THE VALET TALKS
There was a triumphant ring to Leverage’s
statement that the dead man’s valet had been
discharged at some time during the twenty-four hours
which immediately preceded the killing. It was
as if his instinct recognized a combination of circumstances
which could not be ignored. Carroll looked up
“Have you talked to this fellow?”
“No. I figured I’d
better leave that phase of it to you; but I’m
having him watched. Cartwright is on the job.
Right now the man is at his boarding-place on Larson
Carroll started for the door.
“Let’s go,” he suggested laconically.
It was but a few minutes’ drive
from headquarters to the boarding-house of Roland
Warren’s former valet. Carroll parked his
car at the curb and inspected the place closely from
There was little architectural beauty
to recommend the house. It was a rambling, dilapidated,
two-story structure, sadly in need of paint and repairs,
and bespeaking occupancy by a family none too well
blessed with the better things of existence.
They proceeded to the door and rang the bell.
A slatternly woman answered their summons, and Leverage
“We wish to see William Barker, please.”
“Yes. I believe he moved here yesterday.”
“Oh, that feller!” The
woman started inside. “Wait a minute,”
she said crossly, and shut the door in their faces.
While they stood waiting, Leverage
glanced keenly up and down the street, and his eye
lighted on the muscular figure of Cartwright, the
plainclothes man, shivering in the partial shelter
of an alley across the way. The policeman signaled
them that all was well, and resumed his vigil.
At that minute the door opened and the woman reappeared.
“He ain’t home!”
she said, and promptly closed the door again.
Carroll looked at Leverage and Leverage
looked at Carroll. Leverage crossed the street
and interrogated Cartwright.
“The landlady says he’s out, Cartwright.
How about it?”
“Bum steer, chief! The bird’s there I’ll
bet my silk shirt on it!”
Leverage recrossed the street and reported to Carroll.
“You’re pretty sure Cartwright has the
“Sure thing,” said the
chief. “He’s one of the most reliable
men on the force, and when he says a thing, he knows
Carroll stroked his beardless chin.
There was a hard, calculating light in his eyes eyes
which alternated between a soft, friendly blue and
a steely gray. Finally he looked up at Leverage.
“What’s your idea, Eric?”
“About him sendin’ word he was out when
we know he ain’t?”
“It looks darn funny to me,
Carroll! ’Pears like he didn’t want
to discuss the affair with us.”
“He don’t know who we are.”
“He can guess pretty well.
Any guy with a head on his shoulders knows the valet
of a murdered man is going to be quizzed by the police.”
“Good! Come on.”
Carroll put a firm hand on the knob
and turned it. Then he stepped into the dingy
reception hall, followed by the city’s chief
At the sound of visitors, the angular
frame of the boarding-house-keeper appeared in the
doorway, her eyes flashing antagonistically. Leverage
turned back the lapel of his coat and disclosed the
“Listen here, lady,” he
said in a voice whose very softness brooked no opposition;
“that bird Barker is here, and we’re going
to see him. Police business! Where’s
The woman’s face grew ashen.
“What’s he been doin’?” she
quavered. “What’s he been up to now?”
“What’s he been up to before this?”
“I don’t know anything
about him. Swear to Gawd I don’t! He
just come here yesterday an’ took a room.
Paid cash in advance.”
“He’s in his room, ain’t he?”
“What if he is? He told
me to tell anybody who come along that he was out.
I didn’t know you was cops. Oh, I hope there
ain’t nothin’ goin’ to ruin the
reputation of this place! There ain’t a
woman in town who runs a decenter place than
“Nobody’s going to know
anything,” reassured Carroll, “provided
you keep your own tongue between your teeth.
Now take us to Barker’s room.”
The boarding-house-keeper led the
way up a flight of dark and twisting stairs, along
a musty hall. She paused before a door at the
“There it is, sirs and ”
“You go downstairs,” whispered
Carroll. “If we should find you trying to
listen at the keyhole ”
His manner made it unnecessary to
finish the threat. The woman departed, fluttering
with excitement. Leverage’s hand found the
knob, and Carroll nodded briefly. The door was
flung open, and the two men entered.
“What the ”
The occupant of the room leaped to
his feet and stood staring, his face gone pasty white,
his demeanor one of terror, which Carroll could see
he was fighting to control. Leverage closed the
door gently and gazed at the man upon whom they had
William Barker was not a large man;
neither was he small. He was one of those men
of medium height, whose physique deceives every one
save the anatomical expert. To the casual observer
his weight would have been catalogued at about a hundred
and forty. At a glance Carroll knew that it was
nearer a hundred and eighty. Normal breadth of
shoulder was more than made up for by unusual depth
of chest. Ready-made trousers bulged with the
enormous muscular development of calf and thigh.
The face, clean-shaven, was sullen with the fear inspired
by the sudden entrance of Carroll and Leverage; and
there was more than a hint of evil in it. As
they watched, the sullenness of expression was supplanted
by a leer, and then by a mask of professional placidity the
bovine expression which one expects to find in the
average specimen of masculine hired help.
The man’s demeanor was a combination
of abjectness and hostility. He was plainly frightened,
yet striving to appear at ease.
Carroll and Leverage maintained silence.
Barker fidgeted nervously, and finally, when the strain
became too great, burst out with:
“Who are you fellers? Whatcha want?”
Carroll spoke softly.
“What if that is my name?”
Carroll’s hands spread wide.
“Just wanted to be sure, that’s all.
You are William Barker?”
“An’ what if I am? What you got to
do with that?”
Carroll showed his badge.
“And this gentleman,”
he finished, designating Leverage, “is chief
Barker’s voice came back to him in a half whine,
“I ain’t done nothin’ ”
“Nobody has accused you yet.”
“Well, when you bust in on a feller like this ”
Carroll seated himself, and Leverage
followed suit. He motioned Barker to a chair.
“Let’s talk things over,” he suggested
“Ain’t nothin’ to talk over.”
“You’re William Barker, aren’t you?”
“I ain’t said I ain’t, have I?”
Carroll’s eyes grew a bit harder. His voice
“What’s your name?”
Barker met his gaze; then the eyes of the ex-valet
“William Barker,” he answered almost unintelligibly.
“Very good! Now, sit down, William.”
William seated himself with ill grace.
Carroll spoke again, but this time the softness had
returned to his tones. His manner approached downright
“We came here to talk with you,
Barker,” he said frankly. “We don’t
know a thing about your connection with this case;
but we do know that you were valet to Roland Warren,
and therefore must possess a great deal of information
about him which no one else could possibly have.
All we want is to learn what you know about this tragedy what
you know and what you think.”
Barker raised his head. For a long time he stared
silently at Carroll.
“I don’t know who you
are,” he remarked at length; “but you seem
to be on the level.”
“I am on the level,” returned
Carroll quietly. “My name is David Carroll ”
“O-o-oh! So you’re David Carroll?”
The query was a sincere tribute.
“Yes, I’m Carroll, and
I’m working on the Warren case. I don’t
want to cause trouble for any one, but there are certain
facts which I must learn. You can tell me some
of them. No person who is innocent has the slightest
thing to fear from me. And so Barker if
you have nothing to conceal, I’d advise that
you talk frankly.”
“I ain’t got nothin’ to conceal.
What made you think I had?”
“I don’t think so.
I don’t think anything definite at this stage
of the game. I want to find out what you know.”
“I don’t know nothin’, either.”
“H-m! Suppose I learn that
for myself! I’ll start at the beginning.
Your name is William Barker?”
“Yes. I told you that once.”
“Where is your home? What city have you
lived in mostly?”
The man hesitated.
“I was born in Gadsden, Alabama,
if that’s what you mean. Mostly I’ve
lived in New York and around there.”
“What cities around there?”
“Newark, New Jersey?”
“Yes. An’ in Jersey
City some, and Paterson, and a little while in Brooklyn.”
“You met Mr. Warren where?”
“In New York. I was valet
for a feller named Duckworth, and he went and died
on me typhoid; you c’n find out all
about him if you want. Mr. Warren was a friend
of Mr. Duckworth’s, an’ he offered me a
job. We lived in New York for a while and then
we come down here.”
“How long ago?”
“’Bout four years maybe five.”
“What kind of a man was he personally?”
Carroll watched his man closely without
appearing to do so. He saw Barker flush slightly,
and did not miss the jerky nervousness of his answer that
or the forced enthusiasm.
“Oh, I reckon he is all right.
That is, he was all right. Real nice feller.”
“You were fond of him?”
“I didn’t say I was in love with him.
I said he was a nice feller.”
“Treated you well?”
“Oh, sure he treated me fine.”
“And yet he discharged you yesterday.”
Then Carroll bluffed. “Without notice!”
Barker looked up sharply. His
face betrayed his surprise; showed clearly that Carroll’s
guess had scored.
“How’d you know that?”
“I knew it,” returned Carroll. “That’s
Barker assumed a defensive attitude.
“Anyway,” said he, “that
didn’t make me sore at him, because he give me
a month’s pay; and that’s just as good
as a notice, ain’t it?”
“Ye-e-es, I guess it is.” Carroll
hesitated. “Did he pay you in cash?”
Again Carroll hesitated for a moment,
while he lighted a cigarette. When he spoke again,
his tone was merely conversational, almost casual.
“You’ve read the papers all
about Mr. Warren’s murder, haven’t you?”
“I’ll say I have.”
“What do you think about it?”
Again that startled look in Barker’s
eyes. Again the nervous twitching of hands.
“Whatcha mean, what do I think about it?”
“The woman in the taxicab do you
think she killed him?”
Barker drew a deep breath. One
might have fancied that it was a sigh of relief.
“Oh, her? Sure! She’s
the person that killed him!”
“He knew a good many women?”
suggested Carroll interrogatively. “He got
along pretty well with them?”
“H-m!” William Barker
nodded. “You said it then, Mr. Carroll.
Mr. Warren he was a bird with the women!”