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Death Plays Santa Claus

By Johnston McCulley

Lieutenant Mike O'Hara of homicide makes short work of a murder case—so that he can spend his Christmas at home!

DEEP disgust formed a picture in the face of Detective-lieutenant Mike O'Hara as he sat before his desk in the Homicide Squad's room at Police Headquarters. It was nine by the clock on Christmas Eve.

O'Hara had anticipated a Christmas Eve at home with his wife and their two young children, for it was his regular time off duty. He had intended donning a Santa Claus costume and giving the kids the time of their young lives. A Christmas tree had been prepared, and a closet was filled with presents.

But lots had been drawn to decide which members of the Squad would spend Christmas Eve on duty and which would serve through Christmas Day, and O'Hara had drawn a Christmas Eve position.

So had Detective Sergeant Ed Rassman, who was busy now with the radio in a corner of the room, and bringing in Christmas music. In deference to O'Hara's fit of gloom, he kept the radio turned low.

"So it's Christmas Eve," O'Hara growled. "When a man should be at home, if he's got kids. The only homicides we ever have on Christmas Eve are simple killings, the result of fights which are the result of too much Christmas firewater. There's never any question about 'em. No mysteries to solve. The patrolmen on the beats could handle 'em and make a report. Right?"

"Right!" Rassman agreed. "But you never can tell. And by workin' tonight, Mike, we get tomorrow off. We can eat Christmas dinner with our folks."

The telephone bell on O'Hara's desk gave three quick jangles, the alert signal. O'Hara's face grew stern, and he reached for the phone. Those three jerky rings meant business.

"O'Hara at this end!" the lieutenant barked into the mouthpiece.

"Maybe you'd better take that call, lieutenant," the telephone desk sergeant answered. "Sounds important."

"Switch 'em on."

The desk sergeant made the switchboard connection.

"Homicide Squad!" O'Hara barked. "Lieutenant O'Hara speaking."

A cultured, well-modulated masculine voice came to him over the wire.

"This is Dr. Morgan Stampf. I am at the residence of Cecil Fargall on Empire Boulevard. I regret to report that Mr. Fargall passed away a few minutes ago under circumstances that appear suspicious to me. Though I have been his personal physician for several years, I thought it best to notify the police and have an investigation made."

"Quite right, sir!" O'Hara replied. "We'll be right there." He cradled the phone and got out of his chair. "Punch the button, Ed," he ordered Rassman.

"We roll?" Rassman asked.

O'HARA nodded assent as he reached for his hat and overcoat. Rassman pressed a button and started things moving. The Homicide Squad was going out!

The speedy sedan with daring chauffeur would be waiting for them when they hurried into the basement garage of Headquarters. The police photographer and the fingerprint expert would follow in a car always ready and carrying their equipment, and two minor Squad men would be with them. "Doc" Layne, the medical examiner on duty, would be notified promptly and chase them to the address.

With its siren wailing a warning to traffic, the sedan rushed and skidded through the streets, with red lights burning. It cut across a corner of the busy retail business district where throngs were making the usual last-minute purchases.

It turned into broad Empire Boulevard and sped along that toward an old residential part of the city where imposing mansions sat far back from the street in groves of trees, and expressed the grandeur of an earlier era.

About an inch of snow was on the ground, and fine snow was drifting through the air. Perfect Christmas Eve weather, O'Hara thought.

"And I should be home playing Santa Claus for my two kids," he growled at Rassman.

"If this turns out to be a twister case—" Rassman began.

To the sergeant, a "twister" case was one involving a mystery to be solved and calling for clever work on the part of the Squad, instead of routine stuff.

"Don't even think that!" O'Hara barked at him, as the police chauffeur, who was listening, grinned into the rear vision mirror. "A twister, with us opening it up, means we'd have to stay with it until the end. Then where'd our Christmas Day at home be? If it's a twister case, we've got to crack it wide open before morning, even if we have to beat the truth out of somebody. I'm going to spend Christmas at home! Let's hope this Cecil Fargall died of a heart attack caused by indigestion."

"I know, Mike, but there's small chance of that," Rassman warned. "Dr. Morgan Stampf is one wise medic, I've heard. He wouldn't have called us for an ordinary heart attack."

"Stampf is a fashionable society doctor," O'Hara explained. "I've met him a few times. He reminds me of a human icicle. But some doctors and surgeons get like that, seeing so much misery and pain. Th...

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