The Marked Field

Carl L. Biemiller's The Marked Field appeared in
Blue Book Magazine
October 1949, Vol. 89, No. 6

Please respect the copyright.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home


Dane rolled out of bed at eight-thirty. He was stiff, and there was an angry purple bruise on his left thigh. He walked into his small bathroom, swabbed carelessly at his white teeth with a badly frayed toothbrush and then took a shower. The hot water felt fine. He rubbed briskly with a towel, then padded into his room and dressed, slid into a pullover parka and left the house.

It was Sunday; the air was full of an indefinable aimless leisure, and the sonorous bells from the campus chapel half a mile away. He walked smartly, pulling the thin, winey air into his lungs with satisfaction. He walked down into Bakerston’s Main Street, across it to the lobby of the Blue and Gold, and bought the Sunday Independent. He left, turned a corner back to the Main Street and strode down to the diner. It was crowded, and it smelled of coffee, bacon and cigarette smoke. It was noisy, too, with a cheerful clamor of young voices, boys and girls in varying degrees of alertness from the previous night’s campus parties, and all of them hungry.

Dipper found a counter stool, perched upon it and ordered orange juice, oatmeal, a double order of bacon, toast and coffee. He put his folded newspaper at his feet, jammed between the stool base and thee bottom counter rail. He was finishing his coffee when he felt a hand bang his shoulder.

It belonged to Peterson. The big center was grinning. “Just our meat,” he said. “We’ve been looking for you. Perkins, Zibby, Piskoti and I are going over to the city to see Ike’s wife and kid. Pay the man and give me a half buck—we’re passing the hat for gas this morning, because I’m broke.”

“Didn’t you go out to the club with the gang after the game?” asked Dane, waving at the counterman.

“Perk, Zibby and I did. We can’t keep up with you athletes. Piskoti’s girl was down for the weekend. She’s staying sacked and catching an eleven church service. He’s gonna pick her up afterward. We’ll be back by noon, if we get rolling now.”

They moved out to the street. Peterson’s mammoth Pierce-Arrow was a block away and vacant. He leaned over the wheel and pushed down on the horn, releasing a blast. “That’s to let ‘em know I’m back with you.,” he explained. “The rest of the guys are looking the hotel over.” They were coming around the corner as he spoke, and were yelling at Dane when still fifty feet away.

“I’ve got to stop by the room first,” said Dane to Peterson. “Want to shuck the parka and pick up a few things. Hey, we ought to take some flowers or something.”

He repeated the proposal to Ziborsky, Piskoti and Perkins. They nodded sagely. “We’ll get ‘em in Iron City. “Lets go.”

They piled into the car, and Peterson pulled it away from the curb and drove to the Pennypacker house, where Dane got out and ran for his room. He took his paper with him, opened it on his bed and scanned the headlines while he knotted a tie and traded parka for sports-coat and topcoat. He picked the paper up and read the spy story avidly; then he threw it on the bed again and went out. He would check with the office in Iron City when he got to the hospital. He felt a grim resolve harden within him. The end was in sight.

Municipal Hospital, on a hill overlooking Iron City, was a huge square building, its granite exterior a smudged and soot-darkened gray. It was overheated, hushed and smelled of antiseptic. The white-clad attendant at the information desk in the lobby gave them instructions on how to locate the maternity wards, and they walked off down a seemingly interminable corridor, placing their feet lightly in that gait characteristic of most healthy hospital visitors, as if the floors were explosive.

They found the Bergs in a long ward on the south side of the building. There were approximately twenty-five other maternity patients in the same common dormitory, each bed bristling with a privacy tenuously achieved by a white standing screen which served as a representative if non-concealing wall. Inasmuch as it was a visitor’s period, the screens stood like sails on regatta day from one end of the ward to the other, moved to sustain the dignity of fathers than for any other reason. The women banished them, to gossip, as soon as their men left and the ward returned to its true female function.

Ike’s face broke into broad smile when he saw them. He still wore a lumpish souvenir of the game along his left cheek, and the grin crinkled around it to run slant-wise for his temple. He leaned over, said something to Florence before he rose from his straight chair at the bedside. They clustered around the bed, and Perkins handed the flowers to Ike, who waved them mawkishly beneath Florence’s nose before he laid them on a small night table.

“You guys are just in time to see the kid,” said Ike. “They’ll throw us out while he eats, but we can see him when they trot him in here. He’s terrific. Big shoulders, even some hair, and handsome like me.”

Florence smiled at him from the pillow and shook her head. Dane winked at her. Perkins pulled a wry mouth and said: “Looks like you? The poor little kid! You better hope that he looks like your wife.”

A nurse just about tall enough to fit under Peterson’s arm crowded up to the bed, juggling a container of boric acid solution and absorbent cotton swabs. “What is this,” she asked pertly, “a wrestlers’ convention? Beat it, gentlemen. It’s time to get nursing mothers ready for the primary function. You can wait down by the nursery and see the baby when he goes by. Take one glance each, and don’t breathe on him.” She began to slip Florence’s bed jacket off a shoulder as she spoke.

Ike, blushing faintly, shoved them toward the door.

Perkins linked an arm within Ike’s, and with a perfectly composed face, asked: “What do they do with those swabs, Ike?”

“All right,” grunted Ike. “From my friends I take a beating. Motherhood is no longer sacred. You think a bunch of dead weeds squares everything. The way I get it, they sterilize the faucets with ‘em.”

“Berg,” grinned Ziborsky, “you’re a great man.”

They walked down the corridor toward an expanse of plate-glass window, which offered a view of the nursery, where they joined an already assembled knot of new fathers and visiting relatives. Masked nurses were scooping infants out of cribs, wrapping them in blankets and tucking the blankets high about infant heads for the parade to their mothers. “Kind of like a zoo cage, isn’t it?” said Peterson idly. The outrage in Ike’s eyes and the undisguised anger in the glances of other observers, all of whom enjoyed a stake in the proceedings unknown to a brash young bachelor, sent his words into an embarrassed mumble. Dane laughed, took some of the cold stares for his humor.

“There’s mine,” said Ike, driving an elbow into Perkins’ ribs, and pointing to a far corner of the nursery, which was slightly tilted above level. They craned to see, forming a bulky wall against the glass, and thus creating an audible pond of irritated mumbles in the corridor behind them.

“What do they have your kid on his back for? Why’s that basket slanted up that way?” asked Peterson.

My kid likes it that way, I guess,” said Ike. “Look.”

The nurse brought the baby up to the glass window, showed him slowly down the rapt line, and then handed him to the small nurse who had chased them away from the bed.

They had no words for the sight or for the hallowed expression on Ike’s face as he looked at them for comment. Ziborsky moved his hands as if trying to summon words. “He’s a fine-looking fellow,” said Dane gravely. “Going to be a big one.” The rest of them nodded vigorously in agreement, and they all offered their hands to Ike, who shook each of them with a quick, nervous pressure. He walked to the hospital door with them. “See you guys. Thanks for coming in.”

A hundred yards from the entrance on their way to the car Perkins spoke. “Damn it, what can you say about a baby?”

On their way back to Bakerston they dropped Dane off and he walked some blocks to the Baker Building, a typical ten-story office structure housing a bank office on the first floor. He walked into the deserted office entrance, pushed the elevator button and waited until the watchman, doubling as operator during the Sunday lull, stuck his head around the short corridor corner. The watchman, a grizzled character wearing a rusty black suit and a white paper collar, carried a note-board which he asked Dane to sign. The car rose to the eighth floor, and Dane listened to the cables hum.

The offices of Agent-in-Charge James might have been those of any lawyer, broker, insurance firm or friendly loan firm. They were crisp, impersonal and standard with file cabinets, desks and typewriters. In James’ private office, however, a bank of Teletype machines filled one whole wall. They were chattering when Dane walked through the two outside rooms into it, and James was standing over one of them, reading a message.

He turned as Dane entered. “H’ya, Dipper,” he said. “Figured you’d be in about now. Connor’s on his way down too. He’s bringing John Shaw; the guy’s been in from the beginning on this end, and he might as well get the windup.” He tore off the Teletype sheet, walked over to his desk with it. “You might be interested to know that our check on some of these front organizations in the city, while it didn’t produce anything startling, turned up a couple of chores for the immigration people—five false entries so far. It looks as though all of those volunteer citizens will be going abroad again.” He lighted a cigarette. “Incidentally, you were clean as a whistle last night after that experience at the stadium. Our man Jeevers reports that you left Whittakers’ at a respectable hour, rode circumspectly back to the campus and went to bed without any attention. You figure somebody lost his nerve? Or maybe you had a mistaken idea?”

“Can’t figure it,” said Eddie. “Don’t get it at all. I had a hunch and checked it. Sally hadn’t called me. The attendant on the locker-room gate—well, I wasn’t going to look him up afterward, even if I could have found him.”

“We did,” grunted James. “He’s the regular man there, and he lives right in Bakerston. All he says is that a boy, a college kind, gave him the message to give to you. Could be; and if not, we still don’t have anything.” He looked over Dane’s shoulder at Shaw bulking large in the doorway. Connor followed the big man in, reaching out to flip a vacant chair up beside Dane’s. James indicated another along the wall for Shaw.

“How do you feel, Dipper?” asked the coach, looking at Dane sharply. “Sore after yesterday? Stiff?”

“Some tender,” said Dane. “A few bumps and bangs. How’s the rest of the gang?”

“Sent Thomas to the dentist right from the showers last night. Armbruster may have a shoulder separation. Daniels has a sore spot that might be a cracked rib. But all in all, things are right good after a game like that one. Old Ducky told me that he’s got a crop of ailments too. His squad made the eleven o’clock out this morning. Boy, I’m glad to get by that one.”

Connor waited until he finished, the characteristic tired twist at the corners of his mouth. “Everything’s set for tomorrow,” he said softly. He stared speculatively at Shaw. “The Central man involved is Professor Stuart Slanp. Know him?”

The big man grunted, his face impassive. “Met him a few times. His reputation’s fine around here; and as far as I recall, he’s known as an outstanding man in many other places.”

Connor shrugged his lean shoulders, hunched deeper into the chair. “He still is,” he said wearily. “But he’s definitely implicated in the data gathered on the Washington end, and from the way it appears now, he’ll be explaining a great many things for a long time on past performances. Frankly, he’s done as far as his reputation goes right now, and I’m reasonably convinced that he’s the man we wanted in the present case. Whether we ever prove that or not, he’s going to Washington to testify before an investigating committee, with at least three Federal agencies interested in his activities.”

James rattled a pencil idly, interrupted: “He hasn’t left his apartment since last night, except to pick up the newspapers delivered this morning. He has made no phone calls, has had no personal contact with anyone outside the house that we know about. I might add that he has done nothing unusual for him so far. He usually takes a walk about four in the afternoon, and customarily dines out Sunday evening either as a guest somewhere in Bakerston or at the Faculty Club. We will get later reports as to whether or not he follows his routines.”

“He’ll probably sit tight and go right through to a final dismissal of all possible charges,” said Shaw. “In a way, I’d still rather see that than a whirlwind of charges, indictments, and whatever excitement goes with these things bouncing around the campus.”

“Shaw,” said Connor, leaning forward, “There comes a place where that quality known as the benefit of the doubt is riskier than an out-and-out error. The man is tarred. We didn’t smirch him. A past associate, and a damn guilty associate, did. We traced the transmission of vial atomic data to this campus, and although we have never found its terminal point here, in any provable sense, we’d have to be hit on the head to know that where we have a party member, and apparently an important party worker in the past, we certainly have something more than a suspect in the usual meaning of the word.”

There was a long pause before Dane broke it.

“As I get it, I’ll make the pickup about eleven in the morning, with Mr. James standing by. I’ll bring Slanp down here to make any statement he cares to issue, and Mr. James will then see that he gets a trip to Washington.”

“You’ll have our warrant and a subpoena from the Congressional committee, but I doubt if you need them,” said Connor. “I still bet he cracks.” He traded glances with James. “You will also take a .38.”

Dane rose leisurely. “Okay if I break it up?”

“Your coach has asked us out to dinner,” said Connors. Shaw grinned at Dane. “Sally’s coming too. My wife’s idea. It seems that the girls have been talking about you. I’ve also got the pictures of the game. We might do a little work.”

The chatter for the teletype along James’ wall stuttered through the room. He nodded at them, rising as he did so. “Some of us might.” he grinned.

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Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home