Sample L21 from Helen McCloy, "The Black Disk," Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 37: 4 (April, 1961), 23-27. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,009 words 398 (19.8%) quotesL21

Used by permission of Helen McCloy.0010-1810

Helen McCloy, "The Black Disk," Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 37: 4 (April, 1961), 23-27.

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But the police have dropped the case . I want you to go to Pearson City and find out why -- first-hand stuff for your modern crime series . Take the same train Diana Beauclerk took and get there at the same time . Go to the same hotel and occupy the same suite -- 1105 '' .

`` Will the hotel rent it so soon after the crime '' ? ?

`` Why not ? ? The police have finished with it . Besides , the number of the suite hasn't been published in any newspaper . To the hotel people , you'll just be an innocent tourist who happens to ask for that particular suite '' .

`` Still , they may not want to rent it '' .

`` That's your headache . Once inside , keep your eyes open '' ! !

`` For what '' ! ! Alec was growing more and more skeptical . `` The police will have gone over every square inch of the place with a fine-tooth comb . The hotel people will have scoured and vacuumed it . Ten to one , it's even been redecorated '' ! !

`` There's always a chance they may have overlooked something '' , returned the chief . `` I'm betting on that chance . Interview the bellboy and chambermaid who waited on Beauclerk . Study the topography of the suite . Soak up local color . Reenact everything Beauclerk did .

Try to imagine you're going to be murdered yourself -- between eleven p.m. and one a.m. the night you arrive '' .

Alec smirked . `` Cheerful way to spend an evening '' ! ! A sudden thought wiped the smirk from his face . `` Suppose the murderer should return to the scene of the crime '' ! !

The chief's eyes gleamed . He spoke softly . `` That is exactly what I'm hoping for . After all , the murderer is still at large . And the key to the suite is still missing '' .

On the train Alec refreshed his memory of the Beauclerk case by reading teletype flimsies -- spot-news stories about the crime sent out by the Pearson City Star , a member of the Syndicate Press .

Diana Beauclerk was a second-rate actress living in New York . Two weeks ago she had gone west to Pearson City . Daniel Forbes , her divorced husband , lived there . So did the firm of lawyers who had got her the divorce , Kimball and Stacy .

She reached Pearson City at nine p.m. and went straight to the Hotel Westmore . She telephoned the junior partner of her law firm , Martin Stacy , and asked him to call at her hotel that evening .

At the time of her divorce Forbes had promised to pay her a lump sum in lieu of further alimony if she remarried . According to Stacy , she told him she was planning to remarry and she wanted him to ask Forbes for the lump sum . Stacy replied that it would bankrupt Forbes , who had just sunk all his money in a real estate venture .

Stacy said he left her suite at nine forty-five p.m. . She was in good health and spirits , but still determined to get the money from Forbes . No one saw Stacy leave . No other visitor inquired for her that evening .

Next morning she was found dead in her suite with a bullet from a

Colt revolver in her brain . According to the medical examiner , she was shot between eleven p.m. and one a.m. . Her door was locked and the key was missing . So was the gun .

When Alec finished reading he was sure that either Forbes or Stacy had killed Diana Beauclerk . Forbes had motive and Stacy had opportunity . Find a motive for Stacy or an opportunity for Forbes and the case would be solved .

The Hotel Westmore proved to be one of the older hotels in Pearson City , and definitely second-rate . Alec's first impression of the lobby was gloomy , Victorian dignity -- black walnut and red plush , a black and white tiled floor , and Persian rugs .

He studied the night clerk as a man measures an adversary . `` I'd like the room I had the last time '' .

`` Certainly , sir '' . The clerk was young and limp , with a tired smile . `` Do you recall the number '' ? ?

`` It was 1105 '' .

The clerk's smile congealed . `` That suite is taken '' .

Alec's glance went to a chart of guest names and room numbers hanging on the wall behind the clerk . Opposite the number 1105 stood one word : Unoccupied .

The clerk's glance followed Alec's . `` We have better rooms vacant now '' , he babbled . `` Larger and more comfortable . At the same rate '' .

Alec's face was dark , blunt , and sulky . He always looked impertinent and he could look dangerous . He was looking dangerous now . He raised his voice . `` Anything wrong with the plumbing in 1105 '' ? ?

There was a sudden stillness in the lobby . Two women , who had been chattering like parrots , were struck dumb . A man , lighting a match for his cigar , paused until the flame burned his fingers . Even the bellboys on their bench were listening .

The clerk's eyes flickered . `` Of course not '' ! !

`` Anybody with a contagious disease been in there '' ? ?

`` No '' ! ! The clerk was almost hysterical . `` It's just that -- well , 1105 is being redecorated '' .

`` I don't believe it '' . Alec leaned on the desk , holding the clerk's eyes with his . `` Suppose you tell me the real reason '' , he drawled . `` There might be a story in it '' .

`` St-story '' ? ?

`` I'm with the Syndicated Press , Feature Service . Either I get the story -- or I get the suite '' .

It was blackmail and the clerk knew it . `` There is no story '' , he piped tremulously . `` Front ! ! Show this gentleman to 1105 '' ! !

The stillness persisted as Alec followed a bellboy across the lobby to the elevator . He could feel eyes on his back . He wished it had not been necessary to announce the number of his suite quite so publicly .

The corridor on the eleventh floor was dimly lighted by electric globes at intervals of thirty feet . A thick , crimson carpet muffled every footfall . At the end of the corridor Alec noticed a door marked : Fire Stairs . It was a neat setup for murder .

The bellboy unlocked a white door numbered 1105 . The room was dark but a neon sign flashed and faded beyond the window . A few snowflakes sifted down through that theatrical red glow , languid as falling feathers . Hastily the boy switched on a ceiling light .

The room looked normal and even commonplace . There was no hint of a violent struggle now . Deal furniture with a mahogany finish was neatly arranged as if it stood in the window of a department store . The blue rug was suspiciously bright and new . It had never been stained with blood . Table covers and towels were clean , ashtrays empty and supplied with fresh matches . The mirror over the bureau was a blank eye , round and innocent .

Alec played the part of an innocent tourist . `` Is there anything wrong with this room '' ? ?

`` N-no '' . The boy dropped his eyes .

`` Afraid you'll lose your job if you don't keep your mouth shut '' ? ?

The boy raised his eyes . `` Listen , mister . If you want my advice , pack up and take the next train back to New York '' .

`` Were you on duty here two weeks ago '' ? ?

The boy hesitated . Then , `` I'm not talking . But I wouldn't spend a night in here for a million bucks '' ! !

He was in a hurry to get out of the room . Alec gave him a tip and let him go .

Alone , Alec examined the doors . There were three -- one leading to a bathroom , one to the hall , and one to the room next door which was immovable -- locked or bolted on the other side . Alec locked the hall door and put the key with his watch on the bedside table . It was just quarter of nine .

As he ranged his belongings on the bureau he noticed a film of white dust on the dark surface of the wood beyond the linen cover . Not gray like the dust that collects in an unused room , but white . Women didn't use white face powder nowadays , he recalled . They used pink , tan , or cream powder .

Alec glanced into the bathroom . Blood in the bathtub where the murderer appears to have washed his hands . It seemed clean now , but Alec decided against a bath . He crawled into bed and switched off the light .

In the darkness he could see the rosy reflection of the neon sign on the wall opposite the window . It winked as steadily as a metronome -- on , off -- on , off . In less than five minutes Alec was asleep .

He never knew just what woke him . Yet suddenly he was wide-awake . There was no sound and apparently no movement in the room except the noiseless pulsation of the red light on the wall .

He lay still , listening to the silence , watching the light . Somewhere in the city a big clock sounded twelve solemn notes -- midnight . According to the medical examiner she was shot between eleven p.m. and one a.m. .

Alec heard a faint sound . His heart seemed to swell and knock against the wall of his chest . For the sound was inside the room .

He let his eyelids droop and breathed heavily , feigning sleep . The sound was coming nearer . A monstrous shadow fell across the illuminated wall , distorted and indefinable .

When the neon sign faded out , the shadow disappeared . When the neon sign flashed on , the shadow was still there . It stretched to an impossible height , climbing the wall to the ceiling . That meant that something between the light and its reflection on the wall was moving closer to the source of the light -- in this case , the window .

Cautiously Alec tensed his muscles , ready to jump . The bedsprings betrayed him with a creak . The shadow vanished . Someone had moved beyond the range of the light from the window .

Abandoning caution , Alec leaped out of bed and groped for the light switch . Before he could snap it on , a stinging blow caught him in the ribs . He lashed out blindly with his right . There was a thick , squashy crack of fist on flesh .

Something hard grazed his knuckles . He put everything he had into the next and aimed down where the stomach ought to be . Rough cloth rasped his fist . There was a grunt , curiously inarticulate , like that of an animal in pain . Something heavy shook the floor as it dropped .

Alec waited a moment , on guard . Nothing happened . Again he groped for the light switch .

The blue rug had been rolled up and stacked in one corner of the room . On the bare floorboards a man lay face down . He had a short , heavy , powerful body .

Alec turned him over and discovered a round , lumpy face with narrow , slanting eyes -- a primitive Tartar face from Russia or the Balkans . The man's shoes were too pointed , his overcoat too broad at the shoulders and too narrow at the waist .

There was a slight bulge under the left armpit -- a shoulder holster . Alec promptly removed the gun . He was familiar with this type . He had seen it in the lineup at Police Headquarters in New York , in Broadway night clubs and Seventh Avenue pool rooms , in the criminal courts . But he was surprised to meet it here . Diana Beauclerk had no connection with the underworld .

A professional gunman would not have killed her with a weapon of such small caliber as a

Nor would he choose a respectable hotel as the scene for a killing when it would be so much safer to take his victim for a one-way ride on a lonely country road .

The man's eyelids fluttered . He opened his eyes .

`` What are you doing here '' ? ? Demanded Alec .

The man made no reply . His eyes were dazed . His lips were bruised and swollen where Alec had hit him .

`` Did you kill Diana Beauclerk '' ? ?

Alec expected an indignant denial , but there was no response at all .

`` Oh , come on , snap out of it ! ! Or I'll turn you over to the police '' ! ! The silence was getting on Alec's nerves .

The man opened his mouth , but no words came . Only that curious , animal grunting Alec had heard during their fight .

`` Don't you speak English '' ? ?

The man opened his mouth wider . A forefinger pointed toward his gullet . Alec leaned forward to look . There were hideous scars inside the throat and the palate was mutilated .