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Copperhead Killer

Detective Dan Wade Breaks a Tough Case in a
House of Hate

By John L. Benton
Author of "Murder in Pictures," "Death Calls," etc.

THE flickering flames burning in the huge open fireplace cast a weird glow upon the man who sat in the big chair. In the shifting light of the fire his old face was like wrinkled parchment. Withered, talonlike fingers raked the chair arms, flabby lips parted in a toothless grin, and eyes that were black and bright like those of a crow stared at the white skull that was the solitary decoration of the mantel-piece above the hearth.

"It's not that I fear death," said the old man, his voice like the rustling of old paper that might crumble if handled too roughly. "I just don't like the idea of being murdered." There was no excitement in his voice, no more emotion than if he had announced he did not like rain.

Dan Wade sat watching and listening—a big man who was as strong and tough as he looked. He had thought this visit to old Craig Harper would be just a routine check-up. Harper was known throughout the small middle-western city as an eccentric old man. He often phoned the police department to complain childishly of various intrusions upon his privacy. A stray dog wandering about on his lawn, boys climbing trees not far from his house.

But this evening Craig Harper had insisted that a detective be sent out to his place at once. The old man had claimed that his life was in danger. Wade was the detective who had been sent to hear the old man's story and he did not like the job.

"Who is it you suspect?" asked Wade, as he sat watching Harper.

For a few moments the old man hesitated. Wade grew conscious of the stillness of the old house, the quiet that was never quite absolute silence in the cold winter night. Faint rustling noises, the creaking of old boards and timbers. The house was like an ancient ship on a calm sea—never entirely still, and yet the little sounds creating the illusion of motion.

"I don't know," said Harper finally. "That is what I want you to find out. That is why I asked for police protection."

"Who else is there in the house beside you?" asked Wade.

"My nephew, Burt Lee, and my secretary, Susan Jeffery," said the old man.

"Any other servants beside the butler who admitted me?" demanded Wade.

"Oh, yes. I forgot Martin, the butler," said Harper. "He is the only servant here now. There was a cook and a maid, but they left this morning. Said they did not like this house."

WADE had seen the butler when he had arrived, as he told Harper. The servant was a middle-aged man whose resemblance to the frog footman in "Alice in Wonderland" was striking. Harper's nephew and secretary were as yet ...

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