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It’s Me, Honey
Pomfret walked slowly up the path to his front door, clicked his key in the lock and stepped into the warmth of his own hallway. For a moment he stood there in the semi-darkness, breathing hard, tilting his head, smelling the old familiar smells and wondering at himself for the thing he was about to do.
His wife, Eva, called down from upstairs, “Joe, is that you?”
Pomfret shivered and tightened his hand around the bulky object in his overcoat pocket. He said, as steadily as he could, “It’s me, honey,” and tasted for a brief moment a spasm of panic.
He took a cigarette from his breast pocket and tucked it between dry lips, dragging in the taste of the unlit tobacco. Then he took off his coat and hat and threw them over the packed bags lying near the hat-rack by the door, and with the package in his hand, walked stealthily out into the kitchen and opened the door leading down into his workshop in the cellar. He stood at the head of the wooden steps, feeling the hot rush of blood into his face and the dizziness in his head. He went down the stairs and turned on the light.
With the dry cigarette still waggling between his lips, Pomfret sat down at his bench.
Carefully, he unwrapped the package, revealing an expensive bronze table lighter fashioned after a globe of the world, with the ignition plunger where the north pole should be, and the countries etched in neatly.
Overhead, the echo of his wife’s footsteps jarred through the floor, hurrying him along. He pulled the cigarette away from his lips, tearing off a strip of skin, and reached over to the rack for a screwdriver. He unscrewed the filler cap, picked out the cotton wool, threw it in a wastebasket. From the rack where his reloading tools lay he took down a canister of pistol powder. Next he removed the wick from the lighter and fitted into its place a short, fast-burning fuse, and began pouring the powder into the base of the lighter.
He knew powders, he knew gas pressures. He knew what would happen when someone picked up the lighter, holding it close to the end of the cigarette, and pressed the plunger for a light. They’d get a light, all right, a light that would show them the way into eternity.
Without air space, the hundred-odd grains of powder compressed into that bronze base would be as deadly as a hand-grenade. Pomfret had seen it work once before. Just four grains of powder jammed down by an improperly hand-loaded bullet to the bottom of a cartridge case, without air space for the expanding pressure of the gas.
He still had the wreckage of a once perfectly good heavy-frame revolver in one of the drawers in his filing cabinet.
When he had screwed the cap back in place he picked up the lighter, carrying it as cautiously as he would have carried a bottle of nitro-glycerine, and walked up the stairs. He felt as weak as if he had spent the afternoon running around the block. He closed the cellar door behind him and leaned his back against it, hard, until his shoulder blades ached from the contact.
He went over to the tap for a drink of water. Then he walked slowly back into the living room and placed the lighter gently on the cocktail table, where no one could miss seeing it.
He knew how it would react on Harvey. He knew it would be the first thing Harvey, a chain-smoker, would pick up.
He closed his eyes and thought about Harvey’s handsome face. Then he went out into the hallway and began putting on his hat and coat.
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Harvey’s Cigarette Case
Eva came down the stairs, and Pomfret paused by the door, watching her, taking her in, gauging the full fluid motion of her body and the slow swing of her long tawny hair and the full rich beauty of her face, feeling again the desire for her and the need of her.
He stopped then, and turned toward the living room and took a hesitant step.
She said, “What’s wrong, Joe?” and the sound of her voice clipped his resolution in half.
Pomfret laughed, the cracked sound of it echoing hollow and false in his brain. “Nothing at all,” he said lamely. “Tired, I guess. Had a hard day.”
She came to him and rested her hand on his arm. The touch of her pulled the trigger on his mind and the hatred in him welled up then and flowed fresh and potent until he thought he would kill her then and there, without benefit of gadgets or tricks or long-range plans, if she didn’t take her hand off him.
He said, hoarsely, “Has Harvey called for his cigarette case yet, Eva?” and his keen, suspicious eyes probed hers for some sign of fear or admission of her guilt.
She took her hand away and color touched her cheeks.
“For heaven’s sake, Joe, do we have to go through all that again? I told you he left it in the living room the last time he was here, and I took it upstairs to the bedroom so I wouldn’t forget to ask you to give it back to him when you saw him at the office. Isn’t that reasonable enough for you? Do you expect me to go down on my knees and beg for belief from my own husband?”
Her voice was as tight as a plucked violin string, vibrating against the resistance in his mind.
He thought again of the lighter on the living room table. He let out his breath. The taste in his mouth was as sour and he wanted to be sick.
Instead he reached for her and kissed her harshly, feeling the softness of her against him, the elusive, heady perfume, the taste of her lipstick.
Feeling, too, the resistance that had been there for months now.
“Okay,” he said quietly. “Okay, hon. Let’s skip it.”
He opened the door and reached down for his bags.
“I’ll be back,” he said, as if it mattered. “It may take time. Maybe a week or more.”
“You be careful of those Toledo blondes,” she said, smiling up at him. “I don’t know if I should trust you that far away from home.”
Trust me! he thought bitterly. You don’t know if you can trust me?
He tried a laugh on, just to see if it would fit, and when it didn’t, he turned and walked quickly from the house to the car. There was a harsh bitter nip of Fall in the air. The breaths he took crackled in his lungs and reminded him of football games and the sharp clean tang of mustard on hot-dogs and the closeness and warmth Eva had been to him then, before Harvey joined the firm and began his series of weekly visits, finally moving into the house next door.
Pomfret almost tore the transmission out of the car getting it into second gear. As he passed Harvey’s house he saw the shadow of Harvey’s bulk against the windowshades, and he knew that before he reached the corner the big eager man would be sneaking slyly through the gate in the hedge to where Eva waited for him.
He put the car into high gear and went down the street and turned the corner, out of sight.
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They’ll Never Suspect A Thing
Harvey grinned. He had a good-natured, boyish grin that worked well with some types of women. He stood in the middle of Joe Pomfret’s living room, staring at Joe Pomfret’s wife. There was sweat on his face.
He said, “Look, from now on, it’s so much velvet, Ev. Everything’s going to be okay. It’ll all be over soon.”
He walked over to the table and spun a pack of cigarettes so that one flipped out. This he tapped on the table and put in his mouth. He picked up the bronze lighter and held it in his hand.
“Neat little gadget,” he said, making his voice loud, as if to drown out his own thoughts and the ones in Eva’s mind. “Where’d you get it?”
She sat tensely on the edge of the studio couch, staring at her hands. The whip in his voice brought her head up and she glanced at the lighter, then shrugged impatiently.
“I don’t know. Joe, I guess. He’s always bringing something home.” She wet her lips. “When, Harv? How long will it be?”
Harvey put the lighter back on the table and poured himself a stiff drink. He put it down his throat in one long smooth motion, and glanced at his watch.
“When he hits the Turnpike hill,” he said, keeping his voice even, “he’ll have to brake hard for the sharp turn there. When he does, the brake cable goes. I took care of the emergency, too.”
He poured another drink, rattling the bottle against the glass.
“It’s a hundred foot drop through that fence. He won’t feel a thing.”
She shivered. He took the cigarette from his mouth and went over to her. She came willingly and easily into his arms. He kissed her in a way that Joe Pomfret had never known and would never learn, now.
For a moment she lay still in his arms, her breath hot on his face, her eyes closed. The room was very still.
Harvey put the cigarette back in his mouth and pushed her gently away.
“It’s going to be fine, angel. They’ll never suspect a thing.” Her mouth touched his again, jostling the cigarette.
She smiled. Her hand searched out across the table, touching the rough etched metal of the lighter, closing around it.
She slid her other arm around his neck, pulling his head down to hers, touching the lighter to the end of his cigarette. Her lips brushed his ear.
~ 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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