A Detective Agency
I want it distinctly understood that I have nothing whatever to do with the GI Protective Bureau. A lot of people have been asking questions, just because I happen to know a couple of the guys that run it. I know how the whole thing started, and to prove I am not involved in any way I’ll tell it just the way they told it to me.
These guys—Benny Swartz and Herbie Peters—get an idea Chicago could do with a little more law and order.
They have pretty good reasons for thinking that. They’re not back in town two days when burglars rob police headquarters of $10,000. The next day some thief steals all the buns out of the police cafeteria. And right after that thugs snatch the Mayor’s limousine for a get-away car, apparently after shooting down one of Buck Clancy’s smartest contact boys. Buck Clancy, as everybody in Chicago knows, is the undercover boss for a lot of profitable rackets.
“This,” says Benny firmly, “has gone far enough. It’s time something was done about crooks disregarding the code this way!”
“Which code?” asks Herbie.
“The code for cops and robbers,” says Benny. “Chicago has long been an outstanding example for playing that game according to the rules. And it is strictly not according to Hoyle for crooks to pick on the police department—even for a joke.”
“I don’t think these guys were joking,” says Herbie. “But is it any of our business? We got problems of our own, figuring out what kind of work we’re gonna do now that we’re civilians again. I don’t think Mr. Milligan is gonna pay our bills in this high class dump forever, even if he is a millionaire, and Mug Milligan’s old man. Just because we’re pals of Mug’s is no reason why his old man should be willing to support all three of us, and furthermore—”
“You don’t get it,” says Benny, folding up the newspaper and slapping it down on the breakfast tray. “It’s psy-“
“Psychology?” Herbie wrinkles up his face and looks baffled. “Then I sure don’t get it. All I know is, Mr. Milligan says for us to get busy and figure out a project that all three of us can work on. You and me and Mug Milligan. In my book that means we got to start earnin’ our own living right away. Not only you and me, but even his own son—”
“Sure, sure,” says Benny, standing up and surveying himself in a mirrored door. He is a small, wiry guy with shrewd black eyes and a sharp nose. He is attired at the moment in black and yellow striped pajamas and a bright cerise robe. He nods at himself like he is satisfied and pulls a cigarette out of his pocket.
“Psychology,” he says, “works in all directions. All you got to do is take advantage of it, and you’re promotin’ a sure thing.”
“Promotin’!” snorts Herbie, easing his big frame out of a delicate pink and gold chair. “You’re always promotin’. I may not be smart about psychology, but I got sense enough to know this: old Mr. Milligan didn’t get to be a millionaire by lettin’ other guys promote him for this and that.”
“Sure not,” agrees Benny. “He got what he wanted by lettin’ other guys promote what they wanted. It’s complicated, but just take our case for an example. We get acquainted with Mug Milligan out at that rehabilitation center in Arizona. That was no accident. The head doc rigged it up because he was worried about Mug Milligan. The surgeons have patched up the burned places and given Mug an artificial foot, but he is still full of depression, even if he has got a swell home and a millionaire father in Chicago. So the doc looks around for somebody that’s worse off than Mug in one way or another, and he picks on us. Which is smart. We’re not in such bad shape physically as Mug is. All you got is a bum leg from shell fragments;, and all I got is wheezy lungs from a chest wound. But we’re not depressed, even if we don’t have no homes to go back to, and not very good prospects of being able to handle our pre-war jobs. Now do you begin to get it? That’s psychology.”
“Yeah. Okay,” says Herbie, trying hard. “So that’s why you were handin’ Mug all that sob stuff about us bein’ happy to be goin’ back to Chicago and sittin’ on the corner of Randolph and Clark sellin’ apples. You even had me believin’ it!”
“Now you got it,” says Benny. “And it worked, too. Pretty soon Mug started worrying about us instead of his depression, and then he begun to figure maybe he better do something about it. So that’s how it happens we were all shipped back to Chicago together. And that’s why Mug’s father tells us to get busy right away on a project. Mug is supposed to think he’s helping us earn our living, and we’re supposed to think we got to work like hell to make good so Mug won’t lose interest and take away his father’s financial backing.”
“Yeah. Okay,” says Herbie, looking somewhat enlightened. “Now all we got to do is figure out a project that’s suited to a former sales promoter, a former truck driver, and a former millionaire playboy. That’s all we got to do.”
“Get dressed,” says Benny, sliding out of his brilliant robe and placing it carefully on a hanger. “We got a project. What Chicago needs most right now is more protection from crooks. We’re gonna open a modern bureau of crime prevention. All the latest up-to- date methods in the investigation and solution of illegal acts perpetrated against the person, property and peace of mind of the citizens of Chicago.”
“Oh,” says Herbie, stepping into the shower, “a detective agency.”
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A Good Home-Grown Murder
Ten days later Benny is promoting a little publicity by feeding Bill Faris a deluxe lunch at the Palmer House. Bill is a reporter with the Chicago Sun and he listens politely while demolishing a rare and costly steak.
“You got to admit it’s a wonderful set-up,” says Benny enthusiastically. “With President Matthew Milligan supplying the contacts for our socially prominent clientele, and Secretary Herbert Peters handling the strong arm tactics, and myself, Treasurer Benjamin Swartz doing the brain work, the GI Protective Bureau is bound to be a success.”
“I don’t see how you can miss,” agrees Bill with his mouth full, “with old Patrick Milligan backing you.”
“That,” says Benny, “is a minor detail. In fact, I’d be willing to lay you ten to one that Mr. Milligan cleans up on his investment within a year’s time. I’d like to have you meet my partners and take a look around our suite of offices. That’ll give you a better idea of the fine contribution we are making to law and order in the City of Chicago.”
Thoroughly satisfied and somewhat mellowed, Bill Faris allows himself to be conducted to the Field Building, where Benny proudly opens the door to a modernistic layout straight from Hollywood.
The reception room is bathed in a soft light from concealed fixtures. The deep taupe carpet and twilight blue walls are accented with enlarged pictures of scarlet poppies, and make a perfect background for the curvaceous bleached blond furniture. But the curvaceous bleached blonde receptionist ruins the picture.
She is lying on the taupe carpet beside her curved desk with an ugly bullet hole between her eyes, and scarlet streams outlining her features.
Benny stands there, paralyzed with shock, until Bill Faris shoves him out of the way and closes the door. He steps noiselessly across the carpet and crouches to feel the blonde’s limp wrist. He puts it down quick and back away again, staring hard at Benny.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” says Benny weakly.
“There is nothing,” says Bill Faris flatly, “like a good home-grown murder to start off a new detective agency. Where are those fine successful partners of yours?”
Benny starts coming back to life and leads the way to the inner offices. There is a carpeted hall with four private rooms opening off that. Three doors are lettered with the names of the firm’s three officers. The fourth is the library and consultation room. All are brightly new and unoccupied.
“That’s funny,” Benny mumbles. “I don’t know why they should go out, when they knew I was bringing you up here—”
“It’s very unfunny,” says Bill, reaching for the phone. “As you are about to find out!”
“Hey! Wait a minute!” Benny moves quick and snatches the phone away. “What are you trying to do?”
“Phone the police, you dizzy dope! This is murder!”
“Sure, sure,” says Benny, talking fast. “It’s murder. And you discovered it. And you’re a reporter. Right? You got a scoop. You gonna give it away before we even find out any of the details? You gonna hand it to the other papers, and let some smart boy on another sheet solve it? Let’s take a few minutes and use our heads. Maybe we can wrap it all up before we give it to the cops. Betty Smith was a blonde incendiary. Could be she touched off one too many boy friends. All we got to do is find out who she knew and—”
“That I already know,” declares Bill harshly. “What I’m curious about is how you happened to hire her. She has been Buck Clancy’s private secretary for three years. You know who Buck Clancy is?”
“Hell yes!” Benny looks astonished. “He’s been a big racket boss around Chicago as long as I can remember—twenty years anyway.”
“Twenty years or more,” says Bill, suddenly thoughtful. “He lasted because he kept his operations fairly clean. As many times as he has been investigated, he has yet to be indicted.
“A smart operator. And he had a damn smart secretary. Whatever she was doing in your office, I don’t think Buck is going to like having her shot. He once told me she was the only one he could depend on for business details—meaning confidential business. So how come she was working in your office? Who hired her, and why?”
“That’s easy,” says Benny, easing the phone out of sight. “We ran an ad and interviewed the applicants. This Betty Smith stood out like a house afire. She had looks, brains, manners and plenty of experience, though she didn’t mention Buck Clancy, and we never bothered to check her references.”
“How did you word that ad?”
“It was very simple,” says Benny. “Let’s see—‘Secretary-Receptionist. Smart appearance for modern detective agency. Milligan, Swartz & Peters.’ And the address and phone number.”
“You used your own names?”
“Sure. That was last week and we hadn’t decided on the firm name yet. You think the names had something to do with—”
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A Cop Shooting Our Secretary
There is a scuffling and growling out in the reception room. Benny and Bill Faris tiptoe down the hall and ease the door open a crack. Then Benny pushes it wide and confronts the trio of desperate looking characters who have just jostled each other into the reception room.
Big Herbie is panting and clutching a stocky, hard-eyed guy whose face has just recently been worked over. It is red and puffed in spots and one eye is already beginning to swell around the edges. The stocky guy is swearing with a kind of helpless rage. Mug Milligan is not mussed up like the other two, but he has a gun in his hand and looks completely dangerous. The blank, sculptured mask of his face is etched with livid blue scars, made deeper by excitement, and his light gray eyes look deadly in that unnatural setting.
“Here—for God’s sake!” snaps Bill, coming forward. “Let that man go. What do you think you’re—”
“Get—outa—here!” says Herbie with ominous emphasis. “This rat shot Betty! We caught him on the fire stairs. Mug trailed up after him while I grabbed an elevator and came down on him from above.” Herbie shakes some more swear words out of the frantic guy.
“I oughta mash him!” he adds with thoughtful savagery.
“You’re crazy!” yells Bill. “He’s a cop!”
“All the more reason,” says Herbie, clouting the guy on the ear, “why I should mash him! The idea of a cop coming around here and shooting our secretary. I oughta—”
“Hold it!” says Benny sharply. “If Bill Faris says he’s a cop, then he is a cop. What makes you think he shot Betty?”
Herbie and his prisoner both start jabbering at once, but Mug’s deep voice cuts in and sounds through the din.
“There was one shot,” says Mug. “Herbie and I were each in our own offices. I got here first and I saw at once that Betty was dead. The shot drilled her from the front and shattered the back of her head.
“I opened the door to the hallway, but there was no one in sight. The door to the fire stairs is just a few feet away and I got to it as fast as I could. I thought I heard steps going up. Herbie came out of the office just then and I told him to take an elevator up three or four flights and come down the stairs while I went up.
“This fellow was sneaking up the stairs with his gun drawn. He threatened me with the gun just as Herbie came hopping down from above. We got him by surprise and disarmed him. This is his gun. If he didn’t shoot Betty, he must know who did.”
“Bert, what’s this all about?” demands Bill of the stocky guy, whose face is getting purple.
“You think I’m gonna talk in front of these crazy baboons?” snarls Bert. “Get on that phone and call headquarters! I’ll put these guys where they can’t—”
“No!” says Mug as Bill moves toward the phone. “We’re not turning this bird loose as easy as that. I don’t trust him, or you either, for that matter.” He walks across the room with only a slight hitch in one foot and opens a closet door. “In here with him, Herbie. If he yells, nobody outside can hear him.”
There is a slight struggle, but Herbie clamps arms like a champ wrestler’s on the stocky guy and boosts him across the room and into the supply closet with a final grunt. Mug turns the key and sticks it in his pocket. Then he looks down at Betty with that blank face.
“Have you phoned the police yet?” he asks Benny quietly.
“No. We just got here,” says Benny. “And Bill was telling me Betty was Buck Clancy’s private secretary. By the way, this is Bill Faris, the reporter I was tellin’ you about. You can put the gun down. He’s harmless.”
“Has that gun been fired?” asks Bill sharply.
“It’s fully loaded now,” says Mug. “But he could have taken care of that on the stairs. What do you know about him?”
“He’s Bert Scalina, just a routine cop, as far as I know. He’s never done anything sensational, or been mixed up in any scandals. If you fellows will take my advice, you’ll phone headquarters right now, before you get in a bad jam with the department.”
“If you’re right about that cop,” says Benny, “we’re in a jam already. A few minutes one way or the other ain’t gonna make much difference. Herbie, lock the door. Let’s go inside and—”
“Look, I’m just a reporter,” says Bill. “I don’t care what you fellows do, but I don’t want to be included in.”
“You’re in whether you like it or not,” Mug informs him coldly. “If the police walk in here now, we’ll all be held—you included. Whether that cop in the closet is the murderer or not he’ll do his best to hang it on us. You may be able to alibi Benny, but Herbie and I—”
“Sure, sure,” says Benny. “We got to protect ourselves, and that’s what we’re in business for—protection against crime. So let’s quit futzin’ around and get down to business. First off, I want to do some phoning and find out if Betty is still supposed to be workin’ for Buck Clancy. If she is, then there’s a tie-up right there, and it means she was here for no good. She must’ve been planted, and all we have to do is find out why, and we got the answer to all this.”
“Of course,” says Bill thoughtfully, “I can always say I was intimidated, and it wouldn’t be my fault if somebody took my address book out of my inside coat pocket and found the telephone number of Buck Clancy’s private office …
“This is her cousin Oscar, from Oskaloosa,” says Benny into his office phone. “I just got in town, and I got some fresh corn for her. If she ain’t there, where can I locate her? Oh. Last week? Where did she go? Oh. Is that right? No, I hadn’t heard about it. Gosh, that’s too bad. Uh-huh. Well, thank you kindly.”
“That,” says Benny, putting down the phone, “was some dumb little chick in Buck’s office. She says Betty Smith left last week to take a vacation, on account of she was all broken up over her boy friend. Her boy friend was Deal Bracken. He’s dead—too.”
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Her Right Name Was Garman
Bill Faris snaps a light at his cigarette and blows smoke toward the ceiling, not looking at anybody.
“So,” Benny continues, “it shapes up like this. Deal Bracken was the guy that got shot a couple weeks ago. Accordin’ to the papers, he was about the smartest contact man Buck Clancy had workin’ for him. He got to the right people at the right time, and swung deals for the Clancy combine. So he gets plugged, and a few days later his girl friend takes a vacation and shows up here to apply for a job. And a few days after that, she gets plugged. What did you find, Mug?”
Mug pushes a flat white purse aside and looks at the conglomeration of stuff spread out in front of him. “Aside from her keys,” he says, “the only other things that mean anything are a shopping list that looks a little out of season, and a lawyer’s card. The lawyer’s office is in this building, but the shopping list is made up of things a woman would buy in the middle of winter instead of the middle of summer.”
“Poor Betty!” sighs Herbie. “Now she won’t never find no gold mine! ”
“What are you talkin’ about?” demands Benny.
“She had a lotta them little books like they give out in ticket offices,” explains Herbie. “They were all about Alaska and Canada, with a lotta snow and dog teams. And when I kidded her about goin’ to such a cold place, she says it’s worth it if you hit a gold mine. And then she says forget it, she’s only lookin’ at the pictures to cool off, and she wouldn’t think of leavin’ her swell job here, even if she had enough money to go as far as Alaska.”
“That sounds,” says Benny, “like she meant to make a clean-up and then, start travelin’. What, do you think, Bill?”
“I wouldn’t know,” replies Bill lazily. “I’m not a travel agency.”
“Okay,” Benny snaps him up. “So we can phone around to get travel agencies and find out if she made any reservations. Get the phone book, Herbie, and start callin’. Just say you’re the police department, and if they got no reservation for Betty Smith, ask what name have they got with a reservation to the far North. Where you goin’, Mug?”
“Down to consult her lawyer,” says Mug, hitching himself toward the door a little stiffly. “I’ll say she’s in trouble and I’m her employer. That ought to get some information out of him.”
“Is anybody holding me here?” inquires Bill mildly.
“Yes. Pipe down,” says Benny.
“I was just checking up,” says Bill, settling himself deeper in his chair. “Whenever you get through holding me, let me know. I’ve got a couple of other assignments this afternoon.”
“Nothing could pry you out of here,” retorts Benny. “Not even the Fire Department, with the joint burning down. Where did you write down Betty Smith’s home phone number? I can’t find anything in this damn book. I thought reporters knew something about the alphabet.”
“We get tired of it. Besides her right name was Garman.”
“You scrounge!” growls Benny. “Why didn’t you say so? Write that down, Herbie. The reservations might be for Betty Smith or Garman. G-a-r –“
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The shot sounds dull and muffled from the reception room. After one startled moment, Benny and Bill both leap for the door and collide, with Herbie butting into them from the rear.
When they finally get untangled and reach the outer room, the smoke and smell of cordite still hangs over the sprawled figure on the opposite side of the curved desk from Betty. The closet door is wide open, and the desk phone is off its cradle, dangling along the side of the desk.
Bert Scalina looks stockier than ever lying there on his back with a bullet hole between his eyes from which a thin bright stream is seeping.
Benny walks cautiously around the body, picks up the phone receiver gingerly, listens a moment and replaces it carefully.
“I think that was police headquarters,” he says flatly.
The hall door opens and Mug steps in, stops, and reaches for the gun in his pocket. His eyes are a flat gray as he stares at Bill Faris.
“We don’t know who done it,” says Benny hastily. “We were all inside when it happened. He got out of the closet some way and he was phoning somebody. If it was headquarters—”
“If it was,” says Mug coldly, “we’d better get out of here.”
“That’s no good!” snaps Bill. “You can’t get away with—from this!”
“No, of course not,” says Mug. “But if my hunch is right, we can do something about it before the police get here and delay everything. Obviously that cop didn’t shoot Betty, but he knew who did. The killer used the fire stairs once to get away, so he’ll probably try it again. Let’s go, Herbie. Same tactics. Benny you go on up higher and come down from there. You,” Mug jerks his head at Bill, “come with me. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve got a gun in case we meet anything oh the stairs. Of course, I might use the gun on you … .”
Benny eases through the metal fire door on the twenty-third floor and listens a moment. There are no human sounds coming up from the deep well of the stairs. Only the muted echoes of a giant office building. Cautiously he slips down the stairs, rounding one silent landing after another, until the stillness begins to get him and he wants to yell down, at least to find out if Herbie is there. Just as he leans over the railing, the shot roars and echoes up from far below, and much closer, only about three flights down there is a wild scuffling going on.
Benny goes down the stairs, practically sliding on his heels, and sailing around the bends on one arm. Herbie has a big, red-faced guy backed up in a corner of a landing and he is jabbing at the guy’s face with the heel of one hand while he holds him with the other.
“Hey!” yells Benny. “Who are you pokin’?”
“I don’t know,” pants Herbie. “He was on the stairs, and Mug said—”
“Cut it out, damn it!” Benny starts pulling at Herbie’s piston arm. “Somebody got shot down below! We gotta—”
Doors bang open and cops start converging on them from above and below. There is much confusion. Everybody is indignant, especially the cops, but Benny and Herbie and the red-faced guy finally wind up back in the offices of the GI Protective Bureau where the Homicide Squad is worse than indignant. According to one wild-eyed sergeant the entire personnel of the Bureau and all their friends are going to the electric chair tomorrow.
Benny and Herbie along with the red-faced guy are shoved into the consultation room with a uniformed cop.
“Why,” Benny demands of Herbie, “did you have to stop and poke this guy? Just when the shooting starts down below, why did you pick a fight with a perfect stranger?”
“Psychology,” says Herbie. “When I meet him on the stairs, I make off like I’m a cop, and I ask him if he’s got a gun. See, if he don’t have no gun, then he ain’t the guy I’m lookin’ for, and he’ll say so. But if he has got a gun he’ll start worryin’. That’s psychology. Well, this guy don’t say aye, yes or no. He starts throwin’ stuff over the railing.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“How do I know? I don’t get a chance to see it. So I poke him. Ain’t that right?”
“Maybe,” says Benny wearily. “Maybe not.”
The burly, red-faced guy sits in a corner and says nothing.
“Where’s Mug?” asks Herbie. “And that newspaper guy?”
“You tell me!” mutters Benny gloomily, never expecting to see either of them again.
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Interference With Proper Processes Of Law And Order
He is somewhat surprised, therefore when a police captain ushers them both into the consultation room. Neither one shows any signs of bullet holes. Mug’s face is blank as ever, but Bill’s is convulsed with excitement as he looks across at the red-faced guy.
“Hello, Clancy,” he says, and his voice isn’t as friendly as it ought to be.
Benny sits up and his eyes start snapping and darting around as his mind turns over at about 3,500 RPM.
“Is that Mr. Clancy?” says Herbie in surprise. “Cripes! If I’d known who it was, I don’t think I woulda poked him so quick!”
“Pipe down!” says Benny. “You all right, Mug?”
“I’m fine,” says Mug in his deep voice, and there is a live ring to it that wasn’t there before. “That gun explosion you heard came from the gun that was dropped over the railing. The safety was off, but it didn’t do any damage … except to the killer. It has his prints on it.”
“Sure, sure,” says Benny, getting in a quick plug, “that was nice fast work on our part, nabbing him before he could get out of the building.”
“It will take a good deal more than that to explain your out in this,” says the police captain angrily. “The fact that you did nab him is the only thing that may save you from indictment. The list of charges isn’t complete yet, but we’ve already got enough against you—”
“I think most of it can be explained satisfactorily, captain,” says Mug. “First of all, we had no idea that we might be obstructing justice. We had no way of knowing that you were on Clancy’s trail, or even that you suspected him of murdering his own man, Deal Bracken. Therefore, we couldn’t know that officer Bert Scalina was tailing Clancy when he came here, and of course, Scalina told us nothing. He was free and going about his business, telephone headquarters in fact, when Clancy came on him and shot him. We immediately started the search for Clancy—”
The angry, and still wild-eyed sergeant comes into the room with a handful of memos. “More evidence,” he rasps, “of impersonating a police officer. We’re getting reports from every travel agency in town. They claim we phoned for information!”
“Have you got anything?” asks the captain.
“Clancy,” growls the sergeant. “He booked reservations for himself and wife—to California in two weeks. He used his own name, Bernard X. Clancy. Only he ain’t got a wife.”
The red-faced Clancy explodes unexpectedly with a foul epithet.
“If you want to talk, go ahead and talk,” says the captain.
“Lawyer!” snaps Clancy curtly.
“So it was the dame!” says Benny, and looks at Bill triumphantly. “I told you she burned up one too many boy friends. Buck Clancy falls for her and knocks off her favorite guy, so he can marry her and take a honeymoon trip to California.”
“That’s only part of it,” grins Bill. “This guy Deal Bracken was double-crossing his boss, with little Betty’s help. They planned to clean up and clear out. Meanwhile Betty was stringing Buck along, with marriage plans, as you say. When Buck found out about it, he got rid of Deal Bracken—but fast. Since his reservation still stands, he apparently thought he could still marry Betty. But she couldn’t take the murder of her lover. My idea is that she didn’t dare go to the police with information about Buck that might lead to his arrest for the murder. She came here in answer to your ad, with the intention of getting you to solve the murder. She was making plans for a quick getaway so she must have been afraid Buck would try to get her either before or after she could get him pinched.”
“I think,” says Mug, “that she had already made her arrangements. With that lawyer downstairs. He drew up a will for her and she left some instructions about certain payments to be made, he didn’t say to whom, but he hinted that it was to our firm for services to be rendered, whether she was still living or not. You can,” he tells the captain, “subpoena all that stuff if it will help your case any.”
“Don’t worry,” says the captain harshly. “We will. We will also hold each of you as material witnesses—”
“Captain, I’m a member of the press,” objects Bill Faris.
“You can write your story in the lockup,” says the captain grimly.
“We’re going to hold each and every one of you until we get these charges sorted out and applied where they belong. In all my experience I have never seen so much interference with proper processes of law and order. And don’t tell me you can explain it, because you can’t! What possible excuse can any sane adult have for bawling things up the way you have?”
“Psychology,” says Herbie brightly.
“What?” snorts the captain.
“Psychology. It’s complicated,” says Herbie. “But we’re supposed to work like hell to make people think we’re earnin’ our living.”
~ The End ~
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By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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