The Saint to the Rescue
The Saint met Otis Q Fennick on the fire escape of the Hotel Mercurio, in San Francisco at about four o’clock in the morning.
Like many another eminently simple statements, the foregoing now involves an entirely disproportionate series of explanations.
Simon Templar was staying at the Mercurio, which was a long way from attaining the luxurious standards of the kind of hotel that he usually frequented, because when he headed for San Francisco he had neglected to inform himself that a national convention of the soft-drink and candy industry was concurrently infesting that otherwise delightful city. After finding every superior hostelry clogged to the rafters with manufacturers and purveyors of excess calories, he had decided that he was lucky to find a room in any hotel at all.
The room itself was one of the least desirable even under that second-rate roof, being situated at the back of the building overlooking a picturesque alley tastefully bordered with garbage cans and directly facing an eye-filling panorama of grimy windows and still grimier walls appertaining to the edifice across the way. The iron steps of the outside fire escape partly obscured this appealing view by slanting across the upper half of the window, and it was there that Simon first heard the stealthy feet of Mr Fennick, and a moment later, being of a curious disposition, saw them through a gap at the edge of the ill-fitting blind. He had dined at his friend Johnny Kan’s temple of oriental gastronomy on Grant Avenue for old times’ sake, and afterwards Johnny had insisted that they should go out together and look for some late entertainment that might not have been discovered by the assembled exploiters of appetizing toothache, and what with one thing and another it had been very late when he got home, and he had only just shed most of his clothes and brushed his teeth when he heard the furtive scuffling outside which was the surreptitious descent of Mr Fennick.
In such a situation, the ordinary sojourner in even a second-rate hotel would either have remained gawking in numb perplexity or have started howling an alarum, with or without the intermediacy of the house phone. Not being ordinary in any way, Simon Templar rolled up the shade with a craftsman’s touch which almost miraculously silenced its antique mechanism — he had already switched off the lights in order to see out better, and the window had never been closed since he accepted the room, on account of the stuffiness of its location — and swung himself across to the nearest landing of the fire escape with the deceptively effortless grace of a trained gymnast, having reacted with such dazzling speed that he arrived there simultaneously with the cautiously groping prowler.
“Me Tarzan,” said the Saint seductively. “You Jane?”
His voice should not have been at all terrifying — in fact, it was carefully pitched low enough to have been inaudible to anyone who had not already been disturbed by Mr Fennick’s rather clumsy creeping. But Mr Fennick was apparently unused to being accosted on fire escapes, or perhaps even to being on them at all, at any rate, it was immediately obvious that no intelligible sound was going to emerge for a while from the fish-like opening of his mouth. It became clear to Simon that the acquaintance would have to be developed in a more leisurely manner and less unconventional surroundings.
“You’d better come in before you catch cold or break your neck,” he said.
Mr Fennick gave him no struggle. He was a small man, and the Saint’s steel fingers almost met their thumb around the upper arm that they had persuasively clamped on. He squeezed his eyes very tightly shut, like a little boy, as Simon half lifted him across the space to the window sill, which was really no more than a long stride except for having about forty feet, of empty air under it.
With the blind drawn and the lights on again, the Saint inspected his catch with proprietary interest. Mr Fennick wore a well-pressed brown double-breasted suit of conservative tailoring, a white stiff-collared shirt, a tie very modestly patterned with neutral greens, and even a clean felt hat of sedate contour. To match his skinny frame, he had a rather wizened face with a sharp thin nose, a wide thin mouth, and lively intelligent brown eyes when he opened them. He looked much more like a member of some Chamber of Commerce and pillar of the Community Church than a felonious skulker on fire escapes.
“You know,” said the Saint at last, “I don’t think you’re a burglar after all. And this would be a rather desperate hour for a Peeping Tom. I guess you must be a candy cooker.”
“That’s right,” Mr Fennick said eagerly. “The Fennick Candy Company. You must have heard of it.”
He whipped out a wallet and extracted a card from it with an automatic dexterity which even his temporarily shattered condition could not radically unhinge. He went on, in a kind of delirious incantation: “Jumbo Juicies, Crunchy Wunchies, Crackpops, Yummigum—”
“That sounds like a powerful spell,” said the Saint respectfully. “Now are you supposed to vanish in a puff of smoke, or am I?”
“I wish I could,” said Mr Otis Q Fennick, President, forlornly.
Having read everything on the card, Simon put it down on the dresser and picked up a cigarette.
“It begins to seem as if you have a problem,” he said. “But presumably it isn’t anything so sordid as not being able to pay your bill. You weren’t doing the moonlight flit, were you?”
“Oh, dear me, no! I’m quite comfortably well off, I assure you. In fact, I was most upset with the convention Committee for booking me into a place like this. Of course, they said that all the rooms were allotted by drawing names out of a hat, but I noticed that they all got the Mark Hopkins or the Drake. This isn’t at all the class of hotel I’d choose for myself.”
“We have that in common, anyhow.”
“I don’t remember seeing you at any of the meetings. What’s your line?”
“I was referring to our taste in hotels, Otis. I’ve never taken much interest in candy, unless it happened to be poisoned.”
“Oh.” Mr Fennick looked pardonably vague. “Well, I am attending this soft-drink and candy convention which you may have heard of—”
“I could hardly help it. It stuck me with this dump — and me not even a delegate. So what were you doing just now? Trying to sneak in on one of your competitors and steal his secret formula for the ultimate frightful blend of peppermint, popcorn, and peanut butter, with the miracle self-inflating ingredient and the atomic crackle?”
“No, nothing like that—”
“Then it must have been his new sales gimmick to top your offer of a rocket trip to Venus in exchange for fifty million Crunchy Wunchy wrappers.”
Mr Fennick blinked at him.
“You must be misinformed, sir. The Fennick Candy Company never made any such offer.”
“Then I’ll make you a present of the idea. So what were you doing?”
“Well, I suppose I was just in a panic. I knew I was being framed.”
“Maybe you were,” said the Saint cheerfully. “But I still don’t get the picture. Why don’t you begin at the beginning?”
Mr Fennick gulped, wriggled miserably, and took a deep breath like a diver about to plunge.
“All right. I was out last night — it would be last night, wouldn’t it? I was out with some business connections. We had dinner at the Sheraton Palace, and went to some night clubs. We were at the Forbidden City, and Bimbo’s.
Of course, we drank quite a lot—”
“Coke, or chemical fruit punch?”
“No, I like a real drink when I go out. But I wasn’t drunk. You must believe me. I only mentioned it to explain why I must have fallen asleep especially soundly when I got to bed, which was about two o’clock.”