SPORT

The Fourth Dagger

Again the weird laugh; and again the mysterious assailant eludes the net spread for his capture

LUKE ALLAN December 1 1932
SPORT

The Fourth Dagger

Again the weird laugh; and again the mysterious assailant eludes the net spread for his capture

LUKE ALLAN December 1 1932

The Fourth Dagger

SPORT

Again the weird laugh; and again the mysterious assailant eludes the net spread for his capture

LUKE ALLAN

(LACEY AMY>

The story: "Tiger” Lillie, a newspaper reporter, sent by City Editor Jerry Inkerley to get a story about counterfeiters, meets Detective Gordon Muldrew. As the two are passing the Florence Hotel, a scream is heard therein. With the hotel manager, Guy Hammerton, they rush to Room 322, and find there a middle-aged man lying dead with a dagger beside him.

Mona Netherwood, discovered in the corridor, identifies the. dead man as her father, Aaron Netherwood, an ex-actor who registered under the name of Light foot. She ivas about to visit him, she says.

People who come under suspicion are Sperring, a detective story writer, David Jefferson. Blaylon Anders, and Mr. and Mrs. Darling. All these people live in the hotel.

The fatal dagger is identified by Mona as having belonged to a collection of her father's.

That night Lillie and Muldrew und a policeman watch Room 322. The corridor lights are turned out. a wild laugh is heard, and a second dagger is found on the floor.

Mrs. Netherwood, wife of the murdered man, is found in the hotel under somewhat suspicious circumstances.

On the street, Lillie and Muldrew notice that Anders is being followed by Jefferson. Shadowing both, they are assailed and presently find themselves confined, with Jefferson, in an unknown building. Anders ieers at them. lutter, a masked man enters the room und utters the wild, horrible laugh that was heard in the hotel.

The three confined men hear a despairing voice that they think belongs to Mona ‘Netherwood. Jefferson, trying to escape, is caught and carried out of the room. Lillie loses consciousness and regains it on a golf course, where he finds himself at liberty. He meets Muldrew, who was set at liberty after he saw their unknown captors throw Jefferson off a high bridge into a river.

Investigating, the detective and the reporter learn that both Mona Netherwood and Jerry Inkerley have disappeared.

I HAD never seen Sparing like this. He was grave now rather than excited, and l realized how portentous this latest development looked to him. Throwing on coat and hat, he made for the door.

"Come on, Tiger, let’s get into the heart of this.”

“What what are you going to do?” 1 asked as we tore down the stairs.

"1 don’t know, but I’ve got to lx* doing something. What we're not going to do is wait for the police. You and I are going to find Inkerley and that Netherwood girl. ’Member what I said about that pair?”

At the office only Sid Newhall, our dramatic critic, was in the city room, and he could tell us nothing of the morning which we did not already know. But Sid had been working late the night before, when Jerry dropjxxi in. Some one had called the latter on the telephone, and Jerry had spoken excitedly into it. After he hung up he told Sid that Muldrew and 1 were waiting for him in the west end.

Sperring and I decided that no time must be lost.

"To Mrs. Netherwood’s,” he announced as we ran down the stairs.

“Why not to Muldrew?” 1 suggested.

He thought it a good idea. "But don’t tell him what we plan to do. Let us have our little triumphs.”

But Muldrew was not to be found. I left what information I had with the desk sergeant, and Sperring and I set out for the Netherwood home.

"Keep your mind open. Tiger." Sperring warned as we waited for his knock to be answered.

“I’ll want your unbiased impressions when it’s over. And, remember, nothing is impossible.”

Mrs. Netherwood was a different woman from the other times I had seen her. All her grimness and cunning had vanished, and in their place crowded fear. The steely eyes and set jaw were weak with the anxiety of a mother.

She had. as Sjierring suggested, told the police, and had been assured they were losing no time.

But she had little faith in them. Sperring never t<x)k his eyes from her as he talked.

“She’s gone,” the woman wailed. “I’ll never see Mona again.”

“Don’t you want to?” Sirring demanded sharply.

At the tone a glint of suspicion clouded her eyes. “What do you mean? Do you hint that—”

“A little faith would encourage the police.”

"But—but they’ve got her.”

“Who’s got her?”

“Why—why, the same ones that murdered her father.” “Yet you say you know nothing about the murder.”

Mrs. Netherwood’s hands iidgetted. “Of course I know* nothing, less than nothing.”

“Mrs. Netherwood, why should the murderer of your husband be interested in your daughter?”

The common sense of it struck her to an uneasy silence. Her story was that Mona had gone out the evening before to meet Jerry. Mrs. Netherwood had retired early and had not known until morning that her daughter had not returned.

And then I remembered those screams in the factory where we were captives. I knew right away they were Mona’s. But 1 managed to hold my tongue, though I boiled to speak.

Sperring informed her bluntly that Jerry Inkerley, too, had disappeared. To Mrs. Netherwood it seemed the last straw. She swayed, and a look of utter terror made me turn my face away.

Sperring was unmoved, but I couldn’t think her such an actress.

“Then it was with him she went,” Mrs. Netherwood sobbed. “They’ve gone together.”

Sperring hurled a question at her: “Mrs. Netherwood, did you or your daughter ever meet Mr. Inkerley lx*fore the murder?”

“No, never. We never even heard of him.”

“How do you account for the sudden intimacy of your daughter and him?”

"I don’t account for it. That’s my daughter’s business, anyway.”

“It’s every one’s business. How can you be sure of your daughter —you can't hope to know all her friends?”

"1 know as much as a mother could.”

“If only you'd be completely frank, Mrs. Netherwood,” he complained.

"I am frank. I’ll answer any question you ask.”

“It’s not so much answers as information we want.”

“You mean. I'm hiding something?” Her voice was low*.

“You’ve hidden much from the beginning. One thing: any affection for a husband you lived with for eighteen years. Another: those daggers.”

“I had no affection for him at the last,” she broke in. “He killed that when he left us. The daggers—that was foolish, but I knew it would sound so strange.”

“It does still. If you wish your husband’s murderer to be found, you’d better remember more.” Sperring said grimly.

We were getting nowhere, and Sperring gave it up. Either she knew nothing or was determined to conceal her knowledge. Sperring said nothing until we reached the street .car. Evidently he had counted on Mrs. Netherwood, and failure depressed him.

“I hate to admit it. Tiger, but at the moment I’m all at sea.”

I told him then of the screams w*e had heard, a point I had omitted in my first story. His eyes flashed.

“Tiger, it’s bottomless. We’d be wise to get out of it and leave it to Muldrew. But.” he added with a grin, “we’re neither of us wise, so let’s be a pair of asses together.”

At the Star office nothing had been heard of Jerry, and there Sperring left me. both of us unsettled and confused. But in Sperring’s manner I fancied I detected a certain satisfaction that events seemed to be supporting his latest theory.

I was in no mood to work. Sid Newhall had been put in temporary charge of the city room, but he made no attempt to dictate to me. My assignment from Jerry, not yet countermanded, placed me beyond the authority of a temporary successor. But the counterfeiters had faded from the picture, though I was prepared to revive them at a moment’s notice had Newhall attempted to give orders.

For half an hour I fussed at my desk, floundering among Sperring’s various theories and introducing some absurd ones of my own.

Through every phase of my mental peregrinations the Florence Hotel kept intruding. Everything centred about the hotel. Not only had Netherwood been killed there, but in the adjacent two rooms were guests who were justly under suspicion. It was plain that in some way the three men were connected, but whether as friends or enemies, or friends changed to enemies, I did not know. Their relationship

toward one another, apart from the actual murder itself, was one of the bewildering twists. During that day it was forced on me that Muldrew failed to give the hotel its proper consideration. So by night I had worked up an unbecoming doubt concerning him, a driving irritation that any clue should be neglected. Sperring, I felt, had anticipated us both.

It was not unnatural, therefore, that, with a free night before me, I wandered after dark along Markham Street in the general direction of the hotel. As I reached the corner the flashing electric sign wiped out any scruples I had and I made straight for the hotel, trying to convince myself that I was merely going to have a talk with Sperring.

Suddenly, I jerked to a stop. Ahead of me the upright electric sign threw to the quiet streets its intermittent message. And as my eyes dropped to the hotel entrance beneath, some one passed through the revolving door. It was but a fleeting glimpse, so swift that I could scarcely credit my eyes, but something more impressive than sight struck me with almost stunning effect —memory.

That figure, that curious projection of the head, chin first. It was the man who had held the torch the night before while Jefferson had fought for his life in the otherwise dark room against overwhelming odds.

I broke into a run. But in a moment I realized that to enter like that, to attempt to find the man. would only give the alarm. Even should 1 recognize him in the crowded rotunda, what could I do? Besides, the conditions under which I had seen him both times—a flashing, indefinite, indirect light—might have to be reproduced to enable me to recognize him again.

The difficulties 1 would face were increased by the fact that at least half a dozen other men entered the hotel before I reached it. I decided, therefore, to leave it to the police.

Seventy yards or so up the st reet , on the opposite side, a lighted show window promised what I sought, and there 1 hurried. A suspicious window dresser working after hours permitted me to use the telephone. But Muldrew was not at his house, and the night desk sergeant at the station could not help me.

But Inspector Armitage was at home, and he leaped into the affair.

“Keep the door in sight,” he ordered, “I’ll have half a dozen men down there in five minutes. No, on second thoughts, go into the lobby and take a seat where you can keep the room and the door under surveillance, without, of course, seeming to watch. I’ll have the place surrounded. A plainclothesman will go inside. You'll know him when he takes a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wipes his lips. He’ll turn to the right as he enters and sit down. Get in touch with him. as inconspicuously as you can, though it’s not important. By the way, you have your reporters’ badge? I’ll have to pick up what men are available, and they may not know you. In the meantime I’ll try and round up Muldrew.”

I returned to the hotel, thrilling to the task assigned me. Hammerton was not to be seen, and no one in the office looked my way as I seated myself to the right of the door. From an adjacent chair I retrieved an evening paper and buried myself in it, but gradually I let my eyes roam over the lobby.

It did not take long, in spite of the crowd, to convince myself of the hopelessness of the task I had foolishly assumed. No one in sight resembled in the faintest way the man I sought. All the time a thin line came and went through the revolving door, and I concentrated on the departures. As the time approached for the jiolice to be in place about the hotel, I was satisfied that the man I had seen enter had not gone out.

I had neglected to time the arrival of the police, but it seemed a week before a tall man in a derby hat entered, gave the required signal, and sat down not far from me. Seeing no reason for secrecy, I went to him.

“My name is Lillie,” I told him. At the same time I showed my badge.

He smiled a broad, welcoming smile and gras|>ed my hand like an old friend. We sat down.

He asked if I had spotted the man again, and in my reply he seemed to sense my uncertainty, for he examined me with quizzical, slightly surprised eyes.

“Well,” he said, “we’ll have to do our best. We’ll comb the hotel. Let me have a description of the fellow.”

I told him as much as I could, more and more uncomfortably aware how little it was, for, beyond that curious projection of the chin, my memory was nothing more than an impression.

“Smallish in size, you say,” he mused. “All right, I'll stop every smallish man in the place for a once over. There’s Hammerton coming now—near the elevator. Come on.”

We approached the counter. Hammerton eyed us in none too friendly a way. The plainclothesman leaned across the counter.

“Mr. Hammerton. you know me Flavelle, of the police department.” He showed his badge. “We’re looking for some one who entered this hotel about ten or twelve minutes

ago.

Hammerton frowned.

'In twelve minutes probably fifty have entered—and I haven’t an idea who or where they are. Apart from that, it’s absurdly easy.” His lip curled.

Flavelle remained unmoved. “Yes, of course. 1 realize the difficulty. There won’t be any more going out till we’re through. You understand?”

"What the devil?” Hammerton’s face went red. "Say. you'll ruin the hotel —”

“Not if you do your |>art with more grace, Mr. Hammerton.

1 want you to take Lillie from room to room. I'll stay down here and stop any one coming downstairs or in the elevator from going out. In fact, the doors will be guarded. And the quicker you get to work, the sooner the hotel will be open for the usual business.”

“But but,” Hammerton stammered furiously, “you can’t do that.”

“There’s another way,’’ Flavelle admitted suavely. “We can block the hotel for the hour or two it will take to get a warrant. If you prefer that .

“One moment,” Hammerton pleaded. "My wife is waiting for me. I’ll just telephone her.” I le returned to the inner office, but in a moment he was back. “It won't take long,” he said. “At this time of the night not a third of the guests are in their rooms.”

As a matter of fact he overestimated the proportion. On the first two floors not a dozen rooms were lighted. I Iammerton performed his part well. I acted the part of a fire inspector it would give me entrance to all the rooms and an opportunity to inspect the occupants. Only once or twice did we meet with opposition. One couple was already retiring, and we were delayed there for a minute or so.

In the midst of the second floor inspection, a floor maid intercepted us with a message that Hammerton was wanted in

the office. But he angrijy refused to leave. “Nothing down there more crowding than this.” he said.

But we had just started on the third floor—the floor I knew so well when another maid waylaid us with a similar request; and Hammerton, with an oath, ushered me to the linen room on that floor to wait out of sight until he found what was wanted. With some difficulty he found the switch and turned on the linen-room lights. He would, he promised, be back in a couple of minutes.

The room in which I was to wait interested me. Even for its busy and untidy purpose, it was inexcusably upset. The Florence, I decided, like so many "first-class” hotels, beneath the surface was frankly shocking. Three walls were lined with cupboards, the doors of which were for the most part left open, revealing a disarray of clean bedding hastily u>ssed in. The floor was cumbered with great cane clothes hampers, their contents overflowing to the floor. The table on which I seated myself was used for ironing. In a corner of the room, near the door, was a cumbersome electric ironer, banked about with clothes hampers.

Hammerton had closed me in when he left and I tried to interest myself in the contents of the room. Behind me, in the cabinet along the rear wall, two doors were closed, and I leaned across to learn the reason for such unwonted order. To my surprise*, they were empty.

But my surprise was greater when, as I jîeercd into them, there was a click somewhere at my back and the lights went out.

For a moment I sat where I was, listening.

A moment’s reflection told me that I had probably unwittingly wandered into the hiding place of a hotel thief who had taken advantage of my preoccupation to plan his escape.

I watched the door, assured by the line of light beneath it that no one could leave the room without my seeing him. For a time nothing happened; not so much as a sound.

I asked myself why I waited. Outside in the lighted corridor I was not only safer, but the unknown would have no chance of escape*.

I dropped from the table and made for the door, my flesh creeping with the continued stillness in the dark room.

“Who's there?” I demanded, more to tighten my courage than with hope of reply.

But reply there was in the shape of a pair of powerful arms that wrapped themselves about me and. before I could do more than gasp, whirled me from my feet. While still in mid-air my assailant’s hold shifted, and 1 realized that 1 was in the grip of a practised wrestler. The airplane spin. At the fourth revolution I was tcx> dizzy to reason; and then I was sent spinning, to drop in a pile of soiled bedding.

And as 1 sat, dizzy almost to nausea, the door opened and from somewhere far along the corridor came that wild, chuckling laugh.

That laugh, familiar now, more unnerving with each repetition, revived me as nothing else could. I staggered to the door. My assailant had fled toward the back stairs and I blundered in that direction. But. leaning over into the abyss of the well, I could hear nothing.

It was dark down there and 1 had sense enough not to go farther. I swayed back toward the other stairs. Just as I reached the copper dx>rs of the elevator. Hammerton emerged. At sight of me, bleary-eyed and unsteady, he stifled a cry.

"Some one was in there in the dark!” I stammered, holding my sick head in my hands.

He t(x»k hold of me, led me to an empty room, and helped me to the bed

“I’m all right.” 1 protested. “Just half a minute."

He sUxd over me. mouth open, waiting to ask a hundred questions.

"In there in the linen room some one in there?” he said. “Impossible!”

"Do I llt;x>k as if it’s impossible?” I growled.

“But you don’t mean some one attacked you in there.”

Without waiting for a reply, he started back to the corridor. The elevator man had followed and stood gaping in the doorway. Hammerton swept him aside and ordered him back to work. 1 got up and hurried to the corridor.

I lammerton had stopped before a d&lx>r, his ear to the keyhole. The number above the dix>r was 324 !

Hammerton sh&;x>k his head and. inserting his master key, opened the door. The room was in darkness. The light revealed nothing, and a frightened look came into his eyes.

“A plot.” he whispered, glancing fearfully about, “a plot from beginning to end. That call to the office was a fake— to get me away. It came from this room.” He began to prowl about. "I don’t like it, Lillie. I don’t like it. I haven't seen Mr. Anders since it must be early last night. The scoundrel !”

I knew what was in his mind. Anders had skipped without paying his bill—which, to me, was an offense of ludicrous unimportance compared with the other offenses I knew. One solitary suitcase remained, empty and open, and a couple of old magazines on the table.

Hammerton swore.

“Twenty-four dollars gone—and I don’t know how much for meals. His week was up tomorrow. Another of those fly-by-night rogues who make our lives miserable. I’m in for a hot time from the directorate—all these things going on. Netherwood owed me four days, and that Jefferson, he got into us for some more—that is, if he doesn’t show up again -and now this fellow'. A fine job having to treat bums like them as gentlemen.”

He sighed. “There’s only one thing to do—get that plainclothesman up here. That was no ordinary hotel thief who roughed it with you. Let’s go down and talk to Flavelle.”

Downstairs I told the whole story as I knew it, and Flavelle lost no time.

VALENTINE WILLIAMS has written a haunting, gripping, mystery tale for our Christmas issue—a tale of a black-gowned ghost-woman, a shot in the night, and the untangling of a perplexing problem. Look for

“¿Blind Guess”

By way of contrast, a gay and festive Yuletide story

“15he ¿[{oad to ”

By MARTHA BANNING THOMAS

And a host of other seasonable stories and articles.

Maclean’s, December 15th

“Lock that front door, Hammerton. I’ll get in a constable and go through the place myself with him and Lillie.”

Hammerton groaned but did as he w*as ordered. I went outside with Flavelle to complete his plans. Police were everywhere about. We passed around to the back entrance.

It was the guard stationed there who upset everything. Some one had rushed out that wray a few minutes before, showm a reporters’ badge, and hurried away. 1 grabbed my lapel. My badge was gone !

W/ITH a snarl of disgust, Flavelle raised the siege. The ** only conclusion to come to was that the man we sought had, by some mischance, taken refuge in the very linen room where I had gone to wait for Hammerton, and had robbed me of my badge and effected his escape with it.

How had he got upstairs without being seen? Hammerton gave the staff a hot few minutes in hunting for the answer. What had the fellow' in mind to do on the third floor—the important third floor? But—and this puzzled me more than anything else—how had he contrived to light on the one possible pass that would let him through the police cordonmy badge?

That he was a cool rogue was proved by his manner of escape. He had flipped his lapel in the face of the solitary policeman stationed at the back door and whispered that he was hurrying to report to the inspector from an outside telephone. Whether he answered my description of the wanted man or not was impossible to determine, since the

lane was too dark for details—and my own description too indefinite.

When Flavelle departed with his men, disgruntled and forlorn, and, I imagined, contemptuous of me and my share in the excitement, I remembered Sperring and went up to his room. But he wras out. Lacking anything better to do, I took a seat in the lobby to await his return.

But the first acquaintance of mine to enter the lobby of the Florence Hotel was not Sperring but Gordon Muldrew. Entering unobtrusively, he dropped into the nearest chair and drew a newspaper from his pocket. From my shadowed corner, I watched him in none too happy a mood. I wanted badly to see Sperring before I was forced to explain to Muldrew.

If concealment was his aim he failed, for in a very few minutes Hammerton strolled across the lobby and sat down beside him. Throwing aside my own uneasiness, I joined them. Hammerton was telling the story, angry and protesting, and Muldrew heard him through sympathetically. At the end he simply said:

“There was a murder here, Hammerton.” For once Hammerton was subdued ; but he had other troubles.

“There’s more than that. Anders and Jefferson have skipped out. Jefferson’s stuff is still up in his room, and I’m pinching it to hold against his bill. But we never make up for what they owe, these bill jumpers. And there’s still more: This attack on Lillie up in the linen room disturbs me. Not a thing missing anywhere. I’m beginning to think he was after something else; something to do with the Netherwood murder, for instance.” The stealing of my badge had not been mentioned to Hammerton, and I had said nothing about that chuckling laugh, partly because I thought it must be fancy, nerves. Suddenly Hammerton stirred and made a furtive movement with his hand.

“There! Look at that man. Another mystery.”

A tall, well-proportioned man had pushed through the revolving door and, after a lazy glance about the lobby, passed on to the elevator and ascended.

“See that fellow?” Hammerton whispered excitedly. “Now watch. In a minute or two another big fellow will come down in the elevator and go out. They have Room 308. Rather, that one who came in has it—it’s registered in his name. The other one is only a friend. Wait.”

We didn’t have to wait long. Almost as he stopped speaking, a second tall man stepped from the elevator and hurried to the street without looking around.

“Well?” Muldrew asked.

“Yeah,” Hammerton grumbled, “they look respectable and all that. But one of them is always in the room, and they don’t let any one else in, not even the maids. They keep the d&;x)r locked. I’ve sent a maid up twice hxlay on one excuse or another, but they just open the door a crack and say they’re in need of nothing. I don’t like the looks of it.”

“Not so very long ago.” Muldrew reminded him. "you indignantly objected to any curiosity about the whims of your guests. I notice now —”

“Sure! It’s different now. Ever since that murder I’m as suspicious as the deuce. But this time—well, you see, they’re on the third floor. That’s what makes it so much worse. Anyway, I thought you’d better know.”

Muldrew thanked him, and sat for a time in deep thought.

"If you can give us nothing more substantial than that, I’m afraid we can’t help you. But a word of warning — don’t do anything more to make them think you’re suspicious. Give them all the rope they want; it’s the only way to catch these people.”

“Well,” Hammerton said doubtfully, “as long as you’re satisfied ...”

“Here’s Sperring,” I announced, jumping to my feet.

Sperring had just entered. He did not see us but crossed to the news stand and was in the act of purchasing a magazine when I touched him on the shoulder. He welcomed me with the genial smile I had come to expect. At sight of Muldrew it broadened, and the four of us sat for a time talking.

“You look as if your day’s work is done.” he said to Muldrew, teasing in his gentle way. "I’m sure it’s wellearned rest. Any arrests today?”

“I’ll look up the records if it interests you,” Muldrew returned in like tone. “I’ve made none myself.”

“Dear me.” Sperring took the cigarette I offered. “Life must be dull. However, I tell Hammerton that, sooner or later, the world congregates in the rotunda of the Florence Hotel. If we sit long enough here we’re bound to see things.” He yawned and excused himself. “1 don't seem to have slept

Continued on page 36

Continued from page 22

j a wink since night before last. Part of the 'blame goes to Tiger here: he keeps me thinking.”

1 le grinned modestly.

“Anyway, looks as if I’m going to be forced to get away from the atmosphere of murder about this hotel. Sorry, Hammerton,” as Hammerton started to protest, Muldrew looked at me. and I told something of what had happened. It interested Sperring so keenly that he could not keep still. He appealed to Muldrew:

“Can’t you lighten this burden of mystery enough to give me something to get my teeth into?”

Muldrew smiled companionably.

“Let me have some of your fancies, Sperring. ” He spoke indifferently, but I knew he was pleading for something to get i his own teeth into.

I Sperring hesitated, then, with an apolo! getic glance at Hammerton, he said:

“I’m going to be frank. I believe this hotel is mixed up in it.”

Though I had thought so myself,

¡ Hammerton was unprepared for it and he i resented it hotly. Sperring explained: j “It has nothing to do with you personally, Hammerton. I don't even suggest that the ! hotel had any other connection except that it has been used for the gang headquarters.” “What gang?”

It was Muldrew who explained. Hammerton insisted that it was impossible. that between Netherwood. Anders and Jefferson there had never been, to his knowledge, more than a dozen words.

But Sperring, with unusual spirit for one whose theories and deductions changed so readily, stuck to his guns.

“That’s their cleverness; that’s how they covered their tracks.”

j “What about them being the counterfeiters we’ve been after so long?” I ventured.

Sperring seized it eagerly.

“Gosh, Tiger, that beats me by a mile, and a dozen times more likely.”

“Too great.” Muldrew sighed. “Things don’t fall our way like that.”

But Sperring had got hold of an entertaining idea and was reluctant to let it go.

“Netherwood could play many rôles—a Government agent, for instance. But you’re more concerned with the who than the why. You want to know who murdered Aaron Netherwood; I want to know why and how.”

“If we knew the why,” Muldrew retorted dryly, “we’d have less trouble with the who. We work from the motive to the culprit.” “Unless,” Sperring qualified, “you saw a man struck down. Here was a man stabbed in his own room, if not before your eyes, before your ears. The occupants of the two adjoining rooms vamoose, and under suspicious circumstances—”

“By the way,” Hammerton broke in, “that couple in 325, the Darlings, they left suddenly this morning.”

Muldrew was interested.

“Where did they go?” he asked. When Hammerton said he didn’t know, Muldrew said: “Did they have a car?”

Hammerton thought they did. They had registered from Montreal, but beyond that, Hammerton knew nothing of them. A significant feature of it was that they had come within a day or two of Anders.

Sperring’s mind leaped to every incident we knew in connection with the couple.

“It was they who gave Anders such a good reputation—an alibi when the lights went out, wasn’t it? And they hadn’t noticeably friendly feelings toward Miss Netherwood, I seem to remember.” Muldrew made a few notes in his book. “The connection of the gang with the murder,” Sperring went on, “is plain enough.

They robbed you of your keys. Mr. Muldrew - and not to get into any vault you may have. I take it. The fact is. they’re after Rcxim 322. Am I mad? I think not.”

He smiled delightedly at the start Muldrew gave. Muldrew, I saw, was playing a game, but I could only imagine it the mask of a perplexed man. Sperring was talking.

“Not just the dream of a writer. For some substantial reason, the murderer of Aaron Netherwood wants badly to get back into that room.”

Muldrew confessed that it was possible. Sperring accompanied us to the corner of Ninth Avenue and left us to proceed along Orchard Street, while he struck north toward Markham Street.

Muldrew was unusually silent.

For a time we followed the course Jefferson and Anders had led us the night before,

At Eighteenth Avenue he turned south. “But,” I protested, "we didn’t turn here last night.”

“Eh, what?” All the time he had had no thought of finding the factory; he had even forgotten my existence. ‘‘Oh. I’ve changed my mind.”

I KNEW better than to be inquisitive. If Muldrew thought our next move thrilling, it would certainly suit me. Within three minutes I knew we were returning to the Florence Hotel. A thought came to me.

‘‘By the way, Gordy, what about those two men in 308 that Hammerton is so worked up about? Anything in that?”

He admitted that there might be.

“But not from anything Hammerton told us. Just now he’s in a fine fever about everything that goes on at the hotel — something of a change from what threatened to block us.at the time of the murder. Why shouldn’t a man keep his room to himself for a day without a maid poking about? Of course if it continued—”

‘‘Yet you had a few tilings to say about Hammerton's lack of curiosity about Netherwood when he put a new Yale lock on his door.”

‘‘That’s different,” he returned, and I had sense enough not to ask how. A moment later he slapped me on the shoulder. “Fact is. Tiger, I’m curious about those two men in 308. I haven’t mentioned it because I’ve been curious about so-many features of this case that have disappointed me. We’re on our way right now to take a peep into this worry of Hammerton’s. Great advertisement, isn’t it?” We had rounded back into Orchard Street at Tenth Avenue and for a moment we stood watching the flashing hotel sign.

“Does it seem to you to be working faster. Gordy, or do my eyes or my nerves deceive me?”

Muldrew continued to watch.

“It is faster -or perhaps my nerves are extra sensitive tonight.

We established ourselves on the very spot where we had stood the night of the murder, the dark end of the lane from which the victim’s cries had sent us running.

I worked forward to the mouth of the lane and peered about. For a few seconds the flashing light blinded me. Then I grabbed my friend’s arm.

“Look! There’s some one in Netherwood’s room.”

For. against the flare of the electric sign.

1 had distinctly caught a glimpse of movement in the dark square that was still the open window of Rcxim 322.

Muldrew leaned forward, but nothing more. I looked up at him. He was chuckling.

“Oh,” I said, disappointed and annoyed, “so you’ve given the rcxim back to the hotel?”

“Not likely. Tiger.” Then I saw that behind the twinkling eyes he was greatly excited. “Far from it. That special Yale lock to which I alone have the key is still on the door and in good working order.” “Then some one has broken in.”

“Think so?” he asked.

“Why don’t you nab the fellow? It must be Anders—certainly one of the gang.” “You’re right, it must be,” he agreed

but almost indifferently. A moment later he partly explained. “Yes. one of the gang. But it’s not the gang we're after; it’s the murderer of Aaron Netherwood. Suppose I made a capture in the room right now. Would it give me the proof I want? But I wouldn’t capture any one. 1 haven't a chance to nab him. He can get out a dozen times before I’d get there. All he has to do is to spring the Yale lock."

“But.” 1 puzzled, “you put that lock on for the express purpose of—’’

“It has served its purpose. Tiger. Don’t worry; it has doubly served its purpose. Did you see enough of the intruder to recognize him?”

Of course I hadn’t.

“The fellow who manhandled you in the linen room -did you recognize anything about him?” he enquired.

“I wish.” I returned bitterly, “some one would give you the spin and flop you in a pile of dirty bed linen.”

“Your wrestler and I are bound to meet.” he replied.

“Are you so afraid of him that you won’t make a rush for him now?”

“Perhaps. Afraid of something. Afraid of missing what there might be to see here. For instance, if he should come to the | window again. No, Tiger, I’m not going to j do a thing—except stand right here, farther j out of sight.”

Yet. as the seconds passed, he grew more j and more uneasy.

Suddenly he seemed to reach a decision. Seizing my arm. he dragged me back into the lane and we hurried along behind the Orchard Street stores to Ninth Avenue. The light there, as he peered into the street, told me that his worry had become something like alarm. With a gesture to me to follow he strolled across Ninth Avenue, and in a dark doorway close to the corner we took our stand.

It was a carefully chosen spot. The entire front of the Florence Hotel was within sight, as well as the Ninth Avenue end of the lane that ran behind the hotel and into which the back door of the hotel opened; while we ourselves were in shadow. 1 remembered. t(K), that the lane behind the hotel was blind at the other end.

We must have been there fifteen minutes, and Muldrew was in a fever comparable with my own. Audibly and visibly he fretted, pacing the limits of our shelter, constantly looking at his watch, grumbling incoherently. I said nothing, partly because I knew anything I might say would only add to his irritation; partly because 1 was busy trying to work out what it was all about.

“Perhaps,” he grunted, “we’re t(x> late. They’ll work quickly. They have to now.”

Suddenly his strong fingers closed on my shoulder and his body stiffened. Up Ninth Avenue, close to the stores under that side of the hotel, a man was sliding along in the shadow toward the corner.

I blinked. “He wasn’t there a moment ago,” I whispered. “Where did he come from?”

“From the lane behind the hotel,’’ Muldrew replied; but I knew from his tone that he was none too certain.

At the corner the man came under the light, but it did not reach his face. He was roughly dressed, like a workman, with the round-shouldered, shuffling gait of a man ending a weary day. Under one arm he carried a parcel done up in old blue overalls. Probably an electrician. 1 thought. The width of Orchard Street and a few more feet lay between us. so that nothing of his features was visible in the shadow of an old felt hat.

I concentrated on him, but in no line could I detect a resemblance to any of the gang I had seen during our captivity. Certainly he was not the smallish man with the protruding chin, who had held the torch during the fight with Jefferson.

“It's not he,” I whispered.

Muldrew nodded. The workman turned the corner westward on Orchard Street. We stepped from our dark doorway and prepared to follow.

To be Continued