BY OCTAVUS ROY COHEN
Author of "THE CRIMSON ALIBI," "GRAY DUSK," ETC.
TO DR. MILES A. WATKINS
I OUT OF THE STORM
II THE SUIT-CASE IS OPENED
III "FIND THE WOMAN"
IV CARROLL HAS A VISITOR
V MISS EVELYN ROGERS
VI REGARDING ROLAND WARREN
VII THE VALET TALKS
VIII CARROLL MAKES A MOVE
XI ICE CREAM SODA
X A DISCOVERY
XI LOOSE ENDS
XII A CHALLENGE
XIII NO ALIBI
XIV THE SUIT-CASE AGAIN
XV A TALK WITH HAZEL GRESHAM
XVI THE WOMAN IN THE TAXI
XVII BARKER ACCUSES
XVIII "AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH—"
XX A CONFESSION
XXI CARROLL DECIDES
XXII THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED
OUT OF THE STORM
Taxicab No. 92,381 skidded crazily on the icy pavement of Atlantic Avenue. Spike Walters, its driver, cursed roundly as he applied the brakes and with difficulty obtained control of the little closed car. Depressing the clutch pedal, he negotiated the frozen thoroughfare and parked his car in the lee of the enormous Union Station, which bulked forbiddingly in the December midnight.
Atlantic Avenue was deserted. The lights at the main entrance of the Union Station glowed frigidly. Opposite, a single arc-lamp on the corner of Cypress Street cast a white, cheerless light on the gelid pavement. The few stores along the avenue were dark, with the exception of the warmly lighted White Star restaurant directly opposite the Stygian spot where Spike's car was parked.
The city was in the grip of the first cold wave of the year. For two days the rain had fallen—a nasty, drizzling rain which made the going soggy and caused people to greet one another with frowns. Late that afternoon the mercury had started a rapid downward journey. Fires were piled high in the furnaces, automobile-owners poured alcohol into their radiators. The streets were deserted early, and the citizens, for the most part, had retired shiveringly under mountains of blankets and down quilts still redolent of moth-balls.
Winter had come with freezing blasts which swept around corners and chilled to the bone. The rain of two days became a driving sleet, which formed a mirror of ice over the city.
On the seat of his yellow taxicab, Spike Walters drew a heavy lap-robe more closely about his husky figure and shivered miserably. Fortunately, the huge bulk of the station to his right protected him in a large measure from the shrieking wintry winds. Mechanically Spike kept his eyes focused upon the station entrance, half a block ahead.
But no one was there. Nowhere was there a sign of life, nowhere an indication of warmth or cheer or comfort. With fingers so numb that they were almost powerless to do the bidding of his mind, Spike drew forth his watch and glanced at it. Midnight!
Spike replaced the watch, blew on his numb fingers in a futile effort to restore warmth, slipped his hands back into a pair of heavy—but, on this night, entirely inadequate—driving-gloves, and gave himself over to a mental rebellion against the career of a professional taxi-driver.
"Worst night I've ever known," he growled to himself; and he was not far wrong.
Midnight! No train due until 12.25, and that an accommodation from some small town up-State. No taxi fares on such a train as that. The north-bound fast train—headed for New York—that was late, too. Due at 11.55, Spike had seen a half-frozen station-master mark it up as being fifty minutes late. Perhaps a passenger to be picked up there—some sleepy, disgruntled, entirely unhappy person eager to attain the warmth and coziness of a big hotel.
Yet Spike knew that he must wait. The company for which he worked specialized on service. It boasted that every train was met by a yellow taxicab—and this was Spike's turn for all-night duty at the Union Station.
All the independent taxi-drivers had long since deserted their posts. The parking space on Cypress Street, opposite the main entrance of the station—a space usually crowded with commercial cars—was deserted. No private cars were there, either. Spike seemed alone in the drear December night, his car an exotic of the early winter.
Ten minutes passed—fifteen. The cold bit through Spike's overcoat, battled to the skin, and chewed to the bone. It was well nigh unbearable. The young taxi-driver's lips became blue. He tried to light a cigarette, but his fingers were unable to hold the match.
He looked around. A street-car, bound for a suburb, passed noisily. It paused briefly before the railroad-station, neither discharging nor taking on a passenger, then clanged protestingly on its way. Impressed in Spike's mind was a mental picture of the chilled motorman, and of the conductor huddled over the electric heater within the car. Spike felt a personal resentment against that conductor. Comfort seemed unfair on a night like this; heat a luxury more to be desired than much fine gold.
From across the street the light of the White Star Cafe beckoned. Ordinarily Spike was not a patron of the White Star, nor other eating establishments of its class. The White Star was notoriously unsanitary, its food poisonously indigestible; but as Spike's eyes were held hypnotically by the light he thought of two things—within the circle of that light he could find heat and a scalding liquid which was flavored with coffee.
The vision was too much for Spike. The fast train, due now at 12.45, might bring a fare. It was well beyond the bounds of reason that he would get a passenger from the accommodation due in a few minutes. There were no casuals abroad.
The young driver clambered with difficulty from his seat. He staggered as he tried to stand erect, his numb limbs protesting against the burden of his healthy young body. A gale howled around the dark Jackson Street corner of the long, rambling station, and Spike defensively covered both ears with his gloved hands.
He made his way eagerly across the street; slipping and sliding on the glassy surface, head bent against the driving sleet, clothes crackling where particles of ice had formed. Spike reached the door of the eating-house, opened it, and almost staggered as the warmth of the place smote him like a hot blast.
For a few seconds he stood motionless, reveling in the sheer animal comfort of the change. Then he made his way to the counter, seated himself on a revolving stool, and looked up at the waiter who came stolidly forward from the big, round-bellied stove at the rear.
The restauranteur nodded.
"My gosh! What a night!"
"Pretty cold, ain't it?"
"Cold?" Spike Walters looked up antagonistically. "Say, you don't know what cold means. I'd rather have your job to-night than a million dollars. Only if I had a million dollars I'd buy twenty stoves, set 'em in a circle, build a big fire in each one, sit in the middle, and tell winter to go to thunder—that's what I'd do. Now, George, hustle and lay me out a cup of coffee, hot—get that?—and a couple of them greasy doughnuts of yourn."
The coffee and doughnuts were duly produced, and the stolid Athenian retired to the torrid zone of his stove. Spike bravely tried one of the doughnuts and gave it up as a bad job, but he quaffed the coffee with an eagerness which burned his throat and imparted a pleasing sensation of inward warmth. Then he stretched luxuriously and lighted a cigarette.
He glanced through the long-unwashed window of the White Star Cafe—"Ladies and gents welcome," it announced—and shuddered at the prospect of again braving the elements. Across the street his unprotesting taxicab stood parked parallel to the curb; beyond it glowered the end of the station. To the right of the long, rambling structure he could see the occasional glare of switch engines and track-walkers' lanterns in the railroad yards.
As he looked, he saw the headlight of the locomotive at the head of the accommodation split the gloom. Instinctively Spike rose, paid his check, and stood uncomfortably at the door, buttoning the coat tightly around his neck.
Of course it was impossible that the accommodation carried a fare for him; but then duty was duty, and Spike took exceeding pride in the company for which he worked. The company's slogan of service was part of Spike's creed. He opened the door, recoiled for a second as the gale swept angrily against him, then plunged blindly across the street. He clambered into the seat of his cab, depressed the starter, and eventually was answered by the reluctant cough of the motor. He raced it for a while, getting the machinery heated up preparatory to the possibility of a run.
Then he saw the big doors at the main entrance of the station open and a few melancholy passengers, brought to town by the accommodation train, step to the curb, glance about in search of a street-car, and then duck back into the station. Spike shoved his clutch in and crawled forward along the curb, leaving the inky shadows of the far end of the station, and emerging finally into the effulgence of the arc at the corner of Cypress Street.
Once again the door of the Union Station opened. This time Spike took a professional interest in the person who stepped uncertainly out into the night. Long experience informed him that this was a fare.
She was of medium height, and comfortably guarded against the frigidity of the night by a long fur coat buttoned snugly around her neck. She wore a small squirrel tam, and was heavily veiled. In her right hand she carried a large suit-case and in her left a purse.
She stepped to the curb and looked around inquiringly. She signalled the cab. Even as he speeded his car forward, Spike wondered at her indifference to the almost unbearable cold.
He pulled up short before her.
"Yes." Her tone was almost curt. She had her hand on the door handle before Spike could make a move to alight. "Drive to 981 East End Avenue."
Without leaving the driver's seat, Spike reached for her suit-case and put it beside him. The woman—a young woman, Spike reflected—stepped inside and slammed the door. Spike fed the gas and started, whirling south on Atlantic Avenue for two blocks, and then turning to his left across the long viaduct which marks the beginning of East End Avenue.
He settled himself for a long and unpleasant drive. To reach 981 East End Avenue he had to drive nearly five miles straight in the face of the December gale.
And then he found himself wondering about the woman. Her coat—a rich fur thing of black and gray—her handbag, her whole demeanor—all bespoke affluence. She had probably been visiting at some little town, and had come down on the accommodation; but no one had been there to meet her. Anyway, Spike found himself too miserable and too cold to reflect much about his passenger.
He drove into a head wind. The sleet slapped viciously against his windshield and stuck there. The patent device he carried for the purpose of clearing rain away refused to work. Spike shoved his windshield up in order to afford a vision of the icy asphalt ahead.
And then he grew cold in earnest. He seemed to freeze all the way through. He drove mechanically, becoming almost numb as the wind, unimpeded now, struck him squarely. He lost all interest in what he was doing or where he was going. He called himself a fool for having left the cozy warmth of the White Star Cafe. He told himself—
Suddenly he clamped on the brakes. It was a narrow squeak! The end of the long freight train rumbled on into the night. Spike hadn't seen it; only the racket of the big cars as they crossed East End Avenue, and then the lights on the rear of the caboose, had warned him.
He stopped his car for perhaps fifteen seconds to make sure that the crossing was clear, then started on again, a bit shaken by the narrow escape. He bumped cautiously across the railroad tracks.
The rest of the journey was a nightmare. The suburb through which he was passing seemed to have congealed. Save for the corner lights, there was no sign of life. The roofs and sidewalks glistened with ice. Occasionally the car struck a bump and skidded dangerously. Spike had forgotten his passenger, forgotten the restaurant, the coffee, the weather itself. He only remembered that he was cold—almost unbearably cold.
Then he began taking note of the houses. There was No. 916. He looked ahead. These were houses of the poorer type, the homes of laborers situated on the outer edge of the suburb of East End. Funny—the handsomely dressed woman—such a poor neighborhood—
He came to a halt before a dilapidated bungalow which squatted darkly in the night. Stiff with cold, he reached his hand back to the door on the right of the car, and with difficulty opened it. Then he spoke:
"Here y'are, miss—No. 981!"
There was no answer. Spike repeated:
"Here y'are, miss."
Still no answer. Spike clambered stiffly from the car, circled to the curb, and stuck his head in the door.
Spike stepped back. Then he again put his head inside the cab.
"Well, I'll be—"
The thing was impossible, and yet it was true. Spike gazed at the seat. The woman had disappeared!
The thing was absurd; impossible. He had seen her get into the cab at the Union Station. There, in the front of the car, was her suit-case; but she had gone—disappeared completely, vanished without leaving a sign.
Momentarily forgetful of the cold, Spike found a match and lighted it. Holding it cupped in his hands, he peered within the cab. Then he recoiled with a cry of horror.
For, huddled on the floor, he discerned the body of a man!
THE SUIT-CASE IS OPENED
The barren trees which lined the broad deserted thoroughfare jutted starkly into the night, waving their menacing, ice-crusted arms. The December gale, sweeping westward, shrieked through the glistening branches. It shrieked warning and horror, howled and sighed, sighed and howled.
Spike Walters felt suddenly ill. He forgot the cold, and was conscious of a fear which acted like a temporary anesthesia. For a few seconds he stood staring, until the match which he held burned out and scorched the flesh of his fingers. His jaw dropped, his eyes widened. He opened his lips and tried to speak, but closed them again without having uttered a sound save a choking gasp. He tried again, feeling an urge for speech—something, anything, to make him believe that he was here, alive—that the horror within the cab was real. This time he uttered an "Oh, my God!"
The words seemed to vitalize him. He fumbled for another match, found it, and lighted it within the cab. It seemed to have the radiance of an incandescent.
Spike had hoped that his first impression would prove to be a mere figment of his imagination; but now there was no doubting. There, sprawled in an ugly, inhuman heap on the floor, head resting against the cushioned seat of the cab, was the figure of a man. There was no doubt that he was dead. Even Spike, young, optimistic, and unversed in the ways of death as he was, knew that he was alone with a corpse.
And as he gazed, a strange courage came to him. He found himself emboldened to investigate. He was shivering while he did so, shivering with fear and with the terrific cold of the night. He could not quite bring himself to touch the body, but he did not need to move it to see that murder had been done.
The clothes told him instantly that the man was of high social station. They were obviously expensive clothes, probably tailor-made. The big coat, open at the top, was flung back. Beneath, Spike discerned a gray tweed—and on the breast of the gray tweed was a splotch, a dark, ugly thing which appeared black and was not black. Spike shuddered. He had never liked the sight of blood.
The match spluttered and went out. Spike looked around. He felt hopelessly alone. Not a pedestrian; not a light. The houses, set well back from the street, were dark, forbiddingly dark.
He saw a street-car rattle past, bound on the final run of the night for the car-sheds at East End. Then he was alone again—alone and frightened.
He felt the necessity for action. He must do something—something, but what? What was there to do?
A great fear gripped him. He was with the body. The body was in his cab. He would be arrested for the murder of the man!
Of course he knew he didn't do it. The woman had committed the murder.
Spike swore. He had almost forgotten the woman. Where was she? How had she managed to leave the taxicab? When had the man, who now lay sprawled in the cab, entered it?
He had driven straight from the Union Station to the address given by the woman—straight down East End Avenue, turning neither to right nor left. The utter impossibilty of the situation robbed it of some of its stark horror. And yet—
Spike knew that he must do something. He tried to think connectedly, and found it a difficult task. Near him loomed the shadow which was No. 981 East End Avenue—the address given by the woman when she entered the cab. He might go in there and report the circumstances. Some one there would know who she was, and—but he hesitated.
Perhaps this thing had been prearranged. Perhaps they would get him—for what he didn't know. When a man—a young man—comes face to face with murder for the first time, making its acquaintance on a freezing December midnight and in a lonely spot, he is not to be blamed if his mental equilibrium is destroyed.
Wild plans chased each other through his brain. He might dump the body by the roadside and run back to town. That was absurd on the face of it, for he would be convicting himself when the body was found. It would be traced to him in some way—he knew that. He was already determined to keep away from No. 981 East End Avenue. There was something sinister in the unfriendly shadow of the rambling house. He might call the police.
That was it—he would call the police. But how? Go into a house near by, wake the residents, telephone headquarters that a murder had been done? Alarm the neighborhood, and identify himself with the crime? Spike was afraid, frankly and boyishly afraid—afraid of the present, and more afraid of the future.
And yet he knew that he must get in touch with the police, else the police would eventually get in touch with him. He thought then of taking the body in to headquarters; but he feared that his cab might be stopped en route to the city and the body discovered. They would never believe, then, that he had been bound for headquarters.
Almost before he knew that he had arrived at a decision, Spike had groped his way across the icy street and pressed the bell-button on the front door of the least unprepossessing house on the block.
For a long time there was no answer. Finally a light shone in the hall, and the skinny figure of a man, shivering violently despite the blanket-robe which enfolded him, appeared in the hallway. He flashed on the porch light from inside and peered through the glass door. Apparently reassured, he cracked the door slightly.
"Yes. What do you want?"
At sound of a human voice, Spike instantly felt easier. The fact that he could converse, that he had shed his terrible loneliness, steadied him as nothing else could have done. He was surprised at his own calmness, at the fact that there was scarcely a quaver in the voice with which he answered the man.
"I'm Spike Walters," he said with surprising quietness. "I'm a driver for the Yellow and White Taxicab Company. My cab is No. 92,381. I have a man in my cab who has been badly injured. I want to telephone to the city."
The little householder opened the door wider, and Spike entered. Cold as the house was, from the standpoint of the man within, its hold-over warmth was a godsend to Spike's thoroughly chilled body.
The little man designated a telephone on the wall, then started nervously as central answered and Spike barked a single command into the transmitter:
"Never you mind, sir," Spike told the householder. "Hello! Police!" he called to the operator.
There was a pause, then Spike went on:
"This is Spike Walters—Yellow and White Taxi Company. I'm out at No. 981 East End Avenue. There's a dead man in my cab!"
The weary voice at the other end became suddenly alive.
"A dead man!"
"Who is he?"
"I don't know. That's why I called you."
"When did he die? How?"
Spike controlled himself with an effort.
"Don't you understand? He has been killed—"
"The devil you say!" replied the voice at headquarters, and the little householder chimed in with a frightened squeak.
"Yes," repeated Spike painstakingly. "The man is dead—killed. It is very peculiar. I can't explain over the phone. I called up to ask you what I shall do."
"Hold connection a minute!" Spike heard a hurried whispered conversation at the other end, then the voice barked back at him: "Stay where you are—couple of officers coming, and coming fast!"
It was Dan O'Leary, night desk sergeant, who was on duty at headquarters that night, and Sergeant Dan O'Leary was a good deal of an institution on the city's force. He hopped excitedly from his desk into the office of Eric Leverage, the chief of police.
Chief Leverage, a broad-shouldered, heavy-set, bushy-eyebrowed individual, looked up from the chess-board, annoyed at this interruption of a game which had been in progress since ten o'clock that night. O'Leary grabbed a salute from thin air.
"'Scuse my botherin' ye, chief, but there's hell to pay out at East End."
O'Leary was never long at coming to the point. Leverage looked up. So, too, did the boyish, clean-shaven young man with whom he was playing chess.
"An' knowin' that Mr. Carroll was playin' chess with ye, chief—an' him naturally interested in such things—I hopped right in."
"I'll say you did," commented the chief phlegmatically. "I have you there, Carroll—dead to rights!"
O'Leary was a trifle irritated at the cold reception accorded his news.
"Ye ain't after understanding" he said slowly. "It's murder that has been done this night."
"H-m!" Carroll's slow, pleasant drawl seemed to soothe O'Leary. "Murder?"
"You said it, Mr. Carroll."
Leverage had risen. It was plain to be seen from his manner that the chess-game was forgotten. Leverage was a policeman first and a chess-player second—a very poor second. His voice, surcharged with interest, cracked out into the room.
"Spill the dope, O'Leary!"
The night desk sergeant needed no further bidding. In a few graphic words he outlined his telephone conversation with Spike Walters.
Before he finished speaking, Leverage was slipping into his enormous overcoat. He nodded to Carroll.
"How about trotting out there with me, David?"
Carroll smiled agreeably.
"Thank goodness my new coupe has a heating device, chief!"
That was all. It wasn't David Carroll's way to talk much, or to show any untoward emotion. It was Carroll's very boyishness which was his greatest asset. He had a way of stepping into a case before the principals knew he was there, and of solving it in a manner which savored not at all of flamboyance. A quiet man was Carroll, and one whose deductive powers Eric Leverage fairly worshiped.
On the slippery, skiddy journey to East End the two men—professional policeman and amateur criminologist—did not talk much. A few comments regarding the sudden advent of fiercest winter; a remark, forcedly jocular, from the chief, that murderers might be considerate enough to pick better weather for the practice of their profession—and that was all. Thus far they knew nothing about the case, and they were both too well versed in criminology to attempt a discussion of something with which they were unfamiliar.
Spike Walters saw them coming—saw their headlights splitting the frigid night. He was at the curb to meet them as they pulled up. He told his story briefly and concisely. Leverage inspected the young man closely, made note of his license number and the number of his taxi-cab. Then he turned to his companion, who had stood by, a silent and interested observer.
"S'pose you talk to him a bit, Carroll."
"I'm David Carroll," introduced the other man. "I'm connected with the police department. There's a few things you tell which are rather peculiar. Any objections to discussing them?"
In spite of himself, Spike felt a genial warming toward this boyish-faced man. He had heard of Carroll, and rather feared his prowess; but now that he was face to face with him, he found himself liking the chap. Not only that, but he was conscious of a sense of protection, as if Carroll were there for no other purpose than to take care of him, to see that he received a square deal.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Carroll, I'll be glad to tell you anything I know."
"You have said, Walters, that the passenger you picked up at the Union Station was a woman."
"Yes, sir, it was a woman."
"Are you sure?"
"Why, yes, sir. I couldn't very well be mistaken. You see—o-o-oh! You're thinking maybe it was a man in woman's clothes? Is that it, sir?"
"What do you think?"
"That's impossible, sir. It was a woman—I'd swear to that."
"Pretty positive, eh?"
"Absolutely, sir. Besides, take the matter of the overcoat the—the—body has on. Even if what you think was so, sir—that it was a woman dressed up like a man—and if he had gotten rid of the women's clothes, where would he have gotten the clothes to put on?"
"H-m! Sounds logical. How about the suit-case you said this woman had?"
"Yonder it is—right on the front beside me, where it has been all the time."
"And you tell us that between the time you left the Union Station and the time you got here a man got into the taxicab, was killed by the woman, the woman got out, and you heard nothing?"
"Yes, sir," said Spike simply. "Just that, sir."
"Rather hard to believe, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. That's why I called the police." Chief Leverage was shivering under the impact of the winter blasts.
"S'pose we take a look at the bird, David," he suggested, nodding toward the taxi. "That might tell us something."
Carroll nodded. The men entered the taxi, and Leverage flashed a pocket-torch in the face of the dead man. Then he uttered an exclamation of surprise not unmixed with horror.
"You know him?" questioned Carroll easily.
"Know him? I'll say I do. Why, man, that's Roland Warren!"
"Warren! Roland Warren! Not the clubman?"
"The very same one, Carroll, an' none other. Well, I'm a sonovagun! Sa-a-ay, something surely has been started here." He swung around on the taxi-driver. "You, Walters!"
"You are sure the suit-case is still in front?"
"Well"—to Carroll—"that makes it easier. It's the woman's suit-case, and if we can't find out who she is from that, we're pretty bum, eh?"
"Looks so, Erie. You're satisfied"—this to Walters—"that that is her suit-case?"
"Absolutely. It hasn't been off the front since she handed it to me at the station."
Carroll swung the suit-case to the inside of the cab. It opened readily. Leverage kept his light trained on it as Carroll dug swiftly through the contents. Finally the eyes of the two men met. Carroll's expression was one of frank amazement; Leverage's reflected sheer unbelief.
"It can't be, Carroll!"
"Sufferin' wildcats!" breathed Leverage. "The suit-case ain't the woman's at all! It's Warren's!"
"FIND THE WOMAN"
The thing was incomprehensible, yet true. Not a single article of feminine apparel was contained in the suit-case. Not only that, but every garment therein which bore an identification mark was the property of Roland Warren, the man whose body leered at them from the floor of the taxicab.
The two detectives again inspected the suit-case. An extra suit had been neatly folded. The pockets bore the label of a leading tailor, and the name "Roland R. Warren." The tailor-made shirts and underwear bore the maker's name and Warren's initials. The handkerchiefs were Warren's. Even those articles which were without name or initials contained the same laundry-mark as those which they knew belonged to the dead man.
Carroll's face showed keen interest. This newest development had rather startled him, and made an almost irresistible appeal to his love for the bizarre in crime. The very fact that the circumstances smacked of the impossible intrigued him. He narrowed his eyes and gazed again upon the form of the dead man. Finally he nudged Leverage and designated three initials on the end of the suit-case.
"R.R.W.—Roland R. Warren!" Leverage grunted. "It's his, all right, Carroll. But just the same there ain't no such animal."
Carroll turned to the dazed Walters.
"Understand what we've just discovered, son?" he inquired mildly.
Spike's teeth were chattering with cold.
"I don't hardly understand none of it, sir. 'Cording to what I make out, that suit-case belongs to the body and not to the woman."
"Right! Now what I want to know is how that could be."
Spike shook his head dazedly.
"Lordy, Mr. Carroll, I couldn't be knowing that."
"You're sure the woman got into your cab alone?"
"Absolutely, sir. She came through the waiting-room alone, carrying that very same suit-case—"
"You're positive it was that suit-case?"
"Yes, sir—that is, as positive as I can be. You see I was on the lookout for a fare, but wasn't expecting one, on account of the fact that this here train was an accommodation, and folks that usually come in on it take street-cars and not a taxi. Well, the minute I seen a good-lookin', well-dressed woman comin' out the door, I sort of noticed. It surprised me first off, because I asked myself what she was doing on that train."
"You thought it was peculiar?"
"Not peculiar, exactly; but sort of—of—interesting."
"I see. Go ahead!"
"Well, she was carrying that suit-case, and she seemed in a sort of a hurry. She walked straight out of the door and toward the curb, and—"
"Did she appear to be expecting some one?"
"No, sir. I noticed that particularly. Sort of thought a fine lady like her would have some one to meet her, which is how I happened to notice that she didn't seem to expect nobody. She come right to the curb and called me. I was parked along the curb on the right side of Atlantic Avenue—headin' north, that is—and I rolled up. She handed me the suit-case and told me to drive her to No. 981 East End Avenue. I stuck the suit-case right where you got it from just now; and while I ain't sayin' nothin' about what happened back yonder in the cab, Mr. Carroll, I'll bet anything in the world that that there suit-case is the same one she carried through the waitin'-room and handed to me."
"H-m! Peculiar. You drove straight out here, Walters?"
"Straight as a bee-line, sir. Frozen stiff, I was, drivin' right into the wind eastward along East End Avenue, and I had to raise the windshield a bit because there was ice on it and I couldn't see nothin'—an' my headlights ain't any too strong."
"You didn't stop anywhere?"
"No, sir. Wait a minute—I did!"
"At the R.L. and T. railroad crossing, sir. I didn't see nor hear no train there, and almost run into it. It was a freight, and travelin' kinder slow. I seen the lights of the caboose and stopped the car right close to the track. I wasn't stopped more'n fifteen or twenty seconds, and just as soon as the train got by, I went on."
"But you did stand still for a few seconds?"
"If any one had got into or out of the cab right there, would you have heard them?"
"I don't know that I would. I was frozen stiff, like I told you, sir; and I wasn't thinking of nothin' like that. Besides, the train was makin' a noise; an' me not havin' my thoughts on nothin' but how cold I was, an' how far I had to drive, I mos' prob'ly wouldn't have noticed—although I might have."
"Looks to me," chimed in Leverage, "as if that's where the shift must have taken place; though it beats me—"
Carroll lighted a cigarette. Of the three men, he was the only one who seemed impervious to the cold. Leverage and the taxi-driver were both shivering as if with the ague. Carroll, an enormous overcoat snuggled about his neck, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his boyish face set with interest, seemed perfectly comfortable. As a matter of fact, the unique circumstances surrounding the murder had so interested him that he had quite forgotten the weather.
"Obviously," he said to Leverage, "it's up to us to find out whether the people at this house here expected a visitor."
"You said it, David; but I haven't any doubt it was a plant, a fake address."
"I think so, too."
"Wait here." The chief started for the dark little house. "I'll ask 'em."
Three minutes later Leverage was back.
"Said nothing doing," he imparted laconically. "No one expected—no one away who would be coming back—and then wanted to know who in thunder I was. They almost dropped dead when I told 'em. No question about it, that address was a stall. This dame had something up her sleeve, and took care to see that your taxi man was given a long drive so she'd have plenty of time to croak Warren."
"Then you think she met him by arrangement, chief?"
"Looks so to me. Only thing is, where did he get in?"
"That's what is going to interest us for some time to come, I'm afraid. And now suppose we go back to town? I'll drive my car; I'll keep behind you and Walters, here. You ride together in his cab."
Walters clambered to his seat, and succeeded, after much effort, in starting his frozen motor. Leverage bulked beside him on the suit-case of the dead man. The taxi swung cityward, and immediately behind trailed Carroll in his cozy coupe.
As Carroll drove mechanically through the night, he gave himself over to a siege of intensive thought. The case seemed fraught with unusual interest. Already it had developed an overplus of extraordinary circumstances, and Carroll had a decided premonition that the road of investigation ahead promised many surprises.
There was every reason why it should. The social prominence of the dead man, the mysterious disappearance of the handsomely dressed woman—all the facts of the case pointed to an involved trail.
If it were true that the woman had entered the taxicab alone, that the man had come in later, and that the murder had been committed by the woman in the cab before reaching the railroad crossing, the thing must undoubtedly have been prearranged to the smallest fractional detail. That being the premise, it was only a logical conclusion that persons other than the woman and the dead man were involved.
Interesting—decidedly so! But there was nothing to work on. Even the suit-case clue had vanished into thin air, so far as its value to the police was concerned.
That suit-case bothered Carroll. He believed Spike's story, and was convinced that the suit-case which they had examined out on East End Avenue was the one which the woman had carried from the train to the taxicab. There again the trail of the dead man and the vanished woman crossed; else why was she carrying his suit-case?
The journey was over before he knew it. The yellow taxi turned down the alley upon which headquarters backed, and jerked to a halt before the ominous brown-stone building. Carroll parked his car at the rear, assigned some one to stand guard over the body, and the three men, Leverage carrying the suit-case, ascended the steps to the main room and thence to the chief's private office.
The warmth of the place was welcome to all of them, and in the comforting glow of a small grate fire, which nobly assisted the struggling furnace in its task of heating the spacious structure, Spike Walters seemed to lose much of the nervousness which he had exhibited since the discovery of the body. Carroll warmed his hands at the blaze, and then addressed Leverage.
"How about this case, chief?"
"How about it?"
"You want me to butt in on it?"
"Want you? Holy sufferin' oysters! Carroll, if you didn't work on it, I'd brain you! You're the only man in the State who could—"
"Soft-pedal the blarney," grinned Carroll. "And now—the suit-case again."
He dropped to his knees and opened the suit-case. Garment by garment he emptied it, searching for some clue, some damning bit of evidence, which might explain the woman's possession of the dead man's belongings. He found nothing. It was evident that the grip had been carefully packed for a journey of several days at least; but it was a man's suit-case, and its contents were exclusively masculine.
Carroll shrugged as he rose to his feet. He turned toward Spike Walters and laid a gentle hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Walters," he said, "I want to let you know that I believe your story all the way through. I think that Chief Leverage does, too—how about it, chief?"
"Sounds all right to me."
"But we've got to hold you for a while, my lad. It's tough, but you were the person found with the body, and we've naturally got to keep you in custody. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. It's none too pleasant, but I guess it's all right."
"We'll see that you're made comfortable, and I hope we'll be able to let you go within a day or so."
He pressed a button, and turned Walters over to one of the officers on inside duty, with instructions to see that the young taxi-driver was afforded every courtesy and comfort, and was not treated as a criminal. Spike turned at the door.
"I want to thank you—"
"That's all right, Spike!"
"You're both mighty nice fellers—especially you, Mr. Carroll. I'm for you every time!"
Carroll blushed like a schoolgirl. The door closed behind Walters, and Carroll faced Leverage.
"Next thing is the body, chief."
"Want it up here?"
"If you please."
An orderly was summoned, commands given, and within five minutes the body of the dead man was borne into the room and laid carefully on the couch. Leverage glanced inquisitively at Carroll.
"Want the coroner?"
"Surely; and you might also call in the newspapermen."
"Yes. I have a hunch, Leverage, that a great gob of sensational publicity, right now, will be of inestimable help. Meanwhile let's get busy before either the coroner or the reporters arrive."
The two detectives went over the body meticulously. Warren had been shot through the heart. Carroll bent to inspect the wound, and when he straightened his manner showed that he had become convinced of one important fact. In response to Leverage's query, he explained:
"Shot fired from mighty close," he said.
"The flame from the gun has scorched his clothes. That's proof enough."
"In the taxi, eh?"
"But the driver would have heard."
"He probably would; but he didn't."
Carroll resumed his inspection of the body, examining every detail of figure and raiment; and while he worked he talked.
"You know something about this chap?"
"More or less. He's prominent socially; belongs to clubs, and all that sort of thing. Has money—real money. Bachelor—lives alone. Has a valet, and all that kind of rot. Owns his car. Golfer—tennis-player—huntsman. Popular with women—and men, too, I believe. About thirty-three years old."
"None. He's one of the few men in town who don't work at something. That's how I happen to know so much about him. A chap who's different from other fellows is usually worth knowing something about."
"Right you are! But that sort of a man—you'd hardly think he'd be the victim of—hello, what's this?"
Carroll had been going through the dead man's wallet. He rose to his feet, and as he did so Leverage saw that the purse was stuffed with bills of large denomination—a very considerable sum of money. But apparently Carroll was not interested in the money; in his hand he held a railroad-ticket and a small purple Pullman check.
"What's the idea?" questioned Leverage.
"Brings us back to the woman again," replied Carroll, with peculiar intensity.
"He was planning to take a trip with her."
Leverage glanced at the other man with an admixture of skepticism and wonder.
"How did you guess that?"
"I didn't guess it. It's almost a sure thing. At least, it is pretty positive that he was not planning to go alone."
"Yes? Tell me how you know."
Carroll extended his hand.
"See here—a ticket for a drawing-room to New York, and one railroad-ticket!"
"Two railroad-tickets are required for possession of the drawing-room," he said quietly. "Warren had only one. It is clear, then, that the holder of the missing ticket was going to accompany him; so what we have to do now—"
"Is to find the other railroad-ticket," finished Leverage dryly. "Which isn't any lead-pipe cinch, I'd say!"
CARROLL HAS A VISITOR
Carroll gazed intently upon the face of the dead man. There was a half quizzical light in the detective's eyes as he spoke, apparently to no one.
"I've often thought," he said, "in a case like this, how much simpler things would be if the murdered man could talk."
"H-m!" rejoined the practical Leverage. "If he could, he wouldn't be dead."
"Perhaps you're right. And following that to a logical conclusion, if he were not dead we wouldn't be particularly interested in what he had to say."
"All of which ain't got a heap to do with the fact that your work is cut out for you, Carroll. You're dead sure about that ticket dope, ain't you? I ain't used to traveling in drawing-rooms myself."
"It's straight enough, Leverage. The railroad company won't allow a single passenger to occupy a drawing-room—that is, they demand two tickets. If you, for instance, were traveling alone, and desired a drawing-room, you'd be compelled to have two tickets for yourself. That being so, it is plain that Warren there didn't intend making this trip to New York alone. If he had, he would have had the two tickets along with the drawing-room check. I am certain that two tickets were bought, because the railroad men won't sell a drawing-room with a single ticket. It is obvious, then, that he bought two tickets and gave the other one to the person who was to make the trip with him."
"The woman, of course!"
"The woman in the fur coat—the one who got into the taxicab."
"Perhaps; but she came in on the accommodation train after the New York train was due to leave. The fast train was late."
"So was the accommodation. They are due to make connection."
"That's true. If we can find that ticket—"
"We'll have found the woman, and when we find her the case will end."
The door opened, and Sergeant O'Leary entered.
"The coroner, sorr—him an' a reporter from each av the mornin' papers."
"Show the coroner in first," ordered Carroll. "Let the newspapermen wait."
"Yis, sorr. They seem a bit impatient, sorr. They say they're holdin' up the city edition for the news, sorr."
"Very good. Tell them Chief Leverage says the story is worth waiting for."
The coroner—a short, thick-set man—entered and heard the story from Leverage's lips. He made a cursory examination and nodded to Carroll.
"Inquest in the morning, Mr. Carroll. Meanwhile, I reckon you want to let them newspapermen in."
The two reporters entered and listened popeyed to the story. They telephoned a bulletin to their offices, and were assured of an hour's leeway in phoning in the balance of the story. They were quivering with excitement over what promised to be, from a newspaper standpoint, the juiciest morsel of sensational copy with which the city had been blessed for some time.
To them Carroll recounted the story as he knew it, concealing nothing.
"This is a great space-eating story," he told them in their own language—the jargon of the fourth estate—"and the more it eats the better it'll be for me. We want publicity on this case—all you can hand out big chunks of it. We want to know who that woman was. The way I figure it, this city is going to get a jolt at breakfast. Every one is going to be comparing notes. Out of that mass of gossip we may get some valuable information. Get that?"
"We do. Space in the morning edition will be limited, but by evening, and the next morning—oh, baby!"
They took voluminous notes and telephoned in enough additional information to keep the city rooms busy. When they would have gone, Carroll stopped them.
"Either of you chaps know anything of Warren's personal history?"
The elder of the two nodded.
"I do. Know him personally, in fact. I've played golf with him. Pretty nice sort."
"Rich, isn't he?"
"Reputed to be. Never works; spends freely—not ostentatiously, but liberally. Pretty fine sort of a chap. It's a damned shame!"
"How about his relations with women?"
The reporter hesitated and glanced guiltily at the dead body.
"That's rather strong—"
"It's not going beyond here, unless I find it necessary. I've played clean with you boys. Suppose you do the same with me."
"We-e-ell"—reluctantly—"he was rather much of a rounder. Nothing coarse about him, but he never was one to resist a woman. Rather the reverse, in fact."
"Ever been mixed up in a scandal?"
"Not publicly. He's friendly with a good many men—and with their wives. A dozen, I guess; but the husbands invite him to their homes, so I don't suppose there could be anything in the gossip. You see, folks are always too eager to talk about a man in his position and whatever woman he happens to be friendly with. And anyway, there hasn't been nearly so much talk about him since his engagement was announced."
"He is engaged?"
"To a girl in this city!"
"Sure! I thought you knew that. Dandy girl—Hazel Gresham. You've heard of Garry Gresham? It's his kid sister."
"So-o! How long has this engagement been known?"
"Couple of months. Pretty soft on both sides; he's got money and so has she. She's a good scout, too, even if she is a kid."
"Hardly more than twenty; but her family seemed to welcome the match. Warren and Garry Gresham were pretty good friends. Warren was about thirty-three or thirty-four, you know. Gossip had it that the family was going to object because of the difference in ages, but they didn't."
Carroll was silent for a moment.
"Nothing else about him you think might prove interesting?"
"And your idea of the murderer, after what you've heard?"
"The woman in the taxicab killed him."
"When did he get in?"
The reporter threw back his head and laughed.
"What is this—a game? If I knew that I'd have your job, Mr. Carroll. The dame killed him, all right; and when we find out how she did it, and when, and how he got in and she got out, we'll have a whale of a story!"
"No theories as to the identity of this woman, have you?"
"Nary one. A chap like Warren—bachelor, unencumbered—is liable to know a heap of 'em. From what you tell me of the tickets—from the fact that she was going away with him, I sort of figure you might do a little social investigating and discover what woman might have been going off with him."
Eric Leverage had been listening intently. His mind, never swift to work, yet worked surely. His big voice boomed into the conversation:
"This young fellow says Miss Gresham's family didn't have no objections to the marriage. It just occurred to me to ask him is he sure?"
The reporter flushed.
"Why, no, chief; not sure. You never can be sure about things like that; but so far as the public knew—"
"That's it, exactly. How do we know, though, but what they were sore as a pup over it, and just kept their traps closed because they didn't want any gossip? S'posin' they were trying to break things off, an' makin' it pretty uncomfortable for the girl? S'pose that, eh?"
"Yes," argued the reporter. "Suppose all of that. Where does it get you?"
"It gets you just here"—Leverage talked slowly, heavily, tapping his spatulate fingers on the table to emphasize his points—"we know this bird was going to elope with some skirt. All right! Now I ask this—why go all around the block, looking for some one he might have been mixed up with, when the woman a man is most likely to elope with is the girl he's engaged to marry?"
Silence—several seconds of it. Carroll spoke:
"Miss Gresham, you mean?"
"Sure, David—sure! I'm not sayin' she was the woman, mind you. I'm not sayin' anything except that if I'm right in thinkin' that maybe her folks weren't as crazy about this guy Warren as they seemed—if I'm right in that, maybe they was plannin' to take matters in their own hands and elope."
"Sure, it's possible, and—"
"But, chief," interrupted the reporter who had done most of the talking, "why should Miss Gresham kill Warren?"
"I didn't say she did, did I?"
"If she was the woman in the taxi—"
"If! Sure—if! All I mentioned that for was to show you we might as well start thinking close to home before we go to beatin' through the bushes to follow a cold trail."
The reporters left, and Carroll smiled at Leverage.
"Good idea, Eric—about Miss Gresham."
"'Tain't a hunch," said Leverage. "It just made good talkin'."
"I'm glad you did it, anyway."
"What is thare about it that you like?"
"Those newspaper chaps will play it up. Maybe they won't intend to, but they'll play it up, just the same; and it won't take us long either to connect Miss Gresham with the crime or to link up an iron-clad alibi for her."
"H-m! Not bad! You know, Carroll"—and Leverage smiled frankly—"I'm always makin' these fine suggestions an' pullin' good stunts, an' never knowin' whether they're good or not until somebody tells me."
"A good many folks are like that, Eric, but they don't admit it afterward."
"Neither do I—publicly."
Leverage rose and yawned.
"It's me for the hay, Carroll. I'm played out; and I have a hunch that to-morrow I'm going to be busy as seven little queen bees—and you, too."
Carroll reached for his overcoat.
"A little bit of thinking things over isn't going to hurt me, either. Good night!"
Thirty minutes later Carroll reached his apartment, and a half-hour after that he was sleeping soundly. The following morning he waked "all over," as was his habit, and turned his eyes to gaze through the window.
During the night the sleety drizzle had ceased, and the sun streamed with brilliant coldness upon a city which shone in a glare of ice. Leafless trees stretched their ice-covered tentacles into the cold, penetrating air; pedestrians and horses slipped on the glassy pavements; automobiles either skidded dangerously or set up an incessant rattle with their chains.
Carroll glanced at his watch. It showed nine o'clock. He started with surprise. Then he reached for the newspapers on the table at the side of his bed, and spread open the front pages.
They had evidently been made up anew with the breaking of the Warren murder story. Eight-column streamers shrieked at him from both front pages. He read the stories through, and smiled with satisfaction. Just as he had anticipated, both reporters, hungry for some definite clue upon which to work, had seized upon the possibility of Hazel Gresham being the mysterious woman in the taxicab. Not that they said so openly, but they said enough to make the public know that the detectives in charge of the case were likely to investigate her movements on the previous night.
Carroll stepped into a shower, then dressed quickly and ate a light breakfast served him by his maid, Freda. Before he finished, the doorbell rang, and Freda announced that there was a lady to see him.
"She ain't bane nothin' but a girl, sir, Mr. Carroll—just a little girl."
"Show her in."
In two minutes Freda returned, and behind her came the visitor. Carroll concealed a smile at sight of her. She was a little thing—sixteen or seventeen years old, he judged—a fluffy, blond girl quivering with vivacity; the type of girl who is desperately reaching for maturity, entirely forgetful of the charms of her adolescence. He rose and bowed in a serious, courtly manner.
"You wish to see me?"
"Yes, sir, I do. Is this Mr. Carroll—the famous detective?"
"I am David Carroll—yes."
She inspected him with frank approval.
"Why, you don't look any more than a boy! I thought you were old and had whiskers—and—and—everything horrid."
"I'm glad you're pleasantly surprised. What can I do for you?"
"Oh, it isn't what you can do for me—it's what I can do for you!"
"And that is?"
"I came to tell you all about this terrible Warren murder case."
"You came to tell me about it?"
"Why, yes," she retorted smilingly. "You see, I know just heaps about the whole thing!"
MISS EVELYN ROGERS
Carroll was more than amused; he was keenly interested. He motioned his visitor to a chair and seated himself opposite, regarding her quizzically.
She was not exactly the type of person he had anticipated encountering in a murder investigation. From the tip of her pert little hat to the toes of her ultra-fashionable shoes she was expressive of the independent rising generation—a generation wiser in the ways of the world than that from which it was sprung—a generation strangely bereft of genuine youth, yet charming in an entirely modern and unique manner.
She was obviously a young person of italics, a human exclamation-point, enthusiastic, irrepressible. She sat fidgeting in her chair, trying her best to convince the detective that she was a woman grown.
"I'm Evelyn Rogers," she gushed. "I'm the sister of Naomi Lawrence—you know her, of course. She's one of the city's social leaders. Of course, she's kind of frumpy and terribly old. She must be—why, I suppose she's every bit of thirty! And that's simply awful!"
"I'm thirty-eight," smiled Carroll.
"Well, you don't look it. You don't look a day over twenty-two, and I think men who are really grown up and yet look like boys are simply adorable! I do, really. And I simply despise boys of twenty-two who try to look like thirty-eight. Don't you?"
"M-m! Not always."
"Well, I do! They're always putting on airs and trying to make us girls think they're full-grown. I just simply haven't time to waste with them. I feel so old!"
"I haven't a doubt of it, Miss Rogers. And now—I believe you came to tell me something about the Warren case?"
"Oh, yes, indeed—just lots! But do you know"—she stared at him with frank approval—"I'm terribly tickled with the way you look. You may not believe it, but I've always been atrociously in love with you."
"Yes, indeed! You're such a wonderful man—having your name in the papers all the time. Oh, I've read about everything you've done! That's how I learned so much about detectiving—or isn't that what you call it?"
"That's it. You know I always was simply incorrigible in making up words when I couldn't think of the right one. Don't you think it's a lot of trouble sometimes—thinking of just the right word in the right place?"
"Sometimes. But about the Warren case?"
"Oh, yes, certainly! I'm always getting off my subject, ain't I? I mean—am I not? Bother grammar, anyway. It's a terrible bore, don't you think?"
"Yes, Miss Rogers. And now—"
"Back to that awful crime again, aren't you? It's simply sugary the way you great detectives stick to one subject. I can do it, too, when I have to. I took some lessons once in power of will—concentration and all that sort of thing. It made me feel wickedly old; but I learned a great deal about keeping my mind on one subject all the time. You know, it doesn't matter what you concentrate on—even if it's only making biscuits, or something messy and domestic like that—it does you good. It trains you not to waste words, and to store up your mental energy, and all that sort of thing. And all the time I was studying that course, I was thinking how perfectly glorious modern science is. Just suppose Shakespeare had been able to concentrate like us moderns can! His plays would have been utterly marvelous, wouldn't they?"
"I suppose they would. And now let's try concentrating on the Warren case."
"That's what I've been leading up to. You see, I knew Mr. Warren very well. In fact, he was awfully friendly with me. To tell you the strict truth, and absolutely in confidence, I really believe he was in love with me!"
"Yes, truly! We women have a way of knowing when a man is in love with us. He used to be around at the house all the time. Of course, he pretended that he came around because he liked Sis and Gerald—"
"That's Mr. Lawrence. He's my brother-in-law—Sis's husband. Insufferably old-timy. Don't think of anything but business. Used to look at me through his horn-rimmed glasses and say I was entirely too young to be receiving attentions from a man as old as Mr. Warren; but he didn't know. I'm not young, really, you know. Of course, I'm not twenty yet, but a girl can be under twenty and yet be a woman, can't she?"
"Yes"—dryly—"especially after she learns to concentrate."
"And as intimately as I knew Roland—that's Mr. Warren, you know—of course I didn't call him Roland to his face. Not that he didn't want me to, but then Sis and Gerald would have disapproved—old frumps! Knowing him so intimately, and really believing that he was in love with me—although, of course, the minute he became engaged to Hazel Gresham I didn't even flirt with him any more—not the least little tiny harmless bit well, I find it excruciatingly hard to believe that he is dead!"
"He is—quite. We're trying to discover who killed him."
"I know it. That's what I came to see you about."
"So you did. I'd quite forgotten—"
"You ought to learn to concentrate, Mr. Carroll. It's really ridiculously easy after you've studied it a little bit. Now if I had been you, and you had been I—me—I never would have forgotten what you came to see me about. Of course, I know you didn't forget, really; but the chances are that you were interested talking, and absolutely failed to remember that poor boy."
"What poor boy?"
Carroll with difficulty concealed a smile.
"I see! And now that I've remembered him again, suppose you tell me what you know about him and the case?"
"It's principally about what I read in the papers this morning. Really, Mr. Carroll, there ought to be a law against newspapers printing such ridiculous things!"
"As what, for instance?"
"That thing they had in there this morning. Why, the way they mentioned Hazel Gresham, you'd have thought that they thought she was the woman who killed Roland—the woman in the taxicab."
Carroll's eyes narrowed slightly. The faint smile still played about his lips.
"You don't think she was?"
"Oh, Mr. Carroll! Please, please, don't be so irresistibly absurd! Why in the world should Hazel kill the man she was engaged to?"
"I don't know."
"And besides, what does she know about killing some one? That is the most bizarre idea I have ever heard in all my life. Besides, she couldn't have killed him, anyway."
"Even if she'd wanted to, she couldn't; and I'm sure she didn't want to. Not that I think Roland Warren was the finest man in the world, or anything like that. Of course, I do believe he was interested in me, and that made me know him pretty well; but still he was an awfully nice boy, and I'm sure Hazel was very much in love with him. So even if she could have killed him, she wouldn't, would she?"
"I hope not; but you said she couldn't. What did you mean by that?"
"I mean that nobody can be in two places at one time. Although I did read a funny article in the Sunday magazine section of one of the big newspapers, last year, which said that—"
"If Miss Gresham had been with Mr. Warren last night at midnight—she would have been in two places at one time!"
"Why, yes—and that's not possible; so, of course, she—"
"What makes you think that, Miss Rogers!"
"That Miss Gresham was not with Mr. Warren at midnight last night?"
"Why," answered Evelyn Rogers simply, "I know she wasn't—that's all."
"Yes, indeed—beyond the what-you-call-'em of a doubt."
"How do you know that?"
"It's very simple," she explained casually. "She was with me all night."
Carroll gazed at the girl before him with new interest. Out of her chatter he had at last garnered one important fact. His mind, trained to seize upon the vital and instantly discard the inconsequential, clutched the bit of information, and turned it over. From the first Carroll had scouted the idea that the dead man's fiancee might have been responsible for his death; but still it was a line of investigation which demanded examination, and his pretty young visitor was making that road exceedingly simple. He injected all the warmth of his friendly, sunny nature in the smile which he bestowed upon her.
"You have helped me tremendously with that piece of information, Miss Rogers."
"I don't see how, particularly. No one with any sense—provided they knew Hazel, of course—could even imagine her killing any one, and least of all an adorable boy like Roland. She was so much in love with him!"
"Of course, I haven't the pleasure of Miss Gresham's acquaintance."
"Of course not. You'll have to meet her, though. She's a darling! Naturally, she's all broken up this morning because her wedding date was all set. Now all her plans have gone smash, and she really was terribly fond—"
"You say you spent the night with Miss Gresham?"
"At her house."
"And you are sure she was there all night?"
"Of course! We slept in the same bed—and that's certainly proof enough, isn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"You suppose? My goodness gracious! Don't you know?"
"Well—yes. If you're sure—"
"Why, my dear Mr. Carroll, we didn't even actually go to bed until a quarter before twelve. At ten o'clock we made some waffles downstairs—Hazel has just bought a perfectly darling aluminum electric waffle-iron. It makes the most toothsome waffles—all crisp and everything. And you know when you use aluminum you don't need any grease, so that makes the waffles much nicer. I'm getting horribly domestic since Hazel became engaged, because she is learning—"
"And after you made the waffles?"
"Oh! After that we went up-stairs to her room, and put on our kimonos, and had a heart-to-heart talk. I can't tell you what we talked about, because sometimes—well, it was atrociously risque—as women will, you know, and—"
"At a quarter before twelve you were still sitting up talking, and you had your kimonos on?"
"Yes, and—oh, you just ought to see Hazel's new kimono—pink crepe de chine, trimmed with satin. She looks simply ravishing in it. I told Sis I wanted one like it, but—"
"And then you went to bed?"
"Yes, just about then."
"You are sure Miss Gresham didn't get up!"
"Oh, I'm positive she didn't! I didn't get to sleep until after one o'clock, anyway, and I would have known."
"You've given me some valuable information, Miss Rogers; and I'll see to it that the newspapers correct any impression they may have left that Miss Gresham might have been connected with the crime. Meanwhile"—he rose—"I'm a bit overdue down at headquarters; so if you'll excuse me—"
Evelyn Rogers rose and stood before him. Her pretty little face was eager.
"I've really helped you, Mr. Carroll?"
"Well, I wonder—you know I'm just fiendishly anxious to be helpful in the world—I wonder if you'd let me help you some more?"
"I'd be delighted."
"Would you really?"
"And I can come to you any time to talk things over?"
"Whenever you get ready."
She clapped her hands.
"That's simply exquisite! You know, Mr. Carroll, I'm just simply crazy about you! I always have been, but I'm more so now than ever—just hopelessly!"
She made her way to the door. There she turned, and there was a peculiar light in her eyes.
"I wish you had been nineteen years old just now."
"Because," she flashed, "if you had been nineteen years old when I told you what I did, you would have kissed me!"
REGARDING ROLAND WARREN
For a long time after Evelyn departed, Carroll remained seated, puffing amusedly on the cigar which followed his matutinal cigarette. Time had been long since the detective had come in contact with so much youthful spontaneity, and he found the experience refreshing. Then he rose and would have left the apartment for headquarters, but again Freda announced a caller.
"Another young lady?" questioned Carroll.
"No, sir. It bane young feller."
"Show him in."
The visitor entered, and Carroll found himself gazing into the level eyes of a slightly disheveled and obviously excited young man of about twenty-eight years of age. The man was slight of stature, but every nervous gesture bespoke wiriness.
"Are you Mr. Carroll?"
"I'm Gresham—Garrison Gresham."
"A-a-ah! Won't you be seated!"
"Yes. I came to have a talk with you."
Carroll seated himself opposite his caller. Then he nodded.
"You came to see me?"
"About the Warren case."
"You know something about it?"
"Yes!" The young man seemed to bite the word. "I do."
"You're in charge of the case, aren't you?"
"You've seen this morning's papers?"
"Well, they're rotten—absolutely rotten. They don't say it in so many words, but the impression they create is that my sister, Hazel, was the woman in the taxi who killed Roland Warren. It's a damned lie!"
The young man was growing more excited. Carroll put out a restraining hand.
"I quite agree with you, my friend—it was a pretty rotten impression to create; but I shall see that all doubt is removed from the mind of the public when this afternoon's papers appear. I have just learned that your sister has an ironclad alibi."
"You have already learned that?"
Gresham leaned forward eagerly.
"What makes you sure—that she did not—was not—"
"Suppose I question you—if you have no objections."
"Where was your sister at midnight last night?"
"Alone? I mean was any one besides your family there?"
"Yes," replied Gresham, showing surprise at Carroll's evident knowledge of facts.
"Evelyn Rogers spent the night with her. Evelyn's a seventeen-year-old kid who has had what I believe you call a crush on my sister. They were together in that house from ten o'clock last night, or earlier, until this morning. And if you don't believe that—"
"But I do. I have just had a visit from Miss Rogers, and she told me exactly what you have just repeated; so I'm pretty well satisfied that your sister had nothing whatever to do with the affair. I will take pains to see that this evening's papers make that quite clear."
Gresham rose. A load seemed to have dropped from his shoulders.
"That's white of you, Carroll! I appreciate it."
"Not at all. I have no desire to cause annoyance or inconvenience where it is unnecessary. And Miss Rogers told me, with great attention to detail, just why and how it was impossible for your sister to have been anywhere except at home last night."
"Evelyn's considerable of a brick, in spite of the fact that she's more or less minus in the upper story. And now, if you're really satisfied, I'll be going."
The two men walked to the door together. They were about of a height; Carroll slightly the heavier of the two.
"You've no idea as to the identity of the woman in the taxicab, have you, Gresham?"
"No. Have you?"
"None whatever; though I fancy something ought to develop in the near future. The city is discussing it pretty freely?"
"The town's wild about it. They don't understand anything. It's tough on my sister. Hazel is only a kid, and I think she was in love with Warren. Well, good day, Carroll." He extended a firm hand. "Any time I can be of any help—"
Five minutes after Gresham's departure, Carroll was in his car, headed for the police-station. He turned the case over and over in a keen, analytic mind which had been refreshed by a night of untroubled sleep.
There were a good many features about it which puzzled him considerably. While he had not expected that the trail of the mysterious midnight woman would lead to the fiancee of the dead man, the sudden dissipation of that as a clue rather threw him off his balance. He had reached the end of a trail almost before setting foot upon it.
Thus far he had refused to allow himself to be worried by the strangest feature of the case—the appearance of the dead body in a taxicab which, according to its driver's story, could not have been other than empty. It was always easy to explain the disappearance of a person from an automobile; but, he figured, it was patently impossible to enter one without the driver's knowledge.
He reached headquarters and closeted himself with Leverage. They plunged at once into a discussion of that phase of the case.
"There are only two things which could have happened," said the chief of police slowly. "One is that some one croaked that bird Warren and shoved him into the cab while the woman was ridin' in it. The other is that he slipped into the cab and she killed him. While I ain't jumpin' on no set ideas, I have a hunch that the last one is right."
"Because the other—that idea of puttin' a dead body into a cab without the driver knowing it—it just naturally ain't possible."
"Then you are quite convinced, Leverage, that Walters did not know anything about it?"
"Now, say, Carroll, that's putting it up to me rather strong; but since you're asking, I'm here to say that I believe the kid. Of course it's possible that he was in on the deal—but I'm betting Liberty bonds against Russian rubles that he'd have slipped somewhere if that had been the case. Nobody that's in on a murder deal is going to frame a lie that sticks his bean as close to a noose as Walter's would be if he's not tellin' the truth!"
"Sounds reasonable; and yet—"
"I'm surprised at you suspectin' the kid."
"I don't suspect him."
"But you said—"
"We can't overlook anything—that's what I said. It's what I was driving at, anyway. So far, Walters is the only tangible clue we've had to work with. As I told you, the Hazel Gresham trail died a-borning. The kid who came to see me this morning cleared her; and then her brother came along right afterward, red-hot over the insinuations against his sister in the papers. As matters stand now, there's nothing to tie to but Spike Walters."
"I'm glad you're handling it," said Leverage fervently. "And as you are, I'm making so bold as to ask what you're going to do next?"
"A little general inquiring. You can help me on that. For one thing, I want to get hold of every bit of dope I can regarding Warren—who he was, where he came from, what he did, the size of his bank deposits, his business connections, his social life, and especially every morsel of gossip that's ever been circulated about him in connection with women."
"H-m! You think this dame was a society sort?"
"Probably. He was undoubtedly going away with her; and a man of his stamp doesn't often elope with a woman of the other type."
"True enough! Well, I'll get you what dope I can."
"I want it all. I'm afraid this is going to resolve itself into a contest of elimination. The city is buzzing about the case to-day, and it ought to be pretty easy to get hold of a world of gossip concerning Warren's love-affairs—provided he had any. Everybody's concerned over the identity of that woman, and every woman Warren has ever been mixed up with, even in the most innocuous way, is going to be dragged into the case."
Carroll made his way from headquarters direct to the consolidated railroad ticket office. He introduced himself to the chief clerk and stated his business. The other showed keen interest.
"The tickets were sold to him in this office, Mr. Carroll. This young man here sold them."
Carroll smiled genially at the skinny young chap who bustled forward importantly, proud of his temporary spotlight position.
"You sold some tickets to Roland Warren?"
"Day before yesterday."
"You are sure it was Mr. Warren?"
"Yes, sir. I have known him by sight for a longtime."
"About the tickets—what did he buy?"
"Two tickets and a drawing-room on No. 29 for New York—due to leave at 11.55 last night."
"You're sure he bought two tickets and a drawing-room? Or was it one ticket?"
"It had to be two. We can't sell a drawing-room unless the purchaser has double transportation."
"You delivered both tickets to him personally?"
"Yes, sir—gave them both to him."
From the ticket office Carroll went back to headquarters, and from there to the coroner's office, and, accompanied by that dignitary, to the undertaking establishment where the body was being kept under police guard. Nothing had yet been touched. The inquest had resulted in a verdict of "death by violence, inflicted by a revolver in the hands of a person unknown."
Carroll again ran through the man's pockets. In a vest pocket he discovered what he sought. He took the trunk check to the Union Station, and through his police badge secured access to the baggage-room. The trunk was not there. He compared checks with the baggage-master, and learned that the trunk had duly gone to New York. He left orders for it to be returned to the city.
From there he went to the office of the division superintendent, and left a half-hour later, after an exchange of telegrams between the superintendent and the conductor of the train for New York, which informed him that the drawing-room engaged by Warren had been unoccupied, nor had there been an attempt on the part of any one to secure possession of it. Also that the only berth purchased on the train had been at a small-town stop about four o'clock in the morning.
Obviously, then, the person who was to share the drawing-room with Warren, and for whom the second ticket had been bought, had never boarded the train. The trail had doubled back again to the woman in the taxicab.
It was not until two o'clock in the afternoon that Carroll returned to headquarters. He found Leverage ready with his report.
"For one thing," said the chief, "there isn't a doubt that Warren was getting ready to leave town—and for good."
Leverage checked over his list.
"First, he had sublet his apartment. Second, he had with him eleven hundred dollars in cash. Third, he left his automobile with a dealer here to be sold, and did not place an order for any other car. And fourth—" Leverage paused impressively.
"He fired his valet yesterday!"
THE VALET TALKS
There was a triumphant ring to Leverage's statement that the dead man's valet had been discharged at some time during the twenty-four hours which immediately preceded the killing. It was as if his instinct recognized a combination of circumstances which could not be ignored. Carroll looked up interestedly.
"Have you talked to this fellow?"
"No. I figured I'd better leave that phase of it to you; but I'm having him watched. Cartwright is on the job. Right now the man is at his boarding-place on Larson Street."
Carroll started for the door.
"Let's go," he suggested laconically.
It was but a few minutes' drive from headquarters to the boarding-house of Roland Warren's former valet. Carroll parked his car at the curb and inspected the place closely from the outside.
There was little architectural beauty to recommend the house. It was a rambling, dilapidated, two-story structure, sadly in need of paint and repairs, and bespeaking occupancy by a family none too well blessed with the better things of existence. They proceeded to the door and rang the bell. A slatternly woman answered their summons, and Leverage addressed her:
"We wish to see William Barker, please."
"Yes. I believe he moved here yesterday."
"Oh, that feller!" The woman started inside. "Wait a minute," she said crossly, and shut the door in their faces.
While they stood waiting, Leverage glanced keenly up and down the street, and his eye lighted on the muscular figure of Cartwright, the plainclothes man, shivering in the partial shelter of an alley across the way. The policeman signaled them that all was well, and resumed his vigil. At that minute the door opened and the woman reappeared.
"He ain't home!" she said, and promptly closed the door again.
Carroll looked at Leverage and Leverage looked at Carroll. Leverage crossed the street and interrogated Cartwright.
"The landlady says he's out, Cartwright. How about it?"
"Bum steer, chief! The bird's there—I'll bet my silk shirt on it!"
Leverage recrossed the street and reported to Carroll.
"You're pretty sure Cartwright has the straight dope!"
"Sure thing," said the chief. "He's one of the most reliable men on the force, and when he says a thing, he knows it."
Carroll stroked his beardless chin. There was a hard, calculating light in his eyes—eyes which alternated between a soft, friendly blue and a steely gray. Finally he looked up at Leverage.
"What's your idea, Eric?"
"About him sendin' word he was out when we know he ain't?"
"It looks darn funny to me, Carroll! 'Pears like he didn't want to discuss the affair with us."
"He don't know who we are."
"He can guess pretty well. Any guy with a head on his shoulders knows the valet of a murdered man is going to be quizzed by the police."
"Good! Come on."
Carroll put a firm hand on the knob and turned it. Then he stepped into the dingy reception hall, followed by the city's chief of police.
At the sound of visitors, the angular frame of the boarding-house-keeper appeared in the doorway, her eyes flashing antagonistically. Leverage turned back the lapel of his coat and disclosed the police badge.
"Listen here, lady," he said in a voice whose very softness brooked no opposition; "that bird Barker is here, and we're going to see him. Police business! Where's his room?"
The woman's face grew ashen.
"What's he been doin'?" she quavered. "What's he been up to now?"
"What's he been up to before this?" countered Leverage.
"I don't know anything about him. Swear to Gawd I don't! He just come here yesterday an' took a room. Paid cash in advance."
"He's in his room, ain't he?"
"What if he is? He told me to tell anybody who come along that he was out. I didn't know you was cops. Oh, I hope there ain't nothin' goin' to ruin the reputation of this place! There ain't a woman in town who runs a decenter place than this."
"Nobody's going to know anything," reassured Carroll, "provided you keep your own tongue between your teeth. Now take us to Barker's room."
The boarding-house-keeper led the way up a flight of dark and twisting stairs, along a musty hall. She paused before a door at the far end.
"There it is, sirs—and—"
"You go downstairs," whispered Carroll. "If we should find you trying to listen at the keyhole—"
His manner made it unnecessary to finish the threat. The woman departed, fluttering with excitement. Leverage's hand found the knob, and Carroll nodded briefly. The door was flung open, and the two men entered.
The occupant of the room leaped to his feet and stood staring, his face gone pasty white, his demeanor one of terror, which Carroll could see he was fighting to control. Leverage closed the door gently and gazed at the man upon whom they had called.
William Barker was not a large man; neither was he small. He was one of those men of medium height, whose physique deceives every one save the anatomical expert. To the casual observer his weight would have been catalogued at about a hundred and forty. At a glance Carroll knew that it was nearer a hundred and eighty. Normal breadth of shoulder was more than made up for by unusual depth of chest. Ready-made trousers bulged with the enormous muscular development of calf and thigh. The face, clean-shaven, was sullen with the fear inspired by the sudden entrance of Carroll and Leverage; and there was more than a hint of evil in it. As they watched, the sullenness of expression was supplanted by a leer, and then by a mask of professional placidity—the bovine expression which one expects to find in the average specimen of masculine hired help.
The man's demeanor was a combination of abjectness and hostility. He was plainly frightened, yet striving to appear at ease.
Carroll and Leverage maintained silence. Barker fidgeted nervously, and finally, when the strain became too great, burst out with:
"Who are you fellers? Whatcha want?"
Carroll spoke softly.
"What if that is my name?"
Carroll's hands spread wide.
"Just wanted to be sure, that's all. You are William Barker?"
"An' what if I am? What you got to do with that?"
Carroll showed his badge.
"And this gentleman," he finished, designating Leverage, "is chief of police."
Barker's voice came back to him in a half whine, half snarl.
"I ain't done nothin'—"
"Nobody has accused you yet."
"Well, when you bust in on a feller like this—"
Carroll seated himself, and Leverage followed suit. He motioned Barker to a chair.
"Let's talk things over," he suggested mildly.
"Ain't nothin' to talk over."
"You're William Barker, aren't you?"
"I ain't said I ain't, have I?"
Carroll's eyes grew a bit harder. His voice cracked out:
"What's your name?"
Barker met his gaze; then the eyes of the ex-valet shifted.
"William Barker," he answered almost unintelligibly.
"Very good! Now, sit down, William."
William seated himself with ill grace. Carroll spoke again, but this time the softness had returned to his tones. His manner approached downright friendliness.
"We came here to talk with you, Barker," he said frankly. "We don't know a thing about your connection with this case; but we do know that you were valet to Roland Warren, and therefore must possess a great deal of information about him which no one else could possibly have. All we want is to learn what you know about this tragedy—what you know and what you think."
Barker raised his head. For a long time he stared silently at Carroll.
"I don't know who you are," he remarked at length; "but you seem to be on the level."
"I am on the level," returned Carroll quietly. "My name is David Carroll—"
"O-o-oh! So you're David Carroll?" The query was a sincere tribute.
"Yes, I'm Carroll, and I'm working on the Warren case. I don't want to cause trouble for any one, but there are certain facts which I must learn. You can tell me some of them. No person who is innocent has the slightest thing to fear from me. And so—Barker—if you have nothing to conceal, I'd advise that you talk frankly."
"I ain't got nothin' to conceal. What made you think I had?"
"I don't think so. I don't think anything definite at this stage of the game. I want to find out what you know."
"I don't know nothin', either."
"H-m! Suppose I learn that for myself! I'll start at the beginning. Your name is William Barker?"
"Yes. I told you that once."
"Where is your home? What city have you lived in mostly?"
The man hesitated.
"I was born in Gadsden, Alabama, if that's what you mean. Mostly I've lived in New York and around there."
"What cities around there?"
"Newark, New Jersey?"
"Yes. An' in Jersey City some, and Paterson, and a little while in Brooklyn."
"You met Mr. Warren where?"
"In New York. I was valet for a feller named Duckworth, and he went and died on me—typhoid; you c'n find out all about him if you want. Mr. Warren was a friend of Mr. Duckworth's, an' he offered me a job. We lived in New York for a while and then we come down here."
"How long ago?"
"'Bout four years—maybe five."
"What kind of a man was he—personally?"
Carroll watched his man closely without appearing to do so. He saw Barker flush slightly, and did not miss the jerky nervousness of his answer—that or the forced enthusiasm.
"Oh, I reckon he is all right. That is, he was all right. Real nice feller."
"You were fond of him?"
"I didn't say I was in love with him. I said he was a nice feller."
"Treated you well?"
"Oh, sure—he treated me fine."
"And yet he discharged you yesterday." Then Carroll bluffed. "Without notice!"
Barker looked up sharply. His face betrayed his surprise; showed clearly that Carroll's guess had scored.
"How'd you know that?"
"I knew it," returned Carroll. "That's sufficient."
Barker assumed a defensive attitude.
"Anyway," said he, "that didn't make me sore at him, because he give me a month's pay; and that's just as good as a notice, ain't it?"
"Ye-e-es, I guess it is." Carroll hesitated. "Did he pay you in cash?"
Again Carroll hesitated for a moment, while he lighted a cigarette. When he spoke again, his tone was merely conversational, almost casual.
"You've read the papers—all about Mr. Warren's murder, haven't you?"
"I'll say I have."
"What do you think about it?"
Again that startled look in Barker's eyes. Again the nervous twitching of hands.
"Whatcha mean, what do I think about it?"
"The woman in the taxicab—do you think she killed him?"
Barker drew a deep breath. One might have fancied that it was a sigh of relief.
"Oh, her? Sure! She's the person that killed him!"
"He knew a good many women?" suggested Carroll interrogatively. "He got along pretty well with them?"
"H-m!" William Barker nodded. "You said it then, Mr. Carroll. Mr. Warren—he was a bird with the women!"
CARROLL MAKES A MOVE
No slightest move of Warren's erstwhile valet—no twitching of facial muscles, no involuntary gesture of nervousness, however slight—escaped Carroll's attention; but with all his watchfulness, the boyish-looking investigator was unostentatious, almost retiring in his manner.
And this modest demeanor was having its effect on William Barker, just as Carroll had known it would have, and as Leverage had hoped. Eric Leverage had worked with Carroll before, and he had seen the man's personal charm, his sunny smile, his attitude of camaraderie, perform miracles. People had a way of talking freely to Carroll after he had chatted with them awhile, no matter how bitter the hostility surrounding their first meeting. Carroll was that way—he was a student of practical every-day psychology. He worked to one end—he endeavored to learn the mental reactions of every one of his dramatis persoae toward the fact of the crime he happened to be investigating; that and, as nearly as possible, their feelings at the moment of the commission of the crime, no matter where they might have been.