Roger Halsted, normally soft - spoken, did on occasion become emphatic when the matter under discussion was something that struck at the inner core of his affections.

He said, "You're quite wrong, Manny. Not only is the limerick an authentic and respectable verse form, it is to the English language what the haiku is to Japanese, an authentic and peculiar possession."

Halsted's high forehead was pink and his slight stammer was emphasized as he grew, for him, passionate. The others present at the preprandial stage of the monthly banquet of the Black Widowers fell briefly silent in astonishment at Halsted's single - handed bearding of Emmanuel Rubin.

Rubin, who grew passionate even over weather announcements, seemed afire with contradiction. "Are you trying to tell me, Roger, that limericks can't be written in any language?"

"Of course not," said Halsted. "I know a number of limericks in French and German. It's just that it doesn't come naturally to those languages or to any other than English. They're not designed for it. For heaven's sake, you can write haikus in English; it's just a matter of counting syllables; but it doesn't have the same effect as in Japanese."

"Subjective nonsense," said Rubin, his sparse gray beard bristling belligerently. "It's what you're used to. Teach American children haiku in grade school and they'll appreciate it in English as Japanese children learn to appreciate it in Japanese."

"You underestimate the difference involved in the fact that syllables in Japanese are more regular in sound than those in English. And where limericks are concerned, what counts is the anarchy of the English language."

"You call it anarchy, Roger, because you know no grammar."

"That's my point," said Halsted. "English grammar is incredibly loose. It consists almost entirely of a collection of exceptions. And the English vocabulary, through a succession of historical accidents, is far larger than that of any other language. Every word in English has twenty synonyms, no two of which are exactly alike in meaning."

"I grant the flexibility of English," said Rubin.

"Then you grant my argument. A limerick is made up of thirteen metrical feet divided into five lines with three, three, two, two, three feet each. There are two unaccented, syllables between each accented one in each line, one or two unaccented syllables at the start of each line, and zero, one, or two unaccented syllables at the end of each line. If . . ."

At this point, Mario Gonzalo, the Black Widowers' resident artist, who had been following the argument over a martini and was smacking his lips over both, said, "Come on, Roger, we all know what a limerick is."

Halsted said, "The point I'm trying to make is that the rules for a limerick are rigid and allow almost no leeway. We can get away with it in English because we can shift from a word to its synonym, we can alter word order, use a noun for an adjective, and so on. In other languages, you are not so free - there are too few synonyms, too fixed a word order, too inflexible a set of word properties."

At this point, the one nonmember of the club, the guest brought in by the host of the evening, broke in eagerly. He had been hovering at the edge of the argument waiting for a chance to insert himself, and he now said, "My favorite limerick goes: 'From a crypt in the church of St. Giles...'"

Halsted said, "Good! Take that one. I've often heard the second line given as 'Came a scream that rang out for a mile.' Now that's wrong! Between the two accented syllables 'scream' and 'rang' there is only one unaccented syllable."

"Not so," said James Drake, touching his small gray mustache as though to reassure himself of its microscopic presence. "You can say it, 'Came a scream that rang out for a mile.'"

Halsted looked annoyed, "That defies the ordinary rhythm of English speech. If you were to read the line as prose, you would sound illiterate if you placed the accent on 'out.' You could say 'Came a screaming that rang out for a mile,' but now you have three unaccented syllables between 'rang and 'mile,' and that's impermissible too. So you change it to 'Came a screaming that rang out for miles,' which sounds better and which, incidentally, preserves the rhyme, a matter that most amateur limericists are very cavalier about. However, the phrase 'came a screaming,' while permissible English - almost anything is - is a trifle unnatural. So you change it to "Came a scream that resounded for miles' and you have a perfect limerick line."

Geoffrey Avalon's deep baritone rolled out, effortlessly rising above the general conversation, "And as Henry is trying to tell you, Roger, we have a perfect banquet waiting for us if you'll only shut up and let everyone sit down."

Henry, whose role as waiter at the monthly banquet made him the one indispensable man of the evening, said quietly, "I cannot guarantee perfection, gentlemen, but there will be roast goose that I think you will find acceptable."

Halsted sat down at once. It was widely rumored that the one way to stop him from composing limericks was to place food in front of him, and Halsted had more than once admitted the possibility of there being some truth to that. He was a valiant trencherman, he said.

The guest tried Halsted again after the stuffed mushrooms had been disposed of and bones sprouted from the plates. He said, "I take it you know the St. Giles limerick, then?"

Thomas Trumbull, scowling out of his tanned face under his thatch of white hair, said, "He has heard every limerick invented and, thanks to his insufferable mania and our own incomprehensible tolerance, so have we."

Avalon said, "Since you came late as usual, Tom, I haven't had a chance to introduce my guest to you. This is Ananias St. John, a cousin of my wife's but a splendid fellow all the same."

"Ananias?" said Trumbull, with a thoughtful look in his eye.

"Ananias," said St. John jovially. "My parents had a perverted sense of humor. However, the Bible is so rarely read these days that the natural allusion is lost. Well, almost so; it wasn't last week, I think. Usually, the trouble I have is in pronunciation. Which reminds me, Geoff, please overcome your Anglophilic love of elision and don't pronounce my last name SINjon. Accent the last syllable and make it SinJON, or, better yet, give it the full sounding of Saint John."

Halsted said, "Elisions can be useful: 'There was a young fellow named Sinjon, Who said to his wife, "Honest Injun" . . .'"

Trumbull shouted, "Damn it, Roger, I'd tell you not to torture us with another limerick, except that you won't find another rhyme for St. John, however execrable."

Halsted said quietly, "'I was having no fling, with that pretty young thing. Just a small bit of fatherly pinchin'.'"

"'Execrable' is the word, all right, Tom," said Avalon.

"Can you do better?" demanded Halsted.

"Who wants to?" said Trumbull. "To want to compose a better limerick is the mark of a man with micro - ambition."

Avalon tapped his water glass with his spoon as Henry passed around the brandy in his usual unobtrusive way.

"Roger," Avalon said, "you were unaccustomedly forward earlier in the evening. Suppose we take advantage of your brashness and ask you to conduct the grilling now."

Trumbull let out a roar of disapproval. "Come on, Geoff. Roger will get this thing turned into a competition of limericks, and I swear I'll leave."

Avalon looked austere. "As host, I make the decisions, and there are no appeals. Roger, you do the grilling, and the subject of limericks is not to be brought up."

Halsted said, eyebrows lifted, "I wouldn't dream of it. I've had my say. Mr. St. John" (he pronounced the name carefully as two equally stressed words), "it is customary, but not obligatory, to ask each guest to justify his existence, and in this case I choose not to. It I do, we may get off on a tangent and, instead, I want to move directly to a nonlimerical point. . . ."

"Grill! Don't orate!" muttered Trumbull.

"Quiet, Tom," said Avalon, with a stiff gesture.

Halsted said, "Earlier, during the dinner, you said that few people saw the natural allusion to your name, Ananias. You mean, of course, the fact that it is used, metaphorically, to mean a liar."

"That's right," said St. John cheerfully. "Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, tried to withhold property from the common fund by lying about it and were struck dead by Peter in consequence. You'll find it at the beginning of the Fifth Chapter of Acts."

Rubin said, "Have you ever thought of changing your name?"

"Why should I?" said St. John. I like it. It gives me a bit of individuality. I'm the only Ananias I ever met and that suits me fine."

Halsted said, "Back to the point, though. You also said that there were allusions made last week. In other words, someone thought you were a liar. Why?"

St. John frowned and his round face assumed an anxious look. "Did I say anything about last week?"

"You did," said Drake, nodding. "I heard it, too."

"I shouldn't have," said St. John. "I've been asked not to talk about it."

Trumbull leaned forward intently and said, "Wait! Are you the St. John who was connected with the Winston Arms incident?"

St. John said cautiously, as though expecting entrapment, "I live in Winston Arms."

"Okay. All I knew was your initial. If I had known your full first name I would have known on the instant of introduction. Look, Mr. St. John, the incident doesn't exactly fall under my jurisdiction and I know of it only from some distance, but it's all right to talk about it here. Everything said here never goes beyond the walls, and that includes Henry, our esteemed waiter."

St. John's caution did not abandon him, "How do I know you have the authority to ..."

Avalon said, "It's all right, Ni. If Tom says you can go ahead, you can. The only thing is that I do try to pick my guests carefully and avoid these damned puzzles. Ni St. John is an electrical engineer with an unimpeachably quiet life, and now look."

"It only happened last week, Geoff," said St. John weakly. "I'm sorry."

"Would you tell us about it?" said Halsted.

There was one last moment of hesitation and then St. John said, "To make it short, I found a dead man and I'm not sure the FBI doesn't think I may have been the killer."

The company of Black Widowers emitted a collective sigh.

"Murder!" whispered Gonzalo. "We hardly ever get anything like that."

Halsted said, "Let the man speak! Would you start from the beginning, Mr. St. John?"

"There isn't much to tell," said St. John. "Last Friday, I was leaving my apartment at the Winston Arms on a routine errand. I had a day off and my wife thought I ought to do some shopping lest unaccustomed leisure rot my moral fiber, I suppose. I was engaged in locking the door - three locks in New York, of course - when, behind me, I heard the door of the elevator open. That meant someone was getting off or going in, so I shouted, 'Hold it, please,' because one can easily wait five or ten minutes for an elevator, if you've just missed a chance. When I got there, though, all three elevator doors were closed. No one was in sight and in the ten seconds it had taken me to get to the elevator bank, anyone getting off would not have had time to vanish into an apartment door. That meant someone had gotten on."

Rubin, who lived in a large apartment complex of his own, said, "Elevators aren't that faultless. It might have stopped at the floor by way of a misfunctioning signal and no one either got on or off."

"As it happened," said St. John, "there turned out to be every reason to suppose someone had got on - a murderer, in fact, which, selfishly speaking, makes it just as well I had my back to the hall and was delayed by the three locks. It I had seen him and tried to get on the elevator with him, he might have tried to kill me, too."

"What time was it?" asked Halsted.

"About four in the afternoon."

"I should think he took a big chance on being seen."

St. John said, "Not necessarily. The peephole in the door of the apartment he came out of commands a view of the length of the hall. I imagine he made sure the hall was empty before going out to signal for the elevator. Anyway, I knew nothing of this at the time. I just knew someone hadn't held the door for me and I chafed quite a bit and walked up and down to pass the time. The wait for an elevator always seems twice as long if you just stand there and stare at a closed door.

"At the end of the corridor, the opposite end from my apartment, there was an apartment door, from within which I heard a distinct moaning, and the door was just a trifle ajar. I called out, 'Hi! Something wrong?' and shoved the door open a bit. The moaning was a bit louder and I thought I did hear the word 'help.' I went in, very reluctantly. Oh it's easy to sneer, but getting involved can be troublesome and, in fact, it was.

"There was a dying man in the living room. He had been knifed and it was sticking out of his chest and you'll excuse me if I don't go into details, but I don't revel in such things. He was a man I had seen in the elevator occasionally, and we had waited for it together once or twice, but we had never spoken. It's traditional in New York, you know, to ignore your neighbors.

"I was rather paralyzed. I'm not a doctor; I didn't know what to do. I might have run out yelling for help, or I might have run back to my apartment and used the intercom to alert the doorman. But I just stood there frozen and the man looked at me and said, quite distinctly, 'the blind man,' and then his neck tendons just went loose. I had never seen anyone die, but there was no doubt in my mind that I had just seen it happen."

St. John paused at this point and said, "Waiter, might I have a refill on the brandy?"

Henry, as always, seemed to have anticipated the request. The Black Widowers remained silent and finally St. John cleared his throat and said, "I didn't know what to do then, either. How could I be sure he was dead? Was I supposed to apply first aid to save his life - when I knew nothing about first aid? Besides, I also thought that if he were dead, I wasn't supposed to move the body or touch anything. I was afraid of touching even the phone, but then I picked it up with a handkerchief at one end and dialed the police.

"I went back to my apartment after that to tell my wife what had happened, and she took some quieting, you can imagine. Then I returned to the dead man to wait for the police."

Gonzalo said, "How did I come to miss the news story? A murder in a posh apartment house usually makes the lower left - hand corner of the Times front page and scare headlines in the News and the Post."

St. John shrugged. "I suspect there was an attempt to keep it as quiet as possible. It made its way through the apartment house, though, because my wife called the office. The tenants have already had a meeting on the problem of security, but that doesn't really have anything to do with the story. The fact is that when the policemen came, there were intelligence agents along with them and it was one of those who interviewed me. When I gave him my name, he looked at me sharply and asked if I had my driver's license with me. It seemed to me he thought I was giving him a false name. I produced it, along with a few credit cards, and there it was - Ananias, in clear print."

"'How well did you know this man?" he asked.

"I said, "Not at all. I'd see him in the corridor or in the elevator, but I never spoke to him.'

"'You're neighbors. You live on the same floor'

"I tried to explain about New York. He listened, showed no expression. He said, 'Did you straighten up in here?'

"'Not in any way,' I said. 'I touched nothing but the phone, except that I pushed the door open, stepped across the floor, and may have put my hand somewhere on the furniture.' I wasn't trying to be funny. I just wanted to be perfectly honest.

"He said, 'Did you do that?'

"He pointed to the window shade, which hung crookedly as though it were broken, then to some books on a coffee table that seemed disarrayed. I hadn't evert noticed that, and I said so. He asked if I had touched one of the ashtrays and I said I hadn't.

"He asked me to tell him what had happened and I did - exactly as I told it to you earlier.

"He said, 'It's your opinion, then, that a blind man came in here and did this?'

"I said I had no such opinion. The dying person had said, 'the blind man,' and that's all. He hadn't said a blind man had knifed him or had come in or anything. Three words and he had died.

"The agent said, 'What do you think he meant?'

"'I don't know,' I said. By now I was pretty wild because it seemed to me I could see how things were going. There was no real sign of a struggle. There seemed to have been no search and maybe nothing was stolen. It looked like a sudden quarrel between friends. There I was on the same floor. I could be the friend. I could have killed him and then tried to cover by calling the police with a story about the murderer going down the elevator and the dead man muttering a senseless phrase.

"They finally let me go, but not until after I had begun to be sure that I was going to be arrested. I'm convinced, though, that if my name had not been Ananias, that agent wouldn't have been half convinced I was lying and he might not have given me such a hard time. Anyway, they warned me not to talk about it, and that's it. The whole story."

Trumbull broke in. "I'm sure your name had nothing to do with it, Mr. St. John. The fact is that there's more to this than you can guess, and that's why it had to be kept reasonably quiet. What I am going to do - it I can get over my astonishment at the coincidence of having you here one week after the event - is to tell you as little as possible, and as much as is necessary.

"The fact is that the dead man, whom we'll call Jones, was an undercover agent. Who and what he was investigating is of no concern to us here, but things were so delicate that he remained completely out of touch with us except on rare occasions and even then only by very tenuous devices concerning which I know no details. As I said, I was not directly concerned. He lived at Winston Arms for two years, had a complicated and thoroughly established cover, and went quietly about his very dangerous business."

Rubin muttered, "That kind of storybook spy activity never rings true to me. Who would want to live such a life?"

"Very few," said Trumbull, "but it has to be done, it's very well paid, and the fringe benefits in the way of early retirement, medical insurance, and pension plans are attractive. But let me go on. . . ."

"Somehow, we now see in hindsight, his cover was blown. Somehow, he was murdered. It might have been a nonassociated murder, having nothing to do with his job, but we don't believe in pure coincidence in such matters."

Avalon said, "To be dramatic is not always to be correct. Why couldn't it have been someone who came in to burglarize the apartment, found Jones there, knifed him, and then fled in panic without taking anything?"

Trumbull looked scornful. "There was no sign of a forcible entry, and Jones would not be likely to let himself be knifed by a two - bit sneak - thief at four in the afternoon. No; it had to be a carefully planned entry designed to catch Jones off - guard, and it could only have been carried through by a well - organized cabal."

Halsted said, "Why the apartment? Why not arrange an automobile accident? Why not have him mugged in Central Park?"

Trumbull said, "It could be done that way. It has, on occasion. But this was a special case, and it was a matter of psychological warfare, in a way. At least, so we believe. Look at it this way; People living this dangerous life have to be aware of danger at every moment anywhere in the street or in public buildings or in empty places. One's own home, though, is a place of refuge. If there weren't somewhere you could feel safe, the life would become unbearable. To be tracked down, then, and killed in your own apartment, not only gets rid of an important agent but may well demoralize the entire agency.

"The question is not why it was done there, but how. Jones had a gun and it wasn't used. He was a thoroughgoing expert in the various techniques of self - defense, yet there was no sign of a struggle. Combine that with the fact that the killer had gotten into the apartment with every sign of having been invited in.

"To whom could Jones have said, 'Come in?' Jones could not possibly have allowed anyone to enter his apartment under any but the most unambiguous conditions. I doubt that I could have gotten into his apartment even if I had flashed my identification. He didn't know me personally and he would have taken into account the fact that my card might have been forged."

St. John said eagerly, "In that case, maybe the agent who questioned me had the right idea. A blind man could do it."

"Why should he let in a blind man, Ni?" asked Avalon.

"Why not? A blind man isn't dangerous. I know there are stories about blind men being able to get around in the dark when sighted men can't. But this was midafternoon on a sunny day. There was no advantage to being blind."

Avalon said, "But if a blind man isn't dangerous, how could he kill Jones?"

St. John said, "It all works out. Jones would be completely unsuspicious just because the man was blind. The blind man would hold out his left hand and Jones would automatically take it. The blind man could have an athlete's grip like Pew in Treasure Island, pull Jones off - balance, and before Jones could collect his wits he would be a dead man with a knife between his ribs. Or, actually, almost a dead man."

Avalon said, "Why would a blind man want to get into Jones' apartment? What would be his excuse? A blind man comes to the door, let us say. What does he say to get in?"

St. John said, "He could be collecting for some charity. It's hard to refuse a blind man. If Jones opened the door that might be all the murderer needed. The grip of a hand, a sudden twist, a push inward, the knife, and out again. The whole thing might take no more than fifteen seconds."

"And how," asked Avalon, "would he know the corridor was clear, either when he was trying to get in or trying to get out?"

"A blind man," said St. John, "would have learned to rely on his hearing. People in corridors talk, hum, drum their fingers, shift from foot to foot."

Rubin, with the thick lenses of his glasses magnifying his eyes into orbs of fury, contained himself no longer. "What garbage!" he said. "Jones wouldn't open the door for a blind man under any circumstances. Tom, if he wouldn't let you in because he would suspect a forged identity card, why should he let in a blind man who could be a fraud? What do you need to fake blindness? Dark glasses and a white cane and you've got it. Jones wouldn't fall for that."

"Besides," said Trumbull, "there's no blind man who lives in the apartment house, and no blind man was seen entering or leaving at the time of the murder. The building is high - security, with doormen on duty, of course, and no one is allowed in without being announced."

"Well, if it comes to that," said Rubin, switching sides at once, "I live in an apartment house with a doorman, and that means nothing. A doorman has a thousand jobs. He's on the phone, he rushes out to open a taxi door or help an older resident with her bundles, and a man can slip in. Or else, even with the doorman watching, he just waits for a resident to walk in and then walks in with him, saying cheerfully, 'So how did things go?' The resident, puzzled but polite, says, 'Fine, fine,' and the doorman assumes the invader is a guest of the resident and lets him pass without a word."

Trumbull said sarcastically, "A blind man could pull those clever tricks, could he?"

Rubin shrugged. "I said there was no blind man."

St. John said, his voice squeaking into a higher register, "He mentioned a blind man."

"Sure," said Gonzalo. "Someone who seemed blind. The murderer sneaks into the apartment house in the way Manny describes. Once inside and up to the right apartment, he puts on the dark glasses and takes out the cane. . . ."

"Where does he get the cane?" demanded Rubin. "They're something like three or four feet long. Does it telescope? If not, how does he hide it while sneaking in?"

Gonzalo said, "All right. Dark glasses, then. He pretends he's blind to get in and then . . ."

Rubin said flatly, "Jones wouldn't open the door to a stranger on the strength of dark glasses, or a cane, either. Right, Tom?"

"Right," said Trumbull. 'The whole question hinges on who the hell he could possibly say "Come in' to. It would have to be someone he knew. An ill neighbor, perhaps, with whom he'd gotten friendly."

"He wasn't friendly with me," said St. John. "Does that mean, though, that every person living in Winston Arms is going to have to be investigated on suspicion of friendship with intent to kill?"

Trumbull said, "This is not a funny situation, Mr. St. John. But to answer your question, if I were running the investigation, why, yes, that is what I would do."

Gonzalo said, "But Jones mentioned a blind man. How do you get away from that? Do we suppose St. John is lying?"

"My name may be Ananias," began St. John heatedly, "but..." Avalon cut him off with a wave of his hand. He said, "No dying man is going to enunciate clearly or know for sure what he is saying. It could have been anything and it could have meant anything."

St. John said, "Just the same, Geoff, I heard it. The man may not have known what he was saying, but what he said was 'the blind man.'"

Drake lit a cigarette, squinted through the smoke, and said, "Could you swear he didn't say, 'the blond man'?"

St. John looked confounded. "'Blond man'?"

"Sure. It's not so different from 'blind man.'"

"N - no," said John. "It was 'blind man.'"

Drake said, "Could you swear to it in a court of law, under oath?"

St. John hesitated. "I'm not sure."

Rubin, who for a few moments had seemed withdrawn, said suddenly, "No, it was 'blind man.'"

"Stay on one side, damn it," said Trumbull.

"Listen," said Rubin earnestly, "the problem remains that he said 'Come in' to someone. It couldn't be a neighbor. His apartment had to remain sanctuary. No mere friend could get in. It would have to be something more than that. Think about it. Who are the only people he would let in?"

Gonzalo said, with a wide grin, "Women!"

Rubin looked disgusted, "Oh God!"

Gonzalo, galvanized suddenly into seriousness, said, "Why not? You're not trying to tell me Jones is a eunuch. So they got to his girl - friend. He would let her in, you bet. They'd embrace and while they're kissing, she slips a nice little blade between his ribs. Do you think it never happened?"

St. John said, outraged, "I've never seen a strange woman on our floor."

"With a little bit of luck, you wouldn't have seen the murder, either," said Gonzalo. "A blond girl, I'll bet. Jim Drake's right. The word was blond.'"

St. John said, "'Blind man.' Even if you switch 'blind' to 'blond,' which I don't admit, I stick by 'man.'"

"Besides," said Avalon, whose face had taken on an air of strong disapproval the moment the sex motif had been introduced, "surely he'd know the girl's name. He wouldn't call her 'the blonde.' He would say 'Fifi' or "Tootsie' or even 'my girl.'"

"If I can get a word in edgewise," roared Trumbull, "I'll be glad to explain that the rules on sexual involvement during the kind of work Jones was doing are strict. The agents have to follow certain well - understood guides. I don't have to give the details, but you can take it as certain there was no light - o - love in Jones' apartment."

Gonzalo said, stubbornly, "People don't always follow rules."

Rubin said, "Back to where I was, then, before Mario introduced nonsense. Who are the only ones Jones would admit into the apartment? Who could get close enough to draw a knife? A fellow agent."

"What!" said Trumbull angrily.

"Why not?" demanded Rubin. "If there have been murdering mistresses before this, so have there been traitorous double agents. Besides, Jones said as much."

"When? How?" Trumbull's anger had not abated.

"Think about it. Assuming a traitorous agent, what would have been Jones' last emotion? Maybe not sorrow over dying. He must have made peace with that possibility years before. What must have gotten right into his gizzard was the horror over the betrayal. His trusted coworker, on the inside, burrowing unsuspected. How was it no one had seen it? And as he lay dying, he is conscious of someone bending over him and his last words were a bitter and wondering, "They're blind, man." Rubin sat back, triumphant.

There was silence, and St. John said, 'That wasn't the intonation of the words. It didn't have the music of that phrase. It was flat - informational, nothing else."

Trumbull said, "I don't believe a traitor was involved."

"Well, of course not," said Rubin, "that's the downfall of half the organizations of your type. By the time you can believe that any of the good old boys are bad old fakes, you've been diddled." He went on. "Besides, it all makes sense. The guy has been in the apartment before, but he has gotten in without being seen by the doorman in any of a dozen ways. He doesn't want to be seen on the floor either. He knows the elevator can take several minutes to arrive; he's been there before. So he checks the corridor through the peephole, then leaves the door slightly ajar behind him.

"If he hears a noise at any door that signifies someone coming to join him in the corridor, he retreats into the apartment till the coast is clear. If the elevator is about to stop at the floor, he has time to move back, close the apartment door, and still get to the elevator."

Gonzalo said, "What if someone gets off the elevator while he's getting on?"

"Two people passing each other for two seconds isn't the same as having someone wait with you in the corridor and go down the elevator with you. The trouble was that, by a bad coincidence for the murderer, St. John stepped out of his apartment door just as the elevator came.

"If he now dashed back to the apartment he might still be safe, but the elevator door was opening and the temptation was to get in and down while he had the chance. And he did that - a split - second decision that was wrong, for he left the apartment door ajar behind him."

Gonzalo said, "What a lot of horsefeathers. If he didn't want to be associated with the floor, why didn't he just walk down several flights and calmly wait for the elevator on another floor?"

Rubin said sardonically, "The trouble with you, Mario, is that you live in a brownstone. Anyone involved in a high - rise never uses the stairs. You don't even let yourself know the stairs are there."

"All very pretty," said Trumbull, "but how do you prove it?"

"I don't have to," said Rubin. "I've presented you with a case that answers every objection you can raise, and it's up to you to prove it. Don't have the organization waste its time checking the apartment - house residents. Let it check its own men. It'll find the culprit - and I hope it's not you, Tom."

Trumbull snarled. "If you think our own men aren't under continuous surveillance, Manny, you're crazier than you're always making yourself sound. We spend too much time trying to corrupt the opposition to suppose that they're not trying to corrupt us. And from the fact that we succeed now and then, we deduce that they succeed now and then. I won't say that it's absolutely certain one of our men didn't do this, but it's a pretty damn close approach to certain. I wouldn't believe in betrayal unless I couldn't think of a single alternative explanation."

"Well, can you?" demanded Rubin. "Can you offer any explanation that will account for Jones saying 'Come in' to someone and for then saying something that sounds like 'the blind man'?"

Trumbull said with sudden energy, "Where's Henry?" He shouted, "Henry!"

"Yes, sir," came Henry's quiet voice. "Is there anything you wish?"

"Certainly. Have you been listening to the conversation?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then tell Manny he's wrong."

The trace of a smile appeared on Henry's unlined but sixtyish face. "Mr. Rubin is, as always, extremely ingenious and persuasive. I suspect everything he says is correct except for the identity of the murderer."

"That so, Henry?" said Rubin. "Are you telling us you know who did it?"

"I believe the murderer's name is Peter Wanko. That at least is the name he goes under. It would have been unwise for him to disappear immediately after the murder, but I understand he has given notice and . . ."

"Henry!" roared Trumbull. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Henry said, "I'm sorry, sir, but in your anxiety to impress the company with Mr. Jones' intense privacy, you forgot that any apartment resident, however private and however suspicious, will welcome into his apartment, at almost any time, a number of different people."

"And who are those?"

"Why, sir, the service staff. Repairs must be made now and then, and it isn't likely that Mr. Jones will not demand that such repairs be made when they arc necessary. If the opposition organization wished to kill Mr. Jones and if they could place one of their own agents on the apartment - house service staff, the rest is a matter of time."

Gonzalo nodded vigorously. "Of course. As soon as Jones needed something repaired . . ."

"Perhaps not that soon, Mr. Gonzalo," said Henry. "The ordinary procedure would be for Jones to call the office and for the office to send a repairman. It would be known where the repairman was and when he was there. The repairman would be under instant and fatal suspicion. Even a dedicated assassin would prefer to escape afterward if he could."

"Well, then?" asked Trumbull.

"I imagine, sir, that this Peter Wanko cultivated a friendship with Mr. Jones - took to greeting him respectfully, asking if all was well. Wanko joined the staff over a year ago and there was ample time for that. As for Mr. Jones, he would be polite, I'm sure, even though he might never have learned the serviceman's name. I imagine when Wanko was in the apartment to do some assigned task, he did it efficiently, was well tipped, and was suitably grateful. It must have seemed natural for him to urge Mr. Jones to call him directly for small jobs and bypass the office. 'I'll take care of you, sir,' he may have said, 'and it will get done sooner.'

"And eventually, Mr. Jones did call Wanko directly. He might have passed him in the lobby and told him he needed something done and would be home at 4 P.M that day. Wanko went upstairs with no record as to where he would be then, taking care not to be seen. Since he appeared on a legitimate summons, Mr. Jones would not hesitate to let him in. Whereupon Wanko killed him."

The silence was dense until, finally, St. John said, "But this seems more out - of - the - way than Mr. Rubin's theory. I know Peter Wanko and he's a completely harmless person. Where's the evidence?"

Henry said, "There are the last words of Mr. Jones, which you yourself reported. You'll remember that in the argument over limericks before dinner, Mr. Halsted spoke of the flexibility of the English language and of how individual words can serve as different parts of speech. It occurred to me at once, therefore, when you told us of Mr. Jones saying 'the blind man' that while the normal use of 'blind' is as an adjective meaning 'unsighted,' it could also be used as a noun. You mentioned a window shade hanging crookedly as though broken, and a blind man could be a man who fixed blinds.

"Toward the end of this evening's discussion, then, I called the Winston Arms, got the evening doorman, said I had an important job that needed good workmanship, and that the man who took care of the window blinds at the Winston Arms had been recommended. 'Oh, you mean Peter Wanko,' said the doorman. 'He's not supposed to do any work outside the building, but he's given notice, so maybe you can use him.' Then he gave me Wanko's phone number and address."

"Good God!" said Trumbull. He leaped for the stairs and was back in just under five minutes. He was grinning broadly. "It's all right. Henry, they got the guy. They arrested him three hours ago - while we were all having our first drinks."

"What gave him away?" asked St. John.

"Apparently," said Trumbull, with satisfaction, "they followed the same line of reasoning Henry used - except that it took them seven days to do it."

"They didn't have the help of the Black Widowers, sir," said Henry.

"None So Blind" - Afterword

As is well known to many people, I don't fly and I don't like to travel by any conveyance. I'm a homebody.

When I take vacations, then, and seize the opportunity to write a Black Widowers tale, I am usually somewhere in upstate New York or in a similar not - very - distant locality.

Every once in a while, though, I do take a cruise; I don't mind going somewhere by ship. In fact, I love being on a ship as long as I can keep my mind off the fact that there is but an inch of steel between myself and a miles - deep stretch of water.

So it happens that "None So Blind" was written in Bermuda. In fact, when the air conditioning on the Statendam (our ship on the occasion) was briefly shut down for repairs, Janet and I wandered off to a plush hotel, found an air - conditioned conference room that was not in use, and stayed there a couple of hours in perfect comfort while I finished the story.

"None So Blind" appeared in the June 1979 issue of EQMM. Just to show you that I don't always turn down Fred's title changes, my own original title was "Come in." As soon as I discovered what Fred was calling it I was overwhelmed at my dullwittedness in not thinking of it myself. Copyright 2016 - 2024