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Friend of the Devil

By GEORGE REYNOLDS

He evolved the "perfect" murder and only forgot—HIMSELF f

When he retired, Detective Grey had nothing "famous" to look back upon; nothing that wou d make one of the Sunday papers offer £5,000 for his life story. He had, of course, met many criminals and had tripped up some queer customers.

But, curiously enough, as the Superintendent remarked when he presented him with a cheque and an Indian walking-stick, Grey had often been near to murder without ever getting a man hanged. They were all frustrated attempts, like that of the clerk who smeared poison on the back of stamps and the woman who made a break in the steep cellar steps.

"Our colleague," said the Superintendent, "has done the best po ice service of all— that of preventing the actual crime."

Grey had looked forward to his retirement. He was tired of investigations in public houses, hotel lounges and the haunts of slimy racketeers. That was why he chose to spend his first fortnight's break-with-it-all at Northsea. A friend had strongly recommended a pleasant house, near enough to the sights yet away from the noise.

"You know," said Mrs. Richmond after Grey had introduced himself, "I always wonder what my guests wi'l be like. From your writing I imagined you to be ...

"Don't tel! me—hawkeyed and with handcuffs dangling from my pockets!"

They laughed. He didn't trust widows as a rule!; but this one obviously had humour and originality; there was nothing of the seaside landlady about her.

"At any rate I shall feel safe whi:st you're here" went on Mrs. Richmond. "I'm often aione. I don't do this sort of thing regularly, you know; just people I know and an occasional theatrical—they're always so entertaining. I have one staying here now, for the season. Mr. Smith. He has a matinee this afternoon. Such a nice little man. He's a conjuror."

Detective Grey stirred the tea she had given him rather vio'ently. If there was one thing he disliked it was a conjuror. He couldn't say exactly why but it began with that case at Brightington. The pale-faced

"nice little man" there had lodgings with a widow. She had died from heart failure, so the doctors said. Nothing suspicious about it at all. No marks, no questionable food, no brawls —just heart failure. Indeed, she and Mr. Jones, the conjuror, were on very friendly terms, and he was deep y grieved when he gave evidence in the coroner s court on how she had suddenly collapsed when he came back from the theatre late one night.

Off-stage, Mr. Jones was a very ordinary person; but on-stage he knew how to put himself over. His stage name was PHISTO and he billed himself as "Satan's Brother." Grey had never liked him, although he appeared to ta k frankly and answered all Grey's questions quite easily. Perhaps it was his eyes—small yet, at times, opening wide as though they had swelled; the sort of eyes Grey often saw in police photographs when the subject resented being taken. Long after the affair, Grey had learned that the widow had left her money to Satan's brother.

But Mrs. Richmond was speaking. '"He's so keen on his work, always experimenting. Do have another cup of tea. Yes, he's at the Pavilion—a great success. Everybody likes him. Yet—" and she iaughed as she said it, "he calls himself Friend of the Devil!"

Grey had difficulty with his cup and saucer.

"And his name?" he asked.

"Weil, as I said, his real name's Smith, piain Smith, but he appears as MEPH. Clever, isn't it? makes you thinks of Mephistopheles. Yet he's very quiet and unassuming. Rather the pathetic sort. He !ost his wife not long ago, quite suddenly—heart failure. You'll meet him when he comes in late to-night."

"I think I'd rather meet him at breakfast," said Grey after a slight pause. "I'd like to get to bed fairly early; and, if you don't mind, I'd rather you didn't mention to Mr. Smith that I'm—a copper."

"Of course not. I expect most people ask you to teli your life story, don't they? Must be a bore. But you will tell it to me some time, won't you! Our policemen are so wonderful!"

Before dinner, Crey went for a walk on the prom. He began to puzzle things out— Jones— Smith—Phisto—Satan's Brother— Meph.—Friend of the Devil. If he were one and the same, what could be done? There was no evidence, no evidence at all. The widow died from heart failure and the wife died from heart failure. Now was it to be Mrs. Richmond? But, if so—how?

At dinner, Grey seized an opportunity. Mrs. Richmond had asked him what he was going to do now (as the mutual friend had told her)—he had retired. "Well," replied Grey, "the first thing I did was to make a will.'

'How extraordinary you should say that," said Mrs. Richmond. "I made a new one only yesterday." Grey did not pursue the subject; but now he had no doubts. He went to the Pavi ion and ensured himself a seat near the stage. The early turns were passable but he was wait ng for one and one only. Number 7: Meph—Friend of the Devil. The curtain went up and Grey looked at nothing but the cloaked figure that stood with his back to the audience and his shadow projected on to the backcloth. S'owly the figure turned round. There was no mistaking Jones, Smith, or what-you-will.

Grey did not wait for the other turns. He had a feeling that it was a question of time. Yet still he had no evidence, not a shred, upon which to work.

"You're back early" said Mrs. Richmond. "Tired?"

"Yes, I think the sooner I get between the sheets the better."

"Wl!, good-night. I'm going to have an exciting hour before I go to bed." "Oh?"

"Yes, Mr. Smith's going to show me his latest invention. You won't tell anybody, will you, because its an absolute secret. It's a robot, a mechanical man. I don't know anything about it yet; but I'm going to see it work as soon as Mr. Smith comes in. So, if you hear any funny noises, don't think of your old burglars."

Grey didn't know what to say. He had a strange sense of foreboding, of impending tragedy. "Good-night," he said, "and if you do get any intruders, leave them to me."

Then he went upstairs to his room. He didn't undress; he didn't even close his door comp'etely. It seemed a long time before somebody came in at the front of the house. Grey put out the light and listened. He heard Mrs. Richmond and Smith talking. Then a drink being poured out. More talk; then silence. It was nearly midnight.

A sound like clockwork. A clanking noise. The tread of heavy feet.

In the room downstairs, Mrs. Richmond sat on a chair near the door so that she could get the longest possible view of Mr. Smith's invention.

"Just sit quite still whi'st I prepare behind the screen," Smith told her. "And then it will come to you as I direct."

"It won't be frightening, will it?" Mrs. Richmond asked.

"Am I one to frighten people?"

"Keep quite still."

There was a sound like c'ockwork. From behind the screen came first a hand with steel fingers that curled. Then an arm of flexible rings. Mrs. Richmond's heart jumped a little and she held on to her chair. "I don't like it Mr. Smith" she gasped. "No—please—"

There was no reply. An oblong body with half-rigid legs was emerging; and then a boxlike head, with slits for eyes and mouth. Gradually the Thing creaked forward, monster-like with expressionless grin. It was slowly coming towards her. She shivered as she felt the blood leaving her face. Her heart was thumping into her ears. She tried to scream but her mouth was parched and her lips were frozen. Co'd sweat beaded her forehead. The Thing raised its hands as its face came nearer to hers. Weakly she tried to shuffle to the door. With one hand she managed to open it a little way. The room seemed to tip over as she fell to the floor.

At the first sound of mechanism, Grey picked up the Indian presentation stick, left his room and quietly crept down the stairs. He peered over the banisters towards the door of the front room. When the door began to open and he heard the fall, he jumped the remainder of the stairs and f ung the door open. He was face to face with the robot. He raised his stick and was just about to strike hard when the robot seemed to change. It stepped back, as a timid person does when suddenly confronted by a figure in the dark. From the slotted mouth came a sort of hiss like an exaggerated gasp of recognition. The framework wilted like a candle. Life seemed to go out of it. The legs sagged and the Thing crashed forward like a fallen idol.

(Continued on Page 213).

32, South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth. 9-10-52.

Dear Max,

Magic Magazine for October, received yesterday. May I add my compliments to those already, deservedly paid you. "The Mag." was 'good' to start with, but I find each issue excels the previous one. Only a "Wizard", I ke yourself could produce such a wonderful and worthwhi e job.

Cheerio,

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