By Samuel Hopkins Adams
CHAPTER I. THE B-FLAT TROMBONE
Three men sat in the Cosmic Club discussing the question: "What's the matter with Jones?" Waldemar, the oldest of the conferees, was the owner, and at times the operator, of an important and decent newspaper. His heavy face wore the expression of good-humored power, characteristic of the experienced and successful journalist. Beside him sat Robert Bertram, the club idler, slender and languidly elegant. The third member of the conference was Jones himself.
Average Jones had come by his nickname inevitably. His parents had foredoomed him to it when they furnished him with the initials A. V. R. E. as preface to his birthright of J for Jones. His character apparently justified the chance concomitance. He was, so to speak, a composite photograph of any thousand well-conditioned, clean-living Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. Happily, his otherwise commonplace face was relieved by the one unfailing characteristic of composite photographs, large, deep-set and thoughtful eyes. Otherwise he would have passed in any crowd, and nobody would have noticed him pass. Now, at twenty-seven, he looked back over the five years since his graduation from college and wondered what he had done with them; and at the four previous years of undergraduate life and wondered how he had done so well with those and why he had not in some manner justified the parting words of his favorite professor.
"You have one rare faculty, Jones. You can, when you choose, sharpen the pencil of your mind to a very fine point. Specialize, my boy, specialize."
If the recipient of this admonition had specialized in anything, it was in life. Having twenty-five thousand a year of his own he might have continued in that path indefinitely, but for two influences. One was an irruptive craving within him to take some part in the dynamic activities of the surrounding world. The other was the "freak" will of his late and little-lamented uncle, from whom he had his present income, and his future expectations of some ten millions. Adrian Van Reypen Egerton had, as Waldemar once put it, "—one into the mayor's chair with a good name and come out with a block of ice stock." In a will whose cynical humor was the topic of its day, Mr. Egerton jeered posthumously at the public which he had despoiled, and promised restitution, of a sort, through his heir.
"Therefore," he had written, "I give and bequeath to the said Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, the residue of my property, the principal to be taken over by him at such time as he shall have completed five years of continuous residence in New York City. After such time the virus of the metropolis will have worked through his entire being. He will squander his unearned and undeserved fortune, thus completing the vicious circle, and returning the millions acquired by my political activities, in a poisoned shower upon the city, for which, having bossed, bullied and looted it, I feel no sentiment other than contempt."
"And now," remarked Waldemar in his heavy, rumbling voice, "you aspire to disappoint that good old man."
"It's only human nature, you know," said Average Jones. "When a man puts a ten-million-dollar curse on you and suggests that you haven't the backbone of a shrimp, you—you—"
"—naturally yearn to prove him a liar," supplied Bertram.
"Exactly. Anyway, I've no taste for dissipation, either moral or financial. I want action; something to do. I'm bored in this infernal city."
"The wail of the unslaked romanticist," commented Bertram.
"Romanticist nothing!" protested the other. "My ambitions are practical enough if I could only get 'em stirred up."
"Exactly. Boredom is simply romanticism with a morning-after thirst. You're panting for romance, for something bizarre. Egypt and St. Petersburg and Buenos Ayres and Samoa have all become commonplace to you. You've overdone them. That's why you're back here in New York waiting with stretched nerves for the Adventure of Life to cat-creep up from behind and toss the lariat of rainbow dreams over your shoulders."
Waldemar laughed. "Not a bad diagnosis. Why don't you take up a hobby, Mr. Jones?"
"What kind of a hobby?"
"Any kind. The club is full of hobby-riders. Of all people that I know, they have the keenest appetite for life. Look at old Denechaud; he was a misanthrope until he took to gathering scarabs. Fenton, over there, has the finest collection of circus posters in the world. Bellerding's house is a museum of obsolete musical instruments. De Gay collects venomous insects from all over the world; no harmless ones need apply. Terriberry has a mania for old railroad tickets. Some are really very curious. I've often wished I had the time to be a crank. It's a happy life."
"What line would you choose?" asked Bertram languidly.
"Nobody has gone in for queer advertisements yet, I believe," replied the older man. "If one could take the time to follow them up—-but it would mean all one's leisure."
"Would it be so demanding a career?" said Average Jones, smiling.
"Decidedly. I once knew a man who gave away twenty dollars daily on clues from the day's news. He wasn't bored for lack of occupation."
"But the ordinary run of advertising is nothing more than an effort to sell something by yelling in print," objected Average Jones.
"Is it? Well perhaps you don't look in the right place."
Waldemar reached for the morning's copy of the Universal and ran his eye down the columns of "classified" matter. "Hark to this," he said, and read:
"Is there any work on God's green earth for a man who has just got to have it?"
"WANTED—A venerable looking man with white beard and medical degree. Good pay to right applicant."
"What's that?" asked Average Jones with awakened interest.
"Only a quack medical concern looking for a stall to impress their come-ons," explained Waldemar.
Average Jones leaned over to scan the paper in his turn.
"Here's one," said he, and read:
WANTED—Performer on B-flat trombone. Can use at once. Apply with instrument, after 1 p. m. 300 East 100th Street.
"That seems ordinary enough," said Waldemar.
"What's it doing in a daily paper? There must be—er—technical publications—er—journals, you know, for this sort of demand."
"When Average's words come slow, you've got him interested," commented Bertram. "Sure sign."
"Nevertheless, he's right," said Waldemar. "It is rather misplaced."
"How is this for one that says what it means?" said Bertram.
WANTED—At once, a brass howitzer and a man who isn't afraid to handle it. Mrs. Anne Cullen, Pier 49 1/2 East River.
"The woman who is fighting the barge combine," explained Waldemar. "Not so good as it looks. She's bluffing."
"Anyway, I'd like a shy at this business," declared Average Jones with sudden conviction. "It looks to me like something to do."
"Make it a business, then," advised Waldemar. "If you care really to go in for it, my newspaper would be glad to pay for information such as you might collect. We haven't time, for example, to trace down fraudulent advertisers. If you could start an enterprise of that sort, you'd certainly find it amusing, and, at times, perhaps, even adventurous."
"I wouldn't know how to establish it," objected Average Jones.
The newspaper owner drew a rough diagram on a sheet of paper and filled it in with writing, crossing out and revising liberally. Divided, upon his pattern, into lines, the final draft read:
HAVE YOU BEEN STUNG?
Thousands have. Thousands will be. They're Laying for You.
WHO? The Advertising Crooks.
A. JONES Ad-Visor Can Protect You Against Them.
Before Spending Your Money Call on Him. Advice on all Subjects Connected with Newspaper, Magazine or Display Advertising. Free Consultation to Persons Unable to Pay. Call or Write, Enclosing Postage. This Is On The Level.
"Ad-Visor! Do you expect me to blight my budding career by a poisonous pun like that?" demanded Average Jones with a wry face.
"It may be a poisonous pun, but it's an arresting catch-word," said Waldemar, unmoved. "Single column, about fifty lines will do it in nice, open style. Caps and lower case, and black-faced type for the name and title. Insert twice a week in every New York and Brooklyn paper."
"Isn't it—er—a little blatant?" suggested Bertram, with lifted eyebrows.
"Blatant?" repeated its inventor. "It's more than that. It's howlingly vulgar. It's a riot of glaring yellow. How else would you expect to catch the public?"
"Suppose, then, I do burst into flame to this effect?" queried the prospective "Ad-Visor." "Et apres? as we proudly say after spending a week in Paris."
"Apres? Oh, plenty of things. You hire an office, a clerk, two stenographers and a clipping export, and prepare to take care of the work that comes in. You'll be flooded," promised Waldemar.
"And between times I'm to go skipping about, chasing long white whiskers and brass howitzers and B-flat trombones, I suppose."
"Until you get your work systematized you'll have no time for skipping. Within six months, if you're not sandbagged or jailed on fake libel suits, you'll have a unique bibliography of swindles. Then I'll begin to come and buy your knowledge to keep my own columns clean."
The speaker looked up to meet the gaze of an iron-gray man with a harsh, sallow face.
"Excuse my interrupting," said the new-comer.
"Just one question, Waldemar. Who's going to be the nominee?"
"Linder? Surely not! Why, his name hasn't been heard."
"It will be."
"His Federal job?"
"He resigns in two weeks."
"His record will kill him."
"What record? You and I know he's a grafter. But can we prove anything? His clerk has always handled all the money."
"Wasn't there an old scandal—a woman case?"' asked the questioner vaguely.
"That Washington man's wife? Too old. Linder would deny it flatly, and there would be no witnesses. The woman is dead—killed by his brutal treatment of her, they say. But the whole thing was hushed up at the time by Linder's pull, and when the husband threatened to kill him Linder quietly set a commissioner of insanity on the case and had the man put away. He's never appeared since. No, that wouldn't be politically effective."
The gray man nodded, and walked away, musing.
"Egbert, the traction boss," explained Waldemar. "We're generally on opposite sides, but this time we're both against Linder. Egbert wants a cheaper man for mayor. I want a straighter one. And I could get him this year if Linder wasn't so well fortified. However, to get back to our project, Mr. Jones—"
Get back to it they did with such absorption that when the group broke up, several hours later, Average Jones was committed, by plan and rote, to the new and hopeful adventure of Life.
In the great human hunt which ever has been and ever shall be till "the last bird flies into the last light"—some call it business, some call it art, some call it love, and a very few know it for what it is, the very mainspring of existence—the path of the pursuer and the prey often run obscurely parallel. What time the Honorable William Linder matured his designs on the mayoralty, Average Jones sat in a suite of offices in Astor Court, a location which Waldemar had advised as being central, expensive, and inspirational of confidence, and considered, with a whirling brain, the minor woes of humanity. Other people's troubles had swarmed down upon him in answer to his advertised offer of help, as sparrows flock to scattered bread crumbs. Mostly these were of the lesser order of difficulties; but for what he gave in advice and help the Ad-Visor took payment in experience and knowledge of human nature. Still it was the hard, honest study, and the helpful toil which held him to his task, rather than the romance and adventure which he had hoped for and Waldemar had foretold—until, in a quiet, street in Brooklyn, of which he had never so much as heard, there befell that which, first of many events, justified the prophetic Waldemar and gave Average Jones a part in the greater drama of the metropolis. The party of the second part was the Honorable William Linder.
Mr., Linder sat at five P. m., of an early summer day, behind lock and bolt. The third floor front room of his ornate mansion on Brooklyn's Park Slope was dedicated to peaceful thought. Sprawled in a huge and softly upholstered chair at the window, he took his ease in his house. The chair had been a recent gift from an anonymous admirer whose political necessities, the Honorable Mr. Linder idly surmised, had not yet driven him to reveal his identity. Its occupant stretched his shoeless feet, as was his custom, upon the broad window-sill, flooded by the seasonable warmth of sunshine, the while he considered the ripening mayoralty situation. He found it highly satisfactory. In the language of his inner man, it was a cinch.
Below, in Kennard Street, a solitary musician plodded. His pretzel-shaped brass rested against his shoulder. He appeared to be the "scout" of one of those prevalent and melancholious German bands, which, under Brooklyn's easy ordinances, are privileged to draw echoes of the past writhing from their forgotten recesses. The man looked slowly about him as if apprising potential returns. His gravid glance encountered the prominent feet in the third story window of the Linder mansion, and rested. He moved forward. Opposite the window he paused. He raised the mouthpiece to his lips and embarked on a perilous sea of notes from which the tutored ear might have inferred that once popular ditty, Egypt.
Love of music was not one of the Honorable William Linder's attributes. An irascible temper was. Of all instruments the B-flat trombone possesses the most nerve-jarring tone. The master of the mansion leaped from his restful chair. Where his feet had ornamented the coping his face now appeared. Far out he leaned, and roared at the musician below. The brass throat blared back at him, while the soloist, his eyes closed in the ecstasy of art, brought the "verse" part of his selection to an excruciating conclusion, half a tone below pitch. Before the chorus there was a brief pause for effect. In this pause, from Mr. Linder's open face a voice fell like a falling star. Although it did not cry "Excelsior," its output of vocables might have been mistaken, by a casual ear, for that clarion call. What the Honorable Mr. Linder actually shouted was:
The performer upturned a mild and vacant face. "What you say?" he inquired in a softly Teutonic accent.
The Honorable William Linder made urgent gestures, like a brakeman.
"Go away! Move on!"
The musician smiled reassuringly.
"I got already paid for this," he explained.
Up went the brass to his lips again. The tonal stairway which leads up to the chorus of Egypt rose in rasping wailfulness. It culminated in an excessive, unendurable, brazen shriek—and the Honorable William Linder experienced upon the undefended rear of his person the most violent kick of a lifetime not always devoted to the arts of peace. It projected him clear of the window-sill. His last sensible vision was the face of the musician, the mouth absurdly hollow and pursed above the suddenly removed mouthpiece. Then an awning intercepted the politician's flight. He passed through this, penetrated a second and similar stretch of canvas shading the next window below, and lay placid on his own front steps with three ribs caved in and a variegated fracture of the collar-bone. By the time the descent was ended the German musician had tucked his brass under his arm and was hurrying, in panic, down the street, his ears still ringing with the concussion which had blown the angry householder from his own front window. He was intercepted by a running policeman.
"Where was the explosion?" demanded the officer.
"Explosion? I hear a noise in the larch house on the corner," replied the musician dully.
The policeman grabbed his arm. "Come along back. You fer a witness! Come on; you an' yer horn."
"It iss not a horn," explained the German patiently, "'it iss a B-flat trombone."
Along with several million other readers, Average Jones followed the Linder "bomb outrage" through the scandalized head-lines of the local press. The perpetrator, declared the excited journals, had been skilful. No clue was left. The explosion had taken care of that. The police (with the characteristic stupidity of a corps of former truck-drivers and bartenders, decorated with brass buttons and shields and without further qualification dubbed "detectives") vacillated from theory to theory. Their putty-and-pasteboard fantasies did not long survive the Honorable William Linder's return to consciousness and coherence. An "inside job," they had said. The door was locked and bolted, Mr. Linder declared, and there was no possible place for an intruder to conceal himself. Clock-work, then.
"How would any human being guess what time to set it for," demanded the politician in disgust, "when I never know, myself, where I'm going to be at any given hour of any given day?"
"Then that Dutch horn-player threw the bomb," propounded the head of the "Detective Bureau" ponderously.
"Of course; tossed it right up, three stories, and kept playing his infernal trombone with the other hand all the time. You ought to be carrying a hod!"
Nevertheless, the police hung tenaciously to the theory that the musician was involved, chiefly because they had nothing else to hang to. The explosion had been very localized, the room not generally wrecked; but the chair which seemed to be the center of disturbance, and from which the Honorable William Linder had risen just in time to save his life, was blown to pieces, and a portion of the floor beneath it was much shattered. The force of the explosion had been from above the floor downward; not up through the flooring. As to murderously inclined foes, Mr. Linder disclaimed knowledge of any. The notion that the trombonist had given a signal he derided as an "Old Sleuth pipe-dream."
As time went on and "clues" came to nothing, the police had no greater concern than quietly to forget, according to custom, a problem beyond their limited powers. With the release of the German musician, who was found to be simple-minded to the verge of half-wittedness, public interest waned, and the case faded out of current print.
Average Jones, who was much occupied with a pair of blackmailers operating through faked photographs, about that time, had almost forgotten the Linder case, when, one day, a month after the explosion, Waldemar dropped in at the Astor Court offices. He found a changed Jones; much thinner and "finer" than when, eight weeks before, he had embarked on his new career, at the newspaper owner's instance. The young man's color was less pronounced, and his eyes, though alert and eager, showed rings under them.
"You have found the work interesting, I take it," remarked the visitor.
"Ra—ather," drawled Average Jones appreciatively.
"That was a good initial effort, running down the opium pill mail-order enterprise."
"It was simple enough as soon as I saw the catchword in the 'Wanted' line."
"Anything is easy to a man who sees," returned the older man sententiously. "The open eye of the open mind—that has more to do with real detective work than all the deduction and induction and analysis ever devised."
"It is the detective part that interests me most in the game, but I haven't had much of it, yet. You haven't run across any promising ads lately, have you?"
Waldemar's wide, florid brow wrinkled.
"I haven't thought or dreamed of anything for a month but this infernal bomb explosion."
"Oh, the Linder case. You're personally interested?"
"Politically. It makes Linder's nomination certain. Persecution. Attempted assassination. He becomes a near-martyr. I'm almost ready to believe that he planted a fake bomb himself."
"And fell out of a third-story window to carry out the idea? That's pushing realism rather far, isn't it?"
Waldemar laughed. "There's the weakness. Unless we suppose that he under-reckoned the charge of explosive."
"They let the musician go, didn't they?"
"Yes. There was absolutely no proof against him, except that he was in the street below. Besides, he seemed quite lacking mentally."
"Mightn't that have been a sham?"
"Alienists, of good standing examined him. They reported him just a shade better than half-witted. He was like a one-ideaed child, his whole being comprised in his ability, and ambition to play his B-flat trombone."
"Well, if I needed an accomplice," said Average Jones thoughtfully, "I wouldn't want any better one than a half-witted man. Did he play well?"
"Atrociously. And if you know what a soul-shattering blare exudes from a B-flat trombone—" Mr. Waldemar lifted expressive hands.
Within Average Jones' overstocked mind something stirred at the repetition of the words "B-flat trombone." Somewhere they had attracted his notice in print; and somehow they were connected with Waldemar. Then from amidst the hundreds of advertisements with which, in the past weeks, he had crowded his brain, one stood out clear. It voiced the desire of an unknown gentleman on the near border of Harlem for the services of a performer upon that semi-exotic instrument. One among several, it had been cut from the columns of the Universal, on the evening which had launched him upon his new enterprise. Average Jones made two steps to a bookcase, took down a huge scrap-book from an alphabetized row, and turned the leaves rapidly.
"Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street," said he, slamming the book shut again. "Three Hundred East One Hundredth. You won't mind, will you," he said to Waldemar, "if I leave you unceremoniously?"
"Recalled a forgotten engagement?" asked the other, rising.
"Yes. No. I mean I'm going to Harlem to hear some music. Thirty-fourth's the nearest station, isn't it? Thanks. So long."
Waldemar rubbed his head thoughtfully as the door slammed behind the speeding Ad-Visor.
"Now, what kind of a tune is he on the track of, I wonder?" he mused. "I wish it hadn't struck him until I'd had time to go over the Linder business with him."
But while Waldemar rubbed his head in cogitatation and the Honorable William Linder, in his Brooklyn headquarters, breathed charily, out of respect to his creaking rib, Average Jones was following fate northward.
Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street is a house decrepit with a disease of the aged. Its windowed eyes are rheumy. It sags backward on gnarled joints. All its poor old bones creak when the winds shake it. To Average Jones' inquiring gaze on this summer day it opposed the secrecy of a senile indifference. He hesitated to pull at its bell-knob, lest by that act he should exert a disruptive force which might bring all the frail structure rattling down in ruin. When, at length, he forced himself to the summons, the merest ghost of a tinkle complained petulantly from within against his violence.
An old lady came to the door. She was sleek and placid, round and comfortable. She did not seem to belong in that house at all. Average Jones felt as if he had cracked open one of the grisly locust shells which cling lifelessly to tree trunks, and had found within a plump and prosperous beetle.
"Was an advertisement for a trombone player inserted from this house, ma'am?" he inquired.
"Long ago," said she.
"Am I too late, then?"
"Much. It was answered nearly two months since. I have never," said the old lady with conviction, "seen such a frazzled lot of folks as B-flat trombone players."
"The person who inserted the advertisement—?"
"Has left. A month since."
"Could you tell where he went?"
"Left no address."
"His name was Telford, wasn't it?" said Average Jones strategically.
"Might be," said the old lady, who had evidently formed no favorable impression of her ex-lodger. "But he called himself Ransom."
"He had a furnished room?"
"The whole third floor, furnished."
"Is it let now?"
"Part of it. The rear."
"I'll take the front room."
"Without even looking at it?"
"You're a queer young man. As to price?"
"Whatever you choose."
"You're a very queer young man. Are you a B-flat trombone player?"
"I collect 'em," said Average Jones.
"References?" said the old lady abruptly and with suspicion.
"All varieties," replied her prospective lodger cheerfully. "I will bring 'em to-morrow with my grip."
For five successive evenings thereafter Average Jones sat in the senile house, awaiting personal response to the following advertisement which he had inserted in the Universal:
WANTED—B-flat trombonist. Must have had experience as street player. Apply between 8 and 10 p. m. R—, 300 East 100th Street.
Between the ebb and flow of applicant musicians he read exhaustively upon the unallied subjects of trombones and high explosives, or talked with his landlady, who proved to be a sociable person, not disinclined to discuss the departed guest. "Ransom," his supplanter learned, had come light and gone light. Two dress suit cases had sufficed to bring in all his belongings. He went out but little, and then, she opined with a disgustful sniff, for purposes strictly alcoholic. Parcels came for him occasionally. These were usually labeled "Glass. Handle with care." Oh! there was one other thing. A huge, easy arm-chair from Carruthers and Company, mighty luxurious for an eight-dollar lodger.
"Did he take that with him?" asked Average Jones.
"No. After he had been here a while he had a man come in and box it up. He must have sent it away, but I never saw it go."
"Was this before or after the trombone players came?"
"Long after. It was after he had picked out his man and had him up here practicing."
"Did—er—you ever—er—see this musician?" drawled Average Jones in the slow tones of his peculiar excitement.
"Bless you, yes! Talked with him."
"What was he like?"
"He was a stupid old German. I always thought he was a sort of a natural."
"Yes?" Average Jones peered out of the window. "Is this the man, coming up the street?"
"It surely is," said the old lady. "Now, Mister Jones, if he commences his blaring and blatting and—".
"There'll be no more music, ma'am," promised the young man, laughing, as she went out to answer the door-bell.
The musician, ushered in, looked about him, an expression of bewildered and childish surprise on his rabbit-like face.
"I am Schlichting," he murmured; "I come to play the B-flat trombone."
"Glad to see you, Mr. Schlichting," said Average Jones, leading the way up-stairs. "Sit down."
The visitor put his trombone down and shook his head with conviction.
"It iss the same room, yes," he observed. "But it iss not the same gent, no."
"You expected to find Mr. Ransom here?"
"I don't know Mr. Ransom. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."
"Mr. Ransom, the gentleman who employed you to play in the street in Brooklyn."
Mr. Schlichting made large and expansive gestures. "It iss a pleasure to play for such a gent," he said warmly. "Two dollars a day."
"You have played often in Kennard Street?"
"I don't know Kennard Street. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."
"Kennard Street. In Brooklyn. Where the fat gentleman told you to stop, and fell out of the window."
A look of fear overspread the worn and innocent face.
"I don't go there no more. The po-lice, they take there."
"But you had gone there before?"
"Not to play; no."
"Not to play? Are you sure?"
The German considered painfully. "There vass no feet in the window," he explained, brightening.
Upon that surprising phrase Average Jones pondered. "You were not to play unless there were feet the window," he said at length. "Was that it?"
The musician assented.
"It does look like a signal to show that Linder was in," mused the interrogator. "Do you know Linder?"
"I don't know nothing only to play the B-flat trombone," repeated the other patiently.
"Now, Schlichting," said Average Jones, "here is a dollar. Every evening you must come here. Whether I am here or not, there will be a dollar for you. Do you understand?"
By way of answer the German reached down and listed his instrument to his lips.
"No, not that," forbade Average Jones. "Put it down."
"Not to play my B-flat trombone?" asked the other, innocently hurt. "The other gent he make play here always."
"Did he?" drawled Average Jones. "And he—er—listened?"
"He listened from out there." The musician pointed to the other room.
"Different times," was the placid reply.
"But he was always in the other room."
"Always. And I play Egypt. Like this."
"No!" said Average Jones, as the other stretched out a hopeful hand.
"He liked it—Egypt," said the German wistfully. "He said: 'Bravo! Encore! Bis!' Sometimes nine, sometimes ten times over I play it, the chorus."
"And then he sent you home?"
"Then sometimes something goes 'sping-g-g-g-g!' like that in the back room. Then he comes out and I may go home."
"Um—m," muttered Average Jones discontentedly. "When did you begin to play in the street?"
"After a long time. He take me away to Brooklyn and tell me, 'When you see the feet iss in the window you play hard!"'
There was a long pause. Then Average Jones asked casually:
"Did you ever notice a big easy chair here?"
"I do not notice nothing. I play my B-flat trombone."
And there his limitations were established. But the old lady had something to add.
"It's all true that he said," she confirmed. "I could hear his racket in the front room and Mr. Ransom working in the back and then, after the old man was gone, Mr. Ransom sweeping up something by himself."
"Sweeping? What—er—was he—er—sweeping?"
"Glass, I think. The girl used to find little slivers of it first in one part of the room, then in another. I raised the rent for that and for the racket."
"The next thing," said Average Jones, "is to find out where that big easy chair went from here. Can you help me there?"
The old lady shook her head. "All I can do is to tell you the near-by truck men."
Canvass of the local trucking industry brought to light the conveyor of that elegant article of furniture. It had gone, Average Jones learned, not to the mansion of the Honorable William Linder, as he had fondly hoped, but to an obscure address not far from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. To this address, having looked up and gathered in the B-flat trombonist, Average Jones led the way. The pair lurked in the neighborhood of the ramshackle house watching the entrance, until toward evening, as the door opened to let out a tremulous wreck of a man, palsied with debauch, Schlichting observed:
"That iss him. He hass been drinking again once."
Average Jones hurried the musician around the corner into concealment. "You have been here before to meet Mr. Ransom?"
"Where did he meet you to pay you your wages?"
"On some corner," said the other vaguely.
"Then he took you to the big house and left you there," urged Jones.
"No; he left me on the street corner. 'When the feet iss in the window,' he says, 'you play.'"
"It comes to this," drawled Average Jones intently, looking the employee between his vacuous eyes. "Ransom shipped the chair to Plymouth Street and from there to Linder's house. He figured out that Linder would put it in his study and do his sitting at the window in it. And you were to know when he was there by seeing his feet in the window, and give the signal when you saw him. It must have been a signal to somebody pretty far off, or he wouldn't have chosen so loud an instrument as a B-flat trombone."
"I can play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the business," asserted Schlichting with proud conviction.
"But what gets me," pursued Average Jones, "is the purpose of the signal. Whom was it for?"
"I don't know nothing," said the other complacently. "I only know to play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the world."
Average Jones paid him a lump sum, dismissed him and returned to the Cosmic Club, there to ponder the problem. What next? To accuse Ransom, the mysterious hirer of a B-flat trombone virtuosity, without sufficient proof upon which to base even a claim of cross-examination, would be to block his own game then and there, for Ransom could, and very likely would, go away, leaving no trace. Who was Ransom, anyway? And what relation, if any, did he bear to Linder?
Absorbed in these considerations, he failed to notice that the club was filling up beyond its wont. A hand fell on his shoulder.
"Hello, Average. Haven't seen you at a Saturday special night since you started your hobby."
It was Bertram. "What's on?" Average Jones asked him, shaking hands.
"Freak concert. Bellerding has trotted out part of his collection of mediaeval musical instruments, and some professionals are going to play them. Waldemar is at our table. Come and join us."
Conversation at the round-table was general and lively that evening, and not until the port came on—the prideful club port, served only on special occasions and in wonderful, delicate glasses—did Average Jones get an opportunity to speak to Waldemar aside.
"I've been looking into that Linder matter a little."
"Indeed. I've about given up hope."
"You spoke of an old scandal in Linder's career. What was the husband's name?"
"Arbuthnot, I believe."
"Do you know what sort of looking man he was?"
"No. I could find out from Washington."
"What was his business?"
"Government employment, I think."
"In the—er—scientific line, perhaps?" drawled Jones.
"Why, yes, I believe it was."
"Um-m. Suppose, now, Linder should drop out of the combination. Who would be the most likely nominee?"
"Marsden—the man I've been grooming for the place. A first-class, honorable, fearless man."
"Well, it's only a chance; but if I can get one dark point cleared up—"
He paused as a curious, tingling note came from the platform where the musicians were tuning tip.
"One of Bellerding's sweet dulcets," observed Bertram.
The Performer nearest them was running a slow bass scale on a sort of two-stringed horse-fiddle of a strange shape. Average Jones' still untouched glass, almost full of the precious port, trembled and sang a little tentative response. Up-up-up mounted the thrilling notes, in crescendo force.
"What a racking sort of tone, for all its sweetness!" said Average Jones. His delicate and fragile port glass evidently shared the opinion, for, without further warning, it split and shivered.
"They used to show that experiment in the laboratory," said Bertram. "You must have had just the accurate amount of liquid in the glass, Average. Move back, you lunatic, it's dripping all over you."
But Average Jones sat unheeding. The liquor dribbled down into his lap. He kept his fascinated gaze fixed on the shattered glass. Bertram dabbed him with a napkin.
"Tha—a—anks, Bertram," drawled the beneficiary of this attention. "Doesn't matter. Excuse me. Good night."
Leaving his surprised companions, he took hat and cane and caught a Third Avenue car. By the time he had reached Brooklyn Bridge he had his campaign mapped out. It all depended upon the opening question. Average Jones decided to hit out and hit quick.
At the house near the Navy Yard he learned that his man was out. So he sat upon the front steps while one of the highest-priced wines in New York dried into his knees. Shortly before eleven a shuffling figure paused at the steps, feeling for a key.
"Mr. Arbuthnot, otherwise Ransom?" said Average Jones blandly.
The man's chin jerked back. His jaw dropped.
"Would you like to hire another B-flat trombonist?" pursued the young man.
"Who are you?" gasped the other. "What do you want?"
"I want to know," drawled Average Jones, "how—er-you planted the glass bulb—er—the sulphuric acid bulb, you know—in the chair that you sent—er—to the Honorable William Linder, so that—er—it wouldn't be shattered by anything but the middle C note of a B-flat trombone?"
The man sat down weakly and bowed his face in his hands. Presently he looked up.
"I don't care," he said. "Come inside."
At the end of an hour's talk Arbuthnot, alias Ransom, agreed to everything that Average Jones proposed.
"Mind you," he said, "I don't promise I won't kill him later. But meantime it'll be some satisfaction to put him down and out politically. You can find me here any time you want me. You say you'll see Linder to-morrow?"
"To-morrow," said Average Jones. "'Look in the next day's papers for the result."
Setting his telephone receiver down the Honorable William Linder lost himself in conjecture. He had just given an appointment to his tried and true, but quite impersonal enemy, Mr. Horace Waldemar.
"What can Waldemar want of me?" ran his thoughts. "And who is this friend, Jones, that he's bringing? Jones? Jones! Jones?!" He tried it in three different accents, without extracting any particular meaning therefrom. "Nothing much in the political game," he decided.
It was with a mingling of gruffness and dignity that he greeted Mr. Waldemar an hour later. The introduction to Average Jones he acknowledged with a curt nod.
"Want a job for this young man, Waldemar?" he grunted.
"Not at present, thank you," returned the newspaper owner. "Mr. Jones has a few arguments to present to you."
"Arguments," repeated the Honorable William Lender contemptuously. "What kind of arguments?"
"Political arguments. Mayoralty, to be specific. To be more specific still, arguments showing why you should drop out of the race."
"A pin-feather reformer, eh?"
The politician turned to meet Average Jones' steady gaze and mildly inquiring smile.
"Do you—er—know anything of submarine mines, Mr. Linder?" drawled the visitor.
"Huh?" returned the Honorable William Linder, startled.
"Submarine mines," explained the other., "Mines in the sea, if you wish words of one syllable."
The lids of the Honorable Linder contracted.
"You're in the wrong joint," he said, "this ain't the Naval College."
"Thank you. A submarine mine is a very ingenious affair. I've recently been reading somewhat extensively on the subject. The main charge is some high explosive, usually of the dynamite type. Above it is a small jar of sulphuric acid. Teeth, working on levers, surround this jar. The levers project outside the mine. When a ship strikes the mine, one or more of the levers are pressed in. The teeth crush the jar. The sulphuric acid drops upon the main charge and explodes it. Do you follow me."
"I'll follow you as far as the front door," said the politician balefully. He rose.
"If the charge were in a chair, in the cushion of an easy chair, we'll say, on the third floor of a house in Brooklyn—"
The Honorable William Linder sat down again. He sat heavily.
"—the problem would be somewhat different. Of course, it would be easy to arrange that the first person to sit down in the chair would, by his own weight, blow himself up. But the first person might not be the right person, you know. Do you still follow me?"
The Honorable William Linder made a remark like a fish.
"Now, we have, if you will forgive my professorial method," continued Average Jones, "a chair sent to a gentleman of prominence from an anonymous source. In this chair is a charge of high explosive and above it a glass bulb containing sulphuric acid. The bulb, we will assume, is so safe-guarded as to resist any ordinary shock of moving. But when this gentleman, sitting at ease in his chair, is noticed by a trombonist, placed for that purpose In the street, below—"
"The Dutch horn-player!" cried the politician. "Then it was him; and I'll—"
"Only an innocent tool," interrupted Average Jones, in his turn. "He had no comprehension of what he was doing. He didn't understand that the vibration from his trombone on one particular note by the slide up the scale—as in the chorus of Egypt—would shiver that glass and set off the charge. All that he knew was to play the B-flat trombone and take his pay."
"His pay?" The question leaped to the politician's lips. "Who paid him?"
"A man—named—er—Arbuthnot," drawled Average Jones.
Linder's eyes did not drop, but a film seemed to be drawn over them.
"You once knew—er—a Mrs. Arbuthnot?"
The thick shoulders quivered a little.
"Her husband—her widower—is in Brooklyn. Shall I push the argument any further to convince you that you'd better drop out of the mayoralty race?"
Linder recovered himself a little. "What kind of a game are you ringing in on me?" he demanded.
"Don't you think," suggested Average Jones sweetly, "that considered as news, this—"
Linder caught the word out of his mouth. "News!" he roared. "A fake story ten years old, news? That ain't news! It's spite work. Even your dirty paper, Waldemar, wouldn't rake that kind of muck up after ten years. It'd be a boomerang. You'll have to put up a stronger line of blackmail and bluff than that."
"Blackmail is perhaps the correct word technically," admitted the newspaper owner, "but bluff—there you go wrong. You've forgotten one thing; that Arbuthnot's arrest and confession would make the whole story news. We stand ready to arrest Arbuthnot, and he stands ready to confess."
There was a long, tense minute of silence. Then—
"What do you want?" The straight-to-the-point question was an admission of defeat.
"Your announcement of withdrawal. I'd rather print that than the Arbuthnot story."
There was a long silence. Finally the Honorable Linder dropped his hand on the table. "You win," he declared curtly. "But you'll give me the benefit, in the announcement, of bad health caused by the shock of the explosion, to explain my quitting, Waldemar?"
"It will certainly make it more plausible," assented the newspaper owner with a smile.
Linder turned on Average Jones.
"Did you dope this out, young fellow?" he demanded.
"Well, you've put me in the Down-and-Out-Club, all right. And I'm just curious enough to want to know how you did it."
"By abstaining," returned Average Jones cryptically, "from the best wine that ever came out of the Cosmic Club cellar."
CHAPTER II. RED DOT
From his inner sanctum, Average Jones stared obliquely out upon the whirl of Fifth Avenue, warming itself under a late March sun.
In the outer offices a line of anxious applicants was being disposed of by his trained assistants. To the advertising expert's offices had come that day but three cases difficult enough to be referred to the Ad-Visor himself. Two were rather intricate financial lures which Average Jones was able to dispose of by a mere "Don't." The third was a Spiritualist announcement behind which lurked a shrewd plot to entrap a senile millionaire into a marriage with the medium. These having been settled, the expert was free to muse upon a paragraph which had appeared in all the important New York morning papers of the day before.
REWARD-$1,000 reward for information as to slayer of Brindle Bulldog "Rags" killed in office of Malcolm Dorr, Stengel Building, Union Square, March 29.
"That's too much money for a dog," decided Average Jones. "Particularly one that hasn't any bench record. I'll just have a glance into the thing."
Slipping on his coat he walked briskly down the avenue, and crossing over to Union Square, entered the gloomy old building which is the sole survival of the days when the Stengel estate foresaw the upward trend of business toward Fourteenth Street. Stepping from the elevator at the seventh floor, he paused underneath this sign:
MALCOLM DORR ANALYTICAL AND CONSULTING CHEMIST Hours 10 to 4
Entering, Average Jones found a fat young man, with mild blue eyes, sitting at a desk.
"Mr. Dorr?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the fat young man nervously, "but if you are a reporter, I must—"
"I am not," interrupted the other. "I am an expert on advertising, and I want that one thousand dollars reward."
The chemist pushed his chair back and rubbed his forehead.
"You mean you have—have found out something?"
"Not yet. But I intend to."
Dorr stared at him in silence.
"You are very fond of dogs, Mr. Dorr?"
"Eh? Oh, yes. Yes, certainly," said the other mechanically.
Average Jones shot a sudden glance of surprise at him, then looked dreamily at his own finger-nails.
"I can sympathize with you. I have exhibited for some years. Your dog was perhaps a green ribboner?"
"Er—oh—yes; I believe so."
"Ah! Several of mine have been. One in particular, took medal after medal; a beautiful glossy brown bulldog, with long silky ears, and the slender splayed-out legs that are so highly prized but so seldom seen nowadays. His tail, too, had the truly Willoughby curve, from his dam, who was a famous courser."
Mr. Dorr looked puzzled. "I didn't know they used that kind of dog for coursing," he said vaguely.
Average Jones smiled with almost affectionate admiration at the crease along the knee of his carefully pressed trousers. His tone, when next he spoke, was that of a youth bored with life. Any of his intimates would have recognized in it, however, the characteristic evidence that his mind was ranging swift and far to a conclusion.
"Mr. Dorr," he drawled, "who—er—owned your—er—dog?"
"Why, I—I did," said the startled chemist.
"Who gave him to you?"
"Quite so. Was it that—er—friend who—er—offered the reward?"
"What makes you think that?"
"This, to be frank. A man who doesn't know a bulldog from a bed-spring isn't likely to be offering a thousand dollars to avenge the death of one. And the minute you answered my question as to whether you cared for dogs, I knew you didn't. When you fell for a green ribbon, and a splay-legged, curly-tailed medal-winner in the brindle bull class (there's no such class, by the way), I knew you were bluffing. Mr. Dorr, who—er—has been—er—threatening your life?"
The chemist swung around in his chair.
"What do you know?" he demanded.
"Nothing. I'm guessing. It's a fair guess that a reasonably valuable brindle bull isn't presented to a man who cares nothing for dogs without some reason. The most likely reason is protection. Is it in your case?"
"Yes, it is," replied the other, after some hesitation.
"And now the protection is gone. Don't you think you'd better let me in on this?"
"Let me speak to my—my legal adviser first."
He called up a down-town number on the telephone and asked to be connected with Judge Elverson. "I may have to ask you to leave the office for a moment," he said to his caller.
"Very well. But if that is United States District Attorney Roger Elverson, tell him that it is A. V. R. Jones who wants to know, and remind him of the missing letter opium advertisement."
Almost immediately Average Jones was called back from the hallway, whither he had gone.
"Elverson says to tell you the whole thing," said the chemist, "in confidence, of course."
"Understood. Now, who is it that wants to get rid of you?"
"The Paragon Pressed Meat Company."
Average Jones became vitally concerned in removing an infinitesimal speck from his left cuff. "Ah," he commented, "the Canned Meat Trust. What have you been doing to them?"
"Sold them a preparation of my invention for deodorizing certain by-products used for manufacturing purposes. Several months ago I found they were using it on canned meats that had gone bad, and then selling the stuff."
"Would the meat so treated be poisonous?"
"Well—dangerous to any one eating it habitually. I wrote, warning them that they must stop."
"Did they reply?"
"A man came to see me and told me I was mistaken. He hinted that if I thought my invention was worth more than I'd received, his principals, would be glad to take the matter up with me. Shortly after I heard that the Federal authorities were going after the Trust, so I called on Mr. Elverson."
"Mistake Number One. Elverson is straight, but his office is fuller of leaks than a sieve."
"That's probably why I found my private laboratory reeking of cyanide fumes a fortnight later," remarked Dorr dryly. "I got to the outer air alive, but not much more. A week later there was an explosion in the laboratory. I didn't happen to be there at the time. The odd feature of the explosion was that I hadn't any explosive drugs in the place."
"Where is this laboratory?"
"Over in Flatbush, where I live—or did live. Within a month after that, a friendly neighbor took a pot-shot at a man who was sneaking up behind me as I was going home late one night. The man shot, too, but missed me. I reported it to the police, and they told me to be sure and not let the newspapers know. Then they forgot it."
Average Jones laughed. "Of course they did. Some day New York will find out that 'the finest police force in the world' is the biggest sham outside the dime museum. Except in the case of crimes by the regular, advertised criminals, they're as helpless as babies. Didn't you take any other precautions?"
"Oh, yes. I reported the attempt to Judge Elverson. He sent a secret service man over to live with me. Then I got a commission out in Denver. When I came back, about a month ago, Judge Elverson gave me the two dogs."
"Yes. Rags and Tatters."
"Dead. By the same road as Rags."
"Killed at your place in Flatbush?"
"No. Right here in this room."
Average Jones became suddenly very much worried about the second button of his coat. Having satisfied himself of its stability, he drawled, "Er—both of—er—them?"
"Yes. Ten days apart."
"Where were you?"
"On the spot. That is, I was here when Tatters got his death. I had gone to the wash-room at the farther end of the hall when Rags was poisoned."
"Why do you say poisoned?"
"What else could it have been? There was no wound on either of the dogs."
"Was there evidence of poison?"
"Pathological only. In Tatters case it was very marked. He was dozing in a corner near the radiator when I heard him yelp and saw him snapping at his belly. He ran across the room, lay down and began licking himself. Within fifteen minutes he began to whine. Then he stiffened out in a sort of a spasm. It was like strychnine poisoning. Before could get a veterinary here he was dead."
"Did you make any examination?"
"I analyzed the contents of his stomach, but did not obtain positive results."
"What about the other dog?"
"Rags? That was the day before yesterday. We had just come over from Flatbush and Razs was nosing around in the corner—"
"Was it the same corner where Tatters was attacked?"
"Yes, near the radiator. He seemed to be interested in something there when I left the room. I was gone not more than two minutes."
"Lock the door after you?"
"It has a special spring lock which I had put on it."
Average Jones crossed over and looked at the contrivance. Then his glance fell to a huge, old-fashioned keyhole below the new fastening. "You didn't use that larger lock?"
"No. I haven't for months. The key is lost, I think."
Retracing his steps the investigator sighted the hole from the radiator, and shook his head.
"It's not in range," he said. "Go on."
"As I reached the door on my return, I heard Rags yelp. You may believe I got to him quickly. He was pawing wildly at his nose. I called up the nearest veterinary. Within ten minutes the convulsions came on. The veterinary was here when Rags died, which was within fifteen minutes of the first spasm. He didn't believe it was strychnine. Said the attacks were different. Whatever it was, I couldn't find any trace of it in the stomach. The veterinary took the body away and made a complete autopsy."
"Did he discover anything?"
"Yes. The blood was coagulated and on the upper lip he found a circle of small pustules. He agreed that both dogs probably swallowed something that was left in my office, though I don't see how it could have got there."
"That won't do," returned Average Jones positively. "A dog doesn't cry out when he swallows poison, unless it's some corrosive."
"It was no corrosive. I examined the mouth."
"What about the radiator?" asked Average Jones, getting down on his knees beside that antiquated contrivance. "It seems to have been the center of disturbance."
"If you're thinking of fumes," replied the chemist. "I tested for that. It isn't possible."
"No; I suppose not. And yet, there's the curious feature that the fatal influence seems to have emanated from the corner which is the most remote from both windows and door. Are your windows left open at night?"
"The windows, sometimes. The transom is kept double-bolted."
"Do they face any other windows near by?"
"You can see for yourself that they don't."
"There's no fire-escape and it's too far up for anything to come in from the street." Average examined the walls with attention and returned to the big keyhole, through which he peeped.
"Do you ever chew gum?" he asked suddenly.
The Chemist stared at him. "It isn't a habit of mine to," he said.
"But you wouldn't have any objection to my sending for some, in satisfaction of a sudden irresistible craving?"
"Any particular brand? I'll phone the corner drug store."
"Any sort will suit, thank you."
When the gum arrived, Average Jones, after politely offering some to his host, chewed up a single stick thoroughly. This he rolled out to an extremely tenuous consistency and spread it deftly across the unused keyhole, which it completely though thinly, veiled.
"Now, what's that for?" inquired the chemist, eying the improvised closure with some contempt.
"Don't know, exactly, yet," replied the deviser, cheerfully. "But when queer and fatal things happen in a room and there's only one opening, it's just as well to keep your eye on that, no matter how small it is. Better still, perhaps, if you'd shift your office."
The fat young chemist pushed his hair back, looked out of the window, and then turned to Average Jones. The rather flabby lines of his face had abruptly hardened over the firm contour below.
"No. I'm hanged if I will," he said simply.
An amiable grin overspread Average Jones' face.
"You've got more nerve than prudence," he observed. "But I don't say you aren't right. Since you're going to stick to the ship, keep your eye on that gum. If it lets go its hold, wire me."
"All right," agreed young Mr. Dorr. "Whatever your little game is, I'll play it. Give me your address in case you leave town."
"As I may do. I am going to hire a press-clipping bureau on special order to dig through the files of the local and neighboring city newspapers for recent items concerning dog-poisoning cases. If our unknown has devised a new method of canicide, it's quite possible he may have worked it somewhere else, too. Good-by, and if you can't be wise, be careful."
Dog-poisoning seemed to Average Jones to have become a popular pastime in and around New York, judging from the succession of news items which poured in upon him from the clipping bureau. Several days were exhausted by false clues. Then one morning there arrived, among other data, an article from the Bridgeport Morning Delineator which caused the Ad-Visor to sit up with a jerk. It detailed the poisoning of several dogs under peculiar circumstances. Three hours later he was in the bustling Connecticut city. There he took carriage for the house of Mr. Curtis Fleming, whose valuable Great Dane dog had been the last victim.
Mr. Curtis Fleming revealed himself as an elderly, gentleman all grown to a point: pointed white nose, eyes that were pin-points of irascible gleam, and a most pointed manner of speech.
"Who are you?" he demanded rancidly, as his visitor was ushered in.
Average Jones recognized the type. He knew of but one way to deal with it.
"Jones!" he retorted with such astounding emphasis that the monosyllable fairly exploded in the other's face.
"Well, well, well," said the elder man, his aspect suddenly mollified. "Don't bite me. What kind of a Jones are you, and what do you want of me?"
"Ordinary variety of Jones. I want to now about your dog."
"Glad of it. They're no good. Had my reporters on this case. Found nothing."
"I own the Bridgeport Delineator."
"What about the dog?"
"Good boy!" approved the old martinet. "Sticks to his point. Dog was out walking with me day before yesterday. Crossing a vacant lot on next square. Chased a rat. Rat ran into a heap of old timber. Dog nosed around. Gave a yelp and came back to me. Had spasm. Died in fifteen minutes. And hang me, sir," cried the old man, bringing his fist down on Average Jones' knee, "if I see how the poison got him, for he was muzzled to the snout, sir!"
"Muzzled? Then—er—why do, you—er—suggest poison?" drawled the young man.
"Fourth dog to go the same way in the last week."
"All in this locality?"
"Yes, all on Golden Hill."
"Suspicions? Certainly, young man, certainly. Look at this."
Average Jones took the smutted newspaper proof which his host extended, and read:
"WARNING-Residents of the Golden Hill neighborhood are earnestly cautioned against unguarded handling of timber about woodpiles or outbuildings until further notice. Danger!"
"When was this published?"
"Wasn't published. Delineator refused it. Thought it was a case of insanity."
"Who offered it?"
"Professor Moseley. Tenant of mine. Frame house on the next corner with old-fashioned conservatory."
"How long ago?"
"About a week."
"All the dogs you speak of died since then?"
"Did he give any explanation of the advertisement?"
"No. Acted half-crazy when he brought it to the office, the business manager said. Wouldn't sign his name to the thing. Wouldn't say anything about it. Begged the manager to let him have the weather reports in advance, every day. The manager put the advertisement in type, decided not to it, and returned the money."
"'Weather reports, eh?" Average Jones mused a moment. "How long was the ad to run?"
"Until the first hard frost."
"Has there—er—been a—er—frost since?" drawled Average Jones.
"Who is this Moseley?"
"Don't know much about him. Scientific experimenter of some kind, I believe. Very exclusive," added Mr. Curtis Fleming, with a grin. "Never sociated with any of us neighbors. Rent on the nail, though. Insane, too, I think. Writes letters to himself with nothing in them."
"How's that?" inquired Average Jones.
The other took an envelope from his pocket and handed it over. "It got enclosed by mistake with the copy for the advertisement. The handwriting on the envelope is his own. Look inside."
A glance had shown Average Jones that the letter, had been mailed in New York on March twenty-fifth. He took out the enclosure. It was a small slip of paper. The date was stamped on with a rubber stamp. There was no writing of any kind. Near the center of the sheet were three dots. They seemed to have been made with red ink.
"You're sure the address is in Professor Moseley's writing?"
"I'd swear to it."
"It doesn't follow that he mailed it to himself. In fact, I should judge that it was sent by someone who was particularly anxious not to have any specimen of his handwriting lying about for identification.
"Perhaps. What's your interest in all this, anyway my mysterious young friend?"
"Two dogs in New York poisoned in something the same way as yours."
"Well, I've got my man. He confessed."
"Confessed?" echoed Average Jones.
"Practically. I've kept the point of the story to the last. Professor Moseley committed suicide this morning."
If Mr. Curtis Fleming had designed to make an impression on his visitor, his ambition was fulfilled. Average Jones got to his feet slowly, walked over to the window, returned, picked up the strange proof with its message of suggested peril, studied it, returned to the window, and stared out into the day.
"Cut his throat about nine o'clock this morning," pursued the other. "Dead when they found him."
"Do you mind not talking to me for a minute?" said Average Jones curtly.
"Told to hold my tongue in my own house by uninvited stripling," cackled the other. "You' re a singular young man. Have it your own way."
After a five minutes' silence the visitor turned from the window and spoke. "There has been a deadly danger loose about here for which Professor Moseley felt himself responsible. He has killed himself. Why?"
"Because I was on his trail," declared Mr. Curtis Fleming. "Afraid to face me."
"Nonsense. I believe some human being has been killed by this thing, whatever it may be, and that the horror of it drove Moseley to suicide."
"Give me a morning paper."
His host handed him the current issue of the Delineator.
Average Jones studied the local page.
"Where's Galvin's Alley?" he asked presently.
"Two short blocks from here."
"In the Golden Hill section?"
Mr. Curtis Fleming took the paper. His eyes were directed to a paragraph telling of the death of an Italian child living in Galvin's Alley. Cause, convulsions.
"By Jove!" said he, somewhat awed. "You can reason, young man."
"I've got to, reason a lot further, if I'm to get anywhere in this affair," said Average Jones with conviction. "Do you care, to come to Galvin's Alley with me?"
Together they went down the hill to a poor little house, marked by white crepe. The occupants were Italians who spoke some English. They said that four-year-old Pietro had been playing around a woodpile the afternoon before, when he was taken sick and came home, staggering. The doctor could do nothing. The little one passed from spasm into spasm, and died in an hour.
"Was there a mark like a ring anywhere on the hand or face?" asked Average Jones.
The dead child's father looked surprised. That, he said, was what the strange gentleman who had come that very morning asked, a queer, bent little gentlemen, very bald and with big eye-glasses, who was kind, and wept with them and gave them money to bury the "bambino."
"Moseley, by the Lord Harry!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis Fleming. "But what was the death-agent?"
Average Jones shook his head. "Too early to do more than guess. Will you take me to Professor Moseley's place?"
The old house stood four-square, with a patched-up conservatory on one wing. In the front room they found the recluse's body decently disposed, with an undertaker's assistant in charge. From the greenhouse came a subdued hissing.
"What's that?" asked Jones.
"Fumigating the conservatory. There was a note found near the body insisting on its being done. 'For safety,' it said, so I ordered it looked to."
"You're in charge, then?"
"It's my house. And there are no relatives so far as I know. Come and look at his papers. You won't find much."
In the old-fashioned desk was a heap of undecipherable matter, interspersed with dates, apparently bearing upon scientific experiments; a package of letters from the Denny Research Laboratories of St. Louis, mentioning enclosure of checks; and three self-addressed envelopes bearing New York postmarks, of dates respectively, March 12, March 14 and March 20. Each contained a date-stamped sheet of paper, similar to that which Mr. Curtis Fleming had shown to Average Jones. The one of earliest date bore two red dots; the second, three red dots, and the third, two. All the envelopes were endorsed in Professor Moseley's handwriting; the first with the one word "Filled." The second writing was "Held for warmer weather." The last was inscribed "One in poor condition."
Of these Average Jones made careful note, as well as of the laboratory address. By this time the hissing of the fumigating apparatus had ceased. The two men went to the conservatory and gazed in upon a ruin of limp leaves and flaccid petals, killed by the powerful gases. Suddenly, with an exclamation of astonishment, the investigator stooped and lifted from the floor a marvel of ermine body and pale green wings. The moth, spreading nearly a foot, was quite dead.
"Here's the mate, sir," said the fumigating expert, handing him another specimen, a trifle smaller. "The place was crowded with all kinds of pretty ones. All gone where the good bugs go now."
Average Jones took the pair of moths to the desk, measured them and laid them carefully away in a drawer.
"The rest must wait," he said. "I have to send a telegram."
With the interested Mr. Curtis Fleming in attendance, he went to the telegraph office, where he wrote out a dispatch.
"Mr. A. V. R. Jones?" said the operator. "There's a message here for you."
Average Jones took the leaflet and read:
"Found gum on floor this morning when I arrived. MALCOLM DORR."
Then he recalled his own blank, tore it up, and substituted the following, which he ordered "rushed":
MALCOLM DORR, STENGEL BUILDING, NEW YORY CITY:
"Leave office immediately. Do not return until it has been fumigated thoroughly. Imperative. A. V. R. JONES."
"And now," said Average Jones to Mr. Fleming, "I'm going back to New York. If any collectors come chasing to you for luna moths, don't deal with them. Refer them to me, please. Here is my card."
"Your orders shall be obeyed," said the older man, his beady eyes twinkling. "But why, in the name of all that's unheard of, should collectors come bothering me about luna moths?"
"Because of an announcement to this effect which will appear in the next number of the National Science Weekly, and in coming issues of the New York Evening Register."
He handed out a rough draft of this advertisement:
"For Sale—Two largest known specimens of Tropaea luna, unmounted; respectively 10 and 11 inches spread. Also various other specimens from collection of late Gerald Moseley, of Conn. Write for particulars. Jones, Room 222 Astor Court Temple, New York."
"What about further danger here?" inquired Mr. Fleming, as Average Jones bade him good-by. "Would we better run that warning of poor Moseley's, after all?"
For reply Jones pointed out the window. A late season whirl of snow enveloped the streets.
"I see," said the old man. "The frost. Well Mr. Mysterious Jones, I don't know what you're up to, but you've given me an interesting day. Let me know what comes of it."
On the train back to New York, Average Jones Wrote two letters. One was to the Denny Research Laboratories in St. Louis, the other to the Department of Agriculture at Washington. On the following morning he went to Dorr's office. That young chemist was in a recalcitrant frame of mind.
"I've done about ten dollars' worth of fumigating and a hundred dollars' worth of damage," he said, "and now, I'd like to have a Missouri sign. In other words, I want to be shown. What did some skunk want to kill my dogs for?"
"But they're dead, aren't they?"
"What kind of an accident?"
"The kind in which the innocent bystander gets the worst of it. You're the one it was meant for."
"Certainly. You'd probably have got it if the dog hadn't."
The speaker examined the keyhole, then walked over to the radiator and looked over, under and through it minutely. "Nothing there," he observed; and, after extending his examination to the windows, book-shelf and desk, added:
"I guess we might have spared the fumigation. However, the safest side is the best."
"What is it? Some new game in projective germs?" demanded the chemist.
"Oh, disinfectants will kill other things besides germs," returned Average Jones. "Luna moths, for instance. Wait a few days and I'll have some mail to show you on that subject. In the meantime, have a plumber solder up that keyhole so tight that nothing short of dynamite can get through it."
Collectors of lepidoptera rose in shoals to the printed offer of luna moths measuring ten and eleven inches across the wings. Letters came in by, every mail, responding variously with fervor, suspicion, yearning eagerness, and bitter skepticism to Average Jones' advertisement. All of these he put aside, except such as bore a New York postmark. And each day he compared the new names signed to the New York letters with the directory of occupants of the Stengel Building. Less than a week after the luna moth advertisement appeared, Average Jones walked into Malcolm Dorr's office with a twinkle in his eye.
"Do you know a man named Marcus L. Ross?" he asked the chemist.
"Never heard of him."
"Marcus L. Ross is interested, not only in luna moths, but in the rest of the Moseley collection. He writes from the Delamater Apartments, where he lives, to tell me so. Also he has an office in this building. Likewise he works frequently at night. Finally, he is one of the confidential lobbyists of the Paragon Pressed Meat Company. Do you see?"
"I begin," replied young Mr. Dorr.
"It would be very easy for Mr. Ross, whose office is on the floor above, to stop at this door on his way, down-stairs after quitting work late at night when the elevator had stopped running and—let us say—peep through the keyhole."
Malcolm Dorr got up and stretched himself slowly. The sharp, clean lines of his face suddenly stood out again under the creasy flesh.
"I don't know what you're going to do to Mr. Ross," he said, "but I want to see him first."
"I'm not going to do anything to him," returned Average Jones, "because, in the first place, I suspect that he is far, far away, having noted, doubtless, the plugged keyhole and suffered a crisis of the nerves. It's strange how nervous your scientific murderer is. Anyway, Ross is only an agent. I'm going to aim higher."
"Well, I expect to do three things. First, I expect to scare a peaceful but murderous trust multimillionaire almost out of his senses; second, I expect to dispatch a costly yacht to unknown seas; and third, I expect to raise the street selling price of the evening 'yellow' journals, temporarily, about one thousand per cent. What's the answer? The answer is 'Buy to-night's papers.'"
New York, that afternoon, saw something new in advertising. That it really was advertising was shown by the "Adv." sign, large and plain, in both the papers which carried it. The favored journals were the only two which indulged in "fudge" editions; that is, editions with glaring red-typed inserts of "special" news. On the front page of each, stretching narrowly across three columns, was a device showing a tiny mapped outline in black marked Bridgeport, Conn., and a large skeleton draft of Manhattan Island showing the principal streets. From the Connecticut city downward ran a line of dots in red. The dots entered New York from the north, passed down Fourth Avenue to the south side of Union Square, turned west and terminated. Beneath this map was the legend, also in red:
WATCH THE LINE ADVANCE IN LATER EDITIONS
It was the first time in the records of journalism that the "fudge" device had been used in advertising.
Great was the rejoicing of the "newsies" when public curiosity made a "run" upon these papers. Greater it grew when the "afternoon edition" appeared, and with their keen business instinct, the urchins saw that they could run the price upward, which they promptly did, in some cases even to a nickel. This edition carried the same "fudge" advertisement, but now the red dots crossed over to Fifth Avenue and turned northward as far as Twenty-third Street. The inscription was:
UPWARD AND ONWARD SEE NEXT EXTRA
For the "Night Extra" people paid five, ten, even fifteen cents. Rumor ran wild. Other papers, even, look the matter up as news, and commented upon the meaning of the extraordinary advertisement. This time, the red-dotted line went as far up Fifth Ave title as Fiftieth Street. And the legend was ominous:
WHEN I TURN, I STRIKE
That was all that evening. The dotted line did not turn.
Keen as newspaper conjecture is, it failed to connect the "red-line maps," with the fame of which the city was raging, with an item of shipping news printed in the evening papers of the following day:
CLEARED—For South American Ports, steam yacht Electra, New York. Owner John M. Colwell.
And not until the following morning did the papers announce that President Colwell, of the Canned Meat Trust, having been ordered by his physician on a long sea voyage to refurbish his depleted nerves, after closing his house on West Fifty-first Street, had sailed in his own yacht. The same issue carried a few lines about the "freak ads." which had so sensationally blazed and so suddenly waned from the "yellows." The opinion was offered that they represented the exploitation of some new brand of whisky which would announce itself later. But that announcement never came, and President Colwell sailed to far seas, and Mr. Curtis Fleming came to New York, keen for explanations, for he, too, had seen the "fudge" and marveled. Hence, Average Jones had him, together with young Mr. Dorr, at a private room luncheon at the Cosmic Club, where he offered an explanation and elucidation.
"The whole affair," he said, "was a problem in the connecting up of loose ends. At the New York terminus we had two deaths in the office of a man with powerful and subtle enemies, that office being practically sealed against intrusion except for a very large keyhole. Some deadly thing is introduced through that keyhole; so much is practically proven by the breaking out of the chewing gum with which I coated it. Probably the scheme was carried out in the evening when the building was nearly deserted. The killing influence reaches a corner far out of the direct line of the keyhole. Being near the radiator, that corner represents the attraction of warmth. Therefore, the invading force was some sentient creature."
Dorr shuddered. "Some kind of venomous snake," he surmised.
"Not a bad guess. But a snake, however small, would have been instantly noticed by the dogs. Now, let's look at the Bridgeport end. Here, again, we have a deadly influence loosed; this time by accident. A scientific experimentalist is the innocent cause of the disaster. Here, too, the peril is somewhat dependent upon warmth, since we know, from Professor Moseley's agonized eagerness for a frost, that cold weather would have put an end to it. The cold weather fails to come. Dogs are killed. Finally a child falls victim, and on that child is found a circular mark, similar to the mark on Mr. Dorr's dog's lip. You see the striking points of analogy?"
"Do you mean us to believe poor old Moseley a cold-blooded murderer?" demanded Mr. Curtis Fleming.
"Far from it. At worst an unhappy victim of his own carelessness in loosing a peril upon his neighborhood. You're forgetting a connecting link; the secretive red-dot communications from New York City addressed by Moseley to himself on behalf of some customer who ordered simply by a code of ink dots. He was the man I had to find. The giant luna moths helped to do it."
"I don't see where they come in at all," declared Dorr bluntly. "A moth a foot wide couldn't crawl through a keyhole."
"No; nor do any damage if it did. The luna is as harmless as it is lovely. In this case the moths weren't active agents. They were important only as clues—and bait. Their enormous size showed Professor Moseley's line of work; the selective breeding of certain forms of life to two or three times the normal proportions. Very well; I had to ascertain some creature which, if magnified several times, would be deadly, and which would still be capable of entering a large keyhole. Having determined that—"
"You found what it was?" cried Dorr.
"One moment. Having determined that, I had still to get in touch with Professor Moseley's mysterious New York correspondent. I figured that he must be interested in Professor Moseley's particular branch of research or he never could have devised his murderous scheme. So I constructed the luna moth advertisement to draw him, and when I got a reply from Mr. Ross, who is a fellow-tenant of Mr. Dorr's, the chain was complete. Now, you see where the luna moths were useful. If I had advertised, instead of them, the lathrodectus, he might have suspected and refrained from answering."
"What's the lathrodectus?" demanded both the hearers at once.
For answer Average Jones took a letter from his pocket and read:
BUREAU OF ENTOMOLOGY, U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, WASHINGTON, D. C., April 7
MR. A. V. R. JONES,
Astor Court Temple, New York City.
Replying to your letter of inquiry, the only insect answering your specifications is a small spider Lathrodectus mactans, sometimes popularly called the Red Dot, from a bright red mark upon the back. Rare cases are known where death has been caused by the bite of this insect. Fortunately its fangs are so weak that they can penetrate only very tender skin, otherwise death from its bite would be more common, as the venom, drop for drop, is perhaps the most virulent known to science.
This Bureau knows nothing of any experiments in breeding the Lathrodectus for size. Your surmise that specimens of two or three times the normal size would be dangerous to life is undoubtedly correct, and selected breeding to that end should be conducted only under adequate scientific safeguards. A Lathrodectus mactans with fangs large enough to penetrate the skin of the hand, and a double or triple supply of venom, would be, perhaps, more deadly than a cobra.
The symptoms of poisoning by this species are spasms, similar to those of trismus, and agonizing general pains. There are no local symptoms, except, in some cases, a circle of small pustules about the bitten spot.
Commercially, the Lathrodectus has value, in that the poison is used in certain affections of the heart. For details, I would refer you to the Denny Laboratories of St. Louis, Mo., which are purchasers of the venom.
The species is very susceptible to cold, and would hardly survive a severe frost. It frequents woodpiles and outhouses. Yours truly,
L. O. HOWARD, Chief of Bureau.
"Then Ross was sneaking down here at night and putting the spiders which he had got from Professor Moseley through my keyhole, in the hope that sooner or later one of them would get me," said Dorr.
"A very reasonable expectation, too. Vide, the dogs," returned Average Jones.
"And now," said Mr. Curtis Fleming, "will some one kindly explain to me what this Ross fiend had against our friend, Mr. Dorr?"
"Nothing," replied Average Jones.
"Nothing? Was he coursing with spiders merely for sport?"
"Oh, no. You see Mr. Dorr was interfering with the machinery of one of our ruling institutions, the Canned Meat Trust. He possessed information which would have indicted all the officials. Therefore it was desirable—even essential—that he should be removed from the pathway of progress."
"Nonsense! Socialistic nonsense!" snapped Mr. Curtis Fleming. "Trusts may be unprincipled, but they don't commit individual crimes."
"Don't they?" returned Average Jones, smiling amiably at his own boot-tip. "Did you ever hear of Mr. Adel Meyer's little corset steel which he invented to stick in the customs scales and rob the government for the profit of his Syrup Trust? Or of the individual oil refineries which mysteriously disappeared in fire and smoke at a time when they became annoying to the Combination Oil Trust? Or of the Traction Trust's two plots to murder Prosecutor Henry in San Francisco? I'm just mentioning a few cases from memory. Why, when a criminal trust faces only loss it will commit forgery, theft or arson. When it faces jail, it will commit murder just as determinedly. Self-defense, you know. As for the case of Mr. Dorr—" and he proceeded to detail the various attempts on the young chemist's life.
"But why so roundabout a method?" asked Dorr skeptically.
"Well, they tried the ordinary methods of murder on you through agents. That didn't work. It was up to the Trust to put one of its own confidential men on it. Ross is an amateur entomologist. He devised a means that looked to be pretty safe and, in the long run, sure."
"And would have been but for your skill, young Jones," declared Mr. Curtis Fleming, with emphasis.
"Don't forget the fortunate coincidences," replied Average Jones modestly. "They're about half of it. In fact, detective work, for all that is said on the other side, is mostly the ability to recognize and connect coincidences. The coincidence of the escape of the Red Dots from Professor Moseley's breeding cages; the coincidence of the death of the dogs on Golden Hill, followed by the death of the child; the coincidence of poor Moseley's having left the red dot letters on the desk instead of destroying them; the coincidence of Dorr's dogs being bitten, when it might easily have been himself had he gone to turn on the radiator and disturbed the savage little spider—"'
"And the chief coincidence of your having become interested in the advertisement which Judge Elverson had me insert, really more to scare off further attempts than anything else," put in Dorr. "What became of the spiders that were slipped through my keyhole, anyway?"
"Two of them, as you know, were probably killed by the dogs. The others may well have died of cold. At night when the heat was off and the windows open. The cleaning woman wouldn't have been likely to notice them when she swept the bodies out. And, sooner or later, if Ross had continued to insert Red Dots through the keyhole one of them would have bitten you, Dorr, and the Canned Meat Trust would have gone on its way rejoicing."
"Well, you've certainly saved my life," declared Dorr, "and it's a case of sheer force of reasoning."
Average Jones shook his head. "You might give some of the credit to Providence," he said. "Just one little event would have meant the saving of the Italian child, and of Professor Moseley, and the death of yourself, instead of the other way around."
"And that event?" asked Mr. Curtis Fleming.
"Five degrees of frost in Bridgeport," replied Average Jones.
CHAPTER III. OPEN TRAIL
"Not good enough," said Average Jones, laying aside a sheet of paper upon which was pasted a newspaper clipping. "We can't afford luxuries, Simpson."
The confidential clerk rubbed his high, pale forehead indeterminately. "But five thousand dollars, Mr. Jones," he protested.
"Would pay a year's office rent, you're thinking. True. Nevertheless I can't see the missing Mr. Hoff as a sound professional proposition."
"So you think it would be impossible to find him?"
"Now, why should I think any such absurd thing? I think, if you choose, that he wouldn't be worth the amount, when found, to lose."
"The ad says different, Sir." Simpson raised the paper and read:
"FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS—The aforesaid sum will be paid without question to anyone furnishing information which leads to the discovery of Roderick Hoff, twenty-four years old, who left his home in Toledo, 0., on April 12. Communicate with Dr. Conrad Hoff, Toledo.
"Surely Doctor Hoff is good for the amount."
"Oh, he's good for millions, thanks to his much advertised quack 'Catarrh-Killer.' The point is, from what I can discover, Mr. Roderick Hoff isn't worth retrieving at any price above one dime."
"Was the information about him that you wished, in the telegram?" asked the confidential clerk.
"Yes; all I wanted. Thanks for looking after it. Have the Toledo reporter, who sent it, forward his bill. And if the old inventor who's been haunted by disembodied voices comes again, bring him to me."
"Yes, sir," said Simpson, going out.
Left to himself, Average Jones again ran over the dispatches, conveying the information as to the lost Toledo youth. They had given a fairly complete sketch of young Hoff's life and character. At twenty-four, it appeared, Roderick Hoff had achieved a career. Emerging, by the propulsive method, from college, in the first term of his freshman year, he had taken a post-graduate course in the cigarette ward of a polite retreat for nervous wrecks. He had subsequently endured two breach-of-promise suits, had broken the state automobile record for number of speed violation arrests, had been buncoed, badgered, paneled, blackmailed and short-carded out of sums varying between one hundred and ten thousand dollars; and now, in the year of grace, 19—, was the horror of the pulpit and the delight of the press of the city which he called his home. For the rest, he was a large, mild, good-humored, pulpy individual, with a fixed delusion that the human organism can absorb a quart of alcoholic miscellany per day and be none the worse for it. The major premise of his proposition was perfectly correct. He proved it daily. The minor premise was an error. Bets were even in the Toledo clubs as to whether delirium tremens or paresis would win the event around young Mr. Hoff's kite-shaped race-track of a brain.
With his tastes the income of twenty-five thousand dollars per annum which his father allowed him from the profits of "Dr. Hoff's Catarrh-Killer," proved sadly insufficient to his needs. He mentioned this fact to his father, so Average Jones' information ran, early in April, and suggested an increase, only to be refused with some acerbity.
"Oh, very well," said he, "I'll go and make it myself."
The amazement inspired in Doctor Hoff's mind by this pronouncement was augmented in the next few days by the fact that Roderick was very busy about town in his motor-car, and was changed to vivid alarm immediately thereafter by the young man's disappearance. To all intents and appearances, Roderick Hoff had dropped off the earth on or about April twelfth. By April fifteenth New York, Pittsburg, Chicago, Washington and other clearing-houses for the distribution of the unspent increment were apprised of the elder Hoff's five thousand-dollar anxiety through the medium of the daily press. This advertisement it was, upon the practical merits of which Average Jones and his confidential clerk had differed.
"If there were any chance of sport in it," mused Average Jones, "I'd go in. But to follow the trail of a spurious young sport from bar-room to brothel and from brothel to gambling hell—" He shook his head. "Not good enough," he repeated.
Simpson's face appeared at the door. His blond forehead was wrinkled with excitement.
"Doctor Hoff is here, Mr. Jones. I told him you couldn't see him, but he wouldn't take no. Says he was recommended to you by a former client."
Following the word, there burst into Average Jones' private sanctum a gross old man, silk-hatted and bediamonded, whose side-whiskers bristled whitely with perturbed self-importance. In his hand was a patchy bundle.
"They tried to stop me!" he sputtered. "Me! I'm worth ten million dollars, an' a ten-dollar-a-week office toad tries to hold me up when I come here myself person'ly, from Toledo to see you."
Analysis of advertising in all its forms had inspired Average Jones with a profound contempt and dislike for the cruelest of all forms of swindling medical quackery. And this swollen, smug-faced intruder looked a particularly offensive specimen of his kind. Therefore the Ad-Visor said curtly:
"I can't take your case. Good day—"
"Not take it! Did you read the reward?"
"Yes. It is interesting as showing the patent medicine faker's touching confidence in the power of advertising. Otherwise it doesn't, interest me. Get some one else to find your young hopeful."
"It ain't no case of findin' now. The boy's dead." His strident voice quavered and broke, but rose again to a snarl. "And, by God, I'll spend a million to get the dogs that murdered him."
At the word "murdered" Average Jones' clean cut, agreeable, but rather stolidly neutral face underwent a subtle transformation. Another personality looked out from the deep-set, somnolent, gray eyes; a personality resolute, forceful and quietly alert. It was apparently belied by the hesitant drawl, which, as all who had ever seen the Ad-Visor at his chosen pursuits well knew, signified awakened or intensified interest in the matter in hand.
"I don't know. It ain't been found."
"Then how do you know he's dead?"
The other tore open the bundle he carried, and spread before Average Jones a white stained shirt with ominous brown splotches.
"It's his shirt. There's the initials. Mailed to my house and got there just after I left. My secretary brought it on, with the note that come pinned to it. Here it is."