For Armchair Detectives Only
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- SOMETHING’S WRONG
- AN IMPRESSION OF THE LOCK
- A MYSTERIOUS NOTE FROM BRADLEY
- TWO DEAD MEN
- BRADLEY’S DENIAL
- THE CHAUFFER’S ALIBI
- GUERNEY’S DAUGHTER
The limousine drew up beside the curb. A correctly garbed chauffeur leaped from his seat, opened the door, and stood stiffly at attention as J. Sylvester Jones stepped out. Jones was garbed in a manner that should have made the lilies of the field blush with shame at their shabbiness. From thirty-dollar hat to forty-dollar shoes, he was impeccable.
“You may wait, Hawker,” he said, in a tone that meant, “Hawker, I graciously give you permission to continue living.”
He separated a key from the others on his ring, and languidly ascended the steps of Strickland Guerney’s ornate house. It was coming on to dusk, and the great hall was almost dark. Jones switched on the light and looked about curiously.
“Bradley,” he called.
A round shouldered, misty eyed little butler came pattering from somewhere in the rear of the house.
“I am astonished at this carelessness, Bradley,” reproved Jones. “Where are the servants?”
“Ah, Mr. Sylvester, sir, I’m glad you’ve come.” The old butler pointed a skinny, shaking hand toward the ceiling. “Something’s wrong, Mr. Sylvester; I know it in my bones.”
“Wrong? What could be wrong?”
“This morning your uncle told all the servants to take the day off. I was feeling rather badly, sir, and I retired to my room, where I stayed until noon. I went to his study then, and knocked, but he would not answer. Later I tried the door two or three times, but could get no response.”
“Nonsense,” said Jones sharply. “What could be wrong? You’re too old to display the nerves of a Chestnut Street flapper, Bradley. I’ll go upstairs with you, and we’ll rouse up the old curmudgeon. Probably he went to sleep counting his bankbooks.”
Together they ascended the wide, oak balustraded stairs. There was a heaviness in the atmosphere; a gloom that permeated everything. The butler shivered. Jones’ eyes grew hard. There was no evidence of anything out of the ordinary, but both knew that something was wrong.
The door to Strickland Guerney’s study fronted the wide stairway. It was a huge affair of age-blackened oak that had been imported from a chateau in Normandy. Jones rapped several times, and called his uncle’s name. There was no answer.
“I told you, sir,” quavered Bradley.
The younger man stooped and applied his eye to the key-hole.
A limited segment of the room sprang into view; the rows of bookcases against the walls, the untidy table, and the great carved chair that Strickland Guerney used. But it was none of these things that caused J. Sylvester Jones to straighten up, with a little sucking in of his breath.
“Wait here, Bradley,” he instructed. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
He clattered downstairs, and flung open the door to the street.
The chauffeur — an old-young man, with a sharp profile and blood-shot eyes — sprang to attention.
“Drive like the devil to the police-station, and bring some officers here at once. Better have one who knows something about locks. We can’t batter this door down.”
When the limousine had roared up the street, Jones slowly reclimbed the stairs. Bradley was fussing nervously about the hall, straightening chairs and pictures that, were already in mathematically accurate positions.
“It’s dreadful, sir,” sighed the old butler. “I peeped through the keyhole, sir. I could just see the top of his head, slewed around at a most peculiar angle — and it never moves, sir.”
“Do you — do you think he might have done himself an injury?” Jones asked.
“If injury’s been done he has done it himself. You know the study, sir. There are no windows, in the regular sense; only those iron barred transoms near the ceiling, and no living thing could get through them. And this door, sir — there was only one key, and that Mr. Guerney carried on his watch-chain —”
“Well,” asked the lieutenant heavily, “what’s the trouble here?” He seemed somewhat awed by Jones’ wonderful sartorial display, and Suggs added to it by informing him in a whisper that J. Sylvester was the nephew of old millionaire Guerney.
Jones said, “I’m afraid something has happened to my uncle. I thought it best to call the police immediately.”
“You did right, Mister Jones,” commented the lieutenant. He laid his hand on the knob of the study door, and rattled it — with no results, naturally. “You couldn’t break down this door without a tank. Hey, Bierhalter, get busy on the lock.”
“Wait a minute,” cut in the reporter, whipping out a magnifying glass. “What do you say if we look this over first, loot? Nobody’s monkeyed with the lock. It has been opened and shut with a key, all right.”
Jamieson, who prided himself on looking after the fine points of every case, flushed because he had not thought of that himself. With extraordinary gruffness he ordered Bierhalter to “get busy.” It required ten minutes of concentrated effort on the policeman’s part before he flung open the door.
There was the stuffiness of decay in the chamber — the nameless, creeping horror that is always present when death comes by violence. Solemnly, the little party crossed the room and looked at the figure in the carved chair.
It was that of a man of sixty, big paunched and heavy lipped. Strickland Guerney had been known as a connoiseur in all that pertained to the appetites, and his face was that of a gourmand. There was a half snarl on his face, and a revolver lay on the floor below the drooping lingers of the right hand. His left fist rested on the table edge, and gripped the study-key. The fine silk of his shirt front was caked with dried blood.
Jamieson, his pique forgotten momentarily, was once more the calloused police official. He touched Guerney’s pasty cheek, lifted the right arm, dropped it heavily, and crinkled the blood clotted shirt between his fingers.
“I ain’t no doctor, but I can see this man’s been dead at least three hours. Say, what do you know about this?” He turned suddenly on the trembling Bradley.
“N-nothing, sir, except what I told Mr. Sylvester, sir.”
“What was that?”
“This morning master gave the servants a holiday, but I stayed in my room because I wasn’t feeling well. At noon I knocked on his door to find out if he required lunch, and he told me to go to the devil, quite harshly, sir. That was the last time I heard him speak. Twice afterward I knocked, but received no answer. Then Mr. Sylvester came, and he sent for you. There is only one key to the study, sir, and — and Mr. Guerney has that in his hand.”
“How is it you didn’t hear the shot?”
“My room is downstairs, and there were several closed doors between.”
The lieutenant grunted, and then looked at Jones. “Can you add anything to that?”
“Nothing of value, I’m afraid. My uncle and I were on the best of terms. I usually called on him twice a week — Monday and Friday —”
“This is Thursday,” Jamieson shot out.
“I know it,” retorted Jones, with some asperity. “I had intended leaving for New Haven tomorrow, and I wanted to see Uncle Strickland before I left. What are you trying to do — shoulder the crime on to me?”
The lieutenant hastily denied that any such idea had been in his mind.
“But we gotta clear up every point, you see. Now, where did you spend your time this afternoon?”
“I left the Hotel St. Regis, where I have my apartments, at one o’clock, and drove through the park until two-fifteen — yes, I’m sure it was two-fifteen, for I had an appointment with Miss Daisy Graelis, of the Bohemian Follies, at two-thirty. We went to the Ambassadeurs and danced until four, when I escorted Miss Graelis home. It was after five when I left her, and I came directly here. That accounts for every minute of my time.”
“I guess it’s all right,” said Jamieson. He drew his detective aside, and questioned him in a whisper.
“There ain’t nothin’ to it at all,” snorted O’Toole. “It’s a dead open-an’-shut case o’ suicide. There’s a thirty-eight calibre gun, with one cartridge fired. The door was locked an’ no way o’ getting into the place without a keg of dynamite. Why, Loot, this is the easiest thing I ever see.”
Jamieson sighed with relief. “You’re right, Marty. Ring up the coroner’s office, and have them send a man up. I’ll leave Bierhalter here to look after things. What’s the matter, Mr. Jones? You’re white as a sheet.”
The dandy nodded. “I’m frightfully upset — shock, you know,” he admitted. “If you don’t mind I’ll wait downstairs for any questions you may want to ask me.”
“Pretty tough on him,” said Jamieson, when J. Sylvester Jones had gone.
Johnny Suggs, who had been examining the room, and particularly the table and floor, with keenest interest, said:
“Oh, do you think so? He is Guerney’s only relative, and I understand that he will inherit everything the old man left.”
The lieutenant looked up quickly. He had a profound respect for Johnny’s shrewdness, and there was something in the reporter’s tone that shot a shaft of suspicion into his brain.
“You don’t think Jones did this?” he demanded.
“No, I don’t. It’s suicide, all right. What else could it be? Here he is, locked in his own room with a gun — it’s his gun, all right, for you can see his name on that plate on the butt.”
“I saw it,” said Suggs dryly.
“Then, what the devil do you mean?”
Johnny picked up a sheet of paper from the table. It bore the legend, “Strickland Guerney — 1822 Mammoth Building,” and a few lines of scratchy writing, addressed to the Curio Company of America, requesting the price of a collection of weapons used by the Dayak head hunters. It was dated at noon that day.
“Doesn’t it suggest anything to your mind?” the reporter asked.
Jamieson scratched his head, read it over again, and looked puzzled. “I can’t say it does,” he admitted. “You don’t think any of these Dayak birds did this —”
“Certainly not.” The slight shrug of Johnny’s shoulders indicated vast disgust with the official police. “Why, lieutenant, this letter was written by a left-handed man!” He turned to Bradley. “Mr. Guerney was left-handed, was he not?”
The butler nodded.
“Then,” said Suggs triumphantly, “if Mr. Guerney committed suicide, how did he manage to shoot himself, drop the revolver on his right side, and pick up the key with his left? Suicide? This is murder, lieutenant, you can bet a year’s pay on that!”
An Impression Of The Lock
In the private office of the Star's owner, Johnny Suggs told his story.
"I've checked up on Jones' story," he concluded, "and everything is just as he said. The manager at the St. Regis, Miss Daisy Graelis, and the head waiter at the Ambassadeurs, as well as his own chauffeur, can account for every moment of his time that afternoon. It is possible that Bradley, the old butler, committed the crime, but I don't believe it. He's the mildest creature that ever walked. Lieutenant Jamieson arrested him, of course, but if you'll give me the chance, dad, I'll prove that he had nothing to do with it."
The elder Suggs elevated his heels to the desktop, and looked out at the murky wrack of sky.
"It's good stuff," he said approvingly, "and will make a corking story, but what about the finish, Johnny? We want to find out who committed the murder — and you're no detective."
Johnny flushed. "Crime detection isn't a secret art," he protested. "Anybody with the wit and patience can do it. Give me a chance at it. These boneheads like Jamieson and O'Toole will never catch the murderer. I saw what they missed once. I may be able to do it again."
"You're a regular William J. Burns-Holmes, aren't you? If you can find out who killed Guerney in a locked room, with no known mode of egress, they ought to make you police commissioner. But we won't build any triumphal arches until you do the job. Go to it."
Johnny sprang to his feet and cracked his heels together.
"I'll do it, all right."
Highly elated, he descended to the street. It was eleven o'clock, and he was tired from his chase about town, verifying Jones' story, but he had no desire to go to bed then. As a matter of fact, he intended going back to the Guerney residence and conducting a minute investigation of the dead man's study. He had not seen all he wanted to see that afternoon, and as the house had been locked, he would have all the opportunity he desired if he could effect an entrance.
A taxi was standing by the curb. Johnny climbed in and gave the chauffeur his instructions. In a moment more he was whirling along the brilliantly lighted street, on the first lap of his search for Strickland Guerney's murderer.
Three blocks from his destination, Suggs left the taxi. A policeman was lolling in front of the house of death, so Johnny gave it a wide berth, and entered the alley behind. It required only a moment to scale the fence, and feel his way through the darkness to the kitchen window.
Anticipating his course of action, the reporter carried with him a chisel, a jimmy, and an electric torch. In the utter blackness of the yard he did not dare use his torch, for fear a roaming policeman might see it. So, depending on his sense of touch, he felt for the window, chisel in one hand.
When he found it, a sudden cold streak went up his spine. It was open three inches from the bottom!
There was someone in that house. Suggs did not doubt it for a moment. He was positive it was not the police, for they had secured the key to the front door. It was either the murderer come back to the scene of his crime, or some house-breaker, who had followed close on the news of Guerney's death, and hoped to reap a harvest. Johnny was not armed, but he shoved the window higher, swung his leg across the sill, and climbed in.
The house was horribly still. Suggs framed the kitchen wall with a circle of light, and stepping very cautiously, reached the door and peered into the dining-room. No one there. No one in the butler's pantry; no one on the first floor at all.
Was there anyone in the room where Strickland Guerney had met his death?
Very softly, Johnny began the ascent of the wide staircase. Then, as he strained his ears, he heard the rustle of a skirt and the soft, smothered whimper of a frightened woman. He shrank back against the wall and waited.
A bar of light crept out of the darkness and rested on the age-blackened oak of the study door. It wavered, as though the one who held it was nervous. And then, into that bar of light was stretched a woman's hand — a slim, marvelously white hand that fitted a key into the lock!
Bit by bit the reporter edged up the stairs. He had noticed where the electric light switch was located on his first visit there that afternoon, and it stood him in good stead now. His hand felt along the wall until it touched the button, and then he flooded the hall with dazzling light.
With a gasp of fright, the woman straightened up and turned. Her soft, fair hair fell about her pallid cheeks, and the graceful gown she wore was spotted and torn from her trip over the fence and the kitchen window-sill. Even in that Startling moment Johnny commented to himself on her wonderful beauty.
"Who are you?" she whispered.
The reporter smiled. "I was just going to ask that question of you."
"Who are you?" she repeated tensely. "What are you doing here?"
"My name is John Suggs, and I happen temporarily to be a wage slave of the *Evening Star*. You see," he said, with a careless wave of his free hand, "I was at the district police station when the news of Mr. Guerney's murder arrived — "
"Murder!" whispered the girl, her hand going to her breast. "Murder! I — I thought the papers said it was suicide — "
"So the police thought at first," Johnny sighed. "They are shockingly unobservant. But I found that he had been murdered. Did you do it?"
He took a sudden step forward, and pointed his finger at her accusingly. If he had expected her to show fright or tear he was disappointed. The girl straightened up, and a hot color flamed in her cheeks.
"I?" she cried. "You are insane. I am Mildred Guerney — Strickland Guerney's daughter!"
Johnny laughed. "My dear young lady, please — if you had merely stated that you knew nothing of this affair I should have been inclined to believe you. But it seems to be a pretty well known fact that Mr. Guerney was a bachelor, and has no relatives except a nephew — J. Sylvester Jones."
"It's a lie — a lie! My mother was the daughter of a British resident among the Dayaks in Borneo. Mr. Guerney came there on a hunting expedition, and married her. They lived together for ten years — then he deserted her. Mother never gave up the search for him. She died in Singapore a year ago — and she urged me to keep seeking him. I traced him to this city. Two days ago, I met old Bradley, who had cared for me when I was a child in Borneo. He promised to help — "
"And so Bradley took an impression of the lock, and had that key made for you?" said Johnny, with a rare flash of inspiration.
"Oh!" She shrank against the door's age-blackened panels.
A tear stole from under her lowered lashes. "Y-yes."
The reporter took her hand gently. "My dear Miss Guerney," he said, "please don't think I'm utterly heartless. It is my business to find out who committed this crime. I don't think you did — I know you didn't. No one in their right senses could look at you for a moment and believe you guilty of a cold blooded murder — even of such an old reprobate as Guerney seemed to be."
"I — I really didn't," she said brokenly.
"But, don't you see that, circumstantially, the case looks rather black against you? Personally, I don't believe in circumstantial evidence. I wouldn't convict a cat on it even if pussy still had the cream on her whiskers. Courts of law and juries look on those things differently. As the matter stands, you had a motive in seeking revenge — you are the only other person besides Mr. Guerney — to our knowledge, at least — who had a key to this door. Please don't cry. Can't you see that I'm trying to help you — to find a method of defense? Have you any idea who might have killed your — your father?"
"Tell me," Suggs urged, "even if you have only the barest suspicion. We must get to the bottom of this matter."
"J-Jones," she said.
"Jones? I checked him over every minute of time from noon until six o'clock, which covers the period in which Mr. Guerney was last known to be alive, and the moment the police arrived here. What makes you think he is guilty?"
By this time Mildred Guerney had entirely regained control of herself. Johnny admired her for that. The position in which she found herself would have developed more than incipient hysteria in most girls. He could see that the marvelously white hand that held the key was steady once more. Her voice, when she answered, clear and low.
"I am making no accusations, Suggs. I do not know Mr. Jones personally. But I did learn how he ingratiated himself with my father, so much so that he was named in the will as the sole heir. From all accounts, he is a typical man about town — a selfish, pleasure-seeking idler. He lives at the St. Regis, owns a limousine, has a chauffeur — yet he is desperately in debt and his bank balance is less than a hundred dollars. Certainly that would seem to indicate that he would have an interest in my father's death."
"From whom did you learn all this?"
"From Bradley," she said defiantly.
"I see." mused Johnny. "Yes. that would be a motive. If he did do it — Now, Miss Guerney, there is just one other thing that I want to ask you, if I may."
"What is that?"
"Why are you here tonight?"
"I am looking for the will. Jones has no right to that money; he will only squander it in the cabarets, anyway. My mother's people are desperately poor. They have been good to me, and I intend seeing that they are made comfortable with my father's money. I don't care anything about it for myself. I am young, and can work — " She threw out her beautiful arms in a gesture of defiance.
Johnny took the key from her. "Well, we might as well go in the study. You may find what you want — and so may I."
He fitted the key in the lock — and found the door unlocked! It was pitch dark in there — a velvety sort of blackness that one could almost feel. Suggs turned his flash on, the walls, and located the electric switch. This time, when he turned it on, there was no gush of light, but the lamp on the study table winked into being.
Then Mildred Guerney screamed; a blood chilling sound in that great, dark house. Johnny sprang to her side, his eyes following the pointing line of her finger.
A man lay face down on the carpet. His clothes were of the latest cut, though crumpled and torn in places. A dark wet spot shone on the carpet by his chest.
Suggs knelt, turned him over, and looked into the dead, Staring eyes of J. Sylvester Jones!
A Mysterious Note From Bradley
When John Suggs reached home that night — or morning, rather, as it was verging on four o'clock — he sat down at his desk, with paper and pen, and summed up the evidence against the three suspects:
First: J. Sylvester Jones. He had a motive, as he was reported to be the sole heir of Strickland Guerney's wealth. On the other hand he lived at the most expensive hotel in the city, and seemed to have considerable money, despite his lack of a balance at the bank. There was no real evidence against him.
Second: Bradley, the butler. There was no definite motive, though he might have committed the crime for Mildred Guerney's sake. The strongest link connecting him with the murder was the fact that he was the only known person in the house at the time of Guerney's death. The fact that he openly admitted this, when he might have easily gone out and established an alibi, was a point in his favor.
Third: Mildred Guerney. Her motive could have been revenge, though she was not of a type likely to harbor that sentiment. According to her story, however, she had ample cause to hate the old millionaire. The fact that she possessed a key to the study door was certainly a damning bit of evidence against her —
When he reached that point Suggs tore up the paper in disgust. He had searched every inch of the study without finding a single clue that would aid him. If Jones had killed Guerney, who, in turn, had killed Jones? If he had not, who had?
After finding the body of Jones in the Guerney study, and failing to locate a scrap of evidence that would incriminate the killer of Guerney or of Jones, Johnny had taken Mildred away from the house of death. She had not found her father's will, so both were in a despondent frame of mind. The girl was staying at a modest little hotel uptown, and she promised to telephone the reporter if anything of importance occurred.
Lying back in his chair, eyes closed, Suggs tried to logically put together the small bits of knowledge he possessed into a comprehensive whole.
The theory advanced by the transcendent detectives of fiction — that no human being could enter a room without leaving some clue to his identity — Johnny found to be fallacious. There was not the vestige of a clue in Guerney's study. And why should there be? The murderer had probably slipped into the house — if he was not one of the household — quietly walked upstairs, opened the study door and killed Guerney as the latter sat in his chair. It could only be by the most colossal luck that the killer would drop some identifying bit of personal property, and he had not done so. There had been no rain or snow to make convenient footprints.
Deduction, as practiced by Holmes and Dupin, was all very well, but even those masters had to have some concrete clue from which to argue. There was not a single one for either the Jones or the Guerney murder, yet they were evidently joined by a connecting link. It was inconceivable that it should be otherwise.
The figures of Jones, Bradley and Mildred Guerney filled Suggs' mental vision. His perspective of the case was clogged by their bulk. One of them had very likely committed the crime. Then Jones was killed. Bradley was in prison, and so eliminated from that angle of the case. But Mildred had been in the house — had been there before Suggs made his unexpected appearance. And she possessed the key to the study door!
Was Mildred Guerney the double murderess?
Every fibre of Johnny Suggs' being revolted at the thought. He thought of her pallid face, clear cut as a cameo, and framed by the crown of soft fair hair. It was the face of a pure, warm hearted girl — and one utterly incapable of such a crime. It was on her slender shoulders, though, that the black shadow of suspicion lay most heavily.
At dawn Johnny gave up the problem temporarily, washed and shaved, and slipped out of the house without awakening anyone. He took a car downtown, and had breakfast at an all-night restaurant of the lunch-stand variety. It was dim and gray in the city — a gloomy, foreboding morning, with a shroud of fog creeping in from the river.
The reporter lit a cigar, and having nothing particular to do, strolled over to the *Star* office. The city room was empty save for a sleepy figure curled up in one of the chairs. Suggs' footfalls aroused it.
"H'lo, Johnny," he husked, reaching mechanically for a cigarette. "What 'n the deuce are you doing down here at this time o' night. 'F I was the son of the boss of this paper I wouldn't work at all — " He lapsed back into somnolent desuetude.
"Oh, you wouldn't?" repeated Johnny, with keen sarcasm. "I like Palm Beach and yachts and joy parties as much as you do, but you see me working, don't you? You'd do it, too, if he was your governor."
"By the way," the other man woke up suddenly. "A note came in for you about eleven o'clock; laying on your desk over there. It's from Bradley, the butler who's been held in this Guerney murder mystery. Friend of yours?"
Suggs picked up the crumpled envelope, with his name scrawled on it.
"Who brought it?"
"A hard looking bird — one of the guards, I guess."
Johnny ripped open the envelope, and read:
*Dear Mr. Suggs : *
*Probably the peculiarity of this will strike you at once. I feel that you are a friend. If you would do me a favor, when you hear of my death — and I feel that the end is not far — will you have my body disposed of as was that of Gustave Edmonson, who wrote "The Psychology of the Working Classes"? *
*With many thinks for your keenness. Respectfully yours, *
*James R. Bradley. *
The reporter Stared at the note.
It might as well have been a jumble of unintelligible gibberish so far as he was concerned.
Then two lines in the letter seemed to spring out in bold faced letters:
"The peculiarity of this will strike you at once" and "Many thanks for your keenness."
The mild eyed old butler was trying to send him a cipher message!
Now, Johnny had gained valuable experience with codes during his service in the Intelligence Section of a famous combat division in France. He had learned to read ciphers of many kinds. So, tired and aching as he was, he sat down at his desk, and tried to unravel this one.
After an hour of concentrated effort, Suggs decided that, if it was a code, it was too cleverly done for him to solve. The letter was so short that it gave him no opportunity. This reference to Gustave Edmonson and his book threw no light on the subject. "The Psychology of the Working Classes" was in the *Star*'s library. Johnny brought it out, read over the contents page and skipped through the volume, but it carried no suggestion to his mind. It was dull and prosy in the extreme and the possibility that it might have any connection with the double murder in the Guerney house seemed rather far fetched.
At eight o'clock he called up Lieutenant Jamieson. "Anything new develop, Loot — in the Guerney case, I mean?"
"New?" howled Jamieson. "I'll say there has. Now, listen, Johnny. I'm giving you this first of all, because you've helped me in the past and, anyway, I want due credit with your dad for giving his paper first crack at it. Soon as I get done talking come down to the Guerney house. I'll be there by the time you arrive."
"All right. Shoot!"
"There's been big doings down there last night. Patrolman Duffy was on special duty in front of the place. He's a good, sober man, and he swore that he wasn't a hundred yards from the house all night. Every hour or two he walked around through the alley and looked things over from the back. He didn't see a light or hear a sound up till three-thirty. At that time Duffy was standing by the Guerney steps, and he heard a shot from inside.
"Well, he rapped for assistance, broke a window and climbed in. He saw a light upstairs and tore up there hell bent for election. The door to the study was open — "
"Open?" interrupted Johnny, "I thought I locked it?"
"I said I thought you locked it."
"I did, but open it was, and the furniture was smashed up generally as though there had been a scrap; — "
"What?" Suggs was thoroughly surprised now. When he was in the study only a few hours before this occurrence everything had been in apple-pie order. And now —
"I said everything was broken up," the policeman said peevishly. "This damned 'phone's out of order, and you can't hear anything right. Chairs broken up, pictures busted loose from the walls — the room smashed generally."
"Come on, get to the finish," urged Suggs. "You're not telling a short story with a carefully arranged climax. I want to get all the dope for the sheet."
Jamieson's hoarse laugh rumbled over the wire. "We found a dead man in the study. You're a clever lad, and quite an amateur detective yourself, but I'll bet you can't guess who it was."
"I've got a ten-spot that says I can," said Johnny, touched in his pride at the policeman's dig at his sleuthing propensities.
"You're on. Who was it?"
Suggs braced himself for the bellow that would come through the receiver.
"J. Sylvester Jones," he said.
"Oh, no," laughed Jamieson. "You thought I was a dummy when I suggested that it might be one of those Dayak fellows who croaked Strickland Guerney. Well, there isn't an acre of green in my eye, son. Patrolman Duffy found one of those Dayaks in Guerney's room, with a bullet hole drilled through his heart!"
Two Dead Men
Utterly amazed at this turn of events, Johnny sketched what had been told him to his sleepy compatriot, and that gentleman, galvanized into instant life, began hammering out the story on his typewriter.
"Better let the old man look it over," Suggs suggested. "He's interested in this Guerney affair, and wants to keep his finger on it. Better call him on the 'phone, tell him what's happened and that I've gone up to the house to look things over."
Johnny was lucky enough to get a trolley without much delay. And every rumbling foot of the way he kept asking himself what had become of Jones' body? What malign influence was behind these repeated killings? He thought of his father's words, "Don't build yourself any triumphal arches until the job is done." The governor was right, as usual. Anyone who solved this mystery deserved a triumphal arch, at that.
Twenty minutes later he reached the Guerney residence, and was admitted by Lieutenant Jamieson himself.
"Come upstairs and take a look at the study," the latter invited. "I'll admit this has me buffaloed. Just where this brown skinned baby horns into the picture is beyond me. Now, if it had been Jones — as you guessed — we might have been able to fix up a story that would jibe with the facts, you know, but this — " He shrugged his shoulders. "Bradley must have been mistaken about only the one key. The study door was open, and I know that I locked it before we left."
Johnny nodded. He had locked the door himself with Mildred's key at one o'clock that morning. The appearance of another one relieved him, for it shifted the shadow from the girl. Between one o'clock and three-thirty the possessor of the third key — who was probably the murderer they sought — had entered the house. Who was he?
The reporter and the police lieutenant walked upstairs.
A man lay on the study floor, almost directly on the spot where J. Sylvester Jones had sprawled when Suggs discovered him earlier in the morning. He was a Dayak, finely developed physically, and from the tattoo marks on arms and shoulders evidently of a chief family. He wore five silver leg rings and a bead necklace for ornaments, and a cheap overcoat in deference to western customs. His head had been crowned by a peculiar bit of Dayak millinery, decorated with a hornbill feather, but it had rolled off into a corner. A parang, or short sword, with a beautifully carved handle, was gripped in his fist as though he had been awaiting an assault.
Johnny knelt beside him, his keen eyes roving over the wonderfully developed body and the section of floor immediately beside it. Quite possibly this was the man who had killed both Strickland Guerney and J. Sylvester Jones. If he was, who, in turn, had killed him? Certainly not Bradley, who was in jail. Very improbably Mildred, whom he had escorted to her hotel, an hour's ride from this place. Then it was someone who had not as yet been suspected.
"Well, what do you make of it?" asked Jamieson.
Suggs rose, walked across the room, apparently following a trail that was invisible to the lieutenant's eyes. He stopped before the fireplace, in which no fire had been built for months, examined it carefully, glanced up the chimney, and walked back to the Dayak's body.
"I've found a few things," he said, "that you probably overlooked. In the first place, there hasn't been any struggle here. All this smashing, up has been done for effect. If there really had been a struggle between this Dayak and a man powerful enough to give him a battle do you think that he would still have held the parang in his hand in that way? The way I read it is this: The Dayak came into the room, all ready for action, and was shot down before he was able to make a move. It isn't possible that, if there had been a fight that knocked over all this furniture, that this light table with the lamp would have survived. No, the place was carefully wrecked before the Dayak was killed."
Jamieson grunted. "Why before?"
The reporter's voice grew sarcastic. "Do you imagine anyone could have wrecked this place and made a getaway between the time the shot was fired and Duffy arrived?"
"Why the devil should he wreck it at all?"
"Ah, that's the question. The only reason I can see is that the murderer was searching for something. He tore things up regardless in looking for it."
"Well, he was disappointed then," grunted the lieutenant. "We took everything of value — papers and money — over to the station when we left."
Johnny could have kicked himself. "I'm certainly the prize cheese detective of the world," he told himself. "So Mildred and I — " he already called her that in his thoughts — "wasted all that time looking for something that was in Jamieson's safe. I should have known that much."
"Anything else?" demanded Jamieson.
"Oh, yes. Quite the most important of all. And it's going to prevent you from collecting that ten-spot from me."
"What do you mean? You bet that we would find Jones' body here."
"And so you will." He rolled the Dayak's body to one side. "Look at that blood spot. Too far down to have come from this savage's wound. Someone else was killed in this room before Mr. Dayak. There are two drops of blood between here and the fireplace. I looked up the chimney and caught a glimpse of something. I'll wager that you'll find Jones' body jammed up in there."
Jamieson, Detective O'Toole and the two patrolmen made a rush for the fireplace. In ten seconds they had demonstrated the truth of Suggs' statement, and the soot-smeared, twisted body of the late dandy was stretched beside that of the Dayak.
They looked at him with far more respect than they had ever exhibited before.
"I'll take my hat off to you, Johnny," the lieutenant admitted. "Now tell me who did it. I can't afford to lose out on this case after letting Mullaney make a clean get-away last month."
The reporter laughed. "I don't know."
"You're holding out on me," complained Jamieson.
"No, I'm not. I really don't know enough to help you, but I hope to add a little to that knowledge by this afternoon. When I do, I'll let you know, you can gamble on that., I'm not trying to build up a reputation with the force. All I want to do is get solid with my dad. He never had a very high opinion of my abilities, and I want to prove to him that he is wrong."
"I'll have to be covered up a bit until something breaks. What is your paper going to say?"
"Oh, we'll fix that up all right," the reporter assured him. "The *Star* will have a story full of glittering generalities, giving all due credit to the foxy police, who found out that this apparent scrap was a frame-up."
"All right," agreed Jamieson, slightly mollified, "but for heaven's sake, let me know as soon as anything breaks."
Johnny used the telephone in the hall to call up the paper. His father was in the office, having come down immediately at the news of the developments in the Guerney case. The older man listened quietly, then asked:
"Have you any clues at all?"
"Well," said Johnny guardedly, "maybe yes and maybe no. I'm going after something right away."
"Keeler tells me that you received a cipher note from Bradley. Have you figured out what it means?"
"No. I believe it is too short for a message, and I am hopeful that another part will come soon. Until it does I am going to follow out some ideas of my own. By the way, dad, Lieutenant Jamieson wants you to cover him up until something breaks."
Johnny rang off. It was his intention to go to Mildred, and find out from her if she had been accompanied by the Dayak as a servant, and if he had taken up her quarrel and been killed in following it out. That seemed very likely. He might have murdered Guerney and Jones, but Suggs could not understand who, in turn, had killed him.
It was rather too early to call on Miss Guerney. Considering the late hour at which she had retired it was quite possible that she had not yet arisen. So Johnny left the house, bent on walking to the little uptown hotel.
The sun had chased the fog back to the river reaches, and it was delicious in the open after breathing the death-ridden atmosphere of the Guerney house. Suggs threw back his shoulders, and strode along at a good pace, keenly enjoying the exercise.
He received something of a shock when he inquired at Mildred's hotel, only to find that she had left an hour before.
"You Mister Suggs?" asked the clerk, after volunteering the information.
"Well, she left a message for you. Prob'ly thought you'd be here pretty soon. 'Tell 'im,' she said, 'to come to 2738 Phillips Street right away.' I guess it's most goshalmighty important. Oh, thanks."
Johnny sprinted out into the street, hailed a taxi, and ordered the mahout to drive at top speed to the Phillips Street address. There was no use trying to figure out in advance what this sudden change of base meant — except trouble for Mildred.
They arrived at their destination in extraordinarily quick time. Suggs paid off the chauffeur, and reached the front door in approximately three seconds. It was open, and he went in.
From the upper floor he heard Mildred's voice sound in fright and protest. Johnny went flying up, with the speed of a ten-second man. When he reached the landing he saw her struggling in the arms of a tall, black-bearded man. At the sight a flood of anger and passion welled up in the reporter. He had only seen her once, but that was enough. Her beauty and courage had captivated his heart, in spite of the black shadow that hung over her.
The girl saw him, called his name, as her assailant tossed her back and faced the door.
Johnny flung himself forward with the silent ferocity of a beast. Though far smaller than the other man, the desperation of his attack more than made up the difference. His fists lashed against Blackbeard, who was broad and thick and solid on the ground. They drove the latter's head against the wall panelling with a force that would have stunned a weaker man.
Instead, it seemed to spur Blackbeard into action. He clenched Johnny around the middle and buried his bushy face against that young gentleman's chest. But the reporter blocked him off with sharp elbows and drumming fists. He realized that he would have small chance at close quarters. His only salvation lay in keeping clear those ape-like arms.
The big man drew back, panting heavily, then lowered his head into the shelter of his left shoulder and rushed again. Johnny leaped nimbly aside, but slipped out a lagging foot, and Blackbeard went over it with a crash that stunned him. The reporter was atop him instantly, his thumbs sinking into the great muscles at the side of the neck. The paralyzing pressure stopped the fellow's breath — made him choke and beat the air feebly.
Mildred ran to his side. "Come, come," she whispered. "Oh, quickly. We must get away from here — "
He looked up at her, the old irrepressible light dancing in his eyes. The touch of her hand on his shoulder thrilled him.
"I think we'll turn this fellow over to the police first," he said gaily. "These few punches have not been punishment enough for him."
"No, no. It is impossible. Come."
So Johnny rose, and with a contemptuous glance at Blackbeard, walked downstairs with Mildred.
Once again out in the clear sunshine the wonder of this affair grew on him. He felt just the reverse of Wilkie Collins' famous detective. That gentleman was so used to doing big things that the little ones escaped him — like a senior wrangler, who has forgotten how to do quadratics, and has to solve problems of the second degree by the calculus. Johnny felt like a youngster who has never learned mathematics and has been ordered to do a most intricate problem. The twists and turns of this Guerney case he knew would make him gray-haired before his time.
"Will you please tell me the meaning of this, Miss Guerney?" he implored. "Every step becomes more difficult. We found J. Sylvester Jones dead in your father's study at one o'clock this morning. At three-thirty the officer on the beat heard a shot, entered the house, and found the room wrecked, and a big Dayak lying dead on the floor. Jones' body had been crammed up the chimney. Do you know this Dayak? What were you doing in this vacant house? Who was that bearded man? I think at times that I see a light, and then matters become more foggy than ever."
The girl considered. "The Dayak was probably Tama Aping, who swore to revenge himself some day on my father. He was different from most of his people — sullen, vicious to the core. Yes, he is the only one I can recall who would spend these years in a search for an enemy."
"It really doesn't help us much. Granting that he killed Mr. Guerney the problem of his own death and Jones' is just as puzzling. But what were you doing in this house, Mil — Miss Guerney?"
"The house belonged to my mother, Mr. Suggs. The black-bearded man had been watching me. I wanted to get away from him, and I came here, thinking I had shaken him off. Instead, he was close on my heels, forced his way in and seized me."
"He — he said he was a detective, and wanted to arrest me for the murder of Strickland Guerney!"
Johnny's heart jumped with a sudden throb of fear. How had the police secured intelligence of Strickland Guerney's daughter? If they had, and knew what cause she had for hating him her arrest was only a matter of a few hours. Now, this detective — the reporter closed his eyes for an instant, trying to place those features in the gallery of his mind. Detective? Why, the man was Black Allen, a gunman of more than local renown! Undoubtedly some one was interested in having Mildred Guerney put out of the way, and that person, Suggs believed, was the murderer he sought.
With a word to Mildred, the reporter ran back to the house. If the thumb-screws were put on Black Allen he might tell who had hired him, which would save a lot of time and trouble, Johnny had left him in the house because he believed, as the girl had, that the fellow was a detective. Now he was anxious to find him. But Allen, having enough of Suggs' punching ability, had disappeared.
The reporter explained the situation to the girl, and together they returned to Mildred's hotel. Johnny waited in the lobby while she packed her things. Then he chartered a taxi, and had them taken to another hostelry in an entirely different section of the city. This would throw the Allen contingent off the track for awhile at least.
Once more back on the job, Johnny's mind harked to the supposed cipher message Bradley had sent him. What necessity was there for it? The butler could just as easily have sent for him and told whatever he wanted. There was no need for mystic flub-dubbery.
The reporter's anxiety to unravel the tangle, and find out who had killed Guerney, Jones and the Dayak chief increased with every passing moment. Though he had no very high respect for the gentlemen in the municipal detective office, he admitted that they sometimes stumbled on the truth through sheer persistence. And he was very much afraid that in their blind fumbling around they would lay hands on Mildred Guerney. Though Johnny was sure that she had not committed the crime, he knew that the police would be harder to convince. Besides, if he could lay hands on the murderer of Strickland Guerney these attacks on Mildred would cease.
The reporter stopped at Fifteenth Street to wait for a car that would carry him downtown to the prison where Bradley was held in durance. While he waited a glittering Rolls-Royce limousine purred up to the curb. Hawker, chauffeur for the late J. Sylvester Jones, turned his little bloodshot eyes on Suggs.
"Mr. Suggs, sir, is it not?" he asked, with the soft deference of those who fetch and carry for the rich. "I'm in a bit of a corner, sir, and seeing you yesterday at Mr. Guerney's house, and hearing so highly of your capabilities — begging your pardon, sir — I've come to you for a bit of advice."
"Fire when ready," said Johnny good humoredly.
"Isn't there any place I can take you, sir?"
"Well, I'm going down to the prison — "
"To see Bradley, Mr. Guerney's butler."
Hawker wagged his head hypocritically. "To think that whited sepulchre should kill his master. It is almost unbelievable."
"Do you believe it?"
"Of course. He was the only one in the house at the time. But you are going to the prison, sir. If you will ride on the seat with me I can explain myself on the way down, sir."
So the reporter sprang nimbly in beside the over-groomed Hawker, and the big machine leaped away with the satisfied purr of a giant cat.
"It is a most peculiar situation, sir," began the chauffeur. "You see, I was in the service of the Jones family for years. When Mr. Sylvester went for himself I followed as valet and chauffeur — the establishment being a small one, do you see, sir? He thought very much of me if I do say it, and his family having passed away, he made a will leaving everything to me."
Johnny turned a pair of brightly suspicious eyes on Hawker, who returned the gaze steadily for an instant before swinging it again to the street.
"It develops, sir," the chauffeur continued, "that Mr. Sylvester left practically nothing. His bank balance is almost non-existent. This car and his other personal belongings must go to satisfy his creditors. It is very sad — how close he was sailing to the wind, sir."
"That makes it rather hard for you," observed Suggs. "But why are you telling me?"
"I'm distrustful of lawyers, and I had to talk about it with someone. Here is the strange part, sir." The chauffeur whirled the car around a corner and threaded his way through a maze of traffic at a speed that was a testimonial to his cleverness. "I understand that my master inherited all of Mr. Guerney's vast fortune. Many a time Mr. Sylvester told me of his expectations. So, naturally, I expect to receive the money that would have gone to him — "
They had reached the gray, forbidding walls of the prison, and the Rolls-Royce came to a stop before the gates. Johnny descended, but hesitated a moment, one foot lagging on the running-board. He had an idea, and he wanted to see more of Hawker.
"I think I can do something for you," he said. "As soon as I am free, I'm coming to see you."
"You can find me at the St. Regis garage, sir."
Johnny's eyes met the little, bloodshot ones in a meaning glance.
"And you," he added, "can do something for me."
With a careless nod, he strolled toward the warden's office.
It was quite natural that Suggs should know the warden of the prison. It was equally natural that the warden should be glad to do a favor for a newspaperman and the son of one of the city's most influential men. When Johnny asked to talk with Bradley the warden — supposing it to be an ordinary interview that was desired — assented, and led him to the old butler's cell himself.
The wistful little man was reading his Bible, but he laid it down, and rose as Johnny entered. There was something pathetically small and dusty about him — so much like a once-loved toy that has been relegated to a far corner of the closet — that Suggs felt very sorry for him. He said a word or two about being sad to see him there. Bradley responded gratefully.
The warden considerately withdrew out of earshot.
Suggs said, "I received that message you sent me, but couldn't make head or tail of it, so I came here to get the thing straight from your own lips."
Bradley looked at him in a confused sort of a way. "I — I don't know what you're talking about, sir."
"There's no need for mystification or melodrama," said Johnny impatiently. "I want to help clear this matter up. You shouldn't be here, but there are others who should. Most of all I want to help Mildred Guerney!"
He thrust his face close to Bradley's, and uttered that phrase with the utmost emphasis of which he was capable.
The butler's chin dropped; his mild blue eyes distended.
"Don't you see, man?" the reporter whispered tensely. "I want to help her. It is quite possible that the police will hear of her shortly. Tell me whatever you know. It may help."
Bradley sat down on the cot, and wrung his hands. "I don't know a thing, Mr. Suggs. I swear to God I don't! Except that I made the impression of the lock on his study door for her. I did sleep most of the afternoon and I don't know what happened during that time — "
"Did Mr. Guerney really give the servants the day off, or did you?"
"I had told him Mildred was coming to the house. He was afraid she would make a scene, and the servants would hear it."
"What was the meaning of the message you sent me?"
"I never sent you any message, sir."
Utterly exasperated, Johnny turned to the door. He could not understand why Bradley should deny having sent the note, if he really did send it. If he had not, who had, and why was the old butler's name signed to it? The reporter jerked his note-pad from his pocket, and laid it before Bradley.
"Write a few lines on there," he requested, "and sign your name. I want to compare it with that note I received this morning."
The butler did as Suggs commanded. He seemed so utterly wearied that his power of resistance was burned out. Johnny pocketed the note, said a cheerful good-bye, and went down the corridor with the warden. He felt like a man in a labyrinth, striving desperately to reach the center, only to find himself as far away as ever. The center he sought was the solution to the triple murder in the Guerney house. His initial incentive, to spur up his father's regard, had been supplanted by another. He wanted to scatter the black shadows enveloping Mildred Guerney, and regain for her the fortune that was rightfully hers.
Johnny headed at once for the *Star* office. Things were in full blast there, and no one paid any particular attention to him as he dived at his desk. The letter he had received that morning was flattened out under an ink-well and another lay beside it. This one was unsigned, and merely bore the words, "Page ninety-two, paragraph three."
He opened the first letter and read it again:
*Probably the perculiarity of this will strike you at once. If you would do me a-favor, when you hear of my death — and I feel that the end is not far-will you have my body disposed of as was that of Gustave Edmonson, who wrote, "The Psychology of the Working Classes"?*
Johnny grinned. The second note cleared up in an absurdly simple way the puzzle the first one had created. His correspondent wanted him to read page ninety-two, paragraph three, of "The Pyschology of the Working Classes." He called for a copy-boy and sent him for the book — the one he had consulted that morning having been returned to the library.
Then he laid out the two notes. Despite the brevity of the second one, it was easy to see that the chirography was identical with that of the first. Then Suggs flattened out the paper he had requested Bradley to write. It was identical with that of the other two notes!
Why had the old butler denied writing them?
The copy-boy came back presently with Edmonson's masterpiece. Johnny seized it eagerly, and opened it at page ninety-two. In paragraph three he found this:
*"The newest type of family servant is the chauffeur, and he presents a most absorbing psychological study. He is usually a step ahead of the other servants mentally, and, in consequence, becomes more valuable or more dangerous as his character is inclined. I recall quite vividly the murder of Mr. Farnsworth Lee by his chauffeur — a man of — "*
Johnny threw down the book with an exclamation of delight.
"Hawker!" he said to himself, "Hawker!"
The Chauffer's Alibi
That letter brought to a head the vague suspicions that had been germinating in Suggs' mind. But, after all, proof was needed to link the chauffeur with the triple murder. Without it the black shadow would still hang over Mildred Guerney.
Before leaving, Johnny stopped in his father's office. The elder Suggs leaned back in his swivel chair, and surveyed his son.
"Well, my boy," he asked cheerfully, "how is the Sherlock Holmes business coming along?"
The reporter sat down on his father's desk and grinned at him. "If you think I have been idle you've another guess coming, governor. That scoop we have on the murder of Jones and Tama Aping is worth the time I've spent on the case, isn't it?"
"Without question. Have a cigar, and consider your salary raised a dollar a week. But I'm interested in the detective side of the case — your system of solving criminal mysteries. Have you deduced anything today?"
Careless of his father's chaffing, Johnny sat swinging his legs, his eyes fixed on some papers on the desk. Then he looked up, square into the other's eyes.
"Yes, I have deduced something, dad, and if it isn't asking too much I'd like an explanation from you. Why did you send me those two notes, and sign Bradley's name?"
"How, may I ask, did you connect me with that incident?"
"You have an old letter of Bradley's there on your desk, and a sheet of paper covered with imitations of his chirography. You are something of a handwriting expert, so it wasn't hard to guess. But what is the big idea?"
The older man tossed away his cigar and laughed.
"You are doing so well on this, son, that I wanted to help, yet still keep you puzzled. I thought you would be able to follow that rather broad clue of mine, but I didn't want you to know that I left it. Have you seen Bradley?"
"Of course. The old fellow was all fussed up when I wanted to know what his message meant. He hadn't any idea of what I was talking about."
The editor of the *Star* chuckled. "I suppose so. There isn't any doubt in my mind that he is not implicated in this affair. When things are cleared up I'll take care of him. Now, I want you to go out and check up on Hawker. No doubt he has what he thinks is a puncture-proof alibi. I suspected Hawker when I learned that he had a bank balance in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. That was sufficient proof that he isn't an ordinary chauffeur. So far as I know, he had no motive in killing either Guerney or Jones."
"Yes, he had," Johnny asserted. Then he repeated the story Hawker had told him an hour ago. "Now, I've mapped out a plan to catch him napping. If you'll cooperate with me I think we can put it across."
When he had finished his explanation the elder Suggs whistled. "It sounds good to me. I'll get busy on my end. Now you chase out, and check up every minute of his time."
Johnny followed instructions, but at the close of his investigation found himself up against the same blank wall that had blocked him when he checked up on Jones' day. The other chauffeurs at the St. Regis had played poker with Hawker until Jones had summoned him. That was at ten minutes to one, and the car had been marked out of the garage five minutes later. The traffic officer, on duty in the park that afternoon, distinctly remembered seeing the Rolls-Royce at about one-fifteen. He knew Mr. Jones personally, and that gentleman stopped and gave him some cigars. The reason that he remembered the time was that Jones asked him, saying his watch had stopped and the clock in the car was broken. Cursed a bit at the carelessness of the chauffeur in allowing it to happen, too.
Miss Daisy Graelis reiterated her statement that Jones had arrived at two-thirty, and that the chauffeur was with him. She did not see Hawker again until four, when he returned to the Ambassadeur for them. However, the manager of a poolroom across the street from the hotel stated that Hawker — who was an old customer of the place — had taken a table at three o'clock, and had not left until five minutes to four. That accounted for his time just as J. Sylvester Jones' had been accounted for.
Johnny puzzled over that. He was certain there was something in plain sight that he should see — something that would let him get a hand on Hawker. And suddenly it popped into his mind. Why hadn't he thought of that before? It was just as evident at first as it was now.
Now, if his plan to force a confession from the chauffeur — assuming that he was guilty — succeeded, everything would be all right. If Hawker really had killed Strickland Guerney he had left no clue, and he knew it. On the other hand, every murderer has a restless conscience — nerves that may be Startled into betraying him. So Johnny felt fairly hopeful.
He called Mildred Guerney on the telephone, and outlined his plan to her. The girl — who had come to trust him implicitly — agreed to every detail. Then Johnny paid a visit to Hawker at the St. Regis garage, after a flying visit to the *Star* office.
The crooked-nosed chauffeur took the reporter to his room, and asked him what he wanted.
"I'll tell you," said Suggs. "I'm up against it. If my father knew that I was up to my ears in a stock-market tangle he'd kick me out of the house. Naturally, I'm not anxious to pass up the prospects of inheriting his money. But I need something to tide me over right now."
"Why come to me?"
"Because you can help me."
Hawker began to worry a creased bit of paper, stealthy eyes on the floor. He was studying Johnny's mental capacity, trying to figure out, too, just how far he would go. Finally he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what you mean."
The reporter hitched his chair a bit closer. "Yes, you do. I happen to know that you have a hundred thousand dollars in the Cathedral National Bank. I want a slice of it."
"Can you advance any reason why I should give it to you?" Hawker had dropped his servile air, and spoke out with a sharp assurance new to him.
"Several of them, but there is one in particular that will interest you."
The chauffeur's blood-shot eyes narrowed, and his fingers drummed uneasily on the arm of his chair.
"What is it?"
"Your alibi," explained Johnny carefully, "is apparently everything that could be desired. The police take it at its face value, anyway. But what were you doing between the hours of one-fifteen, when the traffic policeman recognized you in the parkland two-thirty, when you drove Jones to Miss Graelis's apartment?"
Hawker sprang to his feet with a sharp cry of anger, but Johnny did not shift his slouching position in his chair.
"There is no need for melodramatics," he said. "You know what I mean."
"What do you want?"
Ah, the cat was out now! Suggs did not move, but the muscles of his face relaxed, and he drew a deep, silent breath.
"Fifteen thousand dollars."
"You are high priced."
"Oh, very," returned the reporter, with a swagger.
"And what could I expect in return for that?"
"Listen: If the police ever think of that lost hour they'll be down on you quicker than a thousand bricks. You have a chance to get old Guerney's money. There are just two obstacles. The first one I've just mentioned; the second is Guerney's daughter. She is in the city."
He had expected the chauffeur to be astounded. Instead, Hawker merely scowled, and said, "I know it."
"You know it? What are you going to do about it?"
Hawker blinked at him. "If you expect to get any money from me you'd better make some suggestions yourself."
"I can keep the thoughts of that dunderhead, Jamieson, turned away from you entirely," Suggs asserted; "that is, if I get the money."
"What about this Guerney girl?"
Johnny looked at Hawker with a coldly impassive face. "There is only one thing to do, isn't there?"
"Yes," said the chauffeur desperately. "We'll have to put her out of the way."
"Yes, you, too. You don't trust me, and I don't trust you. So far well and good. Everything's even, and no one hurt. But, if we do the job together, one can't hold the other up."
Johnny pretended to consider. That offer, of course, was the one he had been attempting to get out of the chauffeur. The reporter knew something of psychology. He knew the state Hawker's nerves would be in when he came to do this cold-blooded crime, and, with proper coaching, the man would tell enough to place the noose around his neck. Suggs had an inborn hatred of falsehood, but the remorseless requirements of the profession he was temporarily following forced the deception he was practicing. To lie in the line of duty is sometimes a disagreeable necessity — and this was for Mildred.
"Will you do this?" asked Hawker.
"And I'll get the fifteen thousand?"
"All right," said Johnny slowly, "but I can't understand why you didn't do something yourself when you knew she was in town."
Hawker scowled. "I sent Black Allen out to trap her, but someone butted in on the affair, and gave Allen a handy beating. The girl got away, and is hiding somewhere. It will be necessary to find her first."
"I know where she is."
"Of course. What kind of a reporter do you think I am? I've kept track of everyone in this case, first and last. Here's my plan. Do you know where 2738 Phillips Street is?"
"The house belonged to Guerney's wife, and now, of course, belongs to the daughter. I'll get her there by a fake note, and then — well, it isn't pleasant to talk of those things."
"What time do you want me there?" asked Hawker.
There was a sound of light footsteps in the hall.
"Paper," cried a piping, juvenile voice. "*Evenin' Star*."
"At twelve; on the dot," said Suggs hurriedly, opening the door. The newsboy thrust in a folded copy of the sheet, which Johnny passed over to Hawker. "At twelve, don't forget." And he disappeared down the stairs.
While he was striding along the street, chuckling to himself, the chauffeur was Staring dumbly at the great, black headlines that blazoned forth his financial wreckage:
CATHEDRAL NATIONAL BANK CLOSES ITS DOORS — LOOTED BY OFFICERS IS
REPORT — NOT A DOLLAR WILL BE REALIZED BY CREDITORS
Suggs called up the *Star* office, found that his father had gone home, and immediately followed him there. Dinner had been served long ago, and his mother and sisters had gone to the theatre. The master of the house was in his room, dressing. Johnny went up at once.
"Well," asked the owner of the *Star*, shaking out his dinner jacket and lying it across a chair. "How did your wonderful scheme work out?"
"Immense. We have him trapped, I think. Regard your son, old war horse. He's a criminal. I engaged in a conspiracy with Hawker — at his own suggestion, mind you — that we put Mildred Guerney out of the way. He is to meet me at 2738 Phillips Street at twelve o'clock tonight. I am supposed to have lured the girl there. Gad! what a cold, calculating devil he is."
"What about that single copy of the *Star* that I had printed, telling of the failure of the Cathedral National Bank?"
"It was delivered just as I left," laughed Johnny, "and if I know anything of human nature it will be the final, jarring punch that will make Hawker reckless of consequences. He'll talk — and an uncontrolled tongue has been the downfall of more criminals than all the detectives in the world."
The older man finished brushing his hair, and picked up his waistcoat. "It was a clever idea, son, but I would like to get that paper back again. The bank is as solvent as it ever was, but if that fake notice ever came to the attention of the president I would find myself the defendant in a suit for damages. However, it's in a good cause, so I won't worry about that. Have you explained matters to Miss Guerney?"
"And she is willing to carry out her share in the affair?"
"She must trust you implicitly, son. I know that you are no Don Juan, but she is an unsophisticated girl. Be careful."
Johnny's cheeks began to burn, and he gave his father an uncomfortable look. Silence fell, and he sat down, his boyish face resting on his hands. The elder Suggs looked at him curiously, and began to change his collar.
"Do you — ah — love her?" he asked.
"Yes. What do you think this case means to me? I am not a professional detective — the trapping of the man who killed that selfish gourmand, Guerney, and Jones and the Dayak means nothing to me except that it will lift the black shadow from the girl I love."
Mr. Suggs had finished dressing. Johnny looked at his watch, picked up his hat and gloves, and rose.
"It is ten o'clock," he said in a curiously quiet voice. "I am ready if you are."
Together they went downstairs. The Suggs limousine was waiting outside. When they reached the drawing-room a sudden thought struck the reporter.
"I don't think we had better go together, dad. Hawker isn't a servant. Normally, he is clever enough and suspicious enough to watch this house to see what I do. You go in the machine, drive around town a bit, then pick up Jamieson and O'Toole and Bierhalter, if they will let him go. He saw the beginning of this affair, and it is only fair that he should see the finish, too. I'll meet Mildred near the Phillips Street address. Have the police slip in the back way, and make sure that Hawker does not see them."
"Right you are, son," said the older man. He took the boy's hand in an affectionate grip. "I'm with you all the way, understand — all the way. And, at a pinch, I don't imagine that I would make such a bad father-in-law."
He laughed; relinquished his grip. The door banged behind his burly figure.
A few minutes later Johnny, too, went out.
He met Mildred a few blocks from the Phillips Street house. In her pretty, soft gown, with a tint of blue ribbon at neck and shoulder, she seemed so very young and lovable that Suggs' heart set up a disturbed double drumming.
"I am glad you are here," she whispered. "I was afraid that something had happened to prevent it."
"Nothing could prevent — that!"
"Oh," she said faintly. Then: "Are we to go in now?"
Yes, they were to go in, it being nearly time for Hawker to appear. Mildred had the key to the place. They entered the dim, old-fashioned back parlor, where they were to keep their vigil. Had either been alone it would have been dreary waiting — a trifle eerie, perhaps — but being together made all the difference in the world. They burned, too, with the gusty thrill of the man-hunter, a sensation that nothing else can counterfeit.
At last the big clock in the corner church boomed twelve solemn, heavy strokes. Their ponderous reverberations had scarcely ceased when the opening and closing of the front door sounded. Johnny peered hastily into the dining-room and received a reassuring hiss from Lieutenant Jamieson.
The stage was set for the entrance of the principal actor.
Suggs rose and opened the parlor door to admit Hawker.
The chauffeur was flushed with drink. Apparently he had sought to stiffen a wavering courage with numerous libations, and had only succeeded in forcing the throbbing color into his cheeks and a heaviness into his tongue.
"When I saw how dark the place was I didn't know but what you had double-crossed me," he snorted.
"You didn't think I would have it lit up like a church, did you?"
Hawker grunted sullenly.
"Well, said the reporter casually, "here is Miss Guerney to talk that matter over with you. I suppose I get that fifteen thousand, don't I?"
The other took his copy of the *Star* from a pocket, and tossed it to Suggs.
"Look at that," he said thickly. "I'm broke — haven't a penny in the world. But don't you worry. After I inherit old Guerney's money I'll double your stake."
"What do you mean?" demanded the girl.
Hawker focussed her with his red-rimmed eyes. "I had a hundred thousand dollars in the Cathedral Bank — my share of the money that Jones and I blackmailed out of old fools like Vanderduynck and Castleton. It went broke, and took every penny I own. But I'm going to get Guerney's money — when you're out of the way — ain't I, Suggs? So we're going to get rid of you very politely. I didn't know if I could trust Suggs at first, but my nerve was gone, and I couldn't put anything over alone. So we're going to kill you together — kill you the way Jones and Guerney and the Dayak were killed."
He fumbled in his hip pocket for a weapon.
Before his fingers had closed on the butt, Johnny leaped forward, and the knuckles of his right fist caught the chauffeur on the mouth. Hawker reeled back, spluttering an oath through his bleeding lips.
Before Hawker had recovered his balance the dining-room door opened and closed, and Jamieson stood with his broad back against it. The blue coat and brass buttons Startled Hawker into instant sobriety. He glared around like a trapped wild beast. A deadly fear was stamped on his bloodless face.
"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded.
"It means that we've caught the murderer of Strickland Guerney," said the police lieutenant importantly. "You should know that you couldn't deceive us, clever as you are."
"I didn't kill Guerney, before God I didn't?"
"No? Who did, then?"
"Jones did it. He planned it all, and carried it out himself. I helped him with his alibi, that was all. His date with Daisy Graelis — the ride through the park — everything was done to cover up his time. The only bit unaccounted for by anyone but me was between one-fifteen, when the traffic officer in the park recognized us, and two-thirty when Jones went to Miss Graelis' apartment. He disguised himself in overalls and a slouch hat, smeared himself with soot, and let himself in through the areaway.
"He had a key to the old man's study — let himself in. There were only a few words exchanged; then Jones shot him with an automatic, equipped with a silencer."
"Why? Old Guerney gave him lots of money."
"It was Guerney's daughter. Jones learned that she was in town. He heard that the old man had decided on a reconciliation, and he knew that he would have to act quickly to prevent the will from being changed."
"Then you killed Jones," charged Jamieson, his ruddy face deepening in color.
Johnny laughed. "You're wrong; again, lieutenant. He did not kill Jones."
The officer scowled. "How do you figure that out?"
The reported waved a hand toward Hawker's shrunken body. "Jones was killed before the Dayak. I know because I was in that room, and found his body. He was a fairly large man — weighed at least one hundred and seventy pounds. Do you imagine for an instant that Hawker could have lifted that body and jammed it up into the chimney the way we found it? It took a tremendously strong man to do that, and one who had a rather primitive way of hiding his crimes. It's my guess that Tama Aping killed Mr. Jones, and that Hawker, in turn, finished the Dayak. Am I right, Hawker?"
The chauffeur gave him a malignant glance, but evidently concluded that he could best help himself by making a clean breast of everything.
"I did kill the Dayak, but it was in self-defense," he said hoarsely. "He had murdered Jones, and hid himself — I don't know where. He probably mistook Jones for Guerney, whom he hated, and then, frightened, crammed the body up the chimney. I had followed Jones to the house. When he didn't come out I entered. The Dayak made for me with that murderous knife of his — so I shot him. That isn't murder, Lieutenant. You can't do anything to me for that."
Jamieson laughed savagely. "Perhaps not, but you're a bad egg, Hawker — a bad egg — just as rotten in your heart as Guerney was. But you conspired to kill his daughter, and you've confessed to blackmailing a number of prominent men, so if you wiggle out of the penalty for killing that greasy Dayak you're going to do time on those other charges. Take him away, O'Toole. The wagon is waiting outside."
There was a clink of steel as the handcuffs circled the chauffeur's wrists. He gave Johnny a murderous glance from his bloodshot eyes, and walked out beside the detective.
Lieutenant Jamieson rubbed his thick, damp palms. "Well, I flatter myself that we put that over rather cleverly, eh, Suggs? You know, for a bit, I was worried — what with Mullaney getting away last month, and all — "
The reporter smothered a smile. Hidden by the folds of Mildred's dress, he was holding the girl's hand, and a wonderful feeling of content suffused him. He did not particularly desire any credit for snaring a criminal. He had succeeded in what he set out to do. That was sufficient.
"Yes, pretty cleverly," repeated Jamieson meaningly.
"Oh, yes," said Johnny, turning away, "the police of this town aren't to be hood winked, and tomorrow the *Star* will give all due credit to Police Lieutenant Jamieson. And now, Mildred — er — Miss Guerney — "
Her hand tightened on his.
"Call me Mildred — as long as you like," she whispered.