The Silent Death
Another murder mystery drama starring Kent Power, scientific detective
BEG pardon. sir," said hicks, his polite cough from the doorway having passed unnoticed, "there's a young lady to see you."
Kent Power looked up from the experiment table of the little laboratory that graced the rear end of the Drummond Place flat. He was injecting something from a hypodermic needle into an anaesthetized guinea pig which was attached by a series of tubes to the complicated processes of a kymograph.
“I’ll be along in a minute,” he grunted, and returned to his work.
Those who should know what they were talking about said frankly that if Kent Power had taken to science in earnest he would have made an outstanding name for
himself. He had the curious, patient mind of the investigator, and the brilliant imagination that goes with scientific genius. But in this realm he was, as he modestly put it himself, “a crazy dilettante”; not so crazy, however, that several of his brightest conclusions, when tossed generously to friends at McGill, had not earned the latter considerable kudos in the scientific world.
He rose finally from the bench, straightened his tall, slender body to its full height, and ran a smoothing hand
over his disarrayed sandy hair. Removing the stained white laboratory coat, he donned one more suitable to the interview before him and walked quickly along to the drawing-room of his flat.
The girl rose as he entered with a quick nervous movement. She was beautiful in a dark, wilful way; the mouth a thought too petulant, the eyes restless, dissatisfied, though in their depths just now there was a troubled stirring of uneasiness, perhaps fear—and perhaps other sinister emotions. But she was very beautiful.
“You wanted to see me?” There was a quiet, confidence-inspiring drawl to Kent Power’s voice.
“Better sit down; make yourself comfortable.”
There was hesitation in the girl’s acceptance of the invitation but no lack of decisiveness in her voice.
“I am Sylvia Blayne,” she said. “I have come to you because they say that you are the best private detective in Montreal.”
“You don’t want to believe everything you hear.” The light flashed ironically from his blue eyes. “But if there’s anything I can do for you I’m at your service.”
“You’ve heard about Dan Cotton’s death, Mr. Power?”
“It occupied quite a lot of space in last night’s papers,” he said, gazing at her with a renewed and somewhat puzzled interest.
“That’s why I’ve come to you.” Her expression became tauter, more brittle. “The doctors said he died of congestion of the lungs. I can’t believe that, Mr. Power. We had tea at the Ritz, day before yesterday, and he was quite all right then. It came on suddenly in the evening. He sent for me. The moment I saw him I felt there was something queer. He talked as if it were . . . good-by.” She hesitated, seemed to choke over the word, but went on again abruptly, her head high. “I know he had enemies; people who wanted him out of the way. I asked him point-blank if he had been poisoned. He laughed; but there was a queer look in his eyes as if he were keeping something back.”
“What was Dan Cotton to you, Miss Blayne?” Kent asked, his steady blue eyes searching her own deeply.
“We—we were going to be married.” She said it with an air of defiance; a bold, angry air that hardened the beauty of mouth and eyes.
Wondering at the perverse ironies of human emotions, he said nothing. What mischance of the instincts had drawn this girl, who was obviously from one of those families whose large houses circle the exclusive avenues in front of the Mount, to Dan Cotton? Not that Cotton hadn’t his attractiveness. That debonair gentleman adventurer moved suavely in the best circles. You saw him with the right people at the Ritz. You saw him at private dances where his witty presence could only have been tolerated because of an ignorance of his real mode of living. Dan Cotton was of the modern genus of gambler, and catholic in his tastes. He gambled in everything—stock market, the races, hockey matches, poker games at the lesser hotels with shady gentlemen from across the border, chemin de fer in localities quite unfrequented by his various hosts and hostesses on Pine Avenue West. There were even rumors that he gambled in the dope-smuggling racket of Montreal’s underworld. And yet this girl said that they had been going to marry!
She was leaning sharply forward, her dark eyes glittering, her hands clenched.
“Someone killed him ! I know it! He didn’t just die!”
“If you know anything in that line you haven’t told me, you’d better do so now,” Kent said.
His voice seemed to calm her. She gave him a long glance in which again there was defiance.
“I know what people thought of Dan,” she said. “He told me a lot about himself. He was straight with me.”
Kent wondered how straight he had been but said nothing.
“A man named Peter Gayford had threatened him. He passed me this morning in St. Catherine Street. He
smiled at me in a queer way; a triumphant way.” And then with indignation: “I’d never even met him! I’m sure he had something to do with Dan’s death.”
Pete Gayford was another of Dan Cotton’s ilk, but much closer and more sinisterly linked to Montreal’s underworld. Pete was an American; had been in the horse-racing game until ruled off Bluebonnets a few years before. After that he had a fleet of expensive cars operating bootleg liquor to thirsty brother Yanks over the Connecticut border. He was supposed to be the owner of several shady cabarets in the downtown section. It was quite on the cards that the two men had fallen out, but the incredible thing was that Cotton had got this girl so infatuated with him that he could tell her these things about his shadier life and still hold her.
“I take it,” Kent said quietly, “that you want me to look into this matter for you?”
“And there’s nothing more you can tell me?”
She was silent for a moment, staring toward the window. She shook her head.
“That’s all I know.” And then, leaning toward him in her earlier, tenser manner: “You’ll try to discover something, won’t you, Mr. Power? I know he didn’t die a natural death. Nothing could persuade me. That awful struggle for breath, his lips purple, the froth at his mouth—oh, I know!”
“I’ll do the best I can,” Kent Power said, and led her toward the door.
V\ 7AS it merely the suspicion of an infatuated and
W perhaps somewhat hysterical girl, or had Dan Cotton died by sinister means? Kent Power was not one to take lightly the intuitions of a woman. More than once they had been the means of putting him on the track of something to which otherwise he might have remained blind. Therefore he now taxied to the City Hall and entered the office of his old friend, Detective Sergeant Papineau. He found the sergeant leaning far back in his swivel chair with his feet on the desk. The fumes of a cigar were rising from the stub in the corner of his mouth.
“Just move the limbs a mite, Pap,” said Kent, pushing the feet somewhat to one side and seating himself on the edge of the desk. “There are cobwebs growing between them anyway.”
“ ’Alio,” squeaked the French-Canadian, dropping the offending number tens to the floor and straightening the vest over a corporation that went with his heavy dark mustache and rounded brown chops. “You are
broadcasting again —no?”
“Another little bedtime story, Pap,” drawled the man seated on the desk, “entitled, Who Killed Cock Danny?”
“Eh?” Sergeant Papineau shot him a sharp glance from under bushy brows.
“Even you must know — in spite of the time vou spend sleeping, Pap — that Dan Cotton died last night. Congestion of the lungs they called it.”
“That one’’ — the sergeant spat out venomously— “should have died in jail.”
“The question I want to put to you, Pap, is this: Did he die or was he pushed?” “Pushed? What you mean. Mon dieu, speak plain!”
“All right, my old cabbage, I have it from a lady who was close to him that he might have been poisoned. She even had—” “You mean,” the sergeantshot in brusquely, “that Blayne mademoiselle?”
Kent stared at him with surprise. “You know about her? Well, I’m surprised. The Montreal detective bureau is really beginning to function. Who is she, anyway? Seemed a lady. Not the type you’d expect—”
“Absolximent!” agreed the stout French-Canadian. “She is the daughter of John S. Blayne, who was once a great lumber baron at Quebec. The money is not so much since he is dead. There is a brother—dentist—in the Medical Science Building. I have heard that the family have try very hard to prevent her from associating with our playboy, Danny.”
“That’s interesting.” Kent then told what he had learned from the girl. In the end he said: “I think we ought at least to try to lay her suspicions. Where have they got Cotton laid out? He was living on Sherbrooke Street East, wasn’t he?”
“Oxii! Now he is at an undertaking parlor on Rue Montagny. From there he is buried tomorrow.”
“Do you suppose we could have a look at the body?”
“Absolument! Anything can be done by the Mo’real police department.”
“Shall we go then? . . . What do you think of the girl’s hunch, Pap?”
They moved toward the door.
“Me,” declared Sergeant Papineau, drawing his soft hat forward on his head, “I think it is a pipe dream. But I make no statement for publication. I do not make the statement because I see in the eyes of Kent Power that he is not sure. And if he is not sure I am wary. For I have learn from sad experience not to be on one side when he is on the other.”
The two men laughed and descended the steps of the City Hall. This was an old joke between them.
ON THE way they called at Kent Power’s flat in Drummond Place, where the latter procured a hypodermic, syringe. Then on to the undertaking parlors. With an almost ironic sense of the fitness of things, the dead man had been laid out in his immaculate evening clothes, and the fastidious chapel room of the establishment was swamped with flowers.
“Voila!” exclaimed Sergeant Papineau with a somewhat contemptuous gesture toward the floral offerings. “The reward of the virtuous life, n’est ce pas? If he had been a gentleman of honor there would not be so
many lilies. And that cross ! Regard the wording: ‘Gone To A Better Land!’ Droll, is it not?”
Kent Power had been looking at the dead man closely. Under the transparent skin a dusky purple color still lurked as an unhealthy death tinge. Suddenly, as he moved with the sergeant away from the obsequious attendant who had accompanied them in, he hissed: “Get the fellow out of here for a minute, will you, Pap !”
Papineau swung his bulk casually.
“It is veree beautiful, the way you have laid him out, my friend,” he said to the undertaker’s underling. “And now, please, I would like a word with the proprietor, your boss. You will take me to him—no?”
“This way, sir,” said the fellow, with the solemn and professional politeness of those well accustomed to the anteroom of death.
With astonishing deftness the long fine hypodermic needle in Kent Power’s hand found the dead man’s jugular vein. When the needle was withdrawn only the faintest point of red above the wing of the collar betrayed what had been done. Hastily transferring the blood collected in the syringe barrel into a small bottle, Kent corked the latter, slipped the syringe into its case, placed both in his pocket, and ambled unconcernedly into the business section of the establishment beyond. Sergeant Papineau was saying to the proprietor: “It is sad that we must intrude this way into the solemnity of death. But it is well to make sure -no?” Then catching sight of Kent he cried: “You are satisfied, mon ami?"
“Quite!” the detective replied in that drawl of his. “Then we will go, eh? Good afternoon, M’sieu Gamier. The arrangements are beautiful—veree beautiful.”
He put his hand through Kent’s arm and together they strolled out to the waiting taxi. They went immediately to the flat in Drummond Place and there into the laboratory. Here, for the next three-quarters of an hour, Kent worked steadily with test tube, pipette, and microscope; while Sergeant Papineau, leaning far back in the desk chair in the corner with his feet on the blotting pad in front of him, slept with audible contentment until a voice called as from afar off:
“Come here, Pap! Got something to show you!” “Eeyah!” The sergeant yawned, stretched his sleepdrenched rotundity, and advanced to where Kent sat leaning over the nearest of two microscopes. “Comment? You have found a clue with your leetle telescopes. n'est ce pus?"
“Take a dekko down this mike, Pap.”
Sergeant Papineau applied a sleepy eye to the indicated eyepiece.
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 11
“Sacre, I see nothing—nothing!”
‘‘Yes, you do. Get your eye right over that bit of glass. Don’t you see a lot of little red discs floating around?”
“ Non . . . voilà, mais oui! C’est un ! chose remark . . . like poker chips they appear!”
‘‘That’s it. Notice how some of ’em are breaking up?”
‘‘Those are some of my blood corpuscles floating in a solution made of Dan Cotton’s blood serum. Now it happens that I am what is called in the lingo of medical men who give blood transfusions a universal donor. That is to say, Pap, that at any time my blood can be injected into the veins of any other person without causing trouble. My serum does not destroy their red blood cells; their serum does not destroy mine. But Dan Cotton’s serum down there on that slide is destroying mine. Now take a look down that other mike. You’re now gazing on Dan’s own blood cells. Do you see that the same thing has happened to them?”
“ Norn de dieu—”
“In other words, Pap, there was some chemical poison floating in Dan Cotton’s blood that killed him by destroying his red blood cells. He may have died of congestion of the lungs, but that congestion was accompanied, by a massive destruction of his blood elements, which accounted for some of his peculiar symptoms.”
“But how,” gasped the astounded Papineau, “has that poison got into his blood? Something he has swallowed?” “I don’t think so. He would surely have been aware of it.”
“Alors? How has it happen?”
“I don’t know, Pap. That’s what we’ve got to find out.”
“First, then, I notify the coroner of this matter,” said the sergeant grimly.
“Suit yourself, old son,” the detective replied, “but I’m against such a move. At the present time the person or persons responsible for the entrance of that poison into Dan Cotton’s blood thinks he has got away with it. If Dan is buried according to schedule tomorrow he will feel even more secure; in other words he’ll have his guards lowered. I’d suggest soft-shoeing it. And there’s always this thought, Pap: that poison may have got into Cotton’s blood through no fault of anybody’s. Let sleeping dogs lie. We can always have the body exhumed if need be.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said the sergeant heavily; and then with downright admiration and Gallic enthusiasm: “Sacre, you are a marvel, Kent Power! All this”— he waved a pudgy hand over the laboratory and its equipment—“is a matter to wonder at! Ah, if only I have been educate in this fashion. Me, what I might do!”
This blast of self-expression over, Pap’s shrewd eyes narrowed with suspicion and he said in a low, dramatic hiss:
“This Blayne dame—she may come in our picture somewhere—no? Perhaps she has not told you everything. She was with him all over Mo’real. I have seen them. I will look into her—no?”
“Not a bad idea, although I don’t think you’ll find much. If she had been mixed up in it she’d never have come to me under the circumstances. I think she was really in love with him.”
"Perhaps. Mon dieu, how is it these beautiful women fall for such men like Cotton? While hones’ men—me—they do not look at?”
“That’s a good one, Pap. You have about as much sex appeal as a balloon tire!”
Papineau bristled, twirled the ends of his heavy mustache, and drew himself up to what he considered a semblance to Frans Hals’s “Laughing Cavalier.” Pap was a bachelor and had those kind of delusions.
“Some day,” he declared darkly, “I will surprise you, Kent Power.”
“That’s all right with me,” grinned the detective, “but if you run into anything interesting in this case in the meantime, give me a ring. Don voxjage!”
Sergeant Papineau quitted the laboratory with bristling dignity.
TT WAS he speaking when the telephone -*■ rang early the following morning.
“I make progress, mon ami,” he squeaked over the wire in evident good fettle. “The charming Pete Gaylord had a long interview with Cotton the afternoon before he took sick at Tony’s place in the Rue Bleury. It was not friendly.” “Somehow,” Kent said thoughtfully, “I can’t seem to fit this thing in with what I knew of Pete, Pap. However, he may be learning subtlety in his prosperity. It’d be a kind of blessed release for you fellows if we could hang something on him, wouldn’t it?"
“Absolument!" came Pap’s heartfelt reply. “That fellow almost laughs in my face when we meet.”
“I’ll look him over,” said Kent.
Half an hour later he was in the Medical Science Building talking to Dr. Harry Blayne, the dentist, brother of the dead man’s fiancée. Young Blayne was obviously successful and his clientèle, at least j those that Kent saw in the waiting room, ¡ seemed of the social elect. The two men I were seated in the dentist’s inner private office, and Dr. Blayne’s face, above the high-necked, spotlessly white smock, had a worried, harassed look.
“I think it only fair to you as her only j male relative,” Kent was saying, “to tell j you that your sister has asked me to j conduct this investigation. It struck me furthermore that you might be able to tell me something about Dan Cotton.”
The young dentist’s face hardened:
“I know nothing about him. I don’t want to know anything. I have consist-1 ently—” He stopped, shrugged, and went on less passionately: “If my sister wishes to bother herself in this matter, that’s her business. It’s just another case where she’s taking her own head for it.”
“You weren’t greatly in favor of her friendship with Cotton?” Kent asked quietly.
The dentist looked him implacably in the eye.
“No, I was not My mother and I did everything we could to prevent it. Fortunately, death stepped in and saved us from taking really drastic measures.” “I wouldn’t be too hard on her, doctor,” Kent advised. “After all, Cotton was an attractive devil. There is a certain aura of romance that surrounds his type, especially in the eyes of women.”
The young dentist opened his mouth, closed it, took a sharp glance at Kent, and then said: “There wras nothing to him but colossal cheek. He actually had the nerve to come to me the other day for a consultation.”
“Is that so?” exclaimed Kent in a drawl that betrayed nothing of his suddenly renewed interest.
“He’d been advised to have some teeth out and wanted my opinion—mine!” Dr. Blayne’s laugh had a bitterness in it that bespoke the depths of the outraged family pride.
“I take it you showed him the door,” said Kent, smiling.
The detective rose.
“Sorry to have disturbed you on a busy morning, doctor, but you understand how it is.”
He left the Medical Science Building shaking his head sadly. Blayne seemed a decent enough chap, but intolerant and lacking in a kindly sense of humor that might have made his sister’s part in this tragedy unnecessary: a little too pompous, a little too tender in the pride. But obviously the salt of the earth, and without doubt a good dentist.
From a pay station in a nearby drugstore he rang up the girl.
“Kent Power speaking, Miss Blayne. Do you suppose you could get me into Cotton’s flat? I’d like to look it over.”
The girl was waiting for him in the rotunda of the big apartment house in Sherbrooke Street East by the time he arrived there. At once she asked him anxiously:
“Have you found out anything, Mr. Power?” Her face was pale under its make-up; haggard from loss of sleep.
“I’m afraid not,” he replied. “By the way, do you know if Cotton had any dentistry done Monday?”
She stared at him. The rouge stood out ghastly against her suddenly deepened pallor. She snatched at his arm.
“Mr. Power,’’ she gasped, “you don’t—”
“No, my dear,” he said reassuringly, “Cotton went to your brother but your brother wouldn’t treat him. I wondered if you knew whether he had got the work done elsewhere.”
“No,” she shook her head agitatedly. “Not that I know of.”
Nor had her pallor decreased by the time they reached the flat on the seventh floor. But they were not the only visitors. Sergeant Papineau was already there looking the land over. He had brought the dead man’s valet with him, and was putting the latter through a sort of third degree.
“But he is dumb, this man!” he exclaimed exasperatedly to Kent as the latter entered the living room. “Sacre, I have asked him—” Catching sight of the girl, he drew himself up, threw out his chest, bowed from the waist and murmured: “Pardon, Miss Blayne; I did not see you at first.” He twirled the ends of his heavy mustaches with a devil-of-afellow air that was quite droll—and then to Kent: “You have discover something, mon ami?”
The detective shook his head. “Have you?”
“Rien! To drag information from this man”—he pointed at the lantern-jawed and elderly English manservant—“is like pulling teeth from an elephant.”
Kent turned to the valet who had obviously been going through a nasty time with Papineau and was thoroughly ill at ease.
“Did you clean up the flat after Mr. Cotton died?” he asked.
“Did you throw out anything that was lying around?”
“Didn’t even empty the wastebasket?” “Yes, sir, I emptied the wastebasket.” “Then you did throw something out?” “Yes, sir, but—”
“Did I not say?” exploded Papineau with a snort of disgust. “He is dumb, that one!”
“What were you going to say?” Kent asked the agitated valet.
“I emptied the wastebasket into the receptacle in the kitchen, sir.”
“You did, eh? Let’s have a look at it.” But the waste receptacle held nothing more interesting than some unimportant
papers and cigarette ends. In spite of the most careful examination of the flat that then ensued, the two detectives found nothing in the nature of a clue. In the meantime, at Kent’s solicitous urging, the girl had left. The two men dismissed the valet and seated themselves in the drawing-room of the dead man’s flat.
“You have interviewed the dentist?” Papineau asked, blowing out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke.
“Nothing there—as yet. Blayne did no dentistry for Cotton. Hang it, I should have asked that valet if Cotton had been to any other dentist. Must make a note of it.”
“We have now four suspects,” remarked Papineau, ticking them off on his pudgy fingers. “Pete Gayford, the girl, the dentist, and the valet. I do not like it, the dumbness of that valet. Perhaps he hides something. I will have him watched.”
“You’re still suspicious about the girl?” said Kent with a grin.
“Oui. I insist on keeping my mind open.”
“Well,” said Kent, rising and shaking the trousers out on his long thin legs, “I’m going to give Pete Gayford the once over. I’ve seen your other suspects and can find nothing on them. I’ll leave ’em in your hands in the meantime. See what you can get on ’em, Pap, while I trail friend Pete. So far,” he added with a wry grin, “we don’t seem to be marching very fast. Perhaps it’s the hot weather. I should hate to think it might be our lack of initiative.”
IN ONE sense of the word, Dan Cotton and Pete Gayford had been neighbors. From Sherbrooke Street around the corner northward into St. Denis Street it was not far to the somewhat garish and decidedly less respectable set of mansions in which Pete resided. The elevator 'anded him on the fourth floor, and he was moving toward the door marked 28 when it opened suddenly and a workman stepped out, carrying what looked like a white box under his arm. The door closed behind him. He passed Kent with a vacant stare, and caught the elevator going down.
It was not until the elevator door clanged that it came to Kent with forcible suddenness that the thing the man had been carrying might have been a bathroom wall cupboard. He suddenly asked himself why such a cupboard was being removed from Pete Gayford’s flat this particular morning. In asking himself that question he stood motionless in front of the latter’s doorway, staring unseeingly at the figured 28.
Suddenly he swung around, dashed toward the head of the stairs at the far end of the corridor, and shot down them full speed. He was puffing a bit when, reaching the rotunda below, he saw the workman disappearing through the revolving street door. Hurrying after him, hé caught up with him on the curb. He hailed a passing taxi. When it had drawn into the curb he said in a low, but none the less incisive voice to the workman who, until that moment had given him only a most incurious glance:
“Better take a ride with me, friend. Step inside.”
The man drew back, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. “What’s the idea? I ain’t—” But he was. Kent’s long arm shot out and caught him by the coat collar, propelling him into the cab. As the door banged the detective shouted to the driver:
“You can’t pull this on me!” the plumber was yelling, as he kicked and thrashed about under Kent’s grip. “I’m a—”
“Perhaps you are,” the detective drawled with disarming frankness, “but I want to see the inside of that cupboard you’ve got. I happen to be a detective. There’s nothing against you personally. Rest easy and have a pleasant ride.”
But this the bathroom specialist was j not inclined to do, and en route said ! considerable about the rights of decent I Canadian citizens.
To Papineau the detective said—they j had gone straight to his office:
“I think you had better hang on to this I fellow until I’ve given this cupboard of ! Pete’s a dekko, Pap. Put him where he j can’t talk to anyone for a few hours.”
With the purloined cupboard under his ¡ arm he then returned to his own flat, and I a few minutes later was in the laboratory ! chipping bits from its inside walls, which j had been badly burned and charred, j These chips he transferred to test tubes, to which he added distilled water. For the next few hours he was kept busy with a series of experiments, in the course of which he injected some of the solutions he had obtained into three of his guinea pigs.
But at five o’clock, when he finally lifted his head from the last microscope through which he had examined a series of blood films, he was forced to shake his j head regretfully. He had discovered Í nothing. His test tubes contained nothing but those carbon derivatives which come from wood combustion. Evidently a small alcohol lamp had exploded in the cupboard: that was all. If any strange gas had been set free in the process there was no trace of it left.
THE evening papers contained quite long accounts of the funeral of the late gambler. Whether because of the lack of other stirring events or because of the strange medley of citizens who attended the function, it became news. And it was a strange medley that attended on M. Garnier’s establishment that afternoon, Pete Gayford brushing shoulders with the wife of the president of a wellknown national bank, Tony Carducci’s remnants ogling the lithe-limbed daugh| ters of the fashionable end of Sherbrooke Street.
But while these editions were being ; bawled on the street that night, Kent Power was in the area at the back of a certain apartment house in St. Denis Street, climbing the fire escape. Because of the rubbers he was wearing, there was no sound of clanking on the metal rungs as he steadily ascended to the fourth floor. Finally he reached a certain window, found it locked, and cut the glass in front of the catch with a glasscutter he had purchased earlier in the evening down town. Presently he was standing in a small cupboard in which were stored brooms, coal-box, buckets, etc.
There was a door opposite from under which a chink of light shone. He turned the handle of this door and drew it gingerly toward him. Beyond lay an immaculate kitchen in which appeared the materials and preparations for a somewhat elaborate dinner. The detective stepped into it and listened. No sound but the gentle hum of the electric refrigerator.
He tiptoed to a door opposite, a swinging door. With the same noiselessness and caution that had marked his previous movements he pressed gently through it. He was in a serving pantry whose other open door, a little to the right, disclosed a dining room. There came the faint clink of silver being laid out. He saw a brown hand lay a spoon at one of the places; then the short squat figure of a Jap serving man.
He pressed himself into the corner behind the door and waited. A few minutes later the Jap stepped into the pantry but went right on through it into the kitchen. Slipping from his hidingplace Kent tiptoed into the dining room. The table, he observed, was set for six places. Was Pete Gayford celebrating something tonight?
Two doors led out of the dining room toward the front of the flat; one into a living room, open; the other, half-closed, into a hall. It was through the latter he
suddenly heard the faint rumble of voices. He moved toward it. Across the hall was another door, closed. It was from behind it that the rumble came. Pete Gayford was home from the funeral, was conferring privately with his guests in his den.
Conferring on what? What secrets might an ear catch at the keyhole of that farther door?
A sudden sound stiffened the detective’s body. Too late he swung about. There was not even time to leap out into the hall before the Jap appeared, carrying a tray which, at the sight of the detective he dropped suddenly. His hand was moving toward his pocket, a yell was on his lips, when Kent Power’s clenched fist caught him on the point of the jaw, crumpling him into the corner.
The detective slipped out into the pantry across the kitchen, was closing the door of the little cupboard opening on the fire escape when Gayford’s, “Tono! What are you up to . . . cripes, somebody’s got the Jap!” rasped distantly in the dining room.
He turned the key in the door and, creeping out on the fire escape, started down it.
HICKS, who let him into his own flat, announced that a visitor was waiting in the living room and had been waiting over half an hour. It was Dan Cotton’s valet, and the man had a half-sheepish, half-scared look on his brick-red face.
“Beg pardon, sir,” he began, swallowing hard, “I found this in one of Mr. Cotton’s coat pockets. You said I was to let you know if I run across anything unusual. It was in the pocket of the coat he wore the day before he died.”
Kent glanced from the man’s shifting eyes to the thing he was holding out. It was evident the fellow had taken the liberty of lifting his late master’s wardrobe, had gone through the pockets after the afternoon’s gruelling at Papineau’s hands, and been sufficiently frightened to come across with this evidence—whatever it was worth.
The “evidence” was a smoky, discolored envelope. Opened, it disclosed a series of dental X-ray films. Kent drew them out. They were badly damaged, had evidently undergone some sort of decomposition.
“They were on his bedside table the night before he died, sir,” volunteered the gentleman’s gentleman. “He must have put them in his pocket after he dressed that morning.”
The detective said nothing, was staring fixedly at the films.
“I’ll be going now, sir. Glad to have done anything I could, sir. Mr. Cotton was very good to me, did a lot for me one way and another, sir.”
“Good night. Find your way out?” “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
A moment later Kent Power was sauntering slowly and thoughtfully along the hall to his laboratory.
So absorbed did he become in his work that he did not even hear the tinkle of the doorbell an hour later, nor the faint rumble of voices in the front hall. But the sound of footsteps on the threshhold of the laboratory door caused him to growl, without raising his eyes from the microscope down which he was staring.
“Get out, Hicks, I’m busy!”
“This ain’t Hicks.”
He swung slowly around. A large, bullnecked gentleman in a dinner jacket, whose heavy, blacksmithy face was dark with anger, stood framed in the doorway against a background of five similarly clad knights of the racket.
“Hello, Pete!” Kent drawled with a grin. “Who let you in?”
Pete Gayford’s heavy figure moved forward menacingly, the others following him like a trailing veil. His jaw jutted out like a chunk of granite.
“What were you doing in my flat t’night?” he barked.
“In your flat? My dear old—"
“Don’t stall! We followed your taxi.
If we hadn’t lost it in the cross-town traffic we’d of been here before. But we got its number, found it cruising down town a few minutes ago. The driver give us your address. What’s the answer?
“Didn’t the driver give you that, too?” the detective enquired blandly.
“Come on, Power, snap out of it! I ain’t got no time for foolin’. W hat’s the game? You guys tryin’ to frame somethin’ on me?”
“That’s a nasty word—‘frame’—Pete.
It has an un-Canadian ring in my ears. Furthermore, it almost makes me wonder if you’re not a little nervous—too nervous for a strictly honest citizen. And from all I hear, you’ve been nervous ever since Dan Cotton passed out.”
Gayford’s head snapped back as though he had got a slap in the face.
“Cotton!” he breathed. “You’re tryin’ to put that over on me! Listen, Power, if I get arrested for that stunt you’ll get yours—and get it plenty !”
“Calm down, Pete,” said the detective quietly. “You aren’t in your great United States now. This is Canada. We’ve got some laws here that aren’t broken with impunity.”
At the same time he was quite aware of the menace of the five gentlemen behind Gayford whose hands bulged in their tuxedo pockets. He picked up from the table beside him a corked retort which contained a yellow fluid.
“Perhaps you have heard, Pete, that I do a little experimenting here. It’s no idle rumor. If one of your cubs’ guns should happen to go off this retort falls at your feet. It smashes. You and your bold bad boys get a whiff of it and you’re all dead men—all of you, Pete. You ought to know something about poison gas. Went through the war, didn’t you?”
The big fellow’s beady little eyes wavered. He snarled:
“You’re a smart guy, ain’t ya?”
The small sterilizer behind the detective began to give out a crackling sound. It had boiled dry. He turned to shut it off. As he did so Gayford’s hand shot out and grasped the retort which he had laid down on the bench.
“Stick ’em up!” the fellow barked.
Kent turned to find himself covered with five automatics.
“Now,” growled Gayford, “now, Mr. Smart Guy, you’re for it! Come along with us. We’re gonna take you for a little ride down by the river.”
“Mais non, mon ami!” cried a voice from the door—and then it squeaked on compellingly: “You will drop the guns or receive lead in the back ! You have heard, Pete! I wish to hear them clatter loudly.” It was Papineau in the doorway!
One by one the five guns dropped.
“And what is our Pete’s leetle game tonight?” exclaimed Sergeant Papineau when he had retrieved them all.
“Just an unfriendly visit, Pap!” Kent replied with a laugh; and then to Gayford:
“You can put that retort down, Pete. It only happens to contain a very weak solution of the stuff that killed Dan Cotton. Not anything like enough to have carried out my bluff if you’d had the nerve to call it.”
He turned again to Papineau.
“Just keep an eye on ’em, Pap, while I finish the experiment I was doing when they interrupted me.”
'"TEN minutes later he swung on the seven men who had been watching him silently.
“I know now who killed Dan Cotton—
and how he died,” he announced.
“You’ve got nothing on me!” Gayford growled stubbornly.
“Did I say I had, Pete? As a matter of fact, I haven’t. So far as I’m concerned, you’re one of God’s most innocent creatures.” He grinned up at the big man with gentle irony.
Then leaning back on the stool, his hands clasped under one knee, he faced them all and said:
“Any of you read about the Cleveland Clinic disaster? Happened about a year ago. If you’ll remember, there were a lot of patients in the clinic who died -doctors, too—from the explosion of X-ray films in the basement of the hospital. Somebody here in Montreal was impressed ¡ by the event. That somebody worked the j same stunt on Dan Cotton.
“Under certain circumstances, photographic films will give off fumes of nitric dioxide and nitric tetroxide. These gases j when inhaled, even in very weak dilution. ¡ cause death through pulmonary conges¡ tion and destruction of the red blood ! corpuscles.”
He reached across the bench and took up one of the films that had been brought him that night by Cotton’s valet.
“Dan Cotton went to a dentist on Monday—some dentist—and had his teeth X-rayed. For some reason he was allowed to take the films along with him. But something had been done to those films. Some acid or reagent—I haven’t worked it out yet—was put into the envelope with them. Acting on the films it liberated the poisonous gases. For the rest of the day those fumes must have risen from his breast pocket and been breathed in by him. They lay beside his bed all night. Probably their strength was so faint that he didn’t realize they were doing him harm. It only needs the slightest concentration to do the trick; and the slight concentration explains why he didn’t begin to get the effect until the following evening.”
He smiled grimly at the group who were staring at him goggle-eyed.
“Quite a subtle little way of getting rid of a gent, eh? Too subtle for you, Pete. I wouldn’t advise you to add it to your methods in future, with us knowing all we do. The man who worked that trick had to know something about films and the reagents that work on them; he had to be a man of education. I guess you can let Pete go, Pap.” He turned to the sergeant. “One of these days, however, we’ll really catch him in the act and put him and his merry boys where they ought to be.”
A few minutes later Papineau came back from seeing Pete and his crowd off the premises.
“Sacre!” he breathed, seating himself opposite Kent. “Then it was the girl’s brother, the dentist?”
“Looks that way, Pap,” said Kent sadly. “And perhaps, after all, he had the strongest motive. I would have hated to have had a sister of mine bent on marrying Dan Cotton. On the other hand, Pap, it’s going to be mighty hard to pin anything to him. He told me that Dan came to him for a consultation and that he refused to see him. Without a doubt, he either took those films of Dan’s teeth or agreed to examine and advise on films Dan had had taken elsewhere. It was an easy matter for him to slip some reagent into the envelope. At the same time, there is nothing on the films or their containers to show they came from his office.”
“But,” protested Papineau, “I shall arrest him. Mon dieu, if we have discovered so much we may discover more!”
“Just as you like, Pap, old son,” said Kent with a shrug. “Which leaves me with the unhappy task of telling his sister that it was her insistence which really landed an otherwise almost perfect crime at his door.”
But he was saved that sad office. Twenty minutes later, as he was on the point of leaving to carry it out, the telephone rang. It was a decidedly chagrined Papineau at the other end of the wire who informed him that he was speaking from the Medical Science Building and that he had just learned from Dr. Blayne’s secretary that the doctor had been called out of town suddenly that morning.
“I’ve got a strong suspicion, Pap,” Kent drawled over the wire, “that he won’t ever be coming back.”