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Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades-Oakley Hall.

Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades-Oakley Hall. Электронная библиотека, книги всех жанров


      In the general low uproar of Morton Street female voices were raised in what sounded like lamentations, punctuated with a hysterical shriek, so that I halted with Amelia’s hand clutching my arm. The pair of us was bumped by hurrying men.

      In a great tangle of illumination and shadow and blowing fog were red lights and a red window shade with a ball of gaslight over it. I could make out a commotion lurching toward us, a draped figure held up on a moving dais. It was a body covered by a sheet, four men bearing it like some primitive ceremony, two policemen and two other men, one with a striped shirt. The body was carried on a door, held aloft and borne to the wagon, not thirty feet from where Amelia and I were hemmed in by silent men. The door and its burden slipped into shadow as it was stowed in the wagon bed. The helmetless policeman mounted to the driver’s seat with the driver. He was Sgt. Nix, white-faced where he stood six feet above the crowd of men staring up at him.

      Nix held up an arm, a hand signaling to someone; two fingers extended from his fist. A hundred feet down the street a woman shrieked again.

      “We must get away from here,” I said to Amelia, who was thrust against me by the press around her. “Pardon me,” I said. “Pardon us, please. Pardon!”

      I managed to steer her out of the crowd.

      “What is it, Mr. Redmond?” she cried out.

      “Another woman has been murdered,” I said. “I must take you home now, Miss Brittain.”

      I hailed a hack on Sutter and Amelia and I rode in silence up the steep hill to Taylor Street, where I climbed a dozen steps with her and bid her good night.

      At that time Bierce’s prophecy that the Railroad was involved in these murders seemed preposterous to me.

      “I am sorry our tour turned out so tragically,” I said.

      “I will never forget that scene, Mr. Redmond!” Amelia exclaimed. “The multitude of men, the smells! The fog, the reddish glow, as though there was a pink smoke rising. And those men with their swathed burden! The women’s voices! The sense of terror and excitement. And the Blind Boss with those eyes like mushrooms!” She sounded breathless, one hand clutched to her bosom. The door was opened by a liveried butler.

      “Thank you and good night, Mr. Redmond!” She disappeared inside.

      I was shaken as I descended the steps, for it seemed Amelia Brittain had seen more of that hellish scene than I had.

      I told the hackie to take me to the City Morgue in Dunbar Alley, where I would view my second corpse, the second victim of the Morton Street Slasher.


      CYNIC, n. – A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.


      On Bierce’s desk was a skull, polished white as chalk, with outsize eyeholes and a grinning undershot jaw. His office was on the second floor of The Hornet’s premises on California Street, with a view out a window at the traffic in the street. Miss Penryn, the typewriter, rattled away on her machine in the next cubicle. Downstairs were the reporters’ and Mr. Macgowan’s offices. The press was in the basement. Bierce kept a neat desk, with albums of old Tattle columns on a shelf, and two of Fats Chubb’s caricatures framed on the wall. One was the opera singer Adelina Patti in the shape of a plump, upright trout, mouth open singing. The other showed the Railroad as an octopus with suckers on the tentacles that were miniaturized faces of the Big Four.

      Bierce and Mr. Macgowan listened to me relate what I had seen at the Morgue. Bierce stroked at the sparrow-wings of his mustache, frowning, and Mr. Macgowan leaned his big belly forward in his chair, so, with the skull, it was like having three grim faces watching me.

      The stench had been terrible. The knife had opened up her bowels, the man in the leather apron had told me. “They said the two of spades was stuck in her mouth,” I said.

      “Was she French too?” Bierce wanted to know.

      “Irish. Esther Mooney.”

      “And the fellow was seen?” Mr. Macgowan asked. He was a beefy gent of about Bierce’s age, with a walrus mustache framing a set of chins.

      “One of the other girls might’ve seen him. Young chap with fair whiskers coming out of the room. I have this from Sgt. Nix.”

      “Esther Mooney and Marie Gar. Any connection?”

      “Just Morton Street, as far as I can see.”

      “A series is certainly implied,” Mr. Macgowan said. “An ace and a two. The Morton Street women must be in a fright.”

      I said I’d seen Captain Pusey at the Morgue.

      “The photographic nonesuch,” Mr. Macgowan said.

      Isaiah Pusey was Chief of Detectives, Sgt. Nix’s superior. He had assembled a criminal identification system of which he was very proud, albums of photographs of every criminal who had appeared in the San Francisco courts and a collection of national and international photographs as well. He bragged that he could identify any criminal whose likeness he had seen. He had made trips to London to confer on the British Crime Index, and to Paris to investigate the Bertillon system. It was considered that San Francisco criminals were sufficiently identified so long as Captain Pusey was on hand with his elephant memory and his photographic archive.

      His chair creaked as Mr. Macgowan leaned forward again. “A weekly is at a disadvantage, of course,” he said. “The Chronicle and the Alta can cover this day by day. Mike De Young will go the sensational route.” Mike De Young was the Chronicle.

      “Smithers can cover Central Station. That’s what he’s good at.”

      Bierce said, “I want something different than what Smithers or Gould would give us. Tom has seen the bodies. I’m going to ask him to work up supplemental material to run opposite Tattle.

      “Tom and Sgt. Nix are baseball chums,” he added.

      Mr. Macgowan squinted at me.

      “If Pusey is involved, he must have had a sniff of money,” Bierce went on, with a flare of his nostrils that indicated his opinion of the Chief of Detectives. Most of the police, like the Supervisors, were on the boodle from the cribs, cowyards and parlorhouses, the gambling joints and saloons. Elmer Nix was probably relatively honest, but it was difficult to follow the straight and narrow in wide-open San Francisco. The Fire Department was proud of its rectitude.

      Bierce had announced that the corruption stemmed from the State Railroad Monopoly, but it did not seem that simple to me.

      “Maybe they’ve already got their man,” I said.

      “That would be the culm and crown of wonder,” Bierce said.


      Under the headline SECOND MORTON STREET SLASHING, the Alta California had printed:

      This morning the City was startled by the news that a second murder in Morton Street had been added to the terrible crime committed on Monday. The murder took place during the evening hours in an establishment presided over by Mrs. Cornford, in an upstairs room. The victim was a woman of 29 years, Esther Mooney. The same process had been followed as in Monday’s case. She had been seized by the throat and her cries choked until she was strangled. Her torso was then slashed open. The murder was discovered when blood seeped beneath the door of her room.

      Chief of Detectives Isaiah Pusey has announced that the murderer will soon be apprehended, but no arrest has been made at this time. The tenants of Morton Street are dismayed by these crimes. Dr. Manship, who was called to view the remains of this victim, gave it as his opinion that the same man, evidently a maniac, had committed both murders. The inquest will be held at 11 o’clock Thursday morning.

      There was no mention of the spades, or their progression.