Authors: Edward D. Hoch
The Shattered Raven
For my mother
… and for Patricia
ICTOR JONES FELT GOOD
It was the day after Easter, and Manhattan was bathed in a sunshine rare for this early in the spring. From his window he could see strollers far below along the street, bound for nowhere, only breathing in the deep fresh air of the day and perhaps smiling to each other as they passed.
He felt good, that is, until the morning mail was spread on the desk before him. Then he saw the letter at once, addressed to him in a vaguely familiar hand, bearing the return address of Amalgamated Broadcasting Company. He knew, before opening the envelope, that it was a letter from Ross Craigthorn.
Ross Craigthorn—a name from the past that he rarely thought of any more in connection with his own well-ordered life. Of course Craigthorn could be seen on television nightly, when his half-hour news commentary for Amalgamated reached more homes than Huntley or Brinkley or Cronkite. But that was different, something remote, as when he occasionally saw Craigthorn’s handsome face across the room at a crowded party to which they’d both been invited. They had not spoken to each other, nor communicated in any way, for some twenty-two years.
And now, after all that time, this letter had come. He slit open the envelope and pulled out the two sheets of paper. The letter had been neatly typed, but it was obvious that Ross had done it on his personal machine. This was not a letter to be entrusted to curious secretaries.
, it began. He hadn’t seen that salutation in twenty-two years.
Perhaps you will be surprised to hear from me after all these years, and you may be more surprised that I am addressing you by your real name. The envelope, of course, bears another name, but to me you will always be Victor Jones.
Why am I writing you now? At one time, just after it happened, I swore I would never see you again or speak your name or do anything that might remind me of that awful past.
But now, Victor, something has happened which brings it all back, which forces me to an action I never planned to take. You see, Victor, I have been contacted by Irma.
Yes, Irma Black. You remember Irma. She was there. Saw us. Knew our names. Our names at that time, anyway. And now Irma is in Manhattan. She has found me,
f course, because my name did not really change that much, and my face is on television every night.
Irma Black has contacted me and asked for one hundred thousand dollars. It is not a small sum, despite what you might have read in the trade press about my new contract. It is, in fact, too large a sum for me to think of paying. For Irma Black it would be only the first of many sums.
It is paradoxical, I suppose, Victor, to think that if I were a factory worker or a garbage collector the sin of our past would be worth no money to anyone. It is only the fame that has been thrust upon me which makes it a valuable sin, valuable to people like Irma Black.
I will not pay the blackmail, Victor. I will not pay one cent to the woman. So I am left with a sticky alternative. She can break the story in any number of columns around town, blacken my name, perhaps ruin my reputation. I cannot allow that.
The only path that seems open to me is to beat her to the punch. The statute of limitations has run out on our crime, as you know. I feel that if I go before the public and tell them what I did
what we did
so long ago, perhaps I can convince them it was a youthful folly. I can beg their forgiveness, throw myself on their mercy, and keep my position in the broadcast world.
In any event, it is the only course open to me and it is one which I must take. That is why I am writing to you at this time, Victor, because of course I cannot reveal my crime without revealing our crime. I will have to tell your part in it, and even if I do not identify you by your present name, I fear the identity which you have assumed will not long remain a mystery.
I’m sorry to have to drag you into it, with your fine reputation in the field. But I have no choice. Feel free to phone me, Victor, if there is anything you want to say, but be advised that my decision is irrevocable. I hope you will agree with this course of action, and I beg your forgiveness in advance for any trouble and heartbreak it may cause you.
Yours for an honest future,
Victor Jones finished reading the letter and sat for a long time staring at the desk before him. Then, lighting a cigarette to calm his nerves, he read it over once more from the beginning. Then he picked up the telephone, remembered he did not know the number of Amalgamated Broadcasting, and set down the receiver again while he consulted the directory. He dialled the number with a hand remarkably steady and asked to speak to Ross Craigthorn, just like any businessman might. There was some delay. Finally a secretary came on the wire. “Mr. Craigthorn is recording at the moment. Could he return your call?”
“No. No.” Victor Jones said. “I’ll phone him again a bit later.” He hung up and smoked another cigarette, and wondered what in hell he was going to do with his life.
An hour later he managed to reach Ross Craigthorn. The voice on the other end was just a bit surprised. “Well—Victor, isn’t it? Is that the name I should call you?”
“I received your letter this morning, Ross.”
A grunt on the other end. “I thought I’d made it clear what the situation was, but I’m glad you called, nevertheless. It’s a difficult thing. It’ll be difficult for our families.”
Victor Jones was staring at nothing. “You can’t go through with this Ross. The past is dead. Buried.”
“Of course it is, but that foolish woman is trying to bring it to life again.”
For just a moment Victor Jones was back—back into decades of time. To the place where it had all begun with the two of them.
“Doesn’t our friendship mean anything to you, Ross?”
“Of course it does, Victor. It’s meant something to me for all these years, even though we don’t see each other anymore. You’ve been successful and so have I.”
Victor interrupted. “You’re far the more successful.”
“Then I have the most to lose, haven’t I? I have the most to lose by getting up and telling people what happened all those years ago. If I’m willing to risk it, Victor, you should be too.”
Victor Jones tightened his grip on the receiver. “I’m not willing to risk it, Ross. I’m not! You can’t bring me into it.”
“I’ll try to keep you out, of course. I’ll try to be vague about your identity. Perhaps they won’t guess—and perhaps they will. There’s no way of telling the story without leaving hints. This woman is on my back. It’s the only way I know to get rid of her, short of murder.”
“Maybe you should consider that, Ross.”
Craigthorn laughed. “Always the kidder, Victor. Didn’t you get us into enough trouble twenty-two years ago?”
“Then you’re really going through with it?”
“Funny thing! You know—of course, you know—that I’ve always read mystery novels. You did too, back in those days. This group, the Mystery Writers of America, is presenting me with an award as the Reader of the Year. I guess I’ve mentioned a few times on television that I read them. The dinner is at the Biltmore, a week from Friday. Funny thing—speaking to all those mystery writers, editors and such. A lot of people go to the dinner. Perhaps you’ll be there yourself, although I wouldn’t want to embarrass you needlessly. It seems like a good opportunity to tell the story. I think they’d be a sympathetic audience and I think the press would break it in the right way.”
Victor Jones said nothing for a moment Finally he commented, “That’s a damnable thing to do, Ross. Don’t you know …?”
Craigthorn interrupted. “I can’t talk any more now, Victor. My decision has been made. I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep you out of it. Goodbye!”
There was a click and the line went dead, and Victor Jones was left holding the receiver. He hung up slowly, then sat pondering the desk calendar before him. Yes … he already had a note that the MWA dinner was a week from Friday. A coincidence of sorts, he supposed, that their paths should come together in exactly this way.
He turned back to his typewriter and started to write a piece he’d been trying to do all week. But nothing came to his churning mind.
Ross Craigthorn was going to talk. He pondered that for the better part of an hour before he decided, quite suddenly, and with no second thoughts, that he would have to murder Ross Craigthorn.
OR SUSAN VELDT IT
had all begun on a snowy morning back in January when she’d come to work late because the Fifth Avenue buses were piled up in a traffic jam at 42nd Street. Long ago she had wished for a subway beneath Fifth Avenue, and in the summer she avoided the problem by taking the Sixth Avenue and walking a block, but on a morning like this, she was not about to brave the slushy snow collected at every corner. It was the bus for her, and when the bus was late, she was late.
She lived uptown, in a section that many people considered fancy, facing Central Park with a good view of the zoo. It was a fine apartment, sublet to her by a college friend who was spending a year in Europe, and who came from a family with money. Susan was glad to have the apartment and thankful for the view of the park, even though an occasional lion’s roar drifted up on the nights when she slept with the window open.
This morning, though, the silence of the snow was everywhere, and even the animals seemed to be smothered in it. She saw them drifting lazily in their snowy cages as she waited for the bus. When it finally came, she boarded it and settled in for the long trip down to 22nd Street and the far-from-palatial offices of
Susan Veldt was a staff writer for
, a job that paid her a mild eighty-two hundred dollars a year, but carried with it a certain amount of prestige in New York literary circles.
had been born out of the foggy dreams of its publisher and editor, Arthur Rowe, a brilliant man from the midwest, whose every project seemed to bring with it the unceasing flow of profit.
Susan had heard of the founding of
the previous summer, and when the critics sneered at another Gotham-oriented magazine along with
The New Yorker
, she set off for the downtown offices to see what it was all about.