The Copper Disc
In which Death leaps from the dark to complicate a sinister mystery
The story: Morley Kent,partner in the firm of Kent and Powers, electrical engineers, literally skids into adventure when a taxi in which he is a passenger crashes into a car carrying Gladys Hensley, daughter of Angus Hensley, millionaire radio manufacturer, whom he rescues from an embarrassing situation following the accident. Friendship develops between the two and Kent learns that Gladys is under the influence of a mysterious power which causes her to do unaccountable things. One minute she is very cordial to him and the next she may treat him as an enemy, even going the length of publicly insulting him at an inquest following the accident.
Kent is the inventor of a model airplane which is driven by power transmitted by wireless and is eager to meet Professor Martin Herzton, technical adviser to the Hensley firm, who is obviously interested in Gladys, as is also Gordon Brace, a friend of the family. Herzton appears to have some sort of an understanding with Florence Manners, a trusted servant in the Hensley household. Following a dinner given by Mrs. Hensley, Gladys again rebuffs her rescuer for no apparent reason, but later explains that she was “under the spell." Meanwhile, Vera Masters, confidential secretary to the Kent-Powers firm, watches the growing intimacy between her senior employer and Miss Hensley with the disillusioned eyes of one who loves in vain.
KENT rode home from the Hensley mansion in an entanglement of confused emotions. At one moment he felt that he was being trifled and played with; at the next, that he had been admitted into an intimate personal problem of the most baffling nature. If he tried to dismiss Gladys Hensley as an example of irresponsible fickleness, his intuition rebelled against such a conclusion. He found it impossible to think of Gladys in that way. Why, too, should she open to him one of the wealthiest homes in the city merely to torment him with vacillation? And was it conceivable that men. and women like Mr. and Mrs. Hensley would be parties to conduct so reprehensible?
Yet the idea of blaming one’s mood and misbehaviors on external, uncontrollable influences had in it elements of originality. It suggested vast possibilities.
“I believe that Professor Herzton knows more about this than is down in the books,” Kent confided to himself, as the car neared his corner. He recalled the glances exchanged between the professor and the maid, Florence Manners, and later, their meeting while Herzton pretended to be using the telephone. Manners
was hardly the kind of woman the professor might be expected to select for flirtation or philandering. He recalled, too, her look of inscrutable understanding when Gladys had fainted in his arms.
“I have it,” said Kent with the suddenness of inspiration. “I have it.”
“Have what, sir?” queried the elevator man, courteously.
Kent glanced at the operator, whose eyes were twinkling at having caught the young inventor in one of his moods of absent-mindedness. They were alone in the car together.
“Not what you think, George,” he answered, as he got off at the seventh floor.
Kent dropped into his sagging chair, slipped off his shoes, and for a while was absorbed in thought. Little threads of evidence were already beginning to accumulate. Trifling in themselves, when twisted together they made a cord strong enough to carry something more than a shadow of suspicion.
He finally decided his next step would be to take advantage of the professor’s invitation to visit his laboratory. He was impatient to go at once, but concluded it would be wiser to allow a day or .two to pass, so that he might not appear to show undue eagerness. The dinner party at Hensley’s was on Friday night; Monday, he decided, would be about the time to carry out his purpose.
Saturday forenoon he was busy in the shop. In the afternoon he tried to settle down to experiments in his little laboratory, but his head was filled, not with mechanical inspirations but with visions of Gladys and country fields and a June afternoon. He wondered if she
would despise a place by his side in his cheap car. The thought brought home to him the fact that he had nothing to offer this girl now living in the luxury of a millionaire’s home; nothing at all but the vague prospects of an unknown inventor. Yet the logic of that fact did not assuage his desire for her company. He hummed a popular song about “Tell me why all the sunshine comes just at one time, when I’m with you;” and wondered why the lines never had appealed to him before.
“What has got into the head of the firm?” Powers had enquired of Vera that morning in the shop. “He’s mooning around like an orphaned duck."
Vera had no heart to joke about it. “I suppose he’s working out some problem about wave lengths, or something,” she suggested.
Powers laughed. “Permanent wave lengths, I guess. He’s been as sociable as a cactus ever since he smashed into that Hensley girl Tuesday night. You ought to take better care of him, Vee. Not but what old Angus Hensley might prove a pleasant godfather for the firm, but Morley is going to mess it all up by getting sentimental about the girl. When the old man gets wise to that he’ll throw ’im out, and then—good night!”
TRENT’S first impulse was to make an appointment with Professor Herzton by telephone, but on second thoughts he decided to pay his visit unannounced. That would afford no opportunity for the ingenious stagework with which he associated the professor. Accordingly he chose the middle of a busy Monday afternoon to make his call.
The plant of the Hensley Radio Corporation occupies several acres of land just outside the city proper. The aesthetic note is not missing; green lawns, dotted with beds of sprightly colored flowers, and curving walks to the main entrance seem to intimate that here is an institution which, although devoted in the main to the god Production, still has time to spare a thought for the things of the soul. Inside the red brick wall that intimation is lost in the roar of machinery and the bustling efficiency of a great industrial enterprise.
Kent entered a large hall walled with glass, through which he caught a glimpse of an army of clerks and stenographers busy at their desks. He presented himself at the information counter.
“Have you an appointment with Professor Herzton?” the brisk young woman in charge enquired.
It occurred to Kent that if he waited while his card was sent up, any advantage there might be in taking Herzton by surprise would be lost.
“Professor Herzton asked me to call; he is expecting me,” he answered. It was poor truth that would not stretch that far on occasion.
The brisk young woman pressed a button, and a uniformed attendant appeared from nowhere. “Show the visitor to Professor Herzton’s office, please,” she directed.
They ascended in an elevator to the fourth floor; then followed a long passage through busy rows of intricate machines. Bent though he was on a mission of such moment Kent felt himself peculiarly thrilled by the magnitude of the Hensley works. His instinct for the mechanical was too strong to be denied a moment of exaltation amid such surroundings.
A wall divided the east end of the building from the large workroom. The attendant led Kent to a door in this wall marked private, and knocked.
“Hello!” boomed a deep voice which Kent instantly recognized.
“Gentleman to see you, sir.”
“Ah!” The single note was drawn sharply, with a rising inflection as though to suggest that the information given was disappointingly incomplete,
“He says you are expecting him, sir.”
Silence followed for some moments; then the knob turned and the door swung partly open. The sharp face with its pointed beard streaked with grey filled the aperture; the small dark eyes took in the uniformed attendant and the workroom beyond.
A moment elapsed before they fell on Kent, standing a little to one side.
When they saw him, a very rapid camera might have caught a sudden hardening of the features, but the next moment the incisive face melted into a smile of welcome.
“Ah, Mr. Kent. Delighted,” the deep voice boomed again. “Come in.”
Kent entered a room furnished with the comforts of a gentleman’s den. Two or three deep easy-chairs, a fireplace not in use, bookcases, a table of magazines and technical publications, golf clubs, tobacco jars, a stand of pipes. Art reproductions on the walls, flower boxes suspended just outside the windows, continued the suggestion of the aesthetic which marked the lawns and walks in front. Kent found himself wondering how far this man dictated the policy of the whole Hensley Radio Corporation.
“You should have let me know,” Professor Herzton was saying in a tone of mild reproof. "A telephone call; I would have sent a car for you— would have come myself.
I have been looking forward to your visit ever since we met under such very happy auspices at Mr. Hensley’s.”
“It was to prevent that — your going to any trouble—that I called as I did,” Kent explained. “I hope I have not come upon you at an inconvenient moment?”
“Oh, not at all. And pray be seated.” He motioned his guest to a chair and himself sank deeply into another, his knees rising sharply in front over his long shins.
In a moment he was up again. “A thousand pardons. You will smoke, I hope? And perhaps a little drink? Mr. Hensley’s well-known aridity, which, I trust, did not inconvenience you the other evening, is not enforced
upon the members of his organization. A broad man, Mr. Hensley, entertaining strong views himself, and respecting them in others.” He wheeled a little mahogany cellaret, surmounted by a glass humidor, to Kent’s chair. If there had been any apparent lack of cordiality at the door it was evident Professor Herzton intended to remove that impression.
Kent declined the liqueur but accepted a cigar. Herzton snapped an electric lighter and joined him in a smoke. Behind the haze of conciliatory blue he referred to the delay in admitting Kent, as though it were preying upon his conscience as a perfect host.
“I hope you will pardon my hesitation at the door, Mr. Kent. The nature of my work is such that I have no assistant—not even a stenographer. Mr. Hensley feels that my experiments are too confidential to be entrusted to any second person, so I have to be my own doorman.”
Kent again begged forgiveness if his visit was inopportune, but was assured that nothing was further from the fact. “I was just explaining the delay,” the professor told him. “To you, within the charmed circle of the Hensley family friendship, if I may put it that way, no doors are closed. Let us smoke and chat for a
little, after which I would like to show you my shop.”
In the position in which he was seated, Kent was facing away from the windows. He saw that the room was larger than he had at first supposed, and in the opposite end were a radio set, a couple of phonographs, two or three mechanical musical instruments, and even a piano.
“You are musical, Professor Herzton?” he suggested.
“Only slightly. But I have much to do with sound, with the study of wave-lengths and vibrations. It is an engrossing subject, and these instruments are merely paraphernalia of my laboratory. By the way, did you have an opportunity the other evening to delve into some of the theories propounded by the Reverend Eugene Rogers? Oh, that is too bad,” he continued, to Kent’s negative reply. “Very interesting. Mr. Rogers has a theory that what science calls ether and what religion calls God are one and the same. Very interesting—ingenious, too, don’t you think? We scientists affirm that ether fills all space and acts as the communicating medium between all bodies. Mr. Rogers goes us one better, and asserts that ether is mind—universal mind, if you like—constituting not only infinite intelligence and power, but infinite love. Get him on that subject some day; he’ll interest you.”
“Yes, I must go and hear him preach,” Kent agreed.
Herzton laughed. “You won’t hear that in his sermons. Mr. Rogers, like most preachers, I believe, is thinking miles ahead of his congregation. He doesn’t dare tell them what he really believes; they can’t grasp it. That has been the fate of thinkers, particularly of religious thinkers, always. And Rogers, however he dissimulates in his sermons, is at least thinking in between. He contends, for example, that radio has demonstrated the reasonableness of prayer. If a mechanical contrivance can reproduce human speech thousands of miles from the place of its utterance, surely the infinitely finer mechanism of the mind and the soul, of which we know so little, is capable of transmitting its emotions to the very heart of the universe. Who knows?”
“Perhaps this is the line upon which you are experimenting?” Kent ventured.
The black eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and although a quick smile immediately followed, Kent felt that he had struck nearer Herzton’s secret than that gentleman cared to admit.
“No, no,” the professor disclaimed the suggestion. “I deal with the physical, not the psychical. If the two somewhere overlap we shall find that out in time. For the present but you must see my laboratory, Mr. Kent.”
He rose and led his guest into the next room. It had windows on two sides, flooding natural light on a maze of intricate apparatus. Herzton explained the equipment and the researches which he was conducting, often in terms too technical to be clearly understood by the young electrician. Another room adjoined to the left; they moved into it, and found it similarly equipped. Still another door led again to the left. Kent noticed when he entered that it was standing slightly ajar. A few minutes later he saw it was closed. Yet no one had entered; there had been
no sound save the resonant rumble of Herzton’s voice and Kent’s occasional higherkeyed replies.
The closing of a door was a small thing, yet it was suggestive of the sense of mystery which, in spite of the obvious nature of Herzton’s explanations, seemed to exude from the very walls and paraphernalia of the place. Feigning interest in a curious instrument, Kent edged toward the door. Then, suddenly:
“And this next room—I suppose it, too, is allotted to your experiments?” He placed his hand on the knob, but it was firm; the lock would not turn in his fingers.
Herzton, at Kent’s words and action, had almost sprung toward him. It needed no camera this time to catch the sudden change in his expression. Yet it was for only an instant; his features smoothed again and a smile played on his thin lips.
“No, no,” he explained. “Another officer of the company, who dislikes very much to be disturbed. I have come under his displeasure more than once, and I feared you might have to share it if the door had been unlocked.”
Kent thought it strange that so grumpy a neighbor should be in the habit of leaving his door ajar, but he made no comment. He was convinced that that fourth room contained something he was not intended to see, and he made up his mind that at the very first opportunity he would see it.
Herzton led the way back to his sitting room, and Kent presently took his leave, with an invitation to call again whenever it suited his convenience.
“Sooner than you expect, Professor Herzton,” Kem, confided to himself as he went down in the elevator.
ON THE afternoon following his visit to Professor Herzton’s laboratory Kent observed Gordon Brace stop in front of the little electrical goods shop at 208 Eleventh Street. The young man glanced at the lettering on the windows, as though to make sure this was the place for which he was looking, then came briskly inside.
Kent greeted him with a cloak of cordiality covering no little curiosity. He had come for a purpose, and it was not likely he had searched out the shop of Kent and Powers to buy a flashlight or exchange a battery.
Brace returned his greeting. “May I see you alone, Mr. Kent? There are some things we might talk over together. I think they will interest you.”
Kent led him into the little office at the rear, motioned his visitor to a chair and extended cigarettes. Brace accepted one and had it going before he spoke.
“We are quite alone, Mr. Kent?”
“You must be surprised that I should call on you, and more so when you learn of my mission. Under ordinary circumstances I would not have cared to put my cards on your table, but these circumstances are not ordinary.”
The two young men were observing each other sharply, but Kent puffed a cigarette and waited for his guest to continue. He had not long to wait.
“You are interested in Miss Hensley?”
“Is that what you came to speak about? Then ...” Brace raised his hand. “Now, please. We may as well understand each other frankly. I have known Gladys Hensley for years; you have known her for only as many days. Your friendship has perhaps been more spontaneous than mine, but I can claim at least the virtue of priority.”
“I do not know why we should discuss this subject, Mr. Brace. It is not quite the usual thing, is it?”
“But the circumstances are unusual,” Brace persisted. “Can we agree on one thing—that we are both friends of Gladys Hensley?”
Kent had settled back in his chair. “Yes, you can count me in on that.”
“And that when a girl is in danger it behooves her friends, her real friends, to drop their differences in her defense?”
Kent was sitting alert again. “You mean—”
“I mean that Miss Hensley is in danger. Haven’t you seen that?”
Brake’s small black mustache seemed to bristle with concern. “Haven’t you noticed that?” he repeated.
“Yes, I have. I have been working out some theories of my own.”
“I have my theories, too. But while we are working them out individually, the worst may happen. Why not check one against the other, and perhaps we can run this thing down before it is too late?”
It was impossible to doubt Brace’s earnestness, and Kent made a quick decision. “All right,” he said. “What do you think?”
“Herzton. Herzton’s the man. Herzton knows all about it.” Brace’s fist came down on the table. “I don’t know how he’s doing it, but he has got the girl under a spell. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and that is just what makes it so baffling. If his system, or spell, or whatever it is, worked every time, we should soon find a key to it. As it is—well, you have brains, Kent, and I modestly claim a few myself. Between us we should be too much for this wily professor.”
“But why do you suspect Herzton?” Kent asked, feeling his way. “He is a man of reputation, apparently trusted by Miss Hensley’s father. He would have everything to lose—”
“On the contrary, he has everything to gain if his plan works. Herzton is ambitious; that much I know. He is unmarried. What would be simpler than to gain a wife and, ultimately, control of the Hensley Radio Corporation by marrying Gladys?”
It occurred to Kent that Brace might have similar ambitions, but he kept his suspicion to himself. Whether or not he should decide to work with Brace in this matter, it was at any rate important that he should gain all the information possible.
“You don’t imagine that Miss Hensley cares for Herzton?”
“No, not really. But he is gaining a control over her that may go to any lengths. We’ve got to stop him, Kent. We’ve got to find out how he does it and blow up his little game. That’s our job, and we’ve got to do it quick.”
Brace had risen and was walking about the room with long, nervous strides. His drawn face and set lips were proof of the concern he felt. Suddenly he turned again to Kent.
“Ever been in Herzton’s laboratory?”
“Yes; accepted his invitation only yesterday.”
“Do you know about the fourth room?”
“He showed me only three.”
“Of course.” Brace’s voice was bitter and sarcastic. “They are the blinds. The real business goes on in that fourth room. He takes no chances with his secret. You have to reach the fourth room through the other three, and the doors are all controlled by concealed switches. Without so much as appearing on the scene, Herzton could lock an intruder in any room and keep him there until he starved to death, if it pleased him to inflict that form of slow torture. Otherwise, he can flood any room at will with poisonous gas, and so close the in-
cident quickly. By heavens, Kent, I just can’t bear the thought of Gladys going to those rooms.” “Gladys!” In his emotion Kent was tripped into using her Christian name. “You don’t mean to
Brace’s expression softened; for a moment his lips relaxed in a smile. “I know now that you care,” he said. “Just as I care, I suppose. Very well; we understand each other; we can settle that later. In the meantime, we must save Gladys.” “You say she goes to those rooms?” Kent repeated, as though unable to accept the significance of the words.
“Yes. Herzton, as perhaps you know, is a very gifted musician, and Gladys sings—I won’t say divinely, but quite well. He has a microphone installed in the outer room, so that Gladys can broadcast from there instead of going to the main station on the top floor, and he plays her accompaniments. Oh, believe me, Herzton has all the cards in his deck, and he knows how to use them.” Gordon dropped into his chair again, and for some minutes the two young men sat in silence. Frankly rivals, they had been drawn together by a danger which threatened them both.
Meanwhile, the tiny airplane, typical of all Kent had considered important only a week ago, whirred idly overhead, straining at its anchoring string like a prisoner eager to escape.
“What do you propose?” Kent asked at length. “We’ve got to explore that fourth room, no matter what the risk. We shall find something there, or my hunch is wrong. Are you game?”
“Certainly, if that is the best course. But I am wondering. If your suspicions of Herzton are well founded, why not place the whole thing before Mr. Hensley?”
Brace smiled. "You forget that Herzton is much closer to Mr. Hensley than I am. Mr. Hensley trusts him absolutely. He gives him a free hand so far as the laboratory and his experiments are concerned. To question Herzton’s good faith before we have the complete proof to lay on the table would be to invite ridicule. It is to get that proof I intend to explore those rooms. Are you with me?”
Kent extended his hand, and their palms clasped over his desk.
Brace left as alertly as he had come, but Kent stood in his office, caught in a medley of emotions.
He was still wondering when Vera entered the office. Her cheeks had in them an unwonted color as she laid a number of typewritten sheets on her employer’s desk. “What is this* Vera?”
“The transcript of your interview.”
“You know—your standing instructions that all interviews with strangers are to be taken?”
Then Kent remembered. He had had difficulty over a patent as a result of information which a stranger had wormed out of him during a visit to his office. In a burst of enthusiasm, Kent had outlined, in general terms, a device which he believed could be used to direct waves of electric energy. The visitor had lost no time in filing blueprints and specifications at the patent office, and although they were too crude to be of mechanical value they served the purpose of blocking Kent’s own patent. At this juncture the stranger had magnanimously offered to sell out his rights for ten thousand dollars, and there the matter stuck. Warned by this experience, Kent had installed on his desk a second telephone which was always open, although a dummy receiver hung on the hook. This telephone he connected with a transmitter Continued on page 58
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in a little room allotted to Vera, and gave the girl instructions that all interviews with strangers were to be taken down. They would be good evidence, if needed.
And now he had more evidence than he wanted! Evidence that Vera knew all about his interest in Gladys Hensley and his pact with Gordon Brace; evidence, too, that he had assured Brace their conversation was entirely confidential, while every word was being taken in by a woman’s ears and placed on paper!
“That was quite right, Vee,” he managed to say, “although I really had forgotten about it.”
“I thought so,” the girl answered, “but . . . what else could I do?”
A catch in her voice raised his eyes to hers and he saw the moisture hanging like a veil over those blue orbs.
JUST as Kent was about to leave the office for the night, the little dark man whom he had seen at the inquest entered and begged a word with him. Kent remonstrated that it was closing time, and pleaded an evening engagement.
“But the matter is of great importance,” the little man insisted. “Where can we speak alone?”
Kent led him back to his office and indicated the chair but recently vacated by Gordon Brace. The little man drew it up to the desk; his fingers danced nervously on the wooden top.
“You had a visit this afternoon from Gordon Brace?” he began the interview. “Well?”
“Friends of Angus Hensley, or any member of his family, have little to do with Gordon Brace.”
Kent had an impulse to throw his visitor out. Brace had succeeded in winning his confidence that very afternoon, and it was annoying to have his judgment so speedily challenged. But he remembered that he was engaged in an investigation of an unusually mysterious nature in which every atom of information might be of value. Even wrong information might be helpful as a guide to the right.
“Nonsense,” he returned, in a poor attempt to curb his impatience. “Brace is a regular caller at the Hensley home.” “That is just what makes him so dangerous, Mr. Kent,” said the visitor, tapping his thin fingers sharply on the desk. “We never have met, Mr. Kent—” “I have seen you before.”
“Yes? At the inquest? But we have not been introduced. My name is Galut— Peter Galut. I am connected in a confidential capacity with the Hensley Radio Corporation.”
“In that case, if you know anything against Mr. Brace why don’t you report it to Mr. Angus Hensley, your employer?” “It would do no good, Mr. Kent. Mr. Hensley is a very able and wonderful man, but he is strangely devoid of suspicion.”
“In that he seems to differ from some members of his staff.”
Kent’s words were still testy, but Galut answered him patiently.
“His staff has to give him the protection he will not take for himself, Mr. Kent. Even at that, he is being continually victimized by all sorts of parasites. Every crank inventor in the country seeks him out and usually gets backing for even the wildest schemes. Mr. Hensley goes on the principles that the field of radio discovery is as yet only scratched, that great inventors are usually half mad, and that every avenue is worthy of being explored. He will back a hundred schemes with his money, and if one of them proves a success he counts the whole investment well spent.”
“Yes; but where does Brace come into all this?” *
Galut shifted his position. His black
eyes were fixed intently upon the young man across the desk.
“I have to take you into my confidence, Mr. Kent. The fact that I do so, shows the trust which I, and those I represent, place in you. Mr. Hensley, or more particularly, Professor Herzton, has all but perfected a static eliminator which will be to radio what the balloon tire was to the automobile—take the shake and rattle out of it, you understand. One link in the necessary chain of patents is, however, held by an outsider, a young inventor named Miles Freeman. His invention is of no value by itself, but it is required to complete the chain.”
“And is the Hensley Radio Corporation prepared to buy it?”
“Certainly. We would stop at no price at all within reason.”
“And Freeman knows all this?”
“Well, no. As I have told you, his invention is of no use by itself, but we need it to complete our chain. If we go ahead with our own discoveries, spend a barrel of money on new machinery, and so on, just when we are ready to launch our eliminator on the market some competitor may buy Freeman’s patent, take out an injunction against us, and tie us up. Believe me, Mr. Kent, there are plenty who would like to catch the Hensley Radio Corporation in a trap like that. It means that whoever has Freeman’s patent can levy tribute because we could better afford to pay a handsome figure than be tied up in lengthy litigation. Brace in some way has learned this and is trying to beat us to it. As for Freeman, he is an adventurer hoping to make a fortune out of patents, gold mines, or what not. When he failed to sell his patent to Professor Herzton he left for somewhere in Northern Ontario or Manitoba to prospect for minerals, and Brace is moving heaven and earth to find him and buy his patent before he becomes aware of its value.”
Kent remained silent for a moment, weighing Galut’s argument. Then he shot in the dark:
"In other words, Freeman frankly showed his device to Herzton. Herzton told him it was useless, and promptly undertook to patent the idea himself. Then he found that Freeman’s patent was water-tight, and there was nothing to do but just buy him out?”
Galut raised a deprecating hand. “You do not do Herzton justice,” he said. “He is merely trying to protect the company against a young man who poses as a friend of the Hensley family, and at the same time is trying to get control of a patent with which he could launch us into an expensive lawsuit unless we accept his terms.”
Kent extended his cigarette case, and helped himself. He tapped the little paper cylinder thoughtfully, lighted it slowly, and let the wreaths of blue smoke toy around his head before he spoke. Then:
“Why do you tell me all this?”
“I told yod we believed you could be trusted.”
“Who is ‘we’?”
“Well, Professor Herzton and I.”
“You see,” Galut continued, “Herzton has become interested in you and is prepared to make an ally of you. He is seeking to protect Mr. Hensley from exploitation, and he believes he can count on your help.”
“In that he is quite right,” Kent answered with decision. “I shall be glad to do anything I can to protect Mr. Hensley or any member of his family from exploitation or injury from whatever source, Mr. Galut . . . from . . . whatever . . . source.” Kent paused on the repetition, but the little man’s eyes never wavered.
“You have made a serious charge against Brace,” Kent continued. “Not, perhaps, from a legal point of view, but serious as indicating his attitude toward the Hensleys. How do you know that Brace is planning as you say?”
“We know that he has sent telegrams addressed to Miles Freeman at twentyeight points in Northern Ontario and Manitoba, all the way from Cochrane to The Pas, with instructions to hold until delivered.”
“How did you find that out?”
“We have friends,” significantly. “We know, too, that Brace is holding himself ready at a moment’s notice to rush north and meet Freeman. He must not have an hour’s lead on us.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Get his confidence. Keep in the closest possible touch with him.”
“And then betray him?”
“No. Prove that you are a real friend of Angus Hensley’s by crimping Brace’s scheme either to hold up the company or make himself a good fellow by turning over the patent at a nominal price—and marrying the president’s daughter.” “Ridiculous.”
“Not at all, my dear fellow. You see, she might not count it a sacrifice. There seems to be a leaning that way already,” Galut added, watching the effect of his words upon his auditor.
“I have nothing but your statement for all this,” Kent reminded him. “What proofs?”
“Proofs? Come with me.”
^\N THE street Kent and Galut were reminded that evening was setting in, and they had not yet eaten. They shared a table at the Arcadia restaurant, after which Galut led the way through the streets to a dark factory building in the manufacturing section of the city. The building was closed for the day, but its windows were still aglow with the mauve and copper of the setting sun.
“This building,” Galut explained, “is rented to a number of tenants for manufacturing purposes. The tenants know little about each other; the coming and going of a stranger would attract no attention. For that reason Brace has selected a room here where he stores documents and supplies that he considers unsafe in his office.”
Galut turned down an alley and stopped at a shipping door which opened on a platform at the level of a truck. The two men clambered on to the platform, and Galut, taking a tool from his pocket, inserted it in the crack of the door and raised a catch inside. He slid the door open and motioned Kent to follow him.
The building exuded a smell of textiles, and Kent judged that it was used mainly for the manufacture of clothing. It was quite dark inside, but Galut, taking Kent’s arm, led him along a labyrinth of stairs and passages. At length they stopped at a door before which Galut listened intently. Satisfied that there was no one about, he drew a key from his pocket and stealthily turned the lock. The door opened upon a room of uncertain size, its walls and corners lost in the gloom which, shrouding the whole building, seemed to concentrate at this particular spot. A window occupied part of one wall; through its murky panes a wan light sifted, and beyond, Kent outlined the ribs of a fire escape.
Galut moved to the window and drew down the blind, then stealthily applied his flashlight. He played it over the floor and walls, revealing an old wooden desk in one corner of the room.
“There are papers in that desk—papers that he would not intrust to any safety deposit vault in this city. He is depending on the secrecy of this old factory. But he has underestimated us, Mr. Kent, as
most people do who set themselves against the Hensley Radio Corporation, or, more particularly, against Professor Martin Herzton and Mr. Peter Galut.” The little man’s pride was bound to take an airing. “We are borrowing his plans from time to time to make copies, returning them here after short intervals, and trusting that he will not miss them in the meantime.”
“You photograph them, I suppose?”
“We did at first, but he must have become suspicious. Now he is working everything out with blue ink on white paper. As you know, Mr. Kent, blue will not photograph against white. So we have to copy them.”
Kent was wondering whether the fortunes of a great concern such as that headed by Angus Hensley had to be built up and protected by espionage and theft. He was wondering, too, that Galut should have taken him so much into his confidence. For the second time he mentioned the matter.
“We trust you,” Galut answered, simply. “Your interests are with us. Prove your loyalty to Mr. Hensley and he will back your wireless power investigations—in which Professor Herzton is greatly interested—to the limit. Should you prove disloyal you will find, Mr. Kent, that we can take care of you, just as we can take care of Mr. Brace.” Galut’s words carried the threat in a matter-of-fact tone, as one who is dispassionately stating a piece of information.
“We trust you,” Galut repeated after a pause, “and I shall show you that when we trust a man we hold nothing back.
He selected another key and knelt before the desk. He inserted the key, turned the lock, pulled the drawer. As he did so, shots rang out—one, two, three—and Galut settled to the floor like a heap of crumpled paper. The flashlight had fallen so that it poured into a face caught in the sudden agony of death. The room was filled with the smell of burnt powder.
Aghast at this sudden tragedy, Kent knelt hurriedly beside the prostrate figure. “Galut, are you killed?” he cried. The rattle in the dying man’s throat was the only answer. He thrust his hand over Galut’s heart. It came back warm and wet.
Kent’s own heart was thumping terrifically as the situation gradually unfolded itself. Galut was dead—there was no doubt about that. An automatic revolver, cunningly built into the desk, had evidently been so arranged that it was discharged when the drawer was pulled. At the level of the desk top, the aim was point-blank into the chest of the intruder. Kent reflected grimly that ingenuity was not all on the side of Herzton and Galut; Brace also had his share. It was plain that he had discovered his papers were being molested, and had taken this effective means of protecting them.
With a sickening emptiness about his beltline, Kent gazed in fascination upon the body of Galut, now lying flat on the floor. The flashlight, still lying where it had dropped from Galut’s hand, blazed perversely into the distorted face, now grey and hardening into the rigidity of death. How small and futile the crumpled little figure looked! Boastful only a moment ago; already hastening to decomposition.
But Kent had little time for moralizing. What to do was the question. Report the matter to the police? That seemed the normal course, but was it the wise one? He would be involved in the enquiry, and his testimony would involve in turn Herzton, Brace, and, indirectly, Angus
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Hensley. It would bring concern, if not shame, upon the Hensley household— upon Gladys Hensley. Kent thought of her as he knelt in the musty room with this stiffening body before his knees. At the moment she seemed worlds removed from him . . Then as to Brace . . . should he be tried for murder?
Still sitting on his knees in the gloomy room with the dead body before him, Kent turned over in his mind the various possibilities. The place seemed stiflingly hot; he felt the perspiration starting on his face and hands. He was oppressed with a sense of being trapped; the great, silent, black building seemed crushing down upon him. Suddenly the sound as of a footstep on the creaking floor caught hi3 ear and stirred him to action. He lurched to his feet and was surprised how uncertain were his limbs beneath him.
“Well, I can’t stay here,” he reasoned wdth himself. “If I report it to the police I’ll have to tell them what I know; in short, that Angus Hensley’s company employ burglary in their business, and one of their burglars has been killed. After all, it’s Brace’s affair, not mine; let him put on it the best face he can. I am the innocent bystander, if there is any such person, and my only responsibility is not to interfere with justice, which in this case seems to have run its course already. Galut perhaps got more than was coming to him, but it can’t be taken back now, and Brace may have some scheme of his own for disposing of the evidence. In the meantime, I’d better keep all I know under my hat; I may need it later on.”
Unsatisfactory as these conclusions were, none better offered itself, and he decided to make his escape without further delay. The possibility that he might be discovered in the room with the dead body was not an inviting one. He made his way to the door, but he had paid no attention to the stairs and passages by which he had come, and to retrace his steps might result in his becoming lost amid the building’s labyrinthine corridors. No doubt one or more night watchmen made their rounds from time to time; if one of them stumbled upon him, the association with Galut’s death, when it was disclosed, would be embarrassing.
In this predicament he remembered the fire escape, its ribs spanning the window against a murky grey light which filtered up from the alley below. Turning back into the room, he released the catch on the window and found it answered to his touch. He was on the fourth or fifth story, and the iron ladder zigzagged back and forth along the wall beneath him. Feeling very much like a criminal, he slipped through the window, closed it after him, and cautiously made his way downward. At the bottom story the ladder was suspended from the ground by a counterpoise, but it answered to his weight, and he reached the lane without difficulty. So far as he knew he had not been seen, and with solid ground under him he breathed more freely. Already, the shooting of Galut seemed unreal; like something which had happened in a dream from which he would presently awake. He found his way along a dark alley that ended at a street, and waited for the first car to take him back to his rooms.
An unpleasant shock awaited him in the street car. Reaching into his pocket for change to pay his fare, he suddenly noticed that his hands were stained with blood. With a closed fist he hastily dropped a coin in the fare-box, without asking for change, and moved up among the passengers. He rode with his hands in his pockets, hoping they had not been observed. In the same apparently nonchalant manner he walked frorh the car and entered the elevator at 42'6 Eleventh Street. Fortunately, there was no other passenger.
George, t&e elevator attendant on duty, seemed disposed to talk. “A pleasant
evening, Mr. Kent,” he essayed, “although a little warm, as we may expect, at this time of year.”
“It is warm,” Kent agreed.
But the elevator man was staring at him. He had brought the car to a stop at the seventh floor.
“You didn’t hurt yourself, Mr. Kent?” he asked, anxiously.
“Why, no, I don’t think so.”
“There’s blood on your forehead, Mr. Kent. Thought you looked pale when you came in, and now I see a little blood there, when you turn to the light.”
Involuntarily Kent’s hand went to his head, exposing the much heavier smear on his palm. “Must have scratched myself, some way. It’s nothing; I didn’t feel it,” he stammered, and hurried to his room. There, before his mirror, he saw a face pale with mental shock. There was a small spot of blood on the forehead.
“Must have touched myself there,” he soliloquized. “Suppose everybody on the street car saw it. And George—well, he won’t say anything, but he can’t help wondering. Silence may get me in wrong in this business. I’ve half a notion to call the police.”
But he washed his hands and face, and, when they were quite clean, he was less disposed to carry out that purpose. He argued with himself that it wasn’t his affair, and he was much better out of it. Speciously, he convinced himself that he might even serve Mr. Hensley and Gladys better by keeping silence for the present, and confiding in them at the proper time.
Kent went to bed, but slept poorly. Desks, dark rooms, and automatic revolvers—the latter wielded by a little dark man—invaded his consciousness at all hours of the night.
He arose early and, still in his pyjamas, slipped out to the elevator and bribed the boy to bring him a morning paper. George’s shift was over, so there were no further complications in that connection. Eagerly his eyes seized upon the headlines, but they carried no reference to the tragedy of Peter Galut. Evidently newspapers and police were still blissfully unaware of the happenings in the old factory building the night before.
At the shop he found Powers in a talkative mood, but he had little stomach for conversation. He wished he could go away off into the country to his boyhood home, perhaps, and sit down by the water and think until all this musty haze cleared away and the air was bright and pure again.
“Can’t make out what’s got into Morley,” Powers confided to Vera. “He’s about as responsive these days as a blown-out fuse.”
Vera had her own opinions, but she refrained from giving them expression. “Perhaps he is wrapped up in some idea for his invention,” she again suggested.
Powers scoffed that explanation. “Nothing further from his mind,” he retorted. “He has scarcely looked at our experiments for a week. He’s gone loony over that Hensley girl; that’s what is the matter with him. Instead of using her as a means to an end, as I playfully suggested, she has become the end itself—the end of everything. Until he wakes up. Then it will be a cold grey morning after; ”
Powers had been unpacking and mechanically testing light bulbs as he talked, slipping them deftly into an open circuit, holding them a fraction of a second until the filaments glowed white against his hand. Now he looked up, straight into the eyes of Vera, and a bulb fell smashing to the floor, for in that unguarded instant he read something so obvious that he had been blind to it for many months. For a moment he stood wordless as he made his mental adjustments; then a realization of how he had been torturing her almost overcame him. Every word of his thoughtless levity must have pierced her like a steel barb.
He seized her hands in his. “Hang it, Vee, I’m sorry. I hadn’t an idea Wouldn’t hurt you for the world. Don’t
take what I said too seriously; it’ll all come right.”
Her eyes had dropped from his; bravely though she fought for self-control, her lips trembled traitorously. Then, because there was no one in the shop, and because she needed so tremendously someone to lean upon, she drew a little nearer to his arms.
“It’s all right, Harry,” she managed to say. “You didn’t know, and he doesn’t know. I have no right . . . Oh, what’s the use of explanations, where nothing can be explained?” She drew from him again, plunging violently into the work which she had dropped.
For the time nothing more was said about it, but a new understanding was established between them.
Kent, unaware of the diagnosis and confessions that were taking place in the outer shop, tried in vain to concentrate on the sheets of blueprints lying on his desk. Before ten o’clock his ears were alert for the newsboys calling the noon editions. It was, therefore, something of a relief as well as a shock, when Gordon Brace burst into his office.
Brace was obviously excited. “I say, Kent,” he plunged into his subject, “do you know a man named Galut? A wizened-up, black little thing, but quick as a spider. A good deal of a spider he is, too, always spinning his webs?”
“Met him yesterday,” Kent answered. “I had the honor of a call from him soon after you left.”
Brace flung himself into a chair. “I had heard as much,” he said. “And no good reports did he carry about me, I’ll wager. Ever meet him before?”
“I had seen him, but I did not know who he was. He was at the inquest, you remember?”
“Yes; there as Herzton’s spy. A moment ago I called him a spider. The first syllable was right, anyway—spy; Herzton’s spy, and black-hander upon occasion.”
“But, at least, Herzton had nothing to do with the taxi-driver’s accident,” Kent reminded his visitor. “What interest could he have in that?”
“He has an interest in everything in which Gladys Hensley is concerned,” Brace retorted, impatiently. “Kent, that girl and what she represents is the prize Herzton is chasing to earth, and he’s too thorough to leave any exits unguarded.” Kent was too much concerned to note the confusion in Brace’s metaphors. His sympathies had been pendulating back and forth until he scarcely knew where he stood or what to believe. Yesterday afternoon Brace had won his confidence; last night he had found himself leaning toward Galut and Herzton; today, Brace’s sincerity and concern were too obvious to be questioned. He was trying to find a balance between these conflicting emotions when Gordon spoke again: “Galut visited you last night. That seems to have been the last seen of him. Tell me, Kent, do you know where he is now?”
Kent felt that, technically at least, he could answer no.
Brace opened and shared a new package of cigarettes.
“This is no time for half measures,” he said at length. “And that means no time for half confidences. If we hold back on each other they’re going to beat us. I went a long way with you yesterday. I’m going further today. Ever hear of an inventor named Miles Freeman?”
“Galut mentioned him last night.” Bruce sprang from his chair. “He did, eh? Then I’m right. That’s the tack they’re working on. What did he say about Freeman?”
“Said that Freeman had an invention which was very important to the Hensley Radio Corporation, and that you were trying to get control of it, so that you could dictate terms to Angus Hensley. Said also that Freeman is now somewhere in Northern Ontario or Manitoba prospecting for minerals, and that you are
trying to locate him by telegraph so that you can buy out his rights before the Hensley Radio Corporation has an opportunity to bid on them.”
“So? Then there’s a leak in the telegraphs. I must send my messages from some other city. What else?”
“You remarked a moment ago, Mr. Brace, that this is no time for half confidences. He added that part of your scheme is to capture the hand of Gladys Hensley in marriage.”
Brace colored, but burst into loud laughter. “You didn’t believe that? I mean . . that I would make it a matter of business? That’s too silly for words !”
“I am only telling you what he said.” “Yes, and it’s very interesting. That last touch was intended to enlist your sympathies against me. So far as Glad, is concerned, we know where we stand. Our job at present is to protect her from this menace, whatever it is, snd for that purpose we must combine cur forces. Afterward ... let the best man win. But I give you my word, Morley, that for the present my concern is for her, and her father, and mother, rather than myself.”
It was the first time he had used Kent’s Christian name, and with the new familiarity he extended his hand. Kent seized it warmly. “I believe you,” he said.
Their friendship so cemented, Brace plunged into Galut’s revelations. “Galut was partly right. I am trying to get in touch with Freeman so that I can secure his patent for Mr. Hensley. Galut and Herzton are trying to get it in order to hold up their chief. Remember, the manufacturer who controls a complete static eliminator can force every competitor into bankruptcy. Herzton will state his price —the presidency of the company and Gladys for his wife. Rather than see her father humiliated in business Gladys would probably make the sacrifice.”
Kent reflected how closely Brace’s accusations paralleled Galut’s. “Oh, I have proof,” Gordon continued, in answer to Kent’s upraised eyebrows. “Herzton has been filing patents in his own name, not the name of the Hensley Radio Corporation. Isn’t that evidence enough? Also I have a few inventions of my own, not yet in the patentable stage, which they have been trying to steal. For safety I had them in a desk in an old factory building, but they traced me down. I found my papers were being removed and replaced. I had stuck them together with tiny particles of wax, and the wax was broken. So I arranged a revolver in the desk in such a way that it would be discharged if the drawer was opened without disconnecting it by means of a secret key. Last night the revolver was discharged. Three cartridges were empty, and there was blood on the floor.”
Brace’s face had gone white. Kent was trying to appear appropriately shocked, and his heart was pounding treacherously. Should he tell Brace everything, or keep his secret?
“But the body?” he asked.
“Ah, that is the mystery,” Brace returned, his face grown whiter still. “There was no body.”
Kent’s agitation did not need to be feigned. No body! Then some one had visited that room after he had left. He was quite sure Galut was dead. Should he tell Brace now? No—better keep it in reserve.
“Have you reported the matter to the police?”
“Not yet. You see, I must find Freeman, and every moment counts. After what you have told me, I know that Herzton will not rest an hour until he has set machinery on foot to reach him first. So you see, Kent, I can’t be tied up now in inquests and trials and court proceedings of one kind and another. Apparently the marauder was only wounded. The window had been opened; there are blood stains on it, and there is evidence that some one went down the fire escape. I
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never have been anxious to kill anyone, Morley, and it is just as well he got away. My hunch is it was Galut. I must leave at once to find Freeman, but I wanted to give you these facts before I left.”
He arose to go, and the two young men shook hands warmly. Kent found himself now unreservedly on the side of Gordon Brace. If he still kept silence about his experience of the night before, it was because he had decided in this matter to keep his own counsel, at least until some of the haze surrounding Gladys Hensley had been cleared away. At the proper time he would be prepared to speak.
Early in the afternoon Vera laid on Kent’s desk a transcript of the morning’s conversation. “Heavens,” thought Kent. Aloud:
“I don’t know that it is worth your while taking these conversations, Vee. They don’t involve any patent rights belonging to the firm.”
Vera’s eyes faced him squarely. “No, they don’t, Morley,” she said, “but they involve something more important than patent rights. They involve you. You are becoming involved in plots and counterplots. These transcripts may be just what you need to prove someone’s guilt—or your own innocence—before the thing is over.”
Kent wondered that he had not thought of that before. “By George, Vera, you’re right! Take everything you can get. Even this.”
He would have drawn her to him, but she held away. “No, Morley,” she said. “I don’t want—just kindness.”
' I 'HE evening papers had the story.
Kent seized a copy from a newsboy and hurried into his own back office to learn what the papers and the police had so far discovered.
The news was slim enough, although with headings, boxes, and elaborations, it was spattered over several columns. The body of a man identified as Peter Galut had been found on a ledge of an old factory building two stories above the ground, where it was first seen by a stenographer looking out of a window higher up across the street. In its fall from a higher level the body apparently had hit the fire escape and had been flung into a little recess which hid it from general view. Three bullet holes were found in the chest, precluding the theory of suicide, as, if the wounds had been self-inflicted, it would have been impossible for the victim to fire the second and third shots. Also, it was evident the body had been handled; the shirt was smeared, and fingerprints found were not those of the dead man. Powder marks showed that the shots had been fired at very close range.
The six o’clock edition had further details. The room in which the murder was committed had been located; blood stains were found on the floor, but no sign of a struggle. Evidently the body had been thrown out of the window. Footprints and fingerprints, not of the dead man, had been found on the fire escape.
Kent felt as though his heart suddenly stood still as the consciousness dawned upon him that the police had his fingerprints. If suspicion ever should be directed toward him that evidence would be damning. Feverishly he read on:
The police were now convinced that two assailants had taken part in the crime, as fingerprints of two different men had been found on the window and on the body, neither of which corresponded to those of the victim. One of these men apparently had gone down the fire escape; the other one had not.
As he read, Kent found the mystery somewhat disentangling before him. Another man had entered the room, perhaps soon after the shooting of Galut. Who? Not Brace, or he would have known what became of the body. Who then? Some one who was interested in preventing the
discovery of the crime, or at any rate, association of it with Brace’s room. Herzton ! It was clear as a book. Herzton either had followed Galut, or, missing him, had sought him in the old factory building, Kent felt the hair twitch about the back of his neck as a new thought struck him. Perhaps Herzton had been in the building all the time. Perhaps Galut had been sent to decoy Kent; and then, when neither Galut nor Kent returned, Herzton had come to Brace’s room, found his confederate dead upon the floor and Kent gone. Evidence like that, and fingerprints! Kent began to wish he had reported the whole matter to the police at once, or at least had made a clean breast of it to Gordon Brace.
The shooting had taken place in a room rented for storage purposes by Gordon Brace, well-known young financier and sportsman, the paper went on to say. An old desk had been fitted with a revolver, which was discharged when the drawer was pulled. Just who was responsible for this infernal machine had not yet been determined. Brace was apparently out of town; he had not been located by the police.
Yes, Brace was gone. Kent could understand that. He evidently had left that very morning on his search for Freeman. His sudden flight upon the discovery of the crime committed in his room—what interpretation would be placed upon that?
Kert was still sitting in his office, turning these matters over in his head, long after Vera and Powers had left for the day. It seemed certain that suspicion would attach itself to Brace. Eventually he would be run down and brought back for trial. Then what? Was it a crime to set a gun in one’s own room to catch a burglar or a thief? Kent’s knowledge of law was limited mainly to the field of patents, but it seemed reasonable that Brace’s offense, if any, was one for which a clever lawyer could construct much justification. The point of most importance was that the enquiry would involve the Hensley Radio Corporation, and Angus Hensley would be held at least to some extent responsible for the misdeeds of his minions. Kent had already formed an attachment for the good-natured, openhanded radio magnate which, he told himself, was quite distinct from anyemotion he felt for the magnate’s daughter.
Suddenly he found himself caught in a gust of loneliness for the entrancing girl, who in such an inexplicable manner was involved in all these mystifying events; about whom, indeed, they seemed to rotate. He tried to remember how long it was since he first had seen her, and was surprised to find it only a week and one day. He had an impulse to drive to her home that night; to enjoy for an hour or two the stimulus of her company; to divulge, perhaps, some of the information
which had come to him, and to review the whole situation in the light of such confidences as she might extend.
While he was turning this course over in his mind he fancied he heard a tap on the outer door of the shop, now locked for the night. A moment later it was unmistakably repeated. He arose and walked to the door, expecting to find some belated customer wanting a fuse plug or other such trifle.
On the step he met Gladys Hensley. The girl’s clear cheeks seemed paler than usual; her lips were straight and set; the glow in her eyes shone from the depths of troubled pools.
“Oh, Mr. Kent—Morley,” she exclaimed. “Can you forgive my troubling you again? I saw a light shining from the office behind, and took a chance on your being in. Of course, you have heard the terrible news?”
“I have seen the papers. Won’t you come in?”
“No, please. I have my car; won’t you drive me home and tell me what you know?”
Kent joined her in her car, and, at her bidding, took the steering-wheel.
For a few blocks he followed the course to Lake Boulevard. Then, obeying a sudden impulse, he turned on to a driveway leading into the country.
“You are in no great hurry?” he asked.
“I can spare an hour.”
For some distance they glided on together in silence, Kent, mentally and physically conscious of the girl at his side, caught again in the wonderful magnetism with which she attracted him; Gladys, too, not without consciousness of her companion, but with a mind oppressed by the tragic series of events in which Gordon Brace was so obviously a factor. She sat without speaking, her eyes fixed on the highway rolling like a long black belt beneath the car, while Kent guided the machine through the thinning traffic.
Suddenly she placed her hand upon his arm. It was the touch of a feather, but it sent Kent’s blood dancing. He noticed, too, the nervous tremble of her fingers, and that they held to him as if for support.
“You don’t believe Gordon did it, do you?” Concern, appeal, entreaty were in her voice. It brought him back from a silvery little heaven into the stern realities of the day.
“No, I don’t; I certainly do not,” he answered, with emphasis of conviction. He could feel, rather than see, the expression of gratitude and relief which ran across her cheeks, pale but glowing in the evening sunlight.
“But where can he be?” she cried, alarm again upon her. “I have tried everywhere. Why doesn’t he come out? Why doesn’t he tell them he didn’t do it?”
“No one has accused him, dear,” Kent reminded her. The term of endearment slipped out quite naturally and without premeditation. If she heard it at all she gave no sign.
“Have you seen him recently?”
“Today? Did he say anything about the—about what has happened?”
Kent thought it as well to tell her. “Yes, all he knew about it. It seemed he had some valuable papers in that desk, and he found they were being examined by someone without authority. So he set a gun to catch the thief. That is how the shooting happened, but I don’t see that it is a crime for a man to protect his own property.”
She was intensely interested, and, he thought, relieved. “But why doesn’t he tell them; why doesn’t he tell the police all about it?” she insisted. “He could clear the matter up in ten minutes. Surely it is folly to keep anything like that from the police. They will find it out, and his silence will place him under suspicion.
Her words drilled into Kent as though they had been intended for his special benefit. Perhaps it was folly, but—
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“He can’t tell them,” he tried to explain. “People for whom he has a high regard—close friends of his—would be involved, at least indirectly. Besides, he has a very important business engagement away from the city which demands immediate attention. He cannot afford to be delayed by police investigations and red tape.”
“Then he has left the city? When the police learn that, they will bring him back like a criminal.”
Kent had thought of that, too. It seemed the inevitable result of Brace’s action. But he tried to set her mind at rest as they returned by another route to Hensley House.
Kent stopped the car, and for a few minutes Gladys remained seated by his side, as though loath to leave. In the dusk and silence their hands had met. She must be conscious of it now, for Kent’s slight pressure was returned with a firm quick grip.
She was summoning her courage for a confession. “You know those moods of mine?” she burst out at length. “Usually they make me do something I don’t want to, but tonight—it is the strangest thing— it was quite the opposite. About six o’clock I felt a sudden and impetuous desire to—to take you out motoring with me.” He knew she was blushing, although only the outline of her face was visible in the shaded seclusion of the car. A little apologetic laugh rippled from her lips. “And so I just came along,” she added. “If they were all as pleasant as that we wouldn’t need to do anything about it, would we?”
Kent felt that she was travelling fast, but he was eager to keep pace. “I should say not,” he assured her. “The oftener the better.”
She again lapsed into silence, and the moments, precious for the intoxication of her presence, slipped by. Then:
“I don’t think I will ask you to come in tonight, Morley,” she said. She had picked up his Christian name as though it belonged to her. “We’re all so upset. You see, Gordon is an old friend of daddy’s; of all of us, don’t you understand? I’m sure if it’s money he needs for defense, or anything, he needn’t worry about that. But you are always welcome,, and you will come out again one of these nights, won’t you? And bring me good news as soon as you can?”
“I shall rush out the very moment I get it,” he told her. Then, as he stepped from the car, “Thank you so much,” she said. “You have given me a great deal of comfort. I would like to drive you home, but I must already be delaying dinner. You don’t mind, do you?”
Even in the distress which agitated her, she had a friendly flourish of her hand for him as he disappeared down the drive which led to Lake Boulevard.
Kent stopped at a restaurant, and, in washing for dinner, was surprised to note how soiled were his hands. The palms and fingers almost seemed to have been sprinkled with a black dust or powder. He washed them carefully and, for the moment, gave no further thought to the matter.
At dinner everyone seemed to be talking about the Galut shooting. Different terms were used to name the tragedy, varying all the way from murder to an act of public service. It was evident that a partizanship for and against Brace’s method of property protection was quickly crystallizing.
“You wait till that fellow Brace turns up,” a loud-voiced diner at a neighboring table was telling the world. “He’ll give the police an earful; see if he don’t.”
“Yes, and they’ll give him an earful, and about ten years to digest it,” another patron predicted.
Kent’s mind was divided between such observations and an insistent appraisal of the interest of Gladys Hensley in Gordon Brace. He tried to assure himself it was natural enough that the girl should be
concerned about Brace: as she had said, he was an old friend of hers and of the family. Nothing remarkable about that. And he extracted no little comfort from the thought that in her distress she had come to him—direct to him—even at the cost of some conventionality. The recollection of her presence by his side still thrilled him more acutely than any sense of the tragedy with which he had been so strangely and secretly connected. The whole affair of the shooting of Galut was already assuming proportions of unreality in his mind, like some dream rehearsed in that strange borderland between sleep and waking when it seems to belong to the sphere of both and neither.
It was late when Kent reached his lodgings, but from force of habit he glanced at his mail-box. It contained a letter which he opened after he had thrown his coat on a chair and removed his collar, for the night was warm.
“Dear Kent,” he read, “come to my office at once when you receive this note. Never mind how late. Go to the first side entrance; you will find a watchman there who will bring you up in the elevator. It is about Galut. Martin Herzton.”
“Herzton! What does he want with me, and does he think I must run at his call, like a faithful dog or an employee of the Hensley Radio Corporation? And why does he link me up with Galut?”
Kent felt a surge of resentment go over him at the almost dictatorial tone of the note. His first impulse was to ignore the request, or at least to postpone compliance with it. Why should Herzton wish to discuss this affair with him? He had little doubt that the professor knew of his presence with Galut in that fatal chamber, and the thought came to him that this urgent invitation might have sinister significance. Did Herzton wish to close his mouth? And, if so, what means would he adopt? Argument, bribery, or force? Not without a realization that his visit might involve physical danger, Kent resumed his collar and coat, and surprised his friend George of the elevator by going out again at so late an hour.
“A warm night, Mr. Kent,” he suggested. “Too warm for sleep?”
“It is warm,” Kent agreed. “A little fresh air may not go amiss.” He wondered whether George was thinking of the blood stains of the night before.
A taxi whirred him to the great red brick pile which housed the activities of the Hensley Radio Corporation. The buildings were now in darkness, save for lights which marked the elevator tubes and main corridors. The grass of the lawn showed richly green where the headlights of the taxi swept across it as they turned up the drive leading to the side entrance; beds of peonies reflected white and pink combinations of color against the dull grey of stone foundations beyond.
Kent was about to pay his driver and send him home when a sudden premonition seized him. He handed the man his business card.
“That’s my firm—Kent and Powers. I am Kent,” he explained. “I want you to go to my office at ten in the morning and ask for me. If I’m not there, hand this letter to my partner and tell him about our trip here tonight.”
He took from his pocket the letter of Professor Herzton, stuffed an extra tip in the envelope, and placed it in the driver’s hand. “You understand? Just a checkup in case I should be missing in the morning,” he explained. And the taxi man, accustomed though he was to strange commissions, gave a second glance at Kent before he turned his car toward the street.
“Morley, I wonder if your nerves are getting jumpy?” Kent asked himself, as he pushed the night bell. “Well, it was a good precaution. That letter, with Vera’s transcripts, will make evidence enough if it should be needed.”
To be Continued