and the mystery of who she is and what role she plays in the murder of John Ulrich, found dead in her invalid uncle’s room. Is she an innocent victim or a cold-blooded killer and thief?

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Table of Contents
  1. The Girl
  2. The Street
  3. A Meagre Clue
  4. The Housewives’ Tales
  5. As In A Dream
  6. The Paralytic Talent

Chapter 1

The Girl

The street was squalid, dirty.

On either side a row of rickety frame houses, leaning like drunken sailors one upon the other, warned idle trespassers of the character of the neighborhood. The few people who traversed it now in the autumn twilight walked quickly and with many a furtive, sidewise glance, as though in some ancient land of gnomes and ogres, where, behind every wall, lurked an unknown horror.

That is, all but young Fleming Metcalf Knibbs. It is doubtful that Knibbs could achieve the furtive if his life depended on it. He was one of those straightforward chaps who insist that black is black, and, even though a sizable check be the inducement, refuse to call it gray. Of course, in reality, no check could possibly prove an inducement to young Knibbs, as his private fortune was known to flirt with seven figures; but the comparison is nonetheless illuminating on that account.

Nor was he without a sense of humor, or of balance: humor enough to enjoy all phases of life, balance enough to realize that not in money alone does one find happiness.

But his humor bordered on the romantic and adventurous, almost indiscreetly so. He was given to prowling in little-frequented quarters, and every now and again he would get himself in trouble, which he enjoyed hugely.

Moving along the sordid thoroughfare, his ever-curious eyes taking in its details, young Knibbs came at length to a house more rickety, if possible, than the rest, whose door was at that moment slowly opening. In the shadow he glimpsed white-stockinged ankles and slippers below a dark skirt.

Knibbs was passing as the girl descended the steps. Her movements were so softly gliding as to be almost ethereal, and, visualizing her as emerging from a haze, he recalled a famous picture of a wood nymph shrouded in twilight mist. At first her face was indistinct, then suddenly he caught it, like a ray of light, and stood transfixed by its strange charm.

And now he saw her quite unromantically catch the heel of one slipper on the edge of a step and reach wildly for support. This impulsive movement sent the other slipper flying through the air. It described a graceful arc and landed on the sidewalk. The girl sat down heavily.

Fleming Knibbs congratulated himself on this heaven-sent opportunity to acquaint himself with her, as he stooped and retrieved the itinerant slipper. He turned, smiling pleasantly.

“Allow me,” he said, and fitted it to her unshod foot.

“Thank you.” Her voice was drowsy, as though it were early morning and she had just arisen.

He looked at her sharply. “You’re not hurt?”

“Not at all,” she replied in the same monotone, getting to her feet. She was an extremely pretty girl, Knibbs noted again, and wondered at finding her in this contrasting environment. He fell in step beside her, inquiring meanwhile if he might escort her to her destination.

“If you wish,” she conceded.

She was obviously tired, physically or mentally or both. Fleming’s interest was intrigued.

And now they found themselves in a more populated section. The street grew crooked. Situated in the tenderloin’s heart, it turned and twisted convulsively, a veritable aorta of floating human derelicts writhing toward the river and a cheap amusement park on its banks. But the girl avoided the park, turning in an opposite direction. The crowd began to thin out.

At the last corner, across from innumerable shadowy wharves, and reveling in an unaccountable river stench, stood a wobbly fruit stand illuminated by a single flaring gas jet. Dirty, flimsy wooden baskets containing all manner of fruits and vegetables tipped their rims partly toward the curb and partly toward the dark heavens, while here and there a shadowy head of cabbage peeped out upon this dreary vista. On a soap box by the stand, and directly under the uncertain light, sat a mere boy, thin of limb and vicious of feature, hunched intently over a Yiddish newspaper.

They passed this last outpost of the underworld, Fleming’s curiosity growing apace. On the left stretched acres of slimy marshes, and beyond, only faintly discernible in the growing darkness, the river. It was too much for young Knibbs. He stopped in his tracks.

“What—?” he began, and then his mouth opened in surprise and astonishment, and he concluded “—the devil!”

For a blunt automatic had been thrust against his ribs, and the girl in the dark skirt and white slippers was talking to him in her soft, sleepy drawl: “Be still, or I shall have to shoot you.”

Then deliberately she set about “frisking” him. Her slender fingers plucked his scarfpin, his watch and at length found the inner pocket of his coat and his wallet.

She was talking again. “Now, then, stand as you are.” She began backing away. “I am watching you. If you move an inch—”

~ End of Sample ~

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