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The Voice on the Wire   By: (1881-1931)

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By Eustace Hale Ball


"Mr. Shirley is waiting for you in the grill room, sir. Just step this way, sir, and down the stairs."

The large man awkwardly followed the servant to the cosey grill room on the lower floor of the club house. He felt that every man of the little groups about the Flemish tables must be saying: "What's he doing here?"

"I wish Monty Shirley would meet me once in a while in the back room of a ginmill, where I'd feel comfortable," muttered the unhappy visitor. "This joint is too classy. But that's his game to play "

He reached the sought for one, however, and exclaimed eagerly: "By Jiminy, Monty. I'm glad to find you it would have been my luck after this day, to get here too late."

He was greeted with a grip that made even his generous hand wince, as the other arose to smile a welcome.

"Hello, Captain Cronin. You're a good sight for a grouchy man's eyes! Sit down and confide the brand of your particular favorite poison to our Japanese Dionysius!"

The Captain sighed with relief, as he obeyed.

"Bar whiskey is good enough for an old timer like me. Don't tell me you have the blues your face isn't built that way!"

"Gospel truth, Captain. I've been loafing around this club nothing to do for a month. Bridge, handball, highballs, and yarns! I'm actually a nervous wreck because my nerves haven't had any work to do!"

"You're the healthiest invalid I've seen since the hospital days in the Civil War. But don't worry about something to do. I've some job now. It's dolled up with all them frills you like: millions, murders and mysteries! If this don't keep you awake, you'll have nightmares for the next six months. Do you want it?"

"I'm tickled to death. Spill it!"

"Monty, it's the greatest case my detective agency has had since I left the police force eleven years ago. It's too big for me, and I've come to you to do a stunt as is a stunt. You will plug it for me, won't you just as you've always done? If I get the credit, it'll mean a fortune to me in the advertising alone."

"Haven't I handled every case for you in confidence. I'm not a fly cop, Captain Cronin. I'm a consulting specialist, and there's no shingle hung out. Perhaps you had better take it to some one else."

Shirley pushed away his empty glass impatiently.

"There, Monty, I didn't mean to offend you. But there's such swells in this and such a foxey bunch of blacklegs, that I'm as nervous as a rookie cop on his first arrest. Don't hold a grudge against me."

Shirley lit a cigarette and resumed his good nature: "Go on, Captain. I'm so stale with dolce far niente, after the Black Pearl affair last month, that I act like an amateur myself. Make it short, though, for I'm going to the opera."

The Captain leaned over the table, his face tense with suppressed emotion. He was a grizzled veteran of the New York police force: a man who sought his quarry with the ferocity of a bull dog, when the line of search was definitely assured. Lacking imagination and the subtler senses of criminology, Captain Cronin had built up a reputation for success and honesty in every assignment by bravery, persistence, and as in this case, the ability to cover his own deductive weakness by employing the brains of others.

Montague Shirley was as antithetical from the veteran detective as a man could well be. A noted athlete in his university, he possessed a society rating in New York, at Newport and Tuxedo, and on the Continent which was the envy of many a gilded youth born to the purple.

On leaving college, despite an ample patrimony, he had curiously enough entered the lists as a newspaper man. From the sporting page he was graduated to police news, then the city desk, at last closing his career as the genius who invented the weekly Sunday thriller, in many colors of illustration and vivacious Gallic style which interpreted into heart throbs and goose flesh the real life romances and tragedies of the preceding six days! He had conquered the paper and ink world then deep within there stirred the call for participation in the game itself... Continue reading book >>

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