The Murder of Oliver Brundage
The inspector in charge of the detective bureau at police headquarters was talking to half a dozen reporters, and at the same time was exchanging a dress coat for one of dark blue, which was not part of a uniform, though suggestive of it.
"I don't know any more about this case than you do," he was saying. "I'd been to a theater, and was eating supper afterward, when I got word of it. The report that came to me was that a man named Prescott Carroll had been arrested for the murder of Oliver Brundage — 'Ollie' Brundage; you all know him."
The reporters nodded. The name and fame of Ollie Brundage were quite familiar to them. He was a young man of good family, a bachelor and clubman, who managed to move in the highest society without any visible means of support. They also knew Carroll, who had gone out of journalism into literature eight or ten years before, and had won a certain measure of recognition.
"The arrest was made by a patrolman and Detective Hines of my staff," continued the inspector. "It seems that Carroll knocked Brundage down with a sand club or something of that kind, and was going through his pockets. It was on West Seventy-eighth
Street, just opposite the new church. The prisoner was taken to the station house, but I sent word to have him brought down here. Brundage's body is at the station now. That's all I know."
The reporters exchanged glances. Then one of them asked: "What's this about a millionaire's pocketbook being found in Carroll's pocket?"
"I heard a rumor to that effect," said the inspector, "but I'm not prepared to answer any questions."
"Isn't it a fact," queried one of the reporters, "that there have been a good many holdups in the neighborhood, and that your man Hines was up there on that account?"
"There have been some wild stories in the newspapers," the inspector began, but checked himself as he perceived a lieutenant entering by a door upon the left. The lieutenant executed a sort of military salute, and departed without having opened his mouth.
"You boys will have to get out of here now," said the inspector. "I'll see you later."'
The reporters filed out like so many pallbearers. Every one of them looked at his watch, though there was a clock in plain sight on the wall. It was half past one in the morning, and minutes were precious.
No one remained in the room except the chief and a man in a dark-gray suit who sat against the wall opposite the door where the lieutenant had appeared.
"You know him, Carter, don't you?" asked the inspector.
"Three years ago," replied the detective, "I knew him as a brilliant and promising fellow; but he passed out of my sight."
"Writer, eh? I've read one of his stories. It was good, too. Why the devil should he have done this thing?"
Carter answered only with a gesture. The inspector glanced quickly toward the door; then, leaning forward in his chair, with his right elbow on the desk and his open hand against the side of his face, he waited in the shadow.
The brim of Carter's hat was nearly level with his eyes, and as the principal source of light was a cluster of lamps against the wall and almost directly over his head, his countenance was scarcely visible.
The door at the left swung open, and two officers appeared with the prisoner between them. They paused an instant, so that the man seemed to come alone into the white glare of light and the oppressive silence.
He was tall and of a strong frame, but excessively thin. He had wavy, dark-brown hair, a high forehead painfully wrinkled above the bridge of the nose; pale-blue eyes, with that faded look one sees in the eyes of tired women; a light mustache, and a well-molded but rather weak chin, with a dimple in it. He wore a shabby, black overcoat above what seemed to be expensive and fashionable evening dress.
Carter, who remembered Prescott Carroll as he had been, was shocked at the change in him. He seemed to have lived a dozen years between twenty-nine and thirty-two.
There was a straight-backed wooden chair, which, standing alone in the middle of the big and bare room, had a singular effect of isolation. Carroll looked at it, perceived that it was for him, and sat down with a shudder.
At that moment Hines, the headquarters man who had assisted in the arrest, appeared at the door. The inspector beckoned to him, and he came forward; while Carter, crossing the room, whispered to one of the policemen who immediately went out.
"Well?" said the inspector, addressing Hines.
"At ten minutes past twelve," responded the officer, "I was going west along Seventy-eighth Street toward Berkeley Avenue. There is an apartment house on the southeast corner, with an alley behind it which runs halfway down the block and then turns to the avenue. There's an iron fence with a gate on each end.
"Close by this fence, where there isn't much light, I saw this man stooping over a body that lay on the sidewalk. I ran up, and at the same time Patrolman Bruce came from the direction of the avenue. We had the man between us, and when he saw that he surrendered. He seemed to be dazed, and we couldn't get him to say anything to us.
"I recognized the man on the ground as Oliver Brundage. He was alive then, but unconscious. He died before the ambulance came. There was no weapon. Brundage was killed by striking his head in falling. We had the body taken to the station house, and took this man there. He talked to himself on the way. He said, 'Don't worry; don't worry. I'll be all right. It's the best thing that could have happened.' He admitted having killed Brundage, but that is all we could get out of him."
The inspector turned to Carroll and asked him whether he had anything to say, warning him, in accordance with the law, that whatever he said could be used against him on the trial.
He remained silent for perhaps half a minute, during which interval Hines laid upon the inspector's desk a package containing all that had been taken from the prisoner when he was searched at the station house.
"Denial is useless,'' said Carroll at last. "I was taken in the act."
His manner was indefinably strange. If one may attempt description, it was more like an invalid's than a criminal's. This man of cultured mind and delicately sensitive nature seemed to feel neither remorse nor shame. There was evidence of considerable anxiety, but this state was repeatedly interrupted by involuntary outbursts of reassurance, almost of satisfaction.
"What was your motive?" asked the inspector.
"Robbery!" replied the prisoner cheerfully. "I was driven to it by poverty."
The inspector looked hastily at Carter, who returned the glance meaningly. Both men perceived that the prisoner's answer was a lie, and that it covered a mystery. This case which, on a casual view seemed so clear, being the arrest of a highway robber beside the body of his victim, became at once to these experienced men a problem for close and rigid investigation.
"I thought you were successful in your profession?" said the inspector.
"I might have been," was the reply, "but I had bad luck and many burdens. There were people dependent upon me. I never worry about myself. I suppose nobody does. It was about others."
He became excited as he spoke, and his self-control slipped away. It was obvious that he did not mean to tell his story, but that it told itself, just as the first words he had uttered in that room had overridden his will.
It appeared that he had been married five years before, and that his wife had almost immediately begun to lose her sight, as the result of a malady rare and little understood. Gradually, with that steady deliberation which nature commands, and human torturers vainly strive to imitate, the shadows had closed around her. Carroll had beggared himself with doctors; he had become a borrower under the pressure of a need that could not be postponed. His friends had turned from him, and some of them, for the sake of the spite that grows out of money, had raised up other enemies when their own power to injure him had seemed inadequate.
Meanwhile, his strength had declined, and his imagination, too much occupied with images of his own increasing sorrow, had ceased to suggest the pictures which his art required. His earnings had decreased as his needs grew. He had labored under that enormous disadvantage of visible misfortune; he had become the lame wolf which the pack rends.
Throughout the latter part of this wretched period his sister and his brother's widow with two children had been dependent upon him. His wife, at last, had gone to a private hospital where the charges' were excessive and the benefits few.
The wonder was that the man had not gone mad, laboring with a brain so clogged with miserable thoughts. Yet he did not seem to be insane, though surely on the brink of it.
Neither Carter nor the inspector interrupted Carroll's recital which he himself finally broke off with an exclamation of despair.
"You see I can't help telling this," he said; "though, upon my soul, I did not mean to do it.''
The inspector glanced at Carter, and touched his forehead, unperceived by Carroll. The detective made a negative sign.
"Let us see what we have here," said the inspector, opening the packet which Hines had brought.
It contained a few trifles separately wrapped up, because they were obviously the prisoner's, and the things that he was supposed to have taken from Brundage. The latter consisted of a handkerchief, some letters, a cigarette case, a cardcase, and several keys. Another handkerchief — a woman's — and small coin to the value of sixty-four cents were marked as having been found in Brundage's pockets by the police.
"Then you got no money at all?" said the inspector.
"I got a pocketbook," replied Carroll, with hesitation.
"Do you mean to say that you got this from Brundage?" demanded the inspector, holding up the wallet.
''Certainly," answered Carroll, but he did not meet the eye of the questioner.
"Do you know whose pocketbook it is?"
"They told me at the station house," said Carroll faintly, "that it was Stanton Ripley's."
Stanton Ripley was a young man about town, possessed of great wealth, and a barnful of wild oats. The pocketbook bore his initials, and the crest of his family in gold and enamel. It was a plain, light Russia leather book, of the sort that folds in the middle with one large compartment on each side. Carter received it from the chief's hand, and discovered that it contained three thousand and ten dollars — one one-thousand-dollar bill; four of five hundred dollars and two of five dollars, all new.
"They found this in the prisoner's coat-tail pocket," said the chief. "Were you aware," he continued, addressing Carroll, "that this was in Brundage's possession when you attacked him?"
Carroll pondered upon this question.
"I couldn't know that," he said at last, in a faint voice.
Carter observed that he had taken hold of the sides of his chair, as if to keep from falling out of it, and that a bluish pallor had overspread his face.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" asked the detective kindly.
"Could I have something to eat?" said the prisoner, in an embarrassed tone. "Of course, if it's too much trouble — "
"I have already sent out for some supper for you," replied Carter, looking closely at him. "It occurred to me that you might like it. I wonder it hasn't come before this."
Carroll expressed his gratitude, and while he was doing so, a policeman entered with several packages. The detective drew up a small table, and set forth a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread, at sight of which the prisoner's eyes shone. Behind him the policeman was opening a box from which he took a steak and potatoes on a wooden plate, and a knife and fork. He held up the knife, and looked inquiringly at Carter, who nodded; and the utensils were laid upon the table.
The prisoner ate well. Many times he spoke aloud in praise of the food, clearly not meaning to do so, for he always checked himself with shame.
"Now," he said at last, "I feel first rate. Heavens!"
The exclamation came suddenly. Carroll half rose, and then sank back. He passed his hand across his forehead which had become wet in an instant.
"My wife and my sisters!" he cried. "How shall I tell them?"
"I am afraid that the newspapers will anticipate you, unless you telegraph," said Carter.
He took a pad of blanks and a pencil from the inspector's desk, and laid them before Carroll, who, after many attempts, wrote this message:
Be prepared for very bad news; yet all for the best. Don't try to understand. Don't come here. Will send money.
He puzzled a long time over the last sentence, but finally let it stand. The message was addressed to his sister, Miss Hilda Carroll, in a small town in Massachusetts. At the bottom he wrote a request to repeat the-telegram to his wife, in care of the physician in charge of the hospital where she then was.
Carter gave the telegram, with money for its transmission, to one of the policemen who went out with it immediately. The inspector, meanwhile, was answering a call upon the telephone that stood on his desk. He received a long report, at the close of which he ordered that the prisoner should be taken into an adjoining room.
"Nick," he said, as soon as they were alone, "I've just got word from the man who was sent to Ripley's rooms when the pocketbook was found upon Carroll. Ripley has just come home with, a bad wound in the head. He seems to have been wandering around the streets, dazed, for quite a long time. He was at his club until about eleven o'clock, when he started out for a walk. On Fifth Avenue, alongside the park, about Sixty-third Street, he saw a man step out from behind a tree. As he turned to face the fellow, he got a rap on the left side of the head, and the next thing he remembers, he was on the other side of the park way up by Eighty-first Street, and it was more than two hours later.
"Where he had been in the meantime he doesn't know. His pocketbook was gone, and his watch. Nothing else was taken. He says he probably could not identify his assailant, though the man looked familiar. He knew Carroll very well; they were in college together. He lent him some money, a year or more ago; then they had a falling-out, and he hasn't seen Carroll since. He doesn't think it was Carroll who assaulted him. What do you make out of this?"
"Well, it seems somewhat extraordinary," said the detective, "that a man on the verge of starvation should not have used one of those five-dollar bills to buy a meal. It occurs to me that we haven't found Ripley's watch; and I am also puzzled to know why a man who had made a haul of three thousand dollars should take the desperate chance of assaulting Brundage, who is well known never to have any money."
"Perhaps Carroll didn't know him," suggested the inspector.
"It's as bad one way as another," replied the detective. "He wouldn't have risked three thousand dollars and his liberty on the chance of what might be in a stranger's pockets. However, we might ask him about it."
Carroll was brought back into the room, and was informed of what had been learned about Ripley. He made a strong effort to cover his emotions, but Carter was of the opinion that, for some mysterious reason, the prisoner was not only surprised but pleased.
"It is true," he said. "I did not take the pocketbook from Brundage. I took it from Ripley."
"Where?" demanded the inspector, who had not mentioned the place designated by Ripley.
"In Central Park," was the reply. "I followed him from his club."
At this point the prisoner showed his first disinclination to answer questions; yet he consented to hear a few from Carter, and this exchange resulted: "Were you acquainted with Brundage?"
"I knew him by sight and by reputation."
"When did you first see him this evening?"
"When he turned out of the avenue into Seventy-eighth Street."
"Did you recognize him?"
"Did you speak to him before attacking him?"
"Where did you get that dress suit?"
"Ripley gave it to me, a year and a half ago, when he got me to go to a dinner at a club."
"Do you mean that he bought it for you?"
"No; it was his. He had just had it made. It was one of his freaks to give it to me."
"What is that stain?"
It was a reddish mark as if from a blow with a rusty iron bar, and it extended across the back of the overcoat about the waistline. The garment was lying on a chair. Carroll looked at the stain with mild surprise, and said he did not know what it was.
"Your dress coat was torn in the struggle with Brundage, I suppose," said the detective, indicating a ripped seam at the back of the left shoulder, and some further damage, here and there.
"You had your overcoat on when you were arrested, didn't you?"
"Yes; I just slipped it on, after the — the struggle."
"Why didn't you run through the alley when you saw the policemen coming?"
"I didn't know there was any gate in the fence," replied the prisoner.
This closed the examination, and Carroll was consigned to a cell.
"It is a singular coincidence," said the detective, "that I happen to be very familiar with the spot where this arrest was made. I waited there some hours, on a recent evening. The gate in the fence could not be overlooked by any one, and just within it there is a rusty iron bar extending from the gatepost to the side of the house. From the appearance of the mark on Carroll's coat I should say that he had leaned against that bar. I came very near doing it myself. So Carroll had a neat way of escape, and did not take it." The inspector drummed with his fingers upon his desk, and gently whistled a little tune.
"For a case that opens with a confession," said he, at last, "this is a beautiful muddle. To begin with, the man is such a purposeless liar — "
"I would hardly say that," rejoined Carter. "He knows what he is about. A liar he certainly is — one of the most perverse and incalculable that I ever encountered — but his statements help to clear the view. Obviously, he is willing to say anything which will tend to show that he attacked Brundage for the purpose of robbing him.
"Now, of course this crime was not robbery, though Carroll tried to give that color to it, and on a hasty inspiration, too, or he would not have committed the absurdity of taking the man's handkerchief, to say nothing about this rubbish of cigarette and cardcases."
"You mean that he killed Brundage for some other reason?" asked the inspector.
"Did you observe the weather?" rejoined Carter, with a smile. "It has been snowing a little, and the pavements are a mess. Carroll's coat shows a considerable struggle, and by all the evidence, the two men must have fallen to the ground, one gripping the other's throat. It was then that Brundage's head struck the projection of the iron fence, but the assailant could not immediately have known the result. Without doubt, they rolled there together in the dirt. Yet there isn't a mark on Carroll's knees."
"That's so, but the elbow and left sleeve of his coat are soiled: not the overcoat; he'd taken that off."
"It is all very singular," said the detective. "I am being gradually led toward a remarkable conclusion; but I am not ready to talk about it yet. I suggest that we put the whole thing off till tomorrow."
"The case is in your hands," said the inspector, "if you will be kind enough to take charge of it."
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A Mysterious Highwayman
On the following day the detective called upon Stanton Ripley at his rooms, which have sometimes been mentioned in print as the most luxurious bachelor apartments in New York. Ripley was under a doctor's care, but had almost ceased to require it. He had a contusion on the left side of his head behind the ear; but was suffering principally from mental strain, the result of his adventure of the previous night.
It was necessary to avoid exciting him, and the detective proceeded with the utmost caution. Ripley declared positively that his assailant was not Carroll; and after an hour of shrewd questioning, he admitted his belief that it was Brundage. Then he seemed to regret having made the statement, and he concluded by asserting his ignorance of the highwayman's identity.
It became necessary, therefore, to trace Brundage's movements on the previous evening, and this proved to be easy. From nine o'clock until a few minutes before his death, Brundage had been in the apartments of a young widow, a Mrs. Haskell, who lived with her mother and sister in that building on Berkeley Avenue, behind which ran the alley that has been referred to. There had been three other guests, a man and two women, and Brundage had put them into a cab just before going to meet his fate. It had undoubtedly been his intention to walk across to his home, which was on Central Park, West.
This negatived any idea that Carroll could have found Ripley's pocketbook in Brundage's pocket. But where had he obtained it, since Ripley was sure that he was not the robber? And what motive could have induced Carroll to play his singular part in this affair?
A study of the locality could not fail to raise the presumption that Carroll had been lying in wait for Brundage. The spot was well chosen. Yet Carroll was unknown to the Haskells, and could hardly have had any means of knowing where Brundage would spend the evening. Indeed, all the evidence that Carter could collect seemed to show that Carroll and Brundage had no common interest, and no possible ground for animosity.
There were rumors of ill feeling between Ripley and Brundage on account of the fascinating Mrs. Haskell, at whose home both were frequent visitors; but even upon the wild supposition that Ripley had been sufficiently jealous to employ Carroll as his bravo, he would hardly have paid him with his watch and pocketbook. Nor would Carroll have collected his price with the aid of a sand club.
The newspapers saw in Carroll a mysterious highwayman. They exaggerated one or two small robberies in the neighborhood into a great list of desperate crimes, and the young author was pictured as one of the famous degenerates of the age. But the real puzzles of the case remained unanswered. Nobody could account for Carroll's retention of that pocketbook; for his senseless risk in attacking Brundage while carrying so great a plunder from another crime; for his failure to take an easy chance of escape.
In the evening, Carter called at headquarters; and found Carroll's sister, his sister-in-law, and the latter's two children. The women had come to the city with a vague idea that their presence was required, and without enough money to take them back again. They and the children were in tears, and the scene was intensely distressing. It became positively harrowing when the inspector yielded to their entreaties, and summoned the prisoner from his cell.
Somewhat to Carter's surprise, the man was greatly improved in appearance. His bearing was marked by a sad serenity. He beheld the tears and accepted the reproaches of the women with perfect composure, and it was only when they spoke of their immediate need of money that he showed any considerable anxiety. He referred them to a lawyer whom he had retained during the day, saying that he would probably assist them. Otherwise he said nothing to them except vaguely reassuring words; and though they said that they would come again on the following day — a suggestion which the inspector did not see fit to contradict — Carroll bade them farewell with an air of finality.
When the prisoner had been removed, Carter inquired about his lawyer, and learned that a corporation attorney, practically unknown in criminal courts, had been retained. Carroll had given the name and address, and the attorney had been summoned.
"To the best of my judgment," said the inspector, "he had never seen the prisoner before. Carroll was arraigned, and waived examination — as you know, of course."
During the evening, Carter obtained a bit of evidence not altogether unimportant. It appeared that when Ripley left his club on the night of the crime, a man answering Carroll's description, who had been loitering for more than an hour in the neighborhood, had followed him. Two cabmen were the witnesses on this point, and they were perfectly confident; but they said that Ripley had gone up Fifty-ninth Street, instead of Fifth Avenue. Carter called upon Ripley in regard to this contradiction, and was informed that the young man had walked a little way up Fifty-ninth Street, but had returned. He had not seen Carroll following him.
About noon the next day Carter called upon the inspector, who began conversation by stating that he had been devoting a good deal of thought to the Brundage case.
"And you have evolved a theory," said the detective, with a smile. "Shall I tell you what it is?"
The inspector shut one eye and scrutinized Carter closely out of the other.
"Go ahead, confound you!" he said. "You'll tell me what it is, and then you'll show me why it isn't good for anything."
"On the contrary," replied the detective, "it is very near the truth. In fact, there can hardly be two theories of this affair. I happen to know that one of your men compared the stain on Carroll's overcoat with the iron bar I spoke of — as to height from the ground, general appearance, et cetera. The conclusion that Carroll knew about the gate, and the way of escape through the alley is thus verified. Why didn't he run? The obvious explanation is that he remained to cover the retreat of some one else."
"Precisely," said the inspector. "If the snow hadn't melted so soon we would have found tracks."
"You believe," continued Carter, "that this young man, in his half-crazy desperation, had formed an alliance with some thug; that it was the thug who attacked Ripley; that the ease with which Ripley was disposed of, sent them both upon a mad career of depredation, with the intent of doing one big night's work and then quitting the town."
"Well, something of that sort," admitted the inspector.
"Then it is the pal who has engaged this lawyer, and has supplied Carroll's relatives with money — "
"Have they got some?"
"Plenty," replied the detective, "and they have gone back to Massachusetts. And I can tell you something more agreeable. Two of the leading medical experts of this city have 'taken an interest' in Mrs. Carroll — who, by the way, is a very charming woman, whose needs, but never her importunities, have burdened our friend, for she is different from the others."
"You have seen her?"
"Yes; this forenoon. She does not yet know of her husband's misfortune. It was deemed unwise to tell her. But — would you believe it? — those experts who were so much interested by the accounts of her case published yesterday in connection with this affair, tell me that she has a good chance of recovery; that the treatment hitherto has been all wrong, and that she may fully regain her sight."
"Well, I'm glad of that," said the inspector.
"The experts are great men," said Carter, "but they are not philanthropists; they are sure of their money. By the way, have you seen Carroll today?"
"Yes, and the change in him is wonderful. Upon my word, he has gained pounds of flesh, and he looks positively handsome."
"His mind is relieved," responded Carter. "You remember that he never worries about himself. That is the truest word he spoke to us. Worry for others has driven him half crazy — money worry — and now that it is over, he sees the electric chair before him, and is cheerful.
"I was near forgetting," he continued, after a brief pause, "that I have recovered Ripley's watch. Some of my men searched the west side of the park from Seventy-seventh street northward, this morning, and they found it where some one had thrown it over the wall. A portrait on the inside of the case, at the back, has been scratched with a knife; but the job was done in the dark, and the face is still recognizable. It was Mrs. Haskell's."
"Why in blazes — "
"My friend, it is as clear as a bell. Match it with my discovery that Carroll's coat showed every mark of the fight with Brundage, in which, singularly enough, his nether garments seem not to have shared."
"Do you mean that he changed coats with the real assailant?" gasped the inspector.
"Beyond a doubt."
The inspector sprang up and seized his hat from the rack on the wall.
"Let's go down to the Tombs," he said. "Carroll is there."
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In a private room of the famous prison — the prisoner in the Brundage murder case, led from his cell he knew not why, found the inspector and the detective waiting for him.
"Mr. Carroll," said Carter kindly, "the cat is out of the bag."
The prisoner started violently, and his face flushed.
"You were in desperate straits," the detective continued; "you knew not where to turn for help. You had quarreled with Ripley, who once had befriended you, and yet, in your emergency you could think of no one else. You dressed as well as you could, in the suit that he had given you, and yet when you came to the club, your shabby overcoat kept you from asking for the man you wished to see. When he came out, you followed him, hesitating to speak. For miles along the streets, in the winter night, you kept him in sight, while he, with a foolish burden of jealousy on his mind, did not see you.
"At the corner of Berkeley Avenue and Seventy-eighth Street, he stopped. Presently he turned back, and you stepped within the iron gate to let him pass. Then Brundage appeared. Before you realized what was happening, the sharp struggle was over. Ripley had gratified his jealousy far more fully than he had planned to do. Brundage lay dead on the sidewalk, and Ripley, bending over him, groaned in agony.
"A sudden, grotesque, and terrible thought leaped into your mind — to exchange burdens with Ripley, to take his deadly sin, and give him your care, that would rest so lightly upon this Crœsus. With what insane relief he accepted your offer; what promises he made in those few thrilling moments, we can readily imagine.
"He had taken off his overcoat that he might be the more free to punish his rival. His clothes showed the struggle. As your two suits were identical, the change of coats was a natural suggestion. The purse with the money was forgotten; but Ripley, after he had escaped through the alley, remembered it, and his story of robbery was the only invention that could meet the situation. The rest comes naturally, including your queer lawyer whom Ripley recommended."
"Curse you!" cried Carroll, leaping to his feet. "You have ruined me."
"In return, let me promise my help," said Carter. "I pity you, driven mad by care as you have been. There is no reason in the world why you cannot bear your burdens when you have had rest, with an easy mind. I can promise it to you."
Carroll sank back into a chair, and began to weep hysterically.
The inspector viewed him with professional self-control, yet with some signs of sympathy.
"Shall I send a man for Ripley?" he whispered.
"I have attended to that," responded the detective. "He is on his way to headquarters by this time."
"Manslaughter, I suppose," muttered the inspector. "I'll bet a hat that he doesn't get over five years."
~ The End ~