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Death Stalks the Jury

By Jean Francis Webb

THE little foxes that gnaw at the vines. That phrase from the Bible kept running through Mike Barkley's head. Turbulent eddies of feeling washed over him as he watched the progress of those clock hands over the jury room door.

Not that either the District Attorney or the defense lawyer looked much like a fox. Big Tom Fugazzi, a governor's job his next political aim, was a suave, faintly swarthy six-footer. His manner, in a different profession, might have been described as "bedside." And wily old Hadrian Dempsey, the veteran defense attorney, was an explosive, craggy-browed dynamo, despite his short, squat build.

And how that pair of law battlers could keep gnawing!

Fugazzi was still at bat, questioning Mike's jury qualifications. "You know nothing of this case, then, except what you read in the papers at the time defendant was arrested and charged with Bertram Whitney's murder?"

"Nothing."

Twelve-thirty! Mike fidgeted uneasily. Faustine would be tearing the country club apart by now! She hated to be kept waiting. He was to have met her at ten, for golf before their lunch date.

"Has what you read at that time prejudiced your opinion?" Fugazzi asked.

The papers had landed hard on David Leyden, the accused man. As prosecutor, Fugazzi would be hoping for a jury prepared to convict.

"I've worked for newspapers long enough not to believe headlines," Mike said dryly.

"I see." The flicker of dissatisfaction Mike had hoped to see did not ruffle Big Tom's bland face. "No prejudice, then. If proven facts conclusively indicate the guilt of the accused—"

Mike was getting sore. It had never occurred to him he wouldn't be able to get off jury duty within a half hour or so. After all, he had friends. The trouble was that those same friends—like Judge Iglehart, for instance—were all likely to turn up at the country club themselves later that day. If they found out that the "urgent business" demanding Mike's exemption from jury duty was a date with Faustine—no, it wouldn't do. But he'd been here three hours now!

"Mr. Fugazzi!" Mike said. "I—you didn't ask me if I believe in capital punishment."

"And do you, Mr. Barkley?" Fugazzi purred.

Mike tried to look severe, knowing the prosecution would never accept a juror who might acquit because of the mandatory death sentence. He said, "Has one human being ever the right to take the life of another?"

"Feeling as you do," Fugazzi said smoothly, "you certainly do not approve of leaving brutal, willful murder unpunished. Your type of man will not permit such unbridled violence to go unchecked. The state passes Mr. Barkley for cause."

HADRIAN DEMPSEY, the defense attorney, began to fire questions as he jerked his spare, untidy little body forward. Had Mr. Barkley ever met the accused socially? In business, then? Had he ever dealt with the Whitney Airplane Corporation, until its recent sale under David Leyden's General Managership?

Twenty minutes to one! Mike could picture Tina storming up and down the club veranda; a slim, dark cyclone watching the driveway for his red sports roadster. He remembered, ruefully, what happened when he'd kept her waiting once before. That was the first time she'd threatened to marry Willie Laidlaw, the glamour boy. Willie, it seemed, knew how to treat a girl.

"I asked you a question, Mr. Barkley! I doubt if its answer is on the face of that clock you're watching so intently. Let me repeat. You are, I believe, a university graduate?"

"Yale. 1931."

The crooked twitch which passed as Dempsey's smile went into action. "The same year my client, David Leyden, was graduated from Princeton. You should consider his case with insight and sympathy."

"B-but Princeton!" It was a fool's remark, and Mike knew it. But Dempsey, too, was about to accept him! He had to do something! "You know about Yale and Princeton! I mean—"

For once, Dempsey sounded almost as bland as Big Tom Fugazzi. "Competition breeds a bond among men who share it, Mr. Barkley; a bond which should assure my client a fair hearing. We pass Mr. Barkley for cause."

A figure in a nightmare, Mike obeyed the Court's terse order to rise and lift his right hand. Twelve other men and women rose with him. Twelve. For the morning's crowning irony was the fact that he wasn't even a juror. He was the thirteenth man picked; the alternate, the spare tire, who saw active service only if one of his dozen predecessors came down with an emergency appendix.

On the veranda, by now, Tina would be in a white hot rage. But—the clerk of court was speaking his piece again.

"—accompany the Sergeant to your jury accommodations, where lunch will be served. You will communicate with no one on the outside. Personal effects will be collected at your residences and delivered to you. This way, please, ladies and gentlemen."

Sheep-like, the jury began to file past him. Three women and nine men. One of the women was young, pretty. Very pretty, in fact, although her blond coolness didn't register at first if you were used to dark, exotic Tina. Ellen Coburn, Mike recalled. Fugazzi had established her as somebody's secretary.

"You too, Mr. Barkley. This way."

THOSE jury room windows overlooked a parking space and a certain red roadster. But a discouragingly big revolver bulged at the sergeant's hip and he had the flat, expressionless face of one who'd know how to use it if a juror made trouble.

"Look, Mac, if I could get to a telephone for three minutes—" A neatly folded bill peeped out from Mike's left fist.

The sergeant looked through him. "Don't let the judge catch you tryin' to bribe an officer! This way, buddy!"

A long corridor back of the jury room led to side stairs ending at the side door of the courthouse. Mike knew the layout of old. Tramping glumly along beside his red-faced chaperone, he pictured Faustine as she called up Willie Laidlaw in sheer fury.

The passageway was dingy, lighted by glass panes in the ceiling overhead. Closed doors lined both walls, tossing back an echo to the shuffling jury. Their somber plodding was like a death march. The death of all chance to square himself with Faustine—

That was as far as he had thought when it happened.

The scream was a woman's. It rose in the cramped confines of the corridor like a cry splitting through the ceiling of hell itself. Unbridled terror, raw and sudden, seemed to be striking at all of them.

And then the ghastly upsweep of panic turned into words, starkly clear.

"H-he's dead! Oh, my God, he's dead! Dead!"

Things happened fast then. Mike's own reaction was simple, curiously direct. He sprang forward, flung a protective arm about the shoulders of the Coburn girl and drew her back against him. He heard himself saying, "Don't look. It's not pretty."

The man who had plunged so suddenly from one of the doors along the left-hand wall hit the stone flooring of the passage with a ghastly thud. When he hit, he lay still. A tin pail bumped grotesquely across the floor ahead of him and brought up clattering a few yards away.

The sergeant and his two uniformed patrolmen were quicker on their feet than Mike had expected. Kneeling at the prone man's side, the burly officer lifted that slight weight against himself and stared down stonily.

"It's Murphy, the janitor from across the way." That was all the sergeant said, but you realized at once that he meant more.

A patrolman flung wide the door through which the emaciated little janitor had come staggering. Mike saw what was inside, glancing over Ellen Coburn's head. It was a closet—a broom closet, empty except for mops and brushes and brooms and scrub pails.

Murphy was dead. Somebody had pulled a knotted rope about his scrawny neck and jerked it tight—mercilessly tight.

The flesh of the janitor's skinny throat bulged out above and below the hemp line in hideous little swells. Agonized, staring eyes fairly popped in the man's twisted face. Mike turned the Coburn girl's head away. Horrible thing for her to see—!

"One of you boys get movin'," growled the sergeant. "The Cap'n will want to take over here." One of his satellites obeyed. "Keep your eye on these folks here." Bad temper seemed to be the sergeant's reaction to murder; he snarled, "Rigor mortis, huh? Must have been dead three, four hours. Somebody propped him up amongst the junk inside there. Stiffening up made him fall over."

The captain and his men appeared on the stairs so rapidly that Mike blinked twice before he remembered Police Headquarters adjoined the court house. The discovery of Murphy was out of the sergeant's hands now. He turned over responsibility with the deadpan efficiency of long routine.

"He's janitor for our jury quarters across the street at the Liberty, sir. Been on the city payroll twenty years," he said.

The captain was a direct man, shrewd-eyed and unemotional. "You'd better get your people over to their lunch, McCoy. This hasn't anything to do with the Leyden trial."

"Yes, sir." McCoy, in the very act of lowering the rigid little corpse to the floor, said sharply, "Hello! What's this? Something in Murphy's fist, sir. A bit of cloth, it looks like."

Not one of them there in the hallway missed seeing it, as the sergeant forced back fingers death itself had tightened. The fragment of silk was green, with a stripe of yellow running transversely across it. Almost beyond question, it was part of a man's necktie.

THE Liberty Hotel, directly across the street on which the courthouse sided, rose fifteen stories into the sky, topped with gargoyles and fancy trim, its architecture between Moorish and Gothic.

The jury was herded into an elevator and was actually on the way up before Mike realized his fingers still gripped Ellen Coburn's elbow. Embarrassed, he released his hold.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to bruise you."

The girl smiled; a nice smile, friendly, but reserved. "I don't bruise easily. Thanks for wanting to protect a total stranger. None of our other friends bothered to think of it."

"Where the devil are we going now?" a square- faced, bald man who had answered to the name of Meek, asked McCoy.

"Jury quarters, for lunch. Fifteenth floor here has been taken over for juries that get locked in for duration of trial. Used to be a penthouse." It was a long speech for McCoy. Now he looked straight at Mike, saying, "Too high up for anybody to get in or out of. The switchboard doesn't accept jury folks' calls, either."

The direct taunt brought Faustine back into the foreground of Mike's consciousness, dulling the memory of that dead, distorted face of the janitor across the street. It even spoiled the pleasing effect of Miss Ellen Coburn's yellow hair, as the cage jolted to a stop.

The penthouse stood well above the roof of its tallest neighbor. A railed balcony-terrace hung over the busy intersection fifteen floors below.

"Pretty high up, aren't we?" The juror who made the observation, close to Mike's elbow, was—what was his name? Irving Miller. Thirtyish, buck-toothed, mild—his owlishness further accentuated by round, horn-rimmed glasses— Miller had a sleepy look, but not a stupid one.

"You couldn't count to twenty before you splashed," Mike said, and he spoke bitterly, for he himself had been staring out those windows, wondering.

"Lunch," McCoy said departing, "is out yonder on the table."

"Could any of us swallow a mouthful?" That was a Mrs. MacRea, a woman with billowing outlines. "That dreadful janitor at the courthouse! Enough to paralyze a person!"

"Doubtless, madam, he did it on purpose," sneered the foreman of their jury. His name was George Eberlin, agent for some small apartment houses.

"You needn't be rude! If Mr. MacRea were here, you'd never address me in that fashion!"

A soft voice at Mike's elbow murmured, "Just one happy family, we're going to be! All for one, and one for all!"

Grinning, he glanced down into Ellen Coburn's attractive face. The stronger light of the penthouse seemed to illumine it, underscoring its freshness. Mike thought of it in terms of advertising. One of these English toilet soap concerns could have made money on Ellen Coburn. Her picture, in color, over copy about white May in Devon and the scent of lavender and blue skies. Her eyes were so blue—

"At least you and I can eat," he said. "Tell you what; I'll fill a couple of plates from the table. We can try out the terrace."

ELLEN was waiting for him, relaxed in the vivid sunlight, when he came with food. They settled down, in white iron chairs, and smiled at each other.

"I wonder how long we'll be shut up here?" she ventured. "Will it be one of those marathon trials, do you think?"

"No telling. We won't lack excitement, will we? They were lining up inside, some for MacRea, some for Eberlin, when I came out. That Glickman woman was egging everybody on."

"She told me this trial was a boon to her." Ellen nibbled a pickle. "A positive boon, she put it. Seems she writes hair-raising mysteries."

"It was Mrs. MacRea who screamed over poor Murphy," said Mike. "For a while there, I thought it might be that blond willow—that Nottage chap. Walter Nottage."

Ellen smiled. "Walter decorates. He even confided in me, coming up in the elevator, that he'd once done this penthouse over a dance star who struck it rich."

"What do you think of that redheaded young truck driver who got picked just after Eberlin? Kearney, he called himself."

"What a memory for names you have!"

"Have to have, in the news racket. For instance, I spotted Howard Ross before Fugazzi called him by name this morning."

"Who is Ross?" Ellen asked.

"That slim, nervous chap, about thirty-five—the one who smokes so fast, one butt after another. He's a grounded transport flyer. We investigated a wreck he was responsible for around six months ago. Messy thing."

It was sheer accident that the faded sea green of her pillow made such a perfect background for Ellen's shining, smooth hair. Even Faustine might be proud of that effect; Faustine, who never left her effects to chance. With a guilty start, Mike realized he hadn't thought of Tina for fifteen minutes!

"We're lucky," he said. "We have the Upper Crust on our jury. Mr. Emil Plimpton, the overbearing and paunchy one, is a big noise on every railroad in this state worth mentioning."

"He doesn't know quite how to take this jury stretch, does he? Indignant at the inconvenience, but—on the other hand—stuck with previous public utterances about 'every citizen's duty.' "

Mike laughed. "That about covers our fellow inmates, except those two I can't tell apart. One is blank and sandy-haired, the other blank and gray- haired. One is a bank teller, and one sells perfumes. One gave his name as Philip Wanzo, the other as Chester Heath. But don't ask me which is which, even at the end of the trial, because I'll never— What's the matter?"

The girl had put up her hands behind her head, while he was talking; a gesture of complete relaxation. But now her slim figure was no longer relaxed. That crumpled object she had drawn from back of the canvas cushion—

"What's the matter?" Mike heard himself asking again. But he was out of his chair, leaning forward, even as he spoke. He was staring down at the thing she was forcing herself to show him.

It was a man's necktie, roughly, almost savagely, rumpled. It was made of green silk, with a yellow stripe running transversely across it. One end was missing entirely, ripped off where a row of ravelings showed distinctly in the early afternoon sunlight. . . .

TIME seemed to drag interminably. What was going on here in the courtroom, Mike kept telling himself, should have interested him more than it did. He was here, after all, solely to judge David Leyden's guilt or innocence. It wasn't his job to prod the police regarding that torn necktie Ellen...

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