Woman in the Dark


  It was nearly nine o’clock by the dial on the dashboard, and quite dark, when Luise Fischer and her captors passed a large square building whose illuminated sign said “Mile Valley Lumber Co.” and turned in to what was definitely a town street, though its irregularly spaced houses were not many. Ten minutes later the sedan came to rest at the curb in front of a gray public building. The driver got out. The other man held the door open for Luise. They took her into a ground-floor room in the gray building.

  Three men were in the room. A sad-faced man of sixty-some years, with ragged white hair and mustache, was tilted back in a chair, with his feet on a battered yellowish desk. He wore a hat but no coat. A pasty-faced young blond man, straddling a chair in front of the filing cabinet on the other side of the room, was saying, “So the traveling salesman asked the farmer if he could put him up for the night and—” but broke off when Luise Fischer and her companions came in.

  The third man stood with his back to the window. He was a slim man of medium height, not far past thirty, thin-lipped, pale, flashily dressed in brown and red. His collar was very tight. He advanced swiftly toward Luise Fischer, showing white teeth in a smile. “I’m Harry Klaus. They wouldn’t let me see you down there, so I came on up to wait for you.” He spoke rapidly and with assurance. “Don’t worry. I’ve got everything fixed.”

  The storyteller hesitated, changed his position. The two men who had brought Luise Fischer up from the city looked at the lawyer with obvious disapproval.

  Klaus smiled again with complete assurance. “You know she’s not going to tell you anything at all till we’ve talked it over, don’t you? Well, what the hell, then?”

  The man at the desk said: “All right, all right.” He looked at the two men standing behind the woman. “If Tuft’s office is empty, let ’em use that.”

  “Thanks.” Harry Klaus picked up a brown briefcase from a chair, took Luise Fischer’s elbow in his hand, and turned her to follow the thick-chested, florid man.

  He led them down the corridor a few feet to an office that was similar to the one they had just left. He did not go in with them. He said, “Come on back when you’re finished,” and, when they had gone in, slammed the door.

  Klaus jerked his head at the door. “A lot of whittlers,” he said cheerfully. “We’ll stand them on their heads.” He tossed his briefcase on the desk. “Sit down.”

  “Brazil?” she said. “He is—”

  His shrug lifted his shoulders almost to his ears. “I don’t know. Can’t get anything out of these people.”


  “Then he got away,” he said.

  “Do you think he did?”

  He shrugged his shoulders again. “We can always hope.”

  “But one of those policemen told me he had been shot and—”

  “That don’t have to mean anything but that they hope they hit him.” He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her down into a chair. “There’s no use of worrying about Brazil till we know whether we’ve got anything to worry about.” He drew another chair up close to hers and sat in it. “Let’s worry about you now. I want the works—no song and dance—just what happened, the way it happened.”

  She drew her brows together in a puzzled frown. “But you told me everything—”

  “I told you everything was all fixed, and it is.” He patted her knee. “I’ve got the bail all fixed so you can walk out of here as soon as they get through asking you questions. But we’ve got to decide what kind of answers you’re going to give them.” He looked sharply at her from under his hat brim. “You want to help Brazil, don’t you?”


  “That’s the stuff.” He patted her knee again, and his hand remained on it. “Now, give me everything, from the beginning.”

  “You mean from when I first met Kane Robson?”

  He nodded.

  She crossed her knees, dislodging his hand. Staring at the opposite wall as if not seeing it, she said earnestly: “Neither of us did anything wrong. It is not right that we should suffer.”

  “Don’t worry.” His tone was light, confident. “I’ll get the pair of you out of it.” He proffered her cigarettes in a shiny case.

  She took a cigarette, leaned forward to hold its end to the flame from his lighter, and, still leaning forward, asked: “I will not have to stay here tonight?”

  He patted her cheek. “I don’t think so. It oughtn’t to take them more than an hour to grill you.” He dropped his hand to her knee. “And the sooner we get through here, the sooner you’ll be through with them.”

  She took a deep breath and sat back in her chair. “There is not a lot to say,” she began, pronouncing her words carefully so they were clear in spite of her accent. “I met him in a little place in Switzerland. I was without any money at all, any friends. He liked me and he was rich.” She made a little gesture with the cigarette in her hand. “So I said yes.”

  Klaus nodded sympathetically and his fingers moved on her knee.

  “He bought me clothes, those jewels, in Paris. They were not his mother’s and he gave them to me.”

  The lawyer nodded again and his fingers moved again on her knee.

  “He brought me over here then and”—she put the burning end of her cigarette on the back of his hand—”I stayed at his—”

  Klaus had snatched his hand from her knee to his mouth, was sucking the back of his hand. “What’s the matter with you?” he demanded indignantly, the words muffled by the hand to his mouth. He lowered the hand and looked at the burn. “If there’s something you don’t like, you can say so, can’t you?”

  She did not smile. “I no speak Inglis good,” she said, burlesquing a heavy accent. “I stayed at his house for two weeks—not quite two weeks—until—”

  “If it wasn’t for Brazil, you could take your troubles to another lawyer!” He pouted over his burned hand.

  “Until last night,” she continued, “when I could stand him no longer. We quarreled and I left. I left just as I was, in evening clothes, with…”

  She was finishing her story when the telephone bell rang. The attorney went to the desk and spoke into the telephone: “Hello?… Yes… Just a couple of minutes more… That’s right. Thanks.” He turned. “They’re getting impatient.”

  She rose from her chair, saying: “I have finished. Then the police came and he escaped through the window and they arrested me about those rings.”

  “Did you do any talking after they arrested you?”

  She shook her head. “They would not let me. Nobody would listen to me. Nobody cared.”

  A young man in blue clothes that needed pressing came up to Luise Fischer and Klaus as they left the courthouse. He took off his hat and tucked it under an arm. “Mith Fither, I’m from the Mile Valley Potht. Can you—”

  Klaus, smiling, said: “There’s nothing now. Look me up at the hotel in the morning and I’ll give you a statement.” He handed the reporter a card. He cleared his throat. “We’re hunting food now. Maybe you’ll tell us where to find it—and join us.”

  The young man’s face flushed. He looked at the card in his hand and then up at the lawyer. “Thank you, Mithter Klauth, I’ll be glad to. The Tavern’th jutht around the corner. It’th the only plathe that’th any good that’th open now.”

  He turned to indicate the south. “My name’th George Dunne.”

  Klaus shook his hand and said, “Glad to know you,” Luise Fischer nodded and smiled, and they went down the street.

  “How’s Conroy?” Klaus asked.

  “He hathn’t come to yet,” the young man replied. “They don’t know yet how bad it ith.”

  “Where is he?”

  “Thtill at Robthon’th. They’re afraid to move him.”

  They turned the corner. Klaus asked: “Any news of Brazil?”

  The reporter craned his neck to look past Luise Fischer at the lawyer. “I thought you’d know.”

  “Know what?”
  “What—whatever there wath to know. Thith ith it.”

  He led them into a white-tiled restaurant. By the time they were seated at a table, the dozen or more people at counter and tables were staring at Luise Fischer and there was a good deal of whispering among them.

  Luise Fischer, sitting in the chair Dunne had pulled out for her, taking one of the menus from the rack on the table, seemed neither disturbed by nor conscious of anyone’s interest in her. She said: “I am very hungry.”

  A plump, bald-headed man with a pointed white beard, sitting three tables away, caught Dunne’s eye as the young man went around to his chair, and beckoned with a jerk of his head.

  Dunne said, “Pardon me—it’th my both,” and went over to the bearded man’s table.

  Klaus said: “He’s a nice boy.”

  Luise Fischer said: “We must telephone the Links. They have surely heard from Brazil.”

  Klaus pulled the ends of his mouth down, shook his head. “You can’t trust these county-seat telephone exchanges.”


  “Have to wait till tomorrow. It’s late anyhow.” He looked at his watch and yawned. “Play this kid. Maybe he knows something.”

  Dunne came back to them. His face was flushed and he seemed embarrassed.

  “Anything new?” Klaus asked.

  The young man shook his head violently. “Oh, no!” he said with emphasis.

  A waiter came to their table. Luise Fischer ordered soup, a steak, potatoes, asparagus, a salad, cheese, and coffee. Klaus ordered scrambled eggs and coffee, Dunne pie and milk.

  When the waiter stepped back from the table, Dunne’s eyes opened wide. He stared past Klaus. Luise Fischer turned her head to follow the reporter’s gaze. Kane Robson was coming into the restaurant. Two men were with him. One of them—a fat, pale, youngish man—smiled and raised his hat.

  Luise Fischer addressed Klaus in a low voice: “It’s Robson.”

  The lawyer did not turn his head. He said, “That’s all right,” and held his cigarette case out to her.

  She took a cigarette without removing her gaze from Robson. When he saw her, he raised his hat and bowed. Then he said something to his companions and, leaving them, came toward her. His face was pale; his dark eyes glittered.

  She was smoking by the time he reached her table. He said, “Hello, darling,” and sat in the empty chair facing her across the table. He turned his head to the reporter for an instant to say a careless “Hello, Dunne.”

  Luise Fischer said: “This is Mr. Klaus. Mr. Robson.”

  Robson did not look at the lawyer. He addressed the woman: “Get your bail fixed up all right?”

  “As you see.”

  He smiled mockingly. “I meant to leave word that I’d put it up if you couldn’t get it anywhere else, but I forgot.”

  There was a moment of silence. Then she said: “I shall send for my clothes in the morning. Will you have to pack them?”

  “Your clothes?” He laughed. “You didn’t have a stitch besides what you had on when I picked you up. Let your new man buy you new clothes.”

  Young Dunne blushed and looked at the tablecloth in embarrassment. Klaus’s face was, except for the brightness of his eyes, expressionless.

  Luise Fischer said softly: “Your friends will miss you if you stay away too long.”

  “Let them. I want to talk to you, Luise.” He addressed Dunne impatiently: “Why don’t you two go play in a corner somewhere?”

  The reporter jumped from his chair, stammering: “Th-thertainly, Mr. Robthon.”

  Klaus looked questioningly at Luise Fischer. Her nod was barely perceptible. He rose and left the table with Dunne.

  Robson said: “Come back with me and I’ll call off all this foolishness about the rings.”

  She looked curiously at him. “You want me back, knowing I despise you?”

  He nodded, grinning. “I can get fun out of even that.”

  She narrowed her eyes, studying his face. Then she asked: “How is Dick?”

  His face and voice were gay with malice. “He’s dying fast enough.”

  She seemed surprised. “You hate him?”

  “I don’t hate him—I don’t love him. You and he were too fond of each other. I won’t have any male and female parasites mixing like that.”

  She smiled contemptuously. “So. Then suppose I go back with you. What?”

  “I explain to these people that it was all a mistake about the rings, that you really thought I had given them to you. That’s all.” He was watching her closely. “There’s no bargaining about your boyfriend, Brazil. He takes what he gets.”

  Her face showed nothing of what she might be thinking. She leaned across the table a little toward him and spoke carefully: “If you were as dangerous as you think you are, I would be afraid to go back with you—I would rather go to prison. But I am not afraid of you. You should know by this time that you will never hurt me very much, that I can take very good care of myself.”

  “Maybe you’ve got something to learn,” he said quickly; then, recovering his consciously matter-of-fact tone: “Well, what’s the answer?”

  “I am not a fool,” she said. “I have no money, no friends who can help me. You have both, and I am not afraid of you. I try to do what is best for myself. First I try to get out of this trouble without you. If I cannot, then I come back to you.”

  “If I’ll have you.”

  She shrugged her shoulders. “Yes, certainly that.”

  Luise Fischer and Harry Klaus reached the Links’ flat late the next morning.

  Fan opened the door for them. She put her arms around Luise Fischer. “See, I told you Harry would get you out all right.” She turned to face the lawyer quickly and demanded: “You didn’t let them hold her all night?”

  “No,” he said; “but we missed the last train and had to stay at the hotel.”

  They went into the living room.

  Evelyn Grant rose from the sofa. She came to Luise Fischer, saying: “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault!” Her eyes were red and swollen. She began to cry again. “He had told me about Donny—Mr. Link—and I thought he’d come here and I tried to phone him and Papa caught me and told the police. And I only wanted to help him—”

  From the doorway Donny snarled: “Shut up. Stop it. Pipe down.” He addressed Klaus petulantly: “She’s been doing this for an hour. She’s got me screwy.”

  Fan said: “Lay off the kid. She feels bad.”

  Donny said: “She ought to.” He smiled at Luise Fischer. “Hello, baby. Everything O.K.?”

  She said: “How do you do? I think it is.”

  He looked at her hands. “Where’s the rings?”

  “We had to leave them up there.”

  “I told you!” His voice was bitter. “I told you you’d ought to let me sold them.” He turned to Klaus. “Can you beat that?”

  The lawyer did not say anything.

  Fan had taken Evelyn to the sofa and was soothing her.

  Luise Fischer asked: “Have you heard from—”

  “Brazil?” Donny said before she could finish her question. He nodded. “Yep. He’s O.K.” He glanced over his shoulder at the girl on the sofa, then spoke rapidly in a low voice. “He’s at the Hilltop Sanatorium, outside of town—supposed to have D.T.’s. You know he got plugged in the side. He’s O.K., though—Doc Barry’ll keep him under cover and fix him up good as new. He—”

  Luise Fischer’s eyes were growing large. She put a hand to her throat. “But he—Dr. Ralph Barry?” she demanded.

  Donny wagged his head up and down. “Yes. He’s a good guy. He’ll—”

  “But he is a friend of Kane Robson’s!” she cried. “I met him there, at Robson’s house.” She turned to Klaus. “He was with him in the restaurant last night—the fat one.”

  The men stared at her.

  She caught Klaus’s arm and shook him. “That is why he was there last night—to see Kane—to ask him what he should do.”

/>   Fan and Evelyn had risen from the sofa and were listening.

  Donny began: “Aw, maybe it’s O.K. Doc’s a good guy. I don’t think he—”

  “Cut it out!” Klaus growled. “This is serious—serious as hell.” He scowled thoughtfully at Luise Fischer. “No chance of a mistake on this?”


  Evelyn thrust herself between the two men to confront Luise Fischer. She was crying again, but was angry now.

  “Why did you have to get him into all this? Why did you have to come to him with your troubles? It’s your fault that they’ll put him in prison—and he’ll go crazy in prison! If it hadn’t been for you, none of this would have happened. You—”

  Donny touched Evelyn’s shoulder. “I think I’ll take a sock at you,” he said.

  She cringed away from him.

  Klaus said: “For God’s sake, let’s stop this fiddledeedee and decide what we’d better do.” He scowled at Luise Fischer again. “Didn’t Robson say anything to you about it last night?”

  She shook her head.

  Donny said: “Well, listen. We got to get him out of there. It don’t—”

  “That’s easy,” Klaus said with heavy sarcasm. “If he’s in wrong there”—he shrugged—“it’s happened already. We’ve got to find out. Can you get to see him?”

  Donny nodded. “Sure.”

  “Then go. Wise him up—find out what the layout is.”

  Donny and Luise Fischer left the house by the back door, went through the yard to the alley behind, and down the alley for two blocks. They saw nobody following them.

  “I guess we’re in the clear,” Donny said, and led the way down a cross street.

  On the next corner there was a garage and repair shop. A small dark man was tinkering with an engine.

  “Hello, Tony,” Donny said. “Lend me a boat.”

  The dark man looked curiously at Luise Fischer while saying: “Surest thing you know. Take the one in the corner.”

  They got into a black sedan and drove away.

  “It ain’t far,” Donny said. Then: “I’d like to pull him out of there.”

  Luise Fischer was silent.

  After half an hour Donny turned the machine in to a road at the end of which a white building was visible. “That’s her,” he said.

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