Queen of the flaming dia.., p.2
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       Queen of the Flaming Diamond, p.2

           Leroy Yerxa
 
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the first time his eyes were clearing enough to get a really goodlook at the girl at his side. He started to wonder vaguely how she hadgotten here. She was small and her tiny face seemed almost cupid-liketo his uncertain vision. Her eyes were frightened like the eyes of atimid animal.

  "Okay!" Puffy said sharply. "You've made a bargain. I ain't drivingall night. Where to?"

  Her voice snapped out sharp and cold.

  "Nowhere. Stop right here."

  Jim Drake chuckled.

  "Wait a minute," he stammered. "Be a sport. You promised."

  He looked away for an instant, trying to shake some of the fog fromhis head. When he looked back the girl was gone. There between them onthe seat was a small silver fox.

  He shook his head dazedly and groaned.

  "They got me," he moaned. "Stop car. I got to...."

  Puffy took his eyes from the road. A sharp oath escaped his lips. Thebrakes squealed as he felt sharp teeth settle deeply into his wrist.Howling with pain he twisted the coupe to the curb.

  The fox released its grip and leaped gracefully over the door into thestreet. It was gone, weaving swiftly like a small dog through thestraggling crowd. It went out of sight quickly into a nearby alley.

  "Holy Ned!" Puffy held a bleeding wrist in his good hand. "I'm gettingthis way from _being_ with you."

  Jim Drake's lips quivered strangely and he turned pale.

  "I wanna' go home. Don't wanna' see anyone. No one, understand?"

  Puffy nodded, but Drake persisted brokenly.

  "Fox woman, that's what she is. Darned old fox woman wouldn't playfair...!" His lips murmured off into something Puffy couldn'tunderstand.

  * * * * *

  Long shafts of sunlight split the obscure shadows that had hidden JimDrake's room for the past twelve hours. Drake turned over carefully inbed, groaned and reached for the full glass on the table.

  "Puffy!" His voice arose in shattering crescendo across the stillnessof the rich apartment and crashed against the door. "Puffy--it's me.Take these damned rocks off my head."

  Adams opened the door and came forward with a sly grin on his face.

  "Okay--Okay." He was impatient. "I'm coming, Cinderella."

  Drake swallowed the contents of the glass in a single gulp andstretched out with a sickly grin.

  "That was a wonderful dream I had last night," he said weakly. "Remindme to call Walt Disney."

  Adams went across the room and drew open the curtains. A two o'clocksun slipped into the room and Drake hid himself hurriedly in thepillow.

  "Turn out that damned light," he shouted. "Now--about that fox woman.Walt Disney oughta' pay...."

  Puffy had braced his feet and placed his stocky arms behind his back.

  "It wasn't any dream," he said calmly.

  "Yea, I know. I was drunk."

  "It wasn't a dream," Puffy said stubbornly. "That girl you saw reallywas a fox. At least she turned into one. Oh! Damn!"

  He tossed the morning paper on the bed.

  "Read what the _Star_ had to say about your dream," he said. "They gotthe story straighter than I did. We took a lady for a ride, Cinderella,and she turned into a silver fox."

  Drake sat up stiffly. The foolish look of surprise was gone. Hereached for the _Morning Star_. In huge headlines he read:

  DARING HOLDUP AT NEWNIGHT CLUB

  World's Largest Diamond Stolen FromUnder Eyes of Police

  Sober as a lord now, Drake sent his eyes wavering along the column ofnewsprint:

  Chicago, May 6.--A group of daring jewel thieves last night stole the Lardner diamond, largest gem of its kind in the world, from beneath the eyes of an armed guard.

  The stone was a perfect cut, pronounced priceless only last week when it was first seen by Tiffany experts.

  George Lardner, the owner of the Owl Limb, one of the city's newest night spots, had taken it from a private vault to display in a special dance.

  Miss Sylvia Fanton, who danced with the gem has also disappeared, but Lardner insists that she was well known to him and could have had no hand in the robbery.

  This story is feasible, as the gown Miss Fanton was wearing at the time has been discovered badly torn in a State Street alley. Murder of the dancer is suspected.

  * * * * *

  Drake tossed the paper across the room.

  "Rubbish!" His eyes were clear and snapping now. The night ofadventure was thrown from his mind. "It couldn't happen, Puffy. Wewere seeing things."

  Adams picked up the _Star_ carefully, thumbed toward the last page andheld the news sheet where Drake could see another, much smallercaption.

  "Look at this," he begged. "You'll sing another song."

  Jim took the sheet again, as though afraid he _would_ believe theimpossible. This story was short, and wedged in at the bottom of alast page.

  ZOO OFFICIALS CAPTURE FOX RUNNING WILD IN CITY STREET

  Captured while trotting calmly down a State Street alley early today, a perfect silver fox has found its home at Wildwood Zoo.

  Keepers chuckled when asked for a statement to the press. They expect a fox farm to place a claim on the valuable animal within twenty-four hours.

  The fox was in perfect condition, with a deep, rich black coat, tufted with snow white tips on each hair.

  The Mayor has already offered to convert the pelt into a cape for his wife, should an owner fail to claim the animal.

  Jim Drake shuddered.

  "I was drunker than I had any business being last night," he saidfinally. "Did it all happen, what I saw?"

  Puffy Adams grinned woefully. He drew his arm from behind his back anddisplayed a clean, bandaged wrist.

  "I got teeth marks an inch deep in my wrist," he said. "What do youthink?"'

  Drake was out of bed in one bound. He pulled his slippers onhurriedly.

  "Plenty of hot water for a shower?"

  "Coming up!"

  Puffy retreated toward the bathroom door. Over his shoulder he asked.

  "Going to the zoo?"

  "I'm crazy," Jim admitted. "But if they found a girl's dress a blockfrom where we parked, and there's a silver fox at the zoo thismorning, I want to know why."

  Puffy's stout figure was hidden behind the glass door. Water startedits inviting swish from the shower. His voice came out with a hollowring.

  "Well, Cinderella," he said whimsically, "we're on the make again, butthe odds are against us. If that dame can bite my arm and turn into ananimal in the same night she'll make a hell of a mate for Jimmy."

  Drake was already halfway across the room, knotting the sash of hisrobe with long brown fingers.

  "It's the call of the wild," he shouted above the hiss of the shower."We all have to answer it some time."

  * * * * *

  Half way out of town Jim Drake drew the coupe skillfully to the curband turned off the motor. He had parked opposite the city library.Drake felt much better this morning. The sobering effect of the_Morning Star_ had made a new man of him in short order. Dressedneatly in a brown sport suit, clean white shirt and white shoes, Jimlooked his type perfectly. Young bachelor with cash to burn, yet witha certain dissatisfaction in himself that had etched little wrinklesaround the clear brown eyes.

  He pushed the door open and tapped Puffy Adams lightly on theshoulder. Exhausted from the events of the night before, Adams wascat-napping peacefully.

  He sat up stiffly under Drake's touch and his face reddened.

  "Huh?"

  "This is where you get out," Jim grinned. "You're going to do somereading this afternoon."

  Puffy was dumbfounded. His only association with the printed page wasthe _Morning Star_ and the _Police Gazette_.

  "Wait a minute," he protested. "Don't I get a look at that fox?"

  Jim piloted him skillfully from the car.

  "Look up a boo
k on gems," he said. "I want to know how big the largestdiamond was that has been found to date, where it came from, and ifthey've ever been found in the far north."

  Adams gulped, saw that the boss was sincere and started to turn away.Jim halted him.

  "After that, go down to police headquarters and see what you can digup on George Lardner."

  Puffy's chin stiffened.

  "It'll be dirt," he said. "This boy Lardner comes from an old line ofdirty wash. He's the heel of the family shoe."

  Jim Drake nodded.

  "That's what I figure," he agreed. "But I want all the facts."

  Adams pivoted, took one look at the imposing granite building in
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