THE CRAIG KENNEDY SERIES
THE WAR TERROR
BY ARTHUR B. REEVE
FRONTISPIECE BY WILL FOSTER
INTRODUCTION I. THE WAR TERROR II. THE ELECTRO-MAGNETIC GUN III. THE MURDER SYNDICATE IV. THE AIR PIRATE V. THE ULTRA-VIOLET RAY VI. THE TRIPLE MIRROR VII. THE WIRELESS WIRETAPPERS VIII. THE HOUSEBOAT MYSTERY IX. THE RADIO DETECTIVE X. THE CURIO SHOP XI. THE "PILLAR OF DEATH" XII. THE ARROW POISON XIII. THE RADIUM ROBBER XIV. THE SPINTHARISCOPE XV. THE ASPHYXIATING SAFE XVI. THE DEAD LINE XVII. THE PASTE REPLICA XVIII. THE BURGLAR'S MICROPHONE XIX. THE GERM LETTER XX. THE ARTIFICIAL KIDNEY XXI. THE POISON BRACELET XXII. THE DEVIL WORSHIPERS XXIII. THE PSYCHIC CURSE XXIV. THE SERPENT'S TOOTH XXV. THE "HAPPY DUST" XXVI. THE BINET TEST XXVII. THE LIE DETECTOR XXVIII. THE FAMILY SKELETON XXIX. THE LEAD POISONER XXX. THE ELECTROLYTIC MURDER XXXI. THE EUGENIC BRIDE XXXII. THE GERM PLASM XXXIII. THE SEX CONTROL XXXIV. THE BILLIONAIRE BABY XXXV. THE PSYCHANALYSIS XXXVI. THE ENDS OF JUSTICE
As I look back now on the sensational events of the past months since the great European War began, it seems to me as if there had never been a period in Craig Kennedy's life more replete with thrilling adventures than this.
In fact, scarcely had one mysterious event been straightened out from the tangled skein, when another, even more baffling, crowded on its very heels.
As was to have been expected with us in America, not all of these remarkable experiences grew either directly or indirectly out of the war, but there were several that did, and they proved to be only the beginning of a succession of events which kept me busy chronicling for the Star the exploits of my capable and versatile friend.
Altogether, this period of the war was, I am sure, quite the most exciting of the many series of episodes through which Craig has been called upon to go. Yet he seemed to meet each situation as it arose with a fresh mind, which was amazing even to me who have known him so long and so intimately.
As was naturally to be supposed, also, at such a time, it was not long before Craig found himself entangled in the marvelous spy system of the warring European nations. These systems revealed their devious and dark ways, ramifying as they did tentacle-like even across the ocean in their efforts to gain their ends in neutral America. Not only so, but, as I shall some day endeavor to show later, when the ban of silence imposed by neutrality is raised after the war, many of the horrors of the war were brought home intimately to us.
I have, after mature consideration, decided that even at present nothing but good can come from the publication at least of some part of the strange series of adventures through which Kennedy and I have just gone, especially those which might, if we had not succeeded, have caused most important changes in current history. As for the other adventures, no question can be raised about the propriety of their publication.
At any rate, it came about that early in August, when the war cloud was just beginning to loom blackest, Kennedy was unexpectedly called into one of the strangest, most dangerous situations in which his peculiar and perilous profession had ever involved him.
THE WAR TERROR
"I must see Professor Kennedy—where is he?—I must see him, for God's sake!"
I was almost carried off my feet by the inrush of a wild-eyed girl, seemingly half crazed with excitement, as she cried out Craig's name.
Startled by my own involuntary exclamation of surprise which followed the vision that shot past me as I opened our door in response to a sudden, sharp series of pushes at the buzzer, Kennedy bounded swiftly toward me, and the girl almost flung herself upon him.
"Why, Miss—er—Miss—my dear young lady—what's the matter?" he stammered, catching her by the arm gently.
As Kennedy forced our strange visitor into a chair, I observed that she was all a-tremble. Her teeth fairly chattered. Alternately her nervous, peaceless hands clutched at an imaginary something in the air, as if for support, then, finding none, she would let her wrists fall supine, while she gazed about with quivering lips and wild, restless eyes. Plainly, there was something she feared. She was almost over the verge of hysteria.
She was a striking girl, of medium height and slender form, but it was her face that fascinated me, with its delicately molded features, intense unfathomable eyes of dark brown, and lips that showed her idealistic, high-strung temperament.
"Please," he soothed, "get yourself together, please—try! What is the matter?"
She looked about, as if she feared that the very walls had eyes and ears. Yet there seemed to be something bursting from her lips that she could not restrain.
"My life," she cried wildly, "my life is at stake. Oh—help me, help me! Unless I commit a murder to-night, I shall be killed myself!"
The words sounded so doubly strange from a girl of her evident refinement that I watched her narrowly, not sure yet but that we had a plain case of insanity to deal with.
"A murder?" repeated Kennedy incredulously. "YOU commit a murder?"
Her eyes rested on him, as if fascinated, but she did not flinch as she replied desperately, "Yes—Baron Kreiger—you know, the German diplomat and financier, who is in America raising money and arousing sympathy with his country."
"Baron Kreiger!" exclaimed Kennedy in surprise, looking at her more keenly.
We had not met the Baron, but we had heard much about him, young, handsome, of an old family, trusted already in spite of his youth by many of the more advanced of old world financial and political leaders, one who had made a most favorable impression on democratic America at a time when such impressions were valuable.
Glancing from one of us to the other, she seemed suddenly, with a great effort, to recollect herself, for she reached into her chatelaine and pulled out a card from a case.
It read simply, "Miss Paula Lowe."
"Yes," she replied, more calmly now to Kennedy's repetition of the Baron's name, "you see, I belong to a secret group." She appeared to hesitate, then suddenly added, "I am an anarchist."
She watched the effect of her confession and, finding the look on Kennedy's face encouraging rather than shocked, went on breathlessly: "We are fighting war with war—this iron-bound organization of men and women. We have pledged ourselves to exterminate all kings, emperors and rulers, ministers of war, generals—but first of all the financiers who lend money that makes war possible."
She paused, her eyes gleaming momentarily with something like the militant enthusiasm that must have enlisted her in the paradoxical war against war.
"We are at least going to make another war impossible!" she exclaimed, for the moment evidently forgetting herself.
"And your plan?" prompted Kennedy, in the most matter-of-fact manner, as though he were discussing an ordinary campaign for social betterment. "How were you to—reach the Baron?"
"We had a drawing," she answered with amazing calmness, as if the mere telling relieved her pent-up feelings. "Another woman and I were chosen. We knew the Baron's weakness for a pretty face. We planned to become acquainted with him—lure him on."
Her voice trailed off, as if, the first burst of confidence over, she felt something that would lock her secret tighter in her breast.
A moment later she resumed, now talking rapidly, disconnectedly, giving Kennedy no chance to interrupt or guide the conversation.
"You don't know, Professor Kennedy," she began again, "but there are similar groups to ours in European countries and the plan is to strike terror and consternation everywhere in the world at once. Why, at our headquarters there have been drawn up plans and agreements with other groups and there are set down the time, place, and manner of all the—the removals."
Momentarily she seemed to be carried away by something like the fanaticism of the fervor which had at first captured her, even still held her as she recited her incredible story.
"Oh, can't you understand?" she went on, as if to justify herself. "The increase in armies, the frightful implements of slaughter, the total failure of the peace propaganda—they have all defied civilization!
"And then, too, the old, red-blooded emotions of battle have all been eliminated by the mechanical conditions of modern warfare in which men and women are just so many units, automata. Don't you see? To fight war with its own weapons—that has become the only last resort."
Her eager, flushed face betrayed the enthusiasm which had once carried her into the "Group," as she called it. I wondered what had brought her now to us.
"We are no longer making war against man," she cried. "We are making war against picric acid and electric wires!"
I confess that I could not help thinking that there was no doubt that to a certain type of mind the reasoning might appeal most strongly.
"And you would do it in war time, too?" asked Kennedy quickly.
She was ready with an answer. "King George of Greece was killed at the head of his troops. Remember Nazim Pasha, too. Such people are easily reached in time of peace and in time of war, also, by sympathizers on their own side. That's it, you see—we have followers of all nationalities."
She stopped, her burst of enthusiasm spent. A moment later she leaned forward, her clean-cut profile showing her more earnest than before. "But, oh, Professor Kennedy," she added, "it is working itself out to be more terrible than war itself!"
"Have any of the plans been carried out yet?" asked Craig, I thought a little superciliously, for there had certainly been no such wholesale assassination yet as she had hinted at.
She seemed to catch her breath. "Yes," she murmured, then checked herself as if in fear of saying too much. "That is, I—I think so."
I wondered if she were concealing something, perhaps had already had a hand in some such enterprise and it had frightened her.
Kennedy leaned forward, observing the girl's discomfiture. "Miss Lowe," he said, catching her eye and holding it almost hypnotically, "why have you come to see me?"
The question, pointblank, seemed to startle her. Evidently she had thought to tell only as little as necessary, and in her own way. She gave a little nervous laugh, as if to pass it off. But Kennedy's eyes conquered.
"Oh, can't you understand yet?" she exclaimed, rising passionately and throwing out her arms in appeal. "I was carried away with my hatred of war. I hate it yet. But now—the sudden realization of what this compact all means has—well, caused something in me to— to snap. I don't care what oath I have taken. Oh, Professor Kennedy, you—you must save him!"
I looked up at her quickly. What did she mean? At first she had come to be saved herself. "You must save him!" she implored.
Our door buzzer sounded.
She gazed about with a hunted look, as if she felt that some one had even now pursued her and found out.
"What shall I do?" she whispered. "Where shall I go?"
"Quick—in here. No one will know," urged Kennedy, opening the door to his room. He paused for an instant, hurriedly. "Tell me— have you and this other woman met the Baron yet? How far has it gone?"
The look she gave him was peculiar. I could not fathom what was going on in her mind. But there was no hesitation about her answer. "Yes," she replied, "I—we have met him. He is to come back to New York from Washington to-day—this afternoon—to arrange a private loan of five million dollars with some bankers secretly. We were to see him to-night—a quiet dinner, after an automobile ride up the Hudson—"
"Both of you?" interrupted Craig.
"Yes—that—that other woman and myself," she repeated, with a peculiar catch in her voice. "To-night was the time fixed in the drawing for the—"
The word stuck in her throat. Kennedy understood. "Yes, yes," he encouraged, "but who is the other woman?"
Before she could reply, the buzzer had sounded again and she had retreated from the door. Quickly Kennedy closed it and opened the outside door.
It was our old friend Burke of the Secret Service.
Without a word of greeting, a hasty glance seemed to assure him that Kennedy and I were alone. He closed the door himself, and, instead of sitting down, came close to Craig.
"Kennedy," he blurted out in a tone of suppressed excitement, "can I trust you to keep a big secret?"
Craig looked at him reproachfully, but said nothing.
"I beg your pardon—a thousand times," hastened Burke. "I was so excited, I wasn't thinking—"
"Once is enough, Burke," laughed Kennedy, his good nature restored at Burke's crestfallen appearance.
"Well, you see," went on the Secret Service man, "this thing is so very important that—well, I forgot."
He sat down and hitched his chair close to us, as he went on in a lowered, almost awestruck tone.
"Kennedy," he whispered, "I'm on the trail, I think, of something growing out of these terrible conditions in Europe that will tax the best in the Secret Service. Think of it, man. There's an organization, right here in this city, a sort of assassin's club, as it were, aimed at all the powerful men the world over. Why, the most refined and intellectual reformers have joined with the most red-handed anarchists and—"
"Sh! not so loud," cautioned Craig. "I think I have one of them in the next room. Have they done anything yet to the Baron?"
It was Burke's turn now to look from one to the other of us in unfeigned surprise that we should already know something of his secret.
"The Baron?" he repeated, lowering his voice. "What Baron?"
It was evident that Burke knew nothing, at least of this new plot which Miss Lowe had indicated. Kennedy beckoned him over to the window furthest from the door to his own room.
"What have you discovered?" he asked, forestalling Burke in the questioning. "What has happened?"
"You haven't heard, then?" replied Burke.
Kennedy nodded negatively.
"Fortescue, the American inventor of fortescite, the new explosive, died very strangely this morning."
"Yes," encouraged Kennedy, as Burke came to a full stop to observe the effect of the information.
"Most incomprehensible, too," he pursued. "No cause, apparently. But it might have been overlooked, perhaps, except for one thing. It wasn't known generally, but Fortescue had just perfected a successful electro-magnetic gun—powderless, smokeless, flashless, noiseless and of tremendous power. To-morrow he was to have signed the contract to sell it to England. This morning he is found dead and the final plans of the gun are gone!"
Kennedy and Burke were standing mutely looking at each other.
"Who is in the next room?" whispered Burke hoarsely, recollecting Kennedy's caution of silence.
Kennedy did not reply immediately. He was evidently much excited by Burke's news of the wonderful electro-magnetic gun.
"Burke," he exclaimed suddenly, "let's join forces. I think we are both on the trail of a world-wide conspiracy—a sort of murder syndicate to wipe out war!"
Burke's only reply was a low whistle that involuntarily escaped him as he reached over and grasped Craig's hand, which to him represented the sealing of the compact.
As for me, I could not restrain a mental shudder at the power that their first murder had evidently placed in the hands of the anarchists, if they indeed had the electro-magnetic gun which inventors had been seeking for generations. What might they not do with it—perhaps even use it themselves and turn the latest invention against society itself!
Hastily Craig gave a whispered account of our strange visit from Miss Lowe, while Burke listened, open-mouthed.
He had scarcely finished when he reached for the telephone and asked for long distance.
"Is this the German embassy in Washington?" asked Craig a few moments later when he got his number. "This is Craig Kennedy, in New York. The United States Secret Service will vouch for me— mention to them Mr. Burke of their New York office who is here with me now. I understand that Baron Kreiger is leaving for New York to meet some bankers this afternoon. He must not do so. He is in the gravest danger if he—What? He left last night at midnight and is already here?"
Kennedy turned to us blankly.
The door to his room opened suddenly.
There stood Miss Lowe, gazing wild-eyed at us. Evidently her supernervous condition had heightened the keenness of her senses. She had heard what we were saying. I tried to read her face. It was not fear that I saw there. It was rage; it was jealousy.
"The traitress—it is Marie!" she shrieked.
For a moment, obtusely, I did not understand.
"She has made a secret appointment with him," she cried.
At last I saw the truth. Paula Lowe had fallen in love with the man she had sworn to kill!
THE ELECTRO-MAGNETIC GUN
"What shall we do?" demanded Burke, instantly taking in the dangerous situation that the Baron's sudden change of plans had opened up.
"Call O'Connor," I suggested, thinking of the police bureau of missing persons, and reaching for the telephone.
"No, no!" almost shouted Craig, seizing my arm. "The police will inevitably spoil it all. No, we must play a lone hand in this if we are to work it out. How was Fortescue discovered, Burke?"
"Sitting in a chair in his laboratory. He must have been there all night. There wasn't a mark on him, not a sign of violence, yet his face was terribly drawn as though he were gasping for breath or his heart had suddenly failed him. So far, I believe, the coroner has no clue and isn't advertising the case."
"Take me there, then," decided Craig quickly. "Walter, I must trust Miss Lowe to you on the journey. We must all go. That must be our starting point, if we are to run this thing down."
I caught his significant look to me and interpreted it to mean that he wanted me to watch Miss Lowe especially. I gathered that taking her was in the nature of a third degree and as a result he expected to derive some information from her. Her face was pale and drawn as we four piled into a taxicab for a quick run downtown to the laboratory of Fortescue from which Burke had come directly to us with his story.
"What do you know of these anarchists?" asked Kennedy of Burke as we sped along. "Why do you suspect them?"
It was evident that he was discussing the case so that Paula could overhear, for a purpose.
"Why, we received a tip from abroad—I won't say where," replied Burke guardedly, taking his cue. "They call themselves the 'Group,' I believe, which is a common enough term among anarchists. It seems they are composed of terrorists of all nations."
"The leader?" inquired Kennedy, leading him on.
"There is one, I believe, a little florid, stout German. I think he is a paranoiac who believes there has fallen on himself a divine mission to end all warfare. Quite likely he is one of those who have fled to America to avoid military service. Perhaps, why certainly, you must know him—Annenberg, an instructor in economics now at the University?"
Craig nodded and raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. We had indeed heard of Annenberg and some of his radical theories which had sometimes quite alarmed the conservative faculty. I felt that this was getting pretty close home to us now.
"How about Mrs. Annenberg?" Craig asked, recalling the clever young wife of the middle-aged professor.
At the mere mention of the name, I felt a sort of start in Miss Lowe, who was seated next to me in the taxicab. She had quickly recovered herself, but not before I saw that Kennedy's plan of breaking down the last barrier of her reserve was working.
"She is one of them, too," Burke nodded. "I have had my men out shadowing them and their friends. They tell me that the Annenbergs hold salons—I suppose you would call them that—attended by numbers of men and women of high social and intellectual position who dabble in radicalism and all sorts of things." "Who are the other leaders?" asked Craig. "Have you any idea?"
"Some idea," returned Burke. "There seems to be a Frenchman, a tall, wiry man of forty-five or fifty with a black mustache which once had a military twist. There are a couple of Englishmen. Then there are five or six Americans who seem to be active. One, I believe, is a young woman."
Kennedy checked him with a covert glance, but did not betray by a movement of a muscle to Miss Lowe that either Burke or himself suspected her of being the young woman in question.
"There are three Russians," continued Burke, "all of whom have escaped from Siberia. Then there is at least one Austrian, a Spaniard from the Ferrer school, and Tomasso and Enrico, two Italians, rather heavily built, swarthy, bearded. They look the part. Of course there are others. But these in the main, I think, compose what might be called 'the inner circle' of the 'Group.'"
It was indeed an alarming, terrifying revelation, as we began to realize that Miss Lowe had undoubtedly been telling the truth. Not alone was there this American group, evidently, but all over Europe the lines of the conspiracy had apparently spread. It was not a casual gathering of ordinary malcontents. It went deeper than that. It included many who in their disgust at war secretly were not unwilling to wink at violence to end the curse. I could not but reflect on the dangerous ground on which most of them were treading, shaking the basis of all civilization in order to cut out one modern excrescence.
The big fact to us, just at present, was that this group had made America its headquarters, that plans had been studiously matured and even reduced to writing, if Paula were to be believed. Everything had been carefully staged for a great simultaneous blow or series of blows that would rouse the whole world.
As I watched I could not escape observing that Miss Lowe followed Burke furtively now, as though he had some uncanny power.
Fortescue's laboratory was in an old building on a side street several blocks from the main thoroughfares of Manhattan. He had evidently chosen it, partly because of its very inaccessibility in order to secure the quiet necessary for his work.
"If he had any visitors last night," commented Kennedy when our cab at last pulled up before the place, "they might have come and gone unnoticed."
We entered. Nothing had been disturbed in the laboratory by the coroner and Kennedy was able to gain a complete idea of the case rapidly, almost as well as if we had been called in immediately.
Fortescue's body, it seemed, had been discovered sprawled out in a big armchair, as Burke had said, by one of his assistants only a few hours before when he had come to the laboratory in the morning to open it. Evidently he had been there undisturbed all night, keeping a gruesome vigil over his looted treasure house.
As we gleaned the meager facts, it became more evident that whoever had perpetrated the crime must have had the diabolical cunning to do it in some ordinary way that aroused no suspicion on the part of the victim, for there was no sign of any violence anywhere.
As we entered the laboratory, I noted an involuntary shudder on the part of Paula Lowe, but, as far as I knew, it was no more than might have been felt by anyone under the circumstances.
Fortescue's body had been removed from the chair in which it had been found and lay on a couch at the other end of the room, covered merely by a sheet. Otherwise, everything, even the armchair, was undisturbed.
Kennedy pulled back a corner of the sheet, disclosing the face, contorted and of a peculiar, purplish hue from the congested blood vessels. He bent over and I did so, too. There was an unmistakable odor of tobacco on him. A moment Kennedy studied the face before us, then slowly replaced the sheet.
Miss Lowe had paused just inside the door and seemed resolutely bound not to look at anything. Kennedy meanwhile had begun a most minute search of the table and floor of the laboratory near the spot where the armchair had been sitting.
In my effort to glean what I could from her actions and expressions I did not notice that Craig had dropped to his knees and was peering into the shadow under the laboratory table. When at last he rose and straightened himself up, however, I saw that he was holding in the palm of his hand a half-smoked, gold-tipped cigarette, which had evidently fallen on the floor beneath the table where it had burned itself out, leaving a blackened mark on the wood.
An instant afterward he picked out from the pile of articles found in Fortescue's pockets and lying on another table a silver cigarette case. He snapped it open. Fortescue's cigarettes, of which there were perhaps a half dozen in the case, were cork- tipped.
Some one had evidently visited the inventor the night before, had apparently offered him a cigarette, for there were any number of the cork-tipped stubs lying about. Who was it? I caught Paula looking with fascinated gaze at the gold-tipped stub, as Kennedy carefully folded it up in a piece of paper and deposited it in his pocket. Did she know something about the case, I wondered?
Without a word, Kennedy seemed to take in the scant furniture of the laboratory at a glance and a quick step or two brought him before a steel filing cabinet. One drawer, which had not been closed as tightly as the rest, projected a bit. On its face was a little typewritten card bearing the inscription: "E-M GUN."
He pulled the drawer open and glanced over the data in it.
"Just what is an electro-magnetic gun?" I asked, interpreting the initials on the drawer.
"Well," he explained as he turned over the notes and sketches, "the primary principle involved in the construction of such a gun consists in impelling the projectile by the magnetic action of a solenoid, the sectional coils or helices of which are supplied with current through devices actuated by the projectile itself. In other words, the sections of helices of the solenoid produce an accelerated motion of the projectile by acting successively on it, after a principle involved in the construction of electro-magnetic rock drills and dispatch tubes.
"All projectiles used in this gun of Fortescue's evidently must have magnetic properties and projectiles of iron or containing large portions of iron are necessary. You see, many coils are wound around the barrel of the gun. As the projectile starts it does so under the attraction of those coils ahead which the current makes temporary magnets. It automatically cuts off the current from those coils that it passes, allowing those further on only to attract it, and preventing those behind from pulling it back."
He paused to study the scraps of plans. "Fortescue had evidently also worked out a way of changing the poles of the coils as the projectile passed, causing them then to repel the projectile, which must have added to its velocity. He seems to have overcome the practical difficulty that in order to obtain service velocities with service projectiles an enormous number of windings and a tremendously long barrel are necessary as well as an abnormally heavy current beyond the safe carrying capacity of the solenoid which would raise the temperature to a point that would destroy the coils."
He continued turning over the prints and notes in the drawer. When he finished, he looked up at us with an expression that indicated that he had merely satisfied himself of something he had already suspected.
"You were right, Burke," he said. "The final plans are gone."
Burke, who, in the meantime, had been telephoning about the city in a vain effort to locate Baron Kreiger, both at such banking offices in Wall Street as he might be likely to visit and at some of the hotels most frequented by foreigners, merely nodded. He was evidently at a loss completely how to proceed.
In fact, there seemed to be innumerable problems—to warn Baron Kreiger, to get the list of the assassinations, to guard Miss Lowe against falling into the hands of her anarchist friends again, to find the murderer of Fortescue, to prevent the use of the electro- magnetic gun, and, if possible, to seize the anarchists before they had a chance to carry further their plans.
"There is nothing more that we can do here," remarked Craig briskly, betraying no sign of hesitation. "I think the best thing we can do is to go to my own laboratory. There at least there is something I must investigate sooner or later."
No one offering either a suggestion or an objection, we four again entered our cab. It was quite noticeable now that the visit had shaken Paula Lowe, but Kennedy still studiously refrained from questioning her, trusting that what she had seen and heard, especially Burke's report as to Baron Kreiger, would have its effect.
Like everyone visiting Craig's laboratory for the first time, Miss Lowe seemed to feel the spell of the innumerable strange and uncanny instruments which he had gathered about him in his scientific warfare against crime. I could see that she was becoming more and more nervous, perhaps fearing even that in some incomprehensible way he might read her own thoughts. Yet one thing I did not detect. She showed no disposition to turn back on the course on which she had entered by coming to us in the first place.
Kennedy was quickly and deftly testing the stub of the little thin, gold-tipped cigarette.
"Excessive smoking," he remarked casually, "causes neuroses of the heart and tobacco has a specific affinity for the coronary arteries as well as a tremendous effect on the vagus nerve. But I don't think this was any ordinary smoke."
He had finished his tests and a quiet smile of satisfaction flitted momentarily over his face. We had been watching him anxiously, wondering what he had found.
As he looked up he remarked to us, with his eyes fixed on Miss Lowe, "That was a ladies' cigarette. Did you notice the size? There has been a woman in this case—presumably."
The girl, suddenly transformed by the rapid-fire succession of discoveries, stood before us like a specter.
"The 'Group,' as anarchists call it," pursued Craig, "is the loosest sort of organization conceivable, I believe, with no set membership, no officers, no laws—just a place of meeting with no fixity, where the comrades get together. Could you get us into the inner circle, Miss Lowe?"
Her only answer was a little suppressed scream. Kennedy had asked the question merely for its effect, for it was only too evident that there was no time, even if she could have managed it, for us to play the "stool pigeon."
Kennedy, who had been clearing up the materials he had used in the analysis of the cigarette, wheeled about suddenly. "Where is the headquarters of the inner circle?" he shot out.
Miss Lowe hesitated. That had evidently been one of the things she had determined not to divulge.
"Tell me," insisted Kennedy. "You must!"
If it had been Burke's bulldozing she would never have yielded. But as she looked into Kennedy's eyes she read there that he had long since fathomed the secret of her wildly beating heart, that if she would accomplish the purpose of saving the Baron she must stop at nothing.
"At—Maplehurst," she answered in a low tone, dropping her eyes from his penetrating gaze, "Professor Annenberg's home—out on Long Island."
"We must act swiftly if we are to succeed," considered Kennedy, his tone betraying rather sympathy with than triumph over the wretched girl who had at last cast everything in the balance to outweigh the terrible situation into which she had been drawn. "To send Miss Lowe for that fatal list of assassinations is to send her either back into the power of this murderous group and let them know that she has told us, or perhaps to involve her again in the completion of their plans."
She sank back into a chair in complete nervous and physical collapse, covering her face with her hands at the realization that in her new-found passion to save the Baron she had bared her sensitive soul for the dissection of three men whom she had never seen before.
"We must have that list," pursued Kennedy decisively. "We must visit Annenberg's headquarters."
"And I?" she asked, trembling now with genuine fear at the thought that he might ask her to accompany us as he had on our visit to Fortescue's laboratory that morning.
"Miss Lowe," said Kennedy, bending over her, "you have gone too far now ever to turn back. You are not equal to the trip. Would you like to remain here? No one will suspect. Here at least you will be safe until we return."
Her answer was a mute expression of thanks and confidence.
THE MURDER SYNDICATE
Quickly now Craig completed his arrangements for the visit to the headquarters of the real anarchist leader. Burke telephoned for a high-powered car, while Miss Lowe told frankly of the habits of Annenberg and the chances of finding his place unguarded, which were good in the daytime. Kennedy's only equipment for the excursion consisted in a small package which he took from a cabinet at the end of the room, and, with a parting reassurance to Paula Lowe, we were soon speeding over the bridge to the borough across the river.
We realized that it might prove a desperate undertaking, but the crisis was such that it called for any risk.
Our quest took us to a rather dilapidated old house on the outskirts of the little Long Island town. The house stood alone, not far from the tracks of a trolley that ran at infrequent intervals. Even a hasty reconnoitering showed that to stop our motor at even a reasonable distance from it was in itself to arouse suspicion.
Although the house seemed deserted, Craig took no chances, but directed the car to turn at the next crossroad and then run back along a road back of and parallel to that on which Annenberg's was situated. It was perhaps a quarter of a mile away, across an open field, that we stopped and ran the car up along the side of the road in some bushes. Annenberg's was plainly visible and it was not at all likely that anyone there would suspect trouble from that quarter.
A hasty conference with Burke followed, in which Kennedy unwrapped his small package, leaving part of its contents with him, and adding careful instructions.
Then Kennedy and I retraced our steps down the road, across by the crossroad, and at last back to the mysterious house.
To all appearance there had been no need of such excessive caution. Not a sound or motion greeted us as we entered the gate and made our way around to the rear of the house. The very isolation of the house was now our protection, for we had no inquisitive neighbors to watch us for the instant when Kennedy, with the dexterity of a yeggman, inserted his knife between the sashes of the kitchen window and turned the catch which admitted us.
We made our way on cautious tiptoe through a dining room to a living room, and, finding nothing, proceeded upstairs. There was not a soul, apparently, in the house, nor in fact anything to indicate that it was different from most small suburban homes, until at last we mounted to the attic.
It was finished off in one large room across the back of the house and two in front. As we opened the door to the larger room, we could only gaze about in surprise. This was the rendezvous, the arsenal, literary, explosive and toxicological of the "Group." Ranged on a table were all the materials for bomb-making, while in a cabinet I fancied there were poisons enough to decimate a city.
On the walls were pictures, mostly newspaper prints, of the assassins of McKinley, of King Humbert, of the King of Greece, of King Carlos and others, interspersed with portraits of anarchist and anti-militarist leaders of all lands.
Kennedy sniffed. Over all I, too, could catch the faint odor of stale tobacco. No time was to be lost, however, and while Craig set to work rapidly going through the contents of a desk in the corner, I glanced over the contents of a drawer of a heavy mission table.
"Here's some of Annenberg's literature," I remarked, coming across a small pile of manuscript, entitled "The Human Slaughter House."
"Read it," panted Kennedy, seeing that I had about completed my part of the job. "It may give a clue."
Hastily I scanned the mad, frantic indictment of war, while Craig continued in his search:
"I see wild beasts all around me, distorted unnaturally, in a life and death struggle, with bloodshot eyes, with foaming, gnashing mouths. They attack and kill one another and try to mangle each other. I leap to my feet. I race out into the night and tread on quaking flesh, step on hard heads, and stumble over weapons and helmets. Something is clutching at my feet like hands, so that I race away like a hunted deer with the hounds at his heels—and ever over more bodies—breathless... out of one field into another. Horror is crooning over my head. Horror is crooning beneath my feet. And nothing but dying, mangled flesh!
"Of a sudden I see nothing but blood before me. The heavens have opened and the red blood pours in through the windows. Blood wells up on an altar. The walls run blood from the ceiling to the floor and... a giant of blood stands before me. His beard and his hair drip blood. He seats himself on the altar and laughs from thick lips. The black executioner raises his sword and whirls it above my head. Another moment and my head will roll down on the floor. Another moment and the red jet will spurt from my neck.
"Murderers! Murderers! None other than murderers!"
I paused in the reading. "There's nothing here," I remarked, glancing over the curious document for a clue, but finding none.
"Well," remarked Craig contemplatively, "one can at least easily understand how sensitive and imaginative people who have fallen under the influence of one who writes in that way can feel justified in killing those responsible for bringing such horrors on the human race. Hello—what's this?"
He had discovered a false back of one of the drawers in the desk and had jimmied it open. On the top of innumerable papers lay a large linen envelope. On its face it bore in typewriting, just like the card on the drawer at Fortescue's, "E-M GUN."
"It is the original envelope that contained the final plans of the electro-magnetic gun," he explained, opening it.
The envelope was empty. We looked at each other a moment in silence. What had been done with the plans?
Suddenly a bell rang, startling me beyond measure. It was, however, only the telephone, of which an extension reached up into the attic-arsenal. Some one, who did not know that we were there, was evidently calling up.
Kennedy quickly unhooked the receiver with a hasty motion to me to be silent.
"Hello," I heard him answer. "Yes, this is it."
He had disguised his voice. I waited anxiously and watched his face to gather what response he received.
"The deuce!" he exclaimed, with his hand over the transmitter so that his voice would not be heard at the other end of the line.
"What's the matter?" I asked eagerly.
"It was Mrs. Annenberg—I am sure. But she was too keen for me. She caught on. There must be some password or form of expression that they use, which we don't know, for she hung up the receiver almost as soon as she heard me."
Kennedy waited a minute or so. Then he whistled into the transmitter. It was done apparently to see whether there was anyone listening. But there was no answer.
"Operator, operator!" he called insistently, moving the hook up and down. "Yes, operator. Can you tell me what number that was which just called?"
He waited impatiently.
"Bleecker—7l80," he repeated after the girl. "Thank you. Information, please."
Again we waited, as Craig tried to trace the call up.
"What is the street address of Bleecker, 7180?" he asked. "Five hundred and one East Fifth—a tenement. Thank you."
"A tenement?" I repeated blankly.
"Yes," he cried, now for the first time excited. "Don't you begin to see the scheme? I'll wager that Baron Kreiger has been lured to New York to purchase the electro-magnetic gun which they have stolen from Fortescue and the British. That is the bait that is held out to him by the woman. Call up Miss Lowe at the laboratory and see if she knows the place."
I gave central the number, while he fell to at the little secret drawer of the desk again. The grinding of the wheels of a passing trolley interfered somewhat with giving the number and I had to wait a moment.
"Ah—Walter—here's the list!" almost shouted Kennedy, as he broke open a black-japanned dispatch box in the desk.
I bent over it, as far as the slack of the telephone wire of the receiver at my ear would permit. Annenberg had worked with amazing care and neatness on the list, even going so far as to draw at the top, in black, a death's head. The rest of it was elaborately prepared in flaming red ink.
Craig gasped to observe the list of world-famous men marked for destruction in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and even in New York and Washington.
"What is the date set?" I asked, still with my ear glued to the receiver.
"To-night and to-morrow," he replied, stuffing the fateful sheet into his pocket.
Rummaging about in the drawer of the table, I had come to a package of gold-tipped cigarettes which had interested me and I had left them out. Kennedy was now looking at them curiously.
"What is to be the method, do you suppose?" I asked.
"By a poison that is among the most powerful, approaching even cyanogen," he replied confidently, tapping the cigarettes. "Do you smell the odor in this room? What is it like?"
"Stale tobacco," I replied.
"Exactly—nicotine. Two or three drops on the mouth-end of a cigar or cigarette. The intended victim thinks it is only natural. But it is the purest form of the deadly alkaloid—fatal in a few minutes, too."
He examined the thin little cigarettes more carefully. "Nicotine," he went on, "was about the first alkaloid that was recovered from the body by chemical analysis in a homicide case. That is the penetrating, persistent odor you smelled at Fortescue's and also here. It's a very good poison—if you are not particular about being discovered. A pound of ordinary smoking tobacco contains from a half to an ounce of it. It is almost entirely consumed by combustion; otherwise a pipeful would be fatal. Of course they may have thought that investigators would believe that their victims were inveterate smokers. But even the worst tobacco fiend wouldn't show traces of the weed to such an extent."
Miss Lowe answered at last and Kennedy took the telephone.
"What is at five hundred and one East Fifth?" he asked.
"A headquarters of the Group in the city," she answered. "Why?"
"Well, I believe that the plans of that gun are there and that the Baron—"
"You damned spies!" came a voice from behind us.
Kennedy dropped the receiver, turning quickly, his automatic gleaming in his hand.
There was just a glimpse of a man with glittering bright blue eyes that had an almost fiendish, baleful glare. An instant later the door which had so unexpectedly opened banged shut, we heard a key turn in the lock—and the man dropped to the floor before even Kennedy's automatic could test its ability to penetrate wood on a chance at hitting something the other side of it.
We were prisoners!
My mind worked automatically. At this very moment, perhaps, Baron Kreiger might be negotiating for the electro-magnetic gun. We had found out where he was, in all probability, but we were powerless to help him. I thought of Miss Lowe, and picked up the receiver which Kennedy had dropped.
She did not answer. The wire had been cut. We were isolated!
Kennedy had jumped to the window. I followed to restrain him, fearing that he had some mad scheme for climbing out. Instead, quickly he placed a peculiar arrangement, from the little package he had brought, holding it to his eye as if sighting it, his right hand grasping a handle as one holds a stereoscope. A moment later, as I examined it more closely, I saw that instead of looking at anything he had before him a small parabolic mirror turned away from him.
His finger pressed alternately on a button on the handle and I could see that there flashed in the little mirror a minute incandescent lamp which seemed to have a special filament arrangement.
The glaring sun was streaming in at the window and I wondered what could possibly be accomplished by the little light in competition with the sun itself.
"Signaling by electric light in the daytime may sound to you ridiculous," explained Craig, still industriously flashing the light, "but this arrangement with Professor Donath's signal mirror makes it possible, all right.
"I hadn't expected this, but I thought I might want to communicate with Burke quickly. You see, I sight the lamp and then press the button which causes the light in the mirror to flash. It seems a paradox that a light like this can be seen from a distance of even five miles and yet be invisible to one for whom it was not intended, but it is so. I use the ordinary Morse code—two seconds for a dot, six for a dash with a four-second interval."
"What message did you send?" I asked.
"I told him that Baron Kreiger was at five hundred and one East Fifth, probably; to get the secret service office in New York by wire and have them raid the place, then to come and rescue us. That was Annenberg. He must have come up by that trolley we heard passing just before."
The minutes seemed ages as we waited for Burke to start the machinery of the raid and then come for us.
"No—you can't have a cigarette—and if I had a pair of bracelets with me, I'd search you myself," we heard a welcome voice growl outside the door a few minutes later. "Look in that other pocket, Tom."
The lock grated back and there stood Burke holding in a grip of steel the undersized Annenberg, while the chauffeur who had driven our car swung open the door.
"I'd have been up sooner," apologized Burke, giving the anarchist an extra twist just to let him know that he was at last in the hands of the law, "only I figured that this fellow couldn't have got far away in this God-forsaken Ducktown and I might as well pick him up while I had a chance. That's a great little instrument of yours, Kennedy. I got you, fine."
Annenberg, seeing we were now four to one, concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and ceased to struggle, though now and then I could see he glanced at Kennedy out of the corner of his eye. To every question he maintained a stolid silence.
A few minutes later, with the arch anarchist safely pinioned between us, we were speeding back toward New York, laying plans for Burke to dispatch warnings abroad to those whose names appeared on the fatal list, and at the same time to round up as many of the conspirators as possible in America.
As for Kennedy, his main interest now lay in Baron Kreiger and Paula. While she had been driven frantic by the outcome of the terrible pact into which she had been drawn, some one, undoubtedly, had been trying to sell Baron Kreiger the gun that had been stolen from the American inventor. Once they had his money and he had received the plans of the gun, a fatal cigarette would be smoked. Could we prevent it?
On we tore back to the city, across the bridge and down through the canyons of East Side streets.
At last we pulled up before the tenement at five hundred and one. As we did so, one of Burke's men jumped out of the doorway.
"Are we in time?" shouted Burke.
"It's an awful mix-up," returned the man. "I can't make anything out of it, so I ordered 'em all held here till you came."
We pushed past without a word of criticism of his wonderful acumen.
On the top floor we came upon a young man, bending over the form of a girl who had fainted. On the floor of the middle of the room was a mass of charred papers which had evidently burned a hole in the carpet before they had been stamped out. Near by was an unlighted cigarette, crushed flat on the floor.
"How is she?" asked Kennedy anxiously of the young man, as he dropped down on the other side of the girl.
It was Paula. She had fainted, but was just now coming out of the borderland of unconsciousness.
"Was I in time? Had he smoked it?" she moaned weakly, as there swam before her eyes, evidently, a hazy vision of our faces.
Kennedy turned to the young man.
"Baron Kreiger, I presume?" he inquired.
The young man nodded.
"Burke of the Secret Service," introduced Craig, indicating our friend. "My name is Kennedy. Tell what happened."
"I had just concluded a transaction," returned Kreiger in good but carefully guarded English. "Suddenly the door burst open. She seized these papers and dashed a cigarette out of my hands. The next instant she had touched a match to them and had fallen in a faint almost in the blaze. Strangest experience I ever had in my life. Then all these other fellows came bursting in—said they were Secret Service men, too."
Kennedy had no time to reply, for a cry from Annenberg directed our attention to the next room where on a couch lay a figure all huddled up.
As we looked we saw it was a woman, her head sweating profusely, and her hands cold and clammy. There was a strange twitching of the muscles of the face, the pupils of her eyes were widely dilated, her pulse weak and irregular. Evidently her circulation had failed so that it responded only feebly to stimulants, for her respiration was slow and labored, with loud inspiratory gasps.
Annenberg had burst with superhuman strength from Burke's grasp and was kneeling by the side of his wife's deathbed.
"It—was all Paula's fault—" gasped the woman. "I—knew I had better—carry it through—like the Fortescue visit—alone."
I felt a sense of reassurance at the words. At least my suspicions had been unfounded. Paula was innocent of the murder of Fortescue.
"Severe, acute nicotine poisoning," remarked Kennedy, as he rejoined us a moment later. "There is nothing we can do—now."
Paula moved at the words, as though they had awakened a new energy in her. With a supreme effort she raised herself.
"Then I—I failed?" she cried, catching sight of Kennedy.
"No, Miss Lowe," he answered gently. "You won. The plans of the terrible gun are destroyed. The Baron is safe. Mrs. Annenberg has herself smoked one of the fatal cigarettes intended for him."
Kreiger looked at us, uncomprehending. Kennedy picked up the crushed, unlighted cigarette and laid it in the palm of his hand beside another, half smoked, which he had found beside Mrs. Annenberg.
"They are deadly," he said simply to Kreiger. "A few drops of pure nicotine hidden by that pretty gilt tip would have accomplished all that the bitterest anarchist could desire."
All at once Kreiger seemed to realize what he had escaped so narrowly. He turned toward Paula. The revulsion of her feelings at seeing him safe was too much for her shattered nerves.
With a faint little cry, she tottered.
Before any of us could reach her, he had caught her in his arms and imprinted a warm kiss on the insensible lips.
"Some water—quick!" he cried, still holding her close.
THE AIR PIRATE
Rounding up the "Group" took several days, and it proved to be a great story for the Star. I was pretty fagged when it was all over, but there was a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that we had frustrated one of the most daring anarchist plots of recent years.
"Can you arrange to spend the week-end with me at Stuyvesant Verplanck's at Bluffwood?" asked Kennedy over the telephone, the afternoon that I had completed my work on the newspaper of undoing what Annenberg and the rest had attempted.
"How long since society took you up?" I asked airily, adding, "Is it a large house party you are getting up?"
"You have heard of the so-called 'phantom bandit' of Bluffwood, haven't you?" he returned rather brusquely, as though there was no time now for bantering.
I confess that in the excitement of the anarchists I had forgotten it, but now I recalled that for several days I had been reading little paragraphs about robberies on the big estates on the Long Island shore of the Sound. One of the local correspondents had called the robber a "phantom bandit," but I had thought it nothing more than an attempt to make good copy out of a rather ordinary occurrence.
"Well," he hurried on, "that's the reason why I have been 'taken up by society,' as you so elegantly phrase it. From the secret hiding-places of the boudoirs and safes of fashionable women at Bluffwood, thousands of dollars' worth of jewels and other trinkets have mysteriously vanished. Of course you'll come along. Why, it will be just the story to tone up that alleged page of society news you hand out in the Sunday Star. There—we're quits now. Seriously, though, Walter, it really seems to be a very baffling case, or rather series of cases. The whole colony out there is terrorized. They don't know who the robber is, or how he operates, or who will be the next victim, but his skill and success seem almost uncanny. Mr. Verplanck has put one of his cars at my disposal and I'm up here at the laboratory gathering some apparatus that may be useful. I'll pick you up anywhere between this and the Bridge—how about Columbus Circle in half an hour?"
"Good," I agreed, deciding quickly from his tone and manner of assurance that it would be a case I could not afford to miss.
The Stuyvesant Verplancks, I knew, were among the leaders of the rather recherche society at Bluffwood, and the pace at which Bluffwood moved and had its being was such as to guarantee a good story in one way or another.
"Why," remarked Kennedy, as we sped out over the picturesque roads of the north shore of Long Island, "this fellow, or fellows, seems to have taken the measure of all the wealthy members of the exclusive organizations out there—the Westport Yacht Club, the Bluffwood Country Club, the North Shore Hunt, and all of them. It's a positive scandal, the ease with which he seems to come and go without detection, striking now here, now there, often at places that it seems physically impossible to get at, and yet always with the same diabolical skill and success. One night he will take some baubles worth thousands, the next pass them by for something apparently of no value at all, a piece of bric-a-brac, a bundle of letters, anything."
"Seems purposeless, insane, doesn't it?" I put in.
"Not when he always takes something—often more valuable than money," returned Craig.
He leaned back in the car and surveyed the glimpses of bay and countryside as we were whisked by the breaks in the trees.
"Walter," he remarked meditatively, "have you ever considered the possibilities of blackmail if the right sort of evidence were obtained under this new 'white-slavery act'? Scandals that some of the fast set may be inclined to wink at, that at worst used to end in Reno, become felonies with federal prison sentences looming up in the background. Think it over."
Stuyvesant Verplanck had telephoned rather hurriedly to Craig earlier in the day, retaining his services, but telling only in the briefest way of the extent of the depredations, and hinting that more than jewelry might be at stake.
It was a pleasant ride, but we finished it in silence. Verplanck was, as I recalled, a large masterful man, one of those who demanded and liked large things—such as the estate of several hundred acres which we at last entered.
It was on a neck of land with the restless waters of the Sound on one side and the calmer waters of the bay on the other. Westport Bay lay in a beautifully wooded, hilly country, and the house itself was on an elevation, with a huge sweep of terraced lawn before it down to the water's edge. All around, for miles, were other large estates, a veritable colony of wealth.
As we pulled up under the broad stone porte-cochere, Verplanck, who had been expecting us, led the way into his library, a great room, literally crowded with curios and objects of art which he had collected on his travels. It was a superb mental workshop, overlooking the bay, with a stretch of several miles of sheltered water.
"You will recall," began Verplanck, wasting no time over preliminaries, but plunging directly into the subject, "that the prominent robberies of late have been at seacoast resorts, especially on the shores of Long Island Sound, within, say, a hundred miles of New York. There has been a great deal of talk about dark and muffled automobiles that have conveyed mysterious parties swiftly and silently across country.
"My theory," he went on self-assertively, "is that the attack has been made always along water routes. Under shadow of darkness, it is easy to slip into one of the sheltered coves or miniature fiords with which the north coast of the Island abounds, land a cut-throat crew primed with exact information of the treasure on some of these estates. Once the booty is secured, the criminal could put out again into the Sound without leaving a clue."
He seemed to be considering his theory. "Perhaps the robberies last summer at Narragansett, Newport, and a dozen other New England places were perpetrated by the same cracksman. I believe," he concluded, lowering his voice, "that there plies to-day on the wide waters of the Sound a slim, swift motor boat which wears the air of a pleasure craft, yet is as black a pirate as ever flew the Jolly Roger. She may at this moment be anchored off some exclusive yacht club, flying the respectable burgee of the club—who knows?"
He paused as if his deductions settled the case so far. He would have resumed in the same vein, if the door had not opened. A lady in a cobwebby gown entered the room. She was of middle age, but had retained her youth with a skill that her sisters of less leisure always envy. Evidently she had not expected to find anyone, yet nothing seemed to disconcert her.
"Mrs. Verplanck," her husband introduced, "Professor Kennedy and his associate, Mr. Jameson—those detectives we have heard about. We were discussing the robberies."
"Oh, yes," she said, smiling, "my husband has been thinking of forming himself into a vigilance committee. The local authorities are all at sea."
I thought there was a trace of something veiled in the remark and fancied, not only then but later, that there was an air of constraint between the couple.
"You have not been robbed yourself?" queried Craig tentatively.
"Indeed we have," exclaimed Verplanck quickly. "The other night I was awakened by the noise of some one down here in this very library. I fired a shot, wild, and shouted, but before I could get down here the intruder had fled through a window, and half rolling down the terraces. Mrs. Verplanck was awakened by the rumpus and both of us heard a peculiar whirring noise."
"Like an automobile muffled down," she put in.
"No," he asserted vigorously, "more like a powerful motor boat, one with the exhaust under water."
"Well," she shrugged, "at any rate, we saw no one."
"Did the intruder get anything?"
"That's the lucky part. He had just opened this safe apparently and begun to ransack it. This is my private safe. Mrs. Verplanck has another built into her own room upstairs where she keeps her jewels."
"It is not a very modern safe, is it?" ventured Kennedy. "The fellow ripped off the outer casing with what they call a 'can- opener.'"
"No. I keep it against fire rather than burglars. But he overlooked a box of valuable heirlooms, some silver with the Verplanck arms. I think I must have scared him off just in time. He seized a package in the safe, but it was only some business correspondence. I don't relish having lost it, particularly. It related to a gentlemen's agreement a number of us had in the recent cotton corner. I suppose the Government would like to have it. But—here's the point. If it is so easy to get in and get away, no one in Bluffwood is safe."
"Why, he robbed the Montgomery Carter place the other night," remarked Mrs. Verplanck, "and almost got a lot of old Mrs. Carter's jewels as well as stuff belonging to her son, Montgomery, Junior. That was the first robbery. Mr. Carter, that is Junior— Monty, everyone calls him—and his chauffeur almost captured the fellow, but he managed to escape in the woods."
"In the woods?" repeated Craig.
Mrs. Verplanck nodded. "But they saved the loot he was about to take."
"Oh, no one is safe any more," reiterated Verplanck. "Carter seems to be the only one who has had a real chance at him, and he was able to get away neatly."
"But he's not the only one who got off without a loss," she put in significantly. "The last visit—" Then she paused.
"Where was the last attempt?" asked Kennedy.
"At the house of Mrs. Hollingsworth—around the point on this side of the bay. You can't see it from here."
"I'd like to go there," remarked Kennedy.
"Very well. Car or boat?"
"Boat, I think."
"Suppose we go in my little runabout, the Streamline II? She's as fast as any ordinary automobile."
"Very good. Then we can get an idea of the harbor."
"I'll telephone first that we are coming," said Verplanck.
"I think I'll go, too," considered Mrs. Verplanck, ringing for a heavy wrap.
"Just as you please," said Verplanck.
The Streamline was a three-stepped boat which. Verplanck had built for racing, a beautiful craft, managed much like a racing automobile. As she started from the dock, the purring drone of her eight cylinders sent her feathering over the waves like a skipping stone. She sank back into the water, her bow leaping upward, a cloud of spray in her wake, like a waterspout.
Mrs. Hollingsworth was a wealthy divorcee, living rather quietly with her two children, of whom the courts had awarded her the care. She was a striking woman, one of those for whom the new styles of dress seem especially to have been designed. I gathered, however, that she was not on very good terms with the little Westport clique in which the Verplancks moved, or at least not with Mrs. Verplanck. The two women seemed to regard each other rather coldly, I thought, although Mr. Verplanck, man-like, seemed to scorn any distinctions and was more than cordial. I wondered why Mrs. Verplanck had come.
The Hollingsworth house was a beautiful little place down the bay from the Yacht Club, but not as far as Verplanck's, or the Carter estate, which was opposite.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Hollingsworth when the reason for our visit had been explained, "the attempt was a failure. I happened to be awake, rather late, or perhaps you would call it early. I thought I heard a noise as if some one was trying to break into the drawing-room through the window. I switched on all the lights. I have them arranged so for just that purpose of scaring off intruders. Then, as I looked out of my window on the second floor, I fancied I could see a dark figure slink into the shadow of the shrubbery at the side of the house. Then there was a whirr. It might have been an automobile, although it sounded differently from that—more like a motor boat. At any rate, there was no trace of a car that we could discover in the morning. The road had been oiled, too, and a car would have left marks. And yet some one was here. There were marks on the drawing-room window just where I heard the sounds."
Who could it be? I asked myself as we left. I knew that the great army of chauffeurs was infested with thieves, thugs and gunmen. Then, too, there were maids, always useful as scouts for these corsairs who prey on the rich. Yet so adroitly had everything been done in these cases that not a clue seemed to have been left behind by which to trace the thief.
We returned to Verplanck's in the Streamline in record time, dined, and then found McNeill, a local detective, waiting to add his quota of information. McNeill was of the square-toed, double- chinned, bull-necked variety, just the man to take along if there was any fighting. He had, however, very little to add to the solution of the mystery, apparently believing in the chauffeur- and-maid theory.
It was too late to do anything more that night, and we sat on the Verplanck porch, overlooking the beautiful harbor. It was a black, inky night, with no moon, one of those nights when the myriad lights on the boats were mere points in the darkness. As we looked out over the water, considering the case which as yet we had hardly started on, Kennedy seemed engrossed in the study in black.
"I thought I saw a moving light for an instant across the bay, above the boats, and as though it were in the darkness of the hills on the other side. Is there a road over there, above the Carter house?" he asked suddenly.
"There is a road part of the way on the crest of the hill," replied Mrs. Verplanck. "You can see a car on it, now and then, through the trees, like a moving light."
"Over there, I mean," reiterated Kennedy, indicating the light as it flashed now faintly, then disappeared, to reappear further along, like a gigantic firefly in the night.
"N-no," said Verplanck. "I don't think the road runs down as far as that. It is further up the bay."
"What is it then?" asked Kennedy, half to himself. "It seems to be traveling rapidly. Now it must be about opposite the Carter house. There—it has gone."
We continued to watch for several minutes, but it did not reappear. Could it have been a light on the mast of a boat moving rapidly up the bay and perhaps nearer to us than we suspected? Nothing further happened, however, and we retired early, expecting to start with fresh minds on the case in the morning. Several watchmen whom Verplanck employed both on the shore and along the driveways were left guarding every possible entrance to the estate.
Yet the next morning as we met in the cheery east breakfast room, Verplanck's gardener came in, hat in hand, with much suppressed excitement.
In his hand he held an orange which he had found in the shrubbery underneath the windows of the house. In it was stuck a long nail and to the nail was fastened a tag.
Kennedy read it quickly.
"If this had been a bomb, you and your detectives would never have known what struck you.
THE ULTRA-VIOLET RAY
"Good Gad, man!" exclaimed Verplanck, who had read it over Craig's shoulder. "What do you make of THAT?"
Kennedy merely shook his head. Mrs. Verplanck was the calmest of all.
"The light," I cried. "You remember the light? Could it have been a signal to some one on this side of the bay, a signal light in the woods?"
"Possibly," commented Kennedy absently, adding, "Robbery with this fellow seems to be an art as carefully strategized as a promoter's plan or a merchant's trade campaign. I think I'll run over this morning and see if there is any trace of anything on the Carter estate."
Just then the telephone rang insistently. It was McNeill, much excited, though he had not heard of the orange incident. Verplanck answered the call.
"Have you heard the news?" asked McNeill. "They report this morning that that fellow must have turned up last night at Belle Aire."
"Belle Aire? Why, man, that's fifty miles away and on the other side of the island. He was here last night," and Verplanck related briefly the find of the morning. "No boat could get around the island in that time and as for a car—those roads are almost impossible at night."
"Can't help it," returned McNeill doggedly. "The Halstead estate out at Belle Aire was robbed last night. It's spooky all right."
"Tell McNeill I want to see him—will meet him in the village directly," cut in Craig before Verplanck had finished.
We bolted a hasty breakfast and in one of Verplanck's cars hurried to meet McNeill.
"What do you intend doing?" he asked helplessly, as Kennedy finished his recital of the queer doings of the night before.
"I'm going out now to look around the Carter place. Can you come along?"
"Surely," agreed McNeill, climbing into the car. "You know him?"
"Then I'll introduce you. Queer chap, Carter. He's a lawyer, although I don't think he has much practice, except managing his mother's estate."
McNeill settled back in the luxurious car with an exclamation of satisfaction.
"What do you think of Verplanck?" he asked.
"He seems to me to be a very public-spirited man," answered Kennedy discreetly.
That, however, was not what McNeill meant and he ignored it. And so for the next ten minutes we were entertained with a little retail scandal of Westport and Bluffwood, including a tale that seemed to have gained currency that Verplanck and Mrs. Hollingsworth were too friendly to please Mrs. Verplanck. I set the whole thing down to the hostility and jealousy of the towns people who misinterpret everything possible in the smart set, although I could not help recalling how quickly she had spoken when we had visited the Hollingsworth house in the Streamline the day before.
Montgomery Carter happened to be at home and, at least openly, interposed no objection to our going about the grounds.
"You see," explained Kennedy, watching the effect of his words as if to note whether Carter himself had noticed anything unusual the night before, "we saw a light moving over here last night. To tell the truth, I half expected you would have a story to add to ours, of a second visit."
Carter smiled. "No objection at all. I'm simply nonplussed at the nerve of this fellow, coming back again. I guess you've heard what a narrow squeak he had with me. You're welcome to go anywhere, just so long as you don't disturb my study down there in the boathouse. I use that because it overlooks the bay—just the place to study over knotty legal problems."
Back of, or in front of the Carter house, according as you fancied it faced the bay or not, was the boathouse, built by Carter's father, who had been a great yachtsman in his day and commodore of the club. His son had not gone in much for water sports and had converted the corner underneath a sort of observation tower into a sort of country law office.
"There has always seemed to me to be something strange about that boathouse since the old man died," remarked McNeill in a half whisper as we left Carter. "He always keeps it locked and never lets anyone go in there, although they say he has it fitted beautifully with hundreds of volumes of law books, too."
Kennedy had been climbing the hill back of the house and now paused to look about. Below was the Carter garage.
"By the way," exclaimed McNeill, as if he had at last hit on a great discovery, "Carter has a new chauffeur, a fellow named Wickham. I just saw him driving down to the village. He's a chap that it might pay us to watch—a newcomer, smart as a steel trap, they say, but not much of a talker." "Suppose you take that job— watch him," encouraged Kennedy. "We can't know too much about strangers here, McNeill."
"That's right," agreed the detective. "I'll follow him back to the village and get a line on him."
"Don't be easily discouraged," added Kennedy, as McNeill started down the hill to the garage. "If he is a fox he'll try to throw you off the trail. Hang on."
"What was that for?" I asked as the detective disappeared. "Did you want to get rid of him?"
"Partly," replied Craig, descending slowly, after a long survey of the surrounding country.
We had reached the garage, deserted now except for our own car.
"I'd like to investigate that tower," remarked Kennedy with a keen look at me, "if it could be done without seeming to violate Mr. Carter's hospitality."
"Well," I observed, my eye catching a ladder beside the garage, "there's a ladder. We can do no more than try."
He walked over to the automobile, took a little package out, slipped it into his pocket, and a few minutes later we had set the ladder up against the side of the boathouse farthest away from the house. It was the work of only a moment for Kennedy to scale it and prowl across the roof to the tower, while I stood guard at the foot.
"No one has been up there recently," he panted breathlessly as he rejoined me. "There isn't a sign."
We took the ladder quietly back to the garage, then Kennedy led the way down the shore to a sort of little summerhouse cut off from the boathouse and garage by the trees, though over the top of a hedge one could still see the boathouse tower.
We sat down, and Craig filled his lungs with the good salt air, sweeping his eye about the blue and green panorama as though this were a holiday and not a mystery case.
"Walter," he said at length, "I wish you'd take the car and go around to Verplanck's. I don't think you can see the tower through the trees, but I should like to be sure."
I found that it could not be seen, though I tried all over the place and got myself disliked by the gardener and suspected by a watchman with a dog.
It could not have been from the tower of the boathouse that we had seen the light, and I hurried back to Craig to tell him so. But when I returned, I found that he was impatiently pacing the little rustic summerhouse, no longer interested in what he had sent me to find out.
"What has happened?" I asked eagerly.
"Just come out here and I'll show you something," he replied, leaving the summerhouse and approaching the boathouse from the other side of the hedge, on the beach, so that the house itself cut us off from observation from Carter's.
"I fixed a lens on the top of that tower when I was up there," he explained, pointing up at it. "It must be about fifty feet high. From there, you see, it throws a reflection down to this mirror. I did it because through a skylight in the tower I could read whatever was written by anyone sitting at Carter's desk in the corner under it."
"Read?" I repeated, mystified.
"Yes, by invisible light," he continued. "This invisible light business, you know, is pretty well understood by this time. I was only repeating what was suggested once by Professor Wood of Johns Hopkins. Practically all sources of light, you understand, give out more or less ultraviolet light, which plays no part in vision whatever. The human eye is sensitive to but few of the light rays that reach it, and if our eyes were constituted just the least bit differently we should have an entirely different set of images.
"But by the use of various devices we can, as it were, translate these ultraviolet rays into terms of what the human eye can see. In order to do it, all the visible light rays which show us the thing as we see it—the tree green, the sky blue—must be cut off. So in taking an ultraviolet photograph a screen must be used which will be opaque to these visible rays and yet will let the ultraviolet rays through to form the image. That gave Professor Wood a lot of trouble. Glass won't do, for glass cuts off the ultraviolet rays entirely. Quartz is a very good medium, but it does not cut off all the visible light. In fact there is only one thing that will do the work, and that is metallic silver."
I could not fathom what he was driving at, but the fascination of Kennedy himself was quite sufficient.
"Silver," he went on, "is all right if the objects can be illuminated by an electric spark or some other source rich in the rays. But it isn't entirely satisfactory when sunlight is concerned, for various reasons that I need not bore you with. Professor Wood has worked out a process of depositing nickel on glass. That's it up there," he concluded, wheeling a lower reflector about until it caught the image of the afternoon sun thrown from the lens on the top of the tower.
"You see," he resumed, "that upper lens is concave so that it enlarges tremendously. I can do some wonderful tricks with that."
I had been lighting a cigarette and held a box of safety wind matches in my hand.
"Give me that matchbox," he asked.
He placed it at the foot of the tower. Then he went off, I should say, without exaggeration, a hundred feet.
The lettering on the matchbox could be seen in the silvered mirror, enlarged to such a point that the letters were plainly visible!
"Think of the possibilities in that," he added excitedly. "I saw them at once. You can read what some one is writing at a desk a hundred, perhaps two hundred feet away."
"Yes," I cried, more interested in the practical aspects of it than in the mechanics and optics. "What have you found?"
"Some one came into the boathouse while you were away," he said. "He had a note. It read, 'Those new detectives are watching everything. We must have the evidence. You must get those letters to-night, without fail.'"
"Letters—evidence," I repeated. "Who wrote it? Who received it?"
"I couldn't see over the hedge who had entered the boathouse, and by the time I got around here he was gone."
"Was it Wickham—or intended for Wickham?" I asked.
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders.
"We'll gain nothing by staying here," he said. "There is just one possibility in the case, and I can guard against that only by returning to Verplanck's and getting some of that stuff I brought up here with me. Let us go."
Late in the afternoon though it was, after our return, Kennedy insisted on hurrying from Verplanck's to the Yacht Club up the bay. It was a large building, extending out into the water on made land, from which ran a long, substantial dock. He had stopped long enough only to ask Verplanck to lend him the services of his best mechanician, a Frenchman named Armand.
On the end of the yacht club dock Kennedy and Armand set up a large affair which looked like a mortar. I watched curiously, dividing my attention between them and the splendid view of the harbor which the end of the dock commanded on all sides.
"What is this?" I asked finally. "Fireworks?"
"A rocket mortar of light weight," explained Kennedy, then dropped into French as he explained to Armand the manipulation of the thing.
There was a searchlight near by on the dock.
"You can use that?" queried Kennedy.
"Oh, yes. Mr. Verplanck, he is vice-commodore of the club. Oh, yes, I can use that. Why, Monsieur?"
Kennedy had uncovered a round brass case. It did not seem to amount to much, as compared to some of the complicated apparatus he had used. In it was a four-sided prism of glass—I should have said, cut off the corner of a huge glass cube.
He handed it to us.
"Look in it," he said.
It certainly was about the most curious piece of crystal gazing I had ever done. Turn the thing any way I pleased and I could see my face in it, just as in an ordinary mirror.
"What do you call it?" Armand asked, much interested.
"A triple mirror," replied Kennedy, and again, half in English and half in French, neither of which I could follow, he explained the use of the mirror to the mechanician.
We were returning up the dock, leaving Armand with instructions to be at the club at dusk, when we met McNeill, tired and disgusted.
"What luck?" asked Kennedy.
"Nothing," he returned. "I had a 'short' shadow and a 'long' shadow at Wickham's heels all day. You know what I mean. Instead of one man, two—the second sleuthing in the other's tracks. If he escaped Number One, Number Two would take it up, and I was ready to move up into Number Two's place. They kept him in sight about all the time. Not a fact. But then, of course, we don't know what he was doing before we took up tailing him. Say," he added, "I have just got word from an agency with which I correspond in New York that it is reported that a yeggman named 'Australia Mac,' a very daring and clever chap, has been attempting to dispose of some of the goods which we know have been stolen through one of the worst 'fences' in New York."
"Is that all?" asked Craig, with the mention of Australia Mac showing the first real interest yet in anything that McNeill had done since we met him the night before.
"All so far. I wired for more details immediately."
"Do you know anything about this Australia Mac?"
"Not much. No one does. He's a new man, it seems, to the police here."
"Be here at eight o'clock, McNeill," said Craig, as we left the club for Verplanck's. "If you can find out more about this yeggman, so much the better."
"Have you made any progress?" asked Verplanck as we entered the estate a few minutes later.
"Yes," returned Craig, telling only enough to whet his interest. "There's a clue, as I half expected, from New York, too. But we are so far away that we'll have to stick to my original plan. You can trust Armand?"
"Then we shall transfer our activity to the Yacht Club to-night," was all that Kennedy vouchsafed.
THE TRIPLE MIRROR
It was the regular Saturday night dance at the club, a brilliant spectacle, faces that radiated pleasure, gowns that for startling combinations of color would have shamed a Futurist, music that set the feet tapping irresistibly—a scene which I shall pass over because it really has no part in the story.
The fascination of the ballroom was utterly lost on Craig. "Think of all the houses only half guarded about here to-night," he mused, as we joined Armand and McNeill on the end of the dock. I could not help noting that that was the only idea which the gay, variegated, sparkling tango throng conveyed to him.
In front of the club was strung out a long line of cars, and at the dock several speed boats of national and international reputation, among them the famous Streamline II, at our instant beck and call. In it Craig had already placed some rather bulky pieces of apparatus, as well as a brass case containing a second triple mirror like that which he had left with Armand.
With McNeill, I walked back along the pier, leaving Kennedy with Armand, until we came to the wide porch, where we joined the wallflowers and the rocking-chair fleet. Mrs. Verplanck, I observed, was a beautiful dancer. I picked her out in the throng immediately, dancing with Carter.
McNeill tugged at my sleeve. Without a word I saw what he meant me to see. Verplanck and Mrs. Hollingsworth were dancing together. Just then, across the porch I caught sight of Kennedy at one of the wide windows. He was trying to attract Verplanck's attention, and as he did so I worked my way through the throng of chatting couples leaving the floor until I reached him. Verplanck, oblivious, finished the dance; then, seeming to recollect that he had something to attend to, caught sight of us, and ran off during the intermission from the gay crowd to which he resigned Mrs. Hollingsworth.
"What is it?" he asked.
"There's that light down the bay," whispered Kennedy.
Instantly Verplanck forgot about the dance.
"Where?" he asked.
"In the same place."
I had not noticed, but Mrs. Verplanck, woman-like, had been able to watch several things at once. She had seen us and had joined us.
"Would you like to run down there in the Streamline?" he asked. "It will only take a few minutes."
"What is it—that light again?" she asked, as she joined us in walking down the dock.
"Yes," answered her husband, pausing to look for a moment at the stuff Kennedy had left with Armand. Mrs. Verplanck leaned over the Streamline, turned as she saw me, and said: "I wish I could go with you. But evening dress is not the thing for a shivery night in a speed boat. I think I know as much about it as Mr. Verplanck. Are you going to leave Armand?"
"Yes," replied Kennedy, taking his place beside Verplanck, who was seated at the steering wheel. "Walter and McNeill, if you two will sit back there, we're ready. All right."
Armand had cast us off and Mrs. Verplanck waved from the end of the float as the Streamline quickly shot out into the night, a buzzing, throbbing shape of mahogany and brass, with her exhausts sticking out like funnels and booming like a pipe organ. It took her only seconds to eat into the miles.
"A little more to port," said Kennedy, as Verplanck swung her around.
Just then the steady droning of the engine seemed a bit less rhythmical. Verplanck throttled her down, but it had no effect. He shut her off. Something was wrong. As he crawled out into the space forward of us where the engine was, it seemed as if the Streamline had broken down suddenly and completely.
Here we were floundering around in the middle of the bay.
"Chuck-chuck-chuck," came in quick staccato out of the night. It was Montgomery Carter, alone, on his way across the bay from the club, in his own boat.
"Hello—Carter," called Verplanck.
"Hello, Verplanck. What's the matter?"
"Don't know. Engine trouble of some kind. Can you give us a line?"
"I've got to go down to the house," he said, ranging up near us. "Then I can take you back. Perhaps I'd better get you out of the way of any other boats first. You don't mind going over and then back?"
Verplanck looked at Craig. "On the contrary," muttered Craig, as he made fast the welcome line.
The Carter dock was some three miles from the club on the other side of the bay. As we came up to it, Carter shut off his engine, bent over it a moment, made fast, and left us with a hurried, "Wait here."
Suddenly, overhead, we heard a peculiar whirring noise that seemed to vibrate through the air. Something huge, black, monster-like, slid down a board runway into the water, traveled a few feet, in white suds and spray, rose in the darkness—and was gone!
As the thing disappeared, I thought I could hear a mocking laugh flung back at us.
"What is it?" I asked, straining my eyes at what had seemed for an instant like a great flying fish with finny tail and huge fins at the sides and above.
"'Aquaero,'" quoted Kennedy quickly. "Don't you understand—a hydroaeroplane—a flying boat. There are hundreds of privately owned flying boats now wherever there is navigable water. That was the secret of Carter's boathouse, of the light we saw in the air."
"But this Aquaero—who is he?" persisted McNeill. "Carter— Wickham—Australia Mac?"
We looked at each other blankly. No one said a word. We were captured, just as effectively as if we were ironed in a dungeon. There were the black water, the distant lights, which at any other time I should have said would have been beautiful.
Kennedy had sprung into Carter's boat.
"The deuce," he exclaimed. "He's put her out of business."
Verplanck, chagrined, had been going over his own engine feverishly. "Do you see that?" he asked suddenly, holding up in the light of a lantern a little nut which he had picked out of the complicated machinery. "It never belonged to this engine. Some one placed it there, knowing it would work its way into a vital part with the vibration."
Who was the person, the only one who could have done it? The answer was on my lips, but I repressed it. Mrs. Verplanck herself had been bending over the engine when last I saw her. All at once it flashed over me that she knew more about the phantom bandit than she had admitted. Yet what possible object could she have had in putting the Streamline out of commission?