Death in a roaring plane. Natural causes, say the signs: Murder, says Kent Powder—and proves it
THE FOUR passengers in the big silver monoplane winging south to Montreal that line August morning belonged to the new type of Canadian entrepreneur. Where it would have taken their fathers a week to travel from the great new mining development at Hooter’s Lake, they could do it after breakfast and still have time for a morning's work on St. James Street. But despite this fact, despite that this amphibian bird, replete with every last luxury and gadget, was their very own, it cannot be said that they looked the happier for it.
In fact, they looked angry men: they had that furious, baffled look that lions have when they pace their cages. All but Prescott Sturges who, as befitted the brains of Continental Smelters, sat in Seat No. 1. Sturges didn’t look angry at all. He looked a little airsick—which he invariably was on these trips—but otherwise he seemed satisfied with the gifts that fifty years of life had given, as he slumped deeper and deeper into his seat. Nor did the pilot, Bill Jeffers, look angry, but that was because, ever since a war that had taught him to fly, he had looked bitter.
The rest—as forest and lake, that wild conglomerate of Northern Quebec, swept beneath them—glowered in their various ways. Perhaps old Tom Blaney’s glower was more of a frown, as though his peace-loving soul sought a medias res. He was the rough and raw prospector who had discovered Hooter’s Lake and been dragged along like a tin can to the tail of circumstances ever since. Shifting the unlit cigar his strong teeth had almost chewed to rags to the other corner of his mouth, he glanced across the aisle. Sturges had taken a small vial from his vest pocket. He poured two white pellets into the palm of his hand and raised them to his mouth. As old Tom watched him, a look that was perhaps more sorrow and regret than anger troubled his eyes. He got up and, stepping into the aisle, moved rearward.
The plane had six seats—three on either side. Behind Sturges the old man passed Peter Jocelyn, the thin-faced, saturnine little lawyer whose flair for making legal statutes stand on their heads had made him so valuable a director of the company. Jocelyn was glowering at a sheaf of papers with an angry air of concentration. Tom passed him by and sat down across the aisle from Dr. Paul Vorston, who had placed himself as far away from Sturges as geography permitted. Vorston was a virile, blondish, out-of-doorslooking young man who had studied medicine without practicing it, who had been forced, not unwillingly, into the headship of the family contracting business on the death of a father and elder brother.
“Well, bye, whatta ya know?” old Tom exclaimed, leaning across the aisle in his friendly way.
Vorston gave him a queer stare for a minute, and then let out one of those mirthless laughs. “I wish to heaven.” he said, “I could take it as calmly as you do,
Tom. After all. it was your baby.”
“Perhaps I’m gettin’ tx> old to be nursin’ babies, bye,” the old man said with a chuckle.
In front of the glass partition Bill Jeffers’ lips moved. He sjxjke seven bitter words:
“Blast his eyes . . . Blast his ruddy eyes!”
And then, far ahead beyond the narrow ribbon of Back River his own caught sight of Cartierville airport. He put the plane’s nose down, and presently the gleaming silver bird bumped the short grass, swung around
out of the wind and slowly taxied toward the hangars.
An attendant trundled wheeled steps to the side of the plane, ojx*ned the dx>r and. one by one the gentlemen descended. All but Prescott Sturges. Slumped down in his seat. Prescott Sturges slept. Stepping through the glass partition. Bill Jeffers gave him a contemptuous lcx>k and then shook his shoulder.
“We’re here,” he growled.
And then suddenly he said “Gripes!" He said it so loud that Tom Blaney and Dr. Paul Vorston the taut little Peter Jocelyn had hurried off toward the line of waiting cars heard and turned about. When Jeffers shouted, “1 ley !” Vorston stepped back into the plane.
“What's the matter. Bill?”
“You tell me!” said the pilot, pointing grimly at the slump«! figure.
Vorston tcx>k one lx>k. “Great Scott he's dead!”
“I'll say he’s dead !” But when Jeffers stoop«! to gather the figure up, old Tom, who had followed Vorston in, said warningly, “Better leave him lie, bye.”
“We can't leave him here,” Jeffers growled.
“Sure we can, bye. We don't want no trouble. This is a job for the coroner ain’t I right, Doc?”
Vorston didn’t seem to like the implication, but after a moment’s thought he nodded his head.
“Yeah, byes,” old Tom said sagely, “under the circumstances we got to have everything rid in ’ fair an’ square. 1 once got the pants t(x>k off me in court for luggin’ a dead man away from place he dropped sudden—like 1’rescott there. I ain’t forgot it.”
Bill Jeffers gave him a queer look. “What are you driving at. Mr. Blaney?”
“Nothin’, bye. I just want to have everything fair an’ square— an’ accordin' to I lovle.”
He led the way out of the plane and then said to Vorston, in a low voice, “After what happened at the lake last night we can't he too careful. There was a lot of harsh words last night, bye. What with likker an’ Prescott’s devilment we was considerable heated up. We might of been overheard—”
“But hang it all, Tom,” Vorston protested, “how could that—”
“Listen, bye. I happened to see Prescott put somethin’ in his mouth, see? That was about half an hour ago. Looked like little pills. It mighta been sxla mints —he's always airsick—but it mighta been somethin’ else. We got to be sure.”
Peter Jocelyn came hurrying back from the line of cars, his thin dark face and immaculate little figure reeked irritation.
“Where you goin’, Pete?” Tom Blaney asked, as he started up the steps into the plane.
“Left my brief case in the rack.” the lawyer snapped back, and shot inside.
Bill Jeffers said, “What do you want me todo—ring the coroner?”
“Yeah, bye, I’d do that,” the old man replied.
Jocelyn came out with his brief case in his hand and a queer look in his eyes. “What’s wrong with Sturges?” he asked.
“Sturges, bye, is dead.”
“Dead?” The other man fairly spat the word out. “Are you crazy?”
“Perhaps.” the old man replied, sticking a fresh cigar into the corner of his big mouth. “Perhaps we’re all crazy.” He let out a laugh that had very little mirth in it.
GERGEANT Jules Papineau came into the living room of ^ Kent Power's flat toward eleven o’clock and found the latter seated at the small grand piano doing the solo parts from the “Emperor” concerto. “I ’ave a case I t’ink you will be interested in.” he said, leaning his rotund bulk against the piano. "A M’sieu Prescott Sturges is travelling this morning in an airplane from 1I(x>ter’s I,ake to Mo’real. You know M’sieu Sturges?"
“By reputation. They say he's one of the smoothest gents in St. James Street—and one of the most dangerous.”
“He is no longer dangerous. When the plane reaches Mo’real they find he is dead. They ’ave sent for Dr. Morin. Dr. Morin ’as sent for me. He 'as just finished the postmortem, and he is puzzle’. When a man dies suddenly, he says, it should be the brain or the ’cart. He finds not’ing to cause death in the brain or the ’eart. He finds two partly dissolved tablets in the stomach—but they contain only bismuth and soda. He finds no jx>ison in the stomach or the blood. He finds no sign of violence—no pricks of a
needle—not'ing. He is not satisfied. You would like to come to Cartierville wit' me. non?”
“I wouldn’t like to," Power declared. “This is the kind of day my mind prefers to rusticate amid the simpler pursuits, Pap.”
“It is better she does not rusticate too much,” Papineau said.
So they went out to Cartierville and lcxiked the silver amphibian over. Bill Jeffers, the pilot, was there with a policeman, more or less standing guard, and he said impatiently. “Can’t 1 put her in the hangar and beat it? It's hot as hades out here—and I happen to have a date in town.”
Power gave him a moment’s scrutiny. It caused him something of pity, for he saw that Jeffers was one of those old soldiers who never die a youngish rather good-looking man of forty to whom a w ar had done something irrevocable. in whose soul a war had caused an arrest of development.
“We won’t be long," he said, and stepped into the plane.
With Papineau he went over its interior meticulously. The sweat was dripping from them when, half an hour later, they stepped out again. Power said to Jeffers, “What happened?”
“1 dunno.” There was something defiant in the pilot’s grey, slightly bloodshot eyes, as though he felt himself on the defense. "All I know is that when I stepped out of nucum partaient. he was lying there slumped in his seat. Don't you fellows know what he died of yet?”
"No.” Power answered curtly. “We’re trying to find out whether or not he could have been murdered.”
"Murdered!” Jeffers stared at him incredulously. “But that's impossible. There were three others in there. They'd have seen it !”
“Not if they didn’t want to.” Pow er said.
Jeffers’ mouth opened oddly. “Good gosh !" he exclaimed, in a queer sort of way.
“Why the ‘good gosh’? ’’ Power asked quietly.
Jeffers threw it off with a shrug. “Skip it.” he said.
"Unfortunately, m’sieu.” Papineau declared severely, “this is an occasion where we do not skip it. It is better you sjieak if you know somet’ing. It makes better for yourself—and for everybody.”
Jeffers struggled with himself for a moment. There was a twisted look in his face, as though from the struggle of the irresistible force and the immovable object.
“You're in this too, you know,” Power said.
"All right.” the pilot gave in. “There was a meeting of Continental Smelters at Hooter's Lake last night—and they had pretty high words. I guess. Anyway none of them were speaking to Sturges this morning.”
“What was the disagreement about?”
“I dunno—'all I knowis they had one.”
“Okay,” Power said, “you can put the plane in the hangar.” He said to the policeman: “You stay here with it, Boudreau, and see that nobody gets into it until further orders.”
And then, with Papineau, he drove to the residence of 'Tom Blaney on Summit Crescent. It was characteristic of the erstwhile prospector that he had chosen this part of the city, where the world lay below him, and this huge sprawling house of fieldstone. for his eyrie. They found him seated on the cool stone terrace, with the inevitable unlit cigar in his teeth and a tall glass on the metal table beside him. Down the slope, a hundred feet or more below, a group of young people were splashing about in the big swimming pool.
When Power stated his business, the old man sent for more drinks and handed Papineau a cigar. “Well, byes,” he said, tilting back in his chair, “what’s the verdict?” “We don’t knowyet.”
“Then what can I do for ye?”
Pow-er took a drink from his frosted glass before answering. “You can tell us why you thought Sturges was murdered?”
“Hey now !” exclaimed the old man. “Ye’re travellin’ too fast, bye! We found him dead there, didn't we? When ye find a man suddenly dead ye send for the coroner, don’t ye? Ye got to keep everything fair an’ square.”
“Was that the reason you sent for the coroner?”
“Sure it was. bye. 1 once got caught w ith me—”
“But was it the only reason?”
“Whadda ye mean, the only reason?”
“It had nothing to do with the row you had at Hooter’s Lake last night? I understand the executive group of the directors of Continental Smelters had a falling out.”
A guilty grin broke across the old man’s ruddy features. “I guess ye’ve come up behind me. bye.” he confessed. “It's the truth ye're savin’—we did have a row—the son of a seacook of a row. I might as well tell ye about it first as last.”
T-JE TOOK a big gulp from his glass, stuck the cigar back -*■ into the corner of his mouth, and leaned on the arms of his chair. “Twelve year ago last month, byes, I mushed through the north country with a rainbowround me shoulder an’ struck Hooter's Lake. I knew I’d hit her big at last, so I come here to Montreal and went to P. T. Conway, who was an old pal o’ mine. When P. T. found she was too big for him to handle, he brung Prescott Sturges into it. Perhaps that was a mistake—I’m not savin’. I want to be fair an’ square. Certainly Continental Smelters wouldn't
be what she is today if she hadn’t had Prescott’s steam behind her. But Prescott liad one bad failin’, byes—when he got his snout in the trough he wanted all the swill. Yesterday we went up to the lake for our monthly lookover. At the meetin’ last night, Prescott pulled the levers on us an’ shot us down the chute. In short, byes, he’d been buyin’ up the stock—an’ he told us we were out. and all the other directors with us. The byes didn’t like it a-tall. In fact they sat on their tails an’ howled. But it did no good. Prescott jus’ sat there an’ said nothin’.”
“How did you feel about it?” Power asked. “You discovered Hooter’s.”
The old man leaned forward with a twisted smile on his red face. “I bellered as loud as any of ’em. But that was las’ night. When 1 woke up this mornin’ I’d sort o’ got me philosophy back. I said to meself: ‘Ye're an’ old man, Tom. What the hoojus does it matter to you? You got all the money ye need.’ An’ there she is, byes. I hate the thought o’ being let outa the company—but I don’t forget Prescott made millions for me.”
“So it was really because of all this that you called in the coroner when you found Sturges dead this morning?” Power asked.
“That an’ them little tablets I saw him swallv. First off, I thought nothin’ o’ them—knew he was alius airsick. But when we found him lying there dead, I just couldn’t get them tablets outa me mind, see?”
“You t’ink per’aps someone ’as place little tablets of poison in ’is bottle while he is asleep last night, eh, m’sieu?” Papineau exclaimed.
“Yeah, bye, that was the way she was.”
“As a matter of fact,” Power said, “we know what those tablets contained—bismuth and soda. The coroner found them in his stomach and analyzed them.”
A look of relief crossed the ruddy old face. “Well, Pm durned glad to hear that, bye—durned glad, I can tell ye. Have another snort?”
As he reached for the decanter a voice cried warningly behind him: “Uncle Tom !”
One of the bathers had climbed the slope from the pool, and her presence caused a sheepish grin to crease the old man's weatherbeaten face. “Tch-tch !” he chuckled, turning to Power. “It’s a fine thing, ain’t it. bye, when a man can’t cool himself with a drink or two on a day like this. Meet me special pal an’ slave driver, Miss Cathleen Sturges.”
Cathleen Sturges! This laughing, vibrant young thing, to whose beauty a bathing suit did no mayhem, must be Sturges’ daughter! Who, obviously, had not yet been informed of her father’s death.
The girl smiled at Power—she had a frank, insinuating
way with it—and exclaimed, “He thinks his liver is still as good as it used to be !”
“Ye see how it is, byes.” Tom Blaney put an affectionate arm around the lithe figure. "I can’t call me soul me own.” He looked up at the girl with eyes that were full of the sentimental indulgence of the aged. “You run along now, biddy, an’ I’ll promise to be good.”
The girl’s glance had suddenly shot up to the driveway, into which a battered roadster had drawn. As its occupant stepped out, the old man let out a low exclamation of dismay. But she hadn’t heard. “Bill !” she cried, her voice warm and alive. “Hey, Bill !”
But before she could start up the slope toward Bill Jeffers, Power was ahead of her. "Just a minute!" he said, “I’ve got to speak to Jeffers.”
Reaching the pilot, he said in a low voice, “Blaney hasn’t told Miss Sturges about her father yet. Don't you.”
He passed the girl on the way back. “The road’s clear now,” he said with a grin, and returned to the table under the tree.
“I just took the opportunity of telling Jeffers to hold his horses,” he informed the old man.
“I’m grateful to ye, bye,” the other said feelingly. “Ye’re a man o’ sensibility. Not happenin’ to have any childer o’ me own, she’s me particular pet. When I come home an’ saw her down there with her pals, laughin’ an’ playin’, 1 didn't have the heart to tell her. I was just try in’ to screw up me courage when ye come along. Is there anything more I can do for ye?”
“Yes,” Power said, rising, “you can get Jeffers to fly us to Hooter’s Lake this afternoon in the company plane. Say about three o’clock.”
“I’ll do that very thing, bye.”
AS THEY’ drove down the Mountain Papineau said, “M’sieu Jeffers is very much aces wit’ that charming young mademoiselle, non?”
“It does add an interesting and piquant note,” Power agreed.
Peter Jocelyn was alone in his offices on the twelfth floor of the Federal Life Building. But it was obviously a busy moment. He was bent concentratedly above a wide mahogany desk on which all manner of legal-looking documents were laid out. Through these he seemed to be searching avidly for some rainbow.
His face more saturnine than ever, he snapped at Power: “What is it?”
Power seated himself on the arm of one of the overstuffed chairs. “Prescott Sturges might have been murdered this morning.”
“Murdered?” The little lawyer fairly jumped out of his chair. “But he couldn’t have been murdered ! Hang it all. I’ve got eyes! I’d have seen it, wouldn’t I? 1 was sitting directly behind him—nearer than I am to you."
“I know.” Power said, “but facts are facts."
“Largely negative ones at present, shows no sign of a natural death, so we have to look into the possibilities of an unnatural one.”
“But how in the — ”
“Let’s leave the modus operandi on ice for a moment and talk about motives.” Power said quietly. “Several people seem to have had a gxxl reason for wanting to kill Sturges. You’d agree to that. 1 suppose?”
"I’m not so sure I would.
Several people, including myself, would have liked to wring his ruddy neck, but I don’t think we’d have carried it much farther than that. After all,
“Let's skip it, then. Did you notice anything that happened last night or this morning at Hooter's Lake—or anything that happened on the plane this morning—that you now consider to be suspicious?”
“Not a thing!” Jocelyn declared at once.
“I understand you went back to the plane after she landed at Cartierville?” Power said, with cool calculation.
The lawyer gave him a hard look. “I did—for my brief case.” Then he smiled icily. “Just in case you’re hoping to pin something on me. Power, I’d like to point out that he was already dead when I went back.”
“But there might have been some evidence lying about that could be destroyed or whisked away.”
Jocelyn’s sharp little face went livid. He shot to his feet, his thin body quivering like an arrow. “You can't talk that way to me, Power. I won’t stand for such insinuations!"
Power rose, smiling grimly. “Better calm down.” he said. “I can understand your resentment, but it has the effect of obstructing justice. As a lawyer you should
know that. When I come back I’ll expect a bit more co-operation.”
“Aw, go to blazes!" snapped the little man. dropping into his chair again.
They went on to the offices of the Yorston Construction Company and found Paul Yorston pacing the floor of his private sanctum like a worried young bear. At the sight of them he braced his wide shoulders as though against
"What did you find?” he asked at once.
Power told him. and then asked, “Can you tell us anything that would help to clear up the manner of his death?” Yorston sUxxl staring at him for a moment, and then shook his head in a bewildered sort of way. “No, 1 can't,” he said. “It’s been bothering me.”
“For why is it bothering you, m’sieu?” Papineau asked. “Because it came too darned soon after that row we had last night. I sup]x>se you’ve ferreted that out. I admit we had motive—but what I can’t see is how the devil he could have been murdered. He was absolutely all right when he got into the plane at the lake. There wasn't a sign of anything wrong. He sat in the front seat all the way to Cartierville, in plain sight of all the rest of us.”
"By the way, why do you use Cartierville? I thought St. Hubert—”
"It’s handier. Sturges worked it so that we could erect our hangar there.”
“I understand that Peter Jocelyn had the seat directly behind him.”
“You didn’t see him make any suspicious moves?”
“No. But even if he had how could he have—are you thinking of poison in a hypodermic syringe or something like that? But the post-mortem ought to show traces of it in the tissues, shouldn’t it?”
“It might have been a volatile poison.”
“Y'ou mean something like chloroform or ether?” “They’d have left an odor; there are several fairly deadly volatile poisons that have no odor.”
“But they’d have to be held to his mouth or nose, wouldn’t they? To do that, Jocelyn would have had to reach over him. I saw him make no such move. If Tom Blaney had. he’d have said so. In fact, the one thing we all did was to avoid him like the plague—and we had darned gxxl reason for it. too.”
In the car outside, Papineau said sarcastically, "Nobody is a murderer until you find ’im out.”
"Let’s have some lunch,” Power suggested.
Aí’ THREE o'clock they met Bill Jeffers at Cartierville.
Jeffers had the plane out. her engines warming. They climbed aboard and settled in the two front seats Papineau in the one Prescott Sturges had occupied that morning. Once in the air Power left his seat and occupied in turn each of the others. 1 le came back and sai 1 to Papineau. “Jocelyn was the only one who could have pulled anything.
I le had the seat directly behind you. 1 íe might have made a quick movement that the others didn't see.”
"Wit’ a liyjxxlermic syringe ?” Papineau suggested. Power shook his head. “Sturges would have felt the prick and made a fuss.”
"He ’as been asleep per’aps.” “But any poison injected by a hypodermic syringe should have left some trace in the tissues.”
Papineau gave it up.
Power now turned his attention to the corrugated rubber tube that hung from the upper panel of the side wall and was fastened to a clip by its lower end. There was one in each seat, and he had meant to ask Jeffers what they were, before they left the airport. Unfastening the tube from its clip, he turned up the metal nozzle to examine it more closely. He got a sudden stream of cool air in the lace. It was a ventilator! When you turned the nozzle up, a metal ball dropped away, letting the fresh air through from outside; when you lowered the nozzle, the ball fell back into place, shutting off the air stream.
Suddenly he shot forward and swung open the glass partition leading to the pilot's compartment. “Put back to Montreal!” he shouted to Jeffers, and repeated the order when the pilot seemed to demur.
As the plane banked around he drew his handkerchief from his jxxket and, reaching over Papineau, proceeded to tie it around the corrugated rubber air tube in the other’s seat, close to its junction with the wall panel. The rubber was stiff, and he had to get Pap’s help to make the ligature
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tight. Then, removing his pocketknife, he cut it away above the knot and let it drop like a snake down the front of his trousers. Knotting the loose ends of the handkerchief to his braces, he stood upright until they landed again at Cartierville.
As they stepped out of the plane Jeffers exclaimed impatiently, “What’s the matter with you fellows? Don't you know your own minds?”
“Sometimes,” Power replied, grinning, “mine acts so like a complete stranger that I don’t. Hold your horses here for another hour. We’ll be back.”
When he and Papineau reached the car, he withdrew the tube from its hiding place and said to the other, "Hold it like this— and don’t let the nozzle get turned up.” He then proceeded to drive into the city at a reckless pace.
Presently, in the laboratory at the back of his flat, he did things with that corrugated air tube. First he glued a length of narrow tubing to the mouth of the nozzle. Then, filling a flask with water and inverting this into a large basin also filled with water, he inserted the narrow tubing high up into the inverted flask.
“Now,” he said to Papineau, who all the time had been hanging onto the corrugated thing as though it were a snake he held by the tail, “untie that handkerchief arid blow gently through your end.”
As Pap proceeded to blow, Power raised the nozzle to let the hall valve loose. Air began slowly to replace the water in the inverted flask. When it was entirely replaced. he slipiwd a cork into place and removed the flask from the basin. Placing it on the bench, he said to Papineau:
"Up-end that air tube over this filter paper and see what happens.” He placed a circle of filter paper on the zinc cover.
As Papineau did so, a fine rain of particles fell on the white disc. “Glass!” he exclaimed. “Do you get the idea, Pap?”
“Someone has thrust a small glass container, or containers, down that air tube. That would be easily done—the tube would readily unscrew from the wall panel.”
“But ’ow ’ave the bulbs been broken?”
Power was examining the fragments on the filter pajwr. “This glass is very thin— wait a minute!”
From the near-by rack he picked up a test tube and into its neck fitted a cork through which ran a narrow glass tube. Holding the end of the test tube over the flame of the Bunsen burner, he began to blow through the narrow glass tube fitted into it. Presently, he had a small, completely sealed, more or less circular bulb cooling on the zinc. When it was cool enough to handle, he dropped it into the corrugated air tube and then bent the latter over it. There was the faintest sound of crackling, and when he turned
the tube upside down another little shower of glass particles fell out.
“Pretty ingenious, eh? Those containers were so thin that the pressure of the bending tube was enough to break them. As a matter of fact I’m beginning to think there might have been only one container—a long narrow one. That shape would fracture more easily—and more surely— when the tube was bent. Now, supposing such a glass receptacle contained a deadly volatile gas—and that’s the only kind of a poison that would have left no trace in Sturges’ tissues—when he reached for the air tube and turned its nozzle up, the receptacle fractured into a thousand pieces, and the draft of air through from the outside gave him the full blast of poison fair in the mouth.”
“But why does it not carry the glass with it?” Papineau exclaimed.
Power took his knife and slit the corrugated tube down its entire length. Just where the rubber joined the metal nozzle a filter of fine wire mesh lay across its diameter. “That’s why,” he declared, pointing to it. “It’s a filter for insects or dirt particles. Now let’s see what was in the glass receptacle.”
HE TOOK up the flask with its imprisoned air and proceeded to draw up small samples of its content.
Papineau exclaimed, shaking his head, “But surely the draft of air that came through when M’sieu Sturges held it to his face, ’as blown all the poison away!”
“That would depend on how quickly it killed him. If it acted instantaneously he might have dropped it before every last trace was blown through.”
Papineau shrugged and let it go— though his rotund face still betrayed a fine scepticism. And, as time went by, it seemed that scepticism was justified. Sample after sample from the flask failed to give anything positive to the usual tests. Finally Power went to the cupboard at the far end of the laboratory and returned with a slip of reddish-colored absorbent paper. This, after removing the cork, he dropped into the flask. It began slowly to change color.
“Notice that. Pap!”
“That slip of absorbent paper is impregnated with Congo red and benzidinecopper-acetate. It will change color when placed in an atmosphere of hydrogen cyanide as dilute as one in 100.000. What Prescott Sturges got when he lifted that nozzle this morning was a faceful of one of the deadliest of known gases—and died instanter.”
“Sacré nom!” Papineau exclaimed. “This is one clever t’ing !”
“I'll say it is! The murderer knew Sturges suffered from airsickness and would be using his air tube. He—”
“But wait!” Pap suddenly cried. “This
murder ’as been the result of premeditation, non?”
“It ’as taken time for the murderer to procure the poison in that t’in glass receptacle. It is not done in a day.”
“But these messieurs ’ave ’ad no motive for killing M’sieu Sturges until the meeting of Continental Smelters at Hooter’s Lake last night ! How ’as the murderer been able to procure his poison between that time and this morning when the plane starts for Mo’real?”
“1 get you,” Power said, with a grin. “Trying to smear the old maestro’s little solution, eh? The answer is as follows. Pap. Either somebody had another motive altogether for killing Sturges, or somebody knew Sturges was going to pull his stunt before they flew up to Hooter’s, day before yesterday. We’ll find that out later. In the meantime has it struck you that one of the directors of Continental Smelters is now a more likely suspect than he was before we discovered the method oí death?”
No, it had not struck him, Pap declared.
“Paul Yorston studied medicine before he went into contracting. He’d know about hydrogen cyanide—and where and how to procure it.”
“Oui— for sure! I am stupid not to t’ink of that!”
“And we mustn’t forget that Bill Jeffers is the man who had easiest access to the plane, who knows best how all its little gadgets work. We haven’t got a motive for him yet, though I have a sneaking idea we will before we’re through.”
“Oui” Papineau agreed, remembering what they had seen at Tom Blaney’s that morning. “Then we can wipe the others out as suspects?”
Power frowned at the circle of white filter paper on the bench. “I’m not so sure about that. I still keep wondering if Peter Jocelyn returned to the plane this morning only to get his brief case. He may have deliberately left the case behind so that he could go back and see if any evidence of murder remained—such as tiny fragments of glass that might possibly have come through even a fine wire mesh and be clinging to Sturges’ cheeks.”
He got to his feet. “Let’s get back to Cartierville.”
They found Jeffers pacing to and fro impatiently beside the plane. “You fellows certainly take your time,” he said, with a twisted smile.
"It’s the mills of the gods grinding slowly,” Power said. “By the way, where do you keep the plane at Hooter’s?”
“In the hangar.”
“Is the hangar kept locked?”
“You bet it is! This plane cost a lot of money.”
“Who has the key?”
“It’s kept on the rack in the staff house.” “That’s fine. Let’s go.”
It was six-thirty when they stepped down at Hooter’s Lake into one of those typical mining settlements that dot Northern Quebec and Ontario. Jeffers pointed to the big log cabin beyond the hangar.
“That’s the staff house,” he said. “I suppose you’ll be having dinner before you go back?”
“Yes,” Power said, “if we meet the right kind of hospitality. But we'll do our best to allow you to keep that date tonight.” Jeffers grinned—and it lighted his face up almost boyishly. “I hope so,” he said.
If the exterior of the staff house suggested that here men roughed it. the interior certainly did not. It had all the appearance and appurtenances of a summer hotel, and the young man with the slick hair at the desk looked a typical hotel clerk. When Power asked if there was some place where they could talk quietly, he led them into a small office behind his desk.
HE TALKED guardedly at first, but when Sturges’ murder was announced by Papineau in tones of some severity, he took the brakes off his tongue. Two of the directors, he declared, had got up early that morning and left the staff house before breakfast. Peter Jocelyn had gone out for his usual walk and swim in the lake. Dr. Yorston had gone fishing; there was very good fishing off the point a half mile away.
“Did either of them take the key to the hangar?” Power asked.
The clerk shook his head. “They went out before I came down.”
“But you saw them come back?”
“Yes—but they certainly didn’t return the key to the rack.”
“Where is the rack?”
“Just behind my desk.”
“Could it have been replaced later without your knowing it?”
“Sure ! I’m not at the desk all the time.” “We happen to know,” Power said, leaning confidentially toward the young man, “that the other directors of Continental Smelters had a row with Mr. Sturges last night. You probably know that, too. But what we’d like to know is this: was there any other reason for bad blood between any of them and him?”
The young man moved uneasily in his chair. Obviously he didn’t like the question. “I’d sooner not say,” he said. “I don’t—”
“But you’ll have to sooner or later,” Power urged. “Better get it out now.” “Lissen, Mr. Power, I hate doin’ this! Bill Jeffers has been a real pal to me since I came up here, an’ I want you to know I didn’t go eavesdropping on him. He flew Mr. Sturges and two other men up here last week. I went to the door to get a breath of air that night an’ he and Mr. Sturges were talkin’ over by the verandah steps. All I heard was Mr. Sturges say: ‘You keep out of her life, Jeffers. I’ve warned you before and I’m warning you again.’ ”
“And what did Jeffers say to that?”
The youth swallowed hard. “He said: ‘I’ll see you in blazes before I will.’ And then I beat it. But gosh. Mr. Power, Bill Jeffers wouldn’t commit a murder. He’s too white a guy for that!”
“You say that two men flew up here last week with Mr. Sturges. Do you know who they were?”
“Yes, sir. There was a*Mr. Malcolm and a Mr. Considine.”
“J. W. Considine, the head of Mortlake Milling?”
“Yes, sir—his initials were J. W.”
Power rose to his feet. “Could we have some dinner before we fly back to Montreal?”
“Sure! That’ll be okay!” exclaimed the agitated young man. leaping from his seat.
They found a group of engineers and sub-managers at the tables—and with them Bill Jeffers. As they waited for the maid to bring their dinner, they circulated among these. But they were able to add nothing to the sum of knowledge. None
of them had seen anyone in the vicinity of the hangar either that morning or the night before.
Dinner finished, they got the key to the hangar and crossed over to it. Its stifling interior revealed no clue whatsoever. Power led the way around behind it and presently found a path. This, five minutes later, brought them through the spruces to a point at the edge of the lake.
“A/o’ dieu,” Pap exclaimed. “It is ’ere that Dr. Yorston ’as been fishing this morning!”
“Let’s go back,” Power said grimly, “with our eyes open.”
Fifty feet from the back of the hangar he suddenly stopped in his tracks. On his right two fragments of cardboard had caught his eye in the undergrowth. And presently, with Papineau’s help, he found other pieces between the spruces—where a hurried hand had apparently flung them. Power sat on a rock at the path’s edge piecing them together. They made a long narrow carton lined with corrugations.
“It marches, Pap,” Power said. “You’ll remember I suggested that the hydrogen cyanide gas was probably in one long narrow container. It would about fit this.”
Papineau agreed that it would. “It is too bad,” he declared, “that the name of the manufacturer is not printed on it. That would be a ’elp. non?”
“I don’t think we need to worry about that. There are probably only half a dozen manufacturing chemists in Montreal who could have supplied the gas. I’ll find out who they are when we get back tonight and you can interview ’em tomorrow morning. They’ll perhaps be able to recognize the carton from those fragments.”
As they rose to go, Papineau said. “I am sorry we ’ave found a motive against M’sieu Jeffers. I like ’im. It is very bad for ’im though. There is bad blood between ’im and M’sieu Sturges because of that mademoiselle for some time. We find these fragments directly be’ind the hangar to which ’e ’as the easiest access. The method of procuring the murder is one that he would be the likeliest to use.” He shook his head. “It is very bad for ’im indeed.”
Power said nothing, kept frowning in a preoccupied sort of way, as they made their way around the hangar to the flying field.
When they arrived back at Cartierville, Power remained in the plane until Jeffers came out from the pilot’s compartment. He picked up one of the ventilating tubes —one of those in the nearest of the two rear seats. “This is rather, an unusual gadget, isn’t it, Jeffers?” he asked.
The pilot gave him a queer look, as though he had suddenly felt the need to go on guard. “They’re ventilators—one in each seat.”
“I noticed that.”
“Sturges got them in Germany—saw them on a passenger plane over there. Brought ’em back and had ’em fitted on the bus in the hope they’d help his airsickness. Anything wrong about—” And then suddenly, he cried, “One of 'em’s missing—the one in his seat!” He swung on Power. “It was there this morning when we left Hooter’s Lake !”
“Sure it was,” Power said. “I removed it this afternoon.”
BY ELEVEN o’clock the next morning a considerable group had gathered in his laboratory, crowding it to capacity. Seated on a stool by the bench, with one elbow resting on the latter. Power said to the directors of Continental Smelters and their pilot, Bill Jeffers:
“There isn’t a doubt, gentlemen, that Prescott Sturges was murdered in the plane yesterday morning—or that one of you murdered him.”
Perhaps it was the quiet assurance of his tone that caused the statement to catch them like a blow between the eyes. Old Tom Blaney seemed on the point of saying something, but Power went on. “You all knew that Sturges occupied
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invariably the right front seat of the plane, that he suffered from airsickness and had to make use of the air tubes— which he, himself, had had incorporated in the machine. Some time the night before last, or early yesterday morning, one of you placed in the air tube of the seat he invariably occupied, a glass container filled with hydrogen cyanide gas. When he lifted the tube yesterday morning, the bending of the rubber caused the glass to break and he got a concentrated blast of the gas in the face. It caused him to die instantaneously.”
“I find that purty hard to believe, bye,” declared old Tom Blaney.
“So do I !” snorted Peter Jocelyn. “And so will any jury !”
“I wouldn’t bank too much on that,” Power retorted, with a grim smile. “However, gentlemen,” he addressed them at large again, “let me give you the setup as it stands at present. It’s probably occurred to you that, with the sort of technique of murder we have, the motive must have arisen some time before your meeting at Hooter’s Lake night before last. In other words, if one of you murdered Sturges because he was doublecrossing you in business, that one knew of the double cross before you went to the lake.”
He turned to the pilot. “You had an altogether different motive for murder, Jeffers. Sturges was trying to stand between you and his daughter.”
“Tut-tut, bye,” old Tom Blaney broke ;n, “ye’re barkin’ up the wrong tree entirely. Bill Jeffers wouldn’t murder no one.”
“I’m not saying he murdered Sturges,” Power said. “If he had he’d surely have taken care to remove the glass particles from the air tube. He had all sorts of opportunity to do that, for he was alone with the plane for a considerable period of time. The reason those glass particles weren’t removed from the tube was because the murderer didn’t have easy access to it, and had to take the chance of them being found.”
He turned to Paul Yorston. “You and Jocelyn could have had access to the plane at Hooter’s Lake yesterday morning— just a minute now!” He raised a hand against an outbreak from the little lawyer, and turned to Yorston again. “You went to the point fishing. What time was that?”
“Half past six.”
“Anyone see you go?”
“I don’t think so.”
“The clerk at the staff house says that you got back with six trout shortly after eight. I’ve been talking to him over the phone this morning. So if what he says is true, you hadn’t much time to tamper with the plane’s air tubes.”
SOMETHING like a sigh of relief broke from Yorston as Power turned to Peter Jocelyn. “That leaves you out walking from some hour I haven’t been able to determine until shortly before eight. Ample time in which to have placed the glass container in the air tube and then wet your bathing suit in the lake to make your alibi look nice and clean. Am I right?”
“You can’t pin murder on a man by a process of exclusion,” the little lawyer exclaimed angrily. “I went—”
“I’ll pin it on you by any process I can,” Power assured him. “I’m suggesting that you put that glass bulb in the air tube at Hooter’s yesterday morning. I’m suggesting that the reason you went back to the plane when it landed at Cartierville was not to get your brief case—which you’d left there deliberately—but to be sure there were no particles of glass on Sturges’ clothes.”
“You knew that Sturges was going to swing his double cross before you went to Hooter’s night before last. You’ve been his lawyer for years. It was the most likely thing in the world that he would discuss the project with you—if for no other reason, to be sure that the legal angles were okay. What project has he failed to discuss with you in the last ten years?”
“You tell us!” snapped the other. “I’ll do my talking later.”
“I believe,” Power went on calmly, “that he not only discussed the thing with you, but asked you to come in with him on it. That’d only be logical. I’ve been puzzled as to why you didn’t accept his offer, but I think I know now. You knew his scheme. With him out of the way, you felt fairly sure you could work it to your own ends and gain yourself control of Continental Smelters — his widow would naturally let you use his stock. And that would explain another thing—why you didn’t go to your fellowdirectors and inform them of the impending double cross.”
“All right!” Jocelyn snapped impatiently. “Prove it!” He turned to the others, who were regarding him rather as one would a rattlesnake that had wriggled into their ken. “The whole thing’s a tissue of invention. He has absolutely no basis for his statements. I’m going to bring a defamation suit against him that’ll burn his pants off.”
He got to his feet, but Power said, “Just a minute!” He pressed the buzzer beside the bench and when his man, Hicks, appeared at the door, “Is Mr. Considine here yet?”
“Yes, sir,” Hicks replied, “in the living room.”
“Show him in.”
“Considine?” exclaimed old Tom Blaney. “D’ye mean J. W., bye? What’s he got to do with this?”
Hicks had reappeared with a tall gentleman whom the directors of Continental Smelters all seemed to know. You couldn’t do business on St. James Street without knowing J. W. Considine. “You flew up to Hooter’s Lake with Prescott Sturges one day last week, didn’t you, Mr. Considine?” Power asked him.
“That’s right.” the new arrival agreed.
“You were to be associated with him in the reorganization of Continental Smelters, weren’t you?”
It rather embarrassed Mr. Considine. but he agreed that it was so.
“Did Sturges tell you that he had talked the reorganization over with Peter Jocelyn?”
“Er-a yes. he did.”
“Thanks, Mr. Considine, that’s fine. Hicks’ll show you out.” Power turned to the little lawyer. “That seems to settle the matter of motive, I think. There remains—”
Yet another figure had appeared in the doorway. This time it was Sergeant Papineau, and the sergeant wore the look of a man travelling on portentous business. Worming his way through the others, he bent over Power and whispered.
Power turned again to Peter Jocelyn. “Three days ago someone went to the Parkinson Chemical Company in St. Catherine Street East and asked to have a glass container of definite specifications made to be filled with hydrogen cyanide gas. The wainscotting of his library was infested with rats and he wanted something that could be shoved through an augur hole and then easily shattered. It had to be so thin it would break at a touch. That man answers your description. Jocelyn. Now you can burn the pants off me—if you live long enough.”