The Third Man: The First in a New Series of Detective Stories
THEY sat around the table at the Bohemian Club—Brandon Bracey, Saunderson, the shortstory writer, Denton Briggs, broker and plunger, and Perry Robbins, a newspaper man, Bracey, as usual, was expounding. Bracey was a man of about thirty-five, brilliant and incisive, but incurably lazy.
And, like all lazy men, he had a brainful of theories.
“You’ve all heard that an expert on forms of animal life can take a single bone of an extinct species and, even if he has never heard of the animal before, construct the whole carcase again,” he was saying, with his peculiar stuttering rapidity. “Well, its true enough. What’s more, given a perfect section of anything it is possible to reconstruct the whole. I contend that a fragment of canvas torn from a painting in which the artist has observed the laws of balance and color harmony absolutely would provide all that was needed for a perfect reproduction of the picture. Give me the cards played in the first two rounds of a game of bridge between four perfect players and I’ll figure out exactly how the rest of the cards are distributed.”
“How about crime?” queried Robbins. “Does a single clue provide the means of bringing out the complete facts?”
“I was coming to that,” said Bracey with the impatience of a raconteur who has been forestalled in his climax. “The rule applies more particularly to crime than to anything else. General opinion to the contrary, life proceeds along well defined paths. Certain causes create certain effects. Under certain circumstances, the human mind works in certain ways. Every incident in a person’s life, even the most trivial, can be used as an X-ray to plumb into the recesses of that person’s mind and past life.
Given a clue, a single fragment forms a series of incidents leading up to a crime, and the close student of crime psychology can reconstruct the whole story.”
“You’re making some pretty broad statements and taking even more for granted than usual in your theorizing to-night, Bracey,” said Saunderson.
“I’m not giving you theories to-night,” answered Bracey. “I’m giving you facts.” “Then,” demanded Robbins, “why do so many crimes go undetected? Why don’t the police hire a few competent reconstructers and hand over the clues to them on all cases? According to your way of putting it, a police force is unnecessary. All we need is a staff of crime professors and a crew of rough-necks to make arrests as directed.”
“Crimes go undetected because there
are only three men in the world capable of doing as I have said,” answered Bracey. “One is Swinton, the Englishman. France contributes another in Paul Dufere. The third is—well, perhaps the most peculiar American that ever lived.”
A pause ensued. “Go on,” said Robbins, finally. “You don’t suppose we intend to let you off at that, do you? If what you say is true, we simply insist upon full details.”
“You won’t make a feature story out of what I tell you?” demanded Bracey of Robbins. “You promise to treat the whole thing as strictly confidential?” The
others nodded. Very well, then. The third man lives in three small rooms in a part of the city where perhaps none of you have ever penetrated. He is short-sighted and hard of hearing. For days at a time he never leaves his rooms. He is the laziest and most sedentary of men. But the physical strength and energy that he lacks is made up for by his wonderful power of mental reasoning. When the police get lost on an important case, they go to Anson Hogarth. He never goes out on a case himself. If the information collected by the police is accurate, he can solve the case for them in nine cases out of ten, but he can never be tempted to go out to investigate a case himself. In fact, he might prove a failure as an investigator. He is peculiarly constructed to pass on the evidence collected by others and find the logical conclusions arising therefrom.” “You may be inclined to scoff at what I am going to tell you,” went on Bracey. “As a matter of fact, I have gone a little into the detective business for myself lately—purely for the interest that attaches to it, you understand. I’ve worked on several cases, as a sort of investigating associate with Anson Hogarth. I verify the police reports and gather such material as I may discover myself and then turn the facts over to Hogarth. Remember the Davis case, any of you? The police worked on that for ten days without getting any closer to a solution than they were at first. On the eleventh day, the whole thing was suddenly cleared up. Then there was the Harland diamond robbery, the Dickie flat shooting affair and the murder of Cecilia Burns. Hogarth solved them all—with the assistance of your humble servant.”
A waiter approached Denton Briggs-at this point with the information that Mr. John Carson wanted him on the telephone. Briggs got to his feet with ! an alacrity and hurried to the ’phone. The name of John Carson, present head of the famous banking and security house of Kelvie and Carson was one to conjure with.
In a minute he returned. “Sorry, but I must leave you,” he announced. “Just made an appointment, but I’ll be back in an hour’s time. Save the rest of your story until then, Bracey, I’m immensely interested.”
AT 8.47 the next morning, Ephraim Rogers, for twenty-five years private secretary to John Carson, entered the offices of Kelvie and Carson, and found
that, as usual, he was the first to arrive. He shook the snow from his old-fashioned greatcoat and hung it methodically on its accustomed peg. With the decorous lack of haste that characterized all his movements, he opened the door leading into the private office of Mr. Carson, and stepped within. The next instant, with a wild cry, he dashed out again, arms elevated with agitation, face distended with alarm.
“Robbers!” he shouted. “Thieves! The safe’s been broken into!”
Two clerks who had entered directly after him took up the alarm and in a few moments the whole building was in a state of uproar. “I’ll telephone the police,” said one of the clerks, but was promptly checked by the secretary who remembered office regulations even in the midst of his mental upset. “Nothing must be done until Mr. Carson has been notified,” said Rogers, decidedly. Accordingly, he called up the apartments of the president and received the startling information that Mr. Carson had left there early the previous evening and had not since returned.
“’E went to the club, sir,” said the president’s man, who had answered the ’phone. “I expected ’im back early sir, and when ’e didn’t come, I telephoned the club. They said as Mr. Carson ’ad left there, sir.”
The secretary spent an anxious quarter •of an hour endeavoring to locate his superior. In the end he gave it up and reluctantly broke the sacred office regulations by summoning the police. Two brisk plainclothesmen answered the summons promptly.
Rogers showed them into the private office and pointed out the safe in a corner, with its massive •door yawning wide open.
“Know what was in it?” asked one of the detec-
“Yes,” replied Rogers.
“Then find out if anything is missing.”
Rogers went down on his knees before the safe and examined its contents thoroughly. At the conclusion of his search he rose stiffly, with a puzzled look on his
“All that’s missing is a bundle of papers relating to some litigation,” he said. “Mr. Carson was intending to go into that matter to-day. It’s very strange.”
“Anything o f value left?”
“Anything of value?” said Rogers almost incredulously. “It would be difficult to compute the value of what that safe contained.”
The second detective had been conducting a minute examination of the room. Now he paused before the swivel chair which the president used and pointed a knotty finger at a stain on one corner.
“Blood,” he remarked in a matter of fact tone. “Been a shindy in here. Chair’s been shoved back and swung around.”
“Right, Shannon,” said the other who appeared to be the senior. “Waste basket been shoved over behind that dictating machine.”
Here, Rogers who had become quite pale, volunteered the information that Mr. Carson had left his apartments early the night before and had not since been heard of.
“It’s the first time it’s occurred in twenty years,” he added. “He’s very methodical, is Mr. Carson.”
The detectives exchanged a quick glance that betokened an awakening interest in the possibilities of the case.
“I’ll take the office force, Shannon,” said the senior briskly. “You get hold of the janitor of the building.”-
The members of the staff were put through a close grilling at the hands of Corley, the senior detective, but no information of value was obtained. At 5.15 the preceding evening, Rogers himself had locked the safe, Mr. Carson having left as usual at 5.10. By half-past five the secretary had turned the key in the outer office after the last member of the staff had gone. None of the staff had
returned until the usual hour in the morning.
Shannon had better success with the janitor, however. The latter, an industrious but not overly bright Swede, remembered having seen Mr. Carson enter the building and walk up the two flights of stairs to the offices of Kelvie and Carson about eight o’clock the night before. He, the janitor, had been busy sweeping out the offices on the first floor at the time. About ten minutes after, another person had entered the building and mounted the stairs, although the janitor had not seen him. In half an hour one of the two had come down the stairs at a sharp gait and left the building. Twenty minutes after, a third party had come in —his step had sounded different from the other two, so the janitor was sure it was not the second man returning—and had mounted hurriedly to the Kelvie and Carson floor. The janitor’s acquaintance with the events of the evening ended there as he had then made his way to the cellar to attend to the fires and had not heard or seen anything further.
The detectives secured assistance from headquarters and a thorough effort to find the missing Mr. Carson was instituted. All the likely clubs and the homes of acquaintances were called up. Homes and hospitals were visited. After two hours of systematic search, the only information the police had gleaned was to the effect that the missing man had dined and had last been seen at the Pilgrim’s Club, leaving there about 7.45 in a taxicab.
Despite the frantic efforts of Rogers to keep the matter under cover, the newspapers soon got the “story.” Specials were on the street at 10.30 and Rogers groaned as he read in scarehead type: “Millionaire Banker Missing! John Carson visits his office last evening and mysteriously disappears—safe found open and valuable papers missing— Absolutely no trace of the wealthy banker found — Police nonplussed.” The papers went on to recite the intimate details of the daily life of the missing banker. John Carson was about fifty-five years of age and had never married. Hemaintained sumptuous apartments in the Belvidere, with one man-servant who had been in his employ for over twenty years.
A quiet man of extremely methodical habits, Carson had never taken an active part in anything outside of his business. The collection of curios was his one hobby and recreation. His apartments at the Belvidere were literally crammed with costly odds and ends gathered from the four ends of the earth.
“What will he say!” groaned Rogers, who knew that publicity of any kind was highly repugnant to the millionaire banker. “If he comes back,” he added.
At twelve o’clock another special was put out, this time with a piece of news that had seemed to the editors to warrant something really extra special in the way of dreadnought type. “Was John Carson Murdered?” read the top line which reached across the full width and a third way down the page. The new development thus featured was the finding of a pedestrian who had seen a man emerge from the building in which the Kelvie and Carson offices were located, carrying another man in his arms. This had been, so far as the pedestrian could judge, about 8.45.
The inert figure had been carefully deposited in a waiting automobile which had then driven away. It had been too dark to notice the parties particularly, but the one who carried the other out had managed his load with great difficulty.
Further developments occurred during the day. On being examined, Rogers gave it out that the papers missing from the safe referred to litigation of a rather serious character pending between the firm of Kelvie and Carson and Mr. Denton Briggs, a stock broker, famous for his daring market speculations. Pressed further, Rogers acknowledged that Mr. Briggs had become deeply involved with Kelvie and Carson and had endeavored to extricate himself by questionable means. The missing papers had contained full information as to the transaction and also proofs of Briggs’ duplicity.
Working on this clue, the police soon fell upon other information. Briggs had received a telephone message from Carson at the Bohemian Club about 7.45 or thereabouts and had left immediately to keep an appointment with the missing man, promising a party of friends to return in an hour’s time. He had not returned.
More information was readily obtainable after that. It was found that, starting about ten o’clock, Briggs had visited several fashionable cafes and had wound up at a cabaret in a condition of almost complete intoxication, being finally taken home by two acquaintances.
Under the circumstances, the chief of the detective staff felt justified in requesting the presence of Mr. Briggs at headquarters to answer a few questions. Briggs, who had been nursing a morningafter head in bed, rose at the summons and followed a detective to headquarters where, not having seen the specials, he was staggered to learn that he was suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of John Carson and the robbing of his safe. While Briggs was detained at headquarters, Corley and Shannon conducted a thorough search of his apartments. As a result of their examination, they found certain papers which
Rogers identified as among those abstracted from the safe.
When Briggs, dazed and almost speechless, was allowed to return to his apartments, an officer accompanied him. “I’m to stay right here till this matter’s cleared up,” the latter informed him. “Orders from the chief.”
“All right!” assented Briggs. “Make yourself at home.”
A T three o’clock that afternoon, Bracey received an urgent telephone message from Briggs, requesting him to come up to the latter’s apartments. He complied without delay and was surprised to find the broker’s living-room occupied by a heavy-built man in rough tweeds, who favored him on his entrance with a suspicious and belligerent stare.
“Meet my friend, Mr. Alfred Brophy,” said Briggs, with a half-rueful, halfquizzical smile. “Mr. Brophy is attached to the detective force. I’m not exactly under arrest, but if I attempted to leave my room I rather suspect Mr. Brophy would have something to say on the subject.”
“You’ve guessed it,” said the detective, gruffly.
“The Carson case?” asked Bracey. “Rather thought they would drag you into it.”
“Do you know,” said Briggs, “they talk as though they thought I murdered the old gentleman. And the worst of it is, there appears, on the surface, to be really some grounds for thinking so. It’s a rotten mess. It’ll be cleared up in no time, of course, but in the meantime, it’s rather uncomfortable for me.”
' “The papers are going for you,” said Bracey. “By the way, I suppose you’ve told your side of it to the police. Mind repeating it for me?”
“There’s really nothing to tell,” declared Briggs. “As you know, I got a call at the Bohemian Club to go over to Mr. Carson’s office to talk over this business matter the papers are making so much fuss about. I went over and found Carson all alone in the office. We talked the matter over and finally decided on a settlement without letting it go to the courts. Carson took the papers from the safe and returned certain ones to me, in accordance with the agreement we had reached. We then shook hands, and I left him. The thing has been hanging over my head for some weeks and I felt so good at getting it settled that I started out and got lit up by way of celebration. That’s all I know about it. In the meantime, somebody seems to have entered the office and knocked the old boy on the head and carried the body off. The papers all disappear and some are found in my rooms. It looks nasty for me. I’ll admit that. But what I’ve told you is nothing but the truth —and it’s the whole truth.”
“What I wanted to see you about is this,” he went on. “This mysterious third man you were telling us about last night; could he be persuaded to concentrate his mind on the case? I’m like a drowning man clutching at straws. The police seem
content to accept me as the goat and, unless someone else gets started on the case, they may succeed in fastening it on me after all. Surely the case is strange enough to be worth the attention of your arm-chair magician?”
“I’ll try him,” promised Bracey. “Don’t worry, Briggs. It’s a nasty mess, as you say, but even as it stands, there’s no case against you. There isn’t any proof yet that anything has happened to Carson. If I can get Hogarth interested, he should clear the case up without difficulty. It will mean some investigation on my part first, though.”
At 6.15 Bracey returned to the apartments of his friend and handed a note to the detective.
“Orders from the chief,” he explained. Then to Briggs: “Blockade raised. You’re a free man once more. Come along to dinner with me and I’ll explain it all to you.” “What about John Carson?”
“Found,” explained Bracey with characteristic brevity. “Quite alive, but not exactly well. Hurry along, I’m hungry.”
A FTER a substantial order for dinner ^ had been placed, Bracey began his
“If Saunderson and Robbins were here, I would be inclined to crow over them a little. I gave Hogarth a single clue—one that the police had overlooked, by the way —and he reconstructed the whole story from it. It was quite a simple problem, he told me; in fact, he seemed rather annoyed that he had been bothered with so transparent a case. It looked simple enough—after he had explained it.
“Well, anyway, here’s the whole story. I got permission from the police to visit the office of Carson which, I found, had been left quite undisturbed. I quickly verified the various points made by the police. The safe contained many papers of very great value but nothing had been even disturbed with the exception of the bundle relating to yourself. I made a map of the room, showing the exact position of everything, desk, the telephone on the desk, chair, dictating machine and waste basket. In doing this, I picked up the clue that the police had overlooked. A fresh record was on the machine and only a few lines had been dictated. Now Carson is the most methodical man alive. He clears up his day’s work before leaving the office every night. It was quite contrary to his invariable practice to leave a record unfinished on the machine. A natural assumption was that he had sta'rted to dictate during his evening visit and had been interrupted. I reversed the machine and copied down what had been dictated, finding that my assumption was quite right. Carson had started to dictate a letter to his lawyer, after finishing his talk with you. The words on the record were as follows:
My Dear Hartney:
I have disregarded your advice and settled the whole matter with Denton Briggs along the lines previous-
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ly discussed with you. I did not care to be hard on him and in addition felt much adverse to the publicity entailed in dragging the case through the courts. It had been my intention to go into the matter with you and Briggs to-morrow. I cannot postpone the trial I have told you of, however.
I was told this evening that an hour’s delay might make it too late. As you could not reach me then in any way,
I had Briggs meet me here to-night. He has just left. In an hour—
“That was all the information I could get for Hogarth,” went on Bracey. “He took the paper on which I had copied the dictated message and the map, and retired to his study. In twenty-five minutes by actual count, he came out and said rather sharply: ‘You are not an apt pupil, Bracey, or you wouldn’t have found it necessary to bother me with this ABC problem. There has been no murder, no robbery, no abduction. In fact, nothing. Tell the police to send to the sanitarium of Dr. Simon Orville, and they will find John Carson there?’
“Later, when the police had followed the tip and had found that Carson was really at the sanitarium, and likely to stay
there for some time, I went back to see Hogarth and got his version of the case. I’ll tell you in my own words how he worked it out.
“The message dictated cleared the j whole thing up as far as you yourself were concerned. Carson had started to dictate as soon as you had left. This was necessary as it was clear he did not intend to return to the office next day. The j authenticity of the message was further | confirmed by the condition in which the | safe was found. Further, as the necessary papers had been removed without j the other contents in any way being disj turbed, it was certain that the safe had j been opened by some one thoroughly familiar with its contents. Taken in conjunction with the message left on the | record, these facts made it absolutely cer[ tain that Carson had himself opened the safe and removed the papers. The interruption, whatever it might be, had come ; before he had time to close the safe and j after you had left.
“Now as to the nature of the interrupt tion, it becomes clear on first consideration of the facts that it came suddenly for, not only was the safe left open but the letter was broken off in the middle of a
sentence. The blood stain on the chair and the disappearance of Carson would seem to point to violence but there were other facts which did not bear this suggestion out. The power on the dictating machine had not only been turned off, but the mouthpiece had been replaced. No man subjected to a sudden attack would think of so trivial a detail as the stopping of a machine. Further proof on that score will be adduced later on. The only alternative was a sudden attack of some sickness. Supposing that he was suddenly seized with an attack commencing with a spell of dizziness. A man like Carson, who has lived by set rules all his life on feeling an attack of this kind coming on would, from force of habit, shut down the power and replace the speaking tube. But there is further proof that it was just such an attack that came upon him. His desk ’phone was found almost on the edge of the desk, the wire being stretched tight across the top. This I had shown on the map. It was clear that, having left his machine on the first indication of a spell coming on, Carson had seized the ’phone. After getting his message through, the attack had come on violently, for he had fallen before he could put the ’phone back in place. In falling he had dragged it with him as far as it would go, this accounting for the curious position in which it was found. The fall had brought his head in contact with the edge of his chair and made a small cut—the smallness of the stain evidencing that the injury had not been a severe one.
“This may not all seem clear or entirely justified by the facts. Let me prove it by the time-honored Euclidian method. No other solution will fit the facts. It is clear that the interruption left him time to close off his machine and use the ’phone. If it were someone with hostile intent breaking in, it is doubtful if he would have had time for that. But if the interruption had come from a hostile intruder and if he had found time, his ’phone message would undoubtedly have been for the police. And we know, of course, that no message was received by the police. The suggestion of assault is therefore eliminated.
“That Carson actually used the ’phone is borne out by the evidence of the janitor who heard a third man ascend the steps to the office about twenty minutes after Briggs had left it. It must have been only a few minutes after Briggs’ departure that the attack came on. 'If Carson at once telephoned, the party appealed to would lose no time in getting to him. But even taxicabs cannot transport a person through a city in the winking of an eye like the magic carpet and, under ordinary circumstances, it would probably take nearly half an hour to reach the office. You remember also that the janitor said the third arrival mounted the stairs ‘hurriedly.’ Finding Carson stretched on the floor, one of the first impulses of the new arrival would be to summon assistance. Unfortunately, the janitor had retired to the lower regions of the building to tend the fires and could not, therefore, be reached. Accordingly the man summoned had to carry the unconscious banker downstairs.
“Now, who would the party thus sum-
xnoned be? Carson had made it clear that j be intended leaving that night for a trial •of some kind. In view of what happened in the office it is reasonable to assume that he meant the trial of some new treatment for the disease from which he had been | suffering. Seized in this sudden way, he j would naturally summon his doctor. He bad probably already made an appointment, for you remember he referred to something that was to happen in an hour.
“When Hogarth had reached this stage | in his line of reasoning all that was left j for him to do was to find who the doctor in the case was. This might seem a hopeless task or a very easy one. Would not I a man under such circumstances at once | call up his family physician or the doctor | who had been treating him last? Such j seems logical, but in that case the family physician would take him at once to his home or a hospital. No family physician would carry the patient away and fail to •come forward with any information when the whole city was ringing with the mystery of the disappearance. Further, the police had questioned Carson’s valet on this point and had secured a list of doctors who had treated the millionaire in the past. Each one had been seen and professed complete ignorance of the ocj •currence.
“This threw the whole question open. The doctor summoned might have been any one of a thousand, or so it might j seem at first thought. But a man of CarI son’s wealth would be certain to consult I a specialist and again the nature of the -attack defined the class of specialist he would be likely to consult. This limited the number of possibilities still further.
“But after all, the salient fact in determining the identity of the physician was the fact that both doctor and patient ; had disappeared as off the face of the j •earth. Clearly Carson had been borne off J to some institution—he had expected to go—but what hospital or sanitarium was ! there so far removed from the outside | world that no word of a sensation such as that created by the disappearance of John Carson, would penetrate? There was only one such—the mysterious new | sanitarium of Dr. Simon Orville, situated [ nine miles from the city limits, and quite j •cut off from the world. It even lacks | telephone connection. And, proof added to proof, the work of Dr. Orville is in the treatment of just such cases as we must j assume Carson’s to be.
“Up to this point the selection of Dr. j Orville as the man who carried away John Carson still remains unproven, how| ever, until we consider that Carson himj self said that he was going to make a ‘trial’—Orville’s line of treatment is distinctly new—and that the lawyer would not be able to ‘reach him then in any way’. Putting all these facts together, it became quite certain that Orville was the man.
“It may seem that in traveling from | •one conclusion to another, Hogarth had ] taken much for granted. This is always j necessary. An investigator must sometimes take a long jump to conclusions I and then trace his way back. If any doubt ! lingers in your mind as to the validity | •of the assumption that Carson had been interrupted in his work by an attack of ! •some form of illness, the doubt can be
cleared away by the fact that the explanation finally reached explains every phase of the case.
“But, you may well, ask, why had not Carson told his man-servant of his intention to try this new treatment? It is a well-known fact that Carson is a secretive man. He would not likely tell his servant of his plans until the last minute, when it became necessary to pack the few things that would be necessary to take. And you must remember that Carson had dined at the Pilgrim’s Club and was intending to go to his apartments where he had probably arranged to meet Orville, after getting through his appointment at the office. And, further, he was probably anxious to avoid any publicity on the score of his illness. Note how carefully he worded that message to his lawyer— ‘the trial I have told you of’.
“Also it may be asked why had not Dr. Orville notified the office of Carson’s whereabouts? The doctor had a previous appointment with Carson for that evening and it would not occur to him that the hastening of the banker’s departure for the sanitarium by an hour, would cause any alarm. Not having returned to his office in the city, Dr. Orville had not seen the newspapers.
“And now, finally,” said Bracey, triumphantly, “when the police motored out to the Orville sanitarium they verified Hogarth’s version of the case in every detail”.