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PAGE 3

The Catbird Seat
by [?]

Mr. Martin was still thinking about that red-letter day as he walked over to the Schrafft’s on Fifth Avenue near Forty-sixth Street. He got there, as he always did, at eight o’clock. He finished his dinner and the financial page of the Sun at a quarter to nine, as he always did. It was his custom after dinner to take a walk. This time he walked down Fifth Avenue at a casual pace. His gloved hands felt moist and warm, his forehead cold. He transferred the Camels from his overcoat to a jacket pocket.
He wondered, as he did so, if they did not represent an unnecessary note of strain. Mrs. Barrows smoked only Luckies. It was his idea to puff a few puffs on a Camel (after the rubbing-out), stub it out in the ashtray holding her lipstick-stained Luckies, and thus drag a small red herring across the trail. Perhaps it was not a good idea. It would take time. He might even choke, too loudly.

Mr. Martin had never seen the house on West Twelfth Street where Mrs. Barrows lived, but he had a clear enough picture of it. Fortunately, she had bragged to everybody about her ducky first-floor apartment in the perfectly darling three-story red-brick. There would be no doorman or other attendants; just the tenants of the second and third floors. As he walked along, Mr. Martin realized that he would get there before nine-thirty. He had considered walking north on Fifth Avenue from Schrafft’s to a point from which it would take him until ten o’clock to reach the house. At that hour people were less likely to be coming in or going out. But the procedure would have made an awkward loop in the straight thread of his casualness and he had abandoned it. It was impossible to figure when people would be entering or leaving the house, anyway. There was a great risk at any hour. If he ran into anybody, he would simply have to place the rubbing-out of Ulgine Barrows in the inactive file forever. The same thing would hold true if there were someone in her apartment. In that case he would just say that he had been passing by, recognized her charming house, and thought to drop in.

It was eighteen minutes after nine when Mr. Martin turned into Twelfth Street. A man passed him, and a man and a woman, talking. There was no one within fifty paces when he came to the house, halfway down the block. He was up the steps and in the small vestibule in no time, pressing the bell under the card that said “Mrs. Ulgine Barrows.” When the clicking in the lock started, he jumped forward against the door. He got inside fast, closing the door behind him. A bulb in a lantern hung from the hall ceiling on a chain seemed to give a monstrously bright light. There was nobody on the stair, which went up ahead of him along the left wall. A door opened down the hall in the wall on the right. He went toward it swiftly, on tiptoe.

“Well, for God’s sake, look who’s here!” bawled Mrs. Barrows, and her braying laugh rang out like the report of a shotgun. He rushed past her like a football tackle, bumping her.”Hey, quit shoving!” she said, closing the door behind them. They were in her living room, which seemed to Mr. Martin to be lighted by a hundred lamps.”What’s after you?” she said.”You’re as jumpy as a goat.” He found he was unable to speak. His heart was wheezing in his throat.”I–yes,” he finally brought out. She was jabbering and laughing as she started to help him off with his coat.”No, no,” he said.”I’ll put it here.” He took it off and put it on a chair near the door.”Your hat and gloves, too,” she said.”You’re in a lady’s house.” He put his hat on top of the coat. Mrs. Barrows seemed larger than he had thought. He kept his gloves on.”I was passing by,” he said.”I recognized–is there anyone here?” She laughed louder than ever.”No,” she said, “we’re all alone. You’re as white as a sheet, you funny man. Whatever has come over you? I’ll mix you a toddy.” She started toward a door across the room.”Scotch-and-soda be all right? But say, you don’t drink, do you?” She turned and gave him her amused look. Mr. Martin pulled himself together.”Scotch-and-soda will be all right,” he heard himself say. He could hear her laughing in the kitchen.