Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Shot in the Dark" by Anonymous/Unknown

Shot in the Dark
Anonymous/Unknown

Standing outside the small window at the jog in the building, Corky Spangler watched Jack West, working late at Tiff Brothers, Jewelers, replace the one hundred pearls in the bottle in which Mrs. Van Doughby had brought them for matching and restringing. He watched West lock the pearls in the safe and leave after turning out the light. Then Corky drew a heavy bunch of master keys from his coat pocket and tried them one at a time until he unlocked the rear door.

With collodion on his finger tips to eliminate prints, he worked at the safe with the skill of a master. He needed no flashlight, for his sensitive fingers told him the movement of each lock tumbler. He smiled quietly in the darkness as he slipped the bottle of pearls into his pocket and closed the safe once more and locked it shut. Then he left as he had come and faded into the shadows.

Through the front window of Uncle Henry's Bar and Grill he saw Joe Redpan washing glasses, so he went around to the private entrance on Audion Street and rang the bell—two short and a long. Uncle Henry let him in.

Corky spilled the pearls out on the table.

"One hundred pearls, Uncle Henry, and each one perfect."

"Ten thousand," said Uncle Henry. "I could maybe get eleven for them. Besides I had to plant an alibi for you."

Corky picked up the little white spheres and dropped them back into the bottle. He put the bottle back into his pocket and shook his head.

"Fifteen, Uncle Henry."

Uncle Henry counted out ten one-thousand dollar bills. Corky looked greedily at the money. He slid the bottle to Uncle Henry and picked up the greenbacks.

"After all," he laughed. "A good night's work."

"You better get upstairs," Uncle Henry cautioned, "and throw out that bum who's been sleeping in the corner with your clothes on."

Detective Mike Torrent walked into Uncle Henry's and ordered a short one. Uncle Henry was there himself and he tapped the glass and scooped off the foam.

Mike asked, "Who's the stiff?"

Uncle Henry shook his head.

"Corky Spangler. Been sleeping it off all night in the corner."

"I'm thirsty," Mike said.

He drank fast and tipped his head way back to drain the glass. He let his eyes stare down the glass to the mirror over the counter of the back bar. He held that pose while the foam trickled slowly into his mouth. Then Mike set the glass down and went out.

The next morning when Mike Torrent reported at headquarters he found Chief Waters grilling Jack West.

"You admit," said Waters, "that you were the last one out of the store. And you admit having looked at the pearls while you had no business to. Why don't you own up?"

Jack West's nostrils dilated. His eyes shot helplessly about the room.

"Because I didn't steal them," he said in clearly clipped diction. "I just looked at them and put them back."

Mike Torrent wrote on a slip of paper: "Pick up Corky Spangler," and handed the note to Officer Jules Blane.

Being grilled was nothing new to Corky Spangler.

"I was drunk all night in Uncle Henry's," he said jauntily. "Uncle Henry will tell you I was. Besides, you can't find any prints, you say. Looks like you're guessing."

Mike eased his leg over the edge of the chief's desk.

"You see, Corky," he chuckled affably, "we're not exactly accusing you of anything. Better say we're trying to protect you."

Corky laughed. "Are you kidding?"

Mike shrugged his shoulders. "You see, Corky, Uncle Henry is out gunning for a guy, so we brought you in, just in case."

Corky's eyes snapped open for just a split second. Then he became a poker face.

Mike went on: "For taking a lot of dough for a lousy bottle of collodion."

Instinctively Corky's hand went to his pocket. Chief Waters went forward with a pair of handcuffs. Corky's hand whipped fast with an automatic in it. A gun belched, but it wasn't Corky's. Corky stepped back and grabbed his shoulder, as Mike Torrent dropped his smoking gun back into its holster.

"In the mirror at Uncle Henry's I saw Corky shoving the souse out of the way, but I didn't know why then. When there were no prints I guessed that Corky used collodion. He's used it before. I threw in the gag about the mixed bottles and it caught him up fast."

Mike started for the door. "Now I'll pick up Uncle Henry. Looks like Corky's slow wits turned out to be a bottle neck for Uncle!"

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