The Fourth Dagger
Murder! Who killed Aaron Netherwood?—A "perfect crime," say police
JERRY INKERLEY had given me an assignment after my own taste. Inspector Armitage, goaded by The Star, of which Jerry was city editor and I crime reporter, had set Gordon Muldrew on the trail of the counterfeiters; and Jerry, learning of it, had set me that night on the trail of Muldrew.
Gordy was my best friend, but that only added to the excitement of it, and, on that lowering evening in late April, I set out with every confidence of for once putting Gordy’s nose out of joint.
My troubles started early. Muldrew was not at home, not at his office, and, of course, no one knew anything about him. After a couple of hours of pointless wandering the slight drizzle that had commenced to fall got under my skin and I decided to look up Guy Hammerton in the comfortable lobby of the Florence Hotel.
I had turned into Orchard Street, and the upright, flashing electric sign of the Florence was before me when I saw Muldrew lounging along not a hundred yards ahead.
A convenient dark doorway offered temporary retreat, and there I took shelter while I tried to figure what my friend was doing in such an ultra-respectable locality. And then I remembered that in these sophisticate days respectability is the cloak chosen by the most dangerous criminals—or in any other days, for that matter.
I peeked from my hiding-place. Muldrew had disappeared.
In a moment I knew what had happened. A lane that ran behind the stores on Orchard Street emerged to the street ahead of me, not far from the hotel entrance. Into this Muldrew must have vanished. By good fortune another exit was not ten yards away and,
after a careful look in lx>th directions, I dived into it and ran at top speed in the darkness toward where I thought Muldrew must lx;. At the corner of the branch that would lead me out again to Orchard Street I pulled up and cautiously bent forward to look.
Something that felt like a pile-driver dropped on my shoulder and I was unceremoniously whirled from my feet.
I shouted to Muldrew for help, but my cries w'ere cut short by a heavy hand over my mouth, and then I was plumped back on my feet with a thud that shook my teeth.
“I’m not deaf, Tiger. What do you want?”
Against the light on the street I saw Muldrew bending over me, and his jaw looked dishearteningly grim.
“You’re devilishly rough, Gordy,” 1 grumbled, readjusting my coat.
"You were looking for thrills. Tiger,” he said, in a low' voice. “But you’re such a poor hound you forgot to consider what the rabbit might do. It’s a habit you have.”
“You’re jealous,” I jeered. “Just because I got ahead of you in the Jungle murder.”
“Did Inkerley think you did?"
“The deuce with Jerry Inkerley!” I wasn’t likely to forget Jerry’s riotous explosions at my exjxmse when I had refused to tell The Star readers all that had hapixmed in that strange case. “In the meantime, how alx>ut a companion for your stroll?”
“This is no stroll,” he barked, "and you know it. You wouldn't lx; interested if it were.”
“How clever of me! Gordy, you’re really as transparent as a summer frock against a street light. But what d(x;s a detective find to interest him in a spiritless spot like this? The private mint the Inspector has started you after
He cut me short. “Tiger, this is my busy night.” I knew that cold, grim tone that crowds a volume into a phrase, and my heart sank. Without another word he turned to leave me. With the temerity of a lx*st friend -and of the average reporter I refused to lx* left. Over his shoulder he threw me a glance that lit up the lane.
“Gordy,” I pleaded, “I promise to be as unobtrusive as a soiled collar.”
"I never knew any one with less flair for it,” he
returned. “Any one else I’d run in— prowling where you’ve no business to lx-. Mow’d you like a night in the cells?”
I stalked past him. “As a respectable citizen I demand my rights. I'm on my way to visit a friend. Guy Hammerton, across the street in the Florence Hotel."&
That ponderous hand of his crashed on my shoulder again. “No, you’re not.” Tingles ran up and down my spine. We were near the mouth of the lane, anil Muldrew’s steady eye glared into mine.
“Listen. Tiger. I’ve something important on tonight—”
Strange that at that particular moment he should ask me to listen, should warn me that something important was afoot. Into the drizzling night broke an agonizing cry: "Help! Help! He’s killing me. Oh-h-h, my Gcxl !”
THE nerve-shattering agony of that cry cannot be reproduced on paper. The words were startling enough, but it was the tone of it. the awful finality at the end, the futile appeal for human help that became so swiftly a gasp breaking over a deserted street in the darkness of a dismal night, that sent the blood pounding to my head. I had heard the death-cry of a woman in a darkened dance-hall, and I would never forget it. But this was worse.
Our eyes flew to an open window on the third fl;x>r of the hotel across the street.
Along that eight-story façade half a hundred windows were lighted, but only one, almost over the entrance, was open.
Some one else, too, had heard and located the cry, for at that moment a window on the floor above was flung violently up, and a man, coat less and collarless, thrust an agitated face through and leaned far out to look downward.
Muldrew had started on the run and I was after him. my feet beating a machinegun tatbx) on the otherwise silent street.
I was not in the best of condition, but in forty yards not even Muldrew could throw me off
The frightened man on the fourth flcx>r hung perilously from his window, the flashing sign lighting up his round-eyed, open-mouthed terror. He pointed to the window below.
“There!” he shrilled. “It was there!”
Muldrew had drawn his whistle but did not blow it. I wondered. As we came beneath the man hanging from the window, he edged farther out, one hand clutching the frame, and I veered to the outside of the sidewalk, having no desire to act as buffer to a hundred and ninety jxjunds catapulting from a fourth-story window.
My attention thus divided, I brought up hard against the glass of the revolving front dix>r of the hotel. It refused to revolve because Muldrew was wedged inside. My detective friend who, a moment before, had set a ten-second pace, was standing between the glasses, looking about the lobby, calm as if he had dropped in for the evening paper.
1 raised myself to my toes so as to see over his shoulder. The Florence Hotel, built in a section never before considered suitable for a hotel, luxuriously furnished and highpriced, had had a struggle from the first. Then, five months ago, it had been given over to the exjx'rt management of Guy Hammerton whose record in another city hotel had paved the way to such a promotion. Guy’s sense of newsvalue had advertised well the hotels he managed and had made liim valuable to me.
Since his induction, the Florence had picked up. The three upper stories had been transformed into luxurious apartments that were filled from the first month, and only a week ago Guy had declared swaggeringly, in a manner that threatened his usefulness to me as a newsmonger, that all the Florence had needed was imagination and decision.
Staring over Muldrew’s shoulder, 1 could scarcely believe my eyes. With that cry ringing in my ears, the serenity of the life there in the crowded lobby was dreamlike in its unreality. More than half the easy chairs were occupied, while a line of uniformed bellboys stcxxl stifily beside the elevators at the far side.
Then I saw Guy Hammerton, seated behind the office counter, lean forward and pick up the telephone. And as he listened his eyes flashed, and one shoulder twitched curiously. In desperation I threw myself against the glass door and managed to squeeze through.
A breath of hotel air greeted me, the murmur of modulated laughter and cultivated voices, the rustle cf newspapers, the metallic click of the elevators. A few of the nearer groups regarded Muldrew’ and me with calm detachment; and I, taking my cue from my friend, bore it with outward indifference.
But Hammerton, telephone in hand, was close to the scene of the crime not thirty feet over our heads.
Some of those near the office caught the significance of his manner and tone, and conversation hushed. A tense stillness filled the lobby.
HAMMERTON’S voice rose.
“Room 322?. . . What—-what’s that? You heard . . Are you sure? But—but—”
His hand trembled. His tone, pure alarm at first, was petulant now’, indignant, protesting. Under other conditions the change would have been amusing. His roving eye caught a signal from the telephone operator that he was wanted on another line, and with an effeminately manicured hand on which blazed an enormous diamond, he waved it away.
“Hello! Hello! I’ll come right up.” The experienced manager now, with a personal and a business reputation to sustain.
I could stand it no longer. As I started forward Muldrew’s strong fingers closed on my wrist. He had heard, before me.
the patter of running feet from the floor above. Then came the shrill scream of a girl. Then around the sweep of the red-carpetted stairs she appeared, her eyes staring, her face contorted with terror. Straight across the lobby she ran, and, reaching over the counter, took hold of Hammerton’s arm.
"Oh, quick, quick! The door’s locked! They’re killing him—killing him!” Her breath caught. “It was his voice. He’s—dead! He won’t answer the door!”
Hammerton jerked himself loose with a savagery that made me twist to free myself from Muldrew’s grasp. But the girl had hold of Hammerton again, and this time he could only brace himself against the counter and glare.
“I’m coming,” he said in a low voice, darting a conscious, frightened look about the lobby.
In a dozen long strides Muldrew stood beside the girl.
“Three twenty-two, you said? Quick, Hammerton, your master-key!” He flashed about on the head porter who had raced across the lobby to his master’s defense. "You, there, lock that door. Lock every door in the place. Stop those elevators!” He showed his badge. "Call the police station,” to the operator, "and tell them to rush down half a dozen men.” He had wrested the telephone from Hammerton’s hand. “Who called on this?” he demanded of the operator.
“Three twenty-six, sir.”
The girl had stepped back, her white face turned expec-
tantly on Muldrew. “He’s dead—I know he’s dead!” she murmured in a dazed way. “Do hurry.”
Muldrew flushed at the implied rebuke and started toward the elevators. Suddenly he stopped and handed me, following close at his heels, his whistle.
“Blow it outside, Tiger,” he ordered.
So that I, who had thrilled at the prospect of attending him at every twist and turn of the tragedy I knew had happened upstairs, w'as forced to the insignificant rôle of blowing a dime whistle. And Muldrew had done it deliberately.
But I was not yet beaten. Passing the whistle to the porter, I retreated to the shadow of a pillar. Muldrew, Hammerton, and the girl had disappeared in an elevator. I ran to the counter.
“Constance Bennett,” 1 whispered to the telephone operator. “I want you—”
“I’ve heard that before,” she broke in serenely, proving that a murder is neither here nor there with a pretty telephone operator when a live man is in sight. “I’m not afraid of tigers.”
“I bet you’re a big game hunter,” I returned. “But, say, I know a roadhouse where they serve the best meals in America. Now, listen. There’s a ’phone in 322? All right. I want you to jam through a call for Jerry Inkerley, Midvale 5204, and tell him to stand by till I connect from 322.
Jerry Inkerley, remember. It’s Tiger Lillie speaking.”
“Okay, Tiger,” she said.
Then I was off on the run. Gasping, I reached the third floor by way of the stairs. As I rounded from the branch corridor that led from the stairs, some one pounded down from the floor above and dropped in behind me. A glance told me it was the man I had seen hanging from the fourthstory window immediately after the cry for help. He had taken time to don collar and coat, but a tie was still missing in his excitement; and the turned-up collar of the coat added to the terror and incredulity of his big eyes.
From below came the powerful blasts of the porter exposing my trick, but Muldrew, centre now of a group before the door of 322, seemed to have forgotten. Hammerton stood with the master key dangling in his hand, protesting petulantly.
“I can’t help it. He had a Yale lock put on right after he came. Of course I have no key for it.’
“Why ‘Of course’?” Muldrew muttered.
He drew a small German multiple tool from his pocket, opened a strong blade and. seizing the sill of the metal transom, raised himself until he could thrust the blade through and pry the shutters apart. Through the opening thus made came the pulsating beat of the electric sign outside. Muldrew looked through and dropped to the floor.
"Telephone the nearest doctor,” he ordered, “then to
Inspector Armitage to bring Jasper . . . The police doctor will do. Tell the desk sergeant what has happened.”
He spoke to Hammerton who. thoroughly frightened and disorganized, stared at him.
“What what has happened?”
Muldrew had cleared us from his back and retreated to the far wall.
“Murder!” He spat it at us. as, foot raised, he charged forward. The panel cracked. The second rush tore it loose at one side.
THOUGH from the first I had known it as murder, the word on Muldrew's lips, crisp and savage, made my flesh creep. Yet it was the word that drew me like a magnet to hovel and palace, that gave me my job, that kept me in touch with the police and, I fear, to some extent measured my friendship with Gordon Muldrew.
And then I noticed the girl and was ashamed. Murder had never meant more to me than news.
She stood close to the door, tight against the wall, unobtrusive but impossible to ignore. As Muldrew spoke, her eyes widened, but she did not flinch. Something about her manner— 1 looked away, as if I had stumbled on her in her bath.
Muldrew was on his knees, feeling through the loosened panel. The Yale lock clicked, and he rose, opened the door enough to insert an arm to the switch, and then drew the door shut behind him. He wheeled on us. A crowd was rapidly collecting.
“Who are you?” he demanded, his keen eyes roving from face to face.
We shrank before him. One only refused to be disturbed, a wiry young man who had stood from the first against the wall, his arms folded. A slight smile seemed to struggle at the comers of his lips. Muldrew's jaw was set.
“You who are you?"
The man ncxlded thoughtfully. "Yes,” as if speaking to himself. “I suppose it’s I>art of the business.”
I could see Muldrew's hand do«* more tightly on the doorknob, but his voice was calm.
“Your name, please?”
“My name? David Jefferson."
Muldrew turned his back. He could have contrived nothing more scornful, more deflating, and Jefferson flushed.
"Go to your nx>ms,” Muldrew ordered. ‘Til talk to you later.” A policeman came panting along the corridor. "Jameson, keep these people in their rooms till I see them.”
Still he lingered, and tlx* flexing of his hand betrayed a crowding discomfort. Suddenly he faced the girl.
"You’ll go to one of the rooms and.
He had looked away, whether interested in Jameson’s zeal or shamed by the girl’s wide stare. And in that moment she threw herself against the arm that held the d;x>r and darted into the room.
Muldrew made no move to intercept her. Surprised and chagrined, he followed her. but without hurry. I crept through after him, and behind me the man from the flt;x>r above. I threw him an indignant look, to lx* met with such ingratiating appeal that I was on his side immediately. So long as he was not a rival reporter it mattered nothing to me.
Muldrew strxxi just inside the rrxim, looking about in quick surprise. The reason was plain. This was no massfurnished hotel room but a man’s living quarters, a room crammed with personal tastes and personal comforts.
It was overcrowded with furniture a bed. six cliairs, most of them worn and comfortable, a desk in one corner, two tables, a large radio, and an antique fixjtstool with a cross-stitch cover. I tcx>k it in quickly, jxirtly lx*cause Muldrew was interested, partly because Muldrew’s big body shut off the tragedy in the heart of the room. Then my friend moved forward.
The Ixxly of a man lay there, stretched on his back, his hands folded primly across his chest, but the cold, grey face contorted with pain. But for that grey and agonized kx)k. and the thick red stain with brown edges that ran over his coat to the carpet, he might have been passing a reflective
hour. . The girl had dropped to her knees beside him. “Father! Father!” she moaned, peering into the bkxxlless face. Her
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The Fourth Dagger
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golden-brown hair fell forward over the dead face, curling back at the ends as if shrinking from the blood.
Muldrew stood beside her, silent but watchful, but when she reached a hesitating hand toward the body, he touched her on the shoulder.
“Come away now. Please don’t touch him.”
He raised her to her feet. She did not resist but stood where he placed her. and her eyes never thereafter left him.
Muldrew dropped to his knees and gently lifted away one side of the dead man’s coat. It was old and stained. The shirt and vest beneath were dark with blood. A glance at the eyes, a touch to the pulse, and Muldrew was satisfied. For a moment he examined the stained shirt, then raised his head and frowned about the room.
Our eyes alighted together on a beautiful Japanese dagger that lay on the table beside the body, an exquisite weapon, with a carved ivory handle and a long thin blade. But its beauty was lost in the ruddy brown that discolored four inches of the blade. Some of the stain had dripped to the tablecloth. Muldrew rose to his feet and touched the stain delicately with his fingertips, and his frown deepened. Again and again he bent over the stained coat and carpet, whiffing it, touching it, even holding a magnifying glass over it. His wristwatch seemed then to interest him for a time.
The strange man from the floor above began to edge along the wall to get a better view of the body. Muldrew must have heard him, for he looked up and for a time seemed to be trying to place him. But he said nothing, and when his attention fixed itself on the open window, the stranger sighed and glanced at me knowingly.
Only then did he seem to notice the girl, and those round eyes that had not before lost their panicky awe narrowed. I studied the girl more closely myself and was surprised to see that all her dread and most of her horror had vanished, as if assurance of death had brought relief. The thought disgusted me, and I steadied myself back to my job.
The murdered man was in his middle fifties, I judged, a man of intelligence and some social standing. Shame or expediency had driven him to conceal his age, for there was unmistakable evidence of artificial color-
ing in the hair above the ears. The deep lines and flexible creases about lips and eyes told of grease-paint and overworked expression. An old actor. And here before me was the perfect third act. Momentarily I looked from the balcony on a violent scene.
r"P HERE was much about it that puzzled me, not the least, Muldrew’s perplexity, There were the placidly folded hands, the dagger, with its hideous stain, lying meekly on the table, the open window—though that meant nothing to me but that Muldrew was interested in it.
Presently he crossed the room to it, and I followed. The stranger had taken his stand beside the radio, almost hidden by it, and from there he watched Muldrew with wide, interested eyes. I remembered Jerry and my arrangement with the telephone girl downstairs. Turning aside to the small table on which the telephone stood, I picked it up.
Muldrew had reached the window, but he must have heard me, for he looked back into the room.
I dare not hesitate. "Jerry,” I called, “hurry down to the Florence. There’s been a —”
Then Muldrew sent me spinning across the room. But I was content. Jerry, I knew, was standing by.
“If you touch a thing, Tiger,” Muldrew warned, “out you go.”
“That goes with me,” I promised. “Hereafter I’m a boy scout. But you needn’t—”
Muldrew had pounced on the stranger. “It was you who heard the cries upstairs, wasn't it?”
The man shuddered, then his face brightened childishly. “I should say I did. It was awful.” A sickly smile passed across his face. “It’s foolish, I know, to let it affect me like this because --because I’m Conrad Sperring.”
The naiveté and hopeful friendliness of it, his unaffected confidence that the name would be enough, failed to work on Muldrew as it did on me.
“Yes, yes,” he said impatiently. “But how do you come to be here?”
Sperring crowded more tightly into the comer beside the radio. “I—I just came in.
I couldn’t stay away. That awful cry!” He pressed a chubby hand over his lips. "It— it interests me—this sort of thing.”
Muldrew pointed with disgust at the body. “That sort of thing?”
Sperring nodded. “You see—you see. I write that sort of stuff crime stories.’’
A flash of freshened interest showed in Muldrew’s eyes. Then I remembered. Conrad Sperring. Of course. For a year and more the name had been featured by the best magazines. His latest story in the National had created quite a furore for its weird plot and clever development. I had started it idly one night, but before half a ¡dozen paragraphs I forgot everything but j the rising excitement and, at the end, the surprising denouement.
“So this,” said Muldrew scornfully, “is . nothing to you but copy. Perhaps now we’ll have another ‘Master Mind.’ ’’ referring to the story I had admired.
Sperring shrank before the tone. “No -no. The plot of ‘The Master Mind’ just— just came to me It was my master
story. Took me three years to write it as you read it. That last twist where the doctor drops the vial—’’
“Cleverbut mighty dangerous,” Muldrew muttered. “We’ve a hard enough time with criminals without new ideas for them from men like you.”
Guy Hammerton entered. “They’re coming,” he announced, “all but Inspector Armitage. He’s down with bronchitis.” Muldrew appeared not to hear. “I don’t want a thing here touched. That radio, Sperring—”
Sperring started away as if the radio would bite.
A smile flitted across Muldrew’s face. “Invention and actuality, they’re vastly different, aren’t they? Yet you’ve made much of fingerprints in your stories. Polished wood is almost as good a base as glass.” Sperring flushed crimson and looked a his fingers. “I—I’m afraid I did touch it.”
With a deprecatory smile he added; "You’re right, I should know better.”
"Hammerton." Muldrew asked, ¡jointing at the body, "who was this man?”
The girl came to life. “I can tell you—” Muldrew waved her to silence. “One at a time, please. Your turn will come.” Hammerton, who had paled at sight of the blood, stammered: “His name - it was Lightfoot —Thomas Lightfoot. He—”
“But it wasn’t,” the girl protested. “It’s Aaron Netherwood. I should know; he was my father.”
Muldrew gazed over her head. “Yes . . . you should know . . But Mr. Hammerton's
information will be more recent and more to the ¡xjint. Go on. Hammerton.” “Anyway.” Hammerton said sullenly, "he registered as Thomas Lightfoot. He’s been here five months or so. A quiet man— never spoke to any one. Never sat downstairs. or only once or twice, to finish a cigarette; then he’d pop away to his room and we wouldn’t see him perhaps for a couple of days.”
“What was his business?”
“1 never knew he had any. We don’t pry into our guests' private affairs. So long as they pay their bills-—”
“They can get themselves murdered if they wish. I see.”
Ilammerton reddened. “He was a respectable man.”
‘Travelling under an assumed name. I never yet knew a respectable man to find it necessary.”
Muldrew was watching the girl as he spoke. Color lea¡x*d to her cheeks, and she opened her lips as if to reply, hut she fought the impulse back and stiffened her slim Ixxly.
Muldrew crossed to the door and examined the Yale lock. “Even this lock failed to make you suspicious, Hammerton?"
“If you had my hotel experience, Mr. Muldrew.” Hammerton returned, "you'd appreciate the cranks we get—”
"And the crooks,” Muldrew put in, jerking his head toward the body. “A murderer has been in the Florence Hotel in the last few minutes. 1 want more about this man.” "He was a strange man.” Hammerton continued. “Unaccountable dislikes and whims, I always thought. I’ve seen him turn on the stairs and run back, and the
few times he has sat in the lobby he always left so hurriedly that it looked like flight. We used to laugh about it in the office. Days at a time he would stick to his room, having his meals sent up here; and those days not even the maid was admitted. We thought he was a grouchy old bachelor—” "Unaccountable dislikes, you say,” Muldrew put in. “Of people, do you mean? Of whom, for instance? Name some one.”
"I don't remember ever noticing anything definite . . . unless it was—yes, that’s so”— his face lit up—"it was that Mr. Jefferson you talked to out there. He’s in Room 326.
I remember once Mr. Lightfoot—Netherwood—turning at the foot of the stairs and running up at a mad pace; and the only one near was Mr. Jefferson. Of course, there may not be a thing in it.”
“Who is this Jefferson?” Muldrew asked. "I know nothing more than I’ve told you. He’s in Room 326, the second from this. Been here a week. Inoffensive, rather friendly, I always thought him until I heard him talking to you out there.”
Two policemen entered, and Muldrew ordered them to the lobby downstairs.
"In 326, you say,” he muttered. He went to the door and conversed in low tones with Jameson. “Did you hear this man’s cries?” he asked of Hammerton on his return.
I lammerton had not.
"Where were you at the time?” Hammerton considered. “I’d just gone down to the office from my own apartment on the eighth when some one called me up about it. That’s all I know.”
“Who called you up?”
Hammerton’s eyes danced. "Say! Yes, that's curious, too - it was Mr. Jefferson.” "Hm-m-m!” Muldrew showed the first signs of excitement. “Did you see any one go downstairs at that time, by stairs or elevator?”
Hammerton was certain no one had gone down to the lobby. “I was lecturing one of the bellboys, and I’d have had to wait if any one passed down or up.”
“Did any one -any stranger. I mean— come upstairs just before the crime?” Hammerton glanced sideways at the girl. “Of course, I can’t say, because I wasn’t downstairs, but the clerk who was there says no stranger came up. I asked him on the phone just now. Yet—yet this young
/V TENSE SILENCE fell over the room, and the beat of the electric sign outside was the pounding of my heart. I dare not look at Miss Netherwood.
She stepped forward and lifted herself to her full height before Muldrew. "May I speak now?” she asked crisply.
Muldrew’s aversion to subjecting the weaker sex to his merciless inquisition was familiar to me, so that I was not surprised at his reply:
"You weren’t in the room at the time, Miss Netherwood, so you’d better—”
The entrance of three officials interrupted him. One. bearing a black bag. trotted to the corpse and knelt beside it with a professional indifference that made me shudder. After a glance he gave a significant shrug.
Muldrew must have been waiting for that, for he turned briskly to Sperring and me. We knew what was coming, and Sperring. who had shrunk back into the angle of radio and wall, making himself as inconspicuous as possible, poised with notebook and pencil in hand, dropped the pencil in his agitation and stooped to recover it.
“Out you go, all of you,” Muldrew ordered. “Wait in the cor—”
He never finished the sentence, for at that moment the lights went out.
In the first second thereafter the darkness was blinding, and then the flash of the electric sign outside revealed Muldrew making for us. With Sperring and me in either hand he made for the door. Miss Netherwcxjd had partly suppressed a scream —it was part of the general confusion—and then we found ourselves in the corridor.
But the corridor, too, was in darkness. “Jameson,” Muldrew shouted, “quick! Your torch!”
From down the corridor Jameson snorted. “Blowed if I have one!”
Muldrew slammed the door behind us and whipped out his own torch. “Watch this door, Jameson,” he ordered, and raced along the corridor. I heard a door thrown open— an angry exclamation in my friend's voice.
I hurried toward him.
“Gone!” he growled.
I raised my eyes to the number of the room. It was 326.
From somewhere in the darkness of the corridor—I could not place it—came a wild, chuckling laugh.
A DOOR across the corridor opened, emitting a broad stream of light that fell directly on Jameson, angry and discomfited, and beside him Hammerton. plainly nonplussed and annoyed. Sperring came sidling along the hall, eager to be in on everything, yet restrained by the memory of Muldrew’s harshness. He came to a stop beside me. Miss Netherwood seemed least disturbed of all. As she touched my arm on the other side, we three seemed to combine against the world. Almost unconsciously I returned the pressure Sperring gave my hand.
From the open doorway through which came the only light that reached the corridor three faces peered. A moment later a man detached himself from the group and crossed to Number 324. Opening the door, he turned to face us, smirking triumphantly, I thought. I had noticed him before in the earlier group about the door of 322. He was short and stocky, with a heavy face that normally would be sullen, now impudent and exultant. Other doors opened along the corridor, so that now the scene was well lighted.
Muldrew stood swinging his head from side to side, looking from one to another. “What has happened, Hammerton—these lights, but only in the corridor and a few rooms on that side?”
Hammerton’s bewilderment passed. “Why—yes—of course. The fuse has blown out. Those six rooms and the corridor are on the one fuse.” He pointed to a small boxlike affair high against the ceiling.” Muldrew dived back into 326, and I could see the light of the corridor sweeping about the room. Presently he reappeared.
“I suppose,” he jeered, addressing Jameson, “he shook hands with you before he went.”
Jameson’s face went purple. “He ain’t gone—he can’t be ... or else he never was there. But—but—” he stopped to scratch his head—“yes, I saw him go in, but I never let that door out of my sight—” “Perhaps you can see in the dark,” Muldrew sneered. “You and Phillips go downstairs and look around. Of course,” disgustedly, “that won’t help.”
As the two policemen hurried away, Sperring tugged at my sleeve. “Gee,” he whispered, “did you hear that laugh?”
“I'm not likely to have missed it,” I replied. The taunting chuckle had terrified me, infuriated me, the cachinnation of a maniac, the sneer of utter self-confidence and ridicule. And it had seemed to come from everywhere.
Some one came running along the corridor, and Jerry Inkerley, his pale grey fedora pushed back on his perspiring forehead, picked me out and made for me. His hair was matted and tousled. I never knew hair with such a bias toward untidiness.
“All right, Tiger,’’ he whispered. “Thanks.”
Muldrew frowned. “How did you get in, Inkerley?”
“Walked.” Jerry had surges of maddening conciseness.
“But I gave orders downstairs—”
“None to go out. I came in.”
I trembled for Jerry, with Muldrew in his present mood. And then—
Jerry ran his fingers self-consciously through his hair. He had seen Miss Netherwood. I could have laughed. But to Jerry at that moment Muldrew ranked with mosquitoes and income tax. and minor pests like that.
Muldrew turned his back on us. “Ham-
merton. this fuse must be repaired immediatelyimmediately.”
“I ‘11 run down and have it attended to “You'll telephone from the room there." Muldrew ordered. “I need you here. Now I want an empty room, a lighted one. " Hammerton reflected. “Three twentyseven is unoccupied.” Muldrew’s abruptness had got under his skin.
“Good ! You’ll all go there and wait for me.” Muldrew beckoned to a policeman, j “Thev’re to wait in there.’.’ He pointed to 327.
FROM the corner of my eye I saw the stocky man in the doorway of 324 slinking backward. It did not escape Muldrew. “Here, you! You’re in this.”
The man seemed for a moment or two to contemplate defiance, but the policeman swept him along with the others. I, too, was caught up, but I threw Muldrew an appealing look.
In my eagerness I almost knocked Jerry Inkerley over. A workman hastened up with a stepladder, climbed to the fusebox, and the lights came on.
Muldrew and I passed into Room 322. The three officials were still there. One of them Muldrew ordered to the branch corridor leading to the stairs. “Those stairs can’t be seen from the main corridor,” he explained. “Take a look at that dagger, Jasper.”
Jasper, the fingerprint man, scowled. T have. Not a mark on it.” To Jasper, to leave no fingerprints wasn’t playing the game.
Muldrew nodded. “I thought not . . . And you won’t find them anywhere else.” “But I have.” Jasper was leaning over the radio. “Here!” He pointed to the front edge.
Muldrew sighed. “I know all about them. Conrad Sperring made them just now. He had a hand there—like this.” He stood beside the radio as Sperring had done.
Jasper swore under his breath. “The rest is wiped clean—with a damp cloth, too, and not long ago. These maids in high-class hotels—”
“No maid did that, Jasper -at this time of the day.” Muldrew turned to the dead body beside which the doctor still stood. “Got it to a pin-point, didn’t it, doctor?” “Couldn’t have struck straighter if it had been a surgeon. Square in the heart. See that blood?”
Muldrew saw the blood. For a time he seemed unconscious of anything else. “How long would a man live after a wound like that?”
“He wouldn’t live at all—he’d kick out instantly.”
“But,” I broke in, “we heard him cry out —he called for help. There were several seconds of it.”
« Muldrew nodded. “Tiger’s right. We heard him from the street.”
The doctor spread his hands incredulously. “Technically he died instantly . . . But there are strange reflexes in death . . . more noticeably among wild animals. A lion, now . . . And I’ve seen with my own eyes a hen running about with its head off.” Muldrew was not listening. “Did you examine the windowsill, Jasper?” he asked.
“Not another mark but those on the radio,” Jasper snarled. "No novice did this.” Muldrew leaned far out of the window, and I edged up beside him. He heard me. “All right, take a look. Tiger. I hope it tells you more than it does me.”
It told me nothing—except that the window could have played no part in the murder. Outside was a sheer drop of thirty feet to the pavement, with not so much as a fingerhold intervening, save the window ledges of the floor below. To my left was the second window in the room, too far from the one beyond to be of service. On my right, just beyond the bathroom window of 322, towered the electric sign. It blinded me as I faced it. I pointed.
“Could any one climb around that sign from 320?” I asked.
Muldrew smiled. “Coming or going?”
“It couldn’t be going. We’d have seen
! him from the street. But we were downI stairs for several minutes
“Tiger, my boy, the murderer of Aaron i Netherwood left nothing to a chance like ! that. Besides, 320 is not only unoccupied but locked.”
“What was to prevent the murderer I escaping through the door?” I asked. ‘‘That I Yale lock is opened from the inside—” “How did he get in?” Muldrew questioned. “Tiger, the murderer was let in by the victim himself . . And that may complicate rather than simplify the trail have to follow. How he escaped? Oh, Lord
ALSO,” I puzzled, “he was in no hurry to : ¡gaye or jie wouldn’t have taken time to
withdraw the dagger and place it on the table.”
Muldrew eyed me approvingly. “You’re coming on, Watson, coming on . . . But,” gloomily, “how does that help? I’m certain ¡every move was planned—and carried I through according to plan.” He swept an arm about the room, as if it was all so clear. “Yet delaying even for a few seconds might well have led to his discovery . . . No, that dagger only tangled the affair still more. All along the corridor they heard the cries. Through that ojien window we heard them on the street. Sperring heard on the floor above. And Miss Netherwood—”
“Why didn’t you let her explain, Gordy? She might clear up a lot.”
“The murder? Do you actually suspect her, Tiger—such a pretty girl?”
The twinkle in his eye annoyed me. “You know darned well she hadn’t a thing to do with it.”
“Do I?” was all he replied.
“It would only be decent to let her talk. Think of her, the dead man’s daughter, back there with that rabble, waiting to be grilled like a criminal, her father murdered almost before her eyes—”
“I wonder,” he murmured.
“Yeah, you’ll wonder next if I did it.”
“I was going to say,” he went on comjilacently, “that I wonder if you noticed how placidly she bore everything—the blood, the murdered father—the absence of natural I grief in a daughter.”
"She’s stunned,” I stammered. But Mul: drew smiled.
Jasp>er was moving about the room, like a I dog on the scent. He had disappeared into the bathroom, and Muldrew and I followed. Muldrew had looked it over once before, but now he gave it a thorough examination.
Save for a detail or two it resembled any other bathroom in a thousand hotels— square sunken bathtub with surrounding shower-curtain, basin and built-in cabinet, a j)ale blue enamelled chair to match the tiling. Its most distinctive feature was a cheap wooden cabinet, raised on blocks, that stood beside the bathtub.
Muldrew jxñnted to the cabinet but Jasjer shook his head. “Too jx>rous,” he grumbled, “and rough.”
Muldrew had turned away to the basin. A slight rusty stain ran around it just under the overflow vent. It interested him, though I could have shown him its duplicate on my own basin at Mrs. Altonen’s. A similar stain, though less distinct, was on the tub.
My friend returned to the wooden cabinet.
! It was about four feet high, strong and i cumbersome. And securely locked. Mul| drew stooped and lifted it. It came away I easily, and with a growl he set it back. By ; means of the German tool he pried off the back.
“Empty!” he exclaimed, with disgust.
“It wasn’t kept empty,” I ventured, “or it wouldn’t be kept here—and locked.” "Thanks, Tiger.”
“And,” I continued, “if it had what was usually kept in it you’d be well on the way j to the murderer.”
“That’s probably near the truth,” Mulj drew agreed . . . “And the murderer ' emptied it. But when?”
“I know when he didn’t: after the murder, i He hadn’t time. I give it up.”
“So do I.” Muldrew said, “for the time being.”
We returned to the bedroom. The doctor was waiting for us.
“Nothing more here for me,” he said with a yawn. “Shock and hemorrhage—anything you want to call it—a knife plump through the right ventricle.”
Some one knocked, and Muldrew admitted the pxflice photographer. In six minutes, after four blinding flashes, without saying a word, he was gone.
“One moment, doctor.” Muldrew stood over the body. “How long would you say he’s been dead—when you arrived. I mean.” “At least half an hour.”
“Imjx>ssible,” I challenged. “It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes—”
X/f ULDREW stared into space. “Half 4VL an hour.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, “and if you hadn’t heard him cry out, I’d place it longer ago than that.”
Muldrew had his watch out. “It was eight thirty-six as we entered the elevator. You were here within ten minutes.” “Some blood,” explained the doctor, “coagulates more quickly than others. Thick blood. Imjx>ssible to place the time of death to minutes.”
Muldrew turned on him savagely. “Everything about this case is impossible ...” The doctor picked up his bag. “All right. Blame it all on me—except the murder.” Muldrew stared at the door when he was gone. “I guess I’m peevish,” he said sheepishly. “But can you wonder?”
“Did you exjiect to find the murderer under the table?” I jeered.
“If I had, Tiger, I’d know he didn’t do it . . .Asa matter of fact, that would be on a par with the rest of his cleverness.” He drojiped beside the body and examined the wound the doctor had bared, flexed an arm, touched the thin white cheek. Pulling back the lower lip, he uttered an exclamation.
I went nearer. “Poison?” I whispered. Muldrew shook his head and leaned aside for me to see. The skin inside the lip was broken. Muldrew lifted his eyes and frowned at the op>en window.
“Bashed on the mouth,” I ventured.
“Tooshallow for that.” Muldrew scowled. “No, it’s pressure, not a blow —something pressed against his lips to stifle his cries.” “Then it failed miserably. There wasn’t anything stifling the cries we heard.” "Didn’t you notice—anything—peculiar about it?” he puzzled, talking more to himself than to me.
Muldrew leaped to his feet and roved about the room. Suddenly he stopp>ed.
“Did himself well, this Netherwood,” he said. “Bound to be comfortable. His own chairs, his own desk and footstool . . . and even his own radio. And a good one. too.” He went and stood before the instrument. "Must have cost a couple of hundred. Short wave reception, too. Eleven tubes, I bet.” He bent to the dial and knobs. But in a few moments he lost interest and moved away.
“I wish,” I grumbled, “you’d give me an inkling of what’s troubling you.”
“You’ve seen as much as I have. Tiger. You’ve the same chance. The room is jammed with interest . . . even with clues.” “I hop>e I can make the readers of The Star see them tomorrow,” I returned sarcastically. “You’ll have the murderer by that time, of course. About all I see to talk about is that the fellow got away in time—” “And yet,” said Muldrew thoughtfully, “he sp>ent a lot of time in this room.”
"He certainly had time to placç the dagger on the table and fold his victim’s hands over his stomach,” I puzzled. “And yet we were up here three or four minutes after the murder.”
“Then when did he get time to get through this desk,” Muldrew asked. “When did he wip>e away every fingerprint? But, principally, when and why did he op>en that window?”
“Of course he didn’t op>en the window; he just failed to notice it was op>en. You’ve often said every murderer misses something that should give him away.”
Muldrew wheeled on me. “This time. Tiger, I’m ready to swallow my words. The murderer of Aaron Netherwood missed nothing, neglected nothing.”
To be Continued