Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/68

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94
 
WEIRD TALES

or fey—that's what they call it, isn't it?—you are. Have a drink. Jerry?"

I nodded, and relaxed in Chambers' softest armchair as he opened a small liquor cabinet that stood in a corner of his comfortable home—a large and beautifully furnished room on the third and top floor of an establishment that may best be described as a cross between a private club and a bachelor gentlemen's rooming house. The sort of place with a reception room on the first floor, telephone service in each room—swank for minor executives at moderate cost. Just the sort of place for a wifeless young man—

Chambers mixed two whiskey-sodas, handed me mine, and sat down tautly on the davenport, across the room from me. He slept, by the way, on that same davenport—though no one would have ever guessed.

"Here's the story, Jerry," he said, sipping at his drink as he talked. "I haven't told you all of it before for fear you'd laugh. I waited, instead, until tonight. Whatever happens tonight—if it does happen or nothing happens at all, I mean; it'll be over in a hurry, and that'll be the end of it. And if you want to kid me afterward, why, that's your privilege—

"Jerry, I want you to let me tell you this without interruptions. It's confused enough at best, and I want to be as sure as I can that I'm not missing anything that may be—significant. So—"

I nodded; I am a good listener, and after a moment he continued:

"I met this fellow Pierce just about a year ago, when he first came to live here. Kind of a round-faced fellow, with a funny little nervous twisted smile, sort of like a cat's—Lord, you've seen his pictures in the papers enough lately so that I don't have to describe him to you. I'll bet he isn't smiling like that right now, though—"

He shivered slightly, glanced fearfully at the banjo clock on the wall, gulped a big swallow of his drink and went on hastily:

"I struck up a sort of friendship with this Pierce right off. I'm an amiable bird anyway, and I couldn't help getting to know him; there're only about twenty-five fellows living here, and most of us take our breakfasts downstairs every morning, and our dinners at night, too, when we've nothing special on; it's like a sort of club, really.

"Everybody knows everybody else, and everybody else's business, too, so far as that's concerned. So I got to know Pierce right away. Had him up here for a drink, as a matter of fact, the second or third evening after he checked in the place.

"Lord, if anybody'd told me then that he'd done what he'd done I'd have said they were crazy. He seemed the most harmless sort of fellow in the world. The only odd thing that I noticed about him was that he seemed nervous as the devil all the time; jumpy, like—and he always seemed to be sort of listening for something, some noise or sound to materialize that never did. Lots of times I had to repeat whatever I was saying to him two or three times before he'd reply, and even then he'd only answer sort of mechanically, as though he weren't really listening to me at all. Well, it was a damned annoying trait, I can tell you; I put it down to his being terribly absent minded, and I made a private resolution that I'd find out the answer.

"Well, as it happened, I didn't get my first hit of information from Pierce direct; I got it from Mrs. Thomas, our landlady. She'd noticed, I guess, that I'd struck it off with Pierce, and I guess, too, that she'd taken a violent dislike to him. She waylaid me in the hall one day and started in, 'Mr. Chambers, haven't you noticed anything strange about our new Mr. Pierce?'

"I told her I hadn't, no.

"She clamped down her jaws and then