THE VOICE ON THE WIRE
By Eustace Hale Ball
CHAPTER I. WHEN THREE IS A MYSTERY
"Mr. Shirley is waiting for you in the grill-room, sir. Just step this way, sir, and down the stairs."
The large man awkwardly followed the servant to the cosey grill-room on the lower floor of the club house. He felt that every man of the little groups about the Flemish tables must be saying: "What's he doing here?"
"I wish Monty Shirley would meet me once in a while in the back room of a ginmill, where I'd feel comfortable," muttered the unhappy visitor. "This joint is too classy. But that's his game to play—"
He reached the sought-for one, however, and exclaimed eagerly: "By Jiminy, Monty. I'm glad to find you—it would have been my luck after this day, to get here too late."
He was greeted with a grip that made even his generous hand wince, as the other arose to smile a welcome.
"Hello, Captain Cronin. You're a good sight for a grouchy man's eyes! Sit down and confide the brand of your particular favorite poison to our Japanese Dionysius!"
The Captain sighed with relief, as he obeyed.
"Bar whiskey is good enough for an old timer like me. Don't tell me you have the blues—your face isn't built that way!"
"Gospel truth, Captain. I've been loafing around this club—nothing to do for a month. Bridge, handball, highballs, and yarns! I'm actually a nervous wreck because my nerves haven't had any work to do!"
"You're the healthiest invalid I've seen since the hospital days in the Civil War. But don't worry about something to do. I've some job now. It's dolled up with all them frills you like: millions, murders and mysteries! If this don't keep you awake, you'll have nightmares for the next six months. Do you want it?"
"I'm tickled to death. Spill it!"
"Monty, it's the greatest case my detective agency has had since I left the police force eleven years ago. It's too big for me, and I've come to you to do a stunt as is a stunt. You will plug it for me, won't you—just as you've always done? If I get the credit, it'll mean a fortune to me in the advertising alone."
"Haven't I handled every case for you in confidence. I'm not a fly-cop, Captain Cronin. I'm a consulting specialist, and there's no shingle hung out. Perhaps you had better take it to some one else."
Shirley pushed away his empty glass impatiently.
"There, Monty, I didn't mean to offend you. But there's such swells in this and such a foxey bunch of blacklegs, that I'm as nervous as a rookie cop on his first arrest. Don't hold a grudge against me."
Shirley lit a cigarette and resumed his good nature: "Go on, Captain. I'm so stale with dolce far niente, after the Black Pearl affair last month, that I act like an amateur myself. Make it short, though, for I'm going to the opera."
The Captain leaned over the table, his face tense with suppressed emotion. He was a grizzled veteran of the New York police force: a man who sought his quarry with the ferocity of a bull-dog, when the line of search was definitely assured. Lacking imagination and the subtler senses of criminology, Captain Cronin had built up a reputation for success and honesty in every assignment by bravery, persistence, and as in this case, the ability to cover his own deductive weakness by employing the brains of others.
Montague Shirley was as antithetical from the veteran detective as a man could well be. A noted athlete in his university, he possessed a society rating in New York, at Newport and Tuxedo, and on the Continent which was the envy of many a gilded youth born to the purple.
On leaving college, despite an ample patrimony, he had curiously enough entered the lists as a newspaper man. From the sporting page he was graduated to police news, then the city desk, at last closing his career as the genius who invented the weekly Sunday thriller, in many colors of illustration and vivacious Gallic style which interpreted into heart throbs and goose-flesh the real life romances and tragedies of the preceding six days! He had conquered the paper-and-ink world—then deep within there stirred the call for participation in the game itself.
So, dropping quietly into the apparently indolent routine of club existence, he had devoted his experience and genius to analytical criminology—a line of endeavor known only to five men in the world.
He maintained no offices. He wore no glittering badges: a police card, a fire badge, and a revolver license, renewed year after year, were the only instruments of his trade ever in evidence. Shirley took assignments only from the heads of certain agencies, by personal arrangement as informal as this from Captain Cronin. His real clients never knew of his participation, and his prey never understood that he had been the real head-hunter!
His fees—Montague Shirley, as a master craftsman deemed his artistry worthy of the hire. His every case meant a modest fortune to the detective agency and Shirley's bills were never rendered, but always paid!
So, here, the hero of the gridiron and the class re-union, the gallant of a hundred pre-matrimonial and non-maturing engagements, the veteran of a thousand drolleries and merry jousts in clubdom—unspoiled by birth, breeding and wealth, untrammeled by the juggernaut of pot-boiling and the salary-grind, had drifted into the curious profession of confidential, consulting criminal chaser.
Shirley unostentatiously signaled for an encore on the refreshments.
"You're nervous to-night, Captain. You've been doing things before you consulted me—which is against our Rule Number One, isn't it?"
The Captain gulped down his whiskey, and rubbed his forehead.
"Couldn't help it, Monty. It got too busy for me, before I realized anything unusual in the case. See what I got from a gangster before I landed here."
He turned his close-cropped head, as Montague Shirley leaned forward to observe an abrasion at the base of his skull. It was dressed with a coating of collodion.
"Brass knuckled—I see the mark of the rings. Tried for the pneumogastric nerves, to quiet you."
"Whatever he tried for he nearly got. Kelly's nightstick got his pneumonia gas jet, or whatever you call it. He's still quiet, in the station house—You know old man Van Cleft, who owns sky-scrapers down town, don't you?—Well, he's the center of this flying wedge of excitement. His family are fine people, I understand. His daughter was to be married next week. Monty, that wedding'll be postponed, and old Van Cleft won't worry over dispossess papers for his tenants for the rest of the winter. See?"
"Correct. He's done, and I had a hell of a time getting the body home, before the coroner and the police reporters got on the trail."
Shirley lowered his high-ball glass, with an earnest stare.
"What was the idea?"
"Robbery, of course. His son had me on the case—'phoned from the garage where the chauffeur brought the body; after he saw the old man unconscious. Just half an hour before he had left his office in the same machine, after taking five thousand dollars in cash from his manager."
"Who was with him?"
"Now, that's getting to brass tacks. When I gets that C.Q.D. from Van Cleft, I finds the young fellow inside the ring of rubbernecks, blubbering over the old man, where he lies on the floor of the taxi—looking soused."
"He was a notorious old sport about town, Captain."
"Sure—and I thinks, it sorter serves him right. But, that's his funeral, not mine. Van Cleft, junior, says to me: 'There's the girl that was with him.'"
"Where was the girl?"
"She was sitting on a stool, near the car, a little blonde chorus chicken, shaking and twitching, while the chauffeur and the garage boss held her up. I says, 'What's this?' and Van Cleft tells me all he knows, which ain't nothing. Them guys in that garage was wise, for it meant a cold five hundred apiece before I left to keep their lids closed. Van Cleft begs me to hustle the old man home, so one of my men takes her down to my office, still a sniffling, and acting like she had the D.T.'s. The young fellow shook like a leaf, but we takes him over to Central Park East, to the family mansion,—carrying him up the steps like he was drunk. We gets him into his own bed, and keeps the sister from touching his clammy hands, while she orders the family doctor. When he gets there on the jump, I gives him the wink and leads him to one side. 'Doc,' I says, 'you know how to write out a death certificate, to hush this up from your end. I've done the rest.'"
Captain Cronin leaned forward, a queer excitement agitating him.
"Do you know what that doctor says to me, Monty?"
Shirley shook his head.
He says; "My God, it's the third!"
Shirley's white hand gripped the edge of the table. "The Van Cleft's doctor is one of the greatest surgeons in the country, Professor MacDonald of the Medical College. He said that?"
"He did. I answers, 'Whadd'y mean the third?' Then he looks me straight in the eye, and sings back, 'None of your business.'" Cronin shook his head. "I never seen a man with a squarer look, and yet he has me guessing. I goes back to the garage, over past Eighth Avenue, you know, where two johns come up along side o' me. One rubs me with his elbow and the other applies that brass knuckle,—then they gets pinched. I got dressed up in a drug store, got the chauffeur's license number, and goes on down to my office to see this girl. She's hysterical about his family using all their money to put her in jail. I looks at her, and says, 'You won't need their money to get to jail. That old man's dead!' Her eyes was as big as saucers. 'I thought old Daddy Van Cleft was drunk.' I tells her, 'He was dead in that taxi, with a chorus girl, and a roll of bills gone. What you got to say?' She staggers forward and clutches my coat, and what do you think SHE says to me?"
Shirley made the inquiry only with his eyes, puffing his cigarette slowly.
"She looks sorter green, and repeats after me: 'Dead, with a chorus girl, and a roll of bills gone,'—just like a parrot. Then she springs this on me: 'My God, it's the third!'"
Shirley dropped his cigarette, leaning forward, all nonchalance gone.
"Where is she now? Quick, let's go to her."
He rose to his feet. Just then a door-boy walked through the grill-room toward him. "A telephone call for Captain Cronin, sir; the party said hurry or he would miss something good."
Shirley snapped out, "When has the rule about telephone calls in this club been changed? You boys are never to tell any one that a member or guest are here until the name is announced."
He turned toward the puzzled Captain.
"Did you ask any of your operatives to call you here? You know what a risk you are taking, to connect me with this case like that, don't you?"
"I never even breathed it to myself. I told no one."
"Follow me up to the telephone room."
Shirley hurried through the grill, to the switchboard, near which stood the booths for private calls. He called to one of the operators. "Here, let me at that switchboard." He pushed the boy aside, and sat down in the vacated chair.
"Which trunk is it on? Oh, I see, the second. There Captain, take the fourth booth against the wall."
Cronin stepped in. Shirley connected up and listened with the transmitter of the operator at his ear, holding the line open.
"Go ahead, here's Captain Cronin!"
A pleasant voice came over the wire. It was musical and sincere.
"Hello, Captain Cronin, is that you?"
"Yes! What do you want?"
The voice continued, with a jolly laugh, ringing and infectious in its merriment.
"Well, Captain, the joke's on you. Ha, ha, ha! It's a bully one! Ho, ho! Ha, ha!"
"You're working on the Van Cleft case. Oh, sure, you are, don't kid me back. Well, Captain, you've missed two other perfectly good grafts. This is the third one!"
There was a click and the speaker, with another merry gurgle, rang off.
"Quick, manager's desk," cried Shirley, jiggling the metal key. "What call was that? Where did it come from?"
After a little wait, a languid voice answered: "Brooklyn, Main 6969, Party C."
"Give me the number again—I want to speak on the wire."
After another delay, the voice replied "The line has been discontinued."
"I just had it! What is the name of the subscriber. Hurry, this is a matter of life and death."
"It's against the rules to give any further information. But our record shows that the house burned down about two weeks ago. No one else has been given the number. There's no instrument there!"
CHAPTER II. THE FLEETING PROMPTER
Monty's puzzled smile was in no wise reciprocated by the Captain, whose red face evidenced a growing resentment.
He began a tirade, but a wink from the club man warned him. Shirley replaced the receiver, and the regular attendant resumed his place at the switchboard. The lad was curious at the unusual ability of the wealthy Mr. Shirley to handle the bewildering maze of telephone attachments. Monty explained, as he turned to go upstairs.
"Son, that was one of my smart friends trying to play a practical joke on my guest. I fooled him. Don't let it happen again, until you send in the party's name first."
"Yes, sir," meekly promised the boy.
"Well, Captain Cronin, as the old paperback novels used to say at the end of the first instalment, 'The Plot thickens!' At first I thought this case of stupid badger game—"
"You aren't going to back out, Monty? Here's a whole gang of crooks which would give you some sport rounding up, and as for money—"
"Money is easy, from both sides of a criminal matter. What interests me is that ghostly telephone call from a house that burned down, and the caller's knowledge of Number Three. I'm in this case, have no fear of that."
Shirley led his guest to the coat room.
"I'll get a taxicab, Monty. We'd better see that girl first and then have a look at the body."
The Captain turned to the door, as the attendant helped Monty with his overcoat. The waiter from the grill-room approached. "Excuse me, sir, but the gentleman dropped his handkerchief in his chair opposite you."
"Thank you, Gordon," he said, as he faced the servant for an instant. When he turned again, toward the front hall, the Captain had passed out of view through the front door.
Shirley received a surprise when he reached the pavement on Forty-fourth Street, for Captain Cronin was not in sight. Two club men descended the steps of the neighboring house. Others strolled along toward the Avenue, but not a sign of a vehicle of any description could be seen, nor was there anything suspicious in view. Cronin had disappeared as effectually as though he had taken a passing Zeppelin!
"I'm glad this affair will not bore me," murmured the criminologist, as he evolved and promptly discarded a dozen vain theories to explain the disappearance of his companion.
Twenty minutes were wasted along the block, as he waited for some sight or sign. Then he decided to go on up to Van Cleft's residence. But, realizing the probability of "shadow" work upon all who came from the door of the club, after the curious message on the wire, Shirley did not propose to expose his hand. Walking leisurely to the Avenue, he hailed a passing hansom. He directed the driver to carry him to an address on Central Park West. His shrewdness was not wasted, for as he stepped into the vehicle, he espied a slinking figure crossing the street diagonally before him, to disappear into the shadow of an adjacent doorway. This was the house of Reginald Van Der Voor, as Shirley knew. It was closed because its master, a social acquaintance of the club man's, was at this time touring the Orient in his steam yacht. No man should have entered that doorway. So, as the horse started under the flick of the long whip, Shirley peered unobserved through the glass window at his side.
A big machine swung up behind the hansom, at some unseen hail, and the figure came from the doorway, leaping into the car, as it followed Shirley up the Avenue, a block or so behind.
"It is not always so easy to follow, when the leader knows his chase," thought Shirley. "I'm glad I'm only a simple club man."
The automobile was unmistakably trailing him, as the hansom crossed the Plaza, then sped through the Park drive, to the address he had given his driver.
As Shirley had remembered, this was a large apartment house, in which one of his bachelor friends lived. He knew the lay of the building well: next door, with an entrance facing on the side street was another just like it, and of equal height.
"Wait for me, here," said Shirley. "I'll pay you now, but want to go to an address down town in five minutes."
He gave the driver a bill, then entered and told the elevator man to take him to the ninth floor.
"There's nobody in, boss," began the boy. But Shirley shook his head.
"My friend is expecting me for a little card game, that's why you think he is out. Just take me up."
He handed the negro a quarter, which was complete in its logic.
As he reached the floor, he waved to the elevator operator. "Go on down, and don't let any one else come up, for Mr. Greenough doesn't want company."
As the car slid down, Shirley fumbled along the familiar hall to the iron stairs which led to the roof of the building. Up these he hurried, thence out upon the roof. It was a matter of only four minutes before he had crossed to the next apartment building, opened the door of the roof-entry, found the stairs to the ninth floor, and taken this elevator to the street.
He walked out of the building, and turned toward Central Park West, to slyly observe the entrance of the building where waited the faithful hansom Jehu. A young man was in conversation with the driver, and the big automobile could be seen on the other side of the street awaiting further developments.
"He has a long vigil there," laughed Shirley. "Now, for the real address. I think I lost the hounds for this time."
Another vehicle took him through the Park to the darkened mansion of the Van Clefts'. Here, Shirley's card brought a quick response from the surprised son of the dead millionaire.
"Why—why—I'm glad to see you, Mr. Shirley—Who sent you?" he began.
Shirley registered complete surprise. "Sent me, my dear Van Cleft? Who should send me? For what? It just happened that I was walking up the Avenue, and to-morrow night I plan to give a little farewell supper to Hal Bingley, class of '03, at the club You knew him in College? I thought you might like to come."
"Step in the library," requested Van Cleft, weakly. "Sit down, Mr. Shirley—I'm upset to-night."
He mopped his brow with a damp handkerchief, and Shirley's big heart went out to the young chap, as he saw the haggard lines of horror and grief on his usually pleasant face.
"What's the trouble, old man? Anything I can do?"
"My father just died this evening, and I'm in awful trouble—I thought it was the Coroner, or the police—" he bit his tongue as the last words escaped him. Shirley put his hand on Van Cleft's shoulder, with an inspiring firmness.
"Tell me how I can help. You've had a big shock. Confide in me, and I pledge you my word, I'll keep it safer than any one you could go to."
Van Cleft groped as a drowning man, at this opportunity. He caught Shirley's hand and wrung it tensely.
"Sit down. The doctor is still upstairs with mother and sister. When the Coroner comes, I would like to have you be here as a witness. It's an ordeal—I'll tell you everything."
Shirley listened attentively, without betraying his own knowledge. Soothing in manner, he questioned the son about any possible enemy of the murdered man.
"There's not one I know. Dad is popular—he's been too gay, lately, but just foolish like a lot of rich men. He wouldn't harm any one. He inherited his money, you know. Didn't have to crush the working people. Like me, he's been endeavoring to spend it ever since he was born, but it comes in too fast from our estates."
He looked up apprehensively, at the sympathetic face of his companion.
"It's very unwise to tell this. I suppose it's a State's prison offence to deceive about murder. But you understand our position: we can't afford to let it become gossip. I'll pay this girl anything to go to Europe or the Antipodes!"
"I wouldn't do that," suggested Shirley, thoughtfully. "Let her stay. You would like to bring the culprit to justice, if it can be done without dragging your name into it. If he has planned this, he has executed other schemes. She certainly would not remain the machine if she were the guilty one. Why not employ a good detective?"
"I did, but hesitated to tell you. I secured Captain Cronin, of the Holland Agency. He's managed everything so far—I was too rattled myself. But, I wonder why he isn't here now? He was to return as soon as he visited the garage."
As Van Cleft spoke, the butler approached with hesitation.
"Beg pardon, sir. But you are wanted on the telephone, sir."
"All right, Hoskins. Connect it with the library instrument."
Van Cleft lifted the receiver nervously, and answered in an unsteady voice.
"Yes—This is Van Cleft's residence."
Silence for a bit, then the wire was busy.
"What's that? Captain Cronin? What about him? Let me speak to him."
Shirley was alert as a cat. Van Cleft was too dazed to understand his sudden move, as the criminologist caught up the receiver, and placed his palm for an instant over the mouthpiece.
"Ask him to say it again—that you didn't understand." Shirley removed his hand, and obeyed. Shirley held the receiver to his ear, as the young man spoke. Then he heard these curious words: "You poor simp, you'd better get that family doctor of yours to give you some ear medicine, and stop wasting time with the death certificate. I told you that Cronin was over in Bellevue Hospital with a fractured skull. Unless you drop this investigating, you'll get one, too. Ta, ta! Old top!"
The receiver was hung up quickly at the other end of the line.
Shirley gave a quick call for "Information," and after several minutes learned that the call came from a drug store pay-station in Jersey City!
The melodious tones were unmistakably those of the speaker who had used the wire from faraway Brooklyn where the house had been burned down! It was a human impossibility for any one to have covered the distance between the two points in this brief time, except in an aeroplane!
Van Cleft wondered dumbly at his companion's excitement. Shirley caught up the telephone again.
"Some one says that Cronin is at Bellevue Hospital, injured. I'll find out."
It was true. Captain Cronin was lying at point of death, the ward nurse said, in answer to his eager query. At first the ambulance surgeon had supposed him to be drunk, for a patrolman had pulled him out of a dark doorway, unconscious.
"Where was the doorway? This is his son speaking, so tell me all."
"Just a minute. Oh! Here is the report slip. He was taken from the corner of Avenue A and East Eleventh Street. You'd better come down right away, for he is apt to die tonight. He's only been here ten minutes."
"Has any one else telephoned to find out about him?"
"No. We didn't even know his name until just as you called up, when we found his papers and some warrants in a pocketbook. How did you know?"
But Shirley disconnected curtly, this time. He bowed his head in thought, and then, with his usual nervous custom, fumbled for a cigarette. Here was the Captain, whom he had left on Forty-fourth Street, near Fifth Avenue, a short time before, discovered fully three miles away.
And the news telephoned from Jersey City, by the fleeting magic voice on the wire. Even his iron composure was stirred by this weird complication.
"I wonder!" he murmured. He had ample reason to wonder.
CHAPTER III. THE INNOCENT BYSTANDER
"Well, Mr. Shirley, your coming here was a Godsend! I don't know what to do now. The newspapers will get this surely. I depended on Cronin: he must have been drinking."
Shirley shook his head, as he explained, "I know Cronin's reputation, for I was a police reporter. He is a sterling man. There's foul work here which extends beyond your father's case. But we are wasting time. Why don't you introduce me to your physician? Just tell him about Cronin, and that you have confided in me completely."
Van Cleft went upstairs without a word. Unused to any worry, always able to pay others for the execution of necessary details, this young man was a victim of the system which had engulfed his unfortunate sire in the maelstrom of reckless pleasure.
By his ingenuous adroitness, it may be seen, Shirley was inveigling himself into the heart of the affair, in his favorite disguise as that of the "innocent bystander." His innate dramatic ability assisted him in maintaining his friendly and almost impersonal role, with a success which had in the past kept the secret of his system from even the evildoers themselves.
"A little investigation of the telephone exchanges during the next day or two will not be wasted time," he mused. "I'll get Sam Grindle, their assistant advertising manager to show me the way the wheels go 'round. No man can ride a Magic Carpet of Bagdad over the skyscrapers in these days of shattered folklore."
Howard Van Cleft returned with the famous surgeon, Professor MacDonald. He was elderly, with the broad high forehead, dignity of poise, and sharpness of glance which bespeaks the successful scientist. His face, to-night, was chalky and the firm, full mouth twitched with nervousness. He greeted Shirley abstractedly. The criminologist's manner was that of friendly anxiety.
"You are here, sir, as a friend of the family?"
"Yes. Howard has told me of the terrible mystery of this case. As an ex-newspaper man I imagine that my influence and friendships may keep the unpleasant details from the press."
"That is good," sighed the doctor, with relief. "How soon will you do it?"
"Now, using this telephone. No, for certain reasons, I had better use an outside instrument. I will call up men I know on each paper, as though this were a 'scoop,' so that knowing me, they will be confident that I tell them the truth as a favor. Such deceit is excusable under the circumstances. It may eventually bring the murderer to justice."
Professor MacDonald winced at the word. He turned toward Van Cleft, on sudden thought, remarking: "Howard your mother and sister may need the comfort of your presence. I will chat with your friend until the Coroner comes."
The physician sank into a library chair. The criminologist quietly awaited his cue. He lit a cigarette and the minutes drifted past with no word between them. The doctor's gaze lowered to the vellum-bound books on the carven table, then to the gorgeous pattern of the Kermansha at his feet. Once more he studied the face of his companion, with the keen, soul-gripping scrutiny of the skilled physician. As last he arrived at a definite conclusion. He cleared his throat, and fumbled in his waistcoat pocket for a cigar. A swiftly struck match in Monty's hand was held up so promptly to the end of the cigar, that the doctor's lips had not closed about it. This deftness, simple in itself, did not escape the observation of the scientist. He smiled for the first time during their interview.
"Your reflex nerves are very wide awake for a quiet man. I believe I can depend upon those nerves, and your quietude. May I ask what occupation you follow, if any? Most of Howard's friends follow butterflies."
"I am one of them, then. Some opera, more theatricals, much art gallery touring. A little regular reading in my rooms, and there you are! My great grandfather was too poor a trader to succeed in pelts, so he invested a little money in rocky pastures around upper Manhattan: this has kept the clerks of the family bankers busy ever since. I am an optimistic vagabond, enjoying life in the observation of the rather ludicrous busyness of other folk. In short, Doctor, I am a corpulent Hamlet, essentially modern in my cultivation of a joy in life, debating the eternal question with myself, but lazily leaving it to others to solve. Therein I am true to my type."
"Pardon my bluntness," observed MacDonald, watching him through partially closed eyes. "You are not telling the truth. You are a busy man, with definite work, but that is no affair of mine. I recognize in you a different calibre from that of these rich young idlers in Howard's class. I am going to take you into my confidence, for you understand the need for secrecy, and will surely help in every way—noblesse oblige. This man Cronin, the detective, was rather crude."
"He is honest and dependable," replied Shirley, loyally.
"Yes, but I wonder why professional detectives are so primitive. They wear their calling cards and their business shingles on their figures and faces. Surely the crooks must know them all personally. I read detective stories, in rest moments, and every one of the sleuths lives in some well-known apartment, or on a prominent street. Some day we may read of one who is truly in secret service, but not until after his death notice. But there, I am talking to quiet my own nerves a bit,—now we will get to cases."
The doctor dropped his cigar into the bronze tray on the table, leaning forward with intense earnestness, as he continued.
"This, Mr. Shirley, is the third murder of the sort within a week. Wellington Serral, the wealthy broker, came to a sudden death in a private dining room last Monday, in the company of a young show girl. He was a patient of mine, and I signed the death certificate as heart failure, to save the honorable family name for his two orphaned daughters.
"Herbert de Cleyster, the railroad magnate, died similarly in a taxicab on Thursday. He was also one of my patients. There, too, was concerned another of these wretched chorus girls. To-night the fatal number of the triad was consummated in this cycle of crime. To maintain my loyalty to my patients I have risked my professional reputation. Have I done wrong?"
"No! The criminal shall be brought to justice," replied Shirley in a voice vibrant with a profound determination which was not lost upon his companion.
"Are you powerful enough to bring this about, without disgracing me or betraying this sordid tragedy to the morbid scandal-rakers of the papers?"
"I will devote every waking hour to it. But, like you, my efforts must remain entirely secret. I vow to find this man before I sleep again!"
"You are determined—yet it cannot be one single man. It must be an organized gang, for all the crimes have been so strangely similar, occurring to three men who are friends, and entrez nous, notorious for their peccadilloes. The girls must be in the vicious circle, and ably assisted. But there is one thing I forgot to tell you, which you forgot to ask."
"And this is?"
"How they died. It was by some curious method of sudden arterial stoppage. Old as they were, some fiendish trick was employed so skilfully that the result was actual heart failure. There was no trace of drugs in lungs or blood. On each man's breast, beneath the sternum bone I found a dull, barely discernible bruise mark, which I later removed by a simple massage of the spot!"
Shirley closed his eyes, and passed his hand over his own chest—along the armpits—behind his ears—he seemed to be mentally enumerating some list of nerve centers. The physician observed him curiously.
"I have it, doctor! The sen-si-yao!"
"What do you mean?"
"The most powerful and secret of all the death-strokes of the Japanese art of jiu-jitsu fighting. I paid two thousand dollars to learn the course from a visiting instructor when I was in college. It was worth it for this one occasion."
Shirley arose to his feet, and approached the other, touching his shoulder.
"Stand up, if you please. Let me ask if this was the location of the mark?"
The physician, interested in this new professional phase, readily obeyed. One quick movement of Shirley's muscular hand, the thumb oddly twisted and stiffened, and a sudden jab in the doctor's abdomen made that gentleman gasp with pain. Shirley's expression was triumphant, but the professor regarded him with an expression of terror.
"Oh! Ugh!—What-did-you-do-to me?" he murmured thickly, when he was at last able to speak.
"Merely demonstrated the beginning of the death punch which I named. That pressure if continued for half a minute would have been fatal."
"I wish you would teach me that," was the physician's natural request, as he nodded with a wry face.
"Impossible, my dear sir, for I learned it, according to the Oriental custom under the most sacred obligations of secrecy. One must advance through the whole course, by initiatory degrees, before learning the final mysteries of the samurais. Now, we have a working hypothesis. The girls could never have accomplished this. One man and one alone must have killed the three, although doubtless with confederates. Yamashino assured me that there were only six men in this country who knew it beside myself. We must find an Orientalist!"
Shirley paced the floor, but his meditations were interrupted by the arrival of the Coroner and his physician. Van Cleft hurried into the room with them, to present the doctor, who exchanged a formal greeting with the men he had met twice before that week.
"A sad affair, Professor," observed the Coroner nervously, drinking in with profound respect the magnificent surroundings which symbolized the great wealth of which he secretly hoped to gain a tithing. "I trust that, as usual, in such cases, I may suggest an undertaker?"
"Why—talk about that at once, sir?" asked Howard with a shudder.
The physician, familiar with the subtleties of coroners, gently placed an arm about the young man's shoulder. He nodded, understandingly, to the Coroner, as he turned toward Shirley.
"I must be going now," the latter interposed. "Just a word with you, Howard, that I may send a message to your mother and sister."
The physician led away the two officials as Shirley continued: "I must go to see Cronin—deserted there like a run-over mongrel on the street. Can I leave this house by the rear, so that none shall know of my assistance in the case, or follow me to the hospital? If you can secure an old hat and coat, I will leave my own, with my stick, to get them some other time."
"I will get some from the butler, if you wait just a moment. You can leave by the rear yard, if you don't mind climbing a high board fence."
Van Cleft hurried downstairs, in a few minutes, bearing a weather-beaten overcoat and an English cap, which Shirley drew down over his ears. With the coat on, he looked very unlike the well-groomed club man who had entered. Unseen by Van Cleft he shifted an automatic revolver into the coat pocket from the discarded garment.
"Now, Mr. Shirley, come this way. Follow the rear area-way, across to the next yard, where after another climb you find a vacant lot where the Schuylers are preparing to erect their new city house. Will you attend to everything?"
"Everything. I'll start sooner than you expect."
Truly he did! For no sooner had he descended the second fence into the empty lot than a stinging blow sent him at full length on the rocky ground, where the excavations were already being started. Two men pounced upon him in a twinkling—only his great strength, acquired through the football years, saved him from immediate defeat. His head throbbed, and he was dizzy as he caught the wrist of the nearest assailant with a quick twist which resulted in a sudden, sickening crunch. The man groaned in agony, but his companion kicked with heavy-shod feet at the prostrate man. Shirley's left hand duplicated the vice-like grip upon the ankle of the standing assailant, and his deftness caused another tendon strain! Both men toppled to the ground, now, and before they realized it Shirley had reversed the advantage. His automatic emphasized his superiority of tactics. He understood their silence, broken only by muted groans: they feared the police, even as did he, although for different reasons. He "frisked" the man nearest him upon the ground, and captured deftly the rascal's weapon: then he sprang up covering the twain.
"Get up! Youse guys is poachin' in de wrong district—dis belongs to de Muggins gang. I'll fix youse guys fer buttin' in. Up, dere!" His hands went into his coat pockets, but the men knew that they were still pointing at them, the gunman's "cover" as it is called. They staggered sullenly to their feet. He beckoned with his head, toward the front of the lot. They followed the silent instructions, one limping while his mate wrung the injured wrist in agony.
Directly before the lot stood a throbbing, empty automobile. Shirley decided to take another car—he could not guard them and drive at the same time.
"Down to Fift' Avnoo," he ordered. "I got two guns—not a woid from youse!" His erstwhile amiable physiognomy, now gnarled into an unrecognizable mask of low villainy bespoke his desperate earnestness. The men obeyed. This was apparently a gangster, of gangsters—their fear of the dire vengeance of a rival organization of cut-throats instilled an obedience more humble than any other threats.
Toward the Park side they advance, one leaning heavily upon the other. Shirley, his broad shoulders hunched up; with the collar drawn high about his neck, the murderous looking cap down over his eyes, followed them doggedly.
A big limousine was speeding down the Avenue from some homing theater party. Shirley hailed it with an authoritive yell which caused the chauffeur to put on a quick brake.
"Git out dere,—no gun play. Up inter dat car!" he added, as they approached the machine.
"Say, what you drivin' at?" cried the driver, queruously. "Is this a hold-up?" It was a puzzling moment, but the criminologist's calm bravado saved the situation: as luck would have it no policemen were in sight, to spoil the maneuver.
"No," and he assumed a more natural voice and dialect. "I'm a detective. These men were just house-breaking, and I got them. There's twenty-five dollars in it for you, if you take us down to the Holland Detective Agency, in ten minutes."
"He's kiddin' ye, feller," snapped out one man.
"Don't fall fen him, yen boob!" sung out the other.
But Shirley's automatic now appeared outside the coat pocket. The chauffeur realized that here was serious gaming. With his left hand Shirley jerked out the ever ready police card and fire badge, which seemed official enough to satisfy the driver.
"Quick now, or I'll run you in, too, for refusing to obey an officer. You men climb into that back seat. Driver, beat it now to Thirty-nine West Forty Street, if you need that twenty-five dollars. I'll sit with them. I don't want any interference so I can come back and nab the rest of their gang."
His authoritative manner convinced this new ally, and he climbed into the car, facing his prisoners, with the two weapons held down below the level of the windows. Pedestrians and other motorists little recked what strange cargo was borne as the car raced down the broad thoroughfare.
In nine minutes they drew up before the Holland Agency, a darkened, brown front house of ancient architecture. The chauffeur sprang out to swing back the door.
"Go up the steps, and tell the doorman that Captain Cronin wants two men to bring down their guns and handcuffs and get two prisoners. Quick!"
The street was not empty, even at this hour. Yet the passersby did not realize the grim drama enacted inside the waiting machine. Hours seemed to pass before Cronin's men returned with the driver, as much surprised by the three strange faces within the machine, as he had been.
"You take these men upstairs and keep them locked up," bluntly commanded the criminologist. "They're nabbed on the new case of the Captain's which started to-night, I'm going over to Bellevue to see him." His voice was still disguised, his features twisted even yet.
The men gave him a curious glance, and then obeyed. As they disappeared behind the heavy wooden door, Shirley stepped into a dark hallway, close by. He lit a wax match to give him light for the choosing of the right amount, from the roll of bills which he drew forth. The chauffeur whistled with surprise at the size of the denominations. The twenty-five were handed over.
"Thanks very much, my friend," and the face unsnarled itself, into the amiable lines of the normal. The voice was agreeable and smooth, which surprised the man the more. "You took me out of a ticklish situation tonight. I don't want any mere policemen to spoil my little game. Please oil up your forgettery with these, and then—forget!"
"Say, gov'nor," retorted the driver, as he put the money into the band of his leather cap. "I ain't seen so much real change since my boss got stung on the war. I ain't so certain but what you was the gink robbin' that house, at that. But that's them guys funeral if you beat 'em to it. Good-night—much obliged. But I got to slip it to you, gov'nor—you ain't none of them Central Office flat-feet, sure 'nuff! If you are a detective, you're some fly cop!"
CHAPTER IV. A SCIENTIFIC NOVELTY
In a private ward room at Bellevue Hospital, Captain Cronin was just returning to memory of himself and things that had been. Shirley arrived at his cot-side as he was being propped up more comfortably. The older man's face broke into game smiles, as the criminologist took the chair provided by the pretty nurse.
"Thanks, I'll have a little chat with my friend, if you don't think it will do him any harm."
"He is better now, sir. We feared he was fatally injured when they brought him in. I'll be outside in the corridor if you need anything."
She left not without an admiring look at the big chap, wondering why he wore such disreputable superstructure with patent leather pumps and silk hose showing below the ragged overcoat. Strange sights come to hospitals, curiosity frequently leading to unprofitable knowledge: so she was silently discreet. Shirley's garb was not unobserved by the detective chief. Monty laughed reminiscently at the questioning glance.
"These are my working clothes—a fine combination. I nabbed two of the gang. But what became of you?"
"Outside that club door, I wanted to save time for us both. I took the first taxi in sight. Before I could even call out to you, the door slammed on me, the shades flopped down, the car started up—the next thing I knew this here nurse was sticking a spoon in my mouth, a-saying: 'Take this—it's fine for what ails you!'"
"I wonder if it could have been the same machine they left at Van Cleft's? I will tell you how things progressed." So he did, leaving out only the confidence of Professor MacDonald. The Captain became feverishly excited, until Shirley abjured him to beware of a relapse. "You must be calm, for the next twenty-four hours: there will be much for you to do, even then. Meanwhile, let me call up your agency; then you give them instructions over this table telephone to let Howard Van Cleft interview the little chorus girl, with his friend. I'll be the friend."
"I'm afraid I'm going to be snowed under in this case, Monty. The finest job I've had these dozen years. But you're square, and will do all you can."
"Old friend, I'll do what I can to make Van Cleft and the newspapers sure that you are the most wonderful sleuth inside or outside the public library. Here's your office—speak up. Let me lift you."
"Hello Pat!" called Cronin, as his superintendent came to the 'phone. "I am detained at Bellevue, so that I can't be there when Van Cleft comes down. Let him Third Degree that little Jane from the garage. Keep them two men apart, too—oh, that's all right, the fellow is a friend of mine on the 'Frisco police force. He won't butt in." Silence for a moment, then: "Oh, shucks, let 'em yowl! They've got more than kidnapping to worry about for the next twenty-five years."
He hung up the receiver, sinking back on his pillows wan from the strain. Monty handed him a glass of water, and adjusted the bandages with a hand as tender as a woman's. He lifted the instrument again.
"You are sterling, twenty-two carat and a yard wide, Captain! Now, get to sleep while I find out who the ring-master is. I've sworn to keep awake until I do. I think it well to telephone Van Cleft, and arrange for a better get-a-way for us both."
He was soon talking with the son of the murdered man. "Meet me down at the Vanderbilt Hotel—ask for Mr. Hepburn's room, and send up the name of Williams. See you in an hour. Good-bye."
Hanging up the receiver, he turned toward the door, after a friendly pat on Cronin's shoulder. The bell rang, and the Captain reached for it, to sink back exhausted upon the bed. Shirley answered, to be greeted by a pleasant feminine voice.
"Is this Captain Cronin?"
Instantly the criminologist replied affirmatively, suiting his tones as best he could to the gruff voice of the detective chief, with a wink at that worthy.
"I just called up, Captain, to ask about you—Oh, you don't recognize my voice. I'm Miss Wilberforce, private secretary to Mr. Van Cleft. Has any one been to see you yet? I understand that you are very busy, and have already missed two other good cases, this one being the THIRD! Well, don't hurry, Captain. You may get the rest to come—if you live long enough. Good-bye!"
Shirley looked at Cronin, startled. Another mention of the mystic number. He called for information about the origin of the call.
"Lordee, son! Are they at it again?" asked Cronin in disgust.
"Yes—overdoing it. One thing is clear, that whoever is behind this telephone trickery is very clever, and very conceited over that cleverness. It may be a costly vanity. Yes, information?"
"The call was from Rector 2190-D. The American Sunday School Organization, sir—It doesn't answer now; the office must be closed."
Shirley put the instrument down, with a smile on his pursed lips. He waved a good natured farewell to his friend, as he drew the cap down over his eyes.
"Look a little happier, Captain. I'll send down some fruit and a special vintage from our club which has bottled up in it the sunlight of a dozen years in Southern France. I hope they keep the telephone wires busy—they may tangle themselves up in their own spider-web!"
Leaving the hospital, he hurried to the hotel. One of his secret idiosyncracies was a custom of "living around" at a number of hotels, under aliases. Maintaining pleasant suites in each, he kept full supplies of linen and garments, while effectively blotting out his own identity for "doubling" work.
He was known as "Mr. Hepburn" here, and entering the side door he was subjected to the curious gaze of only one servant, the operator of the small elevator. Once in the shelter of his quarters he rummaged through some scrap-books for data—he found it in a Sunday feature story published a month before in a semi-theatrical paper. It described with rollicking sarcasm, a gay "millionaire" party which had been given in Rector's private dining rooms. Among the ridiculed hosts were Van Cleft, Wellington Serral and Herbert De Cleyster! Here, in some elusive manner, ran the skein of truth which if followed would lead to the solution of mystery. He must carve out of this mass of pregnant clues the essentials upon which to act, as the sculptor chisels the marble of a huge block to expose the figure of his inspiration, encased there all the time!
"To find out the source of their golden-haired nymphs for this merry-merry, that is the question! Some stage doorkeeper might be persuaded to unburden what soul he has left!"
He jotted in his memorandum book the names of the other eight wealthy men who were pilloried by the journalist. The younger men, Shirley felt sure, were of that peculiarly Manhattanse type of hanger-on—well-groomed, happy-go-hellward youths who danced, laughed and drank well,—so essential to the philanderings of these rich old Harlequins and their gilded Columbines. As he scribbled, the telephone of the room tinkled its summons.
He started toward it: then his invaluable intuition prompted him to walk into the adjoining room, where another instrument stood on a small table, handy to the bed. Only two people could possibly know he was there. Van Cleft could not have arrived, as yet. The other bell jingled impatiently, but Shirley finally heard the voice of the switch-board girl.
"I'm trying to get you on the other wire, sir. There's a call."
"Don't connect me," he hurriedly ordered, "except to open the switch, so I may listen. If I hang up without a word, tell the party I will be back in twenty minutes."
With a hotel telephone girl tact is more important than even the knowledge of wire-knitting. It was the woman's voice which he had heard at the hospital. Captain Cronin was anxious to speak to Mr. Williams, who was calling on Mr. Hepburn! With the biggest jolt of this day of surprises Shirley disconnected and whistled. Again he laughed—with that grim chuckle which was so characteristic of his supreme battling mood! They had found the trail even quicker than he had expected. Fortunate it was that he had not mentioned his own name in telephoning from the hospital to Howard. Not a wire was safe from these mysterious eaves-droppers now. He hurried into a business suit, and left the hotel, to walk over Thirty-fourth Street to the studio of his friend, Hammond Bell. Here he was admitted, to find the portrait-painter finishing a solitary chafing-dish supper.
"Delighted, Monty! Join me in the encore on this creamed chicken and mushrooms!"
"Too rich for my primitive blood, Hammond. I'm in a hurry to get a favor."
"I've received enough at your hands—say the word."
"Simply this: I want to experiment with sound waves. I remembered that once in a while some of these wild Bohemian friends of yours warbled post-impressionist love-songs into your phonograph. It stood the strain, and so must be a good one. It is too late now to get one in a shop; will you lend me the whole outfit, with the recording attachment as well, for to-night and to-morrow?"
"The easiest thing you know. Let's slide it into this grip—you can carry the horn."
Three minutes later Shirley made his exit, and soon was shaking hands with Van Cleft in his own room at the hotel. He sketched his idea hurriedly, as he adjusted the instrument on the dressing-table near the telephone.
"When the call comes, be sure to say: 'Get closer, I can't hear you.' That's the method, and it's so simple it is almost silly." They were barely ready when the bell warned them. At Van Cleft's reply, when the call for "Mr. Williams" Shirley pushed the horn close to the telephone receiver. Van Cleft twisted it, so as to give the best advantage, and demanded that the speaker come closer to the 'phone.
"Can you hear me now?" asked the feminine voice. "Do you hear me now?"
"No, speak louder. This is Mr. Williams. Speak up. I can't understand you." The voice was petulant and so distinct that even Shirley could hear it, as he knelt by the side of the phonograph. Again Van Cleft insisted on his deafness. There was the suggestion of a break in the voice which brought to Shirley's eyes the sparkle of a presentiment of success. At last Van Cleft admitted that he could hear.
"Well, you fool, I've a message for your friend Mr. Van Cleft."
"Which one?" was the innocent inquiry, as he forgot for an instant that now he was the sole bearer of that name.
"The one that's left. Tell him there will be none left if he continues this gum-shoe work. He had better let well enough alone, and let that little girl get out of town as soon as possible. The papers will go crazy over a scandal like this, and some one is apt to grab Van Cleft. That's all. Good-bye!"
Silently Shirley shut off the lever of the machine, to catch up the receiver. As before his endeavor to locate the call resulted in a new address: this time in the Bronx!
"Ah, the lady leaps from the business district to the Bronx in half an hour. That is what I call some traveling."
Van Cleft studied him with open mouth, as he withdrew the phonograph record, coating it with the preservative to make the tiny lines permanent.
"In the name of common sense, who was that? And what's this phonograph game?" he demanded.
"The second question may answer the first before sunrise, unless I am badly mistaken. I have heard an old adage which declares that if you give a man long enough rope he will hang himself. My new application is that you let him talk enough he is apt to sing his own swan song, for a farewell perch on the electric chair at Sing Sing!"
Then he lit a cigarette and packed up the phonograph.
CHAPTER V. THE MISBEHAVIOR OF THE 'PHONE
Still befuddled by the unusual events of the day, Howard Van Cleft was unable to delight in a theoretical discovery. Personal fear began to manifest itself.
"Mr. Shirley, you're going at this too strong. We know the guilty party—this miserable girl in the machine. We want to hush it up and let things go at that."
"We're hushing it, aren't we?" demanded Shirley, as he placed the record in the grip. "Don't you see the wisdom of knowing who may systematically blackmail you after secrecy is obtained. This is a matter of the future, as well as the present."
"But I don't want to lose my own life—I am young, with life before me, and I want to let well enough alone, after these threats."
"I am afraid that you have a yellow streak." His lip curled as he studied the pallid features of the heir to the Van Cleft millions. Fearless himself, he could still understand the tremors of this care-free butterfly: yet he knew he must crush the dangerous thoughts which were developing. "If you mistrust me, hustle for yourself. You have the death-certificate, the services will be over in a few days, and then you will have enough money to live on your father's yacht or terra firma for the rest of your life, in the China Sea, or India, as far away from Broadway chorus girls as you want. That might be safe."
He gazed out of the window, toward the twinkling lights far away across the East River. His sarcasm made Van Cleft wince as though from a whip lash. The latter mopped his forehead and tried to steady his voice, as he replied with all humility.
"You're a brick, and I don't mean to offend you. Today has been terrible, you know: this tornado has swept me from my moorings. I don't know where to turn."
"I am thoughtless," and Shirley's warm hand grasped the flaccid fingers of the young man. "Forgive me for letting my interest run away with my sympathies. I'm thinking of the future, more than mere protection from newspaper scandal. This crime is so ingenious that I believe it has a more powerful motive than mere robbery. You are now at the head of a great house of finance and society. You must guard your mother and your sister, and those yet to come. A deadly snake is writhing its slimy trail somewhere: here—there—'round about us! Who knows where it will strike next? Who knows how far that blow may reach—even unto China, or wherever you run?"
He hesitated, studying the effect upon Van Cleft, who dropped limply into a chair, his eyes dark with terror. The psychological ruse had won. Selfish cowardice, which temporarily threatened to ruin his campaign, now gave way to the instinct of a fighting defense.
"There, Van Cleft, it is ghastly. You have the significance now: we must scotch the snake. That girl is over at the Holland Agency, and we should see her at once, to learn what she knows. Cronin has arranged for my coming with you, so introduce me under my real name.
"Wait here fifteen minutes after I leave, so that I may get the phonograph in readiness, for you will undoubtedly be shadowed, and that may mean another telephone call. You were not a coward in college—I do not believe you are one now!"
Van Cleft straightened up proudly.
"No, I will fight them with all I have. But why these phonograph records: isn't one enough?"
"No, I want autographs of all the voices. I will go now. Don't hurry in following me. Do not fear to let any shadowers see you—it will help us along."
Before many minutes he had been admitted to the corridor of the Holland Agency by a sharp-nosed individual who regarded him with suspicion. The operatives were undoubtedly expecting trouble from all quarters, for three other large men of the "bull" type, heavy-jowled, ponderous men, surrounded him as he presented his card.
"I am the friend of Howard Van Cleft, about whom Captain Cronin telephoned you from Bellevue. I am to help him interview the girl: may I wait until he arrives?"
"Oh, you're wise to the case? Sure then, come into the reception room on the right. What's that in your grip?" asked the apparent leader of the men.
"Just an idea of Van Cleft's," said Shirley, as he followed into the adjoining compartment. "It's a phonograph. Have you received any phoney 'phone calls to-night? Queer ones that you didn't expect and couldn't explain? Van Cleft has, and he decided to take records of them on this machine."
The superintendent nodded. Shirley opened the grip and drew out the instrument, and made ready on the small table, near which was the desk telephone.
"Let's get this in readiness then, and if you get any calls have them switched up to this instrument, so that when you talk, you can hold the receiver handy to the horn."
"Young feller, I think you must know more about this business than you've a right to. Just keep your hands above the table—I think I'll frisk you!"
"No need," snapped Shirley with a smile in his eyes, and the automatic revolver was drawn and covering the detective before he could reach forward. "But I have no designs on you. You will have to work quicker than that with some people in this case."
He slid the weapon across the table to the other who snatched it anxiously.
"If a call comes and you don't recognize the voice at once, please ask the party to come closer to the 'phone, to speak louder—listen, there is the bell now! Get it connected here at once!"
The surprised superintendent, fearing that after all he might miss some good lead, yielded to his professional curiosity against his professional prejudices. He bawled down the hall.
"Switch on up here, Mike. I'll talk." He caught up the instrument, as Shirley dropped to his knees beside him, to swing the horn into place.
"What's that?" he shouted over the wire. "Yes, shure it is—What's that you say?—I don't get you, cull—You want to speak to the girl?—What girl?—Talk louder. Hire a hall!—Say, I ain't no mind reader! Speak up."
Over the instrument came the phrase once more: "Can you hear me now?"
It was the man's voice! Shirley was exultant.
"Yes, I hear you. What do you want?"
"I want to call for my sister, if you're going to let her go. I want—"
An inspiration prompted Shirley to press down the prongs of the receiver. The connection was stopped, and the superintendent turned upon him angrily.
"You spoiled that, you nut! We was just about to find out who her brother was—say, who are you, anyway?"
"There, don't you worry. That makes another call certain. Don't you see? That's what I'm playing for. But here comes Van Cleft, who will tell you I am all right."
The millionaire entered the hallway before any serious altercation could arise. He greeted Shirley warmly and introduced him to Pat Cleary. The man was mollified.
"Well, I'm Captain Cronin's right bower, and I thinks as how this guy is the joker of the deck trying to make a dirty deuce out of me. But, if you want to see the girl, she's right upstairs. His work was a little speedy on first acquaintance. Nick, keep your eyes on this machine, for we may get another call on this floor—This way gentlemen. Watch your step, for the hallway's dark."
The girl was imprisoned in a windowless room on the second floor. As the door opened, Shirley beheld a pitiful sight. Attired in the finery of the Rialto, she lay prone upon a couch in the center of the dingy room, sobbing hysterically. Her blonde hair was disheveled, her features wan and distorted from her paroxysms of fear and grief. Like a frightened animal, she sprang to her feet as they entered the room, retreating to the wall, her trembling hands spread as though to brace her from falling.
"I didn't do it! I swear! The old fool was soused and I don't know what was the matter with me. But I didn't kill any one in the world!"
"There, sit down, little girl, and don't get frightened. This gentleman and I have come to learn the truth—not to punish you for something you didn't do. Start with the beginning and tell all you remember."
Shirley's gentle manner was so unexpected, his voice so inspiring that she relaxed, sinking to the floor, as Shirley caught her limp girlish form in his arms. He placed her on the couch again, and she regained her composure under his calm urging. Little by little she visualized the details of the gruesome evening and narrated them under the magnetic cross-questions of the criminologist.
She had met the elder Van Cleft in the tea-room of a Broadway hostelry, by appointment made the evening before at Pinkie Taylor's birthday party. After several drinks together they took a taxicab to ride uptown to a little chop house. Did she see any one she knew in the tea-room? Of course, several of the fellows and girls whom she couldn't remember just now, buzzed about, for Van Cleft was a liberal entertainer around the youngsters. She had five varieties of cocktails in succession, and she became dizzy. In the taxicab she became dizzier and when next she remembered anything definite she was sitting on the stool in the garage where she had been arrested. That was all. As she reached this point there came a knock on the door with a call for Van Cleft.
"You Van's son!" she screamed. Then she fainted, while Shirley caught her, calling an assistant to care for her, as he followed Van Cleft downstairs to answer the telephone. "You know your cues?"
The millionaire nodded, as with trembling fingers he caught up the instrument and knelt on the bare floor to hold it close to the phonograph, which Shirley was engineering, with a fresh record in place.
"Hello! Hello, there, I say. Hello!"
Shirley strained his ears, to hear this time a rough, wheezy voice which caused the two men to exchange startled glances, as it proceeded: "Is this you, Howard, my boy?"
"What do you want? I can't hear you. The telephone is buzzing. Louder please!"
Shirley nodded approbation, as the machine ran along merrily.
"Now, can you hear me. Ahem! Can you hear me now? Is this Howard Van Cleft?"
"Yes, go ahead, but louder still."
"Now, can you hear me? This is your father's dearest friend, Howard,—this is William Grimsby speaking. I am fearfully distressed and shocked to learn of his death, my poor boy. And Howard, I am grieved to learn that there is some little scandal about it. As your father's confidential adviser, I urge you to hush it up at all cost. I was told at your home just now by one of the servants that you had gone to this vulgar detective agency."
Here Shirley shut off the phonograph, addressing Van Cleft with his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone for the minute.
"Keep on talking until I return. Get his advice about flowers and everything else you can think of."
Then he ran from the room, into the hallway, out of the door, and down the stoop to Fortieth Street. He looked about uncertainly, then espied across the way a tailor shop, where the light of the late workman still burned. Monty hurried thither and asked the use of the telephone upon the wall.
"Shuair, mister, but it will cost you a dime, for I have to pay the gas and the rent."
From the telephone directory he obtained the address and number of William Grimsby, the banker. He received an answer promptly. The servant, after learning his name promised to call the master. A gruff voice answered soon. Mr. Grimsby declared that he had been reading in his library for the last two hours, undisturbed by any telephone calls. Shirley expressed a doubt.
"How dare you doubt my word, sir. The telephone is in my reception room where I heard it ring just now, for the first time. What do you want?"
"An interview with you to-morrow morning at nine on a life and death matter. I can merely remind you, sir, that two of your friends, Wellington Serral and Herbert de Cleyster have met mysterious deaths during the past week. Mr. Van Cleft died of heart failure to-night. I will be there at nine. As you value your own life do not leave your residence or even answer any telephone messages again until I see you."
"Well, I'll be—" Shirley disconnected, before the verb was reached. He tossed the coin to the tailor, and speedily returned to the waiting room where he signaled Van Cleft to end the conversation.
"Quick now, find out what wire called you up." The answer was "William Grimsby, 97 Fifth Avenue."
"You had the wrong tip that time, Mr. Shirley," said Van Cleft. "But how could he have found out where I was, for none of the servants know about Captain Cronin, or even my family that I was coming down here. He gave me some good advice however. I want to pay the hush money and end it all forever."
Shirley had preserved the record and put it away with the others in the grip. Now he lit a cigarette and puffed several rings of smoke before answering.
"Van, it must be wonderful to be twins."
"This is no night for joking," petulantly, observed the nervous young man. "I want the girl silenced—"
"She won't open her mouth after I tell her some things. It may entertain you to know, Van, that while you were getting such good advice from Mr. Grimsby on this wire, I was talking to the real Mr. Grimsby on his own wire: he said I was his first caller in more than an hour. So, I gave him some good advice, which wouldn't interest you. After this don't believe what the telephone tells."
"Who was I speaking with?"
"The most brilliant criminal it has ever been my pleasure to run across," and his eyes snapped with joy, the huntsman instinct rising to the surface at last, "I will call him the voice until I know his better name. He is the most scientific crook of the age."
"What do you know about criminals?" was the incredulous question.
"I'll know a hundred times as much as I do now, when I know all about this one, Van. You'd better have Cleary send an armed guard along with you, and get home for a good rest. Get a man who can drive a car, and bring back the empty auto three houses away from your residence: it will bear looking into! I'm going up to have a revival meeting with that girl now, for I am convinced that she is not a whit more implicated in the conception or execution of this crime than you are. Good-night."
Van Cleft left the house, with a pitying shake of the head. He was not quite certain that he had done wisely, after all, in bringing his eccentric friend into the affair. He little reckoned how much more peculiarly Montague Shirley was to act for the remainder of the night.
CHAPTER VI. AN EXPERIMENT WITH THE "MOVIES"
The cross-examination of Polly Marion resulted in little advantage. She had known of the sudden departure of two other songbirds, well equipped with funds for the land of Somewhere Else. Their absence had been the subject of some quiet jesting among the dragon flies who flitted over the pond of pleasure. A suggestion, from some unrecalled source, that their disappearance had been connected with the deaths of the two aged suitors was revitalized in her memory by the words of the elderly detective. Familiar with the strange life of this jeweled half-world Shirley's keenness brought forth nothing to convince him that the girl had been more culpable than in the following of her class, known to the initiate as the "gentle art of gold digging."
"Polly, go home now, and stay away from these parties: that's my honest advice, if you want to be on the 'outside looking in,' when some one is sent to prison for this. I am in favor of hushing up this affair, and want to ease it up for you. Are you wise?"
Polly was wise, beyond her years. Her equipoise was regained, and with a coquettish interest in this handsome interviewer—such girls always have an eye for future business—he returned to her theatrical lodging house, in which at least dwelt her wardrobe and makeup box when she was "trouping" in some spangled chorus. Of recent months she had not been subjected to the Hurculean rigors of bearing the spear, thanks to the gratuities of the open-handed Van Cleft, Senior. She pleaded to remain out of the white lights, meaning it as she spoke. But Shirley wisely felt that the butterfly would emerge from the chrysalis, shortly, to flutter into certain gardens where he would fain cull rare blossoms! Pat Cleary deputized a "shadow" to diarize her exits and entrances.
"The hooks are cleaned, with fresh bait upon them," soliloquized Shirley, as he went down the dark stoop. "Now for a little laboratory work on the wherefore of the why!"
Although long after midnight, he numbered among his acquaintanceship, many whom he could find far from Slumber-land. His steps led to the apartment of a certain theatrical manager, whom he found engaged in a lively tournament of the chips, jousting with two leading men, one playwright, a composer and a merchant prince. The latter, of course, was winning. The host, contributing both chips and bottled cheer, was far from optimistic until the arrival of the club man.
"A live one abaft the mizzen!" exclaimed Dick Holloway, "Here's Shirley sent by Heaven to join us. After all I hope to pay my next month's rent."
Noisily welcomed by the victims of mercantile prowess, he apologetically declined to flirt with Dame Fortune, pleading a business purpose.
"Business, Monty! By the shade of Shakspeare! I never knew you to look at business, except to prevent it running you down like a Fourth Avenue mail bus."
"It is in the interest of science," said Shirley, drawing the manager aside, "an experiment—"
"Fudge on science. You interrupt a game at this time of night!"
"But it means money. I am willing to pay."
"Ah, Monty, money should never come between friends, and so I retract: with three failures this season, because the public doesn't appreciate art."
"It's about moving pictures. I know that you have floated a syndicate for big productions. Do you work night and day?"
"An investment? Heaven bless you! Come into my bedroom and we'll arrange things of course, we work at night. Just this minute they are producing the 'Bartered Bride' in six reels and eighteen thrills a foot. A magnificently equipped studio, the public yelling for more how much have you?"
"Not so fast, Dick. It's merely some special work tonight, what you would call trick photography. I need a photographer, some lights, a little space, a microscopic lens and the complete developing during the night. And, I'll pay cash, as I have done with some suspicious poker losses in this temple of the muses on bygone evenings. Which, I may urge with gentle sarcasm is more than I have frequently received at your hands."
"Touche!" laughed Holloway. "I'll write a note to the studio manager—he's there now, and will do what you want. You could have your picture completed by morning with a little financial coaxing applied in the right place. Come to the library table. Go on with the game, boys, it will save me a little."
The potentate of dry goods was drawing in his winnings, as Shirley leaned over Holloway's shoulder to dictate the missive. Suddenly a revolver shot rang out from the window, and a bullet crashed into the wall behind Shirley's head.
His hand, idly dropped into his overcoat pocket, intuitively closed around his automatic revolver. A dark silhouette was outlined against the gray luminosity cast up by the lights of Broadway, half a block from the window. Through the opening another belching flame shot forth, to be answered by the criminologist's weapon, barking like a miltraileuse. They heard a stifled cry, and as Shirley ran forward, he exclaimed with disappointment.
"He's escaped down the fire-escape and through that skylight."
He faced about to smile grimly at the curious scene within. The playwright had taken refuge among the brass andirons of the big empty fireplace. The matinee heroes were under chairs, and Holloway behind the mahogany buffet. From the direction of the stairway came shrill cries from the speeding merchant, softening in intensity as he neared the street level.
"The battle's over!" exclaimed Holloway. "I don't know whether it was my chorus men wishing the gipsy curse on me, or the stage-carpenters going on a strike. But look! See the swag that Jerry left behind! What shall we do with it?"
"Loot!" suggested the playwright, with rare discrimination, as he dusted off the wood ashes, and approached the table with glistening eyes. "We'll divide share and share alike. It's the only way to win from Jerry."
Temperament was asserting its gameness. Shirley put back into position a shattered portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, and his eyes twinkled as the apostles of the muses hastened to divide the chips of the departed one into five generous piles. Holloway completed the letter, albeit with a nervous chirography, and handed him the envelope.
"Go now, before a submarine war zone is declared. I'm going to close up shop before the police come visiting. Good luck, Monty, in the cause of science."
Although his conscience was clear about the game having created five surprised winners by his interruption, he was disturbed over the certainty that the voice was aware of his personal work in the case. The difficulties were now trebled! Before any policemen appeared Shirley had passed Broadway on his way to the motion picture studio, on the West side of Tenth Avenue. Whatever secret observers may have been on his tracks, nothing untoward occurred: still, his senses were quickened into caution by the attempt on his life.
A parley with a grumpy gateman, the presentation of his letter and he was admitted to the presence of the manager, a man exhausted with the strenuosity of night and day work. Shirley understood the antidote for his sullenness.
"Here, old man, send out for a little luncheon for the two of us. I have some unusual experimental work, and need the assistance of a well-known expert like yourself." The flattery, embellished by a ten-dollar bill, opened a flood-gate of optimism.
A camera man was summoned, and the apparatus prepared for some "close-up" motion pictures. Under the weird green lights of the mercury vapor lamps, a director and company of players were busily enacting a dramatic scene, before a studio set. They gave little heed to the newcomer: boredom is a prime requisite of poise in the motion picture art.
"I have here three phonograph records, which I want photographed."
"But they don't move—you want a still camera," exclaimed the dumfounded manager.
"Yes, they do move as the picture is taken. I want a microscopic lens used in the camera in such a way that we take a motion picture of the twinings and twistings of one little thread on the wax cylinder, as it records the sound waves around the cylinder."
The photographer sniffed with scorn, being familiar with eccentric uplifters of the "movies," but responded to the command of the manager to adjust his delicate camera mechanism for the task.
"There is a certain phrase of words on each cylinder which I want recorded this way. Can all three be taken parallel with each other on the same film?"
"Sure, easiest thing to do—just a triple exposure. We take it on one edge of the film, through a little slit just a bit wider than the space of the thread, cut in a screen. Then we rewind that film, and slide the slit to the middle of the lens, take your second wax record, and do the same on the right edge of the film for the third. But what's the idea?"
The camera man began to show interest: he was a skilled mechanician and he caught the drift of a sensible purpose, at last.
Shirley did not answer. He placed the first record in the phonograph, running it until the feminine voice could be distinguished asking: "Can you hear me now?" He marked the beginning and end of this phrase with his pocket knife. So with the merry masculine and the aged, disagreeable voice, he located the same order of words: "Can you hear me now?" The operation seems easy, in the telling, or again perhaps it appears intensely involved and hardly worth the trouble. A motto of Shirley's was: "Nothing is too much trouble if it's worth while." So, with this. To the cynical camera man its general nature was expressed in his whispered phrase to the manager:
"You better not leave them property butcher knives on that there table, Mr. Harrison. This gink is nuts: he thinks's he's Mike Angelo or some other sculpture. He'll start sculpin' the crowd in a minute!"
"You take the picture and keep your opinions to yourself," snapped Shirley whose hearing was highly trained.
The man lapsed into silence. For two hours they fumed and perspired and swore, under the intense heat of the low-hung mercury lamps, until at last a test proved they had the right combination. Shirley greased the skill of the camera man with a well-directed gratuity, and ordered speedy development of the film. Before this was done, however, he took six other records of voices from the folk in the studio, using the same words: "Can you hear me now?"
The three strips of triple exposures were taken to the dark room and developed by the camera man. They were dried on the revolving electric drums, near a battery of fans. Shirley studied every step of the work, with this and that question—this had been his method of acquiring a curiously catholic knowledge of scientific methods since leaving the university, where sporting proclivities had prompted him to slide through courses with as little toil as possible.
A print upon "positive" film was made from each: every strip was duplicated twenty-five times, at Shirley's suggestion. Then after two hours of effort the material was ready to be run through the projecting machine, for viewing upon the screen.
The manager led Shirley to the small exhibition theatre in which every film was studied, changed and cut from twenty to fifty times before being released for the theatres. The camera man went into the little fire-proof booth, to operate the machine.
"Which one first, chief?"
"Take one by chance," said Shirley, "and I will guess its number. Start away."
There was a flare of light upon the screen, as the operator fussed with the lamp for better lumination. He slowly began to turn the crank, and the criminologist watched the screen with no little excitement. The picture thrown up resembled nothing so much as three endless snakes twisting in the same general rhythm from top to bottom of the frame. The twenty-five duplicates were all joined to the original, so that there was ample opportunity to compare the movements.
"Well, gov'nor, which film was that?" asked the operator.
"Not A—it was B or C!"
"Correct. How'd you guess it? Which is this one?"
As he adjusted another roll of film in the projector, Shirley turned to the manager sitting at his side. "Mr. Harrison, were those snakes all exactly alike?"
"No. They all wriggled in the same direction, at the same time. But little rough angles in some movements and queer curves in others made each individually different."
"Just what I thought. There goes another.—That is not film A, either!"
"Righto!" confirmed the camera man. As the detailed divergence between the lines became more evident in the repetitions, Shirley slapped his knee.
"Now for the finish. Try reel A."
This time the three snakey lines moved along in almost identical synchronism. The only difference was that the first was thin, the second heavier, the third the darkest and most ragged of all. The relationship was unmistakable!
"I got you gov'nor," cried the operator. "Some dope, all right, all right."
"Why, what is all this?" asked the manager, nonplussed. "The last three are alike, but what good does it do?"
"It is known that the human voice in its inflections is like handwriting—with a distinct personality. Certain words, when pronounced naturally, without the alterations of dialect, are always in the same rhythm. The records taken in the studio of those five words, 'Can you hear me now?' are in the same general rhythm, but only the last three snakes show exact similarity, to each little quaver and turn. There was only the difference in shading: one was the voice of a women. The second of a man of perhaps forty, the third of an old man—all three taken at different times, and I thought from different people. But they all came from one throat, and my work is completed along this line—Will you please lock up the films, the phonograph, and my records in your film vault, until I send for them; through Mr. Holloway?"
The criminologist arose and walked into the deserted studio, from whence the company had long since departed for belated slumbers. He picked up three bricks which lay in a corner of the big studio, and placed them gently into his grip. The manager and the camera man observed this with blank amazement, as he locked it and put the key into his pocket. Then he handed each of them a large-sized bill.
"I'm very grateful, gentlemen, for your assistance. Pleasant dreams."
Shirley abstractedly walked out of the studio, one hand comfortably in his overcoat pocket, swinging the grip in the other.
"Say, Lou," confided the manager, "he's the craziest guy I've ever seen in the movies. And that's going some, after ten years of it."
Lou treated himself to a generous bite of plug tobacco, and spat philosophically, before replying.
"Sure, he's crazy. Crazy, like the grandfather of all foxes!"
CHAPTER VII. ENTER A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
A reddening zone in the East silhouetted the serrated line of the distant elevated structure, as Shirley walked along the gray street, his thoughts busy with the possibilities of applying his new certainty.
He had reached Sixth Avenue, and was just passing one of the elevated pillars when a black touring car crept up behind him. The clanging bell and the grinding motors of an early surface car drowned the sound of the automobile in his rear. Suddenly the big machine sprang forward at highest speed. A man leaned from the driver's seat, and snatched the grip from his hand.
The motorman, cursing, threw on the emergency brake, in time to barely graze the machine with his fender as it shot across the street before him.
Shirley's view was cut off, until he had run around the street-car—then he beheld the big automobile skidding in a half-circle, as it turned down Fifth Avenue. It was too far away to distinguish the number of the singing license tag.
"Much good may the bricks do them! Perhaps they will help to build the annex necessary up the river, when these gentry go there for a long visit."
Shirley laughed at the joke on his pursuers, and turned into a little all-night grill for a comforting mutton chop of gargantuan proportions, with an equally huge baked potato. He was a healthy brute, after all his morbid line of activities! Later, at the Club, he submitted to the amenities of the barber, whose fine Italian hand smoothed away, in a skilful massage, the haggard lines of his long vigil. As he left the club house for William Grimsby's residence he looked as fresh and bouyant as though he had enjoyed the conventional eight hours' sleep.
"You are this Montague Shirley?" was the querulous greeting from the old gentleman, when he was admitted to the drawing-room. "You kept me in anguish the entire night, with your silly words. The telephone bell rang at intervals of half an hour until dawn: I may have missed some important business deal by not replying What do you mean? Is this some blackmail game?"
"No, sir. It has to deal with blackmailing, however—but not for my profit."
"Explain quickly. I am a busy man. My motor is waiting now to take me to my office."
"Look here, Mr. Grimsby, at this memorandum book," said Shirley, holding forward the list which he had copied from the joy-party article in the theatrical paper. "With some friends of yours, you held merry carnival to Venus and Bacchus at an all-night lobster palace not long ago. Have I the right names?"
"This is rank impertinence. How dare you? Get out of my house."
"Not so fast, my dear sir, until you understand my drift. Throughout Club circles you and Mr. Van Cleft, with these other cronies are sarcastically referred to as the Lobster Club. Did you know that?"
Grimsby's face was purple with angry mortification, but Shirley would not be gainsaid. "I am acting in this matter as a friend of Howard Van Cleft," he continued. "Your three friends have met their deaths at the hand of a cunning conspirator. Last night, white I talked with you on the telephone, young Van Cleft was receiving advice over another wire from a person who pretended to be William Grimsby—advising him to hush the matter up and drop the investigation. But—Captain Cronin the famous detective—has received a tip that the number of victims would be increased very soon—frankly, now: do you want to be the fourth?"
Grimsby's face changed to ashen gray, as he timidly clutched Shirley's sleeve.
"Then cooperate with me. You understand now the nature of this villain's work: to rob and assassinate his victim in the company of a girl, so that this would endeavor to hush the scandal, without reporting it to the police. His progress is unchecked, and afterwards he would have untold opportunity for continuing a demand for hush money on the surviving relatives. May I count on you to help?"
"You may count on me to leave the city within the next two hours."
"Good! But I want to have you disappear so quietly that this cunning unknown will not know of it. He is watching your house now, without a doubt."
Grimsby strode to the window, with his characteristic limp, and drew the heavy curtains aside, to peer out nervously.
"No one is in sight."
"The man is as unseen in his work as a germ. But he is not unheard: he uses the telephone to locate his victims, that is why I advised you to let your instrument ring unanswered."
"I'll do what I can, if I can keep out of more danger. An old man craves life more than a young one. I fought through the Civil War and brought a medal from Congress and this wounded knee out of it, Mr. Shirley. I didn't fear anything then, but times have changed!"
"Here is my plan, then," continued Shirley, his lips twitching with sub-strata amusement, "I want to impersonate you, when you leave, so that this man tries to send me after the other three. Don't interrupt, let me finish—You will say that it is impossible to deceive any one at close range. Surely, it does sound melodramatic, like a lurid tale of a paper back novel. But I have studied the photographs of your friends. You and I bear the closest resemblance of any in the group. Your weight is about the same as mine—your shoulders are a trifle stooped and you walk with a curious drag of your left foot. Your hair is white but thick: the contour of our faces is quite similar, and so with dry cosmetics, some physical mimicry, and the use of a pair of horn-rimmed glasses like yours I can make a comparatively good double. The only exposure to the sharp eyes of your enemies will be, first, when I substitute myself for you and take your automobile back home; second, when I go down to the theatrical district, to visit a well-known tearoom where I learn you are a frequent guest. There the wall tables are shrouded by decorations, and I shall keep in the shadow and talk as little as possible. Behind those dark glasses, and entering the place with your peculiarly spotted fur coat, I will resemble you more than you believe. If to add to the illusion, I show hospitable prodigality with drinks for the others, it is probable that their observation will be less analytical. Then, third in the line of activities, I will go to the theatre, sit in a darkened box, and let them take me where they will in whatever automobile turns up. Thus you see my campaign."
"How much do I have to pay you?"
"I might have expected that," was the laughing retort. "You are noted for the fortunes you waste on stupid show girls, while times are hard with you in your offices where young and old men struggle along to support honest families. Have no fear, Mr. Grimsby, my income is enough for my simple wants. I am entering this hunt for big game, just as I have gone to India and East Africa, for jungle trophies. It will not cost you a nickel."
"I had better contribute a little," began Grimsby, embarrassed, as he drew out a check-book. But Shirley negatived with emphasis.
"How about your servants? Can you trust them with the secret?"
"They have been with me for twenty-five years or more. My wife is in California, and the rest of the servants, except two maids and a butler, up at my country home on the Hudson."
"Fine: then, in two hours from now, meet me at the Hotel Astor, where I have rooms, in the name of Madden. Bring down an extra suit of clothes, and an extra overcoat, for I want to wear your fur one, which I see there on the davenport. On the downward trip instruct your chauffeur to drive your car up to your country place, as soon as he has made the return trip from the hotel. You will be there before he gets up, on the country roads and he will be none the wiser. Goodbye, Mr. Grimsby."
At the club Shirley made some necessary disposition of his private matters, for he knew this case would run longer than a day. From his rooms he sent a note by messenger to his theatrical friend, Dick Holloway, which read simply.
"Dear Holloway:—The experiment with the movies won the blue ribbon. I have a new plan on foot. You can help me in this, as well. I want you to engage for me a beautiful, clever and daring actress, afraid of nothing under the sun or moon, and absolutely unknown on Broadway. No amateurs or stage-struck heiresses or manicurists: you are the one impresario who can fill my bill. I will call at your office in fifteen minutes, so have the compact sealed by then. Who finally won the loot, last night?
Your friend, Montague Shirley."
The manager was forced to go through the note twice, to make sure that his senses were not leaving him. Then he turned in the chair, toward the unusual young woman who sat in his private office, observing with mingled amusement and curiosity the fleeting expressions upon his face.
"In view of your mission in America, this may interest you," was his amused comment, as he handed her the missive. "It is from the most curious man in New York."
He studied the downcast lashes, as she read the letter. Hers was a face which had stirred a continent, yet he had never met her until this memorable day. She might have been twenty-three years old—and again, might have been three years younger or older. Rippling red-gold waves of hair separated in the center of her smooth brow to caress with a soft wave on either side the blooming cheeks, whose Nature-grown roses were unusual in this world-weary vicinity of Broadway. A sweet mouth with a sensuous smile at one corner, and a barely perceptible droop of pathos at the other, lent an indescribable piquance to her dimpled smile. The blue orbs which raised to his own with a Sphinxian laugh in their azure depths thrilled him—Holloway, the blase, the hardened theatrical manager, flattered and cajoled by hundreds of beautiful women on the quest of stage success!
Adroitly veiled beneath the silken folds of the clinging gown, redolent with the bizarre artistry of a Parisian atelier, was the shapely suggestion of exquisite physical perfection which did not escape the connoisseur glance of Holloway.