The Fourth Dagger
Again a darkened corridor rings with horrible laughter— and dagger number two enters into a profound mystery
The story: “Tiger” Lillie, a newspaper reporter, is sent by City Editor Jerry Inkerley to get a routine story. On the street he meets Gordon Muldrew, a detective friend. They are passing the Florence Hotel when a scream for help is heard coming from an open window on the third floor. Rushing inside, they proceed with the manager, Guy Hammerton, to Room 322, where they find a middle-aged man lying dead, his hands folded on his chest and the dagger which killed him lying near by.
A girl, Mona Netherwood, is found in the corridor. She says she was about to visit the murdered man but ran downstairs for help when she heard the scream. She identifies him as her father, an ex-actor named Aaron Netherwood, though he registered under the name of Lightfoot.
People who come more or less under suspicion are Sperring, a detective story writer who lives on the floor above; David Jefferson in Room 316 with whom the dead man appeared to have been friendly; Blayton Anders in Room 324 who admits that his real name is Lanofsky; Mr. and Mrs. Darling in Room 326.
Miss Netherwood says that her father left home for an unknown reason and she traced him to the hotel; that the dagger which killed him belonged to a collection of his.
Interviewing Mrs. Netherwood at her home, Muldrew catches her in a lie when, after she stated that she had not left the house, her coat is found to be wet. She admits then that she started for the hotel, but claims not to have reached it.
THOUGH Muldrew had given no hint that our work for the night was incomplete, I judged by the pace he set that he was not laying off. Yet, with Jefferson gone, with Anders warned -and Mona Netherwood, too— we seemed to face a blank wall. I was familiar with the usual police paregoric to the public, ‘‘Arrests are expected at any moment,” but I determined that the Star would have nothing to do with that sort of thing.
Against the mutual denunciation of Muldrew’s methods that had entertained Sperring and me for ten minutes, there battled my faith in my friend. And so I trudged along with him, saying nothing, content to be permitted to remain. Though we were the closest of friends and I had worked beside him on many a case in the capacity of onlooker, more frequently we aimed at the same end by different paths, I to rake up scoops for the Star, he concerned only with the criminal and usually anxious to conceal the clues I so diligently sought.
When, just before midnight, we dropped from a street car at the comer of Markham Street and Ninth Avenue and struck south, 1 knew where we were going and my heart beat quickly. My one worry was that he would renew his baiting of Mona Netherwood, taking advantage of her apprehensions and fatigue and using what he had learned from her mother. From the first, I had seen Muldrew insinuating her and her mother into the case.
Guy Hammerton was still in the hotel office, the strain of the evening’s events plainly showing in the dark rings beneath his eyes. Hammerton had always seemed weak and effeminate, but his success as a hotel manager confuted that. He had, it was true, a mincing manner, an unmanly way of dressing, yet, if stories were true, women saw much to admire -too much for the good of his reputation. His supreme self-confidence, too, had sometimes jarred me to raillery, to which he was maddeningly invulnerable. It pleased me now, therefore, to see his self-confidence shaken.
He greeted Muldrew with surprise and exasperation.
‘‘Not through with us yet, eh?”
“I wasn’t aware that Aaron Netherwood’s murderer was
caught,” Muldrew retorted. “Has the body gone yet?"
‘‘Long ago. But that man, Jameson, of yours wouldn’t let me into the room—one of my own rooms! Said you’d given orders.”
Muldrew nodded. “Idon’t suppose the undertaker needed you, anyway.”
“We got the body down the back stairs and out the back door,” Hammerton confided. “No one saw a thing.” Muldrew was playing with a pen.
“There are back stairs and a back door, are there?” “Certainly. Along that passage.” He pointed with a diamond-clad finger.
“Leads into the lane, I suppose?”
“Yes. Are you going upstairs again?”
“I just want to speak to Jameson a moment,” Muldrew replied. “You don’t mind him sleeping on the couch there in the corridor at the head of the stairs, do you?”
"He can have a room if he likes,” Hammerton offered. “In fact, I’d like him to keep out of the way as much as possible. A policeman about gives a hotel a bad look. You know your way up.” He returned to his books.
We had gone only a few steps when Muldrew turned back. “By the way, might as well give me the key to ,320 now. It’s empty, you said. I won’t need it tonight, but I’ll be on hand too early for you in the morning. I want to look about those rooms. I’m having that new lock put on 322 first thing in the morning.”
Hammerton handed the key over.
“I don’t suppose we’ll need 320 tonight for guests. But as soon as you can let us into 322 to clean it up. I wish you would. That carpet will have to be changed.”
A MAHOGANY finished elevator shot us to the third floor, and we emerged into an empty corridor in which three lights burned. From where we stood Jameson and his couch were out of sight. Muldrew smiled enigmatically as we moved along the soft carpet. The Darlings, in 325, were still awake; we could hear their voices as we passed the door, and Muldrew paused to listen. But only a murmur reached us.
“Sanctimonious pair,” he grunted. “I didn’t like them. Good they married; shame to spoil two houses.”
“And such friends of Anders,” I said.
We found Jameson stretched in complete abandon on the couch, his feet raised to one end. his head on his folded arms. He heard us the instant we reached the corner. Without moving he grinned.
“Couldn't you,” he asked, “strike a bargain with Hammerton and the chief to make this my beat regular? I don’t see how the deuce I’m going to stay awake. These quiet, expensive hotels don’t give a policeman a chance.”
Muldrew dragged the man’s feet to a more comfortable position.
“You can be a policeman, Jameson, without staying
awake tonight. It’s just a formality placing you here. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll take a last look around.”
We returned to the main corridor. Instantly Muldrew’s manner changed. After a glance in both directions, he tested the key of 320, found it worked silently, and passed on.
“Fine, fine!” He rang for the elevator. To Hammerton he threw a cheery good night as we passed.
On the street, a bleak, damp wind was blowing, and Muldrew lifted his coat collar against it. At a determined pace, as if a warm bed looked extra good, we struck westward toward Ninth Avenue. We crossed it, still on Orchard Street. At Tenth Avenue he turned south and, after a few steps, looked quizzically down on me.
“Sleep tonight. Tiger?”
I yawned. "I will be soon—if something doesn’t happen. For a first-class murder, Gordy, this begins to look like a washout.”
He made no reply until we reached the end of the lane that ran back of the buildings on that side of Orchard Street.
“All right,” he whispered, and dived into the lane. “Follow me.”
We followed the lane to Ninth Avenue, crossed it quickly, and were swallowed in the darkness behind the Florence Hotel. We found the back door and tried it.
It was locked. Muldrew seemed neither surprised nor disappointed.
“We’ll try the front stairs,” he said. “If we can creep in there at this time of the night without l>eing seen—”
“Ah,” I said, “you want to see if Netherwood’s murderer could have crept in unnoticed.”
"Miss Netherwood says she did,” Muldrew reminded me.
“But the murderer certainly couldn’t have left the hotel that way,” I said.
With the flashing hotel sign dark -it was turned off at eleven — Orchard Street seemed oppressively gloomy, though in the same light five minutes ago 1 had not noticed it. I tingled with excitement, for I knew Muldrew had more in mind than he mentioned.
For several moments we stood outside the revolving glass door awaiting our chance, then Muldrew touched my arm. We entered and dropped into the nearest chairs. A fair number of guests and visitors still sat about, conversing in hushed tones as befitted the hour or reading the evening papers.
From our shadowed comer Muldrew kept his eye on the office.
At another touch I rose and, keeping near the wall, we moved toward the stairs.
At the tum I looked back.
“Hammerton isn’t there, and the clerk is too busy with the telephone operator to notice us,” I remarked.
JAMESON was sound asleep.
His helmet lay on the floor and his belt was loose. Muldrew roused him.
“Don’t worry about us,” he whispered. “Finish your sleep.
I ’ll be here the rest of the night.”
Jameson grinned. “Keep an eye on me, will you? I don’t want to lose my socks. I’m sure making a night of it.” We left him snuggling back.
The main corridor was deserted; not a sound reached us from any of the rooms. Above the lobby, sleep held sway. And presently we stood in the darkness of Room 320—with my hand touching Muldrew’s sleeve for comfort.
"Make yourself comfortable, Tiger,” he whispered, “but don’t touch the bed or make a sound.” He flashed his torch about the room.
“What’s on?” I asked, my scalp creeping.
“Your guess is as good as mine, old man. I’m testing a theory. Don’t talk. Sleep if you like.”
I thought I couldn’t sleep; not with the blood dancing in my veins. But I did.
A click of the door catch and a subdued rush of feet in the corridor awakened me with dizzy abruptness. Through the open door I could hear Jameson growling:
“What the devil ! I say, Muldrew ! That you? What kincf
of a trick—”
I saw then that the corridor was in darkness. As I felt my way to the door I crashed into Muldrew, grovelling about on the floor.
“Stand back, Tiger. My torch—I dropped it.”
Jameson came plunging along the corridor.
Muldrew called: “Your torch, Jameson, your torch. Quick ! Along the corridor there !”
“I—I can’t get it out.” Jameson was still half asleep.
Then the light shot out. It lifted, wandering uncertainly. In his right hand Jameson held his gun.
Muldrew leaped toward him.
“Don’t shoot, you fool. The light—that way!”
From the darkness far down the corridor came a wild, chuckling laugh.
MULDREW wrenched Jameson’s torch from him. The light shot along the corridor—an empty corridor.
We raced to the end. There it branched to the left toward the back stairs. Muldrew snapped off the light and, pressing me tight against the wall, stood listening. All I heard was the pounding of my own heart.
Muldrew exploded. “Careless all through!” He turned on the torch and flashed it down the stairs and up. “The arm of the chair caught my hand and knocked my torch away.”
“But,” I puzzled, “where are the hotel lights?”
Muldrew made a sound of disgust. “Another fuse. Tiger. It’s getting to be a habit. But this time it’s the whole, building. That fellow takes no chances—except that he didn't know we were in 320.”
“I give the whole thing up,” I sighed. "I’m not even sure I'm awake.”
“Simple enough, Tiger. Some one wanted it dark.”
A door opened somewhere, then two or three more. The guests were awake. Muldrew paid no attention; he was examining the stairs.
“No use following them,” he grumbled. “He’d have every advantage. All right, Tiger, the affair is over.”
But there he was wrong. A voice down the corridor growled in impatient protest.
“It’s only the'fuse,” Muldrew explained in a loud voice. “It'll be fixed in a few minutes."
“Funny effect you have on lights,” said a voice.
“Perhaps it's fortunate I'm on hand, Mr. Anders, when they blow out,” Muldrew returned smoothly.
“Anyway,” Anders sneered, “you can’t blame this on me.” Mrs. Darling’s hard voice reached us from 325. “Looks as if this hotel needs a new lighting system.”
“Or new guests,” Muldrew replied.
‘‘Oh, you and your wisecracks,” Anders snarled, and slammed his door.
Muldrew chuckled. “Anders and I don’t love each other. I wonder which of us will get in a blow first.”
Jameson had taken his stand before 322, stiff as a sentry. As we neared him, the torch flaming over him, he shivered.
"Gosh, it’s enough to give a man the jim-jams. To wake up and feel a hand in the dark touching your face
Muldrew jerked about and faced him. “You felt that some one touched you?”
“I wasn't dreaming.” Jameson shivered again. "I thought at first it was you trying to wake me quiethke. But I’d already jumped. And then some one ran away and that awful laugh!” Muldrew shrugged indifferently. "Stay here, Jameson. I ’ll send some one to relieve you. Remember, one of you must never leave this door till the new lock is on.”
And while I puzzled at the sudden change of orders, Muldrew set off toward the stairs. I noticed then that he carried his gun ready. At Rt;m 320 he paused to recover his own torch, sending me back to Jameson with his. As I ran after Muldrew I saw him round into the branching corridor where Jameson had lain. I arrived in time to see him dart forward and pick something from the flcxr beside the couch. He held it up, flashing his torch on it.
It was a narrow-bladed stiletto !
Beads of jx;rspiration showed on Muldrew’s forehead.
As desperate as that. I—1 never thought of it.”
“If Jameson hadn’t jumped ” I began.
“If I hadn’t opened the door of 320 at that moment. Tiger, there'd have been a second murder here, a dirtier murder than Aaron Netherwood’s. Don’t tell Jameson.” He wiped his face. “My theory was right— as far as it went.” He turned to me. “Tiger, you’d better keep out of this.”
I pointed at the stiletto.
"After that. I'm likely to.”
MULDREW returned to the corridor and knocked on the door of 327. To his first summons there was no response, and my heart beat painfully. Had Mona Netherwood tightened the net about her by running away? But at the second knock the door opened so suddenly that I knew the girl had all the time been standing close inside.
Muldrew crowded through. “Sorry, Miss Netherwood.
He sent the ray from his torch to every comer of the room, then crossed and looked in the bathroom.
Mona stood stiffly aside. She was fully dressed. The light slid over her white face.
‘‘Unpardonably stupid of me,” Muldrew apologized. “You must be worn out. 1 forgot. 1 might have brought you some night clothes.”
The girl pointed to the bed. On it lay a pair of the gaudiest pyjamas I ever saw. Muldrew and I blinked.
"There are some who don’t forget,” Miss Netherwood said. "Mr. Inkerley has been kind.”
I felt faint. Jerry and those pyjamas ! Scarlet and purple ! Muldrew said: “Then you might have been comfortable.” Her lips parted thinly. "Never in this place.”
Muldrew held out the second dagger. “This, too, you have seen before?”
As with the first, she shrank before it, and for a moment 1 thought she would faint.
"Where—where did you find it?” she asked feebly.
“So you have seen it before? 1 thought SÍ).”
He wheeled and made for the door. But she threw herself before him.
“What does it mean this one, too? Please, please, tell me. How did those daggers get here?”
"I hoped you could explain that, Miss Netherwcxxi. Your mother—I’ve had a long talk with her-—”
He stepped forward to catch her, for she swayed visibly, but she threw his hand away.
“What has mother to do with it—with anything? She was against me seeing father at all.
She had given him up. She almost hated him.”
She stopped and a look of fear came into her eyes.
She wanted to talk but feared to say too much.
“Yes, that dagger, too, was in father’s collection.
There were always half a dozen lying about his study.”
She shook her head miserably. “I don’t know;
I don’t see how it could be for that. But now—”
“Then this one, too, was in his study the other day?”
The girl nodded wearily. “I don’t understand.
You say you talked to mother. Does she know anything? Does she know you kept me here?”
"I told her," Muldrew said. "She said quite a bit; much that promises to help. She says”— he emphasized the last word -“she sent the Japanese dagger to your father. You didn’t mention that to me.”
"I didn’t know it,” she admitted in a tight
Muldrew turned the light from her white face.
"It would be better had you known and told me at first. You see how wist) it was that I kept you here.”
"I don't." she flashed back.
"No? Then I’ll tell you why. I found this dagger just now, this second dagger of your father’s that was in your house only a few days ago, where it fell from the hand of some one who had planned another murder. It failed only because "
The sound of excited voices sent Muldrew headlong to the corridor. Jameson was growling.
A woman’s voice rase, shrill with protest. Miss Netherwcxxi darted jvist me.
In the corridor Jameson, in the light of Muldrew’s torch, gripped Mrs. Netherwcxxi firmly by the arms.
THE expression on Muldrew’s face puzzled me.
There was satisfaction mixed with disappointment. Some pet theory must have been sustained and it failed to please him. I let it i>ass with the memory of his dislike of women in his professional capacity. Scenes were Muldrew’s meat, but not with women in them.
At sight of him Mrs. Netherwcxxi ceased struggling, and a cold dignity stiffened her. At that moment the lights came on ; repairs had been rapidly made downstairs.
“Ah, Mrs. Netherwood!" Muldrew was feeling his way. “Unusual hour, isn’t it? Unusual place?”
Mona turned on him fiercely.
“Is it unusual for my mother to wish to see her daughter whom you imprisoned without cause? Must she explain to you? Hasn’t she a right—”
I wondered if Muldrew felt as Ithat the daughter was talking to give her mother time to prepare a story. But Mrs. Netherwcxxi needed no time.
"I was looking for my daughter. Surely you haven’t the impertinence to question my right. What has she done?” "How did you get here?” Muldrew demanded. "Did they let you upstairs?”
“Who? I ask no one’s permission to see my own daughter. I don’t ask your permission now.” Defiant enough, but she could not hide the rending uneasiness behind.
“It would be wise to answer my questions, Mrs. Netherwood. The police have certain privileges in a case of murder.
I might have taken your daughter to the police station. Now, how did you get here?”
"By the back stairs.” Her lips closed in a thin line.
"But not by the back door. How long have you been here?”
’ For answer she flung up her head.
He reached out suddenly and touched her coat.
"You've been here for some time. It’s raining, and your coat is dry. Where have you been in the hotel?”
"Searching for Mona. With this.” She show-ed a small nickelplated torch. "I knew they’d stop me at the office.” “And I stop you now,” Muldrew said firmly. “Please come with me.”
Mrs. Netherwood frowned. "Where are you taking me? I refuse to leave this hotel without my daughter.”
"If I take you both to the station you’ll be without her. But I won’t ask you to leave the hotel. Your daughter will remain in 327. You’ll have another room--on this corridor.” For a moment or two it seemed that the woman would refuse, but something in Muldrew’s manner cowed her. Mona intervened.
“Go with him, mother. It’s no use. I’ll be all right. In the morning may we go, Mr. Muldrew?”
"The morning,” said Muldrew, “is another time.”
He led along the corridor, Mrs. Netherwood following.
Jameson directed Mona back to 327. Muldrew opened the door of 320 and ushered Mrs. Netherwood in. As he turned to her, the stiletto was in his hand.
“Another of your husband's toys,” he said.
SHE glared at the shining steel, as Mona had done, her lips compressed, struggling between a desire to speak and to be silent. Then, with a quick look over Muldrew’s shoulder, she asked in a low voice:
“Has Mona seen it?”
"Certainly. That’s how I know it was one of his. Did you send him this one, too—by request?” His tone was sarcastic.
"Yes, I did. I sent him four. He asked for them.” She spoke dully, as if she knew he would not believe her.
“So there are two more? Will you be good enough to describe them?”
She hesitated. “You’re trying to comer me.”
“I’m trying to save lives,” Muldrew retorted curtly. "The other two—I remember them—they were his favorites of the collection. One is a hunting knife, with a deer’s-foot handle. The fourth is a long-bladed jackknife that opens with a spring; one edge of the big blade is nicked like a saw.”
Muldrew was silent, fixing the descriptions in his mind. “Perhaps you sent more than four.”
“I’ve told you everything,” she replied. “Now,” she added in a low voice.
“After one dagger murdered your husband, and the second barely missed. And there are still two.” He lifted his shoulders and his eyes flashed. “In a couple of hours it will be daylight, Mrs. Netherwood.”
Without another word he left the room, locking the door behind him.
"You’re not arresting her, Gordy?” I whispered.
"But surely you don’t suspect either of them.”
"Not as much as they do each other—or one does the other. If I gave them enough rope they’d hang themselves, trying to save each other.”
"Of course you really can’t think they—”
He waved me to silence and opened the door of 322. As he dosed it behind us, he said:
"All I’m trying to do at present, Tiger, is prevent two rash women from complicating the case by their persistent reticences and deceiving franknesses. I’ve task enough without trying to untangle two women with an idea.”
He called up the police station.
"The operator thinks it’s a ghost,” he grinned. “Hello, Coddling. Send another man to the Florence Hotel right away.”
Then for a time he forgot all about me. He had taken his stand before the open window, legs spread, hands in pockets. Suddenly he called me to him.
"Take a look at this, Tiger. We were down there in the entrance to that lane—fifty yards, at the most. Of course, we’d hear his cries; and, of course, any one within half a mile would hear them—almost. Netherwood couldn’t have arranged for quicker and more certain succor if he’d planned his own murder. And yet we know that succor could not have reached him in time to save his life.”
T WAS weary of the mystification, of his inexplicable interest in that open window.
“Of course.” I jeered, “Netherwood just delayed his death a moment while he opened the window. One of those fresh air fiends.”
“You heard what the doctor said. Tiger? Netherwood never moved after that knife struck home except to fall where he was struck. I don’t think he was let fall, even. No blood anywhere else either.”
He had time to cry out a lot,” I reminded him. Muldrew only shook his head.
“What about the bruised lips?” I asked. “Don’t rub it in, please.”
“It isn’t so puzzling to me,” I ventured. “The murderer tried to choke him off and failed. It’s simple enough.”
“Is it? Did you notice in the cries—or here in the room—any evidence of a struggle? Besides, the murderer of Aaron Netherwood would not fail there any more than elsewhere.”
He wandered about the bedroom. The bed was unruffled except where the doctor had sat on it for a moment before leaving. Each chair in turn was examined. The radio he glanced at for a moment—enviously, I thought—and passed on to the desk. Except for a few sheets of blank hotel writing paper, two pens and an inkwell, it was empty. One of the drawers was locked, and this he pried open, but it, too, was empty.
"Nothing, nothing,” he growled. “Too carefully nothing. Everything cleared away.”
“Then it couldn’t have been done after the murder,” I said. “There wasn’t time.”
Muldrew stood thinking.
"Perhaps Netherwood entered to find a thief ransacking the room. That would account—” He reached into a pigeonhole in the desk and slid from against the side a battered photograph. As he looked down on it he whistled. "Well, what do you know about that?” He passed it to me.
I saw a thin, angular, but not unattractive woman, and a beautiful girl of perhaps fifteen. It was easy to recognize the two Netherwood women.
Muldrew tapped the picture.
“Needn't tell me he’d forgotten them. He didn’t leave because he was weary of them. He left because—” He continued to stare at the photograph.
"He left because he loved them.”
"Sounds like the latest song hit,” I scoffed.
“Don’t sneer, Tiger. It’s a theory worth considering— and it starts a new train of thought.”
“Something to do with that midnight visitor,” I suggested. “Perhaps he left because his life was in danger, and he didn’t wish his women involved.”
Muldrew said nothing. He had wandered away to the bathroom. There he pounced on a tiny piece of curved glass
Continued on page 30
The Fourth Dagger
Continued from page 22
in a comer. This he picked up carefully by the edges and wrapped in his handkerchief. After a few minutes with a magnifying glass over the washbasin, he returned to the bedroom and started aimlessly around it once more.
From the corridor came the sound of excited voices.
SOME ONE knocked on the door, and Muldrew glanced nervously about. Creeping close to the broken panel, he bent to listen.
“That you, Jameson?”
Jameson’s reply was inaudible to me, but Muldrew' opened the door. In the corridor, beyond Jameson’s extended arms, Guy Hammerton, red-faced and disturbed, scowled at us.
“He won’t let me in,” he protested.
“How do you come to be there?” Muldrew demanded.
“When the lights went out I was roused from the office, naturally. Then when you telephoned for another policeman —” "Surprised you all, didn’t it?” Muldrew laughed. "I was just illustrating how simple it is to get into this hotel and upstairs without any one knowing. And I’m not the only one. Mrs. Netherwood is here. She’s in 320 for the night. Be good enough not to disturb her.”
Hammerton was almost purple with suppressed fury.
“I don’t see why the police have to do everything in such a sneaky way. Why can’t you let me know? These hordes of policemen running about-it’s bad for the meanest hotel, let alone the Florence. I’m manager here. It’s my duty to see ”
"Some might think protecting the lives of your guests your duty, Hammerton,” Muldrew interrupted shortly.
It punctured the bubble of Hammerton’s indignation.
“It would l>e better for every one if we worked together,” he said. "When I don’t know what’s going on. anything might happen.”
Muldrew was losing patience.
”My dear Hammerton, now and then the police are able to work alone. But I can assure you there never has been any intention of doing things behind your back. You simply don’t figure, that’s all. I have my job, and I’m doing it my own way. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I’ve no time to argue. I know how it must hurt a hotel like the Florence
"What has the hotel to do with it?” All the time Hammerton was trying to peer over or under Jameson’s big arm. with the curiosity of a small boy.
“As I said, I’ve no time to argue. Good night.”
I íe was dosing the door when Hammerton stopped him with a word:
"You wanted to know if Mr. Netherwood had any friends. I don’t know about friends, but 1 remember now I’ve seen him talking to that Mr. Jefferson, of Room 326.” "Thanks.” Muldrew closed the door. For a moment he stood with dancing eyes. “Zealous chap. Hammerton. Keep at him and he may remember more, something of value. But why all this agitation because I surprised them all by being here? I’m not going to steal the plumbing.”
“It’s the publidty he dreads," I explained. "It’s certainly a nasty blow for the hotel. Hammerton would like it handled in whispers, of course.”
"And don’t I do it that way when I sneak in? I’ve been most careful
“Hammerton would prefer that you carry on the chase through a telescope.” I yawned. “Go ahead. By the way, I wonder if I couldn’t amuse myself with the radio. Only Anders next us. I’d rather like to bother him.”
I was standing before the radio. It was an elaborate affair; Muldrew’s guess at eleven tubes was probably right. Muldrew came and stood beside me.
“I wish we could,” he murmured. “I’m through with the room for the time being.” He stooped to the dial. “Likes Boston, does he?” He turned the knob, but no light came in the dial with the click. “Something's wrong here. D’you understand these things, Tiger. Maybe that’s not the switch.” For a moment or two he fooled with the knobs without response. I dropped to my knees and pressed home the wall plug.
“Must be a wire broken, or another switch somewhere.”
I caught hold of the wire where it disappeared behind the machine and tugged at it gently, then, feeling at the back, found it fastened with a thumb tack. A tug brought the wire loose in my hand. Muldrew and I stared at the broken ends and at each other. “Broken,” I murmured. “Disconnected.” Muldrew took the wire from me.
“Cut!” he corrected.
He dragged the instrument from the wall. The wire to the wall plug had been attached only by a thumb tack, while the end to the machine hung free. Muldrew took the latter up with some curiosity.
“Did you pull hard, Tiger?”
"I certainly didn’t break it. I felt the broken end before I pulled.”
He held up the end that ran to the machine. Each of the two twined wires was curled like a fishhook.
I burst out laughing at his bewilderment. “Don’t you see, Gordy? Some one played a joke on Netherwood; some one annoyed by the machine.”
“Then he must have had friends—or a friend—who called on him,” Muldrew declared, following only one line of thought. “This must have been done by some one who had access to the room. The Yale lock would keep any one else out.”
V\7T2 REMAINED in Room 322 the rest W of the night. Weary of Muldrew's ceaseless prowlings, I lay on the bed and slept. When I wakened, disgruntled and confused by my surroundings, Muldrew was stretching himself awake on the nig beside the bed. In a moment he seemed fresh as if he had slept the clock around at home. There was. too, a certain cheerfulness about him that irritated me.
“Don’t neglect to comb your hair. Tiger. You do sleep mussily.”
I enquired the time.
“Not quite seven.” He did not look at his watch, but I knew his uncanny sense of time.
"I feel.” I grumbled, “like last week’s rose. I hope they’ve a place to grub at the Florence.”
"I hope you can afford it,” he said. He rubbed his unshaven chin. "I seem to remember a barber shop downstairs. I should have time to—”
"You’ve time," I declared, “to eat two poached eggs and three slices of bacon with me, Gordy. Let’s start the day right.” “Thanks. I haven’t time.” He had remained seated on the floor. Now he rose on his hands and hung there, his knees doubled to his chin. "You don't mind if I take time for my morning exercises?”
I watched him through a series of contortions. As a finale, he stood before the open window and drew several long, noisy breaths.
“And.” he mused, staring down on the street, "if I called out only half as loud as ptx>r Netherwood there'd be a score outside the door in forty seconds. Let’s get downstairs and greet the staff.”
I tumbled from the bed.
“Not I. I’m on the trail of a cup of coffee. I'll leave the amenities to you.”
We used the stairs. As we passed the couch where Jameson had slept. Muldrew shuddered.
“And I’d have been to blame.” he muttered. He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye. “A twist there for your writer friend. Tiger. Better pass it on.”
“I’m lunching with him today,” I said. “I’ll tell him—but darned little I have to
tell. A whole night in a room where a man was murdered a few hours before, and not even a ghost to brag about; nothing but a colossal grouch and a ravenous appetite that’s going to cost me dear.”
“Why not pile it on Sperring?” Muldrew suggested. “I don’t charge for the idea. Make it breakfast instead of lunch. You’ll never be so hungry again. Besides, I may need you later. Sperring will need you sooner. You’ll be able to discuss the imperfections of the professional as compared with the creation of Sperring’s pen. In real life we always come off so badly.” He was laughing at me, and loyalty to Sperring hid the joke in it for me. “By the way,” he added, as we reached a lower landing, “there are two women in this hotel who must wonder where their breakfast is coming from.” He hastened back up the stairs. “I clean forgot about them. Why not make a family party of it—you. and Sperring and Jerry Inkerley?”
“What has Jerry to do with it?” I grumbled.
He laughed aloud and clapped me on the shoulder. We had reached the third floor. Suddenly he darted from me. When I reached the main corridor he was stooping before the keyhole of 320. With a scowl, he inserted the key and threw the door open.
I arrived in time to see him wrench the telephone from Mrs. Netherwood’s hand and tear it from the wire.
“I didn’t expect this,” he exclaimed angrily.
Mrs. Netherwood regarded him scornfully. “I wonder what you did expect.” “You were told not to communicate with your daughter.”
"I was told I couldn’t. I was proving you wrong. I’m only sorry I didn’t thin!; of it sooner.”
They glared at each other.
“There are several things,” Muldrew said slowly, “it would have been better to have thought of sooner.”
TJTE LEFT the room, carrying the tele* * phone with him. As he locked the door he signed.
“These women! When will I learn to cope with them? I’ll have something to say to that operator downstairs.”
The night clerk blinked at us a little sullenly as we approached the counter. Muldrew seemed to have forgotten his irritation.
“Mr. Hammerton told you we were here?” “Yeah.” replied the clerk. “Gave us a slating, too. for not seeing you come in.” Muldrew offered his cigarette case. The clerk, after a quick look around, took one. turned his back and lit it. drew' four or five luxurious breaths and concealed the burning cigarette beneath the counter.
Muldrew turned to the telephone operator.
“Poor Mr. Hammerton. Not much sleep for him last night. You shouldn’t have called him when the lights wrent out.”
“But I didn’t.”
“Oh.” Muldrew puffed away.
A suave voice broke on us from behind. “Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you slept more than I did.” Guy Hammerton, smelling of scented soap and powder, lifted the flap of the counter and entered the office.
Muldrew shrugged. "We w'ere not paying guests, Hammerton.”
“Try a night as my guests,” Hammerton offered genially.
“Awfully good of you. In the meantime I’m going to try a more familiar bed—after a shave and a plate of bacon and eggs.” “The barber shop is open.” Hammerton said, "and if you and Tiger Lillie will try the Florence breakfast I’ll take time to eat w'ith you. I think you’ll agree we serve the best bacon in the city.”
But Muldrew had not the time, and I had Sperring in mind.
“As Sperring’s guest or mine,” Hammer-
ton said, “you’ll get the same breakfast. A mighty good advertiser for us, Mr. Sperring is —if only he didn’t keep that typewriter going so late. There’ve been complaints.”
Muldrew squeezed the spark from his cigarette.
“If you give him such plots, Hammerton, what can you expect?”
“A plot with no solution as yet,” Hammerton retorted. “But perhaps he has more faith in the police than I have.”
As we emerged to the street I sidled closer to Muldrew'.
“These telephone operators,” I murmured.
“For a bachelor who isn’t at his best with women,” he replied, “I sometimes find them useful.”
T STOPPED at the barber shop, but Muldrew preferred his own razor. In the chair I snatched a few winks and w'as the better for them. ’For future reference, as he handed me my hat, the barber informed m of his hour of opening. I must have looked like that.
I had telephoned Sperring from the shop, and before I had time to knock he threw the door open and welcomed me with a beaming smile and outstretched hand.
“Grand idea !” he exulted. “The one meal of the day I hate alone.” He led me to the most comfortable chair in the room. “I don’t see how I could have waited till lunch, Lillie. I’ve had a distressing night. This aw'ful affair downstairs. The intricacies of it —they won’t let me sleep. And yet,” he grinned, "they fill my waking hours with scintillating ideas that should be worth so much per—unless in print they looked like a peanut when a monkey is through with it. Overnight I’ve developed an inventiveness that bewilders even myself. I may like to read my owm stuff yet.”
“If it solves the crime—” I began.
He waved the thought away. “That’s Muldrew’s work. And yet I’d like to help. Anything happen last night?”
1 told him so much had happened that I scarcely knew w'here to commence. But I did commence. Even at that, I bared only the outlines. Though Muldrew had imposed no restrictions on the tale I should tell, the secretiveness of a reporter concealed some of the night’s incidents.
Sperring listened with rapt attention, and at the end he applauded my powers of narration.
“By Jove, if only I could go along with you and Muldrew !—Another fuse blown. Getting deeper and deeper. Did Muldrew chase this one down?”
I had to confess another laxness in my friend, but I rallied to his defense.
“It must have been blown in the basement. And it couldn’t have anything to do with the crime.”
Sperring shook his head. “And that second dagger. What the devil happened there? Surely no one wanted to murder Jameson, a mere policeman. Wait.” He held up his hand. “Could it be that the murderer took Jameson for Muldrew in the dark?”
“Why should any one wish to murder Muldrew?” I countered.
"Because, in spite of the bunk we talked last night, you and I. your detective friend knows more than he is talking about—and the murderer probably realizes it.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe Muldrew has discovered anything like that.” Sperring paced the room, rumpling his hair. He was collarless and coatless again. I gathered that thus he worked. His typewriter stood on a small table, open and ready for use, a heap of yellow copy paper beside it.
“What puzzles me.” Sperring mused, planting himself before me. “is how the fellow could hope to blow out the main fuse
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—if it’s in the basement—and get back to the third floor before the disturbance of the darkness would foil any plan he had in mind. If he knew Muldrew was there—” “No one but Jameson knew we were there. And, since we were sitting in the dark, we had no way of knowing the lights were out.” Sperring nodded thoughtfully, but he was not satisfied.
“Jameson was left on guard, yet Muldrew let him sleep out of sight of the door he was supposed to be guarding.”
I explained that Muldrew had no thought of anything happening.
“Then what was he hiding in 320 for?” he countered. He did not wait for an answer; indeed, I had no answer. “If I let a detective of mine do what Muldrew does!” He was fumbling with his collar before the mirror. “I don’t understand your detective friend. He’s awfully interesting to me. I wish I had your chance.”
“I'll do my best to keep you in touch with I things,” I offered.
The beaming gratitude of his round face was reward enough. “Say, that’s fine—” The telephone rang, and Sperring, tie in hand, picked up the receiver.
“Hello! Why. yes, certainly. Miss Netherwood. No, I’m up and almost dressed. Working this last hour . . . Yes, Mr. Lillie
is here . . . Wouldn’t it be better to come up? Give me five minutes. Room 420.”
I had risen to my feet. “Golly, I clean forgot Jerry !”
Sperring turned from the mirror to scowl at me. “What has he to do with it?” “Muldrew told me Mona would be free, and I was to tell Jerry to look after her.” “Don’t you think you and I can do that?” “I’d only be too glad of the chance,” I confessed. “That’s what makes me more sensitive about it. May I use your phone?” But Jerry was not to be found.
"Why.” I asked of Sperring, “should Miss Netherwood call you up?”
“Because she couldn’t find Inkerley—or he wasn’t in, I suppose. Just the same”— 'struggling with the large black bow he ! always wore—“that doesn’t account for her calling me. Did I say a word to her last night? I don’t remember if I did. Still.” with his boyish grin, “I accept the favors of the gods. Only two minutes left, and my hair unbrushed.”
TN SOMETHING less than the two -*■ minutes a gentle knock announced Miss Netherwood’s arrival. Sperring pulled down his vest, winked at me, and started for the door. As he passed me, he whispered: “Don’t tell her what you’ve been telling me. Let her do the talking.”
The warning confused me, and the fact that Mona looked at me and not at Sperring when she entered added to my confusion. I dropped my eyes. I could not face that look of appeal, of doubt, of dread—and, above all. of beauty.
“There was no one else in the hotel to come to. Mr. Sperring,” she explained, still looking at me.
I could stand it no longer.
“I must beg of you, Miss Netherwood. to dissociate me from anything Mr. Muldrew does. I’m his friend—but I’m yours, too, I hope. Above all, I’m a reporter. I happened to be with him—”
Sperring came to my relief with a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Anything Lillie and I can do for you,
! Miss Netherwood. pray command us.” He 1 bowed with old-world gallantry.
The girl sank into a chair, and I had a feeling that if the chair hadn’t been there she’d have tumbled to the floor.
“It’s about mother,” she moaned. “I can’t find her.”
Sperring was bewildered, for I had not mentioned Mrs. Netherwood’s presence in the hotel.
“Your mother? Did you expect her here?” “She was here all night.” the girl said.
■ “Mr. Lillie knows—”
! “Muldrew released her this morning: at i least, he told me he would.” I said. “She's I probably at home.”
“She isn’t at home. I’ve telephoned. Besides, she wouldn’t leave without me. But she's not in the room I saw Mr. Muldrew put her in.
Some one knocked on our own door. Mona Netherwood looked wildly about, and Sperring, without a word, motioned to the bathroom. When she was out of sight, with a face of cherubic innocence Sperring opened the door. Jerry Inkerley pushed in, his face dark with angry questioning.
“Tiger,” he growled, “why the devil didn’t you tell me she wanted me?”
T WAS so surprised and flustered by his unexpected appearance that I could only gulp. But when he made a furious move toward me, I remembered Mona in hiding so near at hand.
“I forgot,” I said.
“Yeah, you forgot.” How Jerry could sneer. “You always did lose your senses before any pretty girl.”
I found my tongue then with a vengeance. “And you—” I began, then remembered he was my boss. “I had no idea—I haven’t yet—that Miss Netherwood wanted you.” Mona saved a scene by appearing in the bathroom door. For a moment or two it seemed like salvation, for Jerry staggered back. Then he leaped at me. I ducked. Sperring ran behind a chair, his eyes big with amazement. Mona caught Jerry’s arm as he struck.
“Jerry! Jerry!” And that cry killed every hope I had entertained.
Sperring said: “Mr. Inkerley, Miss Netherwood came to us for help. Do you resent that others were able to do what you weren’t on hand to do?”
Jerry turned sullen, distrustful eyes on the girl.
With crimson cheeks she explained. “What I want to know, Jerry,” I grumbled, “is how you knew—anything.” But no one was listening to me. Sperring laid a hand on Jerry’s arm.
"In the meantime we’re delaying the best breakfast the Florence can serve.
Jerry’s temper was as quick to go as to come; he looked ashamed.
At the third floor Sperring made a sign for silence. Somewhere out of sight we could hear two men talking, and we tiptoed to the corner of the main corridor. A man was working at the door of 322, Jamescn looking on. As we watched, the workman closed the door, tried a key in the new lock he had fixed, and, locking the door again, asked where Muldrew could be found.
“I was to give these keys into his own hand.” he said.
Jameson turned to point down the hall and saw us.
“Were you looking for Muldrew, Tiger?” he asked. “He’s down there in 310. I guess he won’t mind you knowing.”
Muldrew’s unannounced change of plan confused me, but before we could make a move a door down the hall opened and Mrs. Netherwood and Muldrew emerged into the corridor.
As mother and daughter caught sight of each other they rushed together. Muldrew did not interfere, but he was plainly startled when he saw us.
“Gordy.” I scolded, so that no one else could hear, “you promised to let me in on everything.”
He waved an indifferent hand.
“This was nothing; a mere formality. You can’t complain; they’re both free now. I’ve only been making sure it was the daughter and not the mother who was seen in the hall after the murder.”
“I hope,” Sperring said, bowing low, “you’ll both join us for breakfast.”
But Muldrew had too much on his mind, and without more than a word of refusal he left us. Taking the two keys from the workman, he disappeared down the stairs.
Sperring watched him go with lifted brows.
“Lillie.” he whispered as we waited for the elevator, “something has happened. It's been Muldrew versus Mrs. Netherwood— and it looks as if the woman won.”
To be Continued