Maxwell Grant


A FRAIL, droopy-faced man was seated near the window of his hotel room writing a letter. At moments he paused, a sly smile on his small lips, a gleam in his birdlike eyes. During those intervals, he stroked his fingers through his thin, gray-streaked hair.

He finished the letter, applying his signature with a self-important flourish. The name that he wrote was George Thurnig; and from his manner, he seemed to think that many persons knew that name.

Thurnig was wrong. He was almost unknown, here in New York. Even in Cincinnati, where he hailed from, he was regarded as important only by persons who purchased automobile accessories at his small chain of retail stores.

By tomorrow, though, the name of George Thurnig would be heralded throughout the country in a manner which its owner neither expected nor desired.

At present, Thurnig was complimenting himself upon the letter that he had written. It was to a friend in Cincinnati, and though cordial in style, it concealed much more than it told. For one thing, it revealed nothing of Thurnig's present purpose in New York.

That was a matter that Thurnig was keeping strictly to himself and a few other persons, who were also closemouthed.

The letter that Thurnig had written was limited to brief statements. It mentioned the fact that Thurnig had been taken ill shortly after his arrival at the New York hotel. Just another case of indigestion, the sort that frequently troubled him. The house physician had put him on a restricted diet for a few days.

That was ended. Tonight, the doctor had told Thurnig that he could go out, provided that he did not overeat or over-drink. So Thurnig intended to visit the bright spots, but keep within conservative bounds.

Sealing the letter, Thurnig addressed it and applied an air-mail stamp. He stepped toward the door and stopped. He had forgotten something; enough to make him worry for the moment.

Hurrying to an open suitcase, Thurnig pulled a wallet from a deep compartment. The wallet was stuffed with crisp currency, all in bills of high denominations. Thousand-dollar notes; next five hundreds; finally, a batch of one- hundred-dollar bills. They totaled twenty thousand dollars, and the full sum was in the wallet.

Thurnig's smile showed his relief.

The droopy-faced man carried the wallet in his hip pocket when he went out into the corridor to post his letter. All the way to the mail chute, he kept up quick side-glances with his birdlike eyes. Carrying twenty thousand dollars in cash was enough to make any man cautious, thought Thurnig.

Even though his better judgment told him that he was safe, Thurnig almost expected to see silent doors pop open, to find himself covered by dangerous New York mobsters. Nothing of the sort happened.

Apparently, anyone who was after big dough had not been informed that George Thurnig carried it.

THE telephone bell was jangling merrily when Thurnig returned along the corridor. He hurried into his room, locked the door and bolted it. When he answered the call, Thurnig recognized the voice across the wire.

'Hello...' Thurnig's eyes showed pleasure, but his lips, close-set, told that he was too canny to mention names. 'I had hoped to hear from you... Yes, I am quite well again. I shall be able to keep the appointment tomorrow night...

'My illness? Merely indigestion... What? You thought it might be my heart? No, no!' Proudly, Thurnig thwacked his chest. 'Hear that? It's the way the doctor tapped me... Yes, he said my heart was in excellent condition...

'Yes, fit as a fiddle - that describes me. So I am going out tonight... Yes, sir, as soon as my tuxedo comes up from the valet... Of course, I shall be careful of myself. Thanks a lot, for giving me a call.'

Thurnig hung up the receiver; he paced to the window. Propping his elbows there, he studied the glow of Times Square, with its flicker of big electric signs. That distant glare meant life, excitement, the sort that Thurnig wanted. He was fit to enjoy it; to have a real fling in Manhattan.

Thurnig's lips pursed to form a smile of anticipation, that was not to be realized.

He must have been staring from the window for a full ten minutes, when a short rap sounded outside his door. For an instant, Thurnig was startled; he waited for the knock to be repeated. When silence persisted, he decided that it was the valet.

He went to the door, opened it cautiously. He saw no one when he peered into the corridor. It was then that he remembered the Servidor. Stepping back into the room, he locked the door again.

The Servidor was a simple and useful device that Thurnig had found in many hotels. The door, with its big bulge, had two panels, with a space between. The outside panel could be unlocked by hotel employees, to pick up or leave laundry or clothes. The inner panel was controlled by the guest within the room.

Thanks to these doors within doors, the employees stayed out of the rooms, and that pleased Thurnig.

He was a bit absent-minded; apt to forget important matters, even the twenty thousand dollars that was so important to him. Remembering the money at this moment, Thurnig pulled the wallet from his hip, to lay it in the suitcase.

Returning to the door, he opened his side of the Servidor, expecting to find his pressed tuxedo.

Instead of the suit, Thurnig saw an upright box made of metal. It was wedged in the Servidor; from its top came a wire that was hooked to the panel that Thurnig had just opened. The wire actuated a shutter device in the top of the metal box.

Thurnig saw the shutter slide open. He heard its click; heard the hiss that followed it. From the box came a smoky, yellow vapor that licked lazily toward the man who viewed it. Before Thurnig recovered from his astoundment, he was choking, coughing, from the effects of a nauseous gas.

The vapor's immediate effect was to stagger him. He wavered, rooted to the spot where he stood. Then came the instinctive impulse to fight off the gaseous foe, to suppress it as a hideous monster. With a wild fling of one arm, Thurnig slammed the flapping panel of the Servidor.

But the remedy came too late. The gas tank had delivered its full quota. Enveloped by the yellow cloud, Thurnig was seized by a frantic desire for air. Clawing as if clutched by a living creature, the man stumbled toward the window.

Behind him, the gas was dissolving into the air; but that offered no relief. The stuff had done its work; deep in his lungs, Thurnig could feel its grip. He managed to pry the window upward, to stare downward into the darkness of the hotel courtyard. Then, his elbows tightened on the sill; slowly, they relaxed.

Thurnig rolled prone upon the floor.

Sounds told that the outer panel of the Servidor was being opened cautiously. There was a muffled scrape as the gas box was removed; next, a slight thump from the closing outer panel. The evidence was gone.

SOME minutes later, a valet arrived outside Thurnig's door carrying the expected tuxedo. He inserted the suit in the Servidor, and knocked. Thurnig did not answer; the valet remained, however, a trifle puzzled.

He expected to hear Thurnig take the tuxedo at once, for the guest had specified that he would be in his room to receive it by half past eight. The valet knocked again; finally, he opened the outer panel, to note that the suit was still there. Closing the Servidor, the valet went to the corridor telephone and called the desk.

He learned that Mr. Thurnig had not been seen in the lobby. He was told to wait where he was. Soon, two men arrived; one was the hotel detective, the other the house physician.

'Better unlock the door,' the doctor told the dick. 'Acute indigestion is serious, and Thurnig may have had an attack.'

They found Thurnig by the open window, sprawled in the very position where he had fallen. The doctor stooped above him anxiously, listened to his heart.

Thurnig was alive.

'He withstood the attack,' declared the physician. 'Help me place him on the bed. We should have no trouble reviving him.'

Thurnig did not revive. He lay motionless as ever, after his coat, vest and collar had been removed; no

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