Chapter 1- Fall, 1923- Dropping in
The sudden silence when the engine stopped would have been restful and pleasant if the biplane had not been 2,000 feet in the air at the time.
Max and Allison Hurlock had just turned their Curtiss Jenny (affectionately named Gypsy) for home after a flight across the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland’s Western Shore when they first heard the engine sputter. Allison picked up the speaking tube.
“Max, what’s that?”
“Trouble,” he sighed. “I think Gypsy is about to be cantankerous again.”
“Drat. She could have waited until we were back on our side of the bay at least. See any place to put her down?”
Max continued to adjust the controls, and that was when the engine died. Finally, he scanned the ground below.
“We’re over the Worthington Valley, northwest of Baltimore. There’s a big area down there. Lots of grassy fields. We can easily glide there.”
“Wonderful,” Allison replied. “Next time I’ll wear my light fall suit.”
Gypsy descended with only the sound of the wind whistling through the bracing wires between the wings.
Allison looked below them then turned to Max in the rear cockpit. With the engine silent there was no need for the speaking tube now. “Look out, Max. There’s a bunch of horses down there.”
“I see them. We’ve got plenty of room.”
The ground got closer and closer until a few seconds later the biplane was bouncing to a stop in the middle of a rolling green field. The air smelled of hay and freshly mowed grass, with only the faintest hint of manure. In the middle distance, white painted barns with identical red roofs stood against a backdrop of gently rolling green hills and white pasture fences. Several horses stood impassively a few dozen yards away and regarded them curiously.
Allison turned to Max and pulled off her leather flying helmet. Her Auburn hair waved in the breeze.
“You know, Max, that day I pulled into the service garage in my father’s car a few years ago and saw that handsome grease monkey offering to wash the windshield, I never dreamed it would lead to this. I guess the fact that it was raining at the time should have been a hint.”
“Yes; well I had to do something to pay my way through college,” said Max, lifting the engine cover. “Chatting up passing Goucher College girls was just a fringe benefit.”
Allison smiled. “It was for both of us.”
A minute later, Max was examining the engine, burning his fingers in the process.
“Looks like the magneto again,” Max pronounced.
“Lovely,” said Allison, taking off her flight jacket to reveal a green and black dress underneath. “So now what do we do?”
“We wait until it cools down. An hour should do it. Then all we have to do..”
He was interrupted by the sound of a Model T approaching. “Looks like we have company.”
The Model T bounced alongside Gypsy and a beefy, red-faced man got out.
“You folks had some trouble?”
“Afraid so,” Max replied. “I’m sorry to barge in on you like this, but we didn’t have much choice. It’ll be fine in an hour or so, though. Then we’ll be out of here.”
The man looked over the airplane, then nodded when he saw Allison. “Well, why don’t you folks come back to the barn with me and freshen up while you’re waiting.”
“I’m Tom Hawkins,” the man said after Max and Allison had introduced themselves. “This is Hawkins Pride Farm. We board and train thoroughbreds here.”
“Race horses?” said Allison. “How exciting.”
Hawkins pulled up to a large, red-roofed barn, one of several on the property.
“We’re doing some time trials right now. You folks might find it interesting. I’ll have someone get you some lemonade.”
A horse and jockey rounded the final turn and tore down the straightaway past the three figures standing by the rail. The thundering blur of the hooves pounded the ground and kicked up little clumps of the dirt track in their wake.
“A great run,” said Hawkins, looking at his stopwatch. “Tigress beat her best time by almost a half second. I have to make a note of it. Mr. Connelly will be very happy.”
Max and Allison were still looking at the horse receding in the distance as a dust cloud lazily drifted across the track.
“I take it Mr. Connelly is the horse’s owner?” asked Max.
“That’s right. He lives in New York and keeps Tigress here for training. He comes down every few months to look in on her. He’s due here today as a matter of fact. You can meet him. He’s quite a character.”
“That must be an expensive hobby,” Allison remarked.
Hawkins chuckled. “Believe me, Mr. Connelly can afford it. In addition to his house and a large yacht in Florida. He’s a self-made millionaire several times over. He used to be married but now lives the life of a rich bachelor. Quite a man with the ladies I understand.”
“Mr. Hawkins,” said Allison. “I write articles for various magazines. I’ve always wanted to do one on horse racing. Could I interview you on the subject?”
Hawkins blushed slightly. “Of course. I’ve never been in a magazine article before.”
“While you’re answering some questions for Allison’s magazine article, I’ll take a quick look at that barn we passed,” said Max. “It has an interesting roof line.”
As Max disappeared around one side of a nearby barn, a shorter and heavier man appeared around the other. He spied Hawkins and walked rapidly over.
“How’s Tigress doing, Tom?”
“Great, Mr. Connelly. She just beat her best time by a half-second. She’s ready to race any time you say.”
The newcomer nodded enthusiastically. “Wonderful! But I …”
He suddenly became aware of Allison and abruptly turned all his attention on her. “Hello. Why, Tom, who is this exquisite creature?”
“This is Allison Hurlock. She dropped in on that airplane out in the south pasture. She’s researching a magazine article on thoroughbred racing. Mrs. Hurlock, this is Ellsworth Connelly, owner of the horse you just saw fly by here.”
Connelly grasped Allison’s hand and kissed it in the continental fashion. “Charming; an absolutely charming creature.”
Allison smiled politely. “Why Mr. Connelly; I thought the only creature you came here to see was Tigress.”
Connelly smiled broadly. “Allison, you are as witty as you are beautiful. I like that in a woman. Have you had lunch? I know a delightful place nearby.”
“If Tigress moves as fast as its owner tries to,” said Allison, shaking her head, “my advice would be to enter her in the 1924 Preakness without delay.”
Connelly turned to Hawkins again. “Beauty, brains and a sharp wit. Tom, I just love this woman.”
“That makes two of us,” said Max, reappearing from his trip to the other barn.
“Ah, Mr. Connelly. This is my husband Max. Max, this is Mr. Connelly. He owns Tigress.”
Connelly’s smile didn’t waver. “Please call me Ellsworth. I was just talking to Allison, here. She’s an extraordinary woman.”
“I like to think so,” said Max dryly.
“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Hurlock. Do you have a card?”
Max handed Connelly his card.
“Investigations?” Connelly asked, looking at the card. “How exciting. Are you a private eye of some sort?”
“I’m more of a general investigator. I try to find the facts and put them together whenever there’s a problem or a question to be resolved.”
“Very interesting. Have you discovered any facts about me, Mr. Hurlock?”
“You mean besides the fact that you have good taste in women?”
Connelly laughed. “Guilty as charged. Anything else?”
“Other than the fact that you’re left handed, your valet is ill, and you seldom attend the movies, not a thing.”
Connelly was silent a moment, then applauded. “Why this is amazing. How the devil did you know all that?”
Max smiled slightly. “Just a little observation. You have a wristwatch on your right wrist, something left-handers often do.”
Connelly nodded. “That makes sense, but what about the valet?”
“A man who owns race horses is likely to have a valet as well, but you apparently shaved yourself this morning; you missed several spots and have a small cut. Since your valet didn’t shave you, I surmised he might be ill.”
“Actually, my valet just quit and I haven’t found another yet, but you were right about me shaving myself.”
Max shrugged. “Well, it was a stretch.”
“What about the fact that I seldom attend the movies? You were right about that, but how did you know?”
“That was easy. You never said Allison looks like the actress Mary Miles Minter. Everyone else seems to.”
He put the card in his coat pocket “Very impressive. Well, Mr. Hurlock, as it happens, I am in need of someone with your talents at the moment. It regards a very sticky and possibly dangerous situation in which I find myself.”
“What sort of situation?” Max asked.
“All in good time. Before I entrust you with my secrets, I have a little test for you. I will send you a clue to my situation and see what you infer from the clue. Then I can see if you are as good as you seem.”
Max frowned. “I’m not a performing bear, Mr. Connelly. If you have doubts, you might be better off with someone else. I have plenty of other clients.”
Connelly smiled even more broadly.
“Oh, come now, Max. Surely you’ll indulge me this little whim? I like a demonstration of something before I agree to invest in it. Besides, where’s your spirit of adventure? Where’s your thrill of the hunt? The game is afoot, eh what?”
Max thought a moment, then nodded. “All right. Send your clue and I’ll decide what to do next.”
“Excellent! Meanwhile, I’ll be delighted to assist your charming wife with her article…whomever she resembles.”
“That was Tigress’s last run for the day, Mr. Connelly,” said Hawkins. “She’ll have to be walked down, and then Scottie has to wash and brush her before she gets settled back in her stall.”
“Then that’s where we can have the interview,” said Connelly, brightening up. “I’ll show you the fine points while Tigress is being washed down and groomed. Come along, Allison. It’s just a short distance.”
Max looked doubtful, but Allison took him aside. “Don’t worry, Max; I think I have him sized up. He thinks he’s catnip to women, and maybe he is to some, but I find him highly resistible. He does know a lot about racing from an owner’s point of view though, and that’s what I need. Besides, the groom will be there, too.”
“All right, but I’ll be looking in on you once in a while; in case you need rescuing.”
“My hero. But if he tries to get too fresh, he’ll be the one who needs rescuing.”
Max grinned. “I almost feel sorry for him.”
“So how did you get started as a racehorse owner?” Allison asked Connelly as they walked to the barn.
Connelly frowned for the first time. “I have to credit my ex-wife for that, I’m afraid. God knows there’s little enough else she did that turned out well, but she introduced me to one of her society friends who knew someone who had a stable. That was in 1919, and Man O’ War was starting to tear up the tracks. Everyone was talking about it and I got interested. Yes, my ex-wife set me on the track, so to speak. Her name is Helen, Helen Arness; Hell-in-a-Dress I used to call her. I had just made my first million and I found myself the object of a great deal of female attention. That all came to a halt when I met Helen. We had a whirlwind courtship and got married on Long Island at some estate or other. Helen’s family was solid middle class and lived comfortably, but that wasn’t good enough for her. She had to have all the luxury and servants and mansions I could afford, and a great deal I couldn’t. We had a large and comfortable house on West 70th Street in New York, but she wanted a mansion in the Hamptons. Well, this went on for a year or so, with the two of us arguing over cars, houses, bank accounts, parties, and all the rest of it, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. We divorced and she got half of everything.”
Allison looked at Tigress walking majestically past, her muscled flanks shiny with sweat. “You seem to have enough left to keep body and soul together.”
Connelly smiled and Allison could have sworn she saw his eyes twinkle.
“Helen got half of everything I owned then, about $600,000 or so. Since that time, I’ve made another million. Helen has spent most of her money on attorneys trying to get her hands on the rest of it, but she’s too late. The terms of the divorce were quite clear.”
Allison looked at him critically. “So now you’re living the unfettered bachelor life Miss Arness interrupted.” It was less a question than a statement.
Ellsworth Connelly looked surprised, then thoughtful. “Why, Allison, you’re quite right. That’s very perceptive. I was right about you; you are an extraordinary woman. Your husband is a very lucky man.”
“So I suppose you’ll have to look elsewhere.”
Connelly laughed. “You’ll have to excuse me, Allison. You’re correct that I lead the bachelor life to the fullest, and that I love the ladies. When I see a beautiful woman, I express an interest in her and see if it is reciprocated.”
“Even if she’s already married?”
“That doesn’t matter to me if it doesn’t matter to the lady.”
“And if it does matter to the lady?”
“Then I retire from the field gracefully, though in your case, with genuine regret.”
To Allison’s surprise, Connelly bowed slightly.
Chapter 2- Some trouble up in New York
Two weeks later, Max was working on Gypsy’s engine in the coolness of his barn. After an hour, he emerged into the daylight and walked around to the front porch or their house. Allison had been a little under the weather for the past few days so Max was glad when he heard the sound of a typewriter. He turned the corner to see Allison sitting cross-legged on a porch chair in front of a low table that held a glass of lemonade, a dictionary, some pages of notes, and her old Remington. A sheet of cardboard in the window next to her bore the number 25 written in crayon to tell the ice man how many pounds of his product was needed for the icebox on his next delivery. She did not look up.
“Wait….there. I wanted to finish this sentence before I forgot.”
“The horse article?”
“Right. I think it’s coming along, but I need an angle, something for readers to hold on to. After all, most people have never even been to the track, let alone owned a horse.”
Max sat down on the other chair. The September day was warm, but the stifling heat of summer had faded and the lush green leaves were not yet dappled with yellow, red, and brown. Cicadas hummed while ducks periodically squawked from the marsh.
“You know, I’ve read about Man O’ War and I even went to the Preakness at Pimlico once,” Allison continued, “but I never realized how much was involved in horse racing. Apart from the time and expense, they handicap the fastest horses by making them carry more weight.”
“It’s a good thing they don’t do that with people.”
“So are you taking Gypsy up today?” she asked.
Max shook his head. “I think there’s a storm coming. The wind is out of the northeast.”
Allison looked around. The leaves on the trees were barely moving.
“How can you tell?”
“The smell. It’s heavier and damper than usual. Then there’s that other smell.”
“You know, I noticed that too. It’s sort of a sweet yeasty smell.”
“It’s the Merkle brothers’ still,” said Max. “They’re cooking up a fresh batch of corn liquor I imagine. They’d better be careful or the Prohibition agents will smell it too.”
“Aren’t they the ones who have that pig farm?”
“Right. If the Prohibition agents really wanted to find the places with the biggest stills, they should look for the places with the fattest pigs. It’s a dead giveaway, since they feed them the corn mash. It gets rid of the mash and covers up the smell.”
“Why Max you’re just a font of local lore. I wouldn’t be surprised if National Geographic didn’t send someone to interview you for your anthropological insights. So what do they do with the, er, product?”
“Oh, most of it’s for local consumption, but they ship some out to thirsty speakeasies all over the area. It gets loaded onto rumrunner boats in Crisfield or maybe Cambridge. The Coast Guard grabs some of them, but most escape.”
Allison shook her head. “Ah, the sleepy rural backwaters of Maryland. Beneath the bucolic surface is a seething world of law breaking and intrigue. I feel a whole new article coming on.”
A v shaped formation of ducks flew overhead squawking as they began the long trip south for the winter. As the sound receded, Max and Allison heard the faint sound of tires crunching on the oyster shell road surface.
Max stood on his toes looking though gaps in the surrounding woods to try to see the source of the sound. “Are we expecting anyone?”
Allison shook her head. “Must be one of your friends. Maybe the Merkles are stopping by to drop off a complimentary bottle or two.”
Max looked again and saw a car approaching. “It’s the Police. Looks like Chief Vickers. What’s he doing out here?”
“I knew it was one of your friends.”
Vickers stopped in the drive and waved as he approached the front porch.
“Good afternoon, folks.” The chief was a small man with a soup strainer moustache, but he had a no-nonsense air of authority that commanded respect.
“How are you, chief,” said Max. “Have a seat. Can we get you some lemonade?”
The chief sat down on a porch chair, pulling it closer as he did so, and setting a brown parcel at his feet.
“Thanks. I’m here on business, I’m afraid.”
“Business?” said Allison. The sweet smell of the sour mash in the air was stronger than ever, and she wondered if the chief had followed his nose to the wrong place. But the chief didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, chose to ignore it.
“I got a call this morning from the New York Police Department. It seems, there’s been a bit of trouble up in New York. They wanted me to ask you a few questions about a Mr…” he consulted a notebook. “..Ellsworth Connelly. Do you know him?”
“We met him on a horse farm over on the western shore about two weeks ago,” said Max.
“Is he in some kind of trouble?” said Allison.
The chief made a note then looked up.
“Oh, no. Mr. Connelly is not in trouble. I’m afraid he’s well beyond all that. Mr. Connelly has been murdered.”
Max and Allison looked at each other.
“Murdered?” they asked in unison.
“How? When?” asked Max.
The chief shrugged. “That’s about all I know. They never give us any details about these things; they just wanted me to ask you some questions since you’re witnesses.”
“Witnesses? We didn’t witness anything. We just ran into him at the horse farm after Gypsy stalled out,” Max said.
“According to the New York City Police, Mr. Connelly had your business card in his pocket when he was found, so I guess they figured you had some sort of professional relationship.”
“Well, you can tell them for me that they figured wrong,” said Max. “I gave him a card when we met, that’s all.”
The chief made another note and scratched his head. “I see. Now, they wanted me to ask if Mrs. Hurlock met him as well.”
“Of course,” said Max. “She was with me, and.. Oh, no. Allison, do you see..”
“I see perfectly well,” Allison replied. “They know all about Connelly’s habits and his taste for married women. They want to know if he did his bachelor on-the-make act with me and if you got jealous about it. Max, they’re looking for people with motives to kill him, and they’re looking at us!”
The chief looked uncomfortable. “Now, folks, I’m sure it’s just routine. Besides, I expect there are a lot of others in the same boat as you.”
“We are not in the same boat,” Max snapped. “We’re abandoning ship.”
“Now, now,” said the chief. “I understand your concern, but they have to ask anyone who had anything to do with the victim. You understand.”
“I suppose,” said Max dubiously.
“Now Miss Allison, when he was with you, did Mr. Connelly say or do anything you found objectionable?”
Allison shrugged. “We talked about race horses I’ll show you my notes if you’d like.”
“That won’t be necessary. I think I have enough to satisfy the New York police.”
“I still can’t believe you came all the way down here to ask these routine questions,” said Max.
“Well,” said the chief, “to tell you the truth, there was one other reason I came down. Clem Grason over at the post office told me you had a package and I thought I’d drop it off.”
“Chief, this is too much,” Max protested. “Are you delivering the mail now?”
“This mail is sort of special, Max,” said the chief handing him the package. “Here it is; you can see for yourself.”
The package was about the size of a shoebox, tightly wrapped in plain brown butcher’s paper, and tied with heavy brown twine, as if to prevent whatever was inside from escaping.
The return address was written in firm block letters.
122 West 70th Street
New York City, N.Y.
“Now I understand why you wanted to deliver this personally,” said Max. “Connelly must have sent it just before he was killed.”
“Well, this is a first,” said Allison. “We just got a package from a dead man!”
“That explains why the police chief is delivering mail all of a sudden. Let’s see what’s inside.”
Max unwrapped the last bit of paper and opened the cardboard box.
“It looks like a porcelain statue of some kind,” he said.
The object was a stalking tiger, about twelve inches long and highly detailed. The mouth was drawn back in a menacing snarl, complete with protruding fangs. The tiger was perfectly colored in orange, black and white stripes. The glaze reflected points of the sunlight filtering through the surrounding trees.
Max examined the figure. “A Bengal Tiger, and a very handsome one. What’s this? Someone has painted what looks like a blindfold over the eyes.”
“A blindfolded tiger? Curiouser and curiouser,” said Allison, examining the object closely. “There’s a label of some sort on the underside of one of his rear paws. It says ‘Fine Ceramics, Ltd’. I suppose that’s where Connelly bought it.”
“And there’s a tag or something around the neck,” Max added. He removed the tag and read it out loud.
The chief frowned. “Puncheon? Is that supposed to be the tiger’s name?”
“I don’t think so,” said Max. “Allison, how about handing me that old dictionary you keep by your typewriter.”
“I’ll look it up for you.” She picked up the dictionary and thumbed through the pages. “It says here puncheon means a tool for making holes in leather or engraving coins. It also refers to a type of rum.”
“A tiger with a blindfold and the name of a type of rum around his neck. So what does it mean, Max?” The chief was clearly puzzled.
Max frowned. “I don’t know yet. I think Mr. Connelly may have been sending me a clue to test my deductive abilities.”
“Maybe it’s supposed to be a blind tiger,” said Allison. “Blind Tiger is another term for a speakeasy. I came across it while researching my race horse article.”
“So maybe he wanted to point me to a speakeasy that features puncheon rum for some reason,” said Max. “Who knows? Anyway, it’s all pointless now, of course.”
“I’m not so sure it’s pointless at all,” said the chief. “Why that blind tiger thing might have a clue to who the murderer might be.”
Max shook his head. “Look; if he really feared for his life from some specific person, I doubt he’d be dropping clues and subtle hints. He’d be reporting it directly to the New York Police.”
“You’re probably right,” said the chief, snapping his notebook shut and rising from his seat. “It looks like a dead end. They’ll have to solve the case without any more help from us. Well, so long, folks.”
Vickers got in the car and started back to Easton..
As Max stood watching the Model T disappear down the drive, Allison sat in a wicker chair on the porch with the ceramic tiger in her lap, pretending to pet it. “Poor little guy. He wants to tell us something, but what?”
“At this point, I don’t really care,” said Max, pacing back and forth, “but I think I’d better learn some more about what happened in case anyone starts pointing fingers at us.”
“Maybe the Star Democrat has some information on it,” Allison suggested. “As for Mr. Tiger here, I think he’d look good on the hall table.”
“I’ll go into town and talk to Chip Carswell tomorrow. If the paper has any information on the case he’ll know where to find it.”
As they went up the stairs to bed that night, Max glanced back at the blindfolded tiger. The ominous statue stood silently on the hall table, illuminated only by a shaft of moonlight from a front window and looking more than ever as if it were about to pounce.
The cluttered office of the Easton Star-Democrat newspaper was in a modest wooden building on Harrison Street in Easton, not far from the courthouse. Max walked in the next morning and looked up Assistant Editor Chip Carswell, an old friend and fellow flying enthusiast.
“No, we don’t get the New York papers down here,” said Carswell, shaking his head, “but we do get news from United Press. That’s the news agency that carries reports to all the papers. Now let’s see. When do you think this was?”
“Probably between three and five days ago,” said Max. “I think it would have taken that long to find out about me and chase me down.”
Carswell flipped through a pile of papers, mumbling to himself as he went. “Connelly, Connelly….ah here’s something. It’s from five days ago. I think this is what you’re looking for.” He squinted at the paper in his hand as Max read over his shoulder.
- CONNELLY, CARD GAME EXPERT AND RACE HORSE OWNER SLAIN
Found by Housekeeper After Being Mysteriously Shot While Sitting in Chair
Valuables Not Touched – Tragedy Follows Party at Waldorf
As Max began to read the dispatch, Carswell found another one.
“Here’s an update, Max. Connelly was shot once through the forehead. He was last seen by his chauffeur who brought him back from some shindig at the Waldorf the night before and dropped him off around 2 A.M. The chauffeur lived elsewhere. Oh, get this; the chauffeur says Connelly wasn’t alone; he was with his latest love, a young lady with the unlikely name of Mandy Jewell. The police are questioning her.”
“I’ll bet they are,” Max observed. “Hey, is that another dispatch?”
“Oh, yeah; , dated yesterday. Let’s see.”
He pulled out the dispatch and held it up to the light.
NEW SUSPECT IN CONNELLY SLAYING
Quarreled with Connelly the Night of the Crime
Letter, Phone Calls Revealed
Police continue to investigate the mysterious death of wealthy card expert and horse owner Ellsworth Connelly at his home on West 70th Street Tuesday. Police have revealed that Mr. Connelly had apparently been reading a letter when he was shot, and that he had made several phone calls earlier, including one to the farm in Maryland where he keeps his race horses. In addition, police are looking for Count Gunther Von Grunewald, an ex German Navy officer now a local architect who had attended the same Waldorf function as Mr. Connelly that night. Witnesses say Von Grunewald and Connelly had argued earlier, but Von Grunewald has not been seen since. The subject of the quarrel was not revealed, but police are investigating.
“Well,” said Max, “it’s still pretty early, but things seem to be pointing to this Von Grunewald guy. He certainly seems to be acting suspiciously, and he had a pretty good run in with the victim the same night as the murder.”
Carswell looked at him sharply. “Say, you’re not getting involved in another high society murder, are you Max? This sounds like one to stay away from if you ask me.”
“Too late for that, I’m afraid. The only question is whether this thing will blow over if I just keep my head down. It sounds messy.”
A clerk appeared at Carswell’s desk. “There’s a phone call for Mr. Hurlock. It’s from Mrs. Hurlock.”
“Max,” came the voice on the phone. “Do you remember someone named Krauss when you were in the navy?”
“Henry Krauss? Sure. He was a Machinist’s Mate in the engine room. Why?”
“His uncle is here to see you.”
“His uncle? Well, I was just about to leave anyway. Tell him I’ll be home in an hour or so.”
After a drive down the St Michaels Road, Max jumped out of the Model T and saw Allison sitting on the porch with an angular looking blond haired man who rose as he approached.
“Good afternoon Mr. Hurlock.” The uncle had the air of a military man, and one accustomed to command. “I am so glad you could see me. My nephew told me all about you and where you could be found.”
“Mr. Krauss, any relative of an ex shipmate is welcome here any time,” Max replied.
“Oh, forgive me,” said the uncle. “Where are my manners? My name isn’t Krauss. I am his uncle on his mother’s side. My name is Von Grunewald; Gunther Von Grunewald.”
Chapter 3- Von Grunewald
“Von Grunewald?” Max repeated. “You’re the fellow the police are looking for up in New York.”
“Regrettably, yes, but I have come to you to ask for your help.”
“Allison, please get in the house and call the police,” said Max, placing himself between Von Grunewald and his wife. “This man is wanted in a murder case.”
“Please,” Von Grunewald pleaded. “Just hear me out. And I assure you and your charming wife that I haven’t killed anyone.”
“All right,” said Max, sternly. “I’m listening.”
Von Grunewald bowed slightly and Max could have sworn he clicked his heels. “My sincere apologies, Mr. Hurlock. I would have telephoned first, but I didn’t want to risk being arrested before I had a chance to speak with you.”
“Well, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re going to be arrested afterwards, so keep talking. What do you want?”
“Now, Max,” said Allison, “give him a chance. He’s here to ask for your help.”
“Making us accessories to a fugitive is a strange way to go about it,” Max grumbled.
“That was unfortunate but unavoidable, I’m afraid.” Von Grunewald spoke with a slight German accent. “It is true as you say that the police are looking for me, and I intend to turn myself in as soon as we are finished here. I did not intend to run away. In fact I was in Atlantic City the day after the murder, and heard about it from the newspapers.”
“Then why didn’t you contact the police?”
“From what I read in the newspapers it looked like the police were going to blame the crime on me. I decided I needed someone to investigate independently and I had heard of you through my nephew, so I decided I would appeal to you to help me before I turned myself in to the authorities. I am a wealthy man, and can pay you as necessary.”
“Listen Von Grunewald; I’m flattered, but I know almost nothing about the details of the case, just a few newspaper stories. You need a local private eye, someone who knows New York and maybe knows the people involved. Besides, the police have been asking us questions because we saw Connelly a few days before he was murdered.”
“Yes, your charming wife told me about that, but that is an advantage. It will make it easier to talk to the police and maybe gain access to the crime scene since you’re not just a curious bystander.”
“Right now,” said Max, “being just a bystander sounds pretty attractive.”
“What I am proposing,” Von Grunewald continued, “is that you come to New York and investigate this case. I will pay all your expenses and put you up at a hotel as long as you need. Of course I will pay generously for your services as well.”
“Why me?” Max asked. “The New York police department is a lot better equipped to deal with this than I am.”
“I’m afraid that under the pressure of public opinion to arrest the killer, the police might not be entirely trustworthy. I am an American citizen now, but to them I am just a former enemy who argued with Connelly the night before he died. What better person to hang for this murder?”
“I fought the Germans in the Great War, too. Why trust me?”
Von Grunewald leaned forward slightly. “Because of what my nephew told me. You knew him as Henry Krauss, but his real name was Heinrich. He came to America years before the war, joined the American Navy when the war came, and was on your ship, the USS Carson, a destroyer; the kind you call a ‘four stacker’. You were a junior Lieutenant. Heinrich told me about the stabbing on the ship, and how everyone wanted to find the German ‘spy’ they assumed responsible. My cousin expected to be arrested because of his background, but he wasn’t because one man on that ship wasn’t fooled. One man refused to accept the spy theory without evidence. That man was you, Mr. Hurlock. You found the real killer and probably saved my cousin. You have a talent for observation and logical thinking, but most of all, you have a sense of honor. My cousin is grateful to you for saving him, so now I ask you to do the same thing for me. You must help me prove my innocence.”
“I never set out to prove or disprove anything, merely to find the truth, whatever it might be.”
“Of course. That is all I ask.”
“Moreover, I’m at a disadvantage since I’m not with the police and have limited access to the crime scene and the evidence. I may not be able to find the truth.”
“I only ask that you try.”
“And you have to turn yourself in, and I mean today.”
Von Grunewald nodded. “I will turn myself in as soon as I have told you some more background.”
Max drummed his fingers on the porch rail for a few seconds, and then sighed. “I have to admit it’s an interesting case from what I know of it so far.” He turned to Allison, who had been unusually quiet through the exchange.
“So that’ll be three for dinner?” was all she said.
Did Von Grunewald kill Ellsworth Connelly? How will Max go about finding out? And what is the meaning of the ceramic tiger sent by the victim?
Read the rest of Death and the Blind Tiger