THE SILENT BULLET
By Arthur B. Reeve
CRAIG KENNEDY'S THEORIES
I The Silent Bullet II The Scientific Cracksman III The Bacteriological Detective IV The Deadly Tube V The Seismograph Adventure VI The Diamond Maker VII The Azure Ring VIII "Spontaneous Combustion" IX The Terror In The Air X The Black Hand XI The Artificial Paradise XII The Steel Door
CRAIG KENNEDY'S THEORIES
"It has always seemed strange to me that no one has ever endowed a professorship in criminal science in any of our large universities."
Craig Kennedy laid down his evening paper and filled his pipe with my tobacco. In college we had roomed together, had shared everything, even poverty, and now that Craig was a professor of chemistry and I was on the staff of the Star, we had continued the arrangement. Prosperity found us in a rather neat bachelor apartment on the Heights, not far from the University.
"Why should there be a chair in criminal science?" I remarked argumentatively, settling back in my chair. "I've done my turn at police headquarters reporting, and I can tell you, Craig, it's no place for a college professor. Crime is just crime. And as for dealing with it, the good detective is born and bred to it. College professors for the sociology of the thing, yes; for the detection of it, give me a Byrnes."
"On the contrary," replied Kennedy, his clean-cut features betraying an earnestness which I knew indicated that he was leading up to something important, "there is a distinct place for science in the detection of crime. On the Continent they are far in advance of us in that respect. We are mere children beside a dozen crime-specialists in Paris, whom I could name."
"Yes, but where does the college professor come in?" I asked, rather doubtfully.
"You must remember, Walter," he pursued, warming up to his subject, "that it's only within the last ten years or so that we have had the really practical college professor who could do it. The silk-stockinged variety is out of date now. To-day it is the college professor who is the third arbitrator in labour disputes, who reforms our currency, who heads our tariff commissions, and conserves our farms and forests. We have professors of everything—why not professors of crime?"
Still, as I shook my head dubiously, he hurried on to clinch his point. "Colleges have gone a long way from the old ideal of pure culture. They have got down to solving the hard facts of life—pretty nearly all, except one. They still treat crime in the old way, study its statistics and pore over its causes and the theories of how it can be prevented. But as for running the criminal himself down, scientifically, relentlessly—bah! we haven't made an inch of progress since the hammer and tongs method of your Byrnes."
"Doubtless you will write a thesis on this most interesting subject," I suggested, "and let it go at that."
"No, I am serious," he replied, determined for some reason or other to make a convert of me. "I mean exactly what I say. I am going to apply science to the detection of crime, the same sort of methods by which you trace out the presence of a chemical, or run an unknown germ to earth. And before I have gone far, I am going to enlist Walter Jameson as an aide. I think I shall need you in my business."
"How do I come in?"
"Well, for one thing, you will get a scoop, a beat,—whatever you call it in that newspaper jargon of yours."
I smiled in a skeptical way, such as newspapermen are wont to affect toward a thing until it is done—after which we make a wild scramble to exploit it.
Nothing more on the subject passed between us for several days.
I. The Silent Bullet
"Detectives in fiction nearly always make a great mistake," said Kennedy one evening after our first conversation on crime and science. "They almost invariably antagonize the regular detective force. Now in real life that's impossible—it's fatal."
"Yes," I agreed, looking up from reading an account of the failure of a large Wall Street brokerage house, Kerr Parker & Co., and the peculiar suicide of Kerr Parker. "Yes, it's impossible, just as it is impossible for the regular detectives to antagonize the newspapers. Scotland Yard found that out in the Crippen case."
"My idea of the thing, Jameson," continued Kennedy, "is that the professor of criminal science ought to work with, not against, the regular detectives. They're all right. They're indispensable, of course. Half the secret of success nowadays is organisation. The professor of criminal science should be merely what the professor in a technical school often is—a sort of consulting engineer. For instance, I believe that organisation plus science would go far toward clearing up that Wall Street case I see you are reading."
I expressed some doubt as to whether the regular police were enlightened enough to take that view of it.
"Some of them are," he replied. "Yesterday the chief of police in a Western city sent a man East to see me about the Price murder: you know the case?"
Indeed I did. A wealthy banker of the town had been murdered on the road to the golf club, no one knew why or by whom. Every clue had proved fruitless, and the list of suspects was itself so long and so impossible as to seem most discouraging.
"He sent me a piece of a torn handkerchief with a deep blood-stain on it," pursued Kennedy. "He said it clearly didn't belong to the murdered man, that it indicated that the murderer had himself been wounded in the tussle, but as yet it had proved utterly valueless as a clue. Would I see what I could make of it?
"After his man had told me the story I had a feeling that the murder was committed by either a Sicilian labourer on the links or a negro waiter at the club. Well, to make a short story shorter, I decided to test the blood-stain. Probably you didn't know it, but the Carnegie Institution has just published a minute, careful, and dry study of the blood of human beings and of animals.
"In fact, they have been able to reclassify the whole animal kingdom on this basis, and have made some most surprising additions to our knowledge of evolution. Now I don't propose to bore you with the details of the tests, but one of the things they showed was that the blood of a certain branch of the human race gives a reaction much like the blood of a certain group of monkeys, the chimpanzees, while the blood of another branch gives a reaction like that of the gorilla. Of course there's lots more to it, but this is all that need concern us now.
"I tried the tests. The blood on the handkerchief conformed strictly to the latter test. Now the gorilla was, of course, out of the question—this was no Rue Morgue murder. Therefore it was the negro waiter."
"But," I interrupted, "the negro offered a perfect alibi at the start, and—"
"No buts, Walter. Here's a telegram I received at dinner: 'Congratulations. Confronted Jackson your evidence as wired. Confessed.'"
"Well, Craig, I take off my hat to you," I exclaimed. "Next you'll be solving this Kerr Parker case for sure."
"I would take a hand in it if they'd let me," said he simply.
That night, without saying anything, I sauntered down to the imposing new police building amid the squalor of Center Street. They were very busy at headquarters, but, having once had that assignment for the Star, I had no trouble in getting in. Inspector Barney O'Connor of the Central Office carefully shifted a cigar from corner to corner of his mouth as I poured forth my suggestion to him.
"Well, Jameson," he said at length, "do you think this professor fellow is the goods?"
I didn't mince matters in my opinion of Kennedy. I told him of the Price case and showed him a copy of the telegram. That settled it.
"Can you bring him down here to-night?" he asked quickly.
I reached for the telephone, found Craig in his laboratory finally, and in less than an hour he was in the office.
"This is a most bating case, Professor Kennedy, this case of Kerr Parker," said the inspector, launching at once into his subject. "Here is a broker heavily interested in Mexican rubber. It looks like a good thing—plantations right in the same territory as those of the Rubber Trust. Now in addition to that he is branching out into coastwise steamship lines; another man associated with him is heavily engaged in a railway scheme from the United States down into Mexico. Altogether the steamships and railroads are tapping rubber, oil, copper, and I don't know what other regions. Here in New York they have been pyramiding stocks, borrowing money from two trust companies which they control. It's a lovely scheme—you've read about it, I suppose. Also you've read that it comes into competition with a certain group of capitalists whom we will call 'the System.'
"Well, this depression in the market comes along. At once rumours are spread about the weakness of the trust companies; runs start on both of them. The System,—you know them—make a great show of supporting the market. Yet the runs continue. God knows whether they will spread or the trust companies stand up under it to-morrow after what happened to-day. It was a good thing the market was closed when it happened.
"Kerr Parker was surrounded by a group of people who were in his schemes with him. They are holding a council of war in the directors' room. Suddenly Parker rises, staggers toward the window, falls, and is dead before a doctor can get to him. Every effort is made to keep the thing quiet. It is given out that he committed suicide. The papers don't seem to accept the suicide theory, however. Neither do we. The coroner, who is working with us, has kept his mouth shut so far, and will say nothing till the inquest. For, Professor Kennedy, my first man on the spot found that—Kerr Parker—was—murdered.
"Now here comes the amazing part of the story. The doors to the offices on both sides were open at the time. There were lots of people in each office. There was the usual click of typewriters, and the buzz of the ticker, and the hum of conversation. We have any number of witnesses of the whole affair, but as far as any of them knows no shot was fired, no smoke was seen, no noise was heard, nor was any weapon found. Yet here on my desk is a thirty-two-calibre bullet. The coroner's physician probed it out of Parker's neck this afternoon and turned it over to us."
Kennedy reached for the bullet, and turned it thoughtfully in his fingers for a moment. One side of it had apparently struck a bone in the neck of the murdered man, and was flattened. The other side was still perfectly smooth. With his inevitable magnifying-glass he scrutinised the bullet on every side. I watched his face anxiously, and I could see that he was very intent and very excited.
"Extraordinary, most extraordinary," he said to himself as he turned it over and over. "Where did you say this bullet struck?"
"In the fleshy part of the neck, quite a little back of and below his ear and just above his collar. There wasn't much bleeding. I think it must have struck the base of his brain."
"It didn't strike his collar or hair?"
"No," replied the inspector.
"Inspector, I think we shall be able to put our hands on the murderer—I think we can get a conviction, sir, on the evidence that I shall get from this bullet in my laboratory."
"That's pretty much like a story-book," drawled the inspector incredulously, shaking his head.
"Perhaps," smiled Kennedy. "But there will still be plenty of work for the police to do, too. I've only got a clue to the murderer. It will take the whole organisation to follow it up, believe me. Now, Inspector, can you spare the time to go down to Parker's office and take me over the ground? No doubt we can develop something else there."
"Sure," answered O'Connor, and within five minutes we were hurrying down town in one of the department automobiles.
We found the office under guard of one of the Central Office men, while in the outside office Parker's confidential clerk and a few assistants were still at work in a subdued and awed manner. Men were working in many other Wall Street offices that night during the panic, but in none was there more reason for it than here. Later I learned that it was the quiet tenacity of this confidential clerk that saved even as much of Parker's estate as was saved for his widow—little enough it was, too. What he saved for the clients of the firm no one will ever know. Somehow or other I liked John Downey, the clerk, from the moment I was introduced to him. He seemed to me, at least, to be the typical confidential clerk who would carry a secret worth millions and keep it.
The officer in charge touched his hat to the inspector, and Downey hastened to put himself at our service. It was plain that the murder had completely mystified him, and that he was as anxious as we were to get at the bottom of it.
"Mr. Downey," began Kennedy, "I understand you were present when this sad event took place."
"Yes, sir, sitting right here at the directors' table," he replied, taking a chair, "like this."
"Now can you recollect just how Mr. Parker acted when he was shot? Could you-er—could you take his place and show us just how it happened?"
"Yes, sir," said Downey. "He was sitting here at the head of the table. Mr. Bruce, who is the 'CO.' of the firm, had been sitting here at his right; I was at the left. The inspector has a list of all the others present. That door to the right was open, and Mrs. Parker and some other ladies were in the room—"
"Mrs. Parker?" broke in Kennedy.
"Yes: Like a good many brokerage firms we have a ladies' room. Many ladies are among our clients. We make a point of catering to them. At that time I recollect the door was open—all the doors were open. It was not a secret meeting. Mr. Bruce had just gone into the ladies' department; I think to ask some of them to stand by the firm—he was an artist at smoothing over the fears of customers, particularly women. Just before he went in I had seen the ladies go in a group toward the far end of the room—to look down at the line of depositors on the street, which reached around the corner from one of the trust companies, I thought. I was making a note of an order to send into the outside office there on the left, and had just pushed this button here under the table to call a boy to carry it. Mr. Parker had just received a letter by special delivery, and seemed considerably puzzled over it. No, I don't know what it was about. Of a sudden I saw him start in his chair, rise up unsteadily, clap his hand on the back of his head, stagger across the floor—like this—and fall here."
"Then what happened?"
"Why, I rushed to pick him up. Everything was confusion. I recall someone behind me saying, 'Here, boy, take all these papers off the table and carry them into my office before they get lost in the excitement.' I think it was Bruce's voice. The next moment I heard someone say, 'Stand back, Mrs. Parker has fainted.' But I didn't pay much attention, for I was calling to someone not to get a doctor over the telephone, but to go down to the fifth floor where one has an office. I made Mr. Parker as comfortable as I could. There wasn't much I could do. He seemed to want to say something to me, but he couldn't talk. He was paralysed, at least his throat was. But I did manage to make out finally what sounded to me like, 'Tell her I don't believe the scandal, I don't believe it.' But before he could say whom to tell he had again become unconscious, and by the time the doctor arrived he was dead. I guess you know everything else as well as I do."
"You didn't hear the shot fired from any particular direction?" asked Kennedy.
"Well, where do you think it came from?"
"That's what puzzles me, sir. The only thing I can figure out is that it was fired from the outside office—perhaps by some customer who had lost money and sought revenge. But no one out there heard it either, any more than they did in the directors' room or the ladies' department."
"About that message," asked Kennedy, ignoring what to me seemed to be the most important feature of the case, the mystery of the silent bullet. "Didn't you see it after all was over?"
"No, sir; in fact I had forgotten about it till this moment when you asked me to reconstruct the circumstances exactly. No, sir, I don't know a thing about it. I can't say it impressed itself on my mind at the time, either."
"What did Mrs. Parker do when she came to?"
"Oh, she cried as I have never seen a woman cry before. He was dead by that time, of course."
"Bruce and I saw her down in the elevator to her car. In fact, the doctor, who had arrived; said that the sooner she was taken home the better she would be. She was quite hysterical."
"Did she say anything that you remember?"
"Out with it Downey," said the inspector. "What did she say as she was going down in the elevator?"
"Tell us. I'll arrest you if you don't."
"Nothing about the murder, on my honour," protested Downey.
Kennedy leaned over suddenly and shot a remark at him, "Then it was about the note."
Downey was surprised, but not quickly enough. Still he seemed to be considering something, and in a moment he said:
"I don't know what it was about, but I feel it is my duty, after all, to tell you. I heard her say, 'I wonder if he knew.'"
"What happened after you came back?"
"We entered the ladies' department. No one was there. A woman's automobile-coat was thrown over a chair in a heap. Mr. Bruce picked it up. 'It's Mrs. Parker's,' he said. He wrapped it up hastily, and rang for a messenger."
"Where did he send it?"
"To Mrs. Parker, I suppose. I didn't hear the address."
We next went over the whole suite of offices, conducted by Mr. Downey. I noted how carefully Kennedy looked into the directors' room through the open door from the ladies' department. He stood at such an angle that had he been the assassin he could scarcely have been seen except by those sitting immediately next Mr. Parker at the directors' table. The street windows were directly in front of him, and back of him was the chair on which the motorcoat had been found.
In Parker's own office we spent some time, as well as in Bruce's. Kennedy made a search for the note, but finding nothing in either office, turned out the contents of Bruce's scrap-basket. There didn't seem to be anything in it to interest him, however, even after he had pieced several torn bits of scraps together with much difficulty, and he was about to turn the papers back again, when he noticed something sticking to the side of the basket. It looked like a mass of wet paper, and that was precisely what it was.
"That's queer," said Kennedy, picking it loose. Then he wrapped it up carefully and put it in his pocket. "Inspector, can you lend me one of your men for a couple of days?" he asked, as we were preparing to leave. "I shall want to send him out of town to-night, and shall probably need his services when he gets back."
"Very well. Riley will be just the fellow. We'll go back to headquarters, and I'll put him under your orders."
It was not until late in the following day that I saw Kennedy again. It had been a busy day at the Star. We had gone to work that morning expecting to see the very financial heavens fall. But just about five minutes to ten, before the Stock Exchange opened, the news came in over the wire from our financial man on Broad Street: "'The System' has forced James Bruce, partner of Kerr Parker, the dead banker; to sell his railroad, steamship, and rubber holdings to it. On this condition it promises unlimited support to the market."
"Forced!" muttered the managing editor, as he waited on the office phone to get the composing-room, so as to hurry up the few lines in red ink on the first page and beat our rivals on the streets with the first extras. "Why, he's been working to bring that about for the past two weeks. What that System doesn't control isn't worth having—it edits the news before our men get it, and as for grist for the divorce courts, and tragedies, well—Hello, Jenkins, yes, a special extra. Change the big heads—copy is on the way up—rush it."
"So you think this Parker case is a mess?" I asked.
"I know it. That's a pretty swift bunch of females that have been speculating at Kerr Parker & Co.'s. I understand there's one Titian-haired young lady—who, by the way, has at least one husband who hasn't yet been divorced—who is a sort of ringleader, though she rarely goes personally to her brokers' offices. She's one of those uptown plungers, and the story is that she has a whole string of scalps of alleged Sunday-school superintendents at her belt. She can make Bruce do pretty nearly anything, they say. He's the latest conquest. I got the story on pretty good authority, but until I verified the names, dates, and places, of course I wouldn't dare print a line of it. The story goes that her husband is a hanger-on of the System, and that she's been working in their interest, too. That was why he was so complacent over the whole affair. They put her up to capturing Bruce, and after she had acquired an influence over him they worked it so that she made him make love to Mrs. Parker. It's a long story, but that isn't all of it. The point was, you see, that by this devious route they hoped to worm out of Mrs. Parker some inside information about Parker's rubber schemes, which he hadn't divulged even to his partners in business. It was a deep and carefully planned plot, and some of the conspirators were pretty deeply in the mire, I guess. I wish I'd had all the facts about who this red-haired female Machiavelli was—what a piece of muckraking it would have made! Oh, here comes the rest of the news story over the wire. By Jove, it is said on good authority that Bruce will be taken in as one of the board of directors. What do you think of that?"
So that was how the wind lay—Bruce making love to Mrs. Parker and she presumably betraying her husband's secrets. I thought I saw it all: the note from somebody exposing the scheme, Parker's incredulity, Bruce sitting by him and catching sight of the note, his hurrying out into the ladies' department, and then the shot. But who fired it? After all, I had only picked up another clue.
Kennedy was not at the apartment at dinner, and an inquiry at the laboratory was fruitless also. So I sat down to fidget for a while. Pretty soon the buzzer on the door sounded, and I opened it to find a messenger-boy with a large brown paper parcel.
"Is Mr. Bruce here?" he asked.
"Why, no, he doesn't—" then I checked myself and added "He will be here presently. You can leave the bundle."
"Well, this is the parcel he telephoned for. His valet told me to tell him that they had a hard time to find it, but he guesses it's all right. The charges are forty cents. Sign here."
I signed the book, feeling like a thief, and the boy departed. What it all meant I could not guess.
Just then I heard a key in the lock, and Kennedy came in.
"Is your name Bruce?" I asked.
"Why?" he replied eagerly. "Has anything come?"
I pointed to the package. Kennedy made a dive for it and unwrapped it. It was a woman's pongee automobile-coat. He held it up to the light. The pocket on the right-hand side was scorched and burned, and a hole was torn clean through it. I gasped when the full significance of it dawned on me.
"How did you get it?" I exclaimed at last in surprise.
"That's where organisation comes in," said Kennedy. "The police at my request went over every messenger call from Parker's office that afternoon, and traced every one of them up. At last they found one that led to Bruce's apartment. None of them led to Mrs. Parker's home. The rest were all business calls and satisfactorily accounted for. I reasoned that this was the one that involved the disappearance of the automobile-coat. It was a chance worth taking, so I got Downey to call up Bruce's valet. The valet of course recognised Downey's voice and suspected nothing. Downey assumed to know all about the coat in the package received yesterday. He asked to have it sent up here. I see the scheme worked."
"But, Kennedy, do you think she—" I stopped, speechless, looking at the scorched coat.
"Nothing to say—yet," he replied laconically. "But if you could tell me anything about that note Parker received I'd thank you."
I related what our managing editor had said that morning. Kennedy only raised his eyebrows a fraction of an inch.
"I had guessed something of that sort," he said merely. "I'm glad to find it confirmed even by hearsay evidence. This red-haired young lady interests me. Not a very definite description, but better than nothing at all. I wonder who she is. Ah, well, what do you say to a stroll down the White Way before I go to my laboratory? I'd like a breath of air to relax my mind."
We had got no further than the first theatre when Kennedy slapped me on the back. "By George, Jameson, she's an actress, of course."
"Who is? What's the matter with you, Kennedy? Are you crazy?"
"The red-haired person—she must be an actress. Don't you remember the auburn-haired leading lady in the 'Follies'—the girl who sings that song about 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary'? Her stage name, you know, is Phoebe La Neige. Well, if it's she who is concerned in this case I don't think she'll be playing to-night. Let's inquire at the box-office."
She wasn't playing, but just what it had to do with anything in particular I couldn't see, and I said as much.
"Why, Walter, you'd never do as a detective. You lack intuition. Sometimes I think I haven't quite enough of it, either. Why didn't I think of that sooner? Don't you know she is the wife of Adolphus Hesse, the most inveterate gambler in stocks in the System? Why, I had only to put two and two together and the whole thing flashed on me in an instant. Isn't it a good hypothesis that she is the red-haired woman in the case, the tool of the System in which her husband is so heavily involved? I'll have to add her to my list of suspects."
"Why, you don't think she did the shooting?" I asked, half hoping, I must admit, for an assenting nod from him.
"Well," he answered dryly, "one shouldn't let any preconceived hypothesis stand between him and the truth. I've made a guess at the whole thing already. It may or it may not be right. Anyhow she will fit into it. And if it's not right, I've got to be prepared to make a new guess, that's all."
When we reached the laboratory on our return, the inspector's man Riley was there, waiting impatiently for Kennedy.
"What luck?" asked Kennedy.
"I've got a list of purchasers of that kind of revolver," he said. "We have been to every sporting-goods and arms-store in the city which bought them from the factory, and I could lay my hands on pretty nearly every one of those weapons in twenty-four hours—provided, of course, they haven't been secreted or destroyed."
"Pretty nearly all isn't good enough," said Kennedy. "It will have to be all, unless—"
"That name is in the list," whispered Riley hoarsely.
"Oh, then it's all right," answered Kennedy, brightening up. "Riley, I will say that you're a wonder at using the organisation in ferreting out such things. There's just one more thing I want you to do. I want a sample of the notepaper in the private desks of every one of these people." He handed the policeman a list of his 9 "suspects," as he called them. It included nearly every one mentioned in the case.
Riley studied it dubiously and scratched his chin thoughtfully. "That's a hard one, Mr. Kennedy, sir. You see, it means getting into so many different houses and apartments. Now you don't want to do it by means of a warrant, do you, sir? Of course not. Well, then, how can we get in?"
"You're a pretty good-looking chap yourself, Riley," said Kennedy. "I should think you could jolly a housemaid, if necessary. Anyhow, you can get the fellow on the beat to do it—if he isn't already to be found in the kitchen. Why, I see a dozen ways of getting the notepaper."
"Oh, it's me that's the lady-killer, sir," grinned Riley. "I'm a regular Blarney stone when I'm out on a job of that sort. Sure, I'll have some of them for you in the morning."
"Bring me what you get, the first thing in the morning, even if you've landed only a few samples," said Kennedy, as Riley departed, straightening his tie and brushing his hat on his sleeve.
"And now, Walter, you too must excuse me to-night," said Craig. "I've got a lot to do, and sha'n't be up to our apartment till very late—or early. But I feel sure I've got a strangle-hold on this mystery. If I get those papers from Riley in good time to-morrow I shall invite you and several others to a grand demonstration here to-morrow night. Don't forget. Keep the whole evening free. It will be a big story."
Kennedy's laboratory was brightly lighted when I arrived early the next evening. One by one his "guests" dropped in. It was evident that they had little liking for the visit, but the coroner had sent out the "invitations," and they had nothing to do but accept. Each one was politely welcomed by the professor and assigned a seat, much as he would have done with a group of students. The inspector and the coroner sat back a little. Mrs. Parker, Mr. Downey, Mr. Bruce, myself, and Miss La Neige sat in that order in the very narrow and uncomfortable little armchairs used by the students during lectures.
At last Kennedy was ready to begin. He took his position behind the long, flat-topped table which he used for his demonstrations before his classes. "I realise, ladies and gentlemen," he began formally, "that I am about to do a very unusual thing; but, as you all know, the police and the coroner have been completely baffled by this terrible mystery and have requested me to attempt to clear up at least certain points in it. I will begin what I have to say by remarking that the tracing out of a crime like this differs in nothing, except as regards the subject-matter, from the search for a scientific truth. The forcing of man's secrets is like the forcing of nature's secrets. Both are pieces of detective work. The methods employed in the detection of crime are, or rather should be, like the methods employed in the process of discovering scientific truth. In a crime of this sort, two kinds of evidence need to be secured. Circumstantial evidence must first be marshalled, and then a motive must be found. I have been gathering facts. But to omit motives and rest contented with mere facts would be inconclusive. It would never convince anybody or convict anybody. In other words, circumstantial evidence must first lead to a suspect, and then this suspect must prove equal to accounting for the facts. It is my hope that each of you may contribute something that will be of service in arriving at the truth of this unfortunate incident."
The tension was not relieved even when Kennedy stopped speaking and began to fuss with a little upright target which he set up at one end of his table. We seemed to be seated over a powder magazine which threatened to explode at any moment. I, at least, felt the tension so greatly that it was only after he had started speaking again, that I noticed that the target was composed of a thick layer of some putty-like material.
Holding a thirty-two-calibre pistol in his right hand and aiming it at the target, Kennedy picked up a large piece of coarse homespun from the table and held it loosely over the muzzle of the gun. Then he fired. The bullet tore through the cloth, sped through the air, and buried itself in the target. With a knife he pried it out.
"I doubt if even the inspector himself could have told us that when an ordinary leaden bullet is shot through a woven fabric the weave of that fabric is in the majority of cases impressed on the bullet, sometimes clearly, sometimes faintly."
Here Kennedy took up a piece of fine batiste and fired another bullet through it.
"Every leaden bullet, as I have said, which has struck such a fabric bears an impression of the threads which is recognisable even when the bullet has penetrated deeply into the body. It is only obliterated partially or entirely when the bullet has been flattened by striking a bone or other hard object. Even then, as in this case, if only a part of the bullet is flattened the remainder may still show the marks of the fabric. A heavy warp, say of cotton velvet or, as I have here, homespun, will be imprinted well on the bullet, but even a fine batiste, containing one hundred threads to the inch, will show marks. Even layers of goods such as a coat, shirt, and undershirt may each leave their marks, but that does not concern us in this case. Now I have here a piece of pongee silk, cut from a woman's automobile-coat. I discharge the bullet through it—so. I compare the bullet now with the others and with the one probed from the neck of Mr. Parker. I find that the marks on that fatal bullet correspond precisely with those on the bullet fired through the pongee coat."
Startling as was this revelation, Kennedy paused only an instant before the next.
"Now I have another demonstration. A certain note figures in this case. Mr. Parker was reading it, or perhaps re-reading it, at the time he was shot. I have not been able to obtain that note—at least not in a form such as I could use in discovering what were its contents. But in a certain wastebasket I found a mass of wet and pulp-like paper. It had been cut up, macerated, perhaps chewed; perhaps it had been also soaked with water. There was a washbasin with running water in this room. The ink had run, and of course was illegible. The thing was so unusual that I at once assumed that this was the remains of the note in question. Under ordinary circumstances it would be utterly valueless as a clue to anything. But to-day science is not ready to let anything pass as valueless.
"I found on microscopic examination that it was an uncommon linen bond paper, and I have taken a large number of microphotographs of the fibres in it. They are all similar. I have here also about a hundred microphotographs of the fibres in other kinds of paper, many of them bonds. These I have accumulated from time to time in my study of the subject. None of them, as you can see, shows fibres resembling this one in question, so we may conclude that it is of uncommon quality. Through an agent of the police I have secured samples of the notepaper of every one who could be concerned, as far as I could see, with this case. Here are the photographs of the fibres of these various notepapers, and among them all is just one that corresponds to the fibres in the wet mass of paper I discovered in the scrap-basket. Now lest anyone should question the accuracy of this method I might cite a case where a man had been arrested in Germany charged with stealing a government bond. He was not searched till later. There was no evidence save that after the arrest a large number of spitballs were found around the courtyard under his cell window. This method of comparing the fibres with those of the regular government paper was used, and by it the man was convicted of stealing the bond. I think it is almost unnecessary to add that in the present case we know precisely who—"
At this point the tension was so great that it snapped. Miss La Neige, who was sitting beside me, had been leaning forward involuntarily. Almost as if the words were wrung from her she whispered hoarsely: "They put me up to doing it; I didn't want to. But the affair had gone too far. I couldn't see him lost before my very eyes. I didn't want her to get him. The quickest way out was to tell the whole story to Mr. Parker and stop it. It was the only way I could think of to stop this thing between another man's wife and the man I loved better than my own husband. God knows, Professor Kennedy, that was all—"
"Calm yourself, madame," interrupted Kennedy soothingly. "Calm yourself. What's done is done. The truth must come out. Be calm. Now," he continued, after the first storm of remorse had spent itself and we were all outwardly composed again, "we have said nothing whatever of the most mysterious feature of the case, the firing of the shot. The murderer could have thrust the weapon into the pocket or the folds of this coat"—here he drew forth the automobile coat and held it aloft, displaying the bullet hole—"and he or she (I will not say which) could have discharged the pistol unseen. By removing and secreting the weapon afterward one very important piece of evidence would be suppressed. This person could have used such a cartridge as I have here, made with smokeless powder, and the coat would have concealed the flash of the shot very effectively. There would have been no smoke. But neither this coat nor even a heavy blanket would have deadened the report of the shot.
"What are we to think of that? Only one thing. I have often wondered why the thing wasn't done before. In fact I have been waiting for it to occur. There is an invention that makes it almost possible to strike a man down with impunity in broad daylight in any place where there is sufficient noise to cover up a click, a slight 'Pouf!' and the whir of the bullet in the air.
"I refer to this little device of a Hartford inventor. I place it over the muzzle of the thirty-two-calibre revolver I have so far been using—so. Now, Mr. Jameson, if you will sit at that typewriter over there and write—anything so long as you keep the keys clicking. The inspector will start that imitation stock-ticker in the corner. Now we are ready. I cover the pistol with a cloth. I defy anyone in this room to tell me the exact moment when I discharged the pistol. I could have shot any of you, and an outsider not in the secret would never have thought that I was the culprit. To a certain extent I have reproduced the conditions under which this shooting occurred.
"At once on being sure of this feature of the case I despatched a man to Hartford to see this inventor. The man obtained from him a complete list of all the dealers in New York to whom such devices had been sold. The man also traced every sale of those dealers. He did not actually obtain the weapon, but if he is working on schedule-time according to agreement he is at this moment armed with a search-warrant and is ransacking every possible place where the person suspected of this crime could have concealed his weapon. For, one of the persons intimately connected with this case purchased not long ago a silencer for a thirty-two-calibre revolver, and I presume that that person carried the gun and the silencer at the time of the murder of Kerr Parker."
Kennedy concluded in triumph, his voice high pitched, his eyes flashing. Yet to all outward appearance not a heart-beat was quickened. Someone in that room had an amazing store of self-possession. The fear flitted across my mind that even at the last Kennedy was baffled.
"I had anticipated some such anti-climax," he continued after a moment. "I am prepared for it."
He touched a bell, and the door to the next room opened. One of Kennedy's graduate students stepped in.
"You have the records, Whiting" he asked.
"I may say," said Kennedy, "that each of your chairs is wired under the arm in such a way as to betray on an appropriate indicator in the next room every sudden and undue emotion. Though it may be concealed from the eye, even of one like me who stands facing you, such emotion is nevertheless expressed by physical pressure on the arms of the chair. It is a test that is used frequently with students to demonstrate various points of psychology. You needn't raise your arms from the chairs, ladies and gentlemen. The tests are all over now. What did they show, Whiting?"
The student read what he had been noting in the next room. At the production of the coat during the demonstration of the markings of the bullet, Mrs. Parker had betrayed great emotion, Mr. Bruce had done likewise, and nothing more than ordinary emotion had been noted for the rest of us. Miss La Neige's automatic record during the tracing out of the sending of the note to Parker had been especially unfavourable to her; Mr. Bruce showed almost as much excitement; Mrs. Parker very little and Downey very little. It was all set forth in curves drawn by self-recording pens on regular ruled paper. The student had merely noted what took place in the lecture-room as corresponding to these curves.
"At the mention of the noiseless gun," said Kennedy, bending over the record, while the student pointed it out to him and we leaned forward to catch his words, "I find that the curves of Miss La Neige, Mrs. Parker, and Mr. Downey are only so far from normal as would be natural. All of them were witnessing a thing for the first time with only curiosity and no fear. The curve made by Mr. Bruce shows great agitation and—"
I heard a metallic click at my side and turned hastily. It was Inspector Barney O'Connor, who had stepped out of the shadow with a pair of hand-cuffs.
"James Bruce, you are under arrest," he said.
There flashed on my mind, and I think on the minds of some of the others, a picture of another electrically wired chair.
II. The Scientific Cracksman
"I'm willing to wager you a box of cigars that you don't know the most fascinating story in your own paper to-night," remarked Kennedy, as I came in one evening with the four or five newspapers I was in the habit of reading to see whether they had beaten the Star in getting any news of importance.
"I'll bet I do," I said, "or I was one of about a dozen who worked it up. It's the Shaw murder trial. There isn't another that's even a bad second."
"I am afraid the cigars will be on you, Walter. Crowded over on the second page by a lot of stale sensation that everyone has read for the fiftieth time, now, you will find what promises to be a real sensation, a curious half-column account of the sudden death of John G. Fletcher."
I laughed. "Craig," I said, "when you put up a simple death from apoplexy against a murder trial, and such a murder trial; well, you disappoint me—that's all."
"Is it a simple case of apoplexy?" he asked, pacing up and down the room, while I wondered why he should grow excited over what seemed a very ordinary news item, after all. Then he picked up the paper and read the account slowly aloud.
JOHN G. FLETCHER, STEEL MAGNATE, DIES SUDDENLY
SAFE OPEN BUT LARGE SUM OF CASH UNTOUCHED
John Graham Fletcher, the aged philanthropist and steelmaker, was found dead in his library this morning at his home at Fletcherwood, Great Neck, Long Island. Strangely, the safe in the library in which he kept his papers and a large sum of cash was found opened, but as far as could be learned nothing is missing.
It had always been Mr. Fletcher's custom to rise at seven o'clock. This morning his housekeeper became alarmed when he had not appeared by nine o'clock. Listening at the door, she heard no sound. It was not locked, and on entering she found the former steel-magnate lying lifeless on the floor between his bedroom and the library adjoining. His personal physician, Dr. W. C. Bryant, was immediately notified.
Close examination of the body revealed that his face was slightly discoloured, and the cause of death was given by the physician as apoplexy. He had evidently been dead about eight or nine hours when discovered.
Mr. Fletcher is survived by a nephew, John G. Fletcher, II., who is the Blake professor of bacteriology at the University, and by a grandniece, Miss Helen Bond. Professor Fletcher was informed of the sad occurrence shortly after leaving a class this morning and hurried out to Fletcherwood. He would make no statement other than that he was inexpressibly shocked. Miss Bond, who has for several years resided with relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Greene of Little Neck, is prostrated by the shock.
"Walter," added Kennedy, as he laid down the paper and, without any more sparring, came directly to the point, "there was something missing from that safe."
I had no need to express the interest I now really felt, and Kennedy hastened to take advantage of it.
"Just before you came in," he continued, "Jack Fletcher called me up from Great Neck. You probably don't know it, but it has been privately reported in the inner circle of the University that old Fletcher was to leave the bulk of his fortune to found a great school of preventive medicine, and that the only proviso was that his nephew should be dean of the school. The professor told me over the wire that the will was missing from the safe, and that it was the only thing missing. From his excitement I judge that there is more to the story than he cared to tell over the 'phone. He said his car was on the way to the city, and he asked if I wouldn't come and help him—he wouldn't say how. Now, I know him pretty well, and I'm going to ask you to come along, Walter, for the express purpose of keeping this thing out of the newspapers understand?—until we get to the bottom of it."
A few minutes later the telephone rang and the hall-boy announced that the car was waiting. We hurried down to it; the chauffeur lounged down carelessly into his seat and we were off across the city and river and out on the road to Great Neck with amazing speed.
Already I began to feel something of Kennedy's zest for the adventure. I found myself half a dozen times on the point of hazarding a suspicion, only to relapse again into silence at the inscrutable look on Kennedy's face. What was the mystery that awaited us in the great lonely house on Long Island?
We found Fletcherwood a splendid estate directly on the bay, with a long driveway leading up to the door. Professor Fletcher met us at the porte cochere, and I was glad to note that, far from taking me as an intruder, he seemed rather relieved that someone who understood the ways of the newspapers could stand between him and any reporters who might possibly drop in.
He ushered us directly into the library and closed the door. It seemed as if he could scarcely wait to tell his story.
"Kennedy," he began, almost trembling with excitement, "look at that safe door."
We looked. It had been drilled through in such a way as to break the combination. It was a heavy door, closely fitting, and it was the best kind of small safe that the state of the art had produced. Yet clearly it had been tampered with, and successfully. Who was this scientific cracksman who had apparently accomplished the impossible? It was no ordinary hand and brain which had executed this "job."
Fletcher swung the door wide, and pointed to a little compartment inside, whose steel door had been jimmied open. Then out of it he carefully lifted a steel box and deposited it on the library table.
"I suppose everybody has been handling that box?" asked Craig quickly.
A smile flitted across Fletcher's features. "I thought of that, Kennedy," he said. "I remembered what you once told me about finger-prints. Only myself has touched it, and I was careful to take hold of it only on the sides. The will was placed in this box, and the key to the box was usually in the lock. Well, the will is gone. That's all; nothing else was touched. But for the life of me I can't find a mark on the box, not a finger-mark. Now on a hot and humid summer night like last night I should say it was pretty likely that anyone touching this metal box would have left finger-marks. Shouldn't you think so, Kennedy?"
Kennedy nodded and continued to examine the place where the compartment had been jimmied. A low whistle aroused us: coming over to the table, Craig tore a white sheet of paper off a pad lying there and deposited a couple of small particles on it.
"I found them sticking on the jagged edges of the steel where it had been forced," he said. Then he whipped out a pocket magnifying-glass. "Not from a rubber glove," he commented half to himself. "By Jove, one side of them shows lines that look as if they were the lines on a person's fingers, and the other side is perfectly smooth. There's not a chance of using them as a clue, except—well, I didn't know criminals in America knew that stunt."
"Why, you know how keen the new detectives are on the finger-print system? Well, the first thing some of the up-to-date criminals in Europe did was to wear rubber gloves so that they would leave no prints. But you can't work very well with rubber gloves. Last fall in Paris I heard of a fellow who had given the police a lot of trouble. He never left a mark, or at least it was no good if he did. He painted his hands lightly with a liquid rubber which he had invented himself. It did all that rubber gloves would do and yet left him the free use of his fingers with practically the same keenness of touch. Fletcher, whatever is at the bottom of this affair, I feel sure right now that you have to deal with no ordinary criminal."
"Do you suppose there are any relatives besides those we know of?" I asked Kennedy when Fletcher had left to summon the servants.
"No," he replied, "I think not. Fletcher and Helen Bond, his second cousin, to whom he is engaged, are the only two."
Kennedy continued to study the library. He walked in and out of the doors and examined the windows and viewed the safe from all angles.
"The old gentleman's bedroom is here," he said, indicating a door. "Now a good smart noise or perhaps even a light shining through the transom from the library might arouse him. Suppose he woke up suddenly and entered by this door. He would see the thief at work on the safe. Yes, that part of reconstructing the story is simple. But who was the intruder?"
Just then Fletcher returned with the servants. The questioning was long and tedious, and developed nothing except that the butler admitted that he was uncertain whether the windows in the library were locked. The gardener was very obtuse, but finally contributed one possibly important fact. He had noted in the morning that the back gate, leading into a disused road closer to the bay than the main highway in front of the house, was open. It was rarely used, and was kept closed only by an ordinary hook. Whoever had opened it had evidently forgotten to hook it. He had thought it strange that it was unhooked, and in closing it he had noticed in the mud of the roadway marks that seemed to indicate that an automobile had stood there.
After the servants had gone, Fletcher asked us to excuse him for a while, as he wished to run over to the Greenes', who lived across the bay. Miss Bond was completely prostrated by the death of her uncle, he said, and was in an extremely nervous condition. Meanwhile if we found any need of a machine we might use his uncle's, or in fact anything around the place.
"Walter," said Craig, when Fletcher had gone, "I want to run back to town to-night, and I have something I'd like to have you do, too."
We were soon speeding back along the splendid road to Long Island City, while he laid out our programme.
"You go down to the Star office," he said, "and look through all the clippings on the whole Fletcher family. Get a complete story of the life of Helen Bond, too—what she has done in society, with whom she has been seen mostly, whether she has made any trips abroad, and whether she has ever been engaged—you know, anything likely to be significant. I'm going up to the apartment to get my camera and then to the laboratory to get some rather bulky paraphernalia I want to take out to Fletcherwood. Meet me at the Columbus Circle station at, say half-past-ten."
So we separated. My search revealed the fact that Miss Bond had always been intimate with the ultra-fashionable set, had spent last summer in Europe, a good part of the time in Switzerland and Paris with the Greenes. As far as I could find out she had never been reported engaged, but plenty of fortunes as well as foreign titles had been flitting about the ward of the steel-magnate.
Craig and I met at the appointed time. He had a lot of paraphernalia with him, and it did not add to our comfort as we sped back, but it wasn't much over half an hour before we again found ourselves nearing Great Neck.
Instead of going directly back to Fletcherwood, however, Craig had told the chauffeur to stop at the plant of the local electric light and power company, where he asked if he might see the record of the amount of current used the night before.
The curve sprawled across the ruled surface of the sheet by the automatic registering-needle was irregular, showing the ups and downs of the current, rising sharply from sundown and gradually declining after nine o'clock, as the lights went out. Somewhere between eleven and twelve o'clock, however, the irregular fall of the curve was broken by a quite noticeable upward twist.
Craig asked the men if that usually happened. They were quite sure that the curve as a rule went gradually down until twelve o'clock, when the power was shut off. But they did not see anything remarkable in it. "Oh, I suppose some of the big houses had guests," volunteered the foreman, "and just to show off the place perhaps they turned on all the lights. I don't know, sir, what it was, but it couldn't have been a heavy drain, or we would have noticed it at the time, and the lights would all have been dim."
"Well," said Craig, "just watch and see if it occurs again to-night about the same time."
"All right, sir."
"And when you close down the plant for the night, will you bring the record card up to Fletcherwood?" asked Craig, slipping a bill into the pocket of the foreman's shirt.
"I will, and thank you, sir."
It was nearly half-past eleven when Craig had got his apparatus set up in the library at Fletcherwood. Then he unscrewed all the bulbs from the chandelier in the library and attached in their places connections with the usual green silk-covered flexible wire rope. These were then joined up to a little instrument which to me looked like a drill. Next he muffed the drill with a wad of felt and applied it to the safe door.
I could hear the dull tat-tat of the drill. Going into the bedroom and closing the door, I found that it was still audible to me, but an old man, inclined to deafness and asleep, would scarcely have been awakened by it. In about ten minutes Craig displayed a neat little hole in the safe door opposite the one made by the cracksman in the combination.
"I'm glad you're honest," I said, "or else we might be afraid of you—perhaps even make you prove an alibi for last night's job!"
He ignored my bantering and said in a tone such as he might have used before a class of students in the gentle art of scientific safe-cracking: "Now if the power company's curve is just the same to-night as last night, that will show how the thing was done. I wanted to be sure of it, so I thought I'd try this apparatus which I smuggled in from Paris last year. I believe the old man happened to be wakeful and heard it."
Then he pried off the door of the interior compartment which had been jimmied open. "Perhaps we may learn something by looking at this door and studying the marks left by the jimmy, by means of this new instrument of mine," he said.
On the library table he fastened an arrangement with two upright posts supporting a dial which he called a "dynamometer." The uprights were braced in the back, and the whole thing reminded me of a miniature guillotine.
"This is my mechanical detective," said Craig proudly. "It was devised by Bertillon himself, and he personally gave me permission to copy his own machine. You see, it is devised to measure pressure. Now let's take an ordinary jimmy and see just how much pressure it takes to duplicate those marks on this door."
Craig laid the piece of steel on the dynamometer in the position it had occupied in the safe, and braced it tightly. Then he took a jimmy and pressed on it with all his strength. The steel door was connected with the indicator, and the needle spun around until it indicated a pressure such as only a strong man could have exerted. Comparing the marks made in the steel in the experiment and by the safe-cracker, it was evident that no such pressure had been necessary. Apparently the lock on the door was only a trifling affair, and the steel itself was not very, tough. The safe-makers had relied on the first line of defence to repel attack.
Craig tried again and again, each time using less force. At last he got a mark just about similar to the original marks on the steel.
"Well, well, what do you think of that?" he exclaimed reflectively. "A child could have done that part of the job."
Just then the lights went off for the night. Craig lighted the oil-lamp, and sat in silence until the electric light plant foreman appeared with; the card-record, which showed a curve practically identical with that of the night before.
A few moments later Professor Fletcher's machine came up the driveway, and he joined us with a worried and preoccupied look on his face that he could not conceal. "She's terribly broken up by the suddenness of it all," he murmured as he sank into an armchair. "The shock has been too much for her. In fact, I hadn't the heart to tell her anything about the robbery, poor girl." Then in a moment he asked, "Any more clues yet, Kennedy?"
"Well, nothing of first importance. I have only been trying to reconstruct the story of the robbery so that I can reason out a motive and a few details; then when the real clues come along we won't have so much ground to cover. The cracksman was certainly clever. He used an electric drill to break the combination and ran it by the electric light current."
"Whew!" exclaimed the professor, "is that so? He must have been above the average. That's interesting."
"By the way, Fletcher," said Kennedy, "I wish you would introduce me to your fiancee to-morrow. I would like to know her."
"Gladly," Fletcher replied, "only you must be careful what you talk about. Remember, the death of uncle has been quite a shock to her—he was her only relative besides myself."
"I will," promised Kennedy, "and by the way, she may think it strange that I'm out here at a time like this. Perhaps you had better tell her I'm a nerve specialist or something of that sort—anything not to connect me with the robbery, which you say you haven't told her about."
The next morning found Kennedy out bright and early, for he had not had a very good chance to do anything during the night except reconstruct the details. He was now down by the back gate with his camera, where I found him turning it end-down and photographing the road. Together we made a thorough search of the woods and the road about the gate, but could discover absolutely nothing.
After breakfast I improvised a dark room and developed the films, while Craig went down the back lane along the shore "looking for clues," as he said briefly. Toward noon he returned, and I could see that he was in a brown study. So I said nothing, but handed him the photographs of the road. He took them and laid them down in a long line on the library floor. They seemed to consist of little ridges of dirt on either side of a series of regular round spots, some of the spots very clear and distinct on the sides, others quite obscure in the centre. Now and then where you would expect to see one of the spots, just for the symmetry of the thing, it was missing. As I looked at the line of photographs on the floor I saw that they were a photograph of the track made by the tire of an automobile, and I suddenly recalled what the gardener had said.
Next Craig produced the results of his morning's work, which consisted of several dozen sheets of white paper, carefully separated into three bundles. These he also laid down in long lines on the floor, each package in a separate line. Then I began to realise what he was doing, and became fascinated in watching him on his hands and knees eagerly scanning the papers and comparing them with the photographs. At last he gathered up two of the sets of papers very decisively and threw them away. Then he shifted the third set a bit, and laid it closely parallel to the photographs.
"Look at these, Walter," he said. "Now take this deep and sharp indentation. Well, there's a corresponding one in the photograph. So you can pick them out one for another. Now here's one missing altogether on the paper. So it is in the photograph."
Almost like a schoolboy in his glee, he was comparing the little round circles made by the metal insertions in an "anti-skid" automobile tire. Time and again I had seen imprints like that left in the dust and grease of an asphalted street or the mud of a road. It had never occurred to me that they might be used in any way. Yet here Craig was, calmly tracing out the similarity before my very eyes, identifying the marks made in the photograph with the prints left on the bits of paper.
As I followed him, I had a most curious feeling of admiration for his genius. "Craig," I cried, "that's the thumb-print of an automobile."
"There speaks the yellow journalist," he answered merrily. "'Thumb Print System Applied to Motor Cars'—I can see the Sunday feature story you have in your mind with that headline already. Yes, Walter, that's precisely what this is. The Berlin police have used it a number of times with the most startling results."
"But, Craig," I exclaimed suddenly, "the paper prints, where did you get them? What machine is it?"
"It's one not very far from here," he answered sententiously, and I saw he would say nothing more that might fix a false suspicion on anyone. Still, my curiosity was so great that if there had been an opportunity I certainly should have tried out his plan on all the cars in the Fletcher garage.
Kennedy would say nothing more, and we ate our luncheon in silence. Fletcher, who had decided to lunch with the Greenes, called Kennedy up on the telephone to tell him it would be all right for him to call on Miss Bond later in the afternoon.
"And I may bring over the apparatus I once described to you to determine just what her nervous condition is?" he asked. Apparently the answer was yes, for Kennedy hung up the receiver with a satisfied, "Good-bye."
"Walter, I want you to come along with me this afternoon as my assistant. Remember I'm now Dr. Kennedy, the nerve specialist, and you are Dr. Jameson, my colleague, and we are to be in consultation on a most important case."
"Do you think that's fair?" I asked hotly, "to take that girl off her guard, to insinuate yourself into her confidence as a medical adviser, and worm out of her some kind of fact incriminating someone? I suppose that's your plan, and I don't like the ethics, or rather the lack of ethics, of the thing."
"Now think a minute, Walter. Perhaps I am wrong; I don't know. Certainly I feel that the end will justify the means. I have an idea that I can get from Miss Bond the only clue that I need, one that will lead straight to the criminal. Who knows? I have a suspicion that the thing I'm going to do is the highest form of your so-called ethics. If what Fletcher tells us is true that girl is going insane over this thing. Why should she be so shocked over the death of an uncle she did not live with? I tell you she knows something about this case that it is necessary for us to know, too. If she doesn't tell someone, it will eat her mind out. I'll add a dinner to the box of cigars we have already bet on this case that what I'm going to do is for the best—for her best."
Again I yielded, for I was coming to have more and more faith in the old Kennedy I had seen made over into a first-class detective, and together we started for the Greenes', Craig carrying something in one of those long black handbags which physicians use.
Fletcher met us on the driveway. He seemed to be very much affected, for his face was drawn, and he shifted from one position to another nervously, from which we inferred that Miss Bond was feeling worse. It was late afternoon, almost verging on twilight, as he led us through the reception-hall and thence onto a long porch overlooking the bay and redolent with honeysuckle.
Miss Bond was half reclining in a wicker chair us we entered. She started to rise to greet us, but Fletcher gently restrained her, saying, as he introduced us, that he guessed the doctors would pardon any informality from an invalid.
Fletcher was a pretty fine fellow, and I had come to like him; but I soon found myself wondering what he had ever done to deserve winning such a girl as Helen Bond. She was what I should describe as the ideal type of "new" woman,—tall and athletic, yet without any affectation of mannishness. The very first thought that struck me was the incongruousness of a girl of her type suffering from an attack of "nerves," and I felt sure it must be as Craig had said, that she was concealing a secret that was having a terrible effect on her. A casual glance might not have betrayed the true state of her feelings, for her dark hair and large brown eyes and the tan of many suns on her face and arms betokened anything but the neurasthenic. One felt instinctively that she was, with all her athletic grace, primarily a womanly woman.
The sun sinking toward the hills across the bay softened the brown of her skin and, as I observed by watching her closely, served partially to conceal the nervousness which was wholly unnatural in a girl of such poise. When she smiled there was a false note in it; it was forced and it was sufficiently evident to me that she was going through a mental hell of conflicting emotions that would have killed a woman of less self-control.
I felt that I would like to be in Fletcher's shoes—doubly so when, at Kennedy's request, he withdrew, leaving me to witness the torture of a woman of such fine sensibilities, already hunted remorselessly by her own thoughts.
Still, I will give Kennedy credit for a tactfulness that I didn't know the old fellow possessed. He carried through the preliminary questions very well for a pseudo-doctor, appealing to me as his assistant on inconsequential things that enabled me to "save my face" perfectly. When he came to the critical moment of opening the black bag, he made a very appropriate and easy remark about not having brought any sharp shiny instruments or nasty black drugs.
"All I wish to do, Miss Bond, is to make a few, simple little tests of your nervous condition. One of them we specialists call reaction time, and another is a test of heart action. Neither is of any seriousness at all, so I beg of you not to become excited, for the chief value consists in having the patient perfectly quiet and normal. After they are over I think I'll know whether to prescribe absolute rest or a visit to Newport."
She smiled languidly, as he adjusted a long, tightly fitting rubber glove on her shapely forearm and then encased it in a larger, absolutely inflexible covering of leather. Between the rubber glove and the leather covering was a liquid communicating by a glass tube with a sort of dial. Craig had often explained to me how the pressure of the blood was registered most minutely on the dial, showing the varied emotions as keenly as if you had taken a peep into the very mind of the subject. I think the experimental psychologists called the thing a "plethysmograph."
Then he had an apparatus which measured association time. The essential part of this instrument was the operation of a very delicate stop-watch, and this duty was given to me. It was nothing more nor less than measuring the time that elapsed between his questions to her and her answers, while he recorded the actual questions and answers and noted the results which I worked out. Neither of us was unfamiliar with the process, for when we were in college these instruments were just coming into use in America. Kennedy had never let his particular branch of science narrow him, but had made a practice of keeping abreast of all the important discoveries and methods in other fields. Besides, I had read articles about the chronoscope, the plethysmograph, the sphygmograph, and others of the new psychological instruments. Craig carried it off, however, as if he did that sort of thing as an every-day employment.
"Now, Miss Bond," he said, and his voice was so reassuring and persuasive that I could see she was not made even a shade more nervous by our simple preparations, "the game—it is just like a children's parlour game—is just this: I will say a word—take 'dog,' for instance. You are to answer back immediately the first word that comes into your mind suggested by it—say 'cat.' I will say 'chain,' for example, and probably you will answer 'collar,' and so on. Do you catch my meaning? It may seem ridiculous, no doubt, but before we are through I feel sure you'll see how valuable such a test is, particularly in a simple case of nervousness such as yours."
I don't think she found any sinister interpretation in his words, but I did, and if ever I wanted to protest it was then, but my voice seemed to stick in my throat.
He was beginning. It was clearly up to me to give in and not interfere. As closely as I was able I kept my eyes riveted on the watch and other apparatus, while my ears and heart followed with mingled emotions the low, musical voice of the girl.
I will not give all the test, for there was much of it, particularly at the start, that was in reality valueless, since it was merely leading up to the "surprise tests." From the colourless questions Kennedy suddenly changed. It was done in an instant, when Miss Bond had been completely disarmed and put off her guard.
"Night," said Kennedy. "Day," came back the reply from Miss Bond.
Did I detect or imagine a faint hesitation?
Yes, it was plain that time. But the words followed one another in quick succession. There was no rest. She had no chance to collect herself. I noted the marked difference in the reaction time and, in my sympathy, damned this cold; scientific third degree.
"Quartier Latin." "Students."
"Apaches." Craig gave it its Gallicised pronunciation, "Apash." "Really, Dr. Kennedy," she said, "there is nothing I can associate with them—well, yes, les vaches, I believe. You had better count that question out. I've wasted a good many seconds."
"Very well, let us try again," he replied with a forced unconcern, though the answer seemed to interest him, for "les vaches" meant "the cows," otherwise known as the police.
No lawyer could have revelled in an opportunity for putting leading questions more ruthlessly than did Kennedy. He snapped out his words sharply and unexpectedly.
"Electric light," he emphasised. "Broadway," she answered, endeavouring to force a new association of ideas to replace one which she strove to conceal.
"Safe." "Vaults." Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the indicator showed a tremendously increased heart action. As for the reaction time, I noted that it was growing longer and more significant. Remorselessly he pressed his words home. Mentally I cursed him.
"Steel." "Pittsburg," she cried at random.
"Strong-box," No answer.
"Lock." Again no answer. He hurried his words. I was leaning forward, tense with excitement and sympathy.
"Key." Silence and a fluttering of the blood pressure indicator.
As the last word was uttered her air of frightened defiance was swept away. With a cry of anguish, she swayed to her feet. "No, no, doctor, you must not, you must not," she cried with outstretched arms. "Why do you pick out those words of all others? Can it be—" If I had not caught her I believe she would have fainted.
The indicator showed a heart alternately throbbing with feverish excitement and almost stopping with fear. What would Kennedy do next, I wondered, determined to shut him off as soon as I possibly could. From the moment I had seen her I had been under her spell. Mine should have been Fletcher's place, I knew, though I cannot but say that I felt a certain grim pleasure in supporting even momentarily such a woman in her time of need.
"Can it be that you have guessed what no one in the world, no, not even dear old Jack, dreams Oh, I shall go mad, mad, mad!"
Kennedy was on his feet in an instant, advancing toward her. The look in his eyes was answer enough for her. She knew that he knew, and she paled and shuddered, shrinking away from him.
"Miss Bond," he said in a voice that forced attention—it was low and vibrating with feeling—"Miss Bond, have you ever told a lie to shield a friend?"
"Yes," she said, her eyes meeting his.
"So can I," came back the same tense voice, "when I know the truth about that friend."
Then for the first time tears came in a storm. Her breath was quick and feverish. "No one will ever believe, no one will understand. They will say that I killed him, that I murdered him."
Through it all I stood almost speechless, puzzled. What did it all mean?
"No," said Kennedy, "no, for they will never know of it."
"Never—if in the end justice is done. Have you the will? Or did you destroy it?"
It was a bold stroke.
"Yes. No. Here it is. How could I destroy it, even though it was burning out my very soul?"
She literally tore the paper from the bosom of her dress and cast it from her in horror and terror.
Kennedy picked it up, opened it, and glanced hurriedly through it. "Miss Bond," he said, "Jack shall never know a word of this. I shall tell him that the will has been found unexpectedly in John Fletcher's desk among some other papers. Walter, swear on your honour as a gentleman that this will was found in old Fletcher's desk."
"Dr. Kennedy, how can I ever thank you?" she exclaimed, sinking wearily down into a chair and pressing her hands to her throbbing forehead.
"By telling me just how you came by this will, so that when you and Fletcher are married I may be as good a friend, without suspicion, to you as I am to him. I think a full confession would do you good, Miss Bond. Would you prefer to have Dr. Jameson not hear it?"
"No, he may stay."
"This much I know, Miss Bond. Last summer in Paris with the Greenes you must have chanced to hear, of Pillard, the Apache, one of the most noted cracksmen the world has ever produced. You sought him out. He taught you how to paint your fingers with a rubber composition, how to use an electric drill, how to use the old-fashioned jimmy. You went down to Fletcherwood by the back road about a quarter after eleven the night of the robbery in the Greenes' little electric runabout. You entered the library by an unlocked window, you coupled your drill to the electric light connections of the chandelier. You had to work quickly, for the power would go off at midnight, yet you could not do the job later, when they were sleeping more soundly, for the very same reason."
It was uncanny as Kennedy rushed along in his reconstruction of the scene, almost unbelievable. The girl watched him, fascinated.
"John Fletcher was wakeful that night. Somehow or other he heard you at work. He entered the library and, by the light streaming from his bedroom, he saw who it was. In anger he must have addressed you, and his passion got the better of his age—he fell suddenly on the floor with a stroke of apoplexy. As you bent over him he died. But why did you ever attempt so foolish an undertaking? Didn't you know that other people knew of the will and its terms, that you were sure to be traced out in the end, if not by friends, by foes? How did you suppose you could profit by destroying the will, of which others knew the provisions?"
Any other woman than Helen Bond would have been hysterical long before Kennedy had finished pressing home remorselessly one fact after another of her story. But, with her, the relief now after the tension of many hours of concealment seemed to nerve her to go to the end and tell the truth.
What was it? Had she some secret lover for whom she had dared all to secure the family fortune? Or was she shielding someone dearer to her than her own reputation? Why had Kennedy made Fletcher withdraw?
Her eyes dropped and her breast rose and fell with suppressed emotion. Yet I was hardly prepared for her reply when at last she slowly raised her head and looked us calmly in the face.
"I did it because I loved Jack."
Neither of us spoke. I, at least, had fallen completely under the spell of this masterful woman. Right or wrong, I could not restrain a feeling of admiration and amazement.
"Yes," she said as her voice thrilled with emotion, "strange as it may sound to you, it was not love of self that made me do it. I was, I am madly in love with Jack. No other man has ever inspired such respect and love as he has. His work in the university I have fairly gloated over. And yet—and yet, Dr. Kennedy, can you not see that I am different from Jack? What would I do with the income of the wife of even the dean of the new school? The annuity provided for me in that will is paltry. I need millions. From the tiniest baby I have been reared that way. I have always expected this fortune. I have been given everything I wanted. But it is different when one is married—you must have your own money. I need a fortune, for then I could have the town house, the country house, the yacht, the motors, the clothes, the servants that I need—they are as much a part of my life as your profession is of yours. I must have them.
"And now it was all to slip from my hands. True, it was to go in such a way by this last will as to make Jack happy in his new school. I could have let that go, if that was all. There are other fortunes that have been laid at my feet. But I wanted Jack, and I knew Jack wanted me. Dear boy, he never could realise how utterly unhappy intellectual poverty would have made me and how my unhappiness would have reacted on him in the end. In reality this great and beneficent philanthropy was finally to blight both our love and our lives.
"What was I to do? Stand by and see my life and my love ruined or refuse Jack for the fortune of a man I did not love? Helen Bond is not that kind of a woman, I said to myself. I consulted the greatest lawyer I knew. I put a hypothetical case to him, and asked his opinion in such a way as to make him believe he was advising me how to make an unbreakable will. He told me of provisions and clauses to avoid, particularly in making benefactions. That was what I wanted to know. I would put one of those clauses in my uncle's will. I practised uncle's writing till I was as good a forger of that clause as anyone could have become. I had picked out the very words in his own handwriting to practise from.
"Then I went to Paris and, as you have guessed, learned how to get things out of a safe like that of uncle's. Before God, all I planned to do was to get that will, change it, replace it, and trust that uncle would never notice the change. Then when he was gone, I would have contested the will. I would have got my full share either by court proceedings or by settlement out of court. You see, I had planned it all out. The school would have been founded—I, we would have founded it. What difference, I said, did thirty millions or fifty millions make to an impersonal school, a school not yet even in existence? The twenty million dollars or so difference, or even half of it, meant life and love to me.
"I had planned to steal the cash in the safe, anything to divert attention from the will and make it look like a plain robbery. I would have done the altering of the will that night and have returned it to the safe before morning. But it was not to be. I had almost opened the safe when my uncle entered the room. His anger completely unnerved me, and from the moment I saw him on the floor to this I haven't had a sane thought. I forgot to take the cash, I forgot everything but that will. My only thought was that I must get it and destroy it. I doubt if I could have altered it with my nerves so upset. There, now you have my whole story. I am at your mercy."
"No," said Kennedy, "believe me, there is a mental statute of limitations that as far as Jameson and myself are concerned has already erased this affair. Walter, will you find Fletcher?"
I found the professor pacing up and down the gravel walk impatiently.
"Fletcher," said Kennedy, "a night's rest is all Miss Bond really needs. It is simply a case of overwrought nerves, and it will pass off of itself. Still, I would advise a change of scene as soon as possible. Good afternoon, Miss Bond, and my best wishes for your health."
"Good afternoon, Dr. Kennedy. Good afternoon, Dr. Jameson."
I for one was glad to make my escape.
A half-hour later, Kennedy, with well-simulated excitement, was racing me in the car up to the Greenes' again. We literally burst unannounced into the tete-a-tete on the porch.
"Fletcher, Fletcher," cried Kennedy, "look what Walter and I have just discovered in a tin strong-box poked off in the back of your uncle's desk!"
Fletcher seized the will and by the dim light that shone through from the hall read it hastily. "Thank God," he cried; "the school is provided for as I thought."
"Isn't it glorious!" murmured Helen.
True to my instinct I muttered, "Another good newspaper yarn killed."
III. The Bacteriological Detective
Kennedy was deeply immersed in writing a lecture on the chemical compositions of various bacterial toxins and antitoxins, a thing which was as unfamiliar to me as Kamchatka, but as familiar to Kennedy as Broadway and Forty-second Street.
"Really," he remarked, laying down his fountain-pen and lighting his cigar for the hundredth time, "the more one thinks of how the modern criminal misses his opportunities the more astonishing it seems. Why do they stick to pistols, chloroform, and prussic acid when there is such a splendid assortment of refined methods they might employ?"
"Give it up, old man," I replied helplessly, "unless it is because they haven't any imagination. I hope they don't use them. What would become of my business if they did? How would you ever get a really dramatic news feature for the Star out of such a thing? 'Dotted line marks route taken by fatal germ; cross indicates spot where antitoxin attacked it'—ha! ha! not much for the yellow journals in that, Craig."
"To my mind, Walter, it would be the height of the dramatic—far more dramatic than sending a bullet into a man. Any fool can shoot a pistol or cut a throat, but it takes brains to be up-to-date."
"It may be so;" I admitted, and went on reading, while Kennedy scratched away diligently on his lecture. I mention this conversation both because it bears on my story, by a rather peculiar coincidence, and because it showed me a new side of Kennedy's amazing researches. He was as much interested in bacteria as in chemistry, and the story is one of bacteria.
It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later when the buzzer on our hall door sounded. Imagine my surprise on opening the door to discover the slight figure of what appeared to be a most fascinating young lady who was heavily veiled. She was in a state almost bordering on hysteria, as even I, in spite of my usual obtuseness, noticed.
"Is Professor Kennedy in?" she inquired anxiously.
"Yes, ma'am;" I replied, opening the door into our study.
She advanced toward him, repeating her inquiry.
"I am Professor Kennedy. Pray be seated," he said.
The presence of a lady in our apartment was such a novelty that really I forgot to disappear, but busied myself straightening the furniture and opening a window to allow the odour of stale tobacco to escape.
"My name is Eveline Bisbee," she began. "I have heard, Professor Kennedy, that you are an adept at getting at the bottom of difficult mysteries."
"You flatter me;" he said in acknowledgment. "Who was so foolish as to tell you that?"
"A friend who has heard of the Kerr Parker case," she replied.
"I beg your pardon," I interrupted, "I didn't mean to intrude. I think I'll go out. I'll be back in an hour or two."
"Please, Mr. Jameson—it is Mr. Jameson, is it not?"
I bowed in surprise.
"If it is possible I wish you would stay and hear my story. I am told that you and Professor Kennedy always work together."
It was my turn to be embarrassed by the compliment.
"Mrs. Fletcher, of Great Neck," she explained, "has told me. I believe Professor Kennedy performed a great service for the Fletchers, though I do not know what it was. At any rate, I have come to you with my case, in which I have small hope of obtaining assistance unless you can help me. If Professor Kennedy cannot solve it, well, I'm afraid nobody can." She paused a moment, then added, "No doubt you have read of the death of my guardian the other day."
Of course we had. Who did not know that "Jim" Bisbee, the southern California oil-magnate, had died suddenly of typhoid fever at the private hospital of Dr. Bell, where he had been taken from his magnificent apartment on Riverside Drive? Kennedy and I had discussed it at the time. We had commented on the artificiality of the twentieth century. No longer did people have homes; they had apartments, I had said. They didn't fall ill in the good old-fashioned way any more, either in fact, they even hired special rooms to die in. They hired halls for funeral services. It was a wonder that they didn't hire graves. It was all part of our twentieth century break-up of tradition. Indeed we did know about the death of Jim Bisbee. But there was nothing mysterious about it. It was just typical in all its surroundings of the first decade of the twentieth century in a great, artificial city—a lonely death of a great man surrounded by all that money could buy.
We had read of his ward, too, the beautiful Miss Eveline Bisbee, a distant relation. As under the heat of the room and her excitement, she raised her veil, we were very much interested in her. At least, I am sure that even Kennedy had by this time completely forgotten the lecture on toxins.
"There is something about my guardian's death," she began in a low and tremulous voice, "that I am sure will bear investigating. It may be only a woman's foolish fears, but—I haven't told this to a soul till now, except Mrs. Fletcher. My guardian had, as you perhaps know, spent his summer at his country place at Bisbee Hall, New Jersey, from which he returned rather suddenly about a week ago. Our friends thought it merely a strange whim that he should return to the city before the summer was fairly over, but it was not. The day before he returned, his gardener fell sick of typhoid. That decided Mr. Bisbee to return to the city on the following day. Imagine his consternation to find his valet stricken the very next morning. Of course they motored to New York immediately, then he wired to me at Newport, and together we opened his apartment at the Louis Quinze.
"But that was not to be the end of it. One after another, the servants at Bisbee Hall were taken with the disease until five of them were down. Then came the last blow—Mr. Bisbee fell a victim in New York. So far I have been spared. But who knows how much longer it will last? I have been so frightened that I haven't eaten a meal in the apartment since I came back. When I am hungry I simply steal out to a hotel—a different one every time. I never drink any water except that which I have surreptitiously boiled in my own room over a gas-stove. Disinfectants and germicides have been used by the gallon, and still I don't feel safe. Even the health authorities don't remove my fears. With my guardian's death I had begun to feel that possibly it was over. But no. This morning another servant who came up from the hall last week was taken sick, and the doctor pronounces that typhoid, too. Will I be the next? Is it just a foolish fear? Why does it pursue us to New York? Why didn't it stop at Bisbee Hall?"
I don't think I ever saw a living creature more overcome by horror, by an invisible, deadly fear. That was why it was doubly horrible in a girl so attractive as Eveline Bisbee. As I listened I felt how terrible it must be to be pursued by such a fear. What must it be to be dogged by a disease as relentlessly as the typhoid had dogged her? If it had been some great, but visible, tangible peril how gladly I could have faced it merely for the smile of a woman like this. But it was a peril that only knowledge and patience could meet. Instinctively I turned toward Kennedy, my own mind being an absolute blank.
"Is there anyone you suspect of being the cause of such an epidemic?" he asked. "I may as well tell you right now that I have already formed two theories—one perfectly natural, the other diabolical. Tell me everything."
"Well, I had expected to receive a fortune of one million dollars, free and clear, by his will and this morning I am informed by his lawyer, James Denny, that a new will had been made. It is still one million. But the remainder, instead of going to a number of charities in which he was known to be interested, goes to form a trust fund for the Bisbee School of Mechanical Arts, of which Mr. Denny is the sole trustee. Of course, I do not know much about my guardian's interests while he was alive, but it strikes me as strange that he should have changed so radically, and, besides, the new will is so worded that if I die without children my million also goes to this school—location unnamed. I can't help wondering about it all."
"Why should you wonder—at least what other reasons have you for wondering?"
"Oh, I can't express them. Maybe after all it's only a woman's silly intuition. But often I have thought in the past few days about this illness of my guardian. It was so queer. He was always so careful. And you know the rich don't often have typhoid."
"You have no reason to suppose that it was not typhoid fever of which he died?"
She hesitated. "No," she replied, "but if you had known Mr. Bisbee you would think it strange, too. He had a horror of infectious and contagious diseases. His apartment and his country home were models. No sanitarium could have been more punctilious. He lived what one of his friends called an antiseptic life. Maybe I am foolish, but it keeps getting closer and closer to me now, and—well, I wish you'd look into the case. Please set my mind at rest and assure me that nothing is wrong, that it is all natural."
"I will help you, Miss Bisbee. To-morrow night I want to take a trip quietly to Bisbee Hall. You will see that it is all right, that I have the proper letters so I can investigate thoroughly."
I shall never forget the mute and eloquent thanks with which she said good night after Kennedy's promise.
Kennedy sat with his eyes shaded under his hand for fully an hour after she had left. Then he suddenly jumped up. "Walter," he said, "let us go over to Dr. Bell's. I know the head nurse there. We may possibly learn something."
As we sat in the waiting-room with its thick Oriental rugs and handsome mahogany furniture, I found myself going back to our conversation of the early evening. "By Jove, Kennedy, you were right," I exclaimed. "If there is anything in this germ-plot idea of hers it is indeed the height of the dramatic—it is diabolical. No ordinary mortal would ever be capable of it."
Just then the head nurse came in, a large woman breathing of germlessness and cheerfulness in her spotless uniform. We were shown every courtesy. There was, in fact, nothing to conceal. The visit set at rest my last suspicion that perhaps Jim Bisbee had been poisoned by a drug. The charts of his temperature and the sincerity of the nurse were absolutely convincing. It had really been typhoid, and there was nothing to be gained by pursuing that inquiry further.
Back at the apartment, Craig began packing his suitcase with the few things he would need for a journey. "I'm going out to Bisbee Hall to-morrow for a few days, Walter, and if you could find it convenient to come along I should like to have your assistance."
"To tell you the truth, Craig, I am afraid to go," I said.
"You needn't be. I'm going down to the army post on Governor's Island first to be vaccinated against typhoid. Then I am going to wait a few hours till it takes effect before going. It's the only place in the city where one can be inoculated against it, so far as I know. While three inoculations are really best, I understand that one is sufficient for ordinary protection, and that is all we shall need, if any."