The mystery of the merry magician

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The Mystery of the Merry MagicianEllery Queen Jr.

Contents

1.THE SPACE MONSTER

2.THE LITTLE DOG

3.THE GLOWING GHOST

4.THE SILENT WATCHER

5.NIGHT ON THE RIVER

6.THE WEIRD THING

7.THE MYSTERIOUS PROMISE

8.A CRY IN THE NIGHT

9.MERLIN’S TALENT

10.THE GAUNT MAN

11.THE MAN WHO WALKED ON WATER

12.THE DISAPPEARING ACT

13.THE NEW WATCHMAN

14.THE SECRET OF THE MONSTER

15. “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!”

16.MERLIN RISKS HIS LIFE

17.A MIDNIGHT VENTURE

18.RAID AT DAWN

19.THE TRAP IS SPRUNG

20.GULLY’S LITTLE NOTEBOOK

PREVIEW:THE MYSTERY OF THE VANISHED VICTIM

1The Space Monster

WHENEllery Queen opened the door and walked into his apartment, his nephew was sprawled on the floor, hidden by a tall-backed easy chair. The boy was so absorbed by the book—one of the many mysteries written by Ellery Queen—that he did not hear the door open.

“Gully?” the private detective called out. “Gully? Where are you?”

“Here, Uncle Ellery.”

A boy of sixteen, tall for his age, untangled his lanky figure and stood up. His blond hair, cut short, was so light that the sun streaming in through the window made it look almost white.

“I’ve bad news, Gully.”

“What’s the matter?” A worried expression flicked over the boy’s handsome face.

“I have to go away. Taking the afternoon plane for New Orleans.”

Gully was disappointed. “You’re going away … without me?”

“I must, Gully.” Ellery Queen walked past the boy and entered his bedroom.

Gully followed him slowly. “But why, Uncle Ellery?”

“It’s a government case. I’ve been asked to help and, of course, I can’t refuse. Besides,” the famous detective added with a chuckle, “it’s the kind of mystery I can’t resist.”

“What’s it about?”

“There’s very little I can tell you. Something weird is taking place on the New Orleans waterfront. No real clues, just crazy rumors and reports of strange creatures haunting the docks down there, people being frightened at night, that sort of thing. No crime that the government knows of, no motive. But the Treasury Department is worried. My job will be to try to find out what’s going on.”

While he talked, Ellery brought a small suitcase out of the closet and packed some clothes into it.

“What aboutourtrip?”

“Has to be postponed.”

Disappointment showed on the boy’s face. He stood in the middle of the room, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, and stared silently at his uncle.

All winter long Gully had been looking forward to the summer vacation with his famous uncle. They had planned to spend a week camping and fishing through the Adirondack mountain region. Now, abruptly, the trip was to be postponed.

“How long will you be gone, Uncle Ellery?”

“Only four or five days.”

“Only!” Gully could not keep the dismay out of his voice. “Gosh! That’s almost a whole week.”

For the first time since he had arrived in New York City—and that was two days ago—Gulliver Queen felt lonely and miserable. His father, an engineer, was in Europe working on a long-term United Nations project. Gully’s mother had gone with her husband.

But Gully had to continue with school. So arrangements were made for him to live with his grandfather, Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department, and with his Uncle Ellery.

For Gully the separation from his parents was made up for a little by the promise of excitement and adventure living with Ellery Queen. Now, the first of the adventures—a camping trip to the mountains—was being postponed, and Gully found himself facing dull days of waiting.

“A few days,” Ellery Queen said, “are not such a long time. And you know we agreed that if anything important turned up, we’d have to postpone our vacation.”

“I know, Uncle Ellery. I guess it won’t be too bad. There are lots of things to see and do in New York.”

Gully tried to be cheerful about it, hiding his real feelings. But Ellery Queen was a shrewd observer. He said suddenly, “But there’s something you can do for me while I’m away.”

Gully looked up, instantly curious.

Ellery picked up his suitcase and headed for his study. Dropping the bag at the door he went to his desk and from a drawer pulled out a small leather notebook.

“Take this, Gully,” he said, handing it to the boy. “My secretary, Nikki Porter, is coming with me. My telephone-answering service will take any messages phoned in. But sometimes people phone or come here to the apartment to see me …”

“People in trouble?” Gully asked eagerly. “People who want to hire you as a detective?”

“Yes. The police are usually in a better position to help these people than I am. But I try to keep a record of the visits. You never can tell when an interesting case might crop up.”

“You want me to see the people—sort of interview them?”

Ellery Queen smiled. “Well, let’s say you’ll be acting as my assistant. Use the notebook to write down their names and addresses. You might also jot down what they look like and how they behave.”

“If they’re nervous or worried?”

“Exactly. And keep a careful record of what they tell you. Get down all the facts you can. When I come back, I’ll go over the notebook and decide whether to look into the case or not.”

“Yes, sir!”

“And remember, Gully, don’t go off trying to solve any mysteries. Just write down the facts, all the facts.”

“Andonlythe facts! I know.” Gully was feeling a lot more chipper than he had a few minutes before.

“Right. You’ll do it for me?”

“Of course!” Gully said proudly. “Gosh! Your assistant.”

“I’m depending on you. In the meantime, Mrs. Butterly will take care of you here at home.” Mrs. Butterly was the Queens’ housekeeper, a conscientious and motherly woman.

Gully opened the notebook and looked at the blank white sheets, wondering what he was going to write on them, and how soon.

“I’ve got to hurry now. Take care of yourself.”

Ellery Queen gave the boy a quick hug around the shoulders, picked up his suitcase and left. Gully remained standing in the middle of the room. A quarter of an hour later Mrs. Butterly, coming in to dust, found the boy still standing there, daydreaming.

“Now, young man,” she exclaimed. “I don’t want you moping around the house. Not on a beautiful day like today.”

She was a short dumpy woman well past middle age. But she moved about with a bustling, nervous energy.

“Where should I go?”

“Have you been to the zoo?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Hah! Just like a born New Yorker. People live here all their lives and never see the sights of the City. Central Park’s just across the way. Got one of the finest zoos in the world. A lake. Boats. And such a nice day, too.”

“But Mrs. Butterly …”

“I’ll have no but-but-buts from you, Gulliver. Off you go!”

“Yes, ma’am.” With Ellery Queen gone, Gully did have a few days for sight-seeing. He shoved the notebook into one of his back pockets and left.

But an hour later he was back. Mrs. Butterly opened the door and immediately looked stern.

“Why are you back so soon?”

“Gosh, Mrs. Butterly. I watched the monkeys in the zoo for an hour. It wasn’t any fun without a friend.”

“Then make friends. You’ve got eight million people in the city to choose from!”

She bustled away, shaking her head.

Gully had just decided to go to Ellery’s study and pick out a book to read when the doorbell rang.

“Will you please see who it is, Gulliver? I’m busy in the kitchen,” the housekeeper called to him.

“Yes, ma’am.” Gully went to the door and opened it.

Standing before him was a boy about his own age but a head shorter, dressed in faded blue jeans and a work shirt. He looked up at Gully with a pair of intensely black eyes. He had a short, turned-up button of a nose and black curly hair badly in need of cutting. A crumpled sailor hat was stuck far back on his head.

“You live here?” the boy asked curiously.

“Yes.”

“You named Queen?”

“Yes.”

The boy eyed Gully. A quick temper seemed to smolder in his eyes.

“Ya don’t look it.”

“Well, that’s my name whether I look it or not,” Gully replied, returning the stare. He was rapidly becoming annoyed at the boy’s manner. “I didn’t know I had to have a special look about me.”

“Don’t get excited,” the visitor said, trying to look past Gully into the apartment. “What I meant was that you look kind of young to be a famous detective who writes books.”

“You mean my uncle, Ellery Queen.”

“That’s the character I wanna see. Where is he?”

“He’s not here.”

The boy pushed Gully aside and walked in.

“Okay. I’ll wait.”

“You’ll have a long wait. Ellery Queen will be away for several days.”

“Huh?” There was disappointment on the boy’s face.

“I’m Gulliver Queen. Can I do anything for you?”

“Pleased to meet you,” the boy said. “I’m Fisty Jones.”

“If you give me your address,” Gully said, “my uncle will get in touch with you when he returns.”

He took out his notebook and, opening to the first page, wrote down the visitor’s name.

“Sure.” Fisty gave him a downtown address.

“Now,” Gully continued, very business-like, “can you tell me why you came to see Ellery Queen?”

“Captain Foster, who’s an old buddy of Inspector Queen’s, told me to come. He said for me to go see the Inspector’s son Ellery. So I came.”

“Very good,” Gully said, writing down the information.

“What’s this about?” Fisty asked, watching him suspiciously. “What are you writing down all that stuff for?”

“Uncle Ellery asked me to keep a record of all his visitors and write down the facts in my notebook.”

“What for?”

“He’ll look over the information when he gets back and decide whether to take the case or not.”

“Well, I got a case for him.”

“Fine. My job is to get the facts. Tell me what it’s about, but stick to the facts.” Gully waited, his pencil poised over the notebook.

Fisty fingered his curly hair thoughtfully.

“All right,” he said. “It happened last night. I was on a barge that’s tied up at Pier A, visiting a couple of friends of mine—”

“Who are they?” Gully interrupted.

“Captain Foster and his granddaughter Peggy.”

“They live on a barge at Pier A?”

“Only until it’s loaded. Then the barge goes up the Hudson River somewhere.”

“Go on,” Gully nodded, writing down the information.

“It was late when I left them. I crossed the street over where there’s a whole block of old houses. Nobody lives in them any more. They’re mostly boarded up. As I was walking along the block, I happened to look into the window of an empty store …” Fisty paused while Gully wrote.

“Yes?”

“That’s when I saw it,” Fisty said.

“Saw what?” Gully asked, looking up.

“The monster from outer space!” Fisty said hoarsely. A note of fear came into his voice. “I saw it with my own eyes, and that’s a fact! It had black, smooth skin … shiny in the moonlight … and big, floppy feet. And … and one big, round eye, right in the middle of its face!”

2The Little Dog

BUSILY, Gully began to write in his notebook:

“Saw monster from space; reports smooth, black skin, one round eye in the …”

With a faint “Plop,” the notebook dropped from Gully’s hand. For a moment he stood staring at his empty hand, open-mouthed. Then his eyes popped and he choked, “You saw a …what?”

“A monster from space,” Fisty repeated stubbornly.

Still keeping his eyes fixed on the boy’s face, Gully stopped and groped for his notebook.

“You … actually … saw … a space monster?”

Fisty pointed to his eyes. “With my own two eyes.”

Shaking his head, Gully wrote it down. “Where did you see this, ah … thing?”

“In an empty store on West Street. Like I was telling you, West Street has houses on only one side. On the other side are the docks, and in the middle is the elevated highway. The West Side Highway.”

“And the houses are all empty, you say?”

“For three blocks down there, every one is deserted,” Fisty said. “Anyway, I looked through the window and there was moonlight coming in through the back door. And I could see the … the thing plain for maybe a fraction of a second! It must have seen me, too. Because it gave a big jump, right out of the moonlight and into the shadows, and vanished! It moved so fast I almostdidn’tsee it.”

“Maybe you … you imagined you saw …”

“Not a chance. There was dust all over the place and you could see its footprints. They’re still there, I’ll bet!”

There was silence in the room while Gully wrote all this down in his notebook.

“How do you know it’s something from space?”

Fisty shrugged. “Ever hear of such creatures on earth?” he demanded. “Itmusthave come from some other world.”

“That’s just an opinion,” Gully said. “I’ve got to stick to facts.”

“You can come down and see those footprints in that empty store with your own eyes.”

Gully placed the pencil between the pages, shut the notebook and stuck it into his back pocket. For a while he remained silent, thinking. Fisty watched him respectfully.

“Wait here,” Gully finally said, having made up his mind.

He walked to the door and poked his head into the hallway.

“Mrs. Butterly,” he called. “I’d like to go out, if you don’t mind. What time are we having supper?”

“At seven,” the housekeeper called from the kitchen. “And don’t you dare be late. The Inspector doesn’t like waiting.”

“I’ll be back in time.” Gully glanced at his visitor. “Let’s go.”

The two boys rode the elevator down in silence. In the street, Fisty said, “We’ll have to take the subway at the next corner.”

“All right.”

They did not speak again until they were settled in the subway car. Then it was Fisty who asked questions.

“You don’t live with Ellery Queen all the time, do you?”

“No, just while my parents are in Europe. Dad’s an engineer and we live in Washington, D.C.”

“Like where Congress is … and the President?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know him?”

“Who? The President?”

“Who else?”

“Not any better than you do. I saw him once during a parade.”

Fisty frowned. “Don’t know the President, and you live in the same town!” He shook his head. Then, abruptly, changing the subject, he asked, “What’s Inspector Queen to you?”

“He’s my grandfather. Ellery Queen is my uncle.”

“You going to be a detective when you grow up?”

“I’m going to be an engineer like my Dad. What about you, Fisty?”

The two boys had to raise their voices to make themselves heard above the roar of the train.

“I gotta work to make some money so I can go to college after I finish high school. I’m working now,” the curly-haired boy said proudly.

“A real job?”

“Sure. A summer job with working papers and all that kind of stuff. I help out at the wholesale fruit and vegetable market around Greenwich and West Street. I only live a few blocks away. It’s not hard. I only work mornings …”

They chatted pleasantly, getting acquainted. By the time they stepped out of the train at the Canal Street station, both felt as if they had been friends for years.

For Gully, a stranger in the big city, it was an exciting experience to find a friend so unexpectedly. Walking through the crowded streets, he hardly noticed the jostling, hurrying people.

When they finally reached West Street, Fisty stopped and pointed out the sights. On one side of the street were old, run-down houses, many of them with boarded-up windows and doors.

The docks loomed in a silent, ugly row on the other side of the highway. Overhead on the highway itself moved endless streams of passenger cars, going in both directions.

Through the street below rumbled heavy trucks, one close behind the other in an unbroken flow. Strange strong smells, of tar and pitch, rotting timbers, gasoline fumes, filled the air.

The sun was setting behind the piers and long shadows crept across the street, spilling over the elevated highway and casting a deep gloom over West Street.

“This way,” Fisty said, heading south.

They walked along the almost deserted sidewalk. After they had gone several blocks, Fisty stopped.

“You see that open pier?” he asked, pointing.

“Yes?”

“That’s Pier A. Captain Foster’s got his barge tied up there. I crossed the street from there the night I saw the … thing.”

Gully let his eyes swing in a half-circle to the row of buildings behind him.

“Which store did you see it in?”

“I was about opposite to the next pier, Pier B,” Fisty explained. “Where that sign is, the Seven Seas Shipping Company.”

“I see it.”

Fisty moved down the block. “The corner store is empty, so is the second one and the third.” He paused and motioned to Gully. “It was through the window of the fourth one. This …”

The buildings were all alike, flat, oblong, covered with soot and grime. Each was four stories high, with recessed doorways leading to the ground floor stores.

“That the window?” Gully stepped up to it and peered inside. He saw his own face reflected in the glass. The window was painted black. “I can’t see inside, Fisty.”

“What d’you mean you can’t?” Fisty looked at the window and gasped. “Hey! Somebody painted it black!”

“You sure of that?”

“Sure I’m sure!” Fisty retorted. “I’ve passed by this store plenty of times. It’s never been painted! Why, only last night …”

“You’re wrong, kid!” a gruff voice suddenly broke in. A tall, broad-shouldered man, lurking in the shadowy doorway, stepped out.

“Don’t tell me I’m wrong, mister!” Fisty snapped, turning on the man. “I know what I saw!”

“And I said you didn’t see nothing!”

Although it was a warm evening, the man had the collar of his jacket turned up to his chin and his hat pulled down over his eyes, hiding most of his face.

“That window’s been painted ever since the Sandro Company rented the building.” The man shuffled slowly toward the two boys.

Fisty stood his ground, his eyes beginning to smolder angrily.

“It wasn’t painted last night.”

The man stepped closer. His hands, large and unusually heavy, swung stiffly at his sides, the long, thick fingers twitched nervously, as if tensing to grasp something. Bright red tattoos of a compass were on the backs of his hands. Extending outward from each compass were designs of wavy lines, like the rays of the sun or—Gully could not quite make it out—like the tentacles of an octopus.

“You got no business here,” the man’s voice rumbled. “If I catch you snooping around here again …” The man shook his huge fist at the boys, “you might get hurt!”

“You don’t scare me!” Fisty’s temper was rapidly rising to an explosion. “I didn’t lie about what I saw through that window!”

“What did you see?”

Gully became aware of a pair of cold, mean eyes staring at Fisty from the shadowy face.

“Oh, it wasn’t anything important,” Gully said quickly, taking his friend by the arm and leading him away. “We were just curious, mister.”

“Yeh? Well, be curious somewhere else!”

“Come on, Fisty,” Gully said in a low voice.

Gully led his friend down the street and around the corner. As soon as they were out of sight, Fisty turned on him.

“That guy called me a liar, Gully!”

“Getting into a fight with him isn’t going to prove anything. Right now, I’d like to see if the footprints are still on the floor inside that store.”

“We can look in through one of the back windows.”

“Can we? How would we get there?”

“I’ll show you.”

The house they had stopped in front of was in better condition than those on West Street. Some of the windows were open and curtains flapped limply in the mild evening breeze. It was evidently occupied. The street door was open.

“Follow me,” Fisty said and entered the tenement building.

They groped their way through a long, dark hallway to the rear of the house. There Fisty opened a door and they stepped into the back yard.

Overhead hung clotheslines. The place itself was littered with broken furniture, old mattresses, crates, and rusty tin cans. On three sides, the yard was surrounded by wooden fences made out of discarded doors and odd pieces of wood.

Fisty pointed to the fence separating them from the back yards of the buildings fronting on West Street.

“We want the fourth building from the corner, right? So we climb the fences until we get to the fourth yard. Come on!”

Fisty ran a few steps and leaped to grasp the top of the fence. The next moment he scrambled up to sit there with one leg thrown over the fence.

Gully followed his example and was soon beside his friend.

Silently, Fisty dropped into the yard, ran across and leaped up to the next fence. Again Gully followed.

They passed through the yards until they were sitting on the fence, looking down into the third yard. Here Fisty hesitated.

“What’s the matter?” Gully asked. “We’ve got only the next fence to climb after we cross this yard …”

Fisty did not reply. He leaned forward to look down into the shadows below him.

“I … I thought I saw something moving down there,” he whispered.

“Something in those shadows?” Gully peered downward. “What?”

“I don’t know …”

“Only one way to find out,” Gully said, jumping down from the fence. “I don’t think …” He stopped suddenly as a low growl came from the darkness at the foot of the fence.

“It’s a dog!” Fisty dropped into the yard to join his friend. “Be careful!”

For a moment there was silence. Then, so unexpectedly that the two boys stepped back with a gasp, a small white dog emerged from the shadows—walking on its hind legs! Its front paws were extended as though it were welcoming them.

“A trick dog!” Gully exclaimed.

“But how did he get into this yard? Nobody lives here.”

Gully crouched and called the dog to him. The puppy dropped its forepaws to the ground, raised its tail and trotted to him.

“He’s a smart little pup!” Gully looked about. The rear door of the building was partly open. “That’s how he came into the yard,” he said, pointing to the door.

“Well, he’ll starve here,” Fisty said. “He must have crawled into the building from West Street, then couldn’t get out. Let’s take him back and put him into the street.”

The door swung back easily on well-oiled hinges when Fisty tried it. Followed by the dog, the two boys entered a dark room. They were in the back of the ground floor store of the building.

“Careful, it’s pretty dark in here,” Gully cautioned.

“I can see enough …” Fisty started to reply when the room suddenly grew darker. “What … what happened?” He whirled toward Gully.

But Gully was staring at the door through which they had entered.

The door was closed, blocking out the faint light from the yard.

“Did you shut the door behind us?”

“How could I?” Fisty said in a whisper. “I was in front of you!”

“Some one shut it!”

The two boys were still looking at the back door when they heard a slight movement in the room. Both turned quickly.

A faint glowing light was appearing out of the solid blackness before them. Slowly the light began to assume a shape … the shape of a shrouded figure, floating on the air.

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