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Doctor of Doom

By H. Q. Masur
Author of "Hot Squat C.O.D.," etc.

The mystery of the headless cadavers hurled Assistant Coroner Craig into a sleuth role—with a slab setting. And he was chosen to fill the corpse cast when crime's curtain fell on Satan's last act.

THE cop guarding the door let me into the shabby hotel room. Instantly the sickening odor of burnt flesh struck me like a blow. Lieutenant Reirdon, standing over the corpse, had a handkerchief against his nose. I kneeled to draw back the sheet, and the homicide men averted their faces. I can't say I blamed them.

I've been an assistant medical examiner only six months, but I've seen death in many forms. Yet this one sickened me.

The body was nude up to the neck— and there it ended. All that remained of the head were fragments of charred bone structure. It was as though some incredible gust of intense heat had blown across his face.

I straightened wryly, asked Reirdon: "Who is he?"

"An old chap by the name of Sidney Frome. Character actor out of work. But that wasn't the name he registered under."

"Looks like he's had his head in a smelting furnace," I said. "I've never seen anything like it. Whoever killed him wanted to conceal his identity. Not even any dental work to trace him by. How'd you find out who he was?"

Reirdon took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to me. "I got this down at the desk. It came in the morning mail. You can see it was addressed to his phony name."

All the envelope contained was a check—for a thousand dollars. Drawn to the order of Sidney Frome. And then I emitted a long whistle. Because of the signature at the bottom of the check. For Dr. Stephen Thorpe was well-known in the medical profession, maintaining his own private sanitarium right here in the city.

REIRDON was watching me with a grin on his seamed face, anticipating my request. He knows I'm a bug on criminal psychology, and has often insisted I should've been a cop instead of a doctor.

"Well," I said, moving right into the investigation, "mind if I see Thorpe with you?"

He nodded and we went down to the street where a squad car was waiting. Had I known what I was letting myself in for I might not have been so eager.

We found Dr. Thorpe in his office at the sanitarium, a richly furnished room. He sat behind his desk, heavyset, graying around the temples, distinguished-looking.

Reirdon inclined his head and I said without preliminary: "Sidney Frome was murdered last night. What do you know about him, doctor?"

Thorpe stiffened; his face muscles became rigid, then he relaxed. "What are you talking about?"

"Murder—Sidney Frome's. We have the check you sent him. Too bad it came too late for him to enjoy. What was it for?"

Thorpe's brown eyes narrowed. He was silent a moment. Then he said quietly: "It's purely a personal matter."

Reirdon thrust out his chin. "You'll talk and you'll like it. If you can shed any light on this thing I aim to drain it out of you."

Reirdon's like that—blunt. No subtlety, no tact. Yet sometimes he got results.

Thorpe's face was expressionless. He gazed at us appraisingly. "All right, gentlemen, I'll give it to you straight. Frome had been blackmailing me. So I paid him off. That's all there is to that check. If he was murdered I know nothing about it. Surely you can't think I'd send him a check and kill him at the same time."

"What did he have on you?"

Thorpe smiled thinly. "Sorry. I refuse to divulge information which might tend to incriminate me."

And there he had us. Of course we couldn't make him tell. I asked: "Can you account for your time last night?"

"As a matter of fact I can. One of my patients, Anton Brule, died last night. Coronary thrombosis—heart failure," he added for Reirdon's benefit. "Brule, you know, was president of the Miner's Trust. I called his relatives and remained with them at his home. The funeral was held this morning at ten o'clock. I took full charge."

Reirdon looked doubtful and nodded toward the door. We walked out of the office and down the long wh...

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