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Death by Telephone

James W. Marvin

Doomed to die at ten o'clock! What awful form would the grim reaper take to answer this ghastly summons?

I

RED headlights bored macabre holes through the rain-drenched night as the official coupe of District Attorney Halloran roared forward. In the twin crimson glares the slanting raindrops seemed like sinister globules of blood. The car's siren shrieked its tortured wail above the storm. District Attorney Halloran crouched over the wheel, his lean face a tense mask.

By his side sat Detective Sergeant Ben Wade, grim- lipped and taut. The detective spoke a question over the roar of the motor. "When did Judge Jeffries get this threatening phone call?"

District Attorney Halloran answered in clipped sentences. "Fifteen minutes ago. He notified me at once. Judge Jeffries is the one who sentenced Joe Durkin to hang. Yesterday Durkin escaped from the train that was taking him to Folsom's condemned row ? got away clean. And now Durkin has phoned Judge Jeffries to tell him that he intends to kill him at ten o'clock tonight. And it's past nine now!"

Halloran stepped down savagely on the gas. Wade said, "What's been done?"

"I've had the Jeffries home surrounded by plain- clothes men," the district attorney answered. "You're to be on the inside. You'll stick with the judge every minute. Don't let him get out of your sight!"

Wade nodded. His heavy jaw moved forward pugnaciously.

Abruptly Halloran said, "Here we are!" and slewed the heavy coupe into the driveway of an old-fashioned two-story residence. The car's weighted rear end cracked down against the springs as the back wheels took the bump. The machine came to a skidding stop on the wet gravel in front of the garage behind the house.

Halloran and Wade leaped out. At the front door of Judge Jeffries' home, the district attorney punched the bell. A woman, white-faced and fearful, admitted them.

Halloran said, "Mrs. Jeffries, this is Detective Sergeant Wade. He'll be your husband's bodyguard tonight."

Wade studied tie woman. She was not over thirty. Her hair was the color of dull gold, and her red mouth was warm and potentially passionate. Her tight-fitting dress revealed the swelling curves of her svelte hips and full erect breasts. She moved with an easy, lithe grace, like a tamed tigress.

SHE favored the detective with a slow, searching smile. "You look capable and—and dependable, sergeant." Her voice was a rich, husky contralto. She gave the detective her slim hand.

To Ben Wade there was something electrifying in the touch of her cool fingers in his broad palm. Wade suddenly understood why Judge Jeffries, sixty and a widower, had come to marry this voluptuous creature less than a year before. She aroused primitive desires in a man!

They followed her inside the house into a small study lined with bookshelves. Judge Jeffries, an elderly man with leonine white hair, rose from an easy chair. He smiled at the district attorney. "You didn't waste much time getting here, Hal," he said quizzically.

Halloran grunted. "This is Sergeant Wade, Judge. He's to stay with you until we think all danger is over. The house is surrounded by detectives. Did you dismiss the servants as I suggested?"

Jeffries nodded his white head.

The district attorney turned to Ben Wade. "Sergeant, you'd better make a search of the house. Be sure nobody's hiding anywhere."

Wade nodded and left. Ten minutes later he returned. "No sign of anyone," he reported succinctly. Then he smiled and added, "I...

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