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Scourge of the underworld, “that damned dude dick”—Beau Quicksilver was an enigmatical crime-chaser—a mercurial master. A predecessor to Philo Vance, this detective solved seven separate cases in the pages of Argosy magazine, published in consecutive issues. Author Florence M. Pettee’s work appeared in several of the top pulp magazines of the 1920s, including Black Mask, and her quirky characters known for their offbeat gimmicks and situations… not to mention her distinctive prose. Often written about—but never reprinted—The Exploits of Beau Quicksilver belong in The Argosy Library.
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Florence M. Pettee
Altus Press • 2018
© 2018 Steeger Properties, LLC, under license to Altus Press
“The Exploits of Beau Quicksilver” originally appeared in the February 24, March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, and April 7, 1923 issues of Argosy magazine (Vol. 149, No. 4–Vol. 150, No. 4). Copyright © 1923 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1950 and assigned to Steeger Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Special Thanks to Joseph Laturnau
THE BIG bulk of the chief spat a number into the phone receiver. The line simmered under the heat of his intonation.
Came the tantalizing drawl of Central, “They don’t answer.”
“I tell you,” roared the chief, “I know he’s there. Hold your thumb on. Throw a light there! Wake up!”
In an aside he rasped to an assistant, “He must be there. Just in from that Everglades murder—”
There was a rattle on the wire.
“What’s that?” demanded the irate police head.
“They don’t answer,” repeated the girl at Central with blithe scorn.
The chief banged up the receiver. “Here, Dean, take my place. Keep on eye peeled for anything doing. I’ll go over myself. Damnation! Where is that fellow Quicksilver?”
“That no one but Quicksilver himself knows—unless he chooses, you can bet,” swung back the chief’s understudy.
“I’ll find out,” rapped that impatient dignitary. “Got to get him instanter. This Whitney case is too big to be bungled—can’t let any one take a sniff at it but Quicksilver. Queer business!”
Chief Cartman slammed the door after him. He flung himself into his car waiting at the curb. He stepped on the gas until the motor shot ahead like an enraged comet. It reminded him of Beau Quicksilver on the chase—playing a hunch with every nerve strung to capacity speed and acuteness. For the exquisite detective—“that damned dude dick” to the underworld—was an enigmatical crime chaser—a mercurial mystery master. Like a chimerical will-of-the-wisp, he lunged to the answer in each cryptic case. No wonder they clubbed him Quicksilver. He ran through a fellow’s fingers just like mercury. There had never been another sleuth like him—not even a forty-second cousin to him. No one could fathom how he landed the goods. His methods were just that elusive.
And finical! Why, a spoiled operatic star couldn’t equal him for temperament! The fellow wouldn’t touch a case with the tip of his nobbiest cane if the thing didn’t interest him. They couldn’t beg, hire or steal him to it.
“Nothing doing!” he would call back with languid insolence, as he irritatingly flipped the ashes from some imported cigarette end. “That crime smells stale at the outset. It’s racy Roquefort or nothing!” And when Beau Quicksilver opined thus it meant finis. The case was dead for him. But when some baffling mystery turned up! Ah, then the scintillating sparks flew! There was a flash of Quicksilver. Followed the startling showdown!
The chief left his car at the curb. He pushed viciously at a button in the brown stone apartment. The bell went singing sibilantly through the house.
There was an irritating, arrogant wait. Cartman jabbed an encore at the bell.
Then a slight, gray-clad servant opened the door with ludicrous caution. He spoke in a whisper. Unquestionably Quicksilver’s man, Shunta, regarded his elusive, temperamental master with great awe. But his hero worship was catered to only at arm’s length by the coolly aloof Quicksilver. Shunta’s fearful adulation suggested the deep-down admiration of the small boy for Georges Carpentier, or the gawky-legged girl’s first devotion to Maude Adams.
“Where is he?” demanded the chief. “Isn’t he here? Why doesn’t he—”
“Yes,” gently admonished Shunta. “He’s here. Only he ordered me to stuff the telephone. And not until your second-ring at the door here would he let me answer. ‘That’s Cartman,’ he said. ‘Thinks he’s steering a real crime here. Tell by the way his thumb stuttered on the second jab at the bell. Shunta,’ he told me, ‘inform the chief of police that it’s just two minutes to spill the new idea. Not a second longer unless it’s real mystery and not some bludgeoning bump-off!’ ”
Fuming internally, the chief went up behind the pussy-footed Shunta. He didn’t relish the coming scene. For Beau Quicksilver was a veritable tiger when in one of his moods. Yet again he would weep at the mere sound of pathetic music. An obtuse riddle, Quicksilver! A regular Sphinx at times, and then affably human. Nobody ever knew where to find him next.
With awed deference Shunta bowed the chief in. Cartman shut the door firmly behind him. The room was darkened by drawn shades.
Then a blinding flash of light seared the darkness.
A cool, domineering, petulant voice ordered, “Go back and shut that door again! Make it soft—pianissimo. Pronto! Where do you think you are? In a blacksmith’s shop? Well, you can cut out the anvil chorus here.”
A figure lay on the luxurious couch. There was a tall glass on the taboret beside him. He was clad in the most elegant of silk pyjamas. Imported Chinese embroidered sandals covered the feet. There was a bandage under the thatch of thick, but carefully brushed hair. Yet the line of linen could not conceal the height of the forehead. The dead white accentuated the smoldering, almost feverish brilliancy of the tired gray eyes. The purple shadows of complete exhaustion lay beneath the fiery orbs. Despite the fatigued and fretful lines on the oval face, the features stood forth delicate, sensitive, but baffling in their elusive suggestion of hidden strength. And the jaw whispered of the martial force of a Napoleon.
“What do you want?” querulously inquired Beau Quicksilver, with weak, lackluster interest. “Can’t you see I’m done to a frazzle? If you have come here on some fool’s chase, I’ll throw you out of the window.”
This suggestion from a mere bag of fluff, tipping the scales at one hundred and fifty-five pounds, caused the big chief an acute attack of internal merriment. His quick anger receded before the amusing, bantamweight idea.
Then unbidden Cartman helped himself to one of the Sheraton chairs in the fastidiously furnished apartment.
But Beau Quicksilver wasn’t even regarding him. The detective smoked as though it were a physical effort even to expel the thin circles of consuming tobacco.
The chief leaned forward purposively. He breathed of leonine strength. He spoke with the staccato incisiveness of a rapid-fire gun.
“Just got a hurry call to the Whitney house.”
Beau Quicksilver stopped smoking. The cigarette dangled forgotten from his fingers. At last the sleuth’s burning eyes were on the big man from headquarters.
“It’s murder!” rapped Cartman.
The fastidious figure sat up. He tossed the cigarette onto a copper tray.
“Cyrus Whitney has been done for—shot to death in his den,” finished the chief.
Beau Quicksilver leaped from the couch. He ripped off the bandage. He sped like some unleashed thing gripped in the fury of an overwhelming urge.
Fatigue had dropped from him like a cloak. The peevish irritability of a moment before had vanished. It was as though dark and rumbling clouds had suddenly been blown away by a whiff of quickening ozone. Again the air was surcharged with mystery. It quickened him like some dose of super-strychnine.
The new and rejuvenated Beau Quicksilver plunged through a door, kicking off his slippers into the room. He moved like a dart from a joyously strung bow.
“I’ll be with you in a jiffy, Cartman,” he called out blithely. “Just let me fall into this new tweed suit of mine.”
Fifteen minutes later a completely rehabilitated Quicksilver left the house for the Whitney mansion and the major crime it concealed.
SOME uniformed men saluted respectfully as Quicksilver slid past them to the main door of the Whitney house. The place was one of the show spots. The big banker, now cold in violent death, had been a financial power of the first magnitude.
“Rotten business, sir,” greeted a man from headquarters.
He guarded the death chamber, a room at the rear of the house on the first floor. It was known as the dead banker’s favorite study. It had appealed to him because of its quiet location. Thick trees dotted the fine lawns outside. And there was a high wall surrounding the estate. Cyrus Whitney had loved night solitude as a tonic from the wear and tear of momentous daily affairs.
Beau Quicksilver nodded abstractedly to the would-be agreeable comment of the blue-clad figure. “Don’t let me be disturbed by any one, Daniels. You understand. I want to be alone with my thoughts—where it happened.”
“I get you,” was the reply. “I’ll fend them off. Trust me.”
“Thanks, Daniels. I do.”
Without another word the lithe, tan-clad figure of Beau Quicksilver entered the silent room. The hush of death was upon it. The air breathed of the untoward. It smelled of crime.
Quicksilver stood just inside the door. His thin nostrils were dilated. His deep eyes seemed unconscious of the magnificent furnishings—and of that stark, cold figure, once dominant in high finance, but now laid low by the Czar of Violent Death. For a moment he stood motionless. Then he shrugged his slim shoulders. Slowly his gaze swept the room.
He saw the heavy drawn shades. He noted the massive bookcases lining two of the walls almost to the ceiling. Evidently the dead man had been a lover of literature as well as a money master. He saw the heavily upholstered furniture depressing the thick pile of the carpet. Then his eyes went to the figure of the dead man.
Cyrus Whitney’s body sagged forward on a huge mahogany desk near the middle of the room. His velvet dressing jacket, gray in tone, bore an ugly brown splotch which spread out in the vicinity of the heart. The utter abandon of the pose suggested that he had died instantly—had fallen forward a dead weight. The chair was rather close to the desk. Dishes were scattered about at rakish angles upon it. A damask napkin, grimly splashed with brown, dangled disconsolately from one of the stiff knees.
Beau Quicksilver strode forward a step. This was not common death—the finding of a body amid the broken dishes and the nearly devoured viands of a hearty meal. Rigorously ignoring further details on the littered desk top, he examined the body itself.
Cyrus Whitney had been shot through the heart—a clean-cut, expert shot with a medium caliber revolver, seeming a .32. Death must have been instantaneous.
Slowly the detective’s eyes went to the objects on the desk. The mahogany had evidently been freed of papers and workaday things for the coming of the late repast. A small platter showed a mere fragment of chicken; there were scraps of potatoes and vegetables. The salad plate was empty. The coffee cup lay smashed with its contents staining the desk top and spattered down the side. A goblet was overturned. The dinner plate had skidded over the polished top when the inert body had struck it and flung the dishes helter skelter. But the big desk top had been large enough to keep the disturbed china from falling off.
Beau Quicksilver jerked up suddenly. His gray eyes narrowed. With a nervous gesture he brought out his platinum cigarette case. While he was striking a light his slitted eyes never left a single object which appeared half covered by an overturned plate.
Crackers and cheese lay on this under plate. And the cheese showed plainly the clearly defined outline of tooth prints.
But this was not all!
For the line of tooth marks there showed the peculiar outlines of a bicuspid and the first incisor—distinguishing characteristics anywhere.
For a moment the slim sleuth puffed away with scarcely the flicker of an eyelash. But within that subtle brain thoughts were swirling with lightning rapidity. One other thing he saw and filed away in his mind for important future action.
Then in a twinkling he brought out a pair of silk gloves and slid them on. He stooped and gently raised the fallen figure.
Cyrus Whitney had been a big man, heavily upholstered. Yet the lithe form of Beau Quicksilver raised the dead weight with no apparent effort. One began to sense beneath the super-smartly clad exterior the trained muscles of a Japanese athlete.
With expert, flashing movements Quicksilver continued his rapid examination. Once he frowned suddenly. Then he replaced the body as it had been. With extraordinary care and dexterity he deposited the cheese within a little lacquered box in one of his pockets.
Then he strode swiftly to the door.
“Daniels,” he rapped, “I am ready to ask questions. Have one of your men send the dead man’s son, Ray Whitney, down to the library on this floor.”
As Beau Quicksilver entered the room just named, he went directly to the fireplace. With a gesture of repugnance he dropped his silk gloves onto the smoldering blaze. They turned to tongues of flame. Next he produced a silk handkerchief and carefully wiped his hands. The handkerchief followed the silk gloves. With a dismissing shrug of his shoulders he turned to face Ray Whitney.
The money magnate’s son was of the bulldog type—heavy featured, low browed, and bull necked. His shoulder breadth would have made him an admirable model for Atlas. Its girth was splendid. It suggested the far spaces and twelve-cylinder lungs.
“Were you in the house last night?” instantly lunged Beau Quicksilver.
Ray Whitney nodded somewhat curtly.
“All right. Give me all your movements up to the discovery of the crime.”
The dead man’s son shifted his big bulk, “Not much to tell. Came in about eleven, and went directly to my room. Didn’t even see my father. He was an owl for late hours. Made it a daily habit to work or read until twelve thirty in his den. Was aroused by thundering knocks before daylight this morning. It was Stanley, the first man down. He’d noted the lights burning as they showed through under the door of the study. My father never left them on—fussy about useless extravagance. Stanley entered and discovered the dead body. He then alarmed the house. I called the police. That’s all I know.”
“Was your father in the habit of eating a late repast?”
“Always. We dine early. So every night Henry carried him a tray full of grub at twelve o’clock.”
“Was it Henry’s custom to return for clearing away the dishes after your father had retired?”
“No. Father was fond of old Henry. He made him go to bed after he had delivered the tray at midnight. The dishes were cleared away in the morning.”
“Did your father like cheese?”
Ray Whitney stared at the foppish figure. A bit of a smile crept to his features, to be banished immediately.
“You’ve said it,” he responded. “He was a nut on cheese. Insisted on it every night, both at dinner and with the midnight feed.”
“W-what do you make of the thing?” blurted out Whitney. “Will you ever be able to put your finger on the fellow that did it? Father’s enemies were legion, you know. Might as well search for a particular leaf on a tree.”
“I’ve got a scent,” admitted Beau Quicksilver, “and it smells like cheese!”
With a blank expression on his heavy features, young Whitney went out.
The other inmates of the house merely corroborated the heir’s statements. And each new bit of substantiating testimony simply strengthened the odor of the cheese clue. For one vital significant fact had stood out from the first. Moreover, it whispered of masterly cunning.
Beau Quicksilver’s eyes were strangely bright as he sped away from the house. Subsequently the trailing of the truth was systematically begun.
AT FOUR o’clock that afternoon Penn Markham, Quicksilver’s assistant and confidant in crime, slipped excitedly into the apartment. He, too, was slight of build and approximately the mystery-master’s height. His face also bore the brand of flashing intelligence.
He found Beau Quicksilver in the nattiest and completest of riding togs. The famous sleuth was evidently just in from a swift trot on Nemesis, his big black horse.
“Got it,” rapped out Markham. “You couldn’t miss it. And he didn’t just recall them from his notes and charts!”
“Well,” cut in Quicksilver, “spill it! What’s the answer?”
“Parker Long is the man. He’s known to be at swords’ points with his victim.”
Beau Quicksilver nodded. “I know the fellow. A born gambler. And a desperate plunger in the Street. A crack shot and a member of a number of sporty shooting clubs. A fellow known for his colossal nerve. The thing begins to fit in.”
“To fit in!” echoed Penn Markham. “Why, it’s done. It spells doom! It’s like his fool presumption to gamble with discovery like that. The fellow always had a grim sense of humor. But this is irony—plus.”
Beau Quicksilver said nothing. He merely stepped to the phone. Tersely he rapped out a number.
“Ah, is that you, Long? Quicksilver speaking. What do you say to a canter on the Speedway? I know you’re strong for it in the late afternoon…. All right. Suits me perfectly. I’ll be there on Nemesis quick enough to please you.”
“Thunderation!” snorted Penn Markham. “Going to hobnob with him horseback and then break the glad news! You are a cool one. Going to drive him tandem up to police headquarters! Course he’ll canter docilely ahead of you, and just joyously stretch out his wrists for the bracelets when you give the word! Rotten form, Quixie. Guess that Everglades stunt you just pulled off has fagged you. You’re riding to a fall, old man.”
“Well, I’m not falling easy,” retorted Beau Quicksilver—and was gone.
IN A decrepit old farmhouse some miles away two men paced back and forth restlessly. The Falcon, slick jewel thief and crafty crime plotter, showed drawn lines about his mouth. And that bulldozing ruffian, Peter Scarlet, had faded a shade from his usual ruddy, overfed hue.
“If you hadn’t been such a damned glutton, I’d feel easier,” raged the Falcon. “Might have known you couldn’t get by swell food—and toddy. I know you must have dropped something—left something behind, you filthy hog!”
For once Peter Scarlet didn’t show fight. An uneasy expression filtered over his swinish features. He pulled at the lobe of his left ear, an unconscious habit he had when greatly disturbed.
“We’ve been here two nights now,” went on the Falcon, nervously biting at his thin underlip in a futile effort to steady it. “And the very first night, in the dead of darkness, I heard a chawing and a gnawing like some devil ghost trying to tell me that you’d left tracks behind. Like the dead itself railing against respectable food gobbled up by a swine of a killer over the thing he’d made a corpse. All through the night I heard it gnawing—gnawing. And when I got up to look? Nothing! Not the sign of a mouse or a rat. After that first night I saw—you know whom. He swore there hadn’t been a rat in the house for a year. Scarlet, if it isn’t mice, what the hell is it?”
Uneasily Scarlet twitched at his ear lobes again. He attempted a superior smile. But the effort was a failure, as both men knew.
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