"Just exactly what did you do?"
"I waited by the table in the living-room for a few minutes. There was a note there signed by S. Horikawa."
"We have that note. What happened next? Did your uncle return?"
"No. I had a feelin' that somethin' was wrong. I looked into the bedroom an' then opened the door into the small smoking-room. The odor of chloroform met me. I found the button an' flashed on the light."
Except the sobbing breath of an unnerved woman no slightest sound could be heard in the court-room but Lane's quiet, steady voice. It went on evenly, clearly, dominating the crowded room by the drama of its undramatic timbre.
"My uncle was sittin' in a chair, tied to it. His head was canted a little to one side an' he was lookin' up at me. There was a bullet hole in his forehead. He was dead."
The veiled woman in black gasped for air. Her head sank forward and her slender body swayed.
"Look out!" called the witness to the woman beside her.
Before Kirby could reach her, the fainting woman had slipped to the floor. He stooped to lift her head from the dusty planks—and the odor of violet perfume met his nostrils.
"If you'll permit me," a voice said.
The cattleman looked up. His cousin James, white to the lips, was beside him unfastening the veil.
The face of the woman in black was the original of the photograph Kirby had seen in his uncle's room, the one upon which had been written the words, "Always, Phyllis."
A FRIEND IN NEED
The rest of the coroner's inquest was anticlimax. Those who had come to tickle their palates with excitement tasted only one other moment of it.
"According to your own story you must have been in your uncle's apartment at least a quarter of an hour, Mr. Lane," said the prosecuting attorney. "What were you doing there all that time?"
"Most of the time I was waitin' for him to return."
"Why did you not call up the police at once, as soon as you found the crime had been committed?"
"I suppose I lost my head an' went panicky. I heard some one at the door, an' I did not want to be found there. So I ran into the bedroom, put out the light, an' left by the fire escape."
"Was that the conduct one would expect of an innocent man?"
"It was the action of an innocent man."
"You don't look like a man that would lose his head, Mr. Lane."
A smile lit the brown face of the witness. "Perhaps I wouldn't where I come from, but I'm not used to city ways. I didn't know what to do. So I followed my instinct an' bolted. I was unlucky enough to be seen."
"Carry a gun, Mr. Lane?"
"No." He corrected himself. "Sometimes I do on the range."
"Own one, I suppose?"
"Two. A .45 and a .38."
"Bring either of them to Denver?"
"Did you see any gun of any kind in your uncle's rooms—either a revolver or an automatic?"
"I did not."
"That's all, sir."
The jury was out something more than an hour. The news of the verdict was brought to Kirby at the city jail by his cousin James.
"Jury finds that Uncle James came to his death from the effect of either a blow on the head by some heavy instrument, or a bullet fired at close quarters by some unknown person," James said.
"Good enough. Might have been worse for me," replied Kirby.
"Yes. I've talked with the district attorney and think I can arrange for bond. We're going to take it up with the court to-morrow. My opinion is that the Hulls did this. All through his testimony the fellow sweated fear. I've put it in the hands of a private detective agency to keep tabs on him."
The cattleman smiled ruefully. "Trouble is I'm the only witness to their panic right after the murder. Wish it had been some one else. I'm a prejudiced party whose evidence won't count for much. You're right. They've somethin' to do with it. In their evidence they shifted the time back thirty-five minutes so as to get me into Apartment 12 that much earlier. Why? If I could answer that question, I could go a long way toward solvin' the mystery of who killed Uncle James an' why he did it."
"Probably. As I see it, we have three leads to go on. One is that the guilty man is Hull. A second possibility is the unknown man from Dry Valley. A third is Horikawa."
"How about Horikawa? Did you know him well?"
"One never knows an Oriental. Perhaps I'm prejudiced because I used to live in California, but I never trust a Japanese fully. His sense of right and wrong is so different from mine. Horikawa is a quiet little fellow whose thought processes I don't pretend to understand."
"Why did he run away if he had nothin' to conceal?"
"Looks bad. By the way, a Japanese house-cleaner was convicted recently of killing a woman for whom he was working. He ran away, too, and was brought back later."
"Well, I don't know a thing about Japs except that they're good workers. But there's one thing about this business that puzzles me. This murder doesn't look to me like a white man's job. An American bad man kills an' is done with it. But whoever did this aimed to torture an' then kill, looks like. If not, why did they tie him up first?"
James nodded, reflectively. "Maybe something in what you say. Orientals strike me as being kind of unhuman, if you know what I mean. Maybe they have the red Indian habit of torture in Japan."
"Never heard of it if they have, but I've got a kinda notion—picked it up in my readin'—that Asiatics will go a long way to square a grudge. If this Horikawa had anything against Uncle James he might have planned this revenge an' taken the two thousand dollars to help his getaway."
"Yes, he might."
"Anyhow, I've made up my mind to one thing. You can 'most always get the truth when you go after it good an' hard. I'm goin' to find out who did this thing an' why."
James Cunningham looked into his cousin's face. A strong man himself, he recognized strength in another. Into the blue-gray eyes of the man from Twin Buttes had come a cold steely temper that transformed the gay, boyish face. The oil broker knew Lane had no love for his uncle. His resolution was probably based on a desire to clear his own name.
"I'm with you in that," he said quietly, and his own dark eyes were hard as jade. "We'll work this out together if you say so, Kirby."
The younger man nodded. "Suits me fine." His face softened. "You mentioned three leads. Most men would have said four. On the face of it, of the evidence at hand, the guilty man is sittin' right here talkin' with you. You know that the dead man an' I had a bitter feelin' against each other. You know there was a new cause of trouble between us, an' that I told you I was goin' to get justice out of him one way or another. I'm the only man known to have been in his rooms last night. Accordin' to the Hulls I must 'a' been there when he was killed. Then, as a final proof of my guilt, I slide out by the fire escape to get away without bein' seen. I'll say the one big lead points straight to Kirby Lane."
"Yes, but there's such a thing as character," James answered. "It's written in your face that you couldn't have done it. That's why the jury said a person unknown."
"Yes, but the jury didn't know what you knew, that I had a fresh cause of quarrel with Uncle James. Do you believe me absolutely? Don't you waver at all?"
"I don't think you had any more to do with it than I had myself," answered the older cousin instantly, with conviction.
Kirby gave him his hand impulsively. "You'll sure do to ride the river with, James."
A GLOVE AND THE HAND IN IT
As Rose saw the hand of the law closing in on Kirby, she felt as though an ironic fate were laughing in impish glee at this horrible climax of her woe. He had sacrificed a pot of gold and his ambition to be the champion rough rider of the world in order to keep her out of trouble. Instead of that he had himself plunged into it head first.
She found herself entangled in a net from which there was no easy escape. Part, at least, of the evidence against Kirby, or at least the implication to be drawn from it, did not fit in with what she knew to be the truth. He had not been in the apartment of James Cunningham from 9.30 until 10.15. He might have been there at both times, but not for the whole interval between. Rose had the best reason in the world for knowing that.
But what was she to do? What ought she to do? If she went with her story to the district attorney, her sister's shame must inevitably be dragged forth to be flaunted before the whole world. She could not do that. She could not make little Esther the scapegoat of her conscience. Nor could she remain silent and let Kirby stay in prison. That was unthinkable. If her story would free him she must tell it. But to whom?
She read in the "Post" that James Cunningham was endeavoring to persuade the authorities to accept bond for his cousin's appearance. Swiftly Rose made up her mind what she would do. She looked up in the telephone book the name she wanted and made connections on the line.
"Is this Mr. Cunningham?" she asked.
"Mr. Cunningham talking," came the answer.
"I want to see you on very important business. Can I come this morning?"
"I think I didn't catch your name, madam."
"My name doesn't matter. I have information about—your uncle's death."
There was just an instant's pause. Then, "Ten o'clock, at the office here," Rose heard.
A dark, good-looking young man rose from a desk in the inner office when Rose entered exactly at ten. In his eyes there sparked a little flicker of surprised appreciation. Jack Cunningham was always susceptible to the beauty of women. This girl was lovely both of feature and of form. The fluent grace of the slender young body was charming, but the weariness of grief was shadowed under the long-lashed eyes.
She looked around, hesitating. "I have an appointment with Mr. Cunningham," she explained.
"My name," answered the young man.
"Mr. James Cunningham?"
"Afraid you've made a mistake. I'm Jack Cunningham. This is my uncle's office. I'm taking charge of his affairs. You called his number instead of my brother's. People are always confusing the two."
"If I can be of any service to you," he suggested.
"I read that your brother was trying to arrange bond for Mr. Lane. I want to see him about that. I am Rose McLean. My sister worked for your uncle in his office."
"Oh!" A film of wary caution settled over his eyes. It seemed to Rose that what she had said transformed him into a potential adversary. "Glad to meet you, Miss McLean. If you'd rather talk with my brother I'll make an appointment with him for you."
"Perhaps that would be best," she said.
"Of course he's very busy. If it's anything I could do for you—"
"I'd like you both to hear what I have to say."
For the beating of a pulse his eyes thrust at her as though they would read her soul. Then he was all smiling urbanity.
"That seems to settle the matter. I'll call my brother up and make an appointment."
Over the wire Jack put the case to his brother. Presently he hung up the receiver. "We'll go right over, Miss McLean."
They went down the elevator and passed through the lower hall of the building to Sixteenth Street. As they walked along Stout to the Equitable Building, Rose made an explanation.
"I saw you and Mr. James Cunningham at the inquest."
His memory stirred. "Think I saw you, too. 'Member your bandaged arm. Is it broken?"
He felt the need of talking against an inner perturbation he did not want to show. What was this girl, the sister of Esther McLean, going to tell him and his brother? What did she know about the murder of his uncle? Excitement grew in him and he talked at random to cover it.
"A horse threw me and trod on my arm."
"Girls are too venturesome nowadays." In point of fact he did not think so. He liked girls who were good sportsmen and played the game hard. But he was talking merely to bridge a mental stress. "Think they can do anything a man can. 'Fess up, Miss McLean. You'd try to ride any horse I could, no matter how mettlesome it was. Now wouldn't you?"
"I wouldn't go that far," she said dryly. For an instant the thought flickered through her mind that she would like to get this spick-and-span riding-school model on the back of Wild Fire and see how long he would stick to the saddle.
James Cunningham met Rose with a suave courtesy, but with reserve. Like his brother he knew of only one subject about which the sister of Esther McLean could want to talk with him. Did she intend to be reasonable? Would she accept a monetary settlement and avoid the publicity that could only hurt her sister as well as the reputation of the name of Cunningham? Or did she mean to try to impose impossible conditions? How much did she know and how much guess? Until he discovered that he meant to play his cards close.
Characteristically, Rose came directly to the point after the first few words of introduction.
"You know my sister, Esther McLean, a stenographer of your uncle?" she asked.
The girl was standing. She had declined a chair. She stood straight-backed as an Indian, carrying her head with fine spirit. Her eyes attacked the oil broker, would not yield a thousandth part of an inch to his impassivity.
"I—have met her," he answered.
"You know . . . about her trouble?"
"Yes. My cousin mentioned it. We—my brother and I—greatly regret it. Anything in reason that we can do we shall, of course, hold ourselves bound for."
He flashed a glance at Jack who murmured a hurried agreement. The younger man's eyes were busy examining a calendar on the wall.
"I didn't come to see you about that now," the young woman went on, cheeks flushed, but chin held high. "Nor would I care to express my opinion of the . . . the creature who could take advantage of such a girl's love. I intend to see justice is done my sister, as far as it can now be done. But not to-day. First, I'm here to ask you if you're friends of Kirby Lane. Do you believe he killed his uncle?"
"No," replied James promptly. "I am quite sure he didn't kill him. I am trying to get him out on bond. Any sum that is asked I'll sign for."
"Then I want to tell you something you don't know. The testimony showed that Kirby went to his uncle's apartment about 9.20 and left nearly an hour later. That isn't true."
"How do you know it isn't?"
"Because I was there myself part of the time."
Jack stared at her in blank dismay. Astonishment looked at her, too, from the older brother's eyes.
"You were in my uncle's apartment—on the night of the murder?" James said at last.
"I was. I came to Denver to see him—to get justice for my sister. I didn't intend to let the villain escape scot free for what he had done."
"Pardon me," interrupted Jack, and the girl noticed his voice had a queer note of anxiety in it. "Did your sister ever tell you that my uncle was responsible for—?" He left the sentence in air.
"No, she won't talk yet. I don't know why. But I found a note signed with his initials. He's the man. I know that."
James looked at his brother. "I think we may take that for granted, Jack. We'll accept such responsibilities on us as it involves. Perhaps you'd better not interrupt Miss McLean till she has finished her story."
"I made an appointment with him after I had tried all day to get him on the 'phone or to see him. That was Thursday, the day I reached town."
"He was in Colorado Springs all that day," explained James.
"Yes, he told me so when I reached him finally at the City Club. He didn't want to see me, but I wouldn't let him off till he agreed. So he told me to come to the Paradox and he would give me ten minutes. He told me not to come till nearly ten, as he would be busy. I think he hoped that by putting it so late and at his rooms he would deter me from coming. But I intended to see him. He couldn't get away from me so easily as that. I went."
Jack moistened dry lips. His debonair ease had quite vanished. "When did you go?"
"It was quite a little past a quarter to ten when I reached his rooms."
"Did you meet any one going up or coming down?" asked James.
"A man and a woman passed me on the stairs."
"A man and a woman," repeated Jack, almost in a whisper. His attitude was tense. His eyes burned with excitement.
"Was it light enough to tell who they were?" James asked. His cold eyes did not lift from hers until she answered.
"No. It was entirely dark. The woman was on the other side of the man. I wouldn't have been sure she was a woman except for the rustle of her skirts and the perfume."
"Sure it wasn't the perfume you use yourself that you smelled?"
"I don't use any."
"You stick to it that you met a man and a woman, but couldn't possibly recognize either of them," James Cunningham said, still looking straight at her.
She hesitated an instant. Somehow she did not quite like the way he put this. "Yes," she said steadily.
"You didn't take the elevator up, then?"
"No. I'm not used to automatic elevators. I rang when I got to the door. Nobody answered, but the door was wide open. I rang again, then went in and switched on the light. There didn't seem to be anybody in. I didn't feel right about it. I wanted to go. But I wouldn't because I thought maybe he—your uncle—was trying to dodge me. I looked into the bedroom. He wasn't there. So after a little I went to a door into another room that was shut and knocked on it. I don't know why I opened it when no answer came. Something seemed to move my hand to the knob. I switched the light on there."
"Yes?" James asked, gently.
The girl gulped. She made a weak, small gesture with her hand, as though to push from her mind the horrible sight her eyes had looked upon. "He was dead, in the chair, tied to it. I think I screamed. I'm not sure. But I switched off the light and shut the door. My knees were weak, and I felt awf'lly queer in the head. I was crazy to get away from the place, but I couldn't seem to have the power to move. I leaned against the door, weak and limp as a small puppy. Then I heard some one comin' up the stairs, and I knew I mustn't be caught there. I switched off the lights just as some one came to the landing outside."
"Who was it? Did he come in?" asked Jack.
"He rang and knocked two or three times. Then he came in. I was standing by the table with my hand on some kind of heavy metal paperweight. His hand was groping for the light switch. I could tell that. He must have heard me, for he called out, 'Who's there?' In the darkness there I was horribly frightened. He might be the murderer come back. If not, of course he'd think I had done it. So I tried to slip by him. He jumped at me and caught me by the hand. I pulled away from him and hit hard at his face. The paper-weight was still in my hand and he went down just as though a hammer had hit him. I ran out of the room, downstairs, and out into the street."
"Without meeting anybody?"
"You don't know who it was you struck?"
"Unless it was Kirby."
"Jove! That explains the bruise on his chin," Jack cried out. "Why didn't he tell us that?"
The color flushed the young woman's cheeks. "We're friends, he and I. If he guessed I was the one that struck him he wouldn't tell."
"How would he guess it?" asked James.
"He knew I meant to see your uncle—meant to make him do justice to Esther. I suppose I'd made wild threats. Besides, I left my glove there—on the table, I think. I'd taken it off with some notion of writing a note telling your uncle I had been there and that he had to see me next day."
"The police didn't find a woman's glove in the room, did they?" James asked his brother.
"Didn't hear of it if they did," Jack replied.
"That's it, you see," explained Rose. "Kirby would know my glove. It was a small riding-gauntlet with a rose embroidered on it. He probably took it with him when he left. He kept still about the whole thing because I was the woman and he was afraid of gettin' me into trouble."
"Sounds reasonable," agreed James.
"That's how it was. Kirby's a good friend. He'd never tell on me if they hanged him for it."
"They won't do that, Miss McLean," the older brother assured her. "We're going to find who did this thing. Kirby and I have shaken hands on that. But about your story. I don't quite see how we're going to use it. We must protect your sister, too, as well as my cousin. If we go to the police with your evidence and ask them to release Kirby, they'll want to arrest you."
"I know," she nodded wisely, "and of course they'd find out about Esther then and the papers would get it and scatter the story everywhere."
"Exactly. We must protect her first. Kirby wouldn't want anything done that would hurt her. Suppose we put it up to him and see what he wants to do."
"But we can't have him kept in jail," she protested.
"I'll get him out on bond; if not to-day, tomorrow."
"Well," she agreed reluctantly. "If that's the best we can do."
Rose would have liked to have paid back Kirby's generosity in kind. If her sister had not been a factor of the equation she would have gone straight to the police with her story and suffered arrest gladly to help her friend. But the circumstances did not permit a heroic gesture. She had to take and not give.
THE LADY WITH THE VIOLET PERFUME
"I won't have it," Kirby said flatly. "If Miss McLean tells her story to the district attorney he'll probably arrest her. It'll come out about her sister an' the papers will run scare-heads. No need of it a-tall. Won't hurt me to stay here a few days if I have to."
Jack, dapper and trim, leaned on his cane and watched his cousin. He felt a reluctant admiration for this virile cousin so picturesquely competent, so clean-cut and four-square of mind. Was he in love with the Wild Rose from Wyoming, whose spirit also was like a breath from the sweet hill pines? Or was his decision only the expression of a native chivalry that went out to all his friends and perhaps to all women?
"They'd certainly arrest her," Jack commented. "From a lawyer's point of view there's every reason why they should. Motive for the crime, sufficient; intention to force the victim to make reparation or punish him, declared openly; opportunity to commit it, confessed; presence on scene and eagerness to escape being seen there, admitted. The case against her is stronger than the one against you." He offered this last with a smile decorously but not wholly concealed.
"Yet she couldn't possibly have done it!" the cattleman replied.
"Couldn't she? I wonder." The Beau Brummel stroked his bit of mustache, with the hint of insolence his manner often suggested.
"Not possible," said Lane forcefully. "Uncle James was a big, two-fisted fighter. No slip of a girl could have overpowered him an' tied him. It's not within reason." He spoke urgently, though still in the low murmur both the cousins were using in order not to be overheard.
Jack put a neat, highly polished boot on the desk of the sergeant of police. "Ever hear of a lady called Delilah?" he asked lightly.
"What about her?" In Kirby's quiet eye there was a warning.
The man-about-town shrugged his well-tailored shoulders. "They have a way, the ladies. Guile, my son, is more potent than force."
"Delilah chloroformed Samson's suspicions before she sheared his locks."
Kirby repressed an anger that he knew was worse than futile. "It you knew Miss McLean you couldn't misjudge her so. She thinks an' acts as straight as a man."
"I don't say she did it, old top. I'm merely pointing out that it's possible she did. Point of fact your friend made a hit with me. I'd say she's a game little thoroughbred."
"You an' James will regard what she told you as confidential, of course."
"Of course. We're of your mind, too, though I put her proposition to you. Can't see anything to be gained by airing her story unless it's absolutely necessary on your account. By the way, James wants me to tell you that he thinks you won't have to spend another night at this delightful hotel the city keeps for its guests. Bond has been practically agreed on."
"Fine. Your brother's a brick. We're goin' to run down this business, he an' I, an' drag the truth to light."
A glitter of sardonic mockery shone out of the dark eyes of Cunningham. "You'll work together fine and Sherlock-Holmes this thing till it's as clear as mud," he predicted.
By the middle of the afternoon Kirby was free. After he had talked over with James a plan of campaign, he called Rose up on the telephone and told her he would be right out to Cherokee Street.
She came to meet him in the stuffy parlor of the boarding-house with hand outstretched.
"Oh, Kirby, I'm so glad to see you and so sorry I was such a horrid little beast last time we met. I'm ashamed of myself. My temper explodes so—and after you came to Denver to help me and gave up so much for me. You'll forgive me, won't you?"
"You know it, Rose," he said, smiling.
"Yes, I do know it," she cried quickly. "That makes it worse for me to impose on you. Now you're in trouble because of me. I should think you'd pretty near hate me."
"We're in trouble together," he corrected. "I thought that was supposed to bring friends closer an' not to drive them apart."
She flashed a quick look at him and changed the subject of conversation. Just now she could not afford to be emotional.
"Are you going back to Twin Buttes?"
"No. I'm goin' to find out who killed James Cunningham an' bring the man to justice. That's the only way to clear us both before the world."
"Yes!" she cried eagerly. "Let me help you. Let's be partners in it, Kirby."
He already had one partner, but he threw him overboard instantly. James Cunningham was retired to the position of an adviser.
"Bully! We'll start this very minute. Tell me all you know about what happened the evenin' of the murder."
She told again the story she had confessed to his cousins. He asked questions, pushed home inquiries. When she mentioned the woman who had passed her on the stairs he showed a keen interest.
"You say you knew it was a woman with the man by the perfume. What kind of perfume was it?"
"Did you notice a violet perfume any other place that night?"
"In your uncle's living-room."
"So did I."
"The woman I met on the stairs, then, had just come from your uncle's rooms."
"Looks like it," he nodded in agreement.
"Then we've got to find her. She must have been in his apartment when he was killed." The thought came to Rose as a revelation.
"Or right after."
"All we've got to do is to find her and the man with her, and we've solved the mystery," the girl cried eagerly.
"That's not quite all," said Kirby, smiling at the way her mind leaped gaps. "We've got to induce them to talk, an' it's not certain they know any more than we do."
"Her skirts rustled like silk and the perfume wasn't cheap. I couldn't really see her, but I knew she was well dressed," Rose told him.
"Well, that's somethin'," he said with the whimsical quirk to his mouth she knew of old. "We'll advertise for a well-dressed lady who uses violet perfume. Supposed to be connected with the murder at the Paradox Apartments. Generous reward an' many questions asked."
His badinage was of the surface only. The subconscious mind of the rough rider was preoccupied with a sense of a vague groping. The thought of violet perfume associated itself with something else in addition to the darkness of his uncle's living-room, but he did not find himself able to localize the nebulous memory. Where was it his nostrils had whiffed the scent more recently?
"Don't you think we ought to see all the tenants at the Paradox and talk with them? Some of them may have seen people going in or out. Or they may have heard voices," she said.
"That's a good idea. We'll make a canvass of the house."
Her eyes sparkled. "We'll find who did it! When two people look for the truth intelligently they're bound to find it. Don't you think so?"
"I think we'll sure round up the wolf that did this killin'," he drawled. "Anyhow, we'll sleep on his trail for a moon or two."
They shook hands on it.
IN DRY VALLEY
If Kirby had been a properly authenticated detective of fiction he would have gone to his uncle's apartment, locked the door, measured the rooms with a tape-line, found imprints of fingers on a door panel, and carefully gathered into an envelope the ashes from the cigar his uncle had been smoking. The data obtained would have proved conclusively that Cunningham had come to his death at the hands of a Brahmin of high caste on account of priceless gems stolen from a temple in India. An analysis of the cigar ashes would have shown that a subtle poison, unknown to the Western world, had caused the victim's heart to stop beating exactly two minutes and twelve seconds after taking the first puff at the cigar. Thus the fictional ethics of the situation would have been correctly met.
But Kirby was only a plain, outdoors Westerner. He did not know the conventional method of procedure. It did not even occur to him at first that Apartment 12 might still have secrets to tell him after the police and the reporters had pawed over it for several days. But his steps turned back several times to the Paradox as the center from which all clues must emanate. He found himself wandering around in that vicinity trying to pick up some of the pieces of the Chinese puzzle that made up the mystery of his uncle's death.
It was on one of these occasions that he and Rose met his cousin James coming out of the apartment house. Cunningham was a man of admirable self-control, but he looked shaken this morning. His hand trembled as it met that of his cousin. In his eyes was the look of a man who has suffered a shock.
"I've been sitting alone for an hour in the room where Uncle James met his death—been arranging his papers," he explained. "It began to get my nerve. I couldn't stand it any longer. The horrible thing kept jumping to my mind." He drew his right hand heavily across his eyes, as though to shut out and brush away the sight his imagination conjured.
His left arm hung limp. Kirby's quick eyes noticed it.
"You've hurt yourself," Lane said.
"Yes," admitted James. "My heel caught on the top step as I started to walk down. I've wrenched my arm badly. Maybe I've broken it."
"Oh, I hope not," Rose said quickly, a warm sympathy in her vibrant young voice. "A broken arm's no fun. I find it an awful nuisance."
The janitor of the Paradox came out and joined them. He was a little Japanese well on toward middle life, a small-featured man with small, neat feet.
"You feelum all right yes now?" he asked, directing his slant, oval eyes toward Cunningham.
"Yes, I've got over the nausea, thanks, Shibo." James turned to the others. "Shibo was at the foot of the stairs when I caught my heel. He gathered up the pieces. I guess I was all in, wasn't I, Shibo?"
The Japanese nodded agreement. "You heap sick for minute."
"I've been worrying a good deal about this business of Uncle James, I suppose. Anyhow, I've had two or three dizzy spells lately. Nothing serious, though."
"I don't wonder. You sit at a desk too much, James. What you need is exercise. If you'd get in the saddle a couple o' hours a day an' do some stiff ridin' you'd quit havin' dizzy spells. Sorry you're hurt, old man. I'll trail along with you to a doctor's."
"Not necessary. I'll be all right. It's only a few blocks to his office. Fact is, I'm feeling quite myself again."
"Well, if you're sure. Prob'ly you've only sprained your arm. By the way, I'd kinda like to go over Uncle's apartment again. Mind if I do? I don't reckon the police missed anything, but you can never tell."
James hesitated. "I promised the Chief of Police not to let anybody else in. Tell you what I'll do. I'll see him about it and get a permit for you. Say, Kirby, I've been thinking one of us ought to go up to Dry Valley and check things up there. We might find out who wrote that note to Uncle. Maybe some one has been making threats in public. We could see who was in town from there last week. Could you go? To-day? Train leaves in half an hour."
Kirby could and would. He left Rose to talk with the tenants of the Paradox Apartments, entrained for Dry Valley at once, and by noon was winding over the hilltops far up in the Rockies.
He left the train at Summit, a small town which was the center of activities for Dry Valley. Here the farmers bought their supplies and here they marketed their butter and eggs. In the fall they drove in their cattle and loaded them for Denver at the chutes in the railroad yard.
There had been times in the past when Summit ebbed and flowed with a rip-roaring tide of turbulent life. This had been after the round-ups in the golden yesterday when every other store building had been occupied by a saloon and the rattle of chips lasted far into the small hours of night. Now Colorado was dry and the roulette wheel had gone to join memories of the past. Summit was quiet as a Sunday afternoon on a farm. Its busiest inhabitant was a dog which lay in the sun and lazily poked over its own anatomy for fleas.
Kirby registered at the office of the frame building which carried on its false front the word HOTEL. This done, he wandered down to the shack which bore the inscription, "Dry Valley Enterprise." The owner of the paper, who was also editor, reporter, pressman, business manager, and circulator, chanced to be in printing some dodgers announcing a dance at Odd Fellows' Hall. He desisted from his labors to chat with the stranger.
The editor was a fat, talkative little man. Kirby found it no trouble at all to set him going on the subject of James Cunningham, Senior. In fact, during his stay in the valley the Wyoming man could always use that name as an "Open Sesame." It unlocked all tongues. Cunningham and his mysterious death were absorbing topics. The man was hated by scores who had been brought close to ruin by his chicanery. Dry Valley rejoiced openly in the retribution that had fallen upon him.
"Who killed him?" the editor asked rhetorically.
"Well, sir, I'll be dawged if I know. But if I was guessin' I'd say it was this fellow Hull, the slicker that helped him put through the Dry Valley steal. 'Course it might 'a' been the Jap, or it might 'a' been the nephew from Wyoming, but I'll say it was Hull. We know that cuss Hull up here. He's one bad package, that fat man is, believe me. Cunningham held out on him, an' he laid for the old crook an' got him. Don't that look reasonable to you? It sure does to me. Put a rope round Hull's neck an' you'll hang the man that killed old J. C."
Lane put in an hour making himself persona grata, then read the latest issue of the "Enterprise" while the editor pulled off the rest of the dodgers. In the local news column he found several items that interested him. These were:
Jim Harkins is down in Denver on business and won't be home till Monday. Have a good time, Jim.
T. J. Lupton is enjoying a few days vacation in the Queen City. He expects to buy some fancy stock at the yards for breeding purposes. Dry Valley is right in the van of progress.
Art Jelks and Brad Mosely returned from Denver today after a three days' visit in the capital. A good time was had by both. You want to watch them, girls. The boys are both live ones.
Oscar Olson spent a few days in Denver this week. Oscar owns a place three miles out of town on the Spring Creek road.
Casually Kirby gathered information. He learned that Jim Harkins was the town constable and not interested in land; that Lupton was a very prosperous cattleman whose ranch was nowhere near the district promoted by Cunningham; and that Jelks and Mosely were young fellows more or less connected with the garage. The editor knew Olson only slightly.
"He's a Swede—big, fair fellow—got caught in that irrigation fake of Hull and Cunningham. Don't know what he was doin' in Denver," the newspaperman said.
Lane decided that he would see Olson and have a talk with him. Incidentally, he meant to see all the Dry Valley men who had been in Denver at the time Cunningham was killed. But the others he saw only to eliminate them from suspicion. One glance at each of them was enough to give them a clean bill so far as the mystery went. They knew nothing whatever about it.
Lane rode out to Olson's place and found him burning brush. The cattleman explained that he was from Wyoming and wanted to sell some registered Herefords.
Olson looked over his dry, parched crops with sardonic bitterness. "Do I look like I could buy registered stock?" he asked sourly.
Kirby made a remark that set the ranchman off. He said that the crops looked as though they needed water. Inside of five minutes he had heard the story of the Dry Valley irrigation swindle. Olson was not a foreigner. He had been born in Minnesota and attended the public schools. He spoke English idiomatically and without an accent. The man was a tall, gaunt, broad-shouldered Scandinavian of more than average intelligence.
The death of Cunningham had not apparently assuaged his intense hatred of the man or the bitterness which welled out of him toward Hull.
"Cunningham got his! Suits me fine! Now all I ask is that they hang Hull for it!" he cried vindictively.
"Seems to be some doubt whether Hull did it," suggested Kirby, to draw him on.
"That so? Mebbe there's evidence you don't know about." The words had come out in the heat of impulse, shot at Kirby tensely and breathlessly. Olson looked at the man on the horse and Lane could see caution grow on him. A film of suspicion spread over the pupils beneath the heavy, ragged eyebrows. "I ain't sayin' so. All I'm dead sure of is that Hull did it."
Kirby fired a shot point-blank at him. "Nobody can be dead sure of that unless he saw him do it."
"Mebbe some one saw him do it. Folks don't tell all they know." Olson looked across the desert beyond the palpitating heat waves to the mountains in the distance.
"No. That's tough sometimes on innocent people, too."
"Meanin' this nephew of old Cunningham. He'll get out all right."
"Will he? There's a girl under suspicion, too. She had no more to do with it than I had, but she's likely to get into mighty serious trouble just the same."
"I ain't read anything in the papers about any girl," Olson answered sullenly.
"No, it hasn't got to the papers yet. But it will. It's up to every man who knows anything about this to come clean."
"Is it?" The farmer looked bleakly at his visitor. "Seems to me you take a lot of interest in this. Who are you, anyhow?"
"My name is Kirby Lane."
"Nephew of the old man?"
Olson gave a snort of dry, splenetic laughter. "And you're out here sellin' registered Herefords."
"I have some for sale. But that's not why I came to see you."
"Why did you come, then?" asked the Scandinavian, his blue eyes hard and defiant.
"I wanted to have a look at the man who wrote the note to James Cunningham threatenin' to dry-gulch him if he ever came to Dry Valley again."
It was a center shot. Kirby was sure of it. He read it in the man's face before anger began to gather in it.
"I'm the man who wrote that letter, am I?" The lips of Olson were drawn back in a vicious snarl.
"You're the man."
"You can prove that, o' course."
"By your handwritin'. I've seen three specimens of it to-day."
"One at the court-house, one at the bank that holds your note, an' the third at the office of the 'Enterprise.' You wrote an article urgin' the Dry Valley people to fight Cunningham. That article, in your own handwritin', is in my pocket right now."
"I didn't tell them to gun him, did I?"
"That's not the point. What I'm gettin' at is that the same man wrote the article that wrote the letter to Cunningham."
"Prove it! Prove it!"
"The paper used in both cases was torn from the same tablet. The writin' is the same."
"You've got a nerve to come out here an' tell me I'm the man that killed Cunningham," Olson flung out, his face flushing darkly.
"I'm not sayin' that."
"What are you sayin', then? Shoot it at me straight."
"If I thought you had killed Cunningham I wouldn't be here now. What I thought when I came was that you might know somethin' about it. I didn't come out here to trap you. My idea is that Hull did it. But I've made up my mind you're hidin' somethin'. I'm sure of it. You as good as told me so. What is it?" Kirby, resting easy in the saddle with his weight on one stirrup, looked straight into the rancher's eyes as he asked the question.
"I'd be likely to tell you if I was, wouldn't I?" jeered Olson.
"Why not? Better tell me than wait for the police to third-degree you. If you're not in this killin' why not tell what you know? I've told my story."
"After they spotted you in the court-room," the farmer retorted. "An' how do I know you told all you know? Mebbe you're keepin' secrets, too."
Kirby took this without batting an eye. "An innocent man hasn't anything to fear," he said.
"Hasn't he?" Olson picked up a stone and flung it at a pile of rocks he had gathered fifty yards away. He was left-handed. "How do you know he hasn't? Say, just for argument, I do know somethin'. Say I practically saw Cunningham killed an' hadn't a thing to do with it. Could I get away with a story like that? You know darned well I couldn't. Wouldn't the lawyers want to know howcome I to be so handy to the place where the killin' was, right at the very time it took place, me who is supposed to have threatened to bump him off myself? Sure they would. I'd be tyin' a noose round my own neck."
"Do you know who killed my uncle?" demanded Lane point-blank. "Did you see it done?"
Olson's eyes narrowed. A crafty light shone through the slitted lids. "Hold yore hawsses. I ain't said I knew a thing. Not a thing. I was stringin' you."
Kirby knew he had overshot the mark. He had been too eager and had alarmed the man. He was annoyed at himself. It would take time and patience and finesse to recover lost ground. Shrewdly he guessed at the rancher's state of mind. The man wanted to tell something, was divided in mind whether to come forward as a witness or keep silent. His evidence, it was clear enough, would implicate Hull; but, perhaps indirectly, it would involve himself, too.
"Well, whatever it is you know, I hope you'll tell it," the cattleman said. "But that's up to you, not me. If Hull is the murderer, I want the crime fastened on him. I don't want him to get off scot free. An' that's about what's goin' to happen. The fellow's guilty, I believe, but we can't prove it."
"Can't we? I ain't sure o' that." Again, through the narrowed lids, wary guile glittered. "Mebbe we can when the right time comes."
"I doubt it." Lane spoke casually and carelessly. "Any testimony against him loses force if it's held out too long. The question comes up, why didn't the witness come right forward at once. No, I reckon Hull will get away with it—if he really did it."
"Don't you think it," Olson snapped out. "They've pretty nearly got enough now to convict him."
The rough rider laughed cynically. "Convict him! They haven't enough against him even to make an arrest. They've got a dozen times as much against me an' they turned me loose. He's quite safe if he keeps his mouth shut—an' he will."
Olson flung a greasewood shrub on a pile of brush. His mind, Kirby could see, was busy with the problem before it. The man's caution and his vindictive desire for vengeance were at war. He knew something, evidence that would tend to incriminate Hull, and he was afraid to bring it to the light of day. He worked automatically, and the man on horseback watched him. On that sullen face Kirby could read fury, hatred, circumspection, suspicion, the lust for revenge.
The man's anger barked at Lane. "Well, what you waitin' for?" he asked harshly.
"Nothin'. I'm goin' now." He wrote his Denver address on a card. "If you find there is any evidence against Hull an' want to talk it over, perhaps you'd rather come to me than the police. I'm like you. If Hull did it I want him found guilty. So long."
He handed Olson his card. The man tossed it away. Kirby turned his horse toward town. Five minutes later he looked back. The settler had walked across to the place where he had thrown the card and was apparently picking it up.
The man from Wyoming smiled. He had a very strong hunch that Olson would call on him within a week or ten days. Of course he was disappointed, but he knew the game had to be played with patience. At least he had learned something. The man had in his possession evidence vitally important. Kirby meant to get that evidence from him somehow by hook or crook.
What was it the man knew? Was it possible he could have killed Cunningham himself and be trying to throw the blame of it on Hull? Was that why he was afraid to come out in the open with what testimony he had? Kirby could not forget the bitter hatred of Cunningham the farmer cherished. That hatred extended to Hull. What a sweet revenge to kill one enemy and let the other one hang for the crime!
A detail jumped to his mind. Olson had picked up a stone and thrown it to the rock pile—with his left hand.
"BURNIN' A HOLE IN MY POCKET"
Cole Sanborn passed through the Welcome Arch at the station carrying an imitation-leather suitcase. He did not take a car, but walked up Seventeenth Avenue as far as the Markham Hotel. Here he registered, left his luggage, and made some inquiries over the telephone.
Thirty minutes later he was shaking hands with Kirby Lane.
"You dawg-goned old hellamile, what you mean comin' down here an' gettin' throwed in the calaboose?" he demanded, thumping his friend on the shoulder with a heavy brown fist.
"I'm sure enough glad to see you, Mr. Champeen-of-the-World," Kirby answered, falling into the easy vernacular of the outdoor country. "Come to the big town to spend that thousand dollars you won the other day?"
"Y'betcha; it's burnin' a hole in my pocket. Say, you blamed ol' horntoad, howcome you not to stay for the finals? Folks was plumb disappointed we didn't ride it off."
"Tell you about that later. How long you figurin' to stay in Denver, Cole?"
"I dunno. A week, mebbe. Fellow at the Empress wants me to go on that circuit an' do stunts, but I don't reckon I will. Claims he's got a trained bronc I can show on."
"Me, I'm gonna be busy as a dog with fleas," said Kirby. "I got to find out who killed my uncle. Suspicion rests on me, on a man named Hull, on the Jap servant, an' on Wild Rose."
"On Wild Rose!" exclaimed Cole, in surprise. "Have they gone crazy?"
"The police haven't got to her yet, old-timer. But their suspicions will be headed that way right soon if I don't get busy. She thinks her evidence will clear me. It won't. It'll add a motive for me to have killed him. The detectives will figure out we did it together, Rose an' me."
"Hell's bells! Ain't they got no sense a-tall?"
Kirby looked at his watch. "I'm headed right now for the apartment where my uncle was killed. Gonna look the ground over. Wanta come along?"
"Surest thing you know. I'm in this to a fare-you-well. Go ahead. I'll take yore dust."
The lithe, long-bodied man from Basin, Wyoming, clumped along in his high-heeled boots beside his friend. Both of them were splendid examples of physical manhood. The sun tan was on their faces, the ripple of health in their blood. But there was this difference between them, that while it was written on every inch of Sanborn that he lived astride a cow-pony, Kirby might have been an irrigation engineer or a mining man from the hills. He had neither the bow legs nor the ungraceful roll of the man who rides most of his waking hours. His clothes were well made and he knew how to carry them.
As they walked across to Fourteenth Street, Kirby told as much of the story as he could without betraying Esther McLean's part in it. He trusted Sanborn implicitly, but the girl's secret was not his to tell.
From James Cunningham Kirby had got the key of his uncle's apartment. His cousin had given it to him a little reluctantly.
"The police don't want things moved about," he had explained. "They would probably call me down if they knew I'd let you in."
"All I want to do is to look the ground over a bit. What the police don't know won't worry 'em any," the cattleman had suggested.
"All right." James had shrugged his shoulders and turned over the key. "If you think you can find out anything I don't see any objection to your going in."
Sanborn applied his shrewd common sense to the problem as he listened to Kirby.
"Looks to me like you're overlookin' a bet, son," he said. "What about this Jap fellow? Why did he light out so pronto if he ain't in this thing?"
"He might 'a' gone because he's a foreigner an' guessed they'd throw it on him. They would, too, if they could."
"Shucks! He had a better reason than that for cuttin' his stick. Sure had. He's in this somehow."
"Well, the police are after him. They'll likely run him down one o' these days. Far as I'm concerned I've got to let his trail go for the present. There are possibilities right here on the ground that haven't been run down yet. For instance, Rose met a man an' a woman comin' down the stairs while she was goin' up. Who were they?"
"Might 'a' been any o' the tenants here."
"Yes, but she smelt a violet perfume that both she an' I noticed in the apartment. My hunch is that the man an' the woman were comin' from my uncle's rooms."
"Would she recognize them? Rose, I mean?" asked Sanborn.
"No: it was on the dark stairs."
"Hmp! Queer they didn't come forward an' tell they had met a woman goin' up. That is, if they hadn't anything to do with the crime."
"Yes. Of course there might be other reasons why they must keep quiet. Some love affair, for instance."
"Sure. That might be, an' that would explain why they went down the dark stairs an' didn't take the elevator."
"Just the same I'd like to find out who that man an' woman are," Kirby said. He lifted his hand in a small gesture. "This is the Paradox Apartments."
A fat man rolled out of the building just as they reached the steps. He pulled up and stared down at Kirby.
"What—what—?" His question hung poised.
"What am I doin' out o' jail, Mr. Hull? I'm lookin' for the man that killed my uncle," Kirby answered quietly, looking straight at him.
"Why did you lie about the time when you saw me that night?"
Hull got excited at once. His eyes began to dodge. "I ain't got a word to say to you—not a word—not a word!" He came puffing down the steps and went waddling on his way.
"What do you think of that prize package, Cole?" asked Lane, his eyes following the man.
"Guilty as hell," said the bronco buster crisply.
"I'd say so too," agreed Kirby. "I don't know as we need to look much farther. My vote is for Mr. Cass Hull—with reservations."
The men from Wyoming stepped into the elevator and Kirby pressed the button numbered 3. At the third floor they got out and turned to the right. With the Yale key his cousin had given him Kirby opened the door of Apartment 12.
He knew that there was not an inch of space in the rooms that the police and the newspaper reporters had not raked as with a fine-tooth comb for clues. The desk had been ransacked, the books and magazines shaken, the rugs taken up. There was no chance that he would discover anything new unless it might be by deduction.
Wild Rose had reported to him the result of her canvass of the tenants. One or two of them she had missed, but she had managed to see all the rest. Nothing of importance had developed from these talks. Some did not care to say anything. Others wanted to gossip a whole afternoon away, but knew no more than what the newspapers had told them. The single fact that stood out from her inquiries was that those who lived in the three apartments nearest to Number 12 had all been out of the house on the evening of the twenty-third. The man who rented the rooms next those of Cunningham had left for Chicago on the twenty-second and had not yet returned to Denver.
Cole took in the easy-chairs, the draperies, and the soft rugs with an appreciative eye. "The old boy believed in solid comfort. You wouldn't think to look at this that he'd spent years on a bronc's back buckin' blizzards. Some luxury, I'll say! Looks like one o' them palaces of the vamp ladies the movies show."
Kirby wasted no time in searching the apartment for evidence. What interested him was its entrances and its exits, its relation to adjoining rooms and buildings. He had reason to believe that, between nine o'clock and half-past ten on the night of the twenty-third, not less than eight persons in addition to Cunningham had been in the apartment. How had they all managed to get in and out without being seen by each other?
Lane talked aloud, partly to clear his own thought and partly to put the situation before his friend.
"O' course I don't know every one of the eight was here. I'm guessin' from facts I do know, makin' inferences, as you might say. To begin with, I was among those present. So was Rose. We don't need to guess any about that."
Cole, still almost incredulous at the mention of Rose as a suspect, opened his lips to speak and closed them again with no word uttered. He was one of those loyal souls who can trust without asking for explanations.
"The lady of the violet perfume an' her escort were here," Kirby went on. "At least she was—most prob'ly he was, too. It's a cinch the Hulls were in the rooms. They were scared stiff when I saw 'em a little later. They lied on the witness stand so as to clear themselves an' get me into trouble in their place. Olson backs up the evidence. He good as told me he'd seen Hull in my uncle's rooms. If he did he must 'a' been present himself. Then there's the Jap Horikawa. He'd beat it before the police went to his room to arrest him at daybreak the mornin' after the murder. How did he know my uncle had been killed? It's not likely any one told him between half-past ten an' half-past five the next mo'nin'. No, sir. He knew it because his eyes had told him so."
"I'll say he did," agreed Sanborn.
"Good enough. That makes eight of us that came an' went. We don't need to figure on Rose an' me. I came by the door an' went by the fire escape. She walked upstairs an' down, too. The violet lady an' the man with her took the stairs down. We know that. But how about Hull an' Olson an' the Jap? Here's another point. Say it was 9.50 when Rose got here. My uncle didn't reach his rooms before nine o'clock. He changed his shoes, put on a smokin'-jacket, an' lit a cigar. He had it half smoked before he was tied to the chair. That cuts down to less than three quarters of an hour the time in which he was chloroformed, tied up to the chair, an' shot, an' in which at least six people paid a visit here, one of the six stayin' long enough to go through his desk an' look over a whole lot o' papers. Some o' these people were sure enough treadin' close on each other's heels an' I reckon some were makin' quick getaways."
"Looks reasonable," Cole admitted.
"I'll bet I wasn't the only man in a hurry that night an' not the only one trapped here. The window of the den was open when I came. Don't you reckon some one else beat it by the fire escape?"'
They passed into the small room where James Cunningham had met his death. Broad daylight though it was, Kirby felt for an instant a tightening at his heart. In imagination he saw again the gargoyle grin on the dead face upturned to his. With an effort he pushed from him the grewsome memory.
The chair in which the murdered man had been found was gone. The district attorney had taken it for an exhibit at the trial of the man upon whom evidence should fasten. The littered papers had been sorted and most of them removed, probably by James Cunningham, Junior. Otherwise the room remained the same.
The air was close. Kirby stepped to the window and threw it up. He looked out at the fire escape and at the wall of the rooming-house across the alley. Denver is still young. It offers the incongruities of the West. The Paradox Apartments had been remodeled and were modern and up to date. Adjoining it was the Wyndham Hotel, a survival of earlier days which could not long escape the march of progress.
Lane and his friend stepped out to the platform of the fire escape. Below them was the narrow alleyway, directly in front the iron frame of the Wyndham fire escape.
A discovery flashed across Kirby's brain and startled him. "See here, Cole. If a man was standin' on that platform over there, an' if my uncle had been facin' him in a chair, sittin' in front of the window, he could 'a' rested his hand on that railin' to take aim an' made a dead-center shot."
Cole thought it out. "Yes, he could, if yore uncle had been facin' the window. But the chair wasn't turned that way, you told me."
"Not when I saw it. But some one might 'a' moved the chair afterward."
The champion of the world grinned. "Seems to me, old man, you're travelin' a wide trail this trip. If some one tied up the old man an' chloroformed him an' left him here convenient, then moved him back to the wall after he'd been shot, then some one on the fire escape could 'a' done it. What's the need of all them ifs? Since some one in the room had to be in the thing, we can figure he fired the shot, too, whilst he was doin' the rest. Besides, yore uncle's face was powder-marked, showin' he was shot from right close."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Lane, surrendering his brilliant idea reluctantly. A moment, and his face brightened. "Look, Cole! The corridor of that hotel runs back from the fire escape. If a fellow had been standin' there he could 'a' seen into the room if the blind wasn't down."
"Sure enough," agreed Sanborn. "If the murderer had give him an invite to a grand-stand seat. But prob'ly he didn't."
"No, but it was hot that night. A man roomin' at the Wyndham might come out to get a breath of air, say, an' if he had he might 'a' seen somethin'."
"Some more of them ifs, son. What are you drivin' at, anyhow?"
"Olson. Maybe it was from there he saw what he did."
Sanborn's face lost its whimsical derision. His blue eyes narrowed in concentration of thought. "That's good guessin', Kirby. It may be 'way off; then again it may be absolutely correct. Let's find out if Olson stayed at the Wyndham whilst he was in Denver. He'd be more apt to hang out nearer the depot."
"Unless he chose the Wyndham to be near my uncle."
"Mebbeso. But if he did it wasn't because he meant the old man any good. Prove to me that the Swede stayed there an' I'll say he's as liable as Hull to be guilty. He could 'a' throwed a rope round that stone curlycue stickin' out up there above us, swung acrost to the fire escape here, an' walked right in on Cunningham."
Lane's quick glance swept the abutment above and the distance between the buildings.
"You're shoutin', Cole. He could 'a' done just that. Or he might have been waitin' in the room for my uncle when he came home."
"Yes. More likely that was the way of it'—if we're on a hot trail a-tall."
"We'll check up on that first. Chances are ten to one we're barkin' up the wrong tree. Right away we'll have a look at the Wyndham register."
They did. The Wyndham was a rooming-house rather than a hotel, but the landlady kept a register for her guests. She brought it out into the hall from her room for the Wyoming men to look at.
There, under date of the twenty-first, they found the name they were looking for. Oscar Olson had put up at the Wyndham. He had stayed three nights, checking out on the twenty-fourth.
The friends walked into the street and back toward the Paradox without a word. As they stepped into the elevator again. Lane looked at his friend and smiled.
"I've a notion Mr. Olson had a right interestin' trip to Denver," he said quietly.
"I'll say he had," answered Sanborn. "An' that ain't but half of it either. He's mighty apt to have another interestin' one here one o' these days."
THE BRASS BED
The rough riders gravitated back to the fire escape. Kirby had studied the relation of his uncle's apartment to the building opposite. He had not yet examined it with reference to the adjoining rooms.
"While we're cuttin' trail might as well be thorough," he said to his friend. "The miscreant that did this killin' might 'a' walked out the door or he might 'a' come through the window here. If he did that last, which fork of the road did he take? He could go down the ladder or swing across to the Wyndham an' slip into the corridor. Let's make sure we've got all the prospects figured out at that."
Before he had finished the sentence, Lane saw another way of flight. The apartment in front of Cunningham's was out of reach of the fire escape. But the nearest window of the one to the rear was closer. Beneath it ran a stone ledge. An active man could swing himself from the railing of the platform to the coping and force an entrance into that apartment through the window.
Kirby glanced up and down the alley. A department store delivery auto was moving out of sight. Nobody was in the line of vision except an occasional pedestrian passing on the sidewalk at the entrances to the alley.
"I'm gonna take a whirl at it," Lane said, nodding toward the window.
"How much do they give for burglary in this state?" asked Sanborn, his eyes dancing. "I'd kinda hate to see you do twenty years."
"They have to catch the rabbit before they cook it, old-timer. Here goes. Keep an eye peeled an' gimme the office if any cop shows up."
"Mebbe the lady's at home. I don't allow to rescue you none if she massacrees you," the world's champion announced, grinning.
"Wrong guess, Cole. The boss of this hacienda is a man, an' he's in Chicago right now."
"You're the dawg-gonedest go-getter I ever threw in with," Sanborn admitted. "All right. Go to it. If I gotta go to the calaboose I gotta go, that's all."
Kirby stepped lightly to the railing, edged far out with his weight on the ledge, and swung to the window-sill. The sash yielded to the pressure of his hands and moved up. A moment later he disappeared from Sanborn's view into the room.
It was the living-room of the apartment into which Lane had stepped. The walls were papered with blue and the rug was a figured yellow and blue. The furniture was of fumed oak, the chairs leather-padded.
The self-invited guest met his first surprise on the table. It was littered with two or three newspapers. The date of the uppermost caught his eye. It was a copy of the "Post" of the twenty-fifth. He looked at the other papers. One was the "Times" and another the "News," dated respectively the twenty-fourth and the twenty-sixth. There was an "Express" of the twenty-eighth. Each contained long accounts of the developments in the Cunningham murder mystery.
How did these papers come here? The apartment was closed, its tenant in Chicago. The only other persons who had a key and the right of entry were Horikawa and the Paradox janitor, and the house servant had fled to parts unknown. Who, then, had brought these papers here? And why? Some one, Lane guessed, who was vitally interested in the murder. He based his presumption on one circumstance. The sections of the newspapers which made no reference to the Cunningham affair had been jammed into the waste-paper basket close to an adjoining desk.
The apartment held two rooms, a buffet kitchen and a bathroom. Kirby opened the door into the bedroom.
He stood paralyzed on the threshold. On the bed, fully dressed, his legs stretched in front of him and his feet crossed, was the missing man Horikawa. His torso was propped up against the brass posts of the bedstead. A handkerchief encircled each arm and bound it to the brass upright behind.
In the forehead, just above the slant, oval eyes, was a bullet hole. The man had probably been dead for a day, at least for a good many hours.
The cattleman had no doubt that it was Horikawa. His picture, a good snapshot taken by a former employer at a picnic where the Japanese had served the luncheon, had appeared in all the papers and on handbills sent out by James Cunningham, Junior. There was a scar, Y-shaped and ragged, just above the left eye, that made identification easy.
Kirby stepped to the window of the living-room and called to his friend.
"Want me to help you gather the loot?" chaffed Cole.
"Serious business, old man," Kirby told him, and the look on his face backed the words.
Sanborn swung across to the window and came through.
"What is it?" he asked quickly.
"I've found Horikawa."
The eyes of the men met and Cole guessed that grim tragedy was in the air. He followed Kirby to the bedroom.
"God!" he exclaimed.
His gaze was riveted to the bloodless, yellow face of the Oriental. Presently he broke the silence to speak again.
"The same crowd that killed Cunningham must 'a' done this, too."
"Sure they must. Same way exactly."
"Unless tyin' him up here was an afterthought—to make it look like the other," suggested Lane. He added, after a moment, "Or for revenge, because Horikawa killed my uncle. If he did, fate couldn't have sent a retribution more exactly just."
"Sho, that's a heap unlikely. You'd have to figure there were two men that are Apache killers, both connected with this case, both with minds just alike, one of 'em a Jap an' the other prob'ly a white man. A hundred to one shot, I'd call it. No, sir. Chances are the same man bossed both jobs."
"Yes," agreed Kirby. "The odds are all that way."
He stepped closer and looked at the greenish-yellow flesh. "May have been dead a couple o' days," he continued.
"What was the sense in killin' him? What for? How did he come into it?" Cole's boyish face wrinkled in perplexity. "I don't make head or tail of this thing. Cunningham's enemies couldn't be his enemies, too, do you reckon?"
"More likely he knew too much an' had to be got out of the road."
"Yes, but—" Sanborn stopped, frowning, while he worked out what he had to say. "He wasn't killed right after yore uncle. Where was he while the police were huntin' for him everywhere? If he knew somethin' why didn't he come to bat with it? What was he waitin' for? An' if the folks that finally bumped him off knew he didn't aim to tell what he knew, whyfor did they figure they had to get rid of him?"
"I can't answer your questions right off the reel, Cole. Mebbe I could guess at one or two answers, but they likely wouldn't be right. F'r instance, I could guess that he was here in this room from the time my uncle was killed till he met his own death."
"In this room?"
"In these apartments. Never left 'em, most likely. What's more, some one knew he was here an' kept him supplied with the daily papers."
"If I could tell you that I could tell you who killed him," answered Kirby with a grim, mirthless smile.
"How do you know all that?"
Lane told him of the mute testimony of the newspapers in the living-room. "Some one brought those papers to him every day," he added.
"And then killed him. Does that look reasonable to you?"
"We don't know the circumstances. Say, to make a long shot, that the Jap had been hired to kill my uncle by this other man, and say he was beginnin' to get ugly an' make threats. Or say Horikawa knew about the killin' of my uncle an' was hired by the other man to keep away. Then he learns from the papers that he's suspected, an' he gets anxious to go to the police with what he knows. Wouldn't there be reason enough then to kill him? The other man would have to do it to save himself."
"I reckon." Cole harked back to a preceding suggestion. "The revenge theory won't hold water. If some friend of yore uncle knew the Jap had killed him he'd sick the law on him. He wouldn't pull off any private execution like this."
Kirby accepted this. "That's true. There's another possibility. We've been forgettin' the two thousand dollars my uncle drew from the bank the day he was killed. If Horikawa an' some one else are guilty of the murder an' the theft, they might have quarreled later over the money. Perhaps the accomplice saw a chance to get away with the whole of it by gettin' rid of Horikawa."
"Mebbeso. By what you tell me yore uncle was a big, two-fisted scrapper. It was a two-man job to handle him. This li'l' Jap never in the world did it alone. What it gets back to is that he was prob'ly in on it an' later for some reason his pardner gunned him."
"Well, we'd better telephone for the police an' let them do some of the worryin'."
Kirby stepped into the living-room, followed by his friend. He was about to reach for the receiver when an exclamation stopped him. Sanborn was standing before a small writing-desk, of which he had just let down the top. He had lifted idly a piece of blotting-paper and was gazing down at a sheet of paper with writing on it.
"Looky here, Kirby," he called.
In three strides Lane was beside him. His eyes, too, fastened on the sheet and found there the pot-hooks we have learned to associate with Chinese and Japanese chirography.
"Shows he'd been makin' himself at home," the champion rough rider said.
Lane picked up the paper. There were two or three sheets of the writing. "Might be a letter to his folks—or it might be—" His sentence flickered out. He was thinking. "I reckon I'll take this along with me an' have it translated, Cole."
He put the sheets in his pocket after he had folded them. "You never can tell. I might as well know what this Horikawa was thinkin' about first off as the police. There's just an off chance he might 'a' seen Rose that night an' tells about it here."
A moment later he was telephoning to the City Hall for the police.
There was the sound of a key in the outer door. It opened, and the janitor of the Paradox stood in the doorway.
"What you do here?" asked the little Japanese quickly.
"We came in through the window," explained Kirby. "Thought mebbe the man that killed my uncle slipped in here."
"I hear you talk. I come in. You no business here."
"True enough, Shibo. But we're not burglars an' we're here. Lucky we are too. We've found somethin'."
"Mr. Jennings he in Chicago. He no like you here."
"I want to show you somethin', Shibo. Come."
Kirby led the way into the bedroom. Shibo looked at his countryman without a muscle of his impassive face twitching.
"Some one killum plenty dead," he said evenly.
"Quite plenty," Kirby agreed, watching his imperturbable Oriental face.
The cattleman admitted to himself that what he did not know about Japanese habits of mind would fill a great many books.
JAMES LOSES HIS TEMPER
Cole grinned whimsically at his friend.
"Do we light out now or wait for the cops?" he asked.
"We wait. They'd probably find out, anyhow, that we'd been here."
Five minutes later a patrol wagon clanged up to the Paradox. A sergeant of police and two plainclothes men took the elevator. The sergeant, heading the party, stopped in the doorway of the apartment and let a hard, hostile eye travel up and down Lane's six feet.
"Oh, it's you," he said suspiciously.
Kirby smiled. "That's right, officer. We've met before, haven't we?"
They had. The sergeant was the man who had arrested him at the coroner's inquest. It had annoyed him that the authorities had later released the prisoner on bond.
"Have you touched the body or moved anything since you came?" the sergeant demanded.
"No, sir, to both questions, except the telephone when I used it to reach headquarters."
The officer made no answer. He and the detectives went into the bedroom, examined the dead valet's position and clothes, made a tour of the rooms, and came back to Lane.
"Who's your friend?" asked the sergeant superciliously.
"His name is Cole Sanborn."
"The champion bronco buster?"
The sergeant looked at Sanborn with increased respect. His eyes went back to Kirby sullenly.
"What you doing here?"
"We were in my uncle's apartment lookin' things over. We stepped out on the fire escape an' happened to notice this window here was open a little. It just came over me that mebbe we might discover some evidence here. So I got in by the window, saw the body of the Jap, an' called my friend."
"Some one hire you to hunt up evidence?" the officer wanted to know with heavy sarcasm.
"I hired myself. My good name is involved. I'm goin' to see the murderer is brought to justice."
"You are, eh?"
"Well, I'll say you could find him if anybody could."
"You're entitled to your opinion, sergeant, just as I am to mine, but before we're through with this case you'll have to admit you've been wrong."
Lane turned to his friend. "We'll go now, Cole, if you're ready."
The sergeant glared at this cool customer who refused to be appalled at the position in which he stood. He had half a mind to arrest the man again on the spot, but he was not sure enough of his ground. Not very long since he had missed a promotion by being overzealous. He did not want to make the same mistake twice.
The Wyoming men walked across to Seventeenth Street and down it to the Equitable Building. James Cunningham was in his office.
He looked up as they entered, a cold smile on his lips.
"Ah, my energetic cousin," he said, with his habitual touch of irony. "What's in the wind now?"
Kirby told him. Instantly James became grave. His irony vanished. In his face was a flicker almost of consternation at this follow-up murder. He might have been asking himself how much more trouble was coming.
"We'll get the writing translated. You have it with you?" he said.
His eyes ran over the pages Lane handed him. "I know a Jap we can get to read it for us, a reliable man, one who won't talk if we ask him not to."
The broker's desk buzzer rang. He talked for a moment over the telephone, then hung up again.
"Sorry," Cunningham said, "I'm going to be busy for an hour or two. Going to lunch with Miss Phyllis Harriman. She was Uncle James's fiancee, perhaps you know. There are some affairs of the estate to be arranged. I wonder if you could come back later this afternoon. Say about four o'clock. We'll take up then the business of the translation. I'll get in touch with a Japanese in the meantime."
"Suits me. Shall I leave the writing here?"
"Yes, if you will. Doesn't matter, of course, but since we have it I'll put it in the safe."
"How's the arm?" Kirby asked, glancing at the sling his cousin wore.
"Only sprained. The doctor thinks I must have twisted it badly as I fell. I couldn't sleep a wink all night. The damned thing pained so."
James looked as though he had not slept well. His eyes were shadowed and careworn.
They walked together as far as the outer office. A slender, dark young woman, beautifully gowned, was waiting there. James introduced her to his cousin and Sanborn as Miss Harriman. She was, Kirby knew at once, the original of the photograph he had seen in his uncle's rooms.
Miss Harriman was a vision of sheathed loveliness. The dark, long-lashed eyes looked out at Kirby with appealing wistfulness. When she moved, the soft lines of her body took on a sinuous grace. From her personality there seemed to emanate an enticing aura of sex mystery.
She gave Kirby her little gloved hand. "I'm glad to meet you, Mr. Lane," she said, smiling at him. "I've heard all sorts of good things about you from James—and Jack."
She did not offer her hand to Sanborn, perhaps because she was busy buttoning one of the long gloves. Instead, she gave him a flash of her eyes and a nod of the carefully coiffured head.
Kirby said the proper things, but he said them with a mind divided. For his nostrils were inhaling again the violet perfume that associated itself with his first visit to his uncle's apartment. He did not start. His eyes did not betray him. His face could be wooden on occasion, and it told no stories now. But his mind was filled with racing thoughts. Had Phyllis Harriman been the woman Rose had met on the stairs? What had she been doing in Cunningham's room? Who was the man with her? What secret connected with his uncle's death lay hidden back of the limpid innocence of those dark, shadowed eyes? She was one of those women who are forever a tantalizing mystery to men. What was she like behind the inscrutable, charming mask of her face?
Lane carried this preoccupation with him throughout the afternoon. It was still in the hinterland of his thoughts when he returned to his cousin's office.
His entrance was upon a scene of agitated storm. His cousin was in the outer office facing a clerk. In his eyes there was a cold fury of anger that surprised Kirby. He had known James always as self-restrained to the point of chilliness. Now his anger seemed to leap out and strike savagely.
"Gross incompetence and negligence, Hudson. You are discharged, sir. I'll not have you in my employ an hour longer. A man I have trusted and found wholly unworthy."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Cunningham," the clerk said humbly. "I don't see how I lost the paper, if I did, sir. I was very careful when I took the deeds and leases out of the safe. It seems hardly possible—"
"But you lost it. Nobody else could have done it. I don't want excuses. You can go, sir." Cunningham turned abruptly to his cousin. "The sheets of paper with the Japanese writing have been lost. This man, by some piece of inexcusable carelessness, took them with a bundle of other documents to my lawyer's office. He must have taken them. They were lying with the others. Now they can't be found anywhere."
"Have you 'phoned to your lawyer?" asked Kirby.
"'Phoned and been in person. They are nowhere to be found. They ought to turn up somewhere. This clerk probably dropped them. I've sent an advertisement to the afternoon papers."
Kirby was taken aback at this unexpected mischance, but there was no use wasting nerve energy in useless fretting. He regretted having left the papers with James, for he felt that in them might be the key to the mystery of the Cunningham case. But he had no doubt that his cousin was more distressed about the loss than he was. He comforted himself with the reflection that a thorough search would probably restore them, anyhow.
He asked Hudson a few questions and had the man show them exactly where he had picked up the papers he took to the lawyer. James listened, his anger still simmering.
Kirby took his cousin by the arm and led him into the inner office.
"Frankly, James, I think you were partly to blame," he said. "You must have laid the writing very close in the safe to the other papers. Hadn't you better give Hudson another chance before you fire him?" His disarming smile robbed both the criticism and the suggestion of any offense they might otherwise have had.
In the end he persuaded Cunningham to withdraw his discharge of the clerk.
"He doesn't deserve it," James grumbled. "He's maybe spoiled our chance of laying hands on the man who killed Uncle. I can't get over my disappointment."
"Don't worry, old man," Lane said quietly. "We're goin' to rope an' hogtie that wolf even if Horikawa can't point him out to us with his dead hand."
Cunningham looked at him, and again the faint, ironic smile of admiration was in evidence. "You're confident, Kirby."
"Why wouldn't I be? With you an' Rose McLean an' Cole Sanborn an' I all followin' the fellow's trail, he can't double an' twist enough to make a getaway. We'll ride him down sure."
"Maybe we will and maybe we won't," the oil broker replied. "I'd give odds that he goes scot free."
"Then you'd lose," Kirby answered, smiling easily.
"ARE YOU WITH ME OR AGAINST ME?"
Miss Phyllis Harriman had breakfasted earlier than usual. Her luxuriant, blue-black hair had been dressed and she was debating the important question as to what gown she would wear. The business of her life was to make an effective carnal appeal, and she had a very sure sense of how to accomplish this.
A maid entered with a card, at which Miss Harriman glanced indolently. A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth, but it was not wholly one of amusement. In the dark eyes a hint of adventure sparked. Her pulses beat with a little glow of triumph. For this young woman was of the born coquettes. She could no more resist alluring an attractive man and playing with him to his subsequent mental discomfort than she could refrain from bridge drives and dinner dances. This Wild Man from Wyoming, so strong of stride, so quietly competent, whose sardonic glance had taken her in so directly and so keenly, was a foeman worthy of her weapons.
"Good gracious!" she murmured, "does he usually call in the middle of the night, I wonder? And does he really expect me to see him now?"
The maid waited. She had long ago discovered that Miss Phyllis did not always regulate her actions by her words.
"Take him into the red room and tell him I'll be down in a minute," Miss Harriman decided.
After which there was swift action in the lady's boudoir.
The red room was scarcely more than a cozy alcove set off the main reception-room, but it had a note of warmth, of friendly and seductive intimacy. Its walls whispered of tete-a-tetes, the cushions hinted at interesting secrets they were forever debarred from telling. In short, when Miss Harriman was present, it seemed, no less than the clothes she wore, an expression of her personality.
After a very few minutes Miss Phyllis sauntered into the room and gave her hand to the man who rose at her entrance. She was simply but expensively gowned. Her smile was warm for Kirby. It told him, with a touch of shy reluctance, that he was the one man in the world she would rather meet just now. He did not know that it would have carried the same message to any one of half a dozen men.
"I'm so glad you came to see me," she said, just as though she were in the habit of receiving young men at eleven in the morning. "Of course I want to know you better. James thinks so much of you."
"And Jack," added Lane, smilingly.
"Oh, yes. Jack, too," she said, and laughed outright when their eyes met.
"I'm sure Jack's very fond of me. He can't help showing it occasionally."
"Jack's—impulsive," she explained. "But he's amenable to influence."
"Of the right sort. I'm sure he would be."
He found himself the object of a piquant, amused scrutiny under her long lashes. It came to him that this Paris-gowned, long-limbed young sylph was more than willing to let him become intrigued by her charms. But Kirby Lane had not called so early in the day to fall in love.
"I came to see you, Miss Harriman, about the case," he said. "My good name is involved. I must clear it. I want you to help me."
He saw a pulse of excitement flutter in her throat. It seemed to him that her eyes grew darker, as though some shadow of dread had fallen over them. The provocative smile vanished.
"How can I help you?" she asked.
"If you would answer a few questions—"
"What questions?" All the softness had gone from her voice. It had become tense and sharp.
"Personal ones. About you and my uncle. You were engaged to him, were you not?"
"There wasn't any quarrel between you recently, was there?"
A flash of apprehension filled her eyes. Then, resolutely, she banished fear and called to her aid hauteur.
"There was not, though I quite fail to see how this can concern you, Mr. Lane."
"I don't want to distress you," he said gently, "Just now that question must seem to you a brutal one. Believe me, I don't want to hurt you."
Her eyes softened, grew wistful and appealing. "I'm sure you don't. You couldn't. It's all so—so dreadful to think about." There was a little catch in her throat as the voice broke. "Let's talk of something more cheerful. I want to forget it all."
"I'm sure you do. We all want to do that. The surest way to get it out of our minds is to solve the mystery and find out who is guilty. That's why I want you to tell me a few things to clear up my mind."
"But I don't know anything about it—nothing at all. Why should you come to me?"
"When did you last see my uncle alive?"
"What a dreadful question! It was—let me think—in the afternoon—the day before—"
"And you parted from him on the best of terms?"
He leaned toward her ever so little, his eyes level with hers and steadily fastened upon her. "That's the last time you saw him—until you went to his rooms at the Paradox the night he was killed?"
She had lifted her hand to pat into place an escaping tendril of hair. The hand remained lifted. The dark eyes froze with horror. They stared at him, as though held by some dreadful fascination. From her cheeks the color ebbed. Kirby thought she was going to faint.
But she did not. A low moan of despair escaped from the ashen lips. The lifted arm fell heavily to her lap.
Then Kirby discovered that the two in the red room had become three. Jack Cunningham was standing in the doorway.
His glance flashed to Lane accusingly. "What's up? What are you doing here?" he demanded abruptly.
The Wyoming man rose. "I've been asking Miss Harriman a question."
"A question. What business have you to ask her questions?" demanded Jack hotly.
His cousin tried a shot in the dark. "I was asking her," he said, his voice low and even, "about that visit you and she paid to Uncle James's rooms the night he was killed."
Kirby knew instantly he had scored a hit. The insolence, the jaunty confidence, were stricken from him as by a buffet in the face. For a moment body and mind alike were lax and stunned. Then courage flowed back into his veins. He came forward, blustering.
"What do you mean? What visit? It's a damned lie."
"Is it? Then why is the question such a knockout to you and Miss Harriman? She almost fainted, and it certainly crumpled you up till you got second breath."
Jack flushed angrily. "O' course it shocked her for you to make such a charge against her. It would frighten any woman. By God, it's an outrage. You come here and try to browbeat Miss Harriman when she's alone. You ask her impudent questions, as good as tell her she—she—"
Kirby's eyes were like a glittering rapier probing for the weakness of his opponent's defense. "I say that she and you were in the rooms of Uncle James at 9.50 the evening he was killed. I say that you concealed the fact at the inquest. Why?" He shot his question at the other man with the velocity of a bullet.
Cunningham's lip twitched, his eye wavered. How much did his cousin know? How much was he merely guessing?
"Who told you we were there? How do you know it? I don't propose to answer every wild accusation nor to let Miss Harriman be insulted by you. Who are you, anyhow? A man accused of killing my uncle, the man who found his valet dead and is suspected of that crime, too, a fellow who would be lying behind the bars now if my brother hadn't put up the money to save the family from disgrace. If we tell all we know, the police will grab you again double-quick. Yet you have the nerve to come here and make insinuations against the lady who is mourning my uncle's death. I've a good mind to 'phone for the police right now."
"Do," suggested Kirby, smiling. "Then we'll both tell what we know and perhaps things will clear up a bit."
It was a bluff pure and simple. He couldn't tell what he knew any more than his cousin could. The part played by Rose and Esther McLean in the story barred him from the luxury of truth-telling. Moreover, he had no real evidence to back his suspicions. But Jack did not know how strong the restraining influence was.
"I didn't say I was going to 'phone. I said I'd a jolly good mind to," Cunningham replied sulkily.
"I'd advise you not to start anything you can't finish, Jack. I'll give you one more piece of advice, too. Come clean with what you know. I'm goin' to find out, anyhow. Make up your mind to that. I'm goin' through with this job till it's done."
"You'll pull off your Sherlock-Holmes stuff in jail, then, for I'm going to ask James to get off your bond," Jack retorted vindictively.
"As you please about that," Lane said quietly.
"He'll choose between you or me. I'll be damned if I'll stand for his keeping a man out of jail to try and fasten on me a murder I didn't do."
"I haven't said you did it. What I say is that you and Miss Harriman know somethin' an' are concealin' it. What is it? I'm not a fool. I don't think you killed Uncle any more than I did. But you an' Miss Harriman have a secret. Why don't you go to James an' make a clean breast of it? He'll tell you what to do."
"The devil he will! I tell you we haven't any secret. We weren't in Uncle's rooms that night."
"Can you prove an alibi for the whole evening—both of you?" the range rider asked curtly.
"None of your business. We're not in the prisoner's dock. It's you that is likely to be there," Jack tossed out petulantly.
Phyllis Harriman had flung herself down to sob with her head in the pillows. But Kirby noticed that one small pink ear was in the open to take in the swift sentences passing between the men.
"I'm intendin' to make it my business," Lane said, his voice ominously quiet.
"You're laying up trouble for yourself," Jack warned blackly. "If you want me for an enemy you're going at this the right way."
"I'm not lookin' for enemies. What I want is the truth. You're concealin' it. We'll see if you can make it stick."
"We're not concealing a thing."
"Last call for you to show down your cards, Jack. Are you with me or against me?" asked Kirby.
"Against you, you meddling fool!" Cunningham burst out in a gust of fury. "Don't you meddle with my affairs, unless you want trouble right off the bat. I'm not going to have a Paul Pry nosing around and hinting slanders about me and Miss Harriman. What do you think I am? I'll protect my good name and this lady's if I have to do it with a gun. Don't forget that, Mr. Lane."
Kirby's steady gaze appraised him coolly. "You're excited an' talkin' foolishness. I'm not attackin' anybody's good name. I'm lookin' for the man who killed Uncle James. I'm expectin' to find him. If anybody stands in the way, I'm liable to run against him."
The man from Twin Buttes bowed toward the black hair and pink ear of his hostess. He turned on his heel and walked from the room.
It was essential to Kirby's plans that he should be at liberty. If he should be locked up in prison even for a few days the threads that he had begun to untangle from the snarl known as the Cunningham mystery would again be ensnared. He was not sure what action James would take at his brother's demand that he withdraw from the bond. But Lane had no desire to embarrass him by forcing the issue. He set about securing a new bond.
He was, ten minutes later, in the law offices of Irwin, Foster & Warren, attorneys who represented the cattle interests in Wyoming with which Kirby was identified. Foster, a stout, middle-aged man with only a few locks of gray hair left, heard what the rough rider had to say.
"I'll wire to Caldwell and to Norman as you suggest, Mr. Lane," he said. "If they give me instructions to stand back of you, I'll arrange a new bond as soon as possible."
"Will it take long? I can't afford to be tied up behind the bars right now."
"Not if I can get it accepted. I'll let you know at once."
Kirby rose. He had finished his business.
"Just a moment, Mr. Lane." Foster leaned back in his swivel-chair and looked out of the window. His eyes did not focus on any detail of the office building opposite. They had the far-away look which denotes a preoccupied mind. "Ever been to Golden?" he asked at last abruptly, swinging back in his seat and looking at his client.
"Golden is the Gretna Green of Denver, you know. When young people elope they go to Golden. When a couple gets married and doesn't want it known they choose Golden. Very convenient spot."
"I'm not figuring on gettin' married right now," the cattleman said, smiling.
"Still you might find a visit to the place interesting and useful. I was there on business a couple of weeks ago."
The eyes of the men fastened. Lane knew he was being given a hint that Foster did not want to put more directly.
"What are the interestin' points of the town?" asked the Twin Buttes man.
"Well, sir, there are several. Of course, there's the School of Mines, and the mountains right back of the town. Gold was discovered there somewhere about fifty-seven, I think. Used to be the capital of the territory before Denver found her feet."
"I'm rather busy."
"Wouldn't take you long to run over on the interurban." The lawyer began to gather toward him the papers upon which he had been working when the client was shown in. He added casually: "I found it quite amusing to look over the marriage licenses of the last month or two. Found the names there of some of our prominent citizens. Well, I'll call you up as soon as I know about the bond."
Lane was not entirely satisfied with what he had been told, but he knew that Foster had said all he meant to say. One thing stuck in his mind as the gist of the hint. The attorney was advising him to go to the court-house and check up the marriage licenses.
He walked across to the Equitable Building and dropped in on his cousin James. Cunningham rose to meet him a bit stiffly. The cattleman knew that Jack had already been in to see him or had got him on the wire.
Kirby brushed through any embarrassment there might be and told frankly why he had come.
"I've had a sort of row with Jack. Under the circumstances I don't feel that I ought to let you stay on my bond. It might create ill-feelin' between you an' him. So I'm arrangin' to have some Wyoming friends put up whatever's required. You'll understand I haven't any bad feeling against you, or against him for that matter. You've been bully all through this thing, an' I'm certainly in your debt."
"What's the trouble between you about?" asked James.
"I've found out that he an' Miss Harriman were in Uncle James's rooms the night he was killed. I want them to come through an' tell what they know."
"How did you find that out?"
The eyes of the oil broker were hard as jade. They looked straight into those of his cousin.
"I can't tell you that exactly. Put two an' two together."
"You mean you guess they were there. You don't know it."
A warm, friendly smile lit the brown face of the rough rider. He wanted to remain on good terms with James if he could. "I don't know it in a legal sense. Morally, I'm convinced of it."
"Even though they deny it."
"Practically they admitted rather than denied."
"Do you think it was quite straight, Kirby, to go to Miss Harriman with such a trumped-up charge? I don't. I confess I'm surprised at you." In voice and expression James showed his disappointment.