THE EAR IN THE WALL
ARTHUR B. REEVE
FRONTISPIECE BY WILL FOSTER
I THE VANISHER
II THE BLACK BOOK
III THE SAFE ROBBERY
IV THE ANONYMOUS LETTER
V THE SUFFRAGETTE SECRETARY
VI THE WOMAN DETECTIVE
VII THE GANG LEADER
VIII THE SHYSTER LAWYER
IX THE JURY FIXER
X THE AFTERNOON DANCE
XI THE TYPEWRITER CLUE
XII THE "PORTRAIT PARLE"
XIII THE CONVICTION
XIV THE BEAUTY PARLOUR
XV THE PHANTOM CIRCUIT
XVI THE SANITARIUM
XVII THE SOCIETY SCANDAL
XVIII THE WALL STREET WOLF
XIX THE ESCAPE
XX THE METRIC PHOTOGRAPH
XXI THE MORGUE
XXII THE CANARD
XXIII THE CONFESSION
XXIV THE DEBACLE OF DORGAN
XXV THE BLOOD CRYSTALS
XXVI THE WHITE SLAVE
XXVII THE ELECTION NIGHT
"Hello, Jameson, is Kennedy in?"
I glanced up from the evening papers to encounter the square- jawed, alert face of District Attorney Carton in the doorway of our apartment.
"How do you do, Judge?" I exclaimed. "No, but I expect him any second now. Won't you sit down?"
The District Attorney dropped, rather wearily I thought, into a chair and looked at his watch.
I had made Carton's acquaintance some years before as a cub reporter on the Star while he was a judge of an inferior court. Our acquaintance had grown through several political campaigns in which I had had assignments that brought me into contact with him. More recently some special writing had led me across his trail again in telling the story of his clean-up of graft in the city. At present his weariness was easily accounted for. He was in the midst of the fight of his life for re-election against the so- called "System," headed by Boss Dorgan, in which he had gone far in exposing evils that ranged all the way from vice and the drug traffic to bald election frauds.
"I expect a Mrs. Blackwell here in a few minutes," he remarked, glancing again at his watch. His eye caught the headline of the news story I had been reading and he added quickly, "What do the boys on the Star think of that Blackwell case, anyhow?"
It was, I may say, a case deeply shrouded in mystery—the disappearance without warning of a beautiful young girl, Betty Blackwell, barely eighteen. Her family, the police, and now the District Attorney had sought to solve it in vain. Some had thought it a kidnaping, others a suicide, and others had even hinted at murder. All sorts of theories had been advanced without in the least changing the original dominant note of mystery. Photographs of the young woman had been published broadcast, I knew, without eliciting a word in reply. Young men whom she had known and girls with whom she had been intimate had been questioned without so much as a clue being obtained. Reports that she had been seen had come in from all over the country, as they always do in such cases. All had been investigated and had turned out to be based on nothing more than imagination. The mystery remained unsolved.
"Well," I replied, "of course there's a lot of talk now in the papers about aphasia and amnesia and all that stuff. But, you know, we reporters are a sceptical lot. We have to be shown. I can't say we put much faith in THAT."
"But what is your explanation? You fellows always have an opinion. Sometimes I think the newspapermen are our best detectives."
"I can't say that we have any opinion in this case—yet," I returned frankly. "When a girl just simply disappears on Fifth Avenue and there isn't even the hint of a clue as to any place she went or how, well—oh, there's Kennedy now. Put it up to him."
"We were just talking of that Betty Blackwell disappearance case," resumed Carton, when the greetings were over. "What do you think of it?"
"Think of it?" repeated Kennedy promptly with a keen glance at the District Attorney; "why, Judge, I think of it the same as you evidently do. If you didn't think it was a case that was in some way connected with your vice and graft investigation, you wouldn't be here. And if I didn't feel that it promised surprising results, aside from the interest I always have naturally in solving such mysteries, I wouldn't be ready to take up the offer which you came here to make."
"You're a wizard, Kennedy," laughed Carton, though it was easily seen that he was both pleased and relieved to think that he had enlisted Craig's services so easily.
"Not much of a wizard. In the first place, I know the fight you're making. Also, I know that you wouldn't go to the police in the present state of armed truce between your office and Headquarters. You want someone outside. Well, I'm more than willing to be that person. The whole thing, in its larger aspects, interests me. Betty Blackwell in particular, arouses my sympathies. That's all."
"Exactly, Kennedy. This fight I'm in is going to be the fight of my life. Just now, in addition to everything else, people are looking to me to find Betty Blackwell. Her mother was in to see me today; there isn't much that she could add to what has already been said. Betty was a most attractive girl. The family is an excellent one, but in reduced circumstances. She had been used to a great deal as a child, but now, since the death of her father, she has had to go to work—and you know what that means to a girl like that."
Carton laid down a new photograph which the newspapers had not printed yet. Betty Blackwell was slender, petite, chic. Her dark hair was carefully groomed, and there was an air with which she wore her clothes and carried herself, even in a portrait, which showed that she was no ordinary girl.
Her soft brown eyes had that magnetic look which is dangerous to their owner if she does not know how to control it, eyes that arrested one's gaze, invited notice. Even the lens must have felt the spell. It had caught, also, the soft richness of the skin of her oval face and full throat and neck. Indeed one could not help remarking that she was really the girl to grace a fortune. Only a turn of the hand of that fickle goddess had prevented her from doing so.
I had picked up one of the evening papers and was looking at the newspaper half-tone which more than failed to do justice to her. Just then my eye happened on an item which I had been about to discuss with Carton when Kennedy entered.
"As a scientist, does the amnesia theory appeal to you, Craig?" I asked. "Now, here is an explanation by one of the special writers, headed, 'Personalities Lost Through Amnesia.' Listen."
The article was brief:
Mysterious disappearances, such as that of Betty Blackwell, have alarmed the public and baffled the police before this— disappearances that have in their suddenness, apparent lack of purpose, and inexplicability much in common with her case. Leaving out of account the class of disappearances for their own convenience—embezzlers, blackmailers, and so forth—there is still a large number of recorded cases where the subjects have dropped out of sight without apparent cause or reason and have left behind them untarnished reputations and solvent back accounts. Of these, a small percentage are found to have met with violence; others have been victims of suicidal mania, and sooner or later a clue has come to light which has established the fact. The dead are often easier to find than the living.
Of the remaining small proportion, there are on record, however, a number of carefully authenticated cases where the subject has been the victim of a sudden and complete loss of memory.
This dislocation of memory is a variety of aphasia known as amnesia, and when the memory is recurrently lost and restored, we have alternating personality. The Society for Psychical Research and many eminent psychologists, among them the late William James, Dr. Weir Mitchell, Dr. Hodgson of Boston, and Dr. A. E. Osborn of San Francisco, have reported many cases of alternating personality.
Studious efforts are being made to understand and to explain the strange type of mental phenomena exhibited in these cases, but as yet no one has given a clear and comprehensive explanation of them. Such cases are by no means always connected with disappearances, and exhaustive studies have been made of types of alternating personality that have from first to last been carefully watched by scientists of the first rank.
The variety known as the ambulatory type, where the patient suddenly loses all knowledge of his own identity and of the past and takes himself off, leaving no trace or clue, is the variety which the present case of Miss Blackwell seems to suggest.
There followed a number of most interesting cases and an elaborate argument by the writer to show that Betty Blackwell was a victim of this psychological aberration, that she was, in other words, "a vanisher."
I laid down the paper with a questioning look at Kennedy.
"As a scientist," he replied deliberately, "the theory, of course, does appeal to me, especially in the ingenious way in which that writer applied it. However, as a detective"—he shook his head slowly—"I must deal with facts—not speculations. It leaves much to be explained, to say the least,"
Just then the door buzzer sounded and Carton himself sprang to answer it.
"That's Mrs. Blackwell now—her mother. I told her that I was going to take the case to you, Kennedy, and took the liberty of asking her to come up here to meet you. Good-afternoon, Mrs. Blackwell. Let me introduce Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, of whom I spoke to you."
She bowed and murmured a tremulous greeting. Kennedy placed a chair for her and she thanked him.
Mrs. Blackwell was a slender little woman in black, well past middle age. Her face and dress spoke of years of economy, even of privation, but her manner was plainly that of a woman of gentle breeding and former luxury. She was precisely of the type of decayed gentlewoman that one meets often in the city, especially at some of the middle-class boarding-houses.
Deeply as the disappearance of her daughter had affected her, Mrs. Blackwell was facing it bravely. That was her nature. One could imagine that only when Betty was actually found would this plucky little woman collapse. Instinctively, one felt that she claimed his assistance in the unequal fight she was waging against the complexities of modern life for which she had been so ill prepared.
"I do hope you will be able to find my daughter," she began, controlling her voice with an effort. "Mr. Carton has been so kind, more than kind, I am sure, in getting your aid. The police seem to be able to do nothing. They make out reports, put me off, tell me they are making progress—but they don't find Betty."
There was a tragic pathos in the way she said it.
"Betty was such a good girl, too," she went on, her emotions rising. "Oh, I was so proud of her when she got her position down in Wall Street, with the broker, Mr. Langhorne."
"Tell Mr. Kennedy just what you told me of her disappearance," put in Carton.
Again Mrs. Blackwell controlled her feelings. "I don't know much about it," she faltered, "but last Saturday, when she left the office early, she said she was going to do some shopping on Fifth Avenue. I know she went there, did shop a bit, then walked on the Avenue several blocks. But after that there is no trace of her."
"You have heard nothing, have no idea where she might have gone— even for a time?" queried Kennedy.
He asked it with a keen look at the face of Mrs. Blackwell. I recalled one case where a girl had disappeared in which Kennedy had always asserted that if the family had been perfectly frank at the start much more might have been accomplished in unravelling the mystery.
There was evident sincerity in Mrs. Blackwell as she replied quickly, "Absolutely none. Another girl from the office was with her part of the time, then left her to take the subway. We don't live far uptown. It wouldn't have taken Betty long to get home, even if she had walked, after that, through a crowded street, too."
"Of course, she may have met a friend, may have gone somewhere with the friend," put in Kennedy, as if trying out the remark to see what effect it might have.
"Where could she go?" asked Mrs. Blackwell in naive surprise, looking at him with a counterpart of the eyes we had seen in the picture. "I hope you don't think that Betty—-"
The little widow was on the verge of tears again at the mere hint that her daughter might have had friends that were not all, perhaps, that they should be.
Carton came to the rescue. "Miss Blackwell," he interposed, "was a very attractive girl, very. She had hosts of admirers, as every attractive girl must have. Most of them, all of them, as far as Mrs. Blackwell knows and I have been able to find out, were young men at the office where she worked, or friends of that sort—not the ordinary clerk, but of the rising, younger, self-made generation. Still, they don't seem to have interested her particularly as far as I have been able to discover. She merely liked them. There is absolutely nothing known to point to the fact that she was any different from thousands of girls in that respect. She was vivacious, full of fun and life, a girl any fellow would have been more than proud to take to a dance. She was ambitious, I suppose, but nothing more."
"Betty was not a bad girl," asserted Mrs. Blackwell vehemently. "She was a good girl. I don't believe there was much, in fact anything important, on which she did not make me her confidante. Yes, she was ambitious. So am I. I have always hoped that Betty would bring our family—her younger sister—back to the station where we were before the panic wiped out our fortune and killed my husband. That is all."
"Yes," added Carton, "nothing at all is known that would make one think that she was what young men call a 'good fellow' with them."
Kennedy looked up, but said nothing. I thought I could read the unspoken word on his lips, as he glanced from Carton to Mrs. Blackwell, "known."
She had risen and was facing us.
"Is there no one in all this great city," appealed the distracted little woman with outstretched arms, "who can find my daughter? Is it possible that a girl can disappear in broad daylight in the streets and never be heard of again? Oh, won't you find her? Tell me she is safe—that she is still the little girl I—-"
Her voice failed and she was crying softly in her lace handkerchief. It was touching and I saw that Kennedy was deeply moved, although at once to his practical mind the thought must have occurred that nothing was to be gained by further questions of Mrs. Blackwell.
"Believe me, Mrs. Blackwell," he said in a low tone, taking her hand, "I will do all that is in my power to find her."
"Thank you," murmured the mother, overcome.
A moment later, however, she had recovered her composure to some degree and rose to go. There was a flattering look of relief on her face which in itself must have been ample reward to Craig, a retainer worth more to him in a case like this than money.
"I'm going back to my office," remarked Carton. "If I learn anything, I shall let you know."
The District Attorney went out with Mrs. Blackwell. Busy as he was, he had time to turn aside to help this bereaved woman, and I admired him for it.
"Do you think it is one of those cases like some that Carton has uncovered on the East Side and among girls newly arrived in the city?" I asked Craig when the door was shut.
"Can't say," he returned, in an abstracted study.
"It's awful if it is," I pursued. "And if it is, I suppose all that will result from it will be a momentary thrill of the newspaper-readers, and then they will fall back on the old saying that after all it is only a result of human nature that such things happen—they always have happened and always will—that old line of talk."
"That sort of thing is NOT a result of human nature," returned Kennedy earnestly. "It's a System. I mean to say that if it should turn out to be connected with the vice investigations of Carton, and not a case of aphasia, such a disappearance you would find to be due to the persistent, cunning, and unprincipled exploitation of young girls.
"No, Walter, it is not that women are weak or that men are inherently vicious. That doesn't account for a case like this. Then, too, some mawkish people to-day are fond of putting the whole evil on low wages as a cause. It isn't that—alone. It isn't even lack of education or of moral training. Human nature is not so bad in the mass as some good people think. No, don't you, as a reporter, see it? It is big business, in its way, that Carton is fighting—big business in the commercialized ruin of girls, such, perhaps, as Betty Blackwell—a vicious system that enmeshes even those who are its tools. I'm glad if I can have a chance to help smash it.
"Now, I'll tell you what I want you to do, just so that we can start this thing with a clear understanding of what it amounts to. I want you to look up just what the situation is. I know there is an army of 'vanishers' in New York. I want to know something about them in the mass. Can't you dig up something from your Star connections?"
Kennedy had some matters concerning other cases to clear up before he felt free to devote his whole time to this. As there was nothing we could do immediately, I spent some time getting at the facts he wanted. Indeed, it did not take me long to discover that the disappearance of Betty Blackwell, in spite of the prominence it had been given, was by no means an isolated case. I found that the Star alone had chronicled scores of such disappearances during the past few months, cases of girls who had simply been swallowed up in the big city. They were the daughters of neither the rich nor of the poor, most of them, but girls rather in ordinary circumstances.
Even the police records showed upward of a thousand missing young girls, ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-one years and I knew that the police lists scarcely approximated the total number of missing persons in the great city, especially in those cases where a hesitancy on the part of parents and relatives often concealed the loss from public records.
I came away with the impression that there were literally hundreds of cases every bit as baffling as that of Betty Blackwell, of young girls who had left absolutely no trace behind, who had made no preparations for departure and of whom few had been heard from since they disappeared. Many from homes of refinement and even high financial standing had disappeared, leaving no clues behind. It was not alone the daughters of the poor that were affected—it was all society.
Many reasons, I found, had been assigned for the disappearances. I knew that there must be many causes at work, that no one cause could be responsible for all or perhaps a majority of the cases. There were suicides and murders and elopements, family troubles, poverty, desire for freedom and adventure; innumerable complex causes, even down to kidnapping.
The question was, however, which of these causes had been in operation in the case of Betty Blackwell? Where had she gone? Where had this whole army of vanishers disappeared? Were these disappearances merely accidents—or was there an epidemic of amnesia? I could bring myself to no such conclusions, but was forced to answer my own queries in lieu of an answer from Kennedy, by propounding another. Was there an organized band?
And, after I had tried to reason it all out, I still found myself back at the original question, as I rejoined Kennedy at the laboratory, "Where had they all—where had Betty Blackwell gone?"
THE BLACK BOOK
I had scarcely finished pouring out my suspicions to Kennedy when the telephone rang.
It was Carton on the wire, in a state of unsuppressed excitement. Kennedy answered the call himself, but the conversation was brief and, to me, unenlightening, until he hung up the receiver.
"Dorgan—the Boss," he exclaimed, "has just found a detectaphone in his private dining-room at Gastron's."
At once I saw the importance of the news and for the moment it obscured even the case of Betty Blackwell.
Dorgan was the political boss of the city at that time, apparently entrenched, with an organization that seemed impregnable. I knew him as a big, bullnecked fellow, taciturn to the point of surliness, owing his influence to his ability to "deliver the goods" in the shape of graft of all sorts, the archenemy of Carton, a type of politician who now is rapidly passing.
"Carton wants to see us immediately at his office," added Craig, jamming his hat on his head. "Come on."
Without waiting for further comment or answer from me, Kennedy, caught by the infectious excitement of Carton's message, dashed from our apartment and a few minutes later we were whirling downtown on the subway.
"You know, I suppose," he whispered rather hoarsely above the rumble and roar of the train, but so as not to be overheard, "that Dorgan always has kept a suite of rooms at Gastron's, on Fifth Avenue, for dinners and conferences."
I nodded. Some of the things that must have gone on in the secret suite in the fashionable restaurant I knew would make interesting reading, if the walls had ears.
"Apparently he must have found out about the eavesdropping in time and nipped it," pursued Kennedy.
"What do you mean?" I asked, for I had not been able to gather much from the one-sided conversation over the telephone, and the lightning change from the case of Betty Blackwell to this had left me somewhat bewildered. "What has he done?"
"Smashed the transmitter of the machine," replied Kennedy tersely. "Cut the wires."
"Where did it lead?" I asked. "How do you know?"
Kennedy shook his head. Either he did not know, yet, or he felt that the subway was no place in which to continue the conversation beyond the mere skeleton that he had given me.
We finished the ride in comparative silence and hurried into Carton's office down in the Criminal Courts Building.
Carton greeted us cordially, with an air of intense relief, as if he were glad to have been able to turn to Kennedy in the growing perplexities that beset him.
What surprised me most, however, was that, seated beside his desk, in an easy chair, was a striking looking woman, not exactly young, but of an age that is perhaps more interesting than youth, certainly more sophisticated. She, too, I noticed, had a tense, excited expression on her face. As Kennedy and I entered she had looked us over searchingly.
"Let me present Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, Mrs. Ogleby," said Carton quickly. "Both of them know as much about how experts use those little mechanical eavesdroppers as anyone—except the inventor."
We bowed and waited for an explanation.
"You understand," continued Carton slowly to us in a tone that enjoined secrecy, "Mrs. Ogleby, who is a friend of Mr. Murtha, Dorgan's right-hand man, naturally is alarmed and doesn't want her name to appear in this thing."
"Oh—it is terrible—terrible," Mrs. Ogleby chimed in in great agitation. "I don't care about anything else. But, my reputation— it will be ruined if they connect my name with the case. As soon as I heard of it—I thought of you, Mr. Carton. I came here immediately. There must be some way in which you can protect me— some way that you can get along without using—"
"But, my dear Mrs. Ogleby," interrupted the District Attorney, "I have told you half a dozen times, I think, that I didn't put the detectaphone in—"
"Yes, but you will get the record," she persisted excitedly. "Can't you do something?" she pleaded.
I fancied that she said it with the air of one who almost had some right in the matter.
"Mrs. Ogleby," reiterated Carton earnestly, "I will do all I can— on my word of honour—to protect your name, but—"
He paused and looked at us helplessly.
"What was it that was overheard?" asked Craig point-blank, watching Mrs. Ogleby's face carefully.
"Why," she replied nervously, "there was a big dinner last night which Mr. Dorgan gave at Gastron's. Mr. Murtha took me and—oh— there were lots of others—" She stopped suddenly.
"Yes," prompted Kennedy. "Who else was there?"
She was on her guard, however. Evidently she had come to Carton for one purpose and that was solely to protect herself against the scandal which she thought might attach to having been present at one of the rather notorious little affairs of the Boss.
"Really," she answered, colouring slightly, "I can't tell you. I mustn't say a word about who was there—or anything about it. Good heavens—it is bad enough as it is—to think that my name may be dragged into politics and all sorts of false stories set in motion about me. You must protect me, Mr. Carton, you must."
"How did you find out about the detectaphone being there?" asked Kennedy.
"Why," she replied evasively, "I thought it was just an ordinary little social dinner. That's what Mr. Murtha told me it was. I didn't think anyone outside was interested in it or in who was there or what went on. But, this morning, a—a friend—called me up and told me—something that made me think others besides those invited knew of it, knew too much."
She paused, then resumed hastily to forestall questioning, "I began to think it over myself, and the more I thought of it, the stranger it seemed that anyone else, outside, should know. I began to wonder how it leaked out, for I understood that it was a strictly private affair. I asked Mr. Murtha and he told Mr. Dorgan. Mr. Dorgan at once guessed that there had been something queer. He looked about his rooms there, and, sure enough, they found the detectaphone concealed in the wall. I can't tell any more," she added, facing Carton and using her bewitching eyes to their best advantage. "I can't ask you to shield Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Murtha. They are your opponents. But I have done nothing to you, Mr. Carton. You must suppress—that part of it—about me. Why, it would ruin—-"
She cut her words short. But I knew what she meant, and to a certain extent I could understand, if not sympathize with her. Her husband, Martin Ogleby, club-man and man about town, had a reputation none too savoury. But, man-like, I knew, he would condone not even the appearance of anything that caused gossip in his wife's actions. I could understand how desperate she felt.
"But, my dear lady," repeated Carton, in a manner that showed that he felt keenly, for some reason or other, the appeal she was making to him, "must I say again that I had nothing whatever to do with it? I have sent for Mr. Kennedy and—-"
"Nothing—on your honour?" she asked, facing him squarely.
"Nothing—on my honour," he asserted frankly.
She appeared to be dazed. Apparently all along she had assumed that Carton must be the person to see, that he alone could do anything for her, would do something.
Her face paled as she met his earnest look. She had risen and now, half chagrined, half frightened, she stood irresolute. Her lips quivered and tears stood in her eyes as she realized that, instead of protecting herself by her confidence, she had, perhaps, made matters worse by telling an outsider.
Carton, too, had risen and in a low voice which we could not overhear was trying to reassure her.
In her confusion she was moving toward the door, utterly oblivious, now, to us. Carton tactfully took her arm and led her to a private entrance that opened from his office down the corridor and out of sight of the watchful eyes of the reporters and attendants in the outer hall.
I did not understand just what it was all about, but I could see Kennedy's eye following Carton keenly.
"What was that—a plant?" he asked, still trying to read Carton's face, as he returned to us alone a moment later. "Did she come to see whether you got the record?"
"No—I don't think so," replied Carton quickly. "No, I think that was all on the level—her part of it."
"But who did put in the instrument, really—did you?" asked Kennedy, still quizzing.
"No," exclaimed Carton hastily, this time meeting Craig's eye frankly. "No. I wish I had. Why—the fact is, I don't know who did—no one seems to know, yet, evidently. But," he added, leaning forward and speaking rapidly, "I think I could give a shrewd guess."
Kennedy said nothing, but nodded encouragingly.
"I think," continued Carton impressively, "that it must have been Langhorne and the Wall Street crowd he represents."
"Langhorne," repeated Kennedy, his mind working rapidly. "Why, it was his stenographer that Miss Blackwell was. Why do you suspect Langhorne?"
"Because," exclaimed Carton, more excited than ever at Kennedy's quick deduction, bringing his fist down on the desk to emphasize his own suspicion, "because they aren't getting their share of the graft that Dorgan is passing out—probably are sore, and think that if they can get something on the Boss or some of those who are close to him, they may force him to take them into partnership in the deals."
Carton looked from Kennedy to me, to see what impression his theory made. On me at least it did make an impression. Hartley Langhorne, I knew, was a Wall Street broker and speculator who dealt in real estate, securities, in fact in anything that would appeal to a plunger as promising a quick and easy return.
Kennedy made no direct comment on the theory. "In what shape is the record, do you suppose?" he asked merely.
"I gathered from Mrs. Ogleby," returned Carton watchfully, "that it had been taken down by a stenographer at the receiving end of the detectaphone, transcribed in typewriting, and loosely bound in a book of limp black leather. Oh," he concluded, "Dorgan would give almost anything to find out what is in that little record, you may be sure. Perhaps even, rather than have such a thing out, he would come to terms with Langhorne."
Kennedy said nothing. He was merely absorbing the case as Carton presented it.
"Don't you see?" continued the District Attorney, pacing his office and gazing now and then out of the window, "here's this record hidden away somewhere in the city. If I could only get it— I'd win my fight against Dorgan—and Mrs. Ogleby need not suffer for her mistake in coming to me, at all."
He was apparently thinking aloud. Kennedy did not attempt to quiz him. He was considering the importance of the situation. For, as I have said, it was at the height of the political campaign in which Carton had been renominated independently by the Reform League—of which, more later.
"You don't think that Langhorne is really in the inner ring, then?" questioned Craig.
"No, not yet."
"Well, then," I put in hastily, "can't you approach him or someone close to him, and get—-"
"Say," interrupted Carton, "anything that took place in that private dining-room at Gastron's would be just as likely to incriminate Langhorne and some of his crowd as not. It is a difference in degree of graft—that is all. They don't want an open fight. It was just a piece of finesse on Langhorne's part. You may be sure of that. No, neither of them wants a fight. That's the last thing. They're both afraid. What Langhorne wanted was a line on Dorgan. And we should never have known anything about this Black Book, if some of the women, I suppose, hadn't talked too much. Mrs. Ogleby added two and two and got five. She thought it must be I who put the instrument in."
Carton was growing more and more excited again, "It's exasperating," he continued. "There's the record—somewhere—if I could only get it. Think of it, Kennedy—an election going on and never so much talk about graft and vice before!"
"What was in the book—mostly, do you imagine?" asked Craig, still imperturbable.
Carton shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, almost anything. For instance, you know, Dorgan has just put through a new scheme of city planning—with the able assistance of some theoretical reformers. That will be a big piece of real estate graft, unless I am mistaken. Langhorne and his crowd know it. They don't want to be frozen out."
As they talked, I had been revolving the thing over in my head. Dorgan's little parties, as reported privately among the men on the Star whom I knew, were notorious. The more I considered, the more possible phases of the problem I thought of. It was not even impossible that in some way it might bear on the Betty Blackwell case.
"Do you think Dorgan and Murtha are hunting the book as anxiously as—some others?" I ventured.
"You have heard of the character of some of those dinners?" answered Carton by asking another question, then went on: "Why, Dorgan has had some of our leading lawyers, financiers, and legislators there. He usually surrounds them with brilliant, clever women, as unscrupulous as himself, and—well—you can imagine the result. Poor little Mrs. Ogleby," he added sympathetically. "They could twist her any way they chose for their purposes."
My own impression had been that Mrs. Ogleby was better able to take care of herself than his words gave her credit for, but I said nothing.
Carton paused before the window and gazed out at the Bridge of Sighs that led from his building across to the city prison.
"What a record that Black Book must hold!" he exclaimed meditatively. "Why, if it was only that I could 'get' Murtha—I'd be happy," he added, turning to us.
Murtha, as I have said, was Boss Dorgan's right bower, a clever and unscrupulous politician and leader in a district where he succeeded somehow or other in absolutely crushing opposition. I had run across him now and then in the course of my newspaper career and, aside from his well-known character in delivering the "goods" to the organization whenever it was necessary, I had found him a most interesting character.
It was due to such men as Murtha that the organization kept its grip, though one wave of reform after another lashed its fury on it. For Murtha understood his people. He worked at politics every hour—whether it was patting the babies of the district on the head, or bailing their fathers out of jail, handing out shoes to the shiftless or judiciously distributing coal and ice to the deserving.
Yet I had seen enough to know the inherent viciousness of the circle—of how the organization took dollars from the people with one concealed hand and distributed pennies from the other hand, held aloft and in the spotlight. Again and again, Kennedy and I in our excursions into scientific warfare on crime in the underworld had run squarely up against the refined as well as the debased creatures of the "System." Pyramided on what looked like open- handed charity and good-fellowship we had seen vice and crime of all degrees.
And yet, somehow or other, I must confess to a sort of admiration for Murtha and his stamp—if for nothing else than because of the frankness with which he did what he sought to do. Neither Kennedy nor I could be accused of undue sympathy with the System, yet, like many who had been brought in close contact with it, it had earned our respect in many ways.
And so, I contemplated the situation with more than ordinary interest. Carton wanted the Black Book to use in order to win his political fight for a clean city and to prosecute the grafters. Dorgan wanted it in order to suppress and thus protect himself and Murtha. Mrs. Ogleby wanted it to save her good name and prevent even the appearance of scandal. Langhorne wanted it in order to coerce Dorgan to share in the graft, yet was afraid of Carton also.
Was ever a situation of such peculiar, mixed motives?
"I would move heaven and earth for that Black Book!" exclaimed Carton finally, turning from the window and facing us.
Kennedy, too, had risen.
"You can count on me, then, Carton," he said simply, as the recollection of the many fights in which we had stood shoulder to shoulder with the young District Attorney came over him.
A moment later Carton had us each by the hand.
"Thank you," he cried. "I knew you fellows would be with me."
THE SAFE ROBBERY
It was late that night that Kennedy and I left Carton after laying out a campaign and setting in motion various forces, official and unofficial, which might serve to keep us in touch with what Dorgan and the organization were doing.
Not until the following morning, however, did anything new develop in such a way that we could work on it.
Kennedy had picked up the morning papers which had been left at the door of our apartment and was hastily running his eye over the headlines on the first page, as was his custom.
"By Jove, Walter," I heard him exclaim. "What do you think of that—a robbery below the deadline—and in Langhorne's office, too."
I hurried out of my room and glanced at the papers, also. Sure enough, there it was:
SAFE ROBBED IN WALL ST. OFFICE
Door Into Office of Langhorne & Westlake, Brokers, Forced and Safe Robbed.
One of the strangest robberies ever perpetrated was pulled off last night in the office of Langhorne & Westlake, the brokers, at- ——Wall Street, some time during the regular closing time of the office and eight o'clock.
Mr. Langhorne had returned to his office after dining with some friends in order to work on some papers. When he arrived, about eight o'clock, he found that the door had been forced. The office was in darkness, but when he switched on the lights it was discovered that the office safe had been entered.
Nothing was said about the manner in which the safe robbery was perpetrated, but it is understood to have been very peculiar. So far no details have been announced and the robbery was not reported to the police until a late hour.
Mr. Langhorne, when seen by the reporters, stated positively that nothing of great value had been taken and that the firm would not suffer in any way as a result of the robbery.
One of the stenographers in the office, Miss Betty Blackwell, who acted as private secretary to Mr. Langhorne, is missing and the case has already attracted wide attention. Whether or not her disappearance had anything to do with the robbery is not known.
"Naturally he would not report it to the police," commented Kennedy; "that is, if it had anything to do with that Black Book, as I am sure that it must have had."
"It was certainly a most peculiar affair if it did not," I remarked. "There must be some way of finding that out. It's strange about Betty Blackwell."
Kennedy was turning something over in his mind. "Of course," he remarked, "we don't want to come out into the open just yet, but it would be interesting to know what happened down there at Langhorne's. Have you any objection to going down with me and posing as a reporter from the Star?"
"None whatever," I returned.
We stopped at the laboratory on the campus of the University where Craig still retained his professorship. Kennedy secured a rather bulky piece of apparatus, which, as nearly as I can describe, consisted of a steel frame, which could be attached by screws to any wooden table. It contained a lower plate which could move forward and back, two lateral uprights stiffened by curved braces, and a cross piece of steel attached by strong bolts to the tops of the posts. In the face of the machine was a dial with a pointer.
Kennedy quickly took the apparatus apart and made it up into two packages so that between us we could carry it easily, and at about the time that Wall Street offices were opening we were on our way downtown.
Langhorne proved to be a tall, rather slim, man of what might be called youngish middle age. One did not have to be introduced to him to read his character or his occupation. Every line of his faultlessly fitting clothes and every expression of his keen and carefully cared-for face betokened the plunger, the man who lived by his wits and found the process both fascinating and congenial.
"Mr. Langhorne," began Kennedy, after I had taken upon myself the duty of introducing ourselves as reporters, "we are preparing an article for our paper about a new apparatus which the Star has imported especially from Paris. It is a machine invented by Monsieur Bertillon just before he died, for the purpose of furnishing exact measurements of the muscular efforts exerted in the violent entry of a door or desk by making it possible to reproduce the traces of the work that a burglar has left on doors and articles of furniture. We've been waiting for a case that the instrument would fit into and it seemed to us that perhaps it might be of some use to you in getting at the real robber of your office. Would you mind if we made an attempt to apply it?"
Langhorne could not very well refuse to allow us to try the thing, though it was plainly evident that he did not want to talk and did not relish the publicity that the news of the morning had brought him.
Kennedy had laid the apparatus down on a table as he spoke and was assembling the parts which he had separated in order to carry it.
"These are the marks on the door, I presume?" he continued, examining some indentations of the woodwork near the lock.
"The door was open when you returned?" asked Kennedy.
"Closed," replied Langhorne briefly. "Before I put the key into the lock, I turned the knob, as I have a habit of doing. Instead of catching, it yielded and the door swung open without any trouble."
He repeated the story substantially as we had already read it in the papers.
Kennedy had taken a step or two into the office, and was now facing the safe. It was not a large safe, but was one of the most modern construction and was supposed to be burglar proof.
"And you say you lost practically nothing?" persisted Craig.
"Nothing of importance," reiterated Langhorne.
Kennedy had been watching him closely. The man was at least baffling. There was nothing excited or perturbed about his manner. Indeed, one might easily have thought that it was not his safe at all that had been robbed. I wondered whether, after all, he had had the Black Book. Certainly, I felt, if he had lost it he was very cool about the loss.
Craig had by this time reached the safe itself. In spite of Langhorne's reluctance, his assurance had taken Kennedy even up to the point which he wished. He was examining the safe.
On the front it showed no evidence of having been "souped" or drilled. There was not a mark on it. Nor, as we learned later from the police, was there any evidence of a finger-print having been left by the burglar.
Langhorne now but ill concealed his interest. It was natural, too, for here he had one of the most modern of small strong-boxes, built up of the latest chrome steel and designed to withstand any reasonable assault of cracksman or fire.
I was on the point of inquiring how on earth it had been possible to rob the safe, when Kennedy, standing on a chair, as Langhorne directed, uttered a low exclamation.
I craned my neck to look also.
There, in the very top of the safe, yawned a huge hole large enough to thrust one's arm through, with something to spare.
As I looked at the yawning dark hole in the top of what had been only a short time ago a safe worthy of the latest state of the art, it seemed incomprehensible.
Try as I could to reason it out, I could find no explanation. How it had been possible for a burglar to make such an opening in the little more than two hours between closing and the arrival of Langhorne after dinner, I could not even guess. As far as I knew it would have taken many long hours of patient labour with the finest bits to have made anything at all comparable to the destruction which we saw before us.
A score of questions were on my lips, but I said nothing, although I could not help noticing the strange look on Langhorne's face. It plainly showed that he would like to have known what had taken place during the two or more hours when his office had been unguarded, yet was averse to betraying any such interest.
Mystified as I was by what I saw, I was even more amazed at the cool manner in which Kennedy passed it all by.
He seemed merely to be giving the hole in the top of the safe a passing glance, as though it was of no importance that someone should have in such an incredibly short time made a hole through which one might easily reach his arm and secure anything he wanted out of the interior of the powerful little safe.
Langhorne, too, seemed surprised at Kennedy's matter of fact passing by of what was almost beyond the range of possibility.
"After all," remarked Kennedy, "it is not the safe that we care to study so much as the door. For one thing, I want to make sure whether the marks show a genuine breaking and entering or whether they were placed there afterwards merely to cover the trail, supposing someone had used a key to get into the office."
The remark suggested many things to me. Was it that he meant to imply that, after all, the missing Betty Blackwell had had something to do with it? In fact, could the thing have been done by a woman?
"Most persons," remarked Craig, as he studied the marks on the door, "don't know enough about jimmies. Against them an ordinary door-lock or window-catch is no protection. With a jimmy eighteen inches long, even an anemic burglar can exert a pressure sufficient to lift two tons. Not one door-lock in ten thousand can stand this strain. It's like using a hammer to kill a fly. Really, the only use of locks is to keep out sneak thieves and to compel the modern, scientific educated burglar to make a noise. This fellow, however, was no sneak thief."
He continued to adjust the machine which he had brought. Langhorne watched minutely, but did not say anything.
"Bertillon used to call this his mechanical burglar detector," continued Kennedy. "As you see, this frame carries two dynamometers of unequal power. The stronger, which has a high maximum capacity of several tons, is designed for the measurement of vertical efforts. The other measures horizontal efforts. The test is made by inserting the end of a jimmy or other burglar's tool and endeavouring to produce impressions similar to those which have been found on doors or windows. The index of the dynamometer moves in such a way as to make a permanent record of the pressure exerted. The horizontal or traction dynamometer registers the other component of pressure."
He pressed down on the machine. "There was a pressure here of considerably over two tons," he remarked at length, "with a very high horizontal traction of over four hundred pounds. What I wanted to get at was whether this could have been done by a man, woman, or child, or perhaps by several persons. In this case, it was clearly no mere fake to cover up the opening of the door by a key. It was a genuine attempt. Nor could it have been done by a woman. No, that is the work of a man, a powerful man, too, accustomed to the use of the jimmy."
I fancied that a shade of satisfaction crossed the otherwise impassive face of Langhorne. Was it because the Bertillon dynamometer appeared at first sight to exonerate Betty Blackwell, at least so far, from any connection with the crime? It was difficult to say.
Important though it was, however, to clear up at the start just what sort of person was connected with the breaking of the door I could not but feel that Kennedy had some purpose in deferring and minimizing for the present what, to me at least, was the greater mystery, the entering of the safe itself.
He was still studying and comparing the marks on the door and the record made on the dynamometer, when the office telephone rang and Langhorne was summoned to answer it. Instead of taking the call in his own office, he chose to answer it at the switchboard, perhaps because that would allow him to keep an eye also on us.
Whatever his purpose, it likewise enabled us to keep an ear on him, and it was with surprise which both Kennedy and I had great difficulty in concealing, that we heard him reply, "Hello—yes— oh, Mrs. Ogleby, good-morning. How are you? That's good. So you, too, read the papers. No, I haven't lost anything of importance, thank you. Nothing serious, you know. The papers like to get hold of such things and play them up. I have a couple of reporters here now. Heaven knows what they are doing, but I can foresee some more unpaid advertising for the firm in it. Thank you again for your interest. You haven't forgotten the studio dance I'm giving on the twelfth? No—that's fine. I hope you'll come, even if Martin has another engagement. Fine. Well-good-bye."
He hung up the receiver with a mingled air of gratification and exasperation, I fancied.
"Haven't you fellows finished yet?" he asked finally, coming over to us, a little brusquely.
"Just about," returned Kennedy, who had by this time begun slowly to dismember and pack up the dynamometer, determined to take advantage of every minute both to observe Langhorne and to fix in his mind the general lay-out of the office.
"Everybody seems to be interested in me this morning," he observed, for the moment forgetting the embargo he had imposed on his own words.
As for myself, I saw at once that others besides ourselves were keenly interested in this robbery.
"There," remarked Kennedy when at last he had finished packing up the dynamometer into two packages. "At least, Mr. Langhorne, you have the satisfaction of knowing that it was in all probability a man, a strong man, and one experienced in forcing doors who succeeded in entering your office during your brief absence last night"
Langhorne shrugged his shoulders non-committally, but it was evident that he was greatly relieved and he could not conceal his interest in what Kennedy was doing, even though he had succeeded in conveying the impression that it was a matter of indifference to him.
"I suppose you keep a great many of your valuable papers in safety deposit vaults," ventured Kennedy, finishing up the wrapping of the two packages, "as well as your personal papers perhaps at home."
He made the remark in a casual manner, but Langhorne was too keen to fall into the trap.
"Really," he said with an air of finality, "I must decline to be interviewed at present. Good-day, gentlemen."
"A slippery customer," was Craig's comment when we reached the street outside the office. "By the way, evidently Mrs. Ogleby is leaving no stone unturned in her effort to locate that Black Book and protect herself."
I said nothing. Langhorne's manner, self-confident to the point of bravado, had baffled me. I began to feel that even if he had lost the detectaphone record, his was the nature to carry out the bluff of still having it, in much the same manner that he would have played the market on a shoestring or made the most of an unfilled four-card flush in a game of poker.
Kennedy was far from being discouraged, however. Indeed, it seemed as if he really enjoyed matching his wit against the subtlety of a man like Langhorne, even more than against one the type of Dorgan and Murtha.
"I want to see Carton and I don't want to carry these bundles all over the city," he remarked, changing the subject for the moment, as he turned into a public pay station. "I'll ring him up and have him meet us at the laboratory, if I can."
A moment later he emerged, excited, perspiring from the closeness of the telephone booth.
"Carton has some news—a letter—that's all he would say," he exclaimed. "He'll meet us at the laboratory."
We hastily resumed our uptown journey.
"What do you think it is?" I asked. "About Betty Blackwell?"
Kennedy shook his head non-committally. "I don't know. But he has some of his county detectives watching Dorgan and Murtha in that Black Book case, I know. They are worried. It doesn't look as though they, at least, had the record—that is, if Langhorne has really lost it."
I wondered whether Langhorne might not, after all, as Kennedy had hinted, have concealed it elsewhere. The activity of Dorgan and Murtha might indicate that they knew more about the robbery than appeared yet on the surface. Had they failed in it? Had they been double-crossed by the man they had chosen for the work, assuming that they knew of and had planned the "job"?
The safe-breaking and the way Langhorne took it had served to complicate the case even further. While we had before been reasonably sure that Langhorne had the book, now we were sure of nothing.
THE ANONYMOUS LETTER
"What do you make of that?" inquired Carton half an hour later as he met us breathlessly at the laboratory.
He unfolded a letter over which he had evidently been puzzling considerably. It was written, or rather typewritten, on plain paper. The envelope was plain and bore no marks of identification, except possibly that it had been mailed uptown.
The letter ran:
Although this is an anonymous letter, I beg that you will not consider it such, since it will be plain to you that there is good reason for my wishing to remain nameless.
I want to tell you of some things that have taken place recently at a little hotel in the West Fifties. No doubt you know of the place already—the Little Montmartre.
There are several young and wealthy men who frequent this resort. I do not dare tell you their names, but one is a well-known club- man and man about town, another is a banker and broker, also well known, and a third is a lawyer. I might also mention an intimate friend of theirs, though not of their position in society—a doctor who has somewhat of a reputation among the class of people who frequent the Little Montmartre, ready to furnish them with anything from a medical certificate to drugs and treatment.
I have read a great deal in the newspapers lately of the disappearance of Betty Blackwell, and her case interests me. I think you will find that it will repay you to look into the hint I have given. I don't think it is necessary to say any more. Indeed it may be dangerous to me, and I beg that you will not even show this letter to anyone except those associated with you and then, please, only with the understanding that it is to go no farther.
Betty Blackwell is not at this hotel, but I am sure that some of those whose wild orgies have scandalized even the Little Montmartre know something about her.
Yours truly, AN OUTCAST.
Kennedy looked up quickly at Carton as he finished reading the letter.
"Typical," he remarked. "Anonymous letters occasionally are of a friendly nature, but usually they reflect with more or less severity upon the conduct or character of someone. They usually receive little attention, but sometimes they are of the most serious character. In many instances they are most important links in chains of evidence pointing to grave crimes.
"It is possible to draw certain conclusions from such letters at once. For instance, it is a surprising fact that in a large number of cases the anonymous letter writer is a woman, who may write what it does not seem possible she could write. Such letters often by their writing, materials used, composition and general form indicate at once the sex of the writer and frequently show nationality, age, education, and occupation. These facts may often point to the probable author.
"Now in this case the writer evidently was well educated. Assumed illiteracy is a frequent disguise, but it is impossible for an author to assume a literacy he or she does not possess. Then, too, women are more apt to assume the characteristics of men than men of women. There are many things to be considered. Too bad it wasn't in ordinary handwriting. That would have shown much more. However, we shall try our best with what we have here. What impressed you about it?"
"Well," remarked Carton, "the thing that impressed me was that as usual and as I fully expected, the trail leads right back to protected vice and commercialized graft. This Little Montmartre is one of the swellest of such resorts in the city, the legitimate successor to the scores and hundreds of places which the authorities and the vice investigators have closed recently. In fact, Kennedy, I consider it more dangerous, because it is run, on the surface at least, just like any of the first-class hotels. There's no violation of law there, at least not openly."
Craig had continued to examine the letter closely. "So, you have already investigated the Little Montmartre?" he queried, drawing from his pocket a little strip of glass and laying it down carefully over the letter.
"Indeed I have," returned the District Attorney, watching Kennedy curiously. "It is a place with a very unsavoury reputation. And yet I have been able to get nothing on it. They are so confounded clever. There is never any outward violation of law; they adhere strictly to the letter of the rule of outward decency."
Over the typewritten characters Kennedy had placed the strip of glass and I could see that it was ruled into little oblongs, into each of which one of the type of the typewritten sheet seemed to fall. Apparently he had forgotten the contents of the letter in his interest in the text itself. He held the paper up to the light and seemed to study its texture and thickness. Then he examined the typed characters more closely with a little pocket magnifying glass, his lips moving as if he were counting something. Next he seized a mass of correspondence on his desk and began comparing the letter with others, apparently to determine just the shade of writing of the ribbon. Finally he gave it up and leaned back in his chair regarding us.
"It is written in the regular pica type," he remarked thoughtfully, "and on a machine that has seen considerable rough usage, although it is not an old machine. It will take me a little time to identify the make, but after I have done that, I think I could identify the particular machine itself the moment I saw it. You see, it is only a clue that would serve to fix it once you found that machine. The point is, after all, to find it. But once found, I am sure we shall be close to the source of the letter. I may keep this and study it at my leisure?"
For a moment Carton was silent. Then it seemed as though the matter of Betty Blackwell brought to mind what he had read in the morning papers.
"That robbery of Langhorne's safe was a most peculiar thing, wasn't it?" he meditated. "I suppose you know what Miss Blackwell was?"
"Langhorne's stenographer and secretary, of course," I replied quickly.
"Yes, I know. But I mean what she had actually done? I don't believe you do. My county detectives found out only last night." Kennedy paused in his rummaging among some bottles to which he had turned at the mention of the safe robbery. "No—what was it?" he asked.
Carton bent forward as if our own walls might have ears and said in a low voice: "She was the operator who took down the detectaphone conversations at the other end of the wire in a furnished room in the house next to Gastron's."
He drew back to see what effect the intelligence had on us, then resumed slowly: "Yes, I've had my men out on the case. That is what they think. I believe she often executed little confidential commissions for Langhorne, sometimes things that took her on short trips out of town. There is a possibility that she may be on a mission of that sort. But I think—it's this Black Book case that involves her now."
"Langhorne wouldn't talk much about anything," I put in, hastily remembering his manner. "He may not be responsible—but from his actions I'd wager he knows more about her than appears."
"Just so," agreed Carton. "If my men can find out that she was the operator who 'listened in' and got the notes and the transcript of the Black Book, then she becomes a person of importance in the case and the fact must be known to others who are interested. Why," he pursued, "don't you see what it means? If she is out of the way, there is no one to swear to the accuracy of the notes in the record, no one to identify the voices—even if we do manage finally to locate the thing."
"Dorgan and the rest are certainly leaving nothing undone to shake the validity of the record," ruminated Kennedy, accepting for the moment at least Carton's explanation of the disappearance of Miss Blackwell. "Have you any idea what might have happened to her?"
Carton shook his head negatively. "There are several explanations," he replied slowly. "As far as we have been able to find out she led a model life, at home with her mother and sister. Except for the few commissions for Langhorne and lately when she was out rather late taking the detectaphone notes, she was very quiet,—in fact devoted to her mother and the education of her younger sister."
"What sort of place was it in which the receivers of the detectaphone were located—do you know?" asked Kennedy quickly.
"Yes, it seems to be a very respectable boardinghouse," answered Carton. "She came there with a grip about a week ago and hired a room, saying she was out of town a great deal. Just about the same time a young man, who posed as a student in electrical engineering at some school uptown, left. It must have been he who installed the detectaphone—perhaps with the aid of a waiter in Gastron's. At any rate, she seems to have been alone in the boarding-house— that is, I mean, not acquainted with any of the other guests— during the time when she was taking down the record. Dorgan traced the wires, outside the two buildings, to her rooms, but she was not there. In fact there was nothing there but a grip with a few articles that give no clue to anything. Somehow she must have heard of it, for no one knows anything about her, since then."
"Perhaps Langhorne is keeping her out of the way so that no one can tamper with her testimony," I suggested.
"It's possible," said Carton in a tone that showed that he did not believe in that explanation. "How about that safe robbery, Kennedy? Some of the papers hinted that she might have known something of that. I had a man down there watching, afterwards, but I had cautioned him to be careful and keep under cover. One of the elevator boys told him that the robbers had made a hole in the safe. What did he mean? Did you see it?"
Rapidly Kennedy sketched what we had done, telling the story of how the dynamometer had at least partly exonerated Betty Blackwell.
When he reached the description of the hole in the safe, Carton was absolutely incredulous. As for myself, it presented a mystery which I found absolutely inexplicable. How it was possible in such a short time to make a hole in a safe by any known means, I could not understand. In fact, if I had not seen it myself, I should have been even more sceptical than Carton.
Kennedy, however, made no reply immediately to our expressions of doubt. He had found and set apart from the rest a couple of little glass bottles with ground glass stoppers. Then he took a thick piece of steel and laid it across a couple of blocks of wood, under which was a second steel plate.
Without a word of explanation, he took the glass stopper out of the larger bottle and poured some of the contents on the upper plate of steel. There it lay, a little mound of reddish powder. Then he took a little powder of another kind from the other bottle.
He lighted a match and ignited the second pile of powder.
"Stand back—close to the wall—shield your eyes," he called to us.
He had dropped the burning mass on the red powder and in two or three leaps he joined us at the far end of the room.
Almost instantly a dazzling, intense flame broke out. It seemed to sizzle and crackle. With bated breath we waited and, as best we could, shielding our eyes from the glare, watched.
It was almost incredible, but that glowing mass of powder seemed literally to be sinking, sinking right down into the cold steel. In tense silence we waited. On the ceiling we could see the reflection of the molten mass in the cup which it had burned for itself in the cold steel plate.
At last it fell through to the lower piece of steel, on which it burnt itself out—fell through as the burning roof of a frame building might have fallen into the building.
Neither Carton nor I spoke a word, but as we now cautiously advanced with Kennedy and peered over the steel plate we instinctively turned to Craig for an explanation. Carton seemed to regard him as if he were some uncanny mortal. For, there in the steel plate, was a hole. As I looked at the clean-cut edges, I saw that it was smaller but identical in nature with that which we had seen in the safe in Langhorne's office.
"Wonderful!" ejaculated Carton. "What is it?"
"Thermit," was all Kennedy said, as just a trace of a smile of satisfaction flitted over his face.
"Thermit?" echoed Carton, still as mystified as before.
"Yes, an invention of a chemist named Goldschmidt, of Essen, Germany. It is composed of iron oxide, such as conies off a blacksmith's anvil or the rolls of a rolling-mill, and powdered metallic aluminum. You could thrust a red-hot bar into it without setting it off, but when you light a little magnesium powder and drop it on thermit, a combustion is started that quickly reaches fifty-four hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It has the peculiar property of concentrating its heat to the immediate spot on which it is placed. It is one of the most powerful oxidizing agents known, and it doesn't even melt the rest of the steel surface. You see how it ate its way directly through this plate. Steel, hard or soft, tempered, annealed, chrome, or Harveyized—it all burns just as fast and just as easily. And it's comparatively inexpensive, also. This is an experiment Goldschmidt it fond of showing his students—burning holes in one—and two-inch steel plates. It is the same with a safe—only you need more of the stuff. Either black or red thermit will do the trick equally well, however."
Neither of us said anything. There was nothing to say except to feel and express amazement.
"Someone uncommonly clever or instructed by someone uncommonly clever, must have done that job at Langhorne's," added Craig. "Have you any idea who might pull off such a thing for Dorgan or Murtha?" he asked of Carton.
"There's a possible suspect," answered Carton slowly, "but since I've seen this wonderful exhibition of what thermit can do, I'm almost ashamed to mention his name. He's not in the class that would be likely to use such things."
"Oh," laughed Kennedy, "never think it. Don't you suppose the crooks read the scientific and technical papers? Believe me, they have known about thermit as long as I have. Safes are constructed now that are proof against even that, and other methods of attack. No indeed, your modern scientific cracksman keeps abreast of the times in his field better than you imagine. Our only protection is that fortunately science always keeps several laps ahead of him in the race—and besides, we have organized society to meet all such perils. It may be that the very cleverness of the fellow will be his own undoing. The unusual criminal is often that much the easier to run down. It narrows the number of suspects."
"Well," rejoined Carton, not as confident now as when he had first met us in the laboratory, "then there is a possible suspect—a fellow known in the underworld as 'Dopey' Jack—Jack Rubano. He's a clever fellow—no doubt. But I hardly think he's capable of that, although I should call him a rather advanced yeggman."
"What makes you suspect him?" asked Kennedy eagerly.
"Well," temporized Carton, "I haven't anything 'on' him in this connection, it's true. But we've been trying to find him and can't seem to locate him in connection with primary frauds in Murtha's own district. Dopey Jack is the leader of a gang of gunmen over there and is Murtha's first lieutenant whenever there is a tough political battle of the organization either at the primaries or on Election Day."
"Has a record, I suppose?" prompted Kennedy.
"Would have—if it wasn't for the influence of Murtha," rejoined Carton.
I had heard, in knocking about the city, of Dopey Jack Rubano. That was the picturesque title by which he was known to the police and his enemies as well as to his devoted followers. A few years before, he had begun his career fighting in "preliminaries" at the prize fight clubs on the lower East Side.
He had begun life with a better chance than most slum boys, for he had rugged health and an unusually sturdy body. His very strength had been his ruin. Working decently for wages, he had been told by other petty gang leaders that he was a "sucker," when he could get many times as much for boxing a few rounds at some "athletic" club. He tried out the game with many willing instructors and found that it was easy money.
Jack began to wear better clothes and study the methods of other young men who never worked but always seemed to have plenty of money. They were his pals and showed him how it was done. It wasn't long before he learned that he could often get more by hitting a man with a blackjack than by using his fists in the roped ring. Then, too, there were various ways of blackmail and extortion that were simple, safe, and lucrative. He might be arrested, but he early found that by making himself useful to some politicians, they could fix that minor difficulty in the life.
Thus because he was not only strong and brutal, but had a sort of ability and some education, Dopey Jack quickly rose to a position of minor leadership—had his own incipient "gang," his own "lobbygows." His following increased as he rose in gangland, and finally he came to be closely associated with Murtha himself on one hand and the "guns" and other criminals of the underworld who frequented the stuss games, where they gambled away the products of their crimes, on the other.
Everyone knew Dopey Jack. He had been charged with many crimes, but always through the aid of "the big fellows" he avoided the penitentiary and every fresh and futile attempt to end his career increased the numbers and reverence of his followers. His had been the history and he was the pattern now of practically every gang leader of consequence in the city. The fight club had been his testing ground. There he had learned the code, which can be summarized in two words, "Don't squeal." For gangland hates nothing so much as a "snitch." As a beginner he could be trusted to commit any crime assigned to him and go to prison, perhaps the chair, rather than betray a leader. As a leader he had those under him trained in the same code. That still was his code to those above him in the System.
"We want him for frauds at the primaries," repeated Carton, "at least, if we can find him, we can hold him on that for a time. I thought perhaps he might know something of the robbery—and about the disappearance of the girl, too.
"Oh," he continued, "there are lots of things against him. Why, only last week there was a dance of a rival association of gang leaders. Against them Dopey Jack led a band of his own followers and in the ensuing pistol battle a passer-by was killed. Of course we can't connect Dopey Jack with his death, but—then we know as well as we know anything in gangland that he was responsible."
"I suppose it isn't impossible that he may know something about the disappearance of Miss Blackwell," remarked Kennedy.
"No," replied Carton, "not at all, although, so far, there is absolutely no clue as far as I can figure out. She may have been bought off or she may have been kidnapped."
"In either case the missing girl must be found," said Craig. "We must get someone interested in her case who knows something about what may happen to a girl in New York."
Carton had been revolving the matter in his mind. "By George," he exclaimed suddenly, "I think I know just the person to take up that case for us—it's quite in her line. Can you spare the time to run down to the Reform League headquarters with me?"
"Nothing could be more important, just at the minute," replied Craig.
The telephone buzzed and he answered it, a moment later handing the receiver to Carton.
"It's your office," he said. "One of the assistant district attorneys wants you on the wire."
As Carton hung up the receiver he turned to us with a look of great satisfaction.
"Dopey Jack has just been arrested," he announced. "He has shut up like an oyster, but we think we can at least hold him for a few days this time until we sift down some of these clues."
THE SUFFRAGETTE SECRETARY
Carton took us directly to the campaign headquarters of the Reform League, where his fight for political life was being conducted.
We found the offices in the tower of a skyscraper, whence was pouring forth a torrent of appeal to the people, in printed and oral form of every kind, urging them to stand shoulder to shoulder for good government and vote the "ring" out of power.
There seemed to me to be a different tone to the place from that which I had ordinarily associated with political headquarters in previous campaigns. There was a notable absence of the old- fashioned politicians and of the air of intrigue laden with tobacco.
Rather, there was an air of earnestness and efficiency, which was decidedly encouraging and hopeful. It seemed to speak of a new era in politics when things were to be done in the open instead of at secret meetings and scandalous dinners, as Dorgan did them at Gastron's.
Maps of the city were hanging on the walls, some stuck full of various coloured pins, denoting the condition of the canvass. Other maps of the city in colours, divided into all sorts of districts, told how fared the battle in the various strongholds of Boss Dorgan and Sub-boss Murtha.
Huge systems of card indexes, loose leaf devices, labour-saving appliances for getting out a vast amount of campaign "literature" in a hurry; in short, a perfect system, such as a great, well- managed business might have been proud of, were in evidence everywhere one looked.
Work was going ahead in every department under high pressure, for the campaign, which had been more than usually heated, was now drawing to a close. Indeed, it would have taken no great astuteness, even without one's being told, to deduce merely from the surroundings that the people here were engaged in the annual struggle of seeking the votes of their fellow-citizens for reform and were nearly worn out by the arduous endeavour.
It had been, as I have said, the bitterest campaign in years. Formerly the reformers had been of the "silk-stocking" type, but now a new and younger generation was coming upon the stage, a generation which had been trained to achieve results, ambitious to attain what in former years had been considered impossible. The Reform League was making a stiff campaign and the System was, by the same token, more frightened than ever before.
Carton was fortunate in having shaken off the thralldom of the old bosses even before the popular uprising against them had assumed such proportions as to warrant anyone in taking his political life in his hands by defying the powers that ruled behind the scenes. In fact, the Reform League itself owed its existence to a fortunate conjunction of both moral and economic conditions which demanded progress.
Of course, the League did not have such a big "barrel" as their opponents under Dorgan. But, at least they did have many willing workers, men and women, who were ready to sacrifice something for the advancement of the principles for which they stood.
In one part of the suite of offices which had been leased by the League, Carton had had assigned to him an office of his own, and it was to this office that he led us, after a word with the boy who guarded the approach to the door, and an exchange of greetings with various workers and visitors in the outside office.
We seated ourselves while Carton ran his eye through some letters that had been left on his desk for his attention.
A moment later the door of his office opened and a young lady in a very stunning street dress, with a pretty little rakish hat and a tantalizing veil, stood a moment, hesitated, and then was about to turn back with an apology for intruding on what looked like a conference.
"Good-morning, Miss Ashton," greeted Carton, laying down the letters instantly. "You're just the person I want to see."
The girl, with a portfolio of papers in her hand, smiled and he quickly crossed the room and held the door open, as he whispered a word or two to her.
She was a handsome girl, something more than even pretty. The lithe gracefulness of her figure spoke of familiarity with both tennis and tango, and her face with its well-chiselled profile denoted intellectuality from which no touch of really feminine charm had been removed by the fearsome process of the creation of the modern woman. Sincerity as well as humour looked out from the liquid depths of her blue eyes beneath the wavy masses of blonde hair. She was good to look at and we looked, irresistibly.
"Let me introduce Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, Miss Ashton," began Carton, adding: "Of course you have heard of Miss Margaret Ashton, the suffragist leader? She is the head of our press bureau, you know. She's making a great fight for us here—a winning fight."
It seemed from the heightened look of determination which set Carton's face in deeper lines that Miss Ashton had that indispensable political quality of inspiring both confidence and enthusiasm in those who worked with her.
"It is indeed a great pleasure to meet you," remarked Kennedy. "Both Mr. Jameson and myself have heard and read a great deal about your work, though we seem never before to have had the pleasure of meeting you."
Miss Ashton, I recalled, was a very clever girl, a graduate of a famous woman's college, and had had several years of newspaper experience before she became a leader in the cause of equal suffrage.
The Ashtons were well known in society and it was a sore trial to some of her conservative friends that she should reject what they considered the proper "sphere" for women and choose to go out into life and devote herself to doing something that was worth while, rather than to fritter her time and energy away on the gaiety and inconsequentiality of social life.
Among those friends, I had understood, was Hartley Langhorne himself. He was older than Miss Ashton, but had belonged to the same social circle and had always held her in high regard. In fact the attentions he paid her had long been noticeable, the more so as she seemed politely unaffected by them.
Carton had scarcely more than introduced us, yet already I felt sure that I scented a romance behind the ordinarily prosaic conduct of a campaign press bureau.
It is far from my intention even to hint that the ability or success of the head of the press bureau were not all her own or were in any degree overrated. But it struck me, both then and often later, that the candidate for District Attorney had an extraordinary interest in the newspaper campaign, much more, for instance, than in the speakers' bureau. I am sure that it was not wholly accounted for by the fact that publicity is playing a more and more important part in political campaigning.
Nevertheless, as we came to know afterwards such innovations as her card index system by election districts all over the city, showing the attitude of the various newspaper editors, local leaders, and other influential citizens, recording changes of sentiment and possible openings for future work, all were very full and valuable. Kennedy, who had a regular pigeon-hole mind for facts himself, was visibly impressed by the huge mechanical memory built up by Miss Ashton.
Though he said nothing to me, I knew that Craig also had observed the state of affairs between the reform candidate and the suffrage leader.
"You see, Miss Ashton," explained Carton, "someone has placed a detectaphone in the private dining-room of Dorgan at Gastron's. I heard of it first through Mrs. Ogleby, who attended one of the dinners and was terribly afraid her name would be connected with them if the record should ever be published."
"Mrs. Ogleby?" cried Miss Ashton quickly. "She—at a dinner—with Mr. Murtha? I—I can't believe it."
Carton said nothing. Whether he knew more about Mrs. Ogleby than he cared to tell, I could not even guess.
As he went on briefly summarizing the story, Miss Ashton shot a quick glance or two at him.
Carton noticed it, but appeared not to do so. "I suppose," he concluded, "that she thought I was the only person capable of eavesdropping. As a matter of fact, I think the instrument was put in by Hartley Langhorne as part of the fight that is going on fiercely under the surface in the organization."
It was Carton's turn now, I fancied, to observe Miss Ashton more closely. As far as I could see, the information was a matter of perfect indifference to her.
Carton did not say it in so many words, but one could not help gathering that rather than seem to be pursuing a possible rival and using his official position in order to do it, he was not considering Langhorne in any other light than as a mere actor in the drama between himself and Dorgan and Murtha.
"Now," he concluded, "the point of the whole thing is this, Miss Ashton. We have learned that Betty Blackwell—you know the case— who took the notes over the detectaphone for the Black Book, has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. If she is gone, it may be difficult to prove anything, even if we get the book. Miss Blackwell happens to be a stenographer in the office of Langhorne & Westlake."
For the first time, Miss Ashton seemed to show a sign of embarrassment. Evidently she would just as well have had Miss Blackwell in some other connection.
"Perhaps you would rather have nothing to do with it," suggested Carton, "but I know that you were always interested in things of the sort that happen to girls in the city and thought perhaps you could advise us, even if you don't feel like personally taking up the case."
"Oh, it doesn't—matter," she murmured. "Of course, the first thing for us to do is, as you say, to find what has become of Betty Blackwell."
Carton turned suddenly at the word "us," but Miss Ashton was still studying the pattern of the rug.
"Do you know any more about her?" she asked at length.
As fully as possible the District Attorney repeated what he had already told us. Miss Ashton seemed to be more than interested in the story of the disappearance of Langhorne's stenographer.