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The Corpse in the Cage

David Manners
Author of "Five-Star Homicide".

DETECTIVE LES WARREN moved a tiny bottle on the work-table before him. He picked up another one, read its label, growled, put it down. He moved still another bottle and another from the mess of bottles and vials and chemical retorts on his table, and then, suddenly, he banged down his fist. The bottles jumped and two upset with a tinkle.

The name was growled from his throat: "Polly!"

Les Warren turned from the stool on which he sat, looked back toward the adjoining room of his little two-room agency. There was no response. He was about to growl the name again when he heard the faintest lilt of chuckling laughter.

In a moment there was the patter of slippered feet, and a trim figure came through the door. A curvaceous figure with honey-blonde hair that flounced to her shoulders. She was holding something in her hand, and brightness was dancing in her big blue eyes.

Polly Sheehan said: "Oh, Les. Will you listen to this? It's a new advertising scheme I have for the Krako-Zeppo contest."

"Krako-Zeppo?"

"You know, that new breakfast cereal for kiddies. Listen—"

Les stared at her, and banged down his fist again. Two more bottles upset. "Krako- Zeppo again! Krako-Zeppo! Ye gods, what kind of a detective outfit are we running here anyway? Here I am trying to work out a new formula for tear gas, and you come eternally bothering me with jingles and rhymes and that damn Krako-Zeppo!

"I asked you who in hell's been monkeying with my stuff here. That's what I want to know! I can't find anything. And for Pete's sake, forget those contests and that nonsense. Pay a little attention to what's here."

"But how can you expect me ever to win any contests if you'll never give me your opinion on anything I do. I've got to get someone's reaction. Haven't I?" She brushed a stray blonde lock into place. "What is it now?"

"That bottle of copper sulphate." She came up behind him and leaned over his shoulder so he could smell the perfume she wore. Polly Sheehan was young, pretty and blonde. She was the one distraction Les Warren allowed himself in his work. He looked down to her slim-fingered hand and there was the bottle of copper sulphate.

She stared at him reprovingly. "It was right there all the time!" Les growled and batted his eyes like a sulky kid. He turned back to his work and picked up a small, cartridge-shaped bottle. He put it in his pocket and with a dirty towel started blotting up the mess he had made there in his crime detection outfit.

"Krako-Zeppo!" he said with mild exasperation.

But he drew the words out as he said them. Against the frosted glass of his front door a shadow moved. He saw it, and he stopped, the towel held in one hand. A shadow that stopped, poked something in the crack under the door, and then straightened.

Les Warren's eyes dropped to the floor. Something white and oblong-shaped was being shoved under the door. Les jumped out of his chair, threw down the towel, and picked up a blank, uncancelled government postal card. There was no address on it. He turned it over— But something had been stuck to its correspondence side!

Les jerked open the door and stepped into the hall. It glittered back emptily at him. His eyes swept its length again. He stepped back into his office and looked again at the card.

A TINY square of what looked like blotting paper had been fastened to the postal card by a metal staple. Under the blotter were the hand-lettered words: Remove blotter and moisten. Rub on blank side and read message.

Les looked at it for a long moment without doing anything. Then he raised the blotter to his nose. It had no chemical smell. He put the tip of his finger to his tongue and rubbed it across the top of the card. In a moment, the message came clear. He looked down at the words:

Notice!
D E A T H
will visit Frazee Brothers Circus tonight

Les Warren stared at the card, pulled at his lip, then put the card into his pocket. He took his hat off a hook, his eyes troubled.

"Polly," he said.

"Yes."

"The Frazee Brothers Circus is opening at the Garden tonight, isn't it?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. I was just remembering a fellow named Reese Sperry."

"That newspaperman who once threatened to kill you?"

"That's the fellow. The guy who said it would be a pleasure to bisect my throat. He's out of the pen now, and I understand he's with the show. I kinda like the guy, Polly. He did get treated kinda r...

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