"I've been investigating your story, Mr. Prale," the captain said, looking at him peculiarly. "It always has been a mystery to me why a man keen in business and supposed to possess brains goes to pieces when he commits a crime and tells a tale that is full of holes."
"I beg your pardon!" Prale said.
"Sit down, Mr. Prale, over there—and I'll have some of the witnesses in. I have not questioned them yet, but my men have, and have reported to me what they said. They have discovered several other things, too."
"I'm not afraid of anything they may have discovered," Prale told the captain.
"Last night, you told Jim Farland that you had had trouble with a bank, and at the hotel where you first registered after you came ashore, did you not?"
"Yes; don't those things bear out my statement about the powerful enemies?"
"We'll see presently," the captain said.
He spoke to the sergeant in attendance, who immediately left the room, and presently returned with the president of the trust company. He looked at Prale with interest, and took the chair the captain designated.
"You know this man?" the captain asked.
"I do," said the banker. "He is Sidney Prale."
"Ever have any business with him?"
"Mr. Prale transferred a fortune to our institution from Honduras," the banker said. "Yesterday he called at the bank, satisfied me as to his identity, and made arrangements concerning the money."
"Mr. Prale has said that, for some reason unknown to him, you told him you did not care to handle his business and didn't want his deposit," the captain said.
"I scarcely think that was the way of it," the banker replied. "We would have been glad to take care of the deposit, which was practically one million dollars. But Mr. Prale told me he had other plans and that he would remove the deposit during the day, which he did."
Sidney Prale sat up straight in his chair. "Didn't you tell me that you didn't want anything to do with me and my money?" he demanded.
"Certainly not," lied the banker. "You said that you wished to put your funds in other institutions."
Prale gasped at the man's statement. It was a bare-faced lie if one ever had been spoken.
"Why——" Prale began.
"I do not care to discuss the matter further," the banker interrupted. "I am a man of standing and cannot afford to be mixed up in a case of this sort."
"You'll not be mixed up in it," the captain said. "I just wanted to show Mr. Prale that there were some holes in his story. That is all, thank you!"
The banker left the room quickly, and Prale sprang to his feet, his face livid.
"That man lied!" he exclaimed. "You could read it in his face! I don't know why he lied, but he did!"
"Sit down, Mr. Prale, and let's have more witnesses in," the captain said.
Once more he spoke to the sergeant, and again the latter went out, this time to return with the manager of the first hotel at which Prale registered.
"Know this man?" the captain asked.
"He registered at my place as Sidney Prale, of Honduras."
"Well, what about it?"
"We furnished him with a suite on the fifth floor," the hotel manager said. "But he gave it up."
"Gave it up!" Prale cried. "Why, you called me into your office and told me to get out, that the suite has been reserved and that there was none vacant in the house. The bell boy can testify that he called me into the office."
"Certainly he called you into my office, and at my request," the manager said. "I wanted to know why you were leaving, whether any of the employees had treated you with discourtesy. You told me that you had been served poorly in the dining room the evening before, and that you were done with the hotel!"
Prale sprang to his feet. "That's a lie, and you know it!" he cried.
"Captain," said the hotel man, "do I have to sit here and be insulted by a man charged with a heinous crime?"
"That will be all, thank you," the captain said.
The hotel manager hurried from the room, and the captain grinned at Prale.
"So he lied, too, did he?" the captain asked.
"He did!" Prale cried.
"There seems to be an epidemic of falsehood, to hear you tell it. However, let us get on with the affair."
Once more he instructed the sergeant, and this time the man brought in the hotel detective who had witnessed the trouble between Prale and Shepley.
The hotel detective told the story much as Prale himself had told it, except that he made it appear that Prale had threatened Rufus Shepley on the walk in front of the hotel before they separated.
"Did you pick up a fountain pen of mine after I had gone?" Prale asked.
"I did not."
"See anybody else pick it up?"
"No, sir," said the hotel detective; and he went out of the room.
The sergeant next ushered in George Lerton. Prale sat up straight in his chair again. Here was where his proper alibi began, with the exception of Jim Farland. George Lerton's face was pale as he sat down at the end of the desk.
"Know this man?" the captain asked.
"He is my cousin, Sidney Prale."
"How long has he been away from New York?"
"About ten years," Lerton said. "He returned day before yesterday, I believe. I saw his name in the passenger list."
"Mr. Prale says that he met you last night on Fifth Avenue, and that you told him he had some powerful enemies seeking to cause him trouble, and advised him to leave New York and remain away."
"Why—why this is not so!" Lerton cried. "I haven't seen him until this moment. I would have looked him up, but did not know at what hotel he was stopping, and thought that he'd try to find me."
Prale was out of his chair again, his face flaming. "You mean to sit there and tell me that you didn't talk to me on Fifth Avenue last night?" he cried.
"Why, of course I never talked to you, Sid. I never saw you. What are you trying to do, Sid? Why have you done this thing? We never were close to each other, and yet we are cousins, and I hate to see you in trouble."
"Stop your hypocritical sniveling!" Prale cried. "You are lying and you know it! You saw me last night——"
"But I didn't!"
"You did—and tried to get me to run away, and wouldn't tell me your reason for it."
George Lerton licked at his lips and looked appealingly at the captain of detectives.
"I—I am a man of standing," he whimpered. "I am a broker—here is my card. This man is my cousin, but I cannot lie to shield him. I never saw him last night, and did not speak to him."
Lerton got up and started for the door, and Sidney Prale did not make a move to stop him.
"It appears that your story is full of flaws," the captain said. "A little of it is true, however; you did meet Jim Farland and talk to him in Madison Square, and remained for the length of time you said. Jim has told me that much. But he does not know where you went and what you did after leaving him. What we are interested in is what you did in the neighborhood of eleven o'clock last night. That is when Rufus Shepley was killed. And now we'll have in that new valet of yours."
There was a snarl on Murk's face as he came into the room and sat down in the chair at the end of the desk. Murk did not like policemen and detectives, and did not care whether they knew of his dislike. He flashed a glance at Sidney Prale and then faced the captain.
"Well, what is it?" he asked.
"Tell us where and how you met Mr. Prale first, what happened, and bring the story right up to date," the captain commanded.
"Well, I went down to the river to jump in," Murk said, as if stating a simple fact. "I was tired of fightin' to live and had decided to end it all. Mr. Prale grabbed me and hauled me back, and then he made me see that suicide was foolish. He offered me a job, and I agreed to take it. He was the first man who had treated me decent since I——"
"Never mind that; get down to cases."
"Well, we walked up the street and got a taxicab and drove downtown, and Mr. Prale bought me some clothes."
"What time was it when you met him?"
"I guess it was about ten o'clock. We bought the clothes, as I said, and then we went to a barber shop, and I got a hair cut and a shave. After that we went to Mr. Prale's hotel and up to his rooms. We got to bed pretty quick."
"What time did you reach the hotel?"
"What happened after you went to bed?"
"Went to sleep," said Murk.
"Never mind the jokes," the captain rebuked sternly.
"Well, I stayed awake about an hour or so thinking how lucky I was, and then I went to sleep. I woke up early in the mornin' and got up and dressed. Mr. Prale got up later, and we ate breakfast in the suite. Then the cops came. One of them took Mr. Prale away, and he told me to stay in the rooms until sent for. The other cop rummaged around the rooms and then left."
Prale bent forward. "There is one man who can speak the truth," he told the captain. "His story corresponds with the one I told you, doesn't it? And doesn't it show that I could not have murdered Rufus Shepley at eleven o'clock last night?"
"The story is all right, and it certainly corresponds with yours," replied the captain. "Just a minute!" He faced Murk again. "Who are you and where did you come from?" he demanded.
"I ain't anybody in particular. I've been hangin' around town a couple of months doin' odd jobs. Before that I was bummin' around the country workin' whenever I got a chance."
"You felt grateful to Mr. Prale for giving you a job and a home, didn't you?"
"Sure!" said Murk. "He talked to me decent, like I was a man instead of a dog."
"Well, you don't seem to have much standing in the world," the captain said. "Your word, against that of several prominent citizens, does not carry much weight. You must see that. And there happens to be something else, too. I had the clothing merchant and the barber you mentioned look you over while you were in the other room. The clothing merchant says he sold some clothes a couple of days ago, the ones you are wearing now, but that he certainly did not sell them last night, and the barber swears that he never saw you before!"
"Why, the dirty liars!" Murk cried.
"Did they say that?" Prale demanded.
"They did," the captain replied. "And they said it in such a way that I believe them. Prale, your alibi is shot full of holes. You told the truth about meeting Jim Farland, and that much is in your favor. Aside from that, we have only the testimony of a tramp you said you picked up and gave a job. You had plenty of time to kill Rufus Shepley. You had ample time to concoct the story and get this man to learn it, so he could tell it and match yours. You are worth a million dollars, and this man probably was ready to lie a little for a wad of money."
"He tells the truth——"
"It's too thin, Prale! And don't forget the fountain pen that was found beside Shepley's body, either! As for you Murk, or whatever your right name is, you are under suspicion yourself."
"What's that?" Murk snarled.
"You are under suspicion, I said. You might have assisted at the murder, for all I know. I don't know when you met Mr. Prale, or where, but I do know that you got back to the hotel with Mr. Prale about midnight—an hour after the crime was committed."
"You can't hang anything like that on me!" Murk snarled. "All the cops in the world can't do it! I met Mr. Prale just like I said, and he bought me the clothes and took me to the barber shop, no matter what the store man and the barber say! It's a black lie they're tellin'! Mr. Prale is a gentleman——"
"That'll be enough!" the captain exclaimed. "I'm going to allow you to go, Murk, but you are to remain in Mr. Prale's rooms and take care of his things. And you can bet that you'll be watched, too."
"I don't care who watches me!"
"As for you, Mr. Prale, you'll have to go to a cell, I think. The evidence against you is such that I cannot turn you loose. You must realize that yourself."
Prale realized it. His face was white and his hands were shaking. He looked across the room at Murk.
"You go back to the hotel, Murk, and do as the captain says," he ordered. "I'll come out of this all right in time. There are a lot of things I cannot understand, but we'll solve the puzzle before we're done."
"Ain't there anything I can do, sir?" Murk asked.
"Perhaps, later. I'll engage a detective and a lawyer, and they may visit you at the hotel. I'll send you money by the lawyer. That's all now, Murk."
Murk started to speak, then thought better of it and went from the room slowly, anger flushing his face. Sidney Prale faced the captain of detectives again.
"No matter what you think, I am innocent, and know that my innocence can be proved," Prale said. "You are only doing your duty, of course. I want Jim Farland to attend to things for me. He is an old friend of mine and he is an honest man. Will you send for him?"
"He's waiting in the other room now," the captain said. "I'll let you have a conference with him before I order you into a cell!"
Once more Prale was taken to the room in which he had first waited—the room with the barred windows. This time the watching detective was missing. When Jim Farland entered, he found Prale pacing back and forth from one corner to the other. He was trying to think out his problem, wondering what it all meant, why the witnesses had lied, and what would be the outcome.
Farland rushed into the room, grasped Prale by the hand, led him across from the door, and forced him into a chair. This done, the loyal detective sat down facing him.
"Now let us have it from beginning to end!" Farland commanded. "I don't want you to leave out a thing. I want to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible."
Sidney Prale started at the beginning and talked rapidly, setting forth all the facts, while Jim Farland sat back in his chair and watched him. Now and then he frowned as if displeased at the recital.
"Well, there is something rotten," he said, when Prale had concluded his statement. "I want you to know, Sid, that I believe you. You're not the sort of man to kill a fellow like Rufus Shepley over a little spat. I believe your story about this Murk, too. But why should everybody have it in for you?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," Prale answered. "I must, indeed, have some powerful enemies, but I cannot imagine who they are, and I know of no reason why they should be against me. I'm simply up in the air."
"You keep right on trying to figure it out," Farland advised him. "You might think of something in time that will give me a start in my work."
"Why did the banker and hotel manager lie?" Prale asked. "Why did the clothing-store man and the barber lie? Why did George Lerton declare that he did not see me and speak to me last night? And how did my fountain pen get into Shepley's room?"
"Huh! When we know a few of those things, we'll know enough to wipe this charge away from your name," Jim Farland told him. "It's my job to answer those little questions for you. And now—you want a lawyer, I suppose?"
"Yes. Can you suggest one?"
"The greatest criminal lawyer in town is named Coadley. I'll send him right up here after I explain about this case to him. Thank Heaven, you have plenty of money! A poor man in a fix like this would be on his way to the electric chair. Coadley can fix you up, if anybody can. He can make a sinner look like a saint."
"But I'm not guilty!"
"I understand that, Sid, but it doesn't hurt an innocent man to have the best attorney he can get. I'll send you Coadley. Give me a note to that fellow Murk, for I may want him to help me. Sure he's loyal to you?"
"I never saw him until last night, but I'd bank on him," said Prale. "He'll stand by us!"
"Fair enough! You write that note right now, and try to get out on bail. Tell Coadley to get busy on that right away. Get out under police supervision, under guard—any way—but get out!"
Jim Farland hurried away, and Sidney Prale was conducted through dark corridors to a cell, where he had the experience of hearing a door clang shut behind him and the bolts shot. Prale never had expected to get into jail when he was worth a million dollars, and most certainly he never had expected to face a charge of murder.
He was allowed to send out for some luncheon, and it was more than an hour before Coadley, the attorney, arrived. Prale was taken into the consultation room.
He liked Coadley, and he liked the way in which Coadley regarded him before he spoke.
"I believe that you are innocent," the lawyer said.
"The job will be to make other people think that way," Prale said, with a laugh. The attorney's words had been like a ray of hope to him. "Did Jim Farland tell you the story?"
"Yes. I'll try to get you out on bail, or get you out in some manner," Coadley said. "This appears to be a peculiar case. It is not only the charge of murder; it is the fact that several men told falsehoods about you. You haven't an idea who your enemies are?"
"Not the slightest."
"I'm glad that Jim Farland is working on this case for you, Mr. Prale. He is a good man, and I may need a lot of help. I'll get my own investigators busy right away, too, and we'll cooeperate with Jim Farland. You go back to your cell and take it easy. I'll get you out before night, if I can."
Lawyer Coadley was a shrewd man, and his methods were the delight of other attorneys and jurists. He lost no time when he was confronted with a case that held unusual interest. Within an hour he was in court, acting as if fighting mad.
Had a reputable citizen any rights, he demanded? Were the police to be allowed to throw an innocent man into jail simply because there had been a crime committed and somebody had to be accused? His client did not care for an examination at this time, he said. Arraignment and a plea of not guilty were all right, however.
Sidney Prale was arraigned, and the plea of not guilty was made and entered. Then Coadley began his fight to have Prale admitted to bail.
The district attorney opposed it, of course, since that was his business. The judge listened to the statement of the captain of detectives. He heard Coadley say that his client could put up cash bail in any amount, and was willing to abide by any provisions. Finally the judge freed Prale on cash bail of fifty thousand dollars, but designated that the bail could be recalled at any time, and that he was to be in the custody of a member of the police department continually.
Coadley agreed, and left the jail with his client, a detective going with them to stand guard. The detective had explicit orders. He was not to annoy Sidney Prale. He was to withdraw out of earshot when Prale talked with his attorney or anybody else with whom he wished to converse privately. He was to allow Prale to come and go as he wished, except that Prale was not to be allowed to leave the limits of the city. If he attempted that, he was to be put under arrest immediately and taken to the nearest police station.
Prale read the newspapers as he rode to the hotel with Coadley and the detective. The story of the crime was in all of them, the tale of his quarrel with Rufus Shepley and of the finding of the fountain pen, and the inevitable statement that the police were on the track of more and better evidence.
Prale expected to be ordered out of the hotel, but he was not, the management stipulating only that he should not use the public dining room. He went up to the suite, to find Murk there, sitting in front of a window and glaring down at the street.
A cot was moved in for the use of the detective. Coadley held another conference with Prale, and then left to get busy on the case. Murk regarded the detective with scorn, until Prale explained the situation to him. After that, there was a sort of armed neutrality between them. Murk had no special liking for detectives, and he was the sort of man detectives do not like.
Presently Jim Farland arrived.
"Well, Sid, Coadley got you out of jail and home before I could get here, did he?" Farland said. "I suppose I'll not need that note of yours now. Is this Mr. Murk?"
"It is," Prale said. "Murk, meet Jim Farland. He's a detective friend of mine."
"Gosh, Mr. Prale, ain't there anybody but cops in this town?" Murk asked.
"Jim is a private cop, and he has a job now to get me out of this scrape," said Prale. "He's a friend of mine, I said."
"I guess that makes it different," was Murk's only comment.
"Oh, we'll get along all right," Farland put in. "I'm going to need you in my business, Murk. I've told the folks at police headquarters that I'd be responsible for you, so we can work together without being pestered. Understand?"
Murk grinned at him. "You just show me how to help get Mr. Prale out of this mess, and I'll sure help," he said.
Farland turned toward the police detective. "Go out into the hall and take a walk," he suggested. "Mr. Prale will give you a couple of cigars."
The detective took the cigars and went out into the hall, smiling. He had no fear of Sidney Prale slipping down a fire escape, or anything like that. Jim Farland was responsible, and Jim Farland was known to the force as a man who felt his responsibilities.
"Now we'll get busy and dig to the bottom of this mess," Farland said. "Been thinking it over, Sid? Know any reason why anybody should be out after you?"
"I can't think of a thing," Prale replied. "I suppose I made a few business enemies down in Honduras, but none powerful enough to cause me all this trouble. I can't understand it, Jim. It must be something big to cause all those men to lie as they did."
"Maybe it is, and maybe it is very simple when we get right down to it," Farland said. "I've started right in to work it out. Let me see those notes and messages you received."
Prale got them from the dresser drawer and handed them to Farland. The detective looked them over, even going as far as to use a magnifying glass.
"Don't laugh!" Farland said. "A lot of folks make fun of the fiction detective who goes around with a magnifying glass in one hand, but, believe me, a good glass shows up a lot of things. It isn't showing up anything here, though. Where do you suppose these things came from?"
"I don't know," said Prale.
"Got the first one on the ship, did you?"
"The first two. One was pinned to the pillow in my stateroom, and the second was pasted on the end of my suit case as I was landing. The mucilage was still wet."
"Didn't suspect anybody?"
"I didn't think much about it at first," said Prale. "I thought it was a joke, or that somebody was making a mistake."
"Sid, have you told me everything?"
Prale remembered Kate Gilbert and flushed.
"I see that you haven't," Farland said. "Out with it! Some little thing may give me the start I am looking for."
Prale told about Kate Gilbert, about the piece of paper she had dropped as she got into the limousine, about the peculiar way she acted toward him, and the attitude of Marie, the misnamed maid.
"Um!" Farland grunted. "We had one thing lacking in this case—and we have that. The woman!"
"But I only met her down there and danced with her twice."
"Don't know anything about her, I suppose?"
"Not a thing. It was understood that she belonged to a wealthy New York family and was traveling for the benefit of her health. At least, that was the rumor."
"I know of a lot of wealthy families in this town, but I never heard of a Kate Gilbert," Farland said. "I think I'll make a little investigation."
"But why on earth should she be taking a hand in my affairs?" Prale wanted to know.
"Why should you be accused of murder? Why should men tell lies about you?" Farland asked. "Excuse me for a time; I'm going down to the hotel office to find out a few things."
Farland hurried away, and the police detective entered the suite again and made himself comfortable. Jim Farland went directly to the office of the hotel and looked at a city directory. He found no Kate Gilbert listed, except a seamstress who resided in Brooklyn. The telephone directory gave him no help.
But that was not conclusive, of course. A thousand Kate Gilberts might be living in New York, in apartments or at hotels, without having a private telephone.
"Have to get a line on that girl!" Farland told himself. "She's got something to do with this. I'll bet my reputation on it."
Jim Farland went to the smoking room and sat down in a corner. He tried to think it out, groped for a starting point. He considered all the persons connected with the case, one at a time.
Farland knew that Sidney Prale had told the truth. Why, then, had George Lerton told a falsehood about meeting Prale and talking to him, when the truth would have helped to establish an alibi? Why had the clothing merchant and the barber lied?
"I suppose I'll have to use stern methods," Farland told himself. "Old police stuff, I suppose. Well, I'm the man that can do it, take it from me!"
He went up to Prale's suite again.
"Can't find out anything about that woman," he reported. "And I want to get in touch with her. Keep your eyes peeled for her, Sid, and arrange for me to catch sight of her, if you can. Now you'd better take a little rest. You've been through an experience to-day. I'm going out to get busy, and I'm going to take Murk with me."
"What for?" Murk demanded.
"You're going to help me, old boy."
"Me work with a cop?" Murk exclaimed.
"To help Mr. Prale."
"Well, that's different," Murk said. "Wait until I get my hat."
ON THE TRAIL
Farland engaged a taxicab, bade Murk get into it, got in himself, and they started downtown. The detective leaned back against the cushions and regarded Murk closely. He knew that Sidney Prale had guessed correctly, that Murk was the sort of man who would prove loyal to a friend.
"This is a bad business," Farland said.
"It's tough," said Murk.
"If it was anybody but Sid Prale, I'd say he was guilty. It sure looks bad. And there is that fountain pen!"
"Somebody's tryin' to do him dirt," Murk said.
"There's no question about that, Murk, old boy. Well, we are going to get him out of it, aren't we?"
"I'll do anything I can."
"Like him, do you?"
"Met him less than twenty-four hours ago, but I wish I'd met him or somebody like him ten years ago," Murk replied. "If it hadn't been for Mr. Prale, I'd be a stiff up in the morgue this minute."
"Strong for him, are you?"
"Yes, sir, I am!"
"Um!" said Jim Farland. "We're going to get along fine together. I was strong for Sid Prale ten years ago, before he went away. And I'll bet that, when we get to the bottom of this, we'll find something mighty interesting."
The taxicab stopped at a corner, and Farland and Murk got out. Farland paid the chauffeur and watched him drive away, and then he led Murk around the corner.
"Know where you are?" he asked.
"Sure. Right over there is the little shop where Mr. Prale bought me my new clothes," Murk said.
"Fine! That goes to show that Prale told the truth. Well, Murk, you stand right here by the curb and watch the front door of that shop. And when you see me beckon to you, you come running."
Jim Farland hurried across the street, opened the door of the little shop, and entered. The proprietor came from the rear room when he heard the door slammed.
He knew Jim Farland and had known him for years. There were few old-timers in that section of the city who did not know Jim Farland. The man who faced the detective now was small, stoop-shouldered, a sort of a rat of a man who had considerably more money to his credit than his appearance indicated, and who was not eager to have the world in general know how he had acquired some of it.
"Evenin', Mr. Farland," he said. "Anything I can do for you, sir?"
"Maybe you can and maybe you can't," Farland told him. "You been behaving yourself lately?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Farland? I've been trying to get along, but business ain't been any too good the last year."
"Save that song for somebody who doesn't know better!" Farland advised him. "Change the record when you play me a tune."
"Yes, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Farland?"
"Remember a little deal a couple of years ago?" Farland demanded suddenly.
"I see that you do. One little word from me in the proper quarter, old man, and you'll be doing time. You've sailed pretty close to the edge of the law a lot of times, and once, I know, you slipped over the edge a bit."
"I—I hope, sir——"
"You'd better hope that you can keep on the good side of me," Jim Farland told him.
"If there is anything I can do, Mr. Farland——"
"Do you suppose you could tell the truth?"
"I'm going to give you a chance. If you tell the truth, I may forget something I know, for the time being. But, if you shouldn't tell the truth—well, my memory is excellent when I want to exercise it."
Farland stepped to the door and beckoned, and Murk hurried across the street and entered the shop.
"Ever see this man before?" Farland demanded.
The storekeeper licked his lips, and a sudden gleam came into his eyes.
"I—he seems to look familiar, but I can't say."
"You'd better say!" Farland exclaimed. "I want the truth out of you, or something will drop. And when it drops, it is liable to hit you on the toes. Get me?"
"I—I don't know what to do," wailed the merchant.
"Tell the truth!"
"But—there is something peculiar about——"
"Out with it! Know this man?"
"I've seen him before," the merchant replied.
"La-last night, sir."
"Now we are getting at it!" Jim Farland exclaimed. "When did you see him last night, and where, and what happened?"
"He was in the store, Mr. Farland, about half past ten or a quarter of eleven o'clock. He—he bought those clothes he's got on."
"Pay for them?"
"Who paid for them?" Farland demanded.
"A gentleman who was with him," said the merchant.
"Ah! Know the gentleman?"
"I saw him to-day—at police headquarters."
"And you said that you never had seen him before—that he was not here last night with this man. Why did you lie?"
Jim Farland roared the question and smashed a fist down upon the counter. The little merchant flinched.
"Out with it!" Farland cried. "Tell the truth, you little crook! I want to know why you lied, who told you to lie. I want to know all about it, and mighty quick!"
"I—I don't understand this," the merchant whimpered. "I was afraid of making a mistake."
"You'll make a mistake right now if you don't tell the truth!" Jim Farland told him.
"I—I got a letter, sir, by messenger. I got it early this morning, sir."
"Well, what about it?"
"The letter was typewritten, sir, and was not signed. There was a thousand dollars in bills in the letter, sir, and it said that a Mr. Prale had just been arrested for murder, and that he probably would try to make an alibi by saying that he was here last night and bought some clothes for another man. The letter said that I was to take the money and ask no questions, and that, if I was called to police headquarters, I was to say the man had not been here and that I never had seen him in my life before."
"And you fell for it? You wanted that thousand, I suppose."
"I'll show you the letter, Mr. Farland. There was no signature at all, and the paper was just common paper. I—I thought it was politics, sir."
"You did, eh?"
"Thought it had something to do with politics, sir. I thought the letter and money might have come from political headquarters. I was afraid to tell the truth at the police station."
"You mean you have been so crooked for years that you're afraid of everybody who has a little influence," Farland told him.
"I thought it was orders, sir, from somebody who had better be obeyed."
"Oh, I understand, all right. Well, I scarcely think it was politics. You've been played, that's all. Get me that letter!"
The merchant got it and handed it over, together with the envelope. He had told the truth. The letter was typewritten on an ordinary piece of paper, and the envelope was of the sort anybody could purchase at a corner drug store. Farland put the letter in his pocket.
"Here between ten thirty and a quarter of eleven, was he?"
"Yes, sir," said the merchant.
"All right! You remember that, and don't change your mind again, if you know what is good for you. You'll hear from me in the morning. That's all!"
Jim Farland went from the store with a grinning Murk at his heels, leaving a badly frightened small merchant behind him.
"I know that bird," he told Murk. "He's a fence, or I miss my guess. It's no job at all to run a bluff on a small-time crook like that. And now we'll run down and see that barber."
They engaged another taxicab and made a trip. Once more Murk remained outside, and Jim Farland entered and beckoned the barber to him.
"Step outside the door where nobody will overhear," he said. "I want to ask you something."
The barber stepped outside, wondering what was coming. This man knew Jim Farland, too, and he knew that a call from him might mean trouble.
"Trying to see how far you can go and keep out of jail?" Farland demanded.
"I—I don't know what you mean, sir."
"Trying to run a bluff on me? On me?" Farland gasped. "You'd better talk straight. Do you expect to run a barber shop by day and a gambling joint by night all your life?"
"Don't lie!" Farland interrupted. "I know all about that little back room. Maybe I'm not on the city police force now, but you know me! I've got a bunch of friends on the force, and if I told a certain sergeant about your little game and said that I wanted to have you run in he wouldn't hesitate a minute."
"But what have I done, Mr. Farland?" the barber gasped. "I've always been friendly to you."
"I know it. But are you going to keep right on being friendly?"
"Of course, sir."
"Willing to help me out in a little matter if I forget about that gambling?"
"I'll do the best I can, Mr. Farland."
"Then answer a few questions. Did you get a typewritten letter this morning, with a wad of money in it?"
The barber's face turned white.
"Answer me!" Farland commanded.
"Yes, I—I got such a letter and I don't know what to make of it," the barber said. "I've got the letter and money in my desk right now. There wasn't any signature, and I didn't know where the letter came from, or what it meant."
"Then why did you do what the letter told you to do?" Farland asked.
"I—I don't understand."
Farland motioned, and Murk now stepped around the corner.
"Know this man?" Farland demanded.
"I—I've seen him before."
"That letter told you to go to police headquarters, if requested to do so, and deny you knew this man, didn't it? It told you not to help a man named Sidney Prale, arrested for murder, to make his alibi by telling that he was here with this man last night about eleven o'clock, didn't it?"
"And you did just what the letter told you?"
"I was afraid not to do it, sir. I didn't know where that letter came from, you see."
"Had an idea it came from some boss, didn't you?"
"I didn't know and I didn't dare take a chance, Mr. Farland. You know how it is?"
"I know how it is with a man who has busted a few laws and knows he ought to be pinched!"
"Did I make some sort of a mistake, sir? What should I do now?"
"Something you don't do very often—tell the truth," Jim Farland replied. "How about this man?"
"He came here with the other gentleman last night about eleven o'clock, sir. He got a hair cut and a shave, and the other gentleman paid the bill."
"Thanks. Sure about the time?"
"I know that it was almost a quarter after eleven when they left the shop."
"Well, I'm glad you can speak the truth. Get on your hat and coat!"
"I—what do you mean, sir? Am I arrested?"
"No. Get that letter and come with me. I want you to tell the truth to somebody else, that's all."
The frightened barber got his hat and coat and the letter, and followed Jim Farland and Murk to the corner. There Farland engaged another taxicab, and ordered the chauffeur to drive back to the little clothing store.
"Running up a nice expense bill for Prale, but he won't care," Jim Farland said to Murk.
He compelled the merchant to shut up his shop and get into the cab, and then the chauffeur drove to police headquarters. Farland had telephoned from the clothing store, and the captain of detectives was waiting for him. He ushered the merchant and the barber into the office, looked down at the captain, and grinned.
"What's all this?" the captain demanded.
"It's Sid Prale's alibi," Jim Farland said. "These two gents want to tell you how they lied to-day, and why they lied. It is an interesting story."
The captain sat up straight in his chair, while Jim Farland removed his hat, sat down, motioned for Murk to do the same, and made himself comfortable.
"About that alibi," Farland said. "I know that George Lerton lied about meeting Sid Prale on Fifth Avenue, but you don't, and so we'll let that pass for the time being and get to it later. I just want to show you now that Prale's story about meeting this man Murk was a true tale. This clothing merchant is ready to say now that Prale and Murk were in his place last night about half past ten, and that Murk got his clothes there. And this barber is ready to swear that Prale and Murk arrived at his shop about a quarter of eleven or eleven, and did not leave until a quarter after eleven. Prale and Murk got to the hotel, as you know, at midnight. Prale couldn't have gone to that other hotel, murdered Rufus Shepley, and got to his suite by twelve o'clock, not if he left that barber shop far downtown at a quarter after eleven, could he?"
"Scarcely," said the captain.
"Very well. Ask these two gents some questions."
The captain did. He read the two typewritten letters and he understood how the fear of a political power might have been in the hearts of the two men. He rebuked them and allowed them to go.
"Well, it looks a little better for Mr. Prale," the captain said, "but this isn't the end, by any means. Remember that fountain pen of his that was found beside the body of Rufus Shepley!"
"I didn't say that it was the end," Jim Farland declared. "I don't want it given out that any evidence has been found that is in Prale's favor. I just want you to whisper in the ear of the court that the alibi looks good, and let it go at that. There's something behind this case, and we want to find out what it is. Prale is out on bail—and let it go at that, as far as the public is concerned."
"I grasp you," said the captain. "You want these enemies of his to think he is in deep water, so they'll be off guard and you can do your work."
"Exactly," said Jim Farland.
"Good enough. I'll do my part."
"Know anything about a woman calling herself Kate Gilbert?"
"Never heard of her."
Farland explained what Prale had told him. The captain fingered his mustache.
"Several thousand women in this town answer that general description," he said. "I'm afraid I can't help you, unless you can pick her up."
"That's what I'll do as soon as I can," Farland replied. "If I can get my eyes on her once, I'll trail her and find out a few things. She may have nothing to do with this, and she may have a great deal to do with it. What do you know about George Lerton?"
"Shady broker," the captain replied. "Never done anything outside the law, as far as I know, but he's come pretty close to it. I'd hate to have him handling my money."
"Well, he lied about meeting Prale. He did his best to get Prale to run away from town. That was a couple of hours before the murder, of course, so it probably had nothing to do with that. But why should he try to get Prale out of town? And, being a man of that sort, why did he say that he wouldn't handle Prale's funds? You'd think a man of his sort would like nothing better than to get his fingers tangled up in that million."
"I'll have a man take a look at George Lerton."
"Don't strain yourself," said Jim Farland. "I'm going to take a look at him myself, the first thing to-morrow morning."
He left headquarters with Murk, and this time he did not engage a taxicab. He walked up the street, Murk at his side, and puffed at a cigar furiously.
"Well, Murk, we've made a good start," Farland said, after a time.
"How do you like working with a detective now?"
"Aw, you ain't a regular detective," Murk said.
"I mean you ain't an ordinary dick. You got some sense."
"Thanks for the compliment. I know men who would dispute the statement," Farland told him.
They walked and walked, and after a time were on Fifth Avenue and going toward the hotel where Prale had his suite. Suddenly, just ahead of them, they saw Sidney Prale and the man from headquarters. They hurried to catch up with them.
"What's the idea?" Farland asked.
"Needed a walk," Prale replied. "Didn't feel like going to bed, and a walk would do me good, I knew."
"I'll have some things to tell you in the morning," Farland said. "But I'm not going to tell you to-night, except to say that it is good news, and I'm issuing orders to Murk not to tell you, either. I want you to forget the thing and get some rest."
"All right," Prale said, laughing; and then he stopped still and gasped.
"What is it?" Farland asked.
"There—just getting into that limousine. See her? The girl with the red hat!"
"I see her," Farland replied, signaling the chauffeur of a passing taxicab. "This is what I was hoping for, Sid. Go on to the hotel with Murk and guard. I'm going to find out a few things about Miss Kate Gilbert!"
He gave the chauffeur of the taxicab whispered directions, and then sprang into the machine.
CONCERNING KATE GILBERT
Given a definite trail to follow, Jim Farland was one of the best trackers in the business. He liked to know his quarry by sight, and conduct the hunt in a proper manner. And so he rejoiced, that now he was following a person he believed to be interested in some way in the Shepley case.
The limousine went up Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, and the taxicab with Jim Farland inside followed half a block behind. Farland did nothing except look ahead continually and make sure that his chauffeur did not lose the other machine. He wanted to discover, first, where Miss Kate Gilbert was going, and after that he wanted to acquire all the information he could concerning her.
There was little traffic on the Avenue at this hour, and the limousine made good progress. It curved around the Circle and went up Central Park West. In the Eighties it turned off into a side street, and finally drew up to the curb and stopped. The taxicab came to a halt a hundred feet behind it. "Wait," Jim Farland instructed the chauffeur, showing his shield. "Wait until I come back, even if I don't come back until morning. You will get good pay, all right."
The chauffeur settled back behind his wheel, and Farland stepped to one side in the darkness and watched. He saw an elderly gentleman emerge from the limousine and turn to help Kate Gilbert out. Then the elderly gentleman got into the car again and was driven away, and Kate Gilbert went into the apartment house before which the limousine had stopped.
Detective Jim Farland hurried forward, but when he came opposite the apartment house he slowed down and walked slowly, glancing in. It was not an apartment house of the better sort. The lobby was small, there was an automatic elevator, and no hall boy was on duty, that Farland could see. There was a row of mail boxes against a wall, with name plates over them.
Farland went up the steps, opened the door, and stepped inside the lobby. He walked across to the mail boxes and began looking at the names. He found some one named Gilbert had an apartment on the third floor, front.
The stairs were before him, and Farland was about to start up them when a door leading to the basement was opened, and a janitor appeared. He was an old man, bent and withered, and he looked at Farland with sudden suspicion.
"You want to see somebody in the house?" he asked, in a voice that quavered.
"I want to see you," Jim Farland answered.
"What about, sir?"
Farland exhibited his shield, and the old janitor recoiled, fright depicted in his face.
"I ain't done anything wrong, mister," he said hoarsely. "I obey all the regulations about ashes and garbage and everything like that."
"Don't be afraid of me," Farland said. "I'm not accusing you of doing anything wrong, am I? I can see that you're a law-abiding man. You haven't nerve enough to be anything else. Suppose you step outside with me for a few minutes. I just want to ask you a few questions about something."
"All right, sir, if that's it," the old janitor said.
He opened the front door and led the way outside, and Farland forced him to walk a short distance down the street, and there they stopped in a doorway to talk.
"I'm going to ask you a few questions, and you are going to answer them, and then you are going to forget that you ever saw me or that I ever asked you a thing," Farland said.
"I understand, sir. I won't give away any police business," the old janitor replied. "I know all about such things. I had a nephew once who was a policeman."
"There's a party living in your place who goes by the name of Gilbert, isn't there?"
"How many are there in the family, and who are they, and what do you know about them?"
"There is an old man, sir," the janitor answered. "He's a sort of cripple, I guess. He always sits in one of them invalid chairs, and when he goes out somebody has to wheel him. If he ain't exactly a cripple, then he's mighty sick and weak."
"Who else is in the family?"
"He's got a daughter, whose name is Miss Kate," the janitor said. "She's a mighty fine-lookin' girl, too. She's a nice woman, I reckon. 'Pears to be, anyway."
"Do you know anything in particular about her?" Jim Farland asked him.
"Well, she's been away for about three months, and she just got back," the janitor replied. "I don't know where she was—didn't hear. While she was gone, there was a man nurse 'tended to her father—cooked the meals and kept the apartment clean and took him out in his wheel chair. Miss Kate has a maid they call Marie—a big, ugly woman. She takes care of things generally when she is here, but she was away with Miss Kate."
"How long have they lived here?" Farland asked.
"About three years, sir. But I don't know much about them. They ain't the kind of folks a man can find out a lot about. They act peculiar sometimes."
"Are they rich?"
"My gracious, no!" said the old janitor. "They pay their rent on time, and they always seem to have plenty to eat, and I guess they can afford to keep that maid and hire a nurse once in a while, but they ain't what you'd call rich. But Miss Kate comes home in a big automobile now and then, and she seems to have a lot of clothes. There's something funny about it, at that."
"Think she isn't a decent woman?" Farland asked.
"Oh, I don't think she's a bad sort, sir, if that is what you mean. She doesn't seem to be, at all. I guess she gets her swell clothes honest enough. I think that she works for somebody and has to dress that way."
"Do they get much mail and have many visitors?"
"They get a few letters, and some newspapers and magazines," the janitor replied. "And they don't seem to have many visitors. I've seen a man come here once or twice to see them, and once he brought Miss Kate home in an auto. He looks like a rich man."
"Is he old or young?" Farland asked.
"Oh, he has gray hair, sir, and looks like a distinguished gentleman, like a lawyer or something. I guess he's rich. I think maybe he is an old friend of Mr. Gilbert's, or something like that."
"They live on the third floor, don't they?"
"Any vacant apartments up there?"
"Why, the apartment adjoining theirs happens to be vacant just now, sir."
"You take me up to that vacant apartment," Jim Farland directed. "Let me in without making any noise, and then forget all about me until I speak to you again. Here is a nice little bill, and there will be more if you attend to business. I'm an officer, so you'll not get in trouble with the landlord."
The old janitor accepted the bill gladly, and led the way back to the house. Jim Farland refused to use the elevator; he insisted on walking up the stairs, and on going up noiselessly. When they reached the third floor, he was doubly alert.
The old janitor pointed out the door of the vacant apartment, and handed Farland a key. Then he pattered back down the stairs. Farland slipped along the hall, unlocked the door of the vacant apartment, darted inside, and locked the door again, putting the key in his pocket. And then he moved noiselessly through the apartment until he had reached the front.
He could hear voices in the apartment adjoining, and could make out the conversation. A woman was speaking—Farland decided that she was Kate Gilbert—and the weak voice of a sick man was answering her now and then.
"Let's not talk about it any more to-night, father," the girl was saying. "You'll not sleep well, if you get to thinking about it. You must go to bed now, and we'll have a real talk about things when I have something of importance to tell you. Get a good sleep, and in the morning Marie can take you out in the Park."
Jim Farland could hear the old man mutter some reply, and then there reached his ears the squeaking of a wheel chair being rolled across the floor. He remained for a time standing against the wall, listening. He decided that those in the Gilbert apartment were preparing to retire. Half an hour later, Farland slipped from the room and went to the basement to find the janitor.
"Here's your key," he said. "I'll be back here in the morning, and I'll want to see you. And remember—you're not to say a word about all this."
"Not a single word, sir."
Farland went back to the taxicab and drove to his own modest home, where he tumbled into bed and slept the sleep of the just. When Jim Farland slept, he slept—and when he worked, he worked. Farland did not mix labor and rest.
He arose early, hurried through his breakfast, got another taxicab and went up into the Eighties again. The old janitor was sweeping off the walk in front of the apartment house. The curtains at the windows of the Gilbert apartment were still down.
"Give me that key again and give me a pass key, too," Farland told the old janitor. "If the maid takes Mr. Gilbert out, and Miss Gilbert is gone at the same time, I want to get into their apartment and take a look around. Understand? And I'll want you to watch, so I'll not be caught in there."
"I understand, sir. Here are the keys."
Farland reached the vacant apartment without being seen. The Gilberts were up now and eating breakfast. He could hear Kate Gilbert trying to cheer her father, but not a word she said had anything to do with Sidney Prale, or Rufus Shepley, or anybody connected in any way with the Shepley murder case.
"Now you must let Marie take you to the Park, father," he heard the girl say. "It is a splendid day, and you must get a lot of fresh air. You can go down and watch the animals. I'm going out now, but I'll be back some time during the afternoon, and then we'll talk about things."
Jim Farland waited in the vacant apartment until he heard Kate Gilbert depart. A quarter of an hour later, he opened the front door a crack and saw the gigantic Marie wheel out the chair with Mr. Gilbert in it. They went down in the elevator.
Farland waited for another quarter of an hour, until the old janitor came up and told that he had watched the maid wheel Mr. Gilbert into the Park.
"I'll just leave the elevator up here until somebody rings," the old janitor said, "and I'll watch the floor below from the top of the stairs. Then, if any of them come back, I'll tell you so you can get out."
He took his station at the head of the stairs, leaving the elevator door open so that the contrivance could not be operated from below. Jim Farland unlocked the door of the Gilbert apartment and stepped inside.
The first glance told him that it was an ordinary apartment furnished in quite an ordinary manner. It certainly did not look like a home of wealth, and Sidney Prale had said that it had been understood in Honduras that Kate Gilbert was of a rich family and traveling for her health.
Many tourists claim to have money when they are away from home, of course, but the part about traveling for her health seemed to Jim Farland to be going a bit too far. Would such a woman be traveling for her health and leave behind her at home an old father who was an invalid?
"There's something behind that little trip of hers," Farland told himself. "It looks to me as if she had gone down to Honduras to look up Sid Prale for some reason. And Honduras isn't exactly on the health-trip list, either."
He began a close inspection of the apartment, leaving no trace of his search behind him, disarranging nothing that he did not replace. Jim Farland was an expert at such things.
He ransacked a small desk that stood in one corner of the living room and found a tablet of writing paper similar to that upon which had been written the anonymous messages Sidney Prale had received. He found scraps of writing in the wastebasket, too, and inspected them carefully.
"Somebody in this apartment wrote those notes, all right," Farland mused. "But why? That's the question I want answered, and I'll have to be careful how I start in to find out. You can't bluff that girl; one look is enough to tell me that. If I jump her about those notes, she'll probably get wise and cover her tracks, and then I'll be strictly up against it."
He found nothing else of importance in the apartment. There were some letters, but they seemed to be from relatives scattered throughout the country, ordinary letters dealing with family affairs of no particular consequence, and they told Jim Farland nothing that he wished to know.
But Kate Gilbert was only one angle of the case, he reminded himself, and so he decided that he was done for the present as far as she was concerned. It would be only a waste of valuable time, he thought, to remain longer in the Gilbert apartment; and there were plenty of other things for him to be doing.
Farland went all over the apartment once more, making sure that he was leaving everything in its proper place, that there would be nothing to show that anybody had been making an investigation there. Then he hurried out and locked the door, returned the keys to the old janitor, gave him another bill and instructed him to forget the visit, lighted a black cigar, and started walking rapidly southward.
When the proper time arrived, Jim Farland would tell Miss Kate Gilbert that he knew she had written the anonymous notes to Sidney Prale—or that her maid had—and he would ask her why.
He reached Columbus Circle, made his way over to Fifth Avenue, and continued his walk down that broad thoroughfare. Farland had decided to go to the hotel and have a talk with Sidney Prale and Murk. He told himself that he was going to like Murk, the human hulk who suddenly had become of some use in the world.
But he did not get a chance to go to the hotel just then. He came to a busy corner, and stopped to wait for a chance to cross the street congested with traffic. Suddenly, a few feet to his right, he saw Kate Gilbert, who had left her apartment only a short time before.
There was nothing startling in that fact alone, for this was a district where there were fashionable shops and beauty parlors, and well-dressed women were on every side.
What interested Detective Jim Farland the most was that Kate Gilbert was standing before the show window of a fashionable shop in intimate conversation with George Lerton, Sidney Prale's cousin!
Farland started moving slowly toward them, making his way through the crowd in such fashion that he did not attract too much attention to himself. He was feeling a sudden interest in this case. There were great possibilities in the fact that two persons connected with it from different angles were in conversation.
As he made his way toward the show window, he remembered how this George Lerton had tried to induce Sidney Prale to leave the city and remain away, and how, afterward, he had denied that he had seen Prale on Fifth Avenue and had spoken to him.
"He's connected with this thing in some way," Farland told himself. "It's my job to discover exactly how."
But he was doomed to be disappointed. Before he could get near enough to make an attempt to overhear what they were saying, they suddenly parted. Kate Gilbert went into the shop, and George Lerton crossed the street and hurried down the Avenue.
It was no use wasting time on Kate Gilbert. Farland knew where to find her if he wanted her, and he knew there would be no use in shadowing her now, since she probably had gone into the shop to purchase a hat. But George Lerton was quite another matter.
The detective did not hesitate. He swung off down Fifth Avenue in the wake of George Lerton.
Farland was a rough and ready man, and he had little liking for male humans of the George Lerton type. Lerton always dressed in the acme of fashion, running considerably to fads in clothes, appearing almost effeminate at times. And yet it was said in financial circles that Lerton was far from being effeminate when it came to a business deal. There had been whispers about his dark methods, and it was well known that a business foe got small sympathy or consideration from him. He was a fashionable cut-throat without any of the milk of human kindness in his system.
It was a surprise to Jim Farland to see Lerton walking. He was the sort of man who likes to advertise his success, and he had a couple of imposing motor cars that he generally used. But he was walking this morning, and the fact gave Farland food for thought.
Lerton continued down the Avenue, and Jim Farland followed him closely. He expected to see Lerton meet some one else and engage in another whispered conversation, but Lerton did not.
"That boy is worried," Farland told himself. "He's one of those birds who like to walk when they want to think something out. If I could only know what was going on in that mind of his——"
Lerton had reached Madison Square, and there he did something foreign to his nature. He crossed the Square, proceeded to Fourth Avenue, and descended into the subway.
Farland was a few feet behind him, and got into the same car when Lerton caught a downtown train. He followed when Lerton got off and went up to the street level again, and now the broker made his way through the throngs and along the narrow streets until he finally came to the financial district. After a time he turned into the entrance of an office building—the building where his own offices were located.
The detective watched him go up in the elevator, and then he turned back to the cigar stand in the lobby and purchased more of the black cigars he loved. For a time he stood out at the curb, puffing and thinking. He watched the building entrance closely, but George Lerton did not come down again.
As a matter of fact, Farland scarcely had expected that he would. He believed that Lerton had kept an appointment with Kate Gilbert, and then had continued to his office to take up the work of the day. Farland decided that he would give Lerton a chance to attend to the morning mail and pressing matters of business, before seeking an interview.
Finally, Farland threw the stub of the cigar away, turned into the entrance of the building once more, and walked briskly to the elevator. He shot up to the tenth floor, went down the hall, and entered the reception room of the Lerton offices. An imp of an office boy took in his card.
"Mr. Lerton will see you in ten minutes, sir," the returning boy announced.
Farland touched match to another cigar. He was a little surprised that Lerton had sent out that message. Lerton knew Farland, as Sidney Prale had known him in the old days. He knew Farland's business, and he knew that the detective and Prale were firm friends. He could guess that Prale had engaged Jim Farland to work on this case and clear him of the charge of having murdered Rufus Shepley.
After a time the boy ushered him into the private office. George Lerton was sitting behind a gigantic mahogany desk, looking very much the prosperous man of business.
"Well, Farland, this is a pleasure!" Lerton exclaimed. "Haven't seen you for ages. How's business?"
"It could be better," Jim Farland replied, "and it could be a lot worse. I'm making a good living, and so have no kick coming."
"If I ever need a man in your line, I'll call you in," George Lerton said. "And the pay will be all right, too."
"Don't doubt it," Farland replied.
"Want to see me about something special this morning?"
"Yes, if you can give me a few minutes."
"All the time you like," Lerton replied.
That was not like the man, Jim Farland knew. Lerton was the sort to try to make himself important, the always-busy man who had no time for anybody less than a millionaire.
Farland smiled and sat down in a chair at one end of the desk. He twisted his hat in his hands, looked across at George Lerton, cleared his throat, and spoke.
"You know about Sidney Prale being in a bit of trouble, of course?"
"Yes. Can't understand it," Lerton replied, frowning. "Sidney always had a temper, of course, but I never thought he would resort to murder during a fit of it. You know, I never got along with him any too well. He had a quarrel with his sweetheart in the old days and left for Honduras twenty-four hours later and remained there for ten years."
"I know all about that, of course," Farland said. "You perhaps have guessed that he sent for me—engaged me to get him out of this little scrape."
"Murder, a little scrape?" Lerton gasped. "I should call it a very serious matter."
"Let us hope that it will not be a serious matter for Sid," Farland said with feeling. "I believe that the boy is innocent, and I hope to be able to clear him. Will you help me?"
"I never had any particular love for Sidney, and neither did he for me," George Lerton said. "However, he is my cousin, and I hate to see him in trouble. But how can I help you? I don't know anything about the affair."
"An alibi is an important thing in a case like this," Farland said. "We want to prove an alibi, if we can, of course. Sidney says that you met him on Fifth Avenue——"
"And I cannot understand that," Lerton interrupted. "Why should he say such a thing?"
"You didn't meet him?"
"I certainly did not! I cannot lie about such a thing, even to save my cousin. Why, it would make me a sort of accessory, wouldn't it? I cannot afford to be mixed up in anything of the sort. You must understand that!"
"And you didn't urge him to leave New York and remain away for the rest of his life?"
"I didn't see him at all," George Lerton persisted. "Why on earth should I care whether he remains in New York or takes his million dollars elsewhere?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," Farland said. "But it seems peculiar to me that Sid would tell a rotten falsehood like that. Doesn't it look peculiar to you?"
"I must confess that it does not," George Lerton replied. "I suppose it was the first thing that came into his head. He was trying to establish an alibi, of course, and he probably thought he would get a chance to telephone to me and ask me to stand by the story he had told, thinking that I would do it because of our relationship."
"I was hoping that you would tell me you had met him on Fifth Avenue," Farland said. "It would have made his alibi stronger, of course, and every little bit helps."
"Stronger? You mean to say that he has any sort of an alibi at all?"
"A dandy!" Farland exclaimed. "In fact, we have an alibi that tells us that Sid was quite a distance from Rufus Shepley's suite when Shepley was slain."
"Why, how is that?"
"Sid picked up a bum and tried to make a man of him. He bought the fellow some clothes and took him to a barber shop. The clothing merchant and the barber furnish the alibi."
An expression of consternation was in George Lerton's face, and Jim Farland was quick to notice it.
"Of course, I am glad for Sidney's sake," Lerton said. "But I had really believed that he had killed Shepley. It caused me a bit of trouble, too."
"How do you mean?" Farland asked.
"Shepley was a sort of client of mine," Lerton said. "I handled a deal for him now and then. He has been traveling on business for some time, as you perhaps know. I had hopes that he would give me a certain large commission and that I would make a handsome profit. He was about convinced, I am sure, that I was the man to handle it for him. His small deals with me had always been to his profit and my credit."
"Oh, I understand!"
"And a possible good customer is removed," Lerton went on. "So you have an alibi for Sidney, have you? In that case—if he did not kill Rufus Shepley—he must have told that story about meeting me when he was in a panic immediately following his arrest. Sid always was panicky, you know."
"I didn't know that a panicky man could pick up a million dollars in ten years."
"Oh, I suppose Sidney was fortunate. There are wonderful opportunities at times in Central America, and I suppose he happened to just strike one of them right. He was very fortunate, indeed. Not every man can have good luck like that."
"Well, I'm sorry that I troubled you," Farland said. "And now, I'll get out—if you'll do me a small favor."
"I see you have a typewriter in the corner, and I'd like to write a short note to leave uptown."
"Just step outside and dictate it to one of my stenographers," said George Lerton.
"That'd be too much trouble," Farland replied. "It's only a few lines, and I can pound a typewriter pretty good. Besides, this is a little confidential report that I would not care to have your stenographer know anything about."
"Oh, I see! Help yourself!"
Farland got up and hurried over to the typewriter. He put a sheet of paper in the machine, wrote a few lines, folded the sheet and put it into his coat pocket.
"Well, I'm much obliged," he said. "I think we'll have Sid out of trouble before long."
"Let us hope so!" George Lerton said.
There was something in the tone of his voice, however, that belied the words he spoke. Farland gave him a single, rapid glance, but the expression of Lerton's face told him nothing. Lerton was a broker and used to big business deals. He was a master of the art of the blank countenance, and Jim Farland knew it well.
Farland had said nothing concerning Kate Gilbert, for he was not ready to let George Lerton know that he suspected any connection of Miss Gilbert with the Rufus Shepley case. Farland was not certain himself what that connection would be, and he knew it would be foolish to say anything that would put Lerton on guard and make the mystery more difficult of solution.
He thanked Lerton once more and departed. Out in the corridor and some distance from the Lerton office, he took from his pocket the note he had written on Lerton's private typewriter and glanced at it quickly. Farland was merely verifying what he had noticed as he had typed the note.
"That was a lucky hunch about that typewriter," he told himself. "This case is going to be interesting, all right—and for several persons."
Farland had noticed particularly the typewritten notes that had been received by the clothing merchant and the barber. There were two certain keys that were battered in a peculiar manner, and another key that was out of alignment.
He knew now, by glancing at the lines he had written himself, that those other notes had been typed on the same machine. He guessed that it had been George Lerton, the broker, who had sent those notes and the money to the barber and the merchant.
Why had George Lerton been so eager to destroy his cousin's alibi?
Why was George Lerton trying to have Sidney Prale sent to the electric chair for murder?
A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
Naturally, a man facing prosecution on a murder charge is liable to be nervous, whether he is innocent or not. If an attempt is being made to gather evidence that will clear him, he wishes for frequent reports, always hoping that there will be some ray of hope. And so it was with Sidney Prale this morning, as he paced the floor in the living room of his suite in the hotel.
Murk had done everything possible to make Sidney Prale comfortable. Now he merely stood to one side and watched the man who had saved him from a self-inflicted death, and tried to think of something that he could say or do to make Prale easier in his mind.
They had not seen or heard from Jim Farland since the evening before, when he had engaged the taxicab and had started in pursuit of the limousine Kate Gilbert had entered. Prale wondered what Farland had been doing, whether he had discovered anything concerning Kate Gilbert, whether he had found a clew that would lead to an unraveling of the mystery.
"Are you sure about that Farland man, Mr. Prale?" Murk asked, after a time.
"What do you mean by that, Murk?"
"Well, he's a kind of cop, and I never had much faith in cops," said Murk.
"Farland is an old friend of mine, Murk, and he is on the square—if that is what you mean."
"He sure started out like a house afire, sir, but he seems to be fallin' down now," Murk declared. "He sure did handle that barber and the clothin' merchant, but he ain't showed us any speed since he left us last night."
"He is busy somewhere—you may be sure of that," Sidney Prale declared.
"Well, boss, I ain't got any education, and I ain't an expert in any particular line, but I've often been accused of havin' common sense, and I'm strong for you!"
"Meaning what, Murk?"
"Nothin', boss, except that I'd like to be busy gettin' you out of this mess. Seems to me I know just as much about it as you do, and if we'd talk matters over, maybe I'd get some sort of an idea, or somethin' like that."
Prale sat down before the window, lighted a cigar, and looked up at Murk.
"Go ahead," he said. "It won't hurt anything, and it will serve to kill time until we hear from Jim Farland. What do you want to talk about first?"
"It seems to me," said Murk, clearing his throat and attempting to speak in an impressive manner, "that this is a double-barreled affair."
"What do you mean?" Prale asked.
"Well, there's the murder thing, and then there's this thing about you havin' some powerful and secret enemies that are tryin' to do you dirt without even comin' out in the open about it. Maybe them two things are mixed together, and maybe again they ain't. If they ain't, we've got two jobs on our hands."
"And, if they are?" Prale asked.
"Then it looks to me, boss, like the gang that's after you is tryin' to hang this murder on you after havin' had somebody croak that Shepley guy."
"I've thought of that, Murk. But it doesn't look possible," Prale said. "If my enemies merely wanted to hang a murder charge on me, as you have suggested, I think they would have planned better and would have made the evidence against me more conclusive. It would mean that there would be a lot of persons in the secret; the men who plan murder do not like to take the entire town into confidence about it."
"Well, that sounds reasonable," Murk admitted.
"And why Rufus Shepley?"
"Because you had that spat with him in the lobby of the hotel, and it could be shown that you had a reason for knifin' him," Murk said, with evident satisfaction.
"Nobody could have known I was going to have that quarrel with Shepley, because I had no idea of it myself when I entered the hotel lobby," Prale said. "After I left the hotel, I met Farland and then walked down to the river and met you—and you know the rest. How could they have contemplated hanging that crime on me when they did not know but that I had a perfect alibi? I think we're on the wrong track, Murk."
"Well, boss, how about your fountain pen?" Murk asked. "How come it was found beside the body?"
"That is one of the biggest puzzles in the whole thing, Murk. I cannot remember exactly when I had the pen last. I cannot imagine how it got into Shepley's room and on the floor beside his body. That fountain pen of mine is an important factor in this case, Murk, and it has me worried."
"It seems to me," Murk said, "that if I had any powerful enemies after my scalp, I'd know the birds and be watchin' out for them all the time, to see that they didn't start anything when I was lookin' in the other direction."
"But, Murk, I haven't the slightest idea who they are," Sidney Prale declared. "I don't know why I should have enemies that amount to anything, and that is what makes it so puzzling. How can I work this thing out when I don't even know where to start? I wish Jim Farland would come."
Jim Farland did, at that moment. Murk let him in, and the detective tossed his hat on a chair, sat down in another, lighted one of his own black cigars, and looked at Sidney Prale through narrowed eyes.
"Well, Jim?" Prale asked.
"I talk when I've really got something to say, but I'm not going to make general conversation and muddle your brains with a lot of scattered junk," Jim Farland replied. "I'll say this much—things are looking much better for you."
"That sounds good, Jim. Can't you tell me anything?" Prale asked, sitting forward on his chair.
"The barber and the clothing merchant have fixed up a part of your alibi, Sid, as perhaps Murk has told you. That is the first point. It makes it look impossible for you to have slain Rufus Shepley, and I think Lawyer Coadley could get the charge against you dismissed on that alone."
"But I want to be entirely cleared."
"Exactly. You don't want to leave the slightest doubt in the mind of a single person. There is but one way to clear you absolutely, Sid. We've got to show conclusively that you could not have killed Shepley, and the best way to do that is to find the person who did."
"I understand, Jim."
"There seems to be some sort of a mysterious alliance against you, Sid. You say that you can't understand why you should have enemies that hate you so, and I know you're telling the truth. Whether that business has anything to do with the murder, or not, I am not prepared to say now. But we want to find out about this enemy business, too, don't we?"
"Certainly," Prale said.
"I followed Kate Gilbert. I know where she lives. She does not belong to a rich family and does not live in splendor. But she wears expensive gowns and has plenty of spending money, and has mysterious dealings with a distinguished-looking man. Her father is mixed up in it in some way, too. I went through their apartment, Sid. Somebody in that apartment wrote the anonymous notes you received."
"What?" Prale gasped.
"I found a tablet of the same sort of paper, and scraps of writing in the wastebasket that were in the same hand. Think, Sid! On the ship——"
"By George!" Prale exclaimed. "She could have slipped into my stateroom and pinned that note to my pillow, and she could have stuck the second one on my suit case as I walked past her on the deck."
"And could have sent the others," Farland added.
"But, why?" Prale demanded. "I never saw the woman until I met her at a social affair in Honduras. What could she or any of her people have against me?"
"Perhaps it was the maid," Farland said.
"She could have done it, of course, the same as Kate Gilbert," Prale said. "But the same difficulty holds good—why? Kate Gilbert did seem to avoid me, and I caught her big maid glaring at me once or twice as if she hated the sight of me. But why on earth——"
Farland cleared his throat. "Here is another thought for you to digest," he said. "This Kate Gilbert knows your cousin, George Lerton."
Sidney Prale suddenly sat up straight in his chair again, his eyes blinking rapidly.
"Doesn't that open up possibilities?" Jim Farland asked him. "The woman seems to be working against you for some reason, and we know that George Lerton lied about meeting you on Fifth Avenue that night. It appears that he is working against you, too, for some mysterious motive."
A dangerous gleam came into Sidney Prale's eyes. "That simplifies matters," he said. "I'll watch for Kate Gilbert, and when I see her I'll ask why she sent me those notes. Then I'll get George Lerton alone and choke out of him why he lied about meeting me on the Avenue. I've trimmed worse men than George Lerton."
"You'll be a good little boy and do nothing of the sort," Farland told him. "We are playing a double game, remember—trying to solve this enemy business, and at the same time trying to clear you of a murder charge. If any of those persons get the idea that we are unduly interested in them, we may not have such an easy time of it."
"I understand that, of course."
"Let me tell you a few more things, Sid. I saw Lerton talking to Miss Gilbert on the street. They were speaking in very low tones. When they parted, I followed Lerton to his office, and went in and talked to him. I did it just to size him up. He still declares that he never met you on Fifth Avenue. He acts like a man afraid of something; and I discovered an interesting thing, Sid. He has a typewriter in his private office, one for his personal use. I managed to type a short note on it."
"What of that?"
"That typewriter has a few bad keys, Sid. And I discovered this—that the notes sent to the barber and merchant, that caused them to lie and try to smash your alibi, were written on the typewriter in George Lerton's office!"
Prale sprang to his feet. "Then Lerton has something to do with this!" he cried. "He tried to get me to leave town, and he tried to break down my alibi. How did he know I was going to make an alibi like that?"
"My guess is that your cousin has been having you watched since you got off the ship."
"But, why?" Prale cried. "It is true that he married the girl who had jilted me a few years before, but I do not hold that against him. I know of no reason why he should work against me so."
"Know anything about him that might cause him serious trouble if you talked?"
"No," Prale replied. "As much as I dislike him, as much as I suspect that he is crooked in business, all that I really could say would be that he had a mean disposition and was not to be trusted too far."
"I thought maybe you had something on him, and he was trying to get you out of the way so you'd not talk," Farland said. "That would explain a lot, of course."
"It can't be that."
"Then we are up in the air again."
"Why not ask him?" Prale demanded. "Believe me, I'll wait for him to come from his office—and he'll answer me, and tell the truth!"
"Put that hot head of yours under the nearest cold-water faucet!" Farland commanded. "You make a move that I don't sanction, and I'll quit the case! You'll spoil things, Sid, if you're not careful. Just digest what I have told you."
"You're in command, Jim!"
"Very well. You leave George Lerton to me, Sid. There are many angles to this case, and I can't attend to all of them at once. I don't want to call in other detectives, because they may be in the pay of these mysterious enemies of yours, and I haven't an assistant with an ounce of brains. Sid, you've got to turn detective yourself—you and Murk."
"I was just wonderin' if I was goin' to get a chance to do anything," Murk said.
"Plenty of chances," Farland replied. "Sid, you pick up this Kate Gilbert, if you can. Act as if you did not suspect a thing. Try to talk to her—you were introduced to her in Honduras, and all that. Don't let her get nervous about you, but watch her as much as you can, and let me know everything you see and hear. Take a look at that big maid, Marie, when you get a chance. If you can do so, and think it advisable, put Murk on Marie's trail. I'll want to use Murk later myself."
Sidney Prale was quick to agree. And thus, without being aware of it, he started on a short career of adventure and romance.
Had Murk been a crystal gazer or something of the sort, and could he have looked into the future in that manner, he would have said that the crystal lied.
Jim Farland went from the hotel to Coadley's office, to ascertain whether the attorney's private investigators, who were working independently of him, had unearthed anything of importance in connection with the case.
Sidney Prale stated that he would go for a walk, and the police detective, now thoroughly convinced that he would not try to run away, raised no objection. It was Prale's intention to make an attempt to meet Kate Gilbert. Murk hurried around getting his coat and hat and gloves and stick.
"Fool idea!" Prale told himself. "Kate Gilbert has given me the cold shoulder already, and she certainly will do it now, since I stand accused of murder. Not a chance in the world of getting better acquainted with her now."
"What do you want me to do, boss?" Murk asked. "I don't seem to be amountin' to much in this game. I'd like to be in action, I would! Can't I take a hand?"
"As soon as possible," Prale told him. "Remember, Farland said he wanted you to help him later."
"I'd rather help you or work alone," Murk said. "I reckon he is pretty decent for a detective, but I don't put much stock in any of 'em."
Prale laughed as he finished dressing, put on his hat and gloves, and reached for his stick.
"Suppose you just shadow me this fine day," he told Murk. "Get a little practice in that line. Don't bother me, but just follow and watch."
"I getcha, boss. You want me to be within hailin' distance in case you need help?"
"Exactly, Murk. We never can tell what is going to happen, you know. I may need you in a hurry."
"I'll be on hand," Murk promised.
Sidney Prale went down in the elevator, Murk going down in the same car. Prale lounged about the lobby for a time, and Murk made himself as inconspicuous as possible in a corner. Prale believed, as Farland had intimated, that he was being followed and watched, possibly by the orders of George Lerton, his cousin. He did not know why Lerton should have done it, but it angered him, and he wanted to discover the man following him.
He saw nobody in the lobby who appeared at all conspicuous, and after a short time he left and started walking briskly down the Avenue, like any gentleman taking a constitutional. The midday throngs were on the streets. Prale was forced to walk slower, and now and then he stopped to look in at a shop window. Once in a while he stepped to the curb and glanced behind. But if there was a "shadow" Prale did not see him.
He did see Murk, however, and he smiled at Murk's methods. Murk remained a short distance behind him, moving up closer whenever Prale was forced to cross the street, so he would not lose him in the throng. Murk was ordinary-looking and had a happy faculty of effacing himself in a crowd. He was on the job every minute, watching Sidney Prale, glancing at every man or woman who approached Prale or as much as looked at him.
Prale reached Forty-second Street, crossed it, and came opposite the library. He glanced aside—and saw Miss Kate Gilbert walking down the wide steps.
It was a ticklish moment for Sidney Prale, but he remembered that he was fighting to protect himself. If Kate Gilbert ignored him, he could not help it. At least, he would give her the chance.
She could not avoid seeing him, for they met face to face at the bottom of the steps. Prale lifted his hat.
"Good morning, Miss Gilbert," he said.
She turned and met his eyes squarely, and he could see that she hesitated for a moment. Then her face brightened, and she stepped toward him.
"Good morning," she replied. "Although it is a little after noon, I am afraid."
Her words might have been for the benefit of any who heard. They were light enough and cordial enough, but she did not offer him her hand, and the expression on her face was scarcely one of welcome.
"I am glad to see you again," Prale said.
"You are settled and feeling at home?"
"In a measure," he said.
She had not mentioned the crime of which he was accused, and he did not wish to be the first to speak of it. She stepped still closer.
"I want to talk to you, Mr. Prale," she said. "Kindly get a taxi and have the chauffeur drive us through the Park."
Prale scarcely could believe his good fortune. He had doubted whether he would have a chance to talk to her, and here she was asking him to engage a taxicab so that they could enjoy a conversation.
He hailed a passing taxi, put her in, gave the chauffeur his directions, and sprang in himself. The machine turned at the first corner and started back up the Avenue in the heavy traffic.