The Four Pools Mystery (1 of 72)
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INTRODUCING TERRY PATTEN
It was through the Patterson-Pratt forgery case that I first made the acquaintance of Terry Patten, and at the time I should have been more than willing to forego the pleasure.
Our firm rarely dealt with criminal cases, but the Patterson family were long standing clients, and they naturally turned to us when the trouble came. Ordinarily, so important a matter would have been put in the hands of one of the older men, but it happened that I was the one who had drawn up the will for Patterson Senior the night before his suicide, therefore the brunt of the work devolved upon me. The most unpleasant part of the whole affair was the notoriety. Could we have kept it from the papers, it would not have been so bad, but that was a physical impossibility; Terry Patten was on our track, and within a week he had brought down upon us every newspaper in New York.
The first I ever heard of Terry, a card was sent in bearing the inscription, "Mr. Terence K. Patten," and in the lower left-hand corner, "of the Post-Dispatch." I shuddered as I read it. The Post-Dispatch was at that time the yellowest of the yellow journals. While I was still shuddering, Terry walked in through the door the office boy had inadvertently left open.
He nodded a friendly good morning, helped himself to a chair, tossed his hat and gloves upon the table, crossed his legs comfortably, and looked me over. I returned the scrutiny with interest while I was mentally framing a polite formula for getting rid of him without giving rise to any ill feeling. I had no desire to annoy unnecessarily any of the Post-Dispatch's young men.
At first sight my caller did not strike me as unlike a dozen other reporters. His face was the face one feels he has a right to expect of a newspaper man--keen, alert, humorous; on the look-out for opportunities. But with a second glance I commenced to feel interested. I wondered where he had come from and what he had done in the past. His features were undeniably Irish; but that which chiefly awakened my curiosity, was his expression. It was not only wide-awake and intelligent; it was something more. "Knowing" one would say. It carried with it the mark of experience, the indelible stamp of the street. He was a man who has had no childhood, whose education commenced from the cradle.
I did not arrive at all of these conclusions at once, however, for he had finished his inspection before I had fairly started mine. Apparently he found me satisfactory. The smile which had been lurking about the corners of his mouth broadened to a grin, and I commenced wondering uncomfortably what there was funny about my appearance. Then suddenly he leaned forward and began talking in a quick, eager way, that required all my attention to keep abreast of him. After a short preamble in which he set forth his view of the Patterson-Pratt case--and a clearsighted view it was--he commenced asking questions. They were such amazingly impudent questions that they nearly took my breath away. But he asked them in a manner so engagingly innocent that I found myself answering them before I was aware of it. There was a confiding air of bonne camaraderie about the fellow which completely put one off one's guard.
At the end of fifteen minutes he was on the inside track of most of my affairs, and was giving me advice through a kindly desire to keep me from getting things in a mess. The situation would have struck me as ludicrous had I stopped to think of it; but it is a fact I have noted since, that, with Terry, one does not appreciate situations until it is too late.
When he had got from me as much information as I possessed, he shook hands cordially, said he was happy to have made my acquaintance, and would try to drop in again some day. After he had gone, and I had had time to review our conversation, I began to grow hot over the matter. I grew hotter still when I read his report in the paper the next morning. I could not understand why I had not kicked him out at first sight, and I sincerely hoped that he would drop in again, that I might avail myself of the opportunity.
He did drop in, and I received him with the utmost cordiality. There was something entirely disarming about Terry's impudence. And so it went. He continued to comment upon the case in the most sensational manner possible, and I railed against him and forgave him with unvarying regularity. In the end we came to be quite friendly over the affair. I found him diverting at a time when I was in need of diversion, though just what attraction he found in me, I have never been able to fathom. It was certainly not that he saw a future source of "stories," for he frankly regarded corporation law as a pursuit devoid of interest. Criminal law was the one branch of the profession for which he felt any respect.
We frequently had lunch together; or breakfast, in his case. His day commenced about noon and lasted till three in the morning. "Well, Terry, what's the news at the morgue today?" I would inquire as we settled ourselves at the table. And Terry would rattle off the details of the latest murder mystery with a cheerfully matter-of-fact air that would have been disgusting had it not been so funny.