'Now,' pursued Joe as he leaned over me, 'these glasses were thrown off to Johnny's right side. Let's assume he was walking down the hall as you suggested. His glasses being four feet from him means they were flung off his face, right?'

'Right. Probably when he spun around fast.'

'Real fast, Doc. As fast as only a boxer can turn, like to avoid a punch, no?'

'Uh-huh,' said Mary. 'He spun his head to the right and at the same time jerked the safety strap off his gun. So there was somethinglike a noise- right near this table.'

And on my hands and knees I was looking at it. A faint conical stain lay on the wallpaper directly under the table. It spread out as it rose like an inverted triangle. It was dark; it looked like smoke. I decided not to lean over and sniff it. Then all three of us were looking at it. There was no doubt it was a scorch mark.

'An explosion,' said Joe.

'Yeah. And the explosion is what sent the gas flying all over the place instantly. Thing is, how'd they get the explosion to occur when Robinson was right nearby? And what sort of canister did they use?'

'Took it all with them. We'll be able to identify the gas, though. I'm gonna call the lab now. Don't move anything.'

Joe went out to his cruiser to call the crime lab and the locals. We had some time to kill. I wandered back into the small living room and snooped. I wanted to see if my anterior bridge was anywhere around.

Snooping is something I deplore in people, like gossiping. But it's surprising how easy it is to become a snooper. Looking around at the possessions of one absent or deceased, you find yourself saying, I wonder why he had that thing? Or, why on earth did she have so many of those? I stared at stacks of old magazines.

Most were back issues of The Ring. They went all the way back to the late sixties. Did Johnny have a girlfriend? There was no evidence of it. And when Joe came back he said he knew of no romantic interlude in Robinson's life since the death of his wife in 'fifty-eight.

'The dental work you said would be here isn't,' I said.

Joe and I sat on the love seat and speculated on the murder. Mary went back toward the bedroom, saying she wouldn't touch anything. Joe said there were lots of people who had reason to hate Johnny Robinson. I was staring at the tan-and~gray carpet when Mary screamed from the bedroom. We rushed in and found her backed up against the wall, as if at attention. She was gritting her teeth and shaking all over. A trembling hand reached out and pointed at the corpse of Tommy, the dog next to the open window.

'L-look in his mouth…'

I leaned over and noticed something between the dog's clenched fangs. When I tried to pull the teeth apart I felt them touch me, and shuddered.

'What are they?' asked Joe.



The boys from the lab, and the local police, weren't long. Prior to their arrival Joe and I busied ourselves by trying to reconstruct the sequence of events. One of the first things we noticed was a recently bored hole the size of a pea in the broken door of the bedroom. The hole was at eye level. A peephole.

'Okay, here it is, Doc. The guy, or guys, watch the hallway with the door closed. They're here behind the closed door when Robinson and doggies come home. They watch. When he's opposite the gas bomb in the hallway they somehow fire it- '

'Yeah, but the dogs don't die right away. Maybe they're hip to something fishy a few seconds before the gas explodes around them. Maybe they smell trouble. So they charge this door and smash it open. Then the gas does its work and they die too. But not before Tommy grabs one of them- I keep thinking there's more than one- by the hand and rips off two fingers. Then the killers escape by this window here that we found ajar. See? There's a small porch roof just below it, then an easy drop to the ground, even for an injured guy.'

'Won't work, Doc. if the dogs broke down the door the gas'd get the killers too.'

'No, Joe. They'd be wearing masks. You can bet on it. If the gas was to be at all effective, especially against two quick dogs, it'd have to be very potent. They'd have masks.'

'Then how'd they set off the charge from in here?'

'Some kind of juice; a trigger of some kind. Let's look around a little outside till the help comes.'

After discovering the human fingers in the dog's mouth, Mary had decided she'd had enough of sleuthing for the day and split for the Lucky Seven. Her brother and I found her in said joint, hiked up on a barstool with the other fellas, a shot glass full of clear liquid in front of her. She saw us come in out of the corner of her eye as she knocked back the shot and slapped the heavy glass down on the bar…She squinted at us menacingly.

'You guys wanna start sumpin'?'

'Mary, how many of those have you had?'

'That was my third. I don't like to feel fingers when they're not attached to a guy. But I'm better now. Gonna have coffee.'

'I thought you didn't like gin,' I said.

'Don't. This is peppermint schnapps. Tastes just like a candy cane. Want one?'

'No. You stay here. We just checked out the lower apartment of the house. It's been vacant for some time.'

'lt sure made it easy for them, Mare,' said Joe in a low voice.

'Hey, you didn't tell the guys at the end of the bar anything about-'

'No. I just said we couldn't find him. Listen, come pick me up here when you're through. And it better be soon.'

She pounded the thick little glass on the varnished bar. 'Bar-keep! Round four,' she said.

'Hey, thought you were having coffee now, Toots.'

'Changed my mind. And don't call me Toots.'

We walked in the alley behind the little gray house that now looked ominous to me, that was too silent and cute. Too buttoned up. I was looking at the garbage cans in the alley. Then I looked at the asphalt. It was old and hard as rock. There were no impressions there. A light metallic-blue Chevy sedan swung around into the alley toward us. Its tires crackled on the loose cinders. A man was leaning out the driver's window, wearing a fedora. He yelled and Joe hollered back. Then I recognized Kevin O'Hearn, Joe's detective partner. The beefy Irishman squinted at both of us and spoke low.

'You call the lab, Joe? They're up there now. Jeez, sumpin', huh? Poor Johnny…'

'Hey, Kevin,' I said, 'can you give us a ride up the alley a ways? We're looking for something.'

'What?' asked Joe.

'If you had the remains of a gas bomb what would you do with it? Would you carry it around in your back seat or trunk?'

'Yeah right. Okay. Go slow, Kev,' said Joe.

We rolled along through the dismal alley choked with litter and sparkly with broken glass. I pretended I was one of the killers as I watched the garbage cans slide by the window. They all looked too full and too small. In the third block I saw the angular jaw of a big dumpster and told O'Hearn to stop. We all got out and had a go at the big metal container. We lifted up the heavy lid and tried to rummage around inside but it was chock-full of old plaster and lath boards. The stuff was all tightly packed and very heavy; I hated to guess what the whole thing weighed- probably about as much as a destroyer. We drove on for another block and ran out of alley. We were back on Broadway. I swore, and Joe suggested we try a few more alleys, since the labboys wouldn't want us getting in their way anyhow. We cruised around, never going more than ten blocks or so from the gray house. Joe and I both figured they'd have dropped the evidence off fast, not wanting it in the car.

We struck pay dirt on the fourth alley. There was a dumpster there, filled with the usual trash and garbage. We grabbed an old fence board and snaked around in the mess awhile before we turned up a shopping bag with a canvas strap sticking out of it. I reached down and plucked out the bag by a corner. Inside were two army-issue gas masks. Canvas and rubber, brand-new, each in a little canvas carrying pouch. I kept rummaging with the fence

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