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Creeping Shadows

By Seabury Quinn

"MON Dieu! Is it that we are arrest'?" Jules de Grandin half rose from the dinner table in mock consternation as the vigorous ringing of the front door bell was followed by a heavy tramp in the hall, and Nora, my household factotum, ushered Detective Sergeant Costello and two uniformed policemen into the dining room.

"Not a bit of it," Costello negatived with a grin as he seated himself on the extreme forward edge of the chair I indicated and motioned the two patrolmen to seats beside him. "Not a bit of it, Dr. de Grandin, sor; but we're after askin' a favor of you, if you don't mind. This is Officer Callaghan"—die indicated the burly, red-headed policeman at his right— "an' this is Officer Schippert. Both good boys, sor, an' worthy to be believed, for I know 'em of old."

"I doubt it not," de Grandin acknowledged the introduction with one of his quick smiles, "those whom you vouch for are surely not to be despised, mon vieux. But this favor you would have of me, what of it?"

Detective Sergeant Costello clasped his black derby hat in a viselike grip between his knees and stared into its interior as though he expected to find inspiration there. "We're after wantin' some information in th' Craven case, if ye don't mind, sor," he replied.

"Eh, the Craven case?" de Grandin echoed. "Parbleu, old friend, I fear you have come to the wrong bureau of information. I know nothing of the matter except such tags of gossip as I have heard, and that is little enough. Was it not that this Monsieur Craven, who lived alone by himself, was discovered dead in his front yard after having lain there in that condition for several days, and that there was evidence of neither struggle nor robbery? Am I right?"

"M'm," Costello mumbled. "They didn't tell ye nothin' about his head bein' cut off, then?"

An expression of almost tragic astonishment swept over the little Frenchman's face. "What is it that you say—he was beheaded?" he exclaimed incredulously. "Mordieu, why was I not informed of this? I had been told there was no evidence of struggle! Is it then that lonely gentlemen in America suffer the loss of their heads without struggling? Tell on, my friend". I burn, I am consumed with curiosity. What more of this so remarkable case where a man dies by decapitation and there is no sign of foul play? Nom d'un raisin, I am very wise, cher sergent, but it seems I have yet much to learn!"

"Well, sor," Costello began half apologetically, "I don't know why ye never heard about Craven's head bein' missin', unless th' coroner's office hustled th' body off too soon for th' folks to git wise. But that ain't th' strangest part of th' case; not by a dam' sight—askin' your pardon for th' expression, sor. Ye see, these boys here"—he indicated the officers, who nodded solemn confirmation of his remark before he uttered it— "these boys here have th' beat which goes past th' Craven house, an' they both of 'em swear they seen him in his front yard th' mornin' of th' very day he was found dead, an' supposed to have been dead for several days when found!

"Now, Dr. de Grandin, I'm just a police officer, an' Callaghan an' Schippert's just a pair o' harness bulls. We ain't had no eddycation, an' th' doctors at the coroner's office ought to know what they're talkin' about when they say th' putrefactive state of his body showed Craven had been dead several days; but just th' same——" He paused, casting a glance at his two blue-uniformed confreres.

"Nom d'un bouc, go on, man; go on!" de Grandin urged. "I starve for further details, and you withhold your story like a naughty little boy teasing a dog with a bit of meat! Proceed, I beseech you."

"Well, sor, as I was sayin'," the detective resumed, "I ain't settin' up to be no medical doctor, nor nothin' like that; but I'll take me Bible oath Mister Craven hadn't been dead no several days when they found him layin' in his garden. 'Twas early in th' mornin' of th' very day they found 'im I was walkin' past his house after bein' out most all night on a case, an' I seen him standin' in his front yard with me own two eyes, as plain as I see you this minute, sor. Callaghan an' Schippert, who was cornin' off night juty, come past th' house not more'n a' hour afterward, an' they seen 'im standin' among th' flowers, too."

"Eh, you are sure of this?" de Grandin demanded, his little blue eyes snapping with interest.

"Positive," Costello returned. "Meself, I might a' seen a ghost, an' Callaghan might a' done th' same, for we're Irish, sor, an' th' hidden people show 'emselves to us when they don't bid th' time o' day to th' rest o' yez; but Schippert here, if he seen a banshee settin' on a murderer's grave, combin' her hair with th' shin-bone of a dead gipsy, he'd never give th' old gurrl a tumble unless her screechin' annoyed th' neighbors, an' then he'd tell her to shut up an' move on, or he'd run her in for disturbin' th' peace. So if Schippert says he seen Mr. Craven walkin' in his front garden half an hour after sun-up, why, Mr. Craven it were, sor, an' no ghost at all. I'll swear to that."

"Morbleu, and did you not tell the coroner as much at the inquisition?" de Grandin asked, producing a cigarette from his waistcoat pocket like a prestidigitator exhuming a rabbit from his trick hat, but forgetting to light it in his excitement. "Did you not inform Monsieur le Coroneur of this?"

"No, sor; we wasn't invited to th' inquest. I reported what I'd seen to headquarters when I heard they'd found Mr. Craven's body, an' Callaghan an' Sehippert done th' sahie at their precinct, but all they said to us was 'Applesauce.' An' that was; that, sor. Y'see, when we all three swore we'd seen th' man himself th' same momin', an' th' doctors all Swore he must a' been dead almost a::week before he was found, they thought we was all cuckoo, an' paid us no more mind."

"Nom d'un pore! Did they so?" de Grandin barked. "They did tell you, my friend, that you spoke the sauce of the apple; you, who have assisted Jules de Grandin in more cases than one? Mordieu, it is the insult! I shall go to these canaille; I shall tell them to their foolish faces that they possess not the brain of a guinea-pig! I, Jules de Grandin, shall inform them——"

"Aisy, sor; go aisy, if ye please," Costello besought., "'Twould do us more harm than good should ye cause hard feelin's agin us at th' coroner's office; but ye can be a big help to us in another way, if ye will."

"Morbleu, speak on, my friend, enlighten me," de Grandin agreed. "If there be a mystery to this case, and a mystery there surely is...

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