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The Fool-Killer
by [?]

“Jesse Holmes,” said I, facing him with apparent bravery, “I know you. I have heard of you all my life. I know now what a scourge you have been to your country. Instead of killing fools you have been murdering the youth and genius that are necessary to make a people live and grow great. You are a fool yourself, Holmes; you began killing off the brightest and best of our countrymen three generations ago, when the old and obsolete standards of society and honor and orthodoxy were narrow and bigoted. You proved that when you put your murderous mark upon my friend Kerner–the wisest chap I ever knew in my life.”

The Fool-Killer looked at me grimly and closely.

“You’ve a queer jag,” said he, curiously. “Oh, yes; I see who you are now. You were sitting with him at the table. Well, if I’m not mistaken, I heard you call him a fool, too.”

“I did,” said I. “I delight in doing so. It is from envy. By all the standards that you know he is the most egregious and grandiloquent and gorgeous fool in all the world. That’s why you want to kill him.”

“Would you mind telling me who or what you think I am?” asked the old man.

I laughed boisterously and then stopped suddenly, for I remembered that it would not do to be seen so hilarious in the company of nothing but a brick wall.

“You are Jesse Holmes, the Fool-Killer,” I said, solemnly, “and you are going to kill my friend Kerner. I don’t know who rang you up, but if you do kill him I’ll see that you get pinched for it. That is,” I added, despairingly, “if I can get a cop to see you. They have a poor eye for mortals, and I think it would take the whole force to round up a myth murderer.”

“Well,” said the Fool-Killer, briskly, “I must be going. You had better go home and sleep it off. Good-night.”

At this I was moved by a sudden fear for Kerner to a softer and more pleading mood. I leaned against the gray man’s sleeve and besought him:

“Good Mr. Fool-Killer, please don’t kill little Kerner. Why can’t you go back South and kill Congressmen and clay-eaters and let us alone? Why don’t you go up on Fifth Avenue and kill millionaires that keep their money locked up and won’t let young fools marry because one of ’em lives on the wrong street? Come and have a drink, Jesse. Will you never get on to your job?”

“Do you know this girl that your friend has made himself a fool about?” asked the Fool-Killer.

“I have the honor,” said I, “and that’s why I called Kerner a fool. He is a fool because he has waited so long before marrying her. He is a fool because he has been waiting in the hopes of getting the consent of some absurd two-million-dollar-fool parent or something of the sort.”

“Maybe,” said the Fool-Killer–“maybe I–I might have looked at it differently. Would you mind going back to the restaurant and bringing your friend Kerner here?”

“Oh, what’s the use, Jesse,” I yawned. “He can’t see you. He didn’t know you were talking to him at the table, You are a fictitious character, you know.”

“Maybe he can this time. Will you go fetch him?”

“All right,” said I, “but I’ve a suspicion that you’re not strictly sober, Jesse. You seem to be wavering and losing your outlines. Don’t vanish before I get back.”

I went back to Kerner and said:

“There’s a man with an invisible homicidal mania waiting to see you outside. I believe he wants to murder you. Come along. You won’t see him, so there’s nothing to be frightened about.”

Kerner looked anxious.

“Why,” said he, “I had no idea one absinthe would do that. You’d better stick to Wuerzburger. I’ll walk home with you.”

I led him to Jesse Holmes’s.

“Rudolf,” said the Fool-Killer, “I’ll give in. Bring her up to the house. Give me your hand, boy.”

“Good for you, dad,” said Kerner, shaking hands with the old man. “You’ll never regret it after you know her.”

“So, you did see him when he was talking to you at the table?” I asked Kerner.

“We hadn’t spoken to each other in a year,” said Kerner. “It’s all right now.”

I walked away.

“Where are you going?” called Kerner.

“I am going to look for Jesse Holmes,” I answered, with dignity and reserve.