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A Baffling Crime

BECAUSE of the storm that raged outside, the hotel dining room seemed especially cheerful. But Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48, smiled regretfully across the softly lighted table at his small companion.

"It's too bad, Babs," he remarked. "This rain will keep us in tonight. And we're only going to be here a couple of days! Wouldn't you like to see the town before we leave?"

The youngster looked up from her dessert.

"Oh, Mr. Dan, I'd like awfully to see the town with you," she said. "Maybe it won't rain so hard tomorrow, and then, if nothing happens, we can do it—"

But something was happening, quite unknown to them.

A series of weird and frightful events was beginning, which would change the plans of Secret Operative Dan Dunn and his friend for many days to come, and involve them in adventures of which they could not then dream.

At that moment a forbidding figure was crouched on the hotel fire-escape before a lighted window; and within the room a gray-haired man had risen fearfully from his chair to confront the menace of the night-prowler's pistol.

With a swift movement, the intruder raised the window-sash and grimly, without a word but threatening murder in every silent motion, stepped into the room. Seen in the brighter light, he was a terrifying creature in gloomy, black, rain-sodden garments, .with dirty white hair poking from under his shapeless hat. His face was queerly twisted.

The gray-haired man in the smoking-jacket advanced a step.

"Now, now!" he stammered. "Put that gun away, and let's talk sensibly—"

But the grim apparition only chuckled.

"A-ah! There is no time to talk. You think I'm crazy; but you have only seconds left to think! Your end has come! SO! The pistol speaks... My revenge!... Ah! Now it is done. My voice fades in your ears. The clutch of death—"

Only a soft, spitting sound had come from the queerly shaped pistol muzzle, but the silenced explosion had driven the bullet true to its victim's heart. The gray-haired man staggered backward—then crumpled and lay outstretched on the deep carpet.

"Ah-ha-ha! Revenge is sweet!"

Chuckling, the murderer turned away, to lock the window. Then he glided to the door and tried the key.

Under a shaded studio lamp, the body of the slain man lay quiet. Only faint sounds entered the room—street noises drowned by the gale and deadened by the draperies that covered the one window. The silent minutes stalked by... At last footsteps sounded in the hall.

Meantime, Dan Dunn and little Babs, having finished a leisurely dinner, and discussed the next day's proposed outing, were strolling without haste or apprehension along the corridor toward their rooms.

"We'll get a good night's rest now, Babs, and be up early in the morning. If we're going to see all there is to see in Dallas, one day is none too much, and you'll have to step lively."

"Perhaps I'll make you step lively, Mr. Dan!" laughed Babs. "But just now I do feel more like sleep than anything. It would take something pretty exciting to keep me awake tonight!"

"Wait a minute, Babs!" Dan Dunn had paused in his stride and put out a hand to halt the little girl beside him. "Look! There's a hotel maid rapping on the door next to ours, and there's a funny expression on her face. I think something's the matter... Anyhow, I'll ask her. If there is, we might be able to help."

"Gee!" Bab whispered. "I wonder what COULD be wrong, Mr. Dan?"

The Secret Service Operative stepped forward and touched the maid on the arm, just as she raised it to rap again.

"You can't rouse anybody?" he asked. "Is there any way I can help?"

"Oh, yes, Mister!" she answered. "If you could get up on a chair and look through the transom—I'm afraid Judge Borland's sick. I can't make him hear! And I've been knocking for ten minutes."

"Here's a chair, Mr. Dan!" spoke up Babs. "I'll hold it for you—"

But Dan had already stepped up on the wooden seat and was peering sharply through the transom glass. All at once he whirled about, frowning.

"Get the manager, quick!" he snapped. "Judge Borland's lying on the floor... I can just see his feet, stretched out there."

The maid paled—and turned and ran, without a word, down the hall.

Three minutes later, a very much worried manager appeared, panting from his climb up the stairs.

"What's the trouble?" he gasped. "Is—is this the room? Why! It's Judge Borland's apartment!"

"Yes!" Dan barked. "There's someone lying on the floor—and the door's locked. Key's in the lock inside. We'll have to break in. Smash your door or your window. Which? There's no time to waste! He may be ill, or dying, and even seconds may count!"

The manager thrust out his hands.

"B-Break down the door?" he gurgled in despair. "But can't you get in by the fire-escape?"

"No!" Dan replied. "I tried that while the maid was downstairs looking for you. The one window leading in from the fire escape is locked from the inside, too. So make your choice—but hurry!"

"Th-then we'll have to break down the door, I fear!" the manager quavered. "But please don't make a noise—the other guests—"


Dan's powerful shoulder had already struck the door panel with tremendous force. The wood cracked and shivered.

Again and again Dan's shoulder made a living battering-ram, which no ordinary wood and brass could withstand. At the last and most terrific blow, the door was wrenched loose from lock and hinges, and crashed inward upon the carpeted floor, as Dan Dunn leaped over it.

The next instant Dan was crouched over the prone body of Judge Borland, with the frightened manager trembling at his shoulder.

"Shot! He's dead. Don't touch a thing here hut go phone the police!" Dan's words came short and swift, inspiring obedience.

The manager fled from the room, only too glad to get away from the sight of murder. Dan, meanwhile, searched the room for possible clues. He had just finished when heavy steps in the hall announced the arrival of uniformed officers of the law upon the scene.

"Hello, Dan!" cried the blue-coated sergeant as he stepped over the broken door. "You beat us to the job in your old-time style again, I see. Huh! What's this we have—another murder?"

Dan threw him a shrewd glance.

"You can call it that if you want to, Sergeant," he smiled. "I've been going over the situation while we waited for you. That window, for instance. The murderer left damp footprints on the sill coming in, but he didn't go out that way. I Damp Footprints on the Windowsill found the window locked on the inside. The footprints are the only traces left on the window. I've been over it with a glass looking for fingerprints; but there aren't any. You can see for yourself, Sergeant. Take this magnifying glass and look closely.''

"I'll take your word for it at the moment, Dan. Excuse me while I make a brief examination of the body. After that I'd like to ask you some questions."

"You'll find, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a funny case," Dan told the officer a few moments later. "You see, the murderer ought to have been here when I broke clown the door. Only, he wasn't! And that is going to give you something to chew on."

"What on earth do you mean?" muttered the sergeant, bewildered.

"Just this," replied Dan swiftly. "The door was locked, also from the inside, with the key in the keyhole. So what can we think? The murderer could not have escaped through the transom, because it is still closed, and the dust on it has not been disturbed," he said, and paused. "Hm-m-m! What's this—? I didn't notice it before!"

Dan had moved over toward the broken door. Now he whipped out a small pocket magnifying-glass. and bent over the lock, in which the key still remained. Then raising the door from the place where it lay into a brighter light, he studied it again. After a minute he straightened up, with the hint of a smile upon his lips.

"Sort of baffling, isn't it, boys?" he said.

The two officers were more than ready to agree. In fact, they said so plainly.

"It beats me, Dan," muttered the sergeant. "Both door and window were locked from inside. Yet, whatever man or woman may have shot the judge couldn't have just disappeared into thin air. I can't make head or tail out of it."

"The fact is, Sergeant," remarked Dan after a pause, "that whoever shot Judge Borland simply walked out through the door and locked it after him! Perfectly simple, once you understand it."

"But—but—from the inside?"

"Exactly!" Dan smiled. "The murderer locked it FROM THE INSIDE!"

The sergeant's face flushed red with puzzled anger.

"Then why wasn't he here when you broke in?" he shouted. "Dan, you've got my head going around in circles I I'll be nutty if you keep this up!"

"Me, too," grunted the other officer, leaning forward. "If you know the answer, Mr. Dunn, why not tell it to us, straight?"

"You missed those scratches on the key!" said Dan grimly.

The Crime Master

A quarter of an hour later, in the office of the Chief of Police, Dan Dunn proceeded to solve the problem of the locked door.

"It was really a clever trick the murderer used, Chief," he explained. "And if I hadn't discovered those tiny scratches on, or perhaps I should say INSIDE, the eye of the key, I might have been as much mystified as yourself. You see, after shooting Judge Borland, the criminal locked the window from the inside, then opened the door and turned the key in the lock —like this—until the bolt was just ready to slide home. Then he placed a thin, short sliver of steel through the eye of the key. A strong, thin cord was attached to one end of the steel sliver, and then passed under the door so that it could be pulled from the outside. Look! I'll draw you a diagram, so you can see just how it worked... Next the murderer went out, closed the door, and simply pulled on the string. The key, in fact, was as easy to work as if he'd used his fingers on it. In turning, it let the steel sliver fall to the floor, whence it was drawn easily through the crack under the door. There remained only the microscopic scratches on the eye of the key to show how the criminal had escaped, and he counted on nobody ever discovering them."

"As simple as that!" breathed the Chief. "But here's another puzzle for you to solve. The bullet, though fired at close range, went only part way through Judge Borland's body. And yet NO BULLET COULD BE FOUND by the examining doctor. This office can't make head or tail of that fact. Can you, Dan? You're our only hope, now."

A swift smile of understanding crossed Dan's face.

"Yes!" he returned. "I think I can, Chief. Your not finding any bullet confirms a suspicion I had, when I first examined Judge Borland's body immediately after he was shot. I noted that he had been shot through the heart in such a way that he died instantly and shed almost no blood. Yet there was a WATERY SPOT ON HIS SHIRT, nearly invisible but real enough, all around the edge of the wound! Put those two facts together, and they tell just one story—Judge Borland was shot with an icicle!"

The Chief gasped.

"An icicle! What on earth do you mean? I don't get you at all!"

"I mean," said Dan Dunn, "a bullet-shaped piece of ice fitted into the pistol cartridge. Being light, it penetrated only part way through the victim's body; and being ice, it melted almost immediately and left a watery spot near the wound. The murderer probably kept it in a box of dry ice—like this. A little box that fitted the pocket."

Dan picked up a small paper box from the. Chief's desk.

The Chief's jaw s...

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