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Dibble Dabbles In Death

By David Wright O'Brien

Dibble swore he wouldn't be found dead in such drawers. But the choice was no longer his.

STANDING there in the mid-July heat of his hotel room, clutching the telephone savagely and shouting into it, Delbert Dibble looked little short of ridiculous.

A middle-aged executive, with a middle-aged paunch, balding head, and round cherubic face, Delbert Dibble could, on occasion, present a rather forceful dynamic-businessman sort of appearance. Unfortunately, however, this was not such an occasion for it.

Indignant though his mien, thunderous though his voice, expensively tasteful though his attire, Mr. Dibble's inability to create awe-at-a-glance was due to one incongruity in the picture.

He was completely without trousers—and quite denuded of drawers.

The trousers, pin-striped and in perfect taste with the rest of his attire, lay on his bed. But of drawers waiting to be donned, there was no visible evidence.

"Damned nonsense!" Dibble roared into the telephone. He owned a deep rasping voice that threw salesmen and secretaries into a panic. "Damned inefficiency! That laundry was promised for this morning. It is already late afternoon. It has not arrived."

Mr. Dibble was silent long enough to catch his breath. And in that moment the voice on the other end of the line was evidently guilty of making a reassuring remark.

The full force of Dibble's ire exploded.

"It had damned well better be right up!" he shouted. Then he slammed the telephone hard into the cradle.

Mr. Dibble turned from the telephone and went over to the bourbon and water he'd left by the dresser. The sight of his trousers on the bed deepened the purple of his complexion.

A gentleman, he told himself savagely, never donned trousers without first donning drawers. He was damned if, after working forty years to get to be a gentleman, he was going to break any of the rules now.

But he didn't have any drawers.

Not any, that is, that he could put his hands on at the moment. He had drawers back at his home in Scranton. Scads of them. Probably as many or more drawers than other men as financially well situated as he.

However, when he had embarked on this trip to Chicago, he had taken half a dozen pairs of drawers with him—enough to carry him comfortably over the laundry situation for his brief stay.

But he hadn't figured on having them stolen by an eager but witless bellhop who was a solicitor for a Chinese laundry on the side.

Dibble had been sound asleep when it happened.

The bellhop had entered his room while Dibble slumbered. He had spied Dibble's neatly folded linen lying on a chair, presumed it had been left there to be taken to the laundry, and had made off with it.

That had been twenty-four hours previously.

ON RISING to discover the absence of his undershirts, handkerchiefs and—most important—drawers, Dibble had put in a thundering call to the management, reporting the theft.

But the management had assured him that there had been no theft. A regrettable mistake had been made, that was all. Mr. Dibble could rest assured that his linen had merely been mistakenly carried off to the laundry. The bellboy had gotten his room numbers mixed. Mr. Dibble could count on the return of his laundry within twenty-four hours. In spite of the wartime laundry shortage, the management of the hotel added proudly, they could still secure swift service for a customer of Dibble's status.

Dibble had been somewhat mollified on finding one last pair of drawers in his luggage. They would see him through until the morrow, and the laundry would be on hand then.

Yet this was the morrow, and the laundry had not arrived. Worse, there had been another mistake made by the eager bellboy. Once again, as Dibble slept, the youth had mixed his room numbers, entered Dibble's sanctum, and carried off his sole remaining pair of drawers.

It was this second stupid pilfering which had resulted in Delbert Dibble's blowing his top to the hotel management. Not only was he left bereft of any clean drawers, he was left without any drawers whatsoever.

Fortunately Dibble hadn't risen until noon. This saved him several hours, less mental agony, not to mention necessary nudity. And on discovering that his last pair of drawers had vanished, and that his laundry was already overdue in arriving, Dibble had inaugurated the first and most violent of his every-ten-minute telephone calls to the management.

Now he glared at his pin-striped trousers atop the bedspread and made for his bourbon and water. This was the dozenth call he had made, and on the next one, by Judas, he was going to call his lawyers and institute suit.

Dibble plunked himself in the rather scratchy confines of an armchair and picked up his drink.

"I'll have this case dragged to the highest court in the land," he muttered, taking a savage swallow from the glass. "If that laundry isn't here this time, I'll sue that sticky-fingered management for every last—"

At that moment, there was a discreet knock on Mr. Dibble's door.

Dibble was about to shout for the knocker to enter, then he remembered his embarrassing lack of attire and demanded to know the identity of the person seeking entrance.

"Bellhop with your laundry, sir."

Dibble almost fell over himself in his haste to unbolt the door and admit the pimply, uniformed young bellhop.

By way of a tip, Dibble shot the youth a glare that sent him scooting off in terror. And when he was safely out of the room, Dibble took the package of laundry to his bed, snapped the strings, removed the wrapping paper, and stared perplexed at the contents which lay before him.

There were handkerchiefs atop the pile of laundry. Unfamiliar handkerchiefs, with the initials "JK" on them. Dibble frowned irritably, tossed these aside, and began to burrow deep into the pile for his precious drawers.

There were many other items unfamiliar to Dibble. Impatiently, he tossed these aside and ferreted on. Suddenly, to his shocked rage, he was down to the last item in the pile and suddenly aware that none of this was his laundry.

It was the last item that brought this fact forcibly to Dibble's consciousness—a pair of drawers.

They represented the only drawers Dibble had encountered in the entire bundle, and they were distinctly not Delbert Dibble's kind of underwear.

These drawers were hideously colored, wildly patterned; Dibble owned drawers only of a chaste, unpatterned white. These drawers were not drawers at all, but the sort of modern garment called "shorts." The drawers Dibble owned were drawers in the strictest sense of the word. They were long, extending modestly to the ankle. And finally, these drawers were silk, whereas Dibble's had always been soft, fine linen.

MR. DIBBLE cried his dismay hoarsely to the empty room, and held the offending drawers aloft like a man who had just discovered a thumb in his hash.

The flashing splendor of the colors and the wildly shouting pattern smote Dibble in the eyes, and he dropped the hideous garment quickly.

"This," he gasped, shaking with indignation, "is not only not my laundry, it is the laundry of some race track tout, some—some gigolo, some harebrained collegiate playboy!"

Dibble stood there, staring down in horror at the drawers, his fists clenching and unclenching as wave upon wave of anger smote him. His breath came heavily through his nostrils.

"I'll sue them for every damned penny they own," he whispered shakily. "I'll—"

The telephone rang.

Mr. Dibble found it difficult to tear his eyes from the grim fascination of the multicolored drawers, but the insistent ringing of the bell would not be denied.

He walked slowly to the telephone, looking over his shoulder several times at the atrocity that lay on the bed, as if he were uncertain that it was safe to turn his back on the drawers.

"Hello," Dibble rasped.

"That you, Dell?"

Dibble recognized the voice. Benning. Important business connection. Dibble had an appointment with him later in the evening. Wise to be nice to Benning. Dibble fought for control of himself, forced his voice to sound reasonably level as he talked to Benning.

"Why, yes, Benning. Yes, of course. I can make it earlier. Glad to. Glad to dine with you. At your club? Fine. Fine. Be there in half an hour. Glad you caught me in. Goodbye, old man."

Dibble put the telephone back in the cradle, gently this time, his mind occupied with the matters of business suggested by the call.

"Damn," Dibble muttered. "Half an hour. Not much time. Can't very well afford to put him off, however. Guess I'll have to hurry my dressing and get down there."

It was then, as his eyes again caught the flamboyant drawers, that Dibble remembered his predicament.

"My God!" he gasped hoarsely.

His blood pressure jumped several registers.

"No drawers!" he groaned.

But it was preposterous, utterly preposterous that he should be held from such an important appointment because of a lack of drawers. Dibble told himself this several times in the next few minutes.

Then he went to the telephone.

"Hello," he said resolutely, "I want the laundry service."

WHILE he waited for the connection to be made, Dibble reminded himself that he had sworn to keep cool during the ensuing conversation. He had been blowing up all day, and it hadn't been getting him anywhere. There was no time for rage now, even though he felt it burbling deep inside him. He had to keep cool. He had to get this thing straightened out as quickly as possible.

"Hello," Dibble said again, a few moments later, "laundry service?"

He was told that it was.

"This is Mr. Delbert Dibble speaking. You delivered a package of laundry to my room just a few minutes ago. Now, tell me, was any other package sent along to any other room at the time you sent the young halfwit along with it?"

Mr. Dibble listened, satisfaction corning into his expression.

"I see. You sent one other package along with the young nincompoop, eh? And to what room was he supposed to deliver that other package?"

Mr. Dibble smiled in grim triumph.

"I see. Room eight-oh-nine. Thank you very much. What? No. Nothing at all. I was merely curious. Thank you."

Dibble hung up the telephone in triumph. It had worked much better this way. Very much better. He felt quite proud of himself. He had restrained a natural homicidal rage and succeeded in getting all the information he desired. The laundry people had wondered what was up, why he was curious. But he hadn't told them. Had he told them they would have sent the same halfwitted bellhop up to straighten out the situation and it would have been messed up beautifully once again. Mr. Dibble was taking no chances on having the situation messed up again.

He went over to the bed, stared martyr-like at the atrocious drawers lying there, steeled himself with a deep breath, and picked them up.

"Just for a few minutes," Dibble muttered. "After all, dammit, I am still a gentleman."

Mr. Dibble, looking much like a man stepping into a pool of flaming oil, grimly donned the atrocious drawers. Then, quickly, as if he were washing down bitter medicine with a chaser, he stepped into his pin-striped trousers.

He sighed, releasing his breath. For the first time that day, he was completely, if not decently, attired.

Mr. Dibble glanced at himself in the mirror, and felt much better. There was no visible sign of the atrocious taste mercifully concealed by his pinstriped trousers. And no one would ever know, unless he were suddenly to drop dead of a heart attack and be hauled off to the morgue for an autopsy. But then death would make his shame quite without pain.

Mr. Dibble closed the door of his room behind him, lighted an expensive havana, and his self- respect almost completely restored, walked confidently down the hotel hallway to the elevator. He punched the button, waited for a car to stop, stepped in, dropped a floor, and stepped out on eight.

"I shall explain the situation to the fellow as quickly as I can," Dibble told himself. "After all, I won't want to tarry with any person capable of owning such absolutely shameful drawers."

Mr. Dibble suddenly asked himself how he was going to explain the absence of the unknown gentleman's loud drawers from the package he carried. Then he smiled. A simple little lie would suffice.

"I shall tell him that I might have left them in my room, and will send them down with a bellhop," Dibble thought. "I can then go up to my room, slip out of these awful drawers, get into something respectable, and call a muddle-headed bellhop to take the hideous things down to the owner."

MR. DIBBLE felt considerably pleased with himself. He shifted the bundle of mis- delivered laundry into his other arm, glanced at the room numbers on the doors he passed, then halted. Eight-oh-nine. This would be it. This was the room to which his own laundry had been quite mistakenly delivered. This was the room, to which the laundry Dibble had received should have been delivered.

He knocked briskly on the door.

Although Mr. Dibble gave the occupant time enough to drop whatever he was doing, there was no answer. Dibble waited another moment, then pressed the buzzer at the side of the door. He could hear it ringing in the room. But he heard no movement in answer to it. Heard nothing, in fact, to indicate that anyone was in.

Dibble frowned and, for the first time, began to be worried. He hadn't counted on this. If the person were out, he was in a hell of a predicament. He'd not be able to get his drawers in time to make his business appointment, and he felt slightly nauseated at the prospects of having to wear the atrocious drawers for the next eight or more hours.

Mr. Dibble knocked again. Impatiently. He tried the door knob, and it turned easily in his hand. The door swung inward. Dibble coughed, by way of mannered warning, then called:

"I say, there!"

Dibble waited, while his words rang into the room and back into his ears. There wasn't any answer. There wasn't any sound.

Dibble stepped into the room, peering down the short half hall leading into the bedroom. He sniffed, frowning. Something was odd. There was an odor in the air that was extremely peculiar. An acrid, smoky odor. Much like cordite.

He moved more rapidly, into the bedroom, then stopped quite suddenly, frozen in shock at what confronted him.

There was a man in the room. A man sprawled on the floor next to the bed.

Dibble was no coroner, but he knew instinctively that the man was dead. The man's head and torso lay across a mass of old newspapers, and the newspapers were stained with something reddish purple that oozed slowly from a gaping hole in the man's forehead.

Very slowly, Dibble put down the laundry package in his arms. Then he stepped gingerly forward, bent over to have a better look at the corpse.

The face was half turned, partly covered by blood from the wound. But Dibble was able to see that the face had been handsome, the hair dark and wavy, and the body of somewhat athletic proportions. The corpse, Dibble judged, was that of a man in his middle thirties.

In spite of the thousand-and-one other reactions that were running through his mind, Dibble found himself concerned with the attire of the corpse. A flannel suit, gray, pin-striped, much too sharply cut. Black and tan shoes, very pointed at the toes. Silk socks with loud red and gray patterning.

Just the sort, Dibble thought sourly, who'd wear such atrocious drawers.

And then it occurred to Mr. Dibble that he was staring at the very violent results of someone's dislike for another. It came to him, very suddenly, that he was looking at murder for the first time in his life.

It is to Mr. Dibble's considerable credit that he didn't get rattled. He could feel that his heartbeat increased and that a strangely pleasurable tingling of excitement was creeping over him. But his nerves, his emotions, were calm.

"Well," Dibble said slowly. "Well, I'm damned."

DIBBLE fished into his pocket unthinkingly, automatically bringing forth a cigar. He bit off the end, lighted it, inhaled deeply.

Dibble glanced at the bed, then, and saw an open laundry parcel there. He stepped back from the corpse and around to the bed. There was nothing left in the laundry bundle save four handkerchiefs. On each of these Dibble recognized his own monogram.

He felt a small satisfaction in knowing he'd been right in his analysis of the laundry mix-up. But where was the rest of the laundry, his laundry, that should have been in that bundle?

He stepped over the corpse, moved to the closet off the small hallway from the door, and glanced inside. A quick, thorough inspection revealed no sign of the rest of his laundry.

He went back to the bedroom, stepped over the corpse once more, and went to the dresser. He opened each drawer noiselessly, but again found no trace of the rest of his laundry.

Dropping to his knees, Dibble peered under the bed. Nothing there. He sighed, clambering to his feet, stared reflectively again at the corpse.

"Damned nuisance!" Dibble muttered. Then he moved to the telephone at the head of the bed.

Telephone in hand, Dibble said impatiently:

"Hello. Hello. Get me the management. This is urgent."

Mr. Dibble repeated this twice before he realized that the line was dead and that he was getting no response.

He put the instrument back in the cradle, traced the wires to the box, and discovered that they had been pulled, or snipped, at the point of entry to the box.

Mr. Dibble snorted in exasperation.


He left the telephone, stepped once again around the corpse, glanced at the laundry bundle he had dropped on the floor, and left the room.

Downstairs, Mr. Dibble crossed the lobby without undue haste and walked, without knocking, into the manager's office.

The manager, a thin, nervous, too-eager little man, was sitting at his desk. He looked up as Dibble entered.

"You've had a murder in your establishment," Dibble said without any preamble. "Person in room eight-oh-nine."

The manager stared at Mr. Dibble in horror. . . .

"THIS is the room," Dibble said, some five minutes later, pausing before eight-oh-nine. With him was the thin, nervous little hotel manager and a bulking, indolent, triple-chinned person named Fagin, who was the house detective.

"Well, let's go in," Fagin said in his sandpaper voice.

"Yes," said the little manager tremulously, sounding very much as if it were the last thing in the world he wanted to do.

Dibble pushed the door open, and they followed him in.

"Nasty looking mess," Dibble began, moving through the narrow hallway into the bedroom. And then he stopped short.

The house detective, Fagin, almost plowed into Dibble as he stopped suddenly.

"Where—" Fagin began. Then his sentence, too, hung incomplete in the air.

Dibble was staring speechlessly at the bedroom. The place was not at all as he had found it some ten minutes before. Ten minutes ago there had been a corpse stretched beside the bed, its head oozing blood onto a smear of old newspapers. There had been the laundry, which Dibble himself had dropped on the floor, not to mention the open laundry package which had contained Dibble's own monogrammed handkerchiefs.

None of these was now present. No corpse, no newspapers, no laundry packages.

"Well?" Fagin said ominously. "Where is the body?"

Dibble's speech returned to him, and a sense of outrage, of indignation, began to flood him.

"This is absurd!" he choked.

"That's what I'm thinking," Fagin said dryly.

"Is this some sort of a joke?" the little manager ventured timidly.

Dibble turned on the two.

"See here," he said indignantly, "there was a body. Right in this room. Ten minutes ago. I saw it. I'm no damned fool. My vision is perfect. There was a body."

Fagin stepped past Dibble into the bedroom. He looked carefully around, grunted, bent his huge bulk over to peer beneath the bed. He groaned, stood upright, turned to glare at Dibble, then moved into the small bathroom. He reappeared a moment later.

"Maybe," he said acidly, "the corpse went for a walk."

"This is highly unusual," the nervous manager declared uncertainly. "Highly unusual, Mr. Dibble."

Dibble had opened the closet door, seen nothing, closed it again. He turned angrily on the little manager.

"I am not in the habit of being made a damned fool of," Dibble snorted. "There was a corpse here. I saw it."

Fagin rejoined them.

"Maybe it was some other corpse, some other time, some other place," he said. "Maybe you're just mixed up."

Fagin was a big hulk of a man; Dibble a vest pocket dynamo. He rose up on his toes, pushed his face close to Fagin's.

"Maybe you'd like a punch in the nose, you insolent boob!" Dibble rasped.

"Gentlemen!" cried the little manager in alarm.

Fagin sighed. Dibble came down off his toes. Fagin spoke wearily to the manager.

"Maybe we'd better get back to the lobby," he said. "We've both got work to do."

"Just a minute!" Dibble had just remembered something.

HE STEPPED over to the telephone by the bed and picked up the wires leading from the instrument to the box. Something hadn't changed, at any rate. The wires were still disconnected from the box.

"How about this!" Dibble exclaimed triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you the phone connection had been broken?"

Fagin turned his weary, red-rimmed eyes pityingly on Dibble.

"Next time you have a telephone out of order and want to report it, do so to Repair or Room Service, not to the house detective or the manager," he said.

Fagin and the manager filed out of the room, leaving Dibble standing there holding the severed wires aloft. As they moved out into the hallway, Dibble heard Fagin mutter something unintelligible, then chuckle pityingly. Dibble's complexion slowly grew purple.

He dropped the telephone wires and stood there glaring at the door.

"Damned idiots!" he snorted.

Dibble looked carefully around the room in the next five minutes, paying particular attention to the carpeting where the dead man's head had lain. Then he recalled the newspapers that had obviously prevented any of the blood from staining the carpet. He sighed then, and started for the door.

At the door, his hand on the knob, Dibble felt his outrage and indignation returning to him. He clamped his jaws hard on the cigar in his teeth, snorted angrily, and slammed the door in his wake.

Dibble's disposition, by the time he had traveled the scant floor between his own room and the one he had just left, was quite definitely growing worse. He was muttering to himself as he reached the ninth floor and started down the corridor to his room.

"Ought to call the police!" Dibble grunted. "Maybe they'd be idiotic, too. Never heard of such stupidity."

He found his key and was about to insert it in the lock of his door when he saw that the door was slightly ajar. In his departure a while back he'd probably forgotten to close it completely. He shoved his key in his pocket and pushed into his room.

Dibble smelled cigarette smoke at once, and heard the voice an instant later.

"Okay, buddy. Come on in. I've been waiting for you."

DIBBLE stepped through the hallway into his bedroom quickly. His outrage and indignation had left him in the sudden surprise and resultant curiosity.

He saw his visitor as he reached the end of the hall and the threshold of the bedroom. The man was sitting in an armchair. He had a glass in his hand, and at his elbow was a bottle of Dibble's bourbon.

Dibble's eyebrows and temperature both went up a notch.

And then Dibble saw that the man—a youngish, wrestler-like fellow with a broken nose, bushy black eyebrows and thick black hair—held a pistol in his other hand. The pistol, which Dibble had no way of knowing was a .45 was pointed at Dibble.

"Take a seat on the edge of the bed, buddy," said the bearish young man. His voice was surprisingly soft, curiously touched by a faint and unrecognizable accent.

Dibble stared a moment at the gun. Then his eyes met those of the gunman.

"Put that damned thing down," Dibble snapped. "It might go off."

The young man grinned. But it wasn't a humorous grin.

"It already has, once, today," he said. "If you don't want it to go off again, you'd better sit down there on the edge of the bed. And keep your hands up."

Dibble sat down reluctantly. He held his hands aloft.

"This is a lot of damned nonsense. Can't expect to get away with this sort of thing. Give me that gun and I'll put in a good word for you if I can."

The young man thought this very funny. At least worth a brief chuckle. He put down his drink, leaned forward in his chair, the gun still trained on Dibble.

"Okay, cough up. Where is it?"

Dibble frowned. "My money? I left it all in the room here. Don't tell me you were damned fool enough to miss it."

The young man's eyes narrowed. "None of that guff. I'm not a fool. You know what I mean. Where is it?"

"Supposing," said Dibble, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"The hell you don't."

Dibble realized that the young man could not be persuaded anything to the contrary.

"You know me?" Dibble asked.

"Only from today," said the gunman. "You went into Soltz's room, after I'd plugged him. That's the first I knew of your connection with him. But I didn't have time to learn all Soltz's connections in just two days."

"You saw me go into his room?" Dibble demanded.

"I'd have followed you in and plugged you," the young man said matter-of-factly, "only there were a number of people in the corridor outside the room at that time."

How'd you know this was my room?" Dibble asked.

"I asked the operator who'd dropped you off of the elevator at Soltz's floor. He knew your name and room number. You left your door open. I decided to wait here for you."

Dibble could restrain his curiosity on this matter no longer.

"What did you do with the body?"

"After you left the room I waited until the hall was clear. I stuffed the whole works into a mop closet right next to Soltz's room."

DIBBLE'S mouth went tight with satisfaction. That would teach that blundering idiot Fagin a few things.

"I just wondered," Dibble said vaguely.

"But that doesn't mean a damn thing. Where is it? That's all I want from you," the young man said.

"Not here," Dibble said with certainty. "You don't think I'd leave it here, do you?"

The young man cursed. Dibble wished he knew what the young man was babbling about.

"Where is it?" he snarled. "I'll give you just two minutes to tell me. To hell with this bantering." The gunman's eyes were blazing now.

Dibble swallowed hard.

"In a safe deposit box, of course," Dibble said.


Dibble named a bank. "I'm the only one who can open it," he said, pleased with his deception. "They know me at the bank."

The young man rose abruptly. He glanced at his watch.

"We're going there," he said, "right now. Get up."

Dibble rose, still holding his hands aloft. The gunman moved up to him, frisked him swiftly for weapons, stepped back, satisfied.

"Okay," he said. "You can drop your hands. "Keep 'em natural from now on. I'll be right beside you and just a half step back, all along. This gun'll be in my pocket. My finger will be on the trigger. Any false move on your part will be the last. Understand?"

"Naturally," said Dibble. He let his hands fall to his sides.

The young gunman dropped his pistol into the pocket of his baggy brown tweed coat.

"Okay," he said, pointing to the door with his bulging pocket, "you first."

Dibble looked at the young man's hand in the bulging pocket. He sighed, turned, and led the way out of the room.

There was no one in the corridor, no one waiting for the elevator. But Dibble realized that it wouldn't have been any help had there been someone around. The young man was too close. His hand was ready on the gun.

At the elevators, the young man pushed the "Down" buzzer. Dibble stared morosely at the vase of sand and cigarette butts just beside him, between the elevator doors. There was the usual array of match sticks and gum wrappers, and someone had tossed a single-edge safety razor blade into the debris.

The indicator showed that the elevator was on the way up. Dibble took his cigar from his teeth and looked at it distastefully.

"Damn thing's gone out," he snorted.

He bent over the vase, grinding the cigar butt into the sand, and when he straightened he had the safety razor blade palmed quite inconspicuously in his right hand.

The elevator arrived. The doors opened. Dibble stepped in ahead of the young gunman. He took a place in the far corner of the cage and the young man moved beside him. There was no one else in the car save the operator.

They picked up several passengers at the seventh floor, however, and three more at the fourth. There were three more passengers by the time the car reached the lobby. The young man prodded Dibble inconspicuously with the gun in his pocket.

"Let them go out first," he whispered.

Dibble did so, and in the noise of their movement, was able to drop the safety razor blade to the floor of the car without its being heard.

"Okay," hissed Dibble's escort.

DIBBLE moved out of the car slowly, making sure that the young man did not drop more than three or four inches back of him.

"Easy does it," said Dibble's escort softly. "Be natural, or be dead. Take your choice."

"Of course," said Dibble.

"That's the way," applauded his captor.

Dibble made for the door at the south end of the lobby. It entailed passing the desk, where he saw the big-stomached Fagin leaning negligently against the counter.

Dibble walked as slowly as he could without creating suspicion in the young man's mind. The gunman kept close to him.

Behind them, Dibble heard somebody giggle. It was a feminine giggle, and Dibble flushed faintly but continued his easy saunter toward the door.

He was almost at the desk when he heard a man's hearty guffaw. Then there was more laughter, rising rapidly in volume and growing greater until it was a contagious thing that swept the lobby behind them.

The young gunman's step almost faltered. He looked at Dibble suspiciously.

"What the hell's wrong?"

Dibble shrugged. "Haven't any idea."

The young man turned to look back over his shoulder. Dibble did so, too. Several dozen of the lobby occupants were gathered in small groups, convulsed in laughter, pointing at Dibble and his companion.

"Say!" the young man grated savagely. "Something is—"

His sentence was interrupted by a sudden loud frightened voice.

"Mr. Dibble. I say, Mr. Dibble!" the voice cried.

Dibble saw the thin, nervous little manager running toward him. He had obviously been somewhere behind them in the lobby crowd. His face was flushed in crimson dismay and he was staring at Dibble wide-eyed.

"Listen," grated the gunman ominously, his suspicions now quite thoroughly aroused.

At the sound of the manager's voice, they had both stopped and turned to face the elevators they'd just left. That put Fagin, and the hotel guests at the desk behind them.

Fagin's laughter was the first, and the loudest, to roar forth. Then the new laughter was immediately added to it.

The little manager paused breathlessly before Dibble and his companion now.

"Mr. Dibble," he gasped, his voice barely heard above the laughter that filled the lobby. "You are apparently unaware of it, but—I mean, I feel it is my duty to tell you—ah—"

But Dibble hadn't been paying any attention to the manager. He had been too intent on the young man at his side. And now, as he saw the gunman's attention distracted a dozen ways by the laughter and confusion, he acted.

Dibble took a step backward, then kicked upward, football style, with his right foot. It smashed squarely into the young man's hand—the hand in the bulging pocket.

There was a simultaneous roaring. One of the gun going off, and the other a roar of pain from the gunman's lips.

Someone screamed, and the laughter had suddenly subsided completely. Only the raging torrent of obscenity from the gunman's lips now split the air. He was tugging at his broken hand, trying to wrest it from his pocket, doubling up instinctively with pain as he did so.

All this happened in a split second. And in the next half second Dibble took advantage of the young gunman's doubled-over position. He delivered another savage, clean-swinging kick to the point of the young man's chin.

The howls of pain stopped abruptly and the young gunman fell forward to the floor, landing flush on his face in the manner of one out for the count.

Fagin had rushed up and was making heroic efforts to kick the unconscious young thug further into unconsciousness. The lobby was a chaos of shouts and screams and confusion.

Dibble turned to the almost hysterical little manager.

"Stop blubbering, man. Call the police. You'll find that body I told you about in the mop closet next to eight-oh-nine. And get me something to wrap around my middle. I've made enough of a spectacle of myself."

DIBBLE sat in the manager's office half an hour later. He had changed his trousers and was busily answering the questions of a businesslike, gray-haired homicide lieutenant. The hotel manager, Fagin the house detective, and a number of other official persons were present.

"That's how I happened to find the body," Dibble said. "Had to get a decent pair of drawers, you know. These damned fools"—he shot a withering glance at the chastened Fagin and the manager—"just about drove me crazy. Wouldn't believe me."

The lieutenant from the homicide squad smiled wryly.

"And you say you used that razor blade you picked up to slit the seat out of your trousers on the way down in the elevator?"

"Had to," Dibble said. "Only way to call attention without my guard's getting suspicious. With my trousers ripped wide open, and those hideous drawers visible to the world, I knew I could cause enough commotion in the lobby to start a small riot."

The homicide lieutenant chuckled. "You have a nice kicking toe."

"Great drop-kicker in my days at college. Class of '02 at Barrow U.," Dibble said unblushingly. "Still keep in shape. Exercise every morning and night. Man's a damned fool who doesn't."

A serious young man with blond hair and wide shoulders and glasses entered the room at that moment. All heads turned to observe his entrance.

The lieutenant from homicide spoke.

"Ah, Weber, glad you're here," he said. Then, to the others, he added, "Gentlemen, this is Mr. Weber of the Federal Bureau."

Weber nodded by way of acknowledging the introduction.

"It was Haupt, all right," he said, speaking to the homicide lieutenant. "He's confessed to killing his ex-confederate, Soltz. Soltz was trying to make a deal to sell his information to our office. Haupt"—he nodded at Dibble—"the chap you knocked out, was furious. He wanted to get the message from Soltz. They were both German agents. Soltz had picked up the message from a submarine off the coast, then failed to show up at a meeting with Haupt where he was supposed to turn it over. Haupt tracked Soltz to the city here, killed him, but didn't find the message in his search."

"But what on earth was the message?" Dibble demanded.

Weber, the FBI man, smiled. "I'm coming to that. You had the message all along, Mr. Dibble. Haupt didn't know that. He only knew that you were somehow involved with Soltz and probably knew where it was. That's why he waited for you in your room, after seeing you enter Soltz's room."

"Too damned involved," said Dibble impatiently. "Get to the point."

"Soltz was afraid Haupt might find him. He hid the message temporarily until he could figure out a way to sell it to us. He hid it by sending it off with the rest of his laundry. That laundry was returned, by mistake, to you, Dibble."

"Message in the laundry? Preposterous!" Dibble snorted.

"You have a washroom here?" Weber asked the manager. The manager nodded, pointed to a door at the end of the room.

"Be good enough to come with me a moment," said Weber.

Dibble frowned but followed the agent into the washroom. The door closed behind them. Those in the office heard voices murmuring, Dibble's, then Weber's. There were several indignant exclamations from Dibble. Then Weber emerged

from the washroom. In his hand he held a pair of silk, riotously colored and madly patterned shorts.

"Here, gentlemen, is the message the two spies, Haupt and Soltz, wrangled over. These crazy colors, and the utterly preposterous pattern, are nothing less than a very ingenious symbol code containing instructions to several of the most prominent German saboteurs on the east coast. Highly ingenious, gentlemen, but we've encountered similar samples of it in scarves, handkerchiefs, and so forth, before. Our cryptographers will crack it easily enough, I imagine."

When the buzz of comment and the excited babble of exclamations subsided, everyone's attention was quite suddenly stolen by a loud shout from the washroom door.

Dibble, his head just protruding through the crack of the door, had indignantly broken the spell.

"See here, Weber!" he shouted. "You can keep those damned silken atrocities, but get me something decent this instant. After all, no gentleman dons trousers without drawers!"