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Midnight by Octavus Roy Cohen

Part 2 out of 4

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valet had been discharged at some time during the twenty-four hours which
immediately preceded the killing. It was as if his instinct recognized a
combination of circumstances which could not be ignored. Carroll looked
up interestedly.

"Have you talked to this fellow?"

"No. I figured I'd better leave that phase of it to you; but I'm having
him watched. Cartwright is on the job. Right now the man is at his
boarding-place on Larson Street."

Carroll started for the door.

"Let's go," he suggested laconically.

It was but a few minutes' drive from headquarters to the boarding-house
of Roland Warren's former valet. Carroll parked his car at the curb and
inspected the place closely from the outside.

There was little architectural beauty to recommend the house. It was a
rambling, dilapidated, two-story structure, sadly in need of paint and
repairs, and bespeaking occupancy by a family none too well blessed
with the better things of existence. They proceeded to the door and
rang the bell. A slatternly woman answered their summons, and Leverage
addressed her:

"We wish to see William Barker, please."

"William Barker?"

"Yes. I believe he moved here yesterday."

"Oh, that feller!" The woman started inside. "Wait a minute," she said
crossly, and shut the door in their faces.

While they stood waiting, Leverage glanced keenly up and down the street,
and his eye lighted on the muscular figure of Cartwright, the
plainclothes man, shivering in the partial shelter of an alley across the
way. The policeman signaled them that all was well, and resumed his
vigil. At that minute the door opened and the woman reappeared.

"He ain't home!" she said, and promptly closed the door again.

Carroll looked at Leverage and Leverage looked at Carroll. Leverage
crossed the street and interrogated Cartwright.

"The landlady says he's out, Cartwright. How about it?"

"Bum steer, chief! The bird's there--I'll bet my silk shirt on it!"

Leverage recrossed the street and reported to Carroll.

"You're pretty sure Cartwright has the straight dope!"

"Sure thing," said the chief. "He's one of the most reliable men on the
force, and when he says a thing, he knows it."

Carroll stroked his beardless chin. There was a hard, calculating light
in his eyes--eyes which alternated between a soft, friendly blue and a
steely gray. Finally he looked up at Leverage.

"What's your idea, Eric?"

"About him sendin' word he was out when we know he ain't?"


"It looks darn funny to me, Carroll! 'Pears like he didn't want to
discuss the affair with us."

"He don't know who we are."

"He can guess pretty well. Any guy with a head on his shoulders knows
the valet of a murdered man is going to be quizzed by the police."

"Good! Come on."

Carroll put a firm hand on the knob and turned it. Then he stepped into
the dingy reception hall, followed by the city's chief of police.

At the sound of visitors, the angular frame of the boarding-house-keeper
appeared in the doorway, her eyes flashing antagonistically. Leverage
turned back the lapel of his coat and disclosed the police badge.

"Listen here, lady," he said in a voice whose very softness brooked no
opposition; "that bird Barker is here, and we're going to see him. Police
business! Where's his room?"

The woman's face grew ashen.

"What's he been doin'?" she quavered. "What's he been up to now?"

"What's he been up to before this?" countered Leverage.

"I don't know anything about him. Swear to Gawd I don't! He just come
here yesterday an' took a room. Paid cash in advance."

"He's in his room, ain't he?"

"What if he is? He told me to tell anybody who come along that he was
out. I didn't know you was cops. Oh, I hope there ain't nothin' goin' to
ruin the reputation of this place! There ain't a woman in town who runs a
decenter place than this."

"Nobody's going to know anything," reassured Carroll, "provided you keep
your own tongue between your teeth. Now take us to Barker's room."

The boarding-house-keeper led the way up a flight of dark and twisting
stairs, along a musty hall. She paused before a door at the far end.

"There it is, sirs--and--"

"You go downstairs," whispered Carroll. "If we should find you trying to
listen at the keyhole--"

His manner made it unnecessary to finish the threat. The woman departed,
fluttering with excitement. Leverage's hand found the knob, and Carroll
nodded briefly. The door was flung open, and the two men entered.

"What the--"

The occupant of the room leaped to his feet and stood staring, his face
gone pasty white, his demeanor one of terror, which Carroll could see he
was fighting to control. Leverage closed the door gently and gazed at
the man upon whom they had called.

William Barker was not a large man; neither was he small. He was one of
those men of medium height, whose physique deceives every one save the
anatomical expert. To the casual observer his weight would have been
catalogued at about a hundred and forty. At a glance Carroll knew that it
was nearer a hundred and eighty. Normal breadth of shoulder was more than
made up for by unusual depth of chest. Ready-made trousers bulged with
the enormous muscular development of calf and thigh. The face,
clean-shaven, was sullen with the fear inspired by the sudden entrance of
Carroll and Leverage; and there was more than a hint of evil in it. As
they watched, the sullenness of expression was supplanted by a leer, and
then by a mask of professional placidity--the bovine expression which one
expects to find in the average specimen of masculine hired help.

The man's demeanor was a combination of abjectness and hostility. He was
plainly frightened, yet striving to appear at ease.

Carroll and Leverage maintained silence. Barker fidgeted nervously, and
finally, when the strain became too great, burst out with:

"Who are you fellers? Whatcha want?"

Carroll spoke softly.

"William Barker?"

"What if that is my name?"

Carroll's hands spread wide.

"Just wanted to be sure, that's all. You _are_ William Barker?"

"An' what if I am? What you got to do with that?"

Carroll showed his badge.

"And this gentleman," he finished, designating Leverage, "is chief
of police."

Barker's voice came back to him in a half whine, half snarl.

"I ain't done nothin'--"

"Nobody has accused you yet."

"Well, when you bust in on a feller like this--"

Carroll seated himself, and Leverage followed suit. He motioned Barker
to a chair.

"Let's talk things over," he suggested mildly.

"Ain't nothin' to talk over."

"You're William Barker, aren't you?"

"I ain't said I ain't, have I?"

Carroll's eyes grew a bit harder. His voice cracked out:

"What's your name?"

Barker met his gaze; then the eyes of the ex-valet shifted.

"William Barker," he answered almost unintelligibly.

"Very good! Now, sit down, William."

William seated himself with ill grace. Carroll spoke again, but this time
the softness had returned to his tones. His manner approached downright

"We came here to talk with you, Barker," he said frankly. "We don't
know a thing about your connection with this case; but we do know that
you were valet to Roland Warren, and therefore must possess a great
deal of information about him which no one else could possibly have.
All we want is to learn what you know about this tragedy--what you know
and what you think."

Barker raised his head. For a long time he stared silently at Carroll.

"I don't know who you are," he remarked at length; "but you seem to be on
the level."

"I am on the level," returned Carroll quietly. "My name is David

"O-o-oh! So _you're_ David Carroll?" The query was a sincere tribute.

"Yes, I'm Carroll, and I'm working on the Warren case. I don't want to
cause trouble for any one, but there are certain facts which I must
learn. You can tell me some of them. No person who is innocent has the
slightest thing to fear from me. And so--Barker--if you have nothing to
conceal, I'd advise that you talk frankly."

"I ain't got nothin' to conceal. What made you think I had?"

"I don't think so. I don't think anything definite at this stage of the
game. I want to find out what you know."

"I don't know nothin', either."

"H-m! Suppose I learn that for myself! I'll start at the beginning. Your
name is William Barker?"

"Yes. I told you that once."

"Where is your home? What city have you lived in mostly?"

The man hesitated.

"I was born in Gadsden, Alabama, if that's what you mean. Mostly I've
lived in New York and around there."

"What cities around there?"


"Newark, New Jersey?"

"Yes. An' in Jersey City some, and Paterson, and a little while in

"You met Mr. Warren where?"

"In New York. I was valet for a feller named Duckworth, and he went and
died on me--typhoid; you c'n find out all about him if you want. Mr.
Warren was a friend of Mr. Duckworth's, an' he offered me a job. We lived
in New York for a while and then we come down here."

"How long ago?"

"'Bout four years--maybe five."

"What kind of a man was he--personally?"

Carroll watched his man closely without appearing to do so. He saw
Barker flush slightly, and did not miss the jerky nervousness of his
answer--that or the forced enthusiasm.

"Oh, I reckon he is all right. That is, he _was_ all right. Real
nice feller."

"You were fond of him?"

"I didn't say I was in love with him. I said he was a nice feller."

"Treated you well?"

"Oh, sure--he treated me fine."

"And yet he discharged you yesterday." Then Carroll bluffed.
"Without notice!"

Barker looked up sharply. His face betrayed his surprise; showed clearly
that Carroll's guess had scored.

"How'd you know that?"

"I knew it," returned Carroll. "That's sufficient."

Barker assumed a defensive attitude.

"Anyway," said he, "that didn't make me sore at him, because he give me a
month's pay; and that's just as good as a notice, ain't it?"

"Ye-e-es, I guess it is." Carroll hesitated. "Did he pay you in cash?"


Again Carroll hesitated for a moment, while he lighted a cigarette. When
he spoke again, his tone was merely conversational, almost casual.

"You've read the papers--all about Mr. Warren's murder, haven't you?"

"I'll say I have."

"What do you think about it?"

Again that startled look in Barker's eyes. Again the nervous twitching
of hands.

"Whatcha mean, what do I think about it?"

"The woman in the taxicab--do you think she killed him?"

Barker drew a deep breath. One might have fancied that it was a sigh
of relief.

"Oh, _her_? Sure! She's the person that killed him!"

"He knew a good many women?" suggested Carroll interrogatively. "He got
along pretty well with them?"

"H-m!" William Barker nodded. "You said it then, Mr. Carroll. Mr.
Warren--he was a bird with the women!"



No slightest move of Warren's erstwhile valet--no twitching of facial
muscles, no involuntary gesture of nervousness, however slight--escaped
Carroll's attention; but with all his watchfulness, the boyish-looking
investigator was unostentatious, almost retiring in his manner.

And this modest demeanor was having its effect on William Barker, just as
Carroll had known it would have, and as Leverage had hoped. Eric Leverage
had worked with Carroll before, and he had seen the man's personal charm,
his sunny smile, his attitude of camaraderie, perform miracles. People
had a way of talking freely to Carroll after he had chatted with them
awhile, no matter how bitter the hostility surrounding their first
meeting. Carroll was that way--he was a student of practical every-day
psychology. He worked to one end--he endeavored to learn the mental
reactions of every one of his _dramatis persoae_ toward the fact of the
crime he happened to be investigating; that and, as nearly as possible,
their feelings at the moment of the commission of the crime, no matter
where they might have been.

"It doesn't matter what a suspect says," he had told Leverage once. "Some
of them tell the truth and some of them lie. Often the truth sounds
untrue, while the lies carry all the earmarks of honesty. It's a sheer
guess on the part of any detective. What I want to know is how my man
felt at the time the crime was committed--not where he was; and how he
feels now about the whole thing."

"But the facts themselves are important," argued the practical chief
of police.

"Granted! But when you have facts, you don't need a detective. I'd rather
have a suspect talk freely and never tell the truth than have him be
reticent and stick to a true story."

Leverage's reply had been expressive of his opinion of Carroll's almost
uncanny ability.

"Sounds like damned nonsense," said he; "but it's never failed you yet.
And even you couldn't get away with it if you lost that smile of yours!"

Right now he was witnessing the magic of Carroll's smile. He had seen the
antagonism slowly melt from Barker's manner. The nervousness was still
there, true; but it seemed tinged with an attitude which was part
friendliness toward Carroll and part contempt for his powers. That, too,
was an old story to Leverage. More than one criminal had tripped over the
snag of underrating Carroll's ability.

Barker's last statement--"Warren, he was a bird with the women!"--was
true. Leverage knew it was true. Carroll knew it was true. There was the
ring of truth about it. It mattered not whether Barker had an iron of his
own in the fire--it mattered not what else he said which was not
true--the two detectives knew that they had extracted from him a fact,
the relative importance of which would be established later.

Just at present, knowledge that the dead man had been somewhat of a
philanderer seemed of considerable importance. For one thing, it
established the theory that he had been planning an elopement with the
woman in the taxicab. That being the case, a definite task was
faced--first, find the woman; then find some man vitally affected by her
elopement with Warren.

Carroll betrayed no particular interest in Barker's statement. Instead,
he smiled genially, a sort of between-us-men smile, which did much to
disarm Barker.

"A regular devil with 'em, eh, Barker?"

"You spoke a mouthful that time, Mr. Carroll! What he didn't know about
women their own husbands couldn't tell him."

"Married ones?"

"Oh, sure! He was a specialist with them."

"Then most of this gossip we've been hearing has a basis of fact?"

A momentary return of caution showed in Barker's retort.

"I don't know just what you've been hearin'."

"A good many stories about his love affairs--with women who were
prominent socially."

Barker shrugged.

"Most likely they're true; although it's a safe bet that a heap of 'em
was lies. Men folks have a way of lyin' about women that way, even where
they'll tell the truth about everything else. They've got women beaten
ninety-seven ways gossiping about that sort of thing."

"You know a thing or two yourself, Barker?"

The man flushed with pleasure.

"Oh, I ain't nobody's pet jackass, when it comes to that!"

"Now you"--Carroll's tone was gentle, almost hypnotic--"of course you
know who the woman is that Mr. Warren was planning to elope with?"

"I know--"

Suddenly Barker paused, and his face went white. He compressed his lips
with an effort and choked back the words. Leverage, leaning forward in
tense eagerness--knowing the verbal trap that Carroll had been
planting--sighed with disappointment, and relaxed.

"Say, what the hell are you driving at!"

"Nothing." One would have sworn that Carroll was surprised at Barker's
flare of anger--or else that it had passed unnoticed. "I just figured
that you, having been his valet, and knowing a good deal about him, would
have knowledge of this."

"He wasn't in the habit of discussin' his lady friends with me," growled
the ex-valet surlily.

"Of course he wasn't; but you know, of course? You guessed?"

"No, I didn't do nothin' of the kind. Say, what are you tryin' to
do--trip me up or somethin'?"

"Of course not. Why should I be interested in tripping you up?"

"You was sayin'--"

"Don't be foolish, Barker! It wouldn't do me a bit of good to--er--trip
you up. All I want is whatever knowledge you have which may prove of
interest in solving this case."

The man's eyes narrowed craftily.

"You ain't got no suspicions yourself, have you?"

"Suspicions of what?"

"Who that dame in the taxicab was."

Carroll laughed infectiously.

"Goodness, no! If I had, I wouldn't be seated here chatting with you."

Again the expression of relief flashed across Barker's face--a bit
of play lost by neither detective. Carroll was toying idly with a
gold pencil on the end of his waldemar. His outward calmness
exasperated Leverage. From this point of the interview, the chief of
police would have dropped the attitude of trustful friendliness and
resorted to a little practical third-degree stuff. He was fairly
quivering with eagerness to bluster about the room and extract
information by main force.

And a hint of Leverage's mental seethe must have been communicated to
Carroll, for the younger man turned the battery of his sunny gaze upon
the chief of police and nodded reassuringly. The effect was
instantaneous. Leverage's temporary resentment departed much as the gas
escapes from a pin-punctured balloon. He gave ear to Barker's speech.

"N'r you ain't the only one who don't know who that woman was. _I_

"You knew he was planning to elope, though?"

The man shook his head doggedly.

"I knew he was leavin' the city for good, if that's what you mean."

"No-o, not exactly. I knew that much myself. What interests me is
this--was he planning to leave with some woman?"

Barker hesitated before replying, and when he did answer it was patent
that his words were chosen carefully.

"I don't hardly reckon he was, Mr. Carroll. Mind you, I'm not sayin' he
wasn't; but then again I ain't sayin' he was. I can't do nothin' only
guess--same as you can."

"I see!" Carroll was apparently unconscious of Barker's flagrant
evasion. "What I don't understand is this--when Mr. Warren was publicly
engaged to Miss Gresham, why did he try to elope with her?"

"Elope with Miss Gresham?" Barker paused; then a slow, calculating smile
creased his lips. "Miss Gresham--her he was engaged to! Dog-gone if I
don't believe you've hit the nail on the head, Mr. Carroll!"

"What nail?"

"About her bein' the woman in the taxi. You know some fellers is like
that--they'd a heap rather elope with a woman they're crazy about than
stand up in a church and get married. They're sort of romantic." Barker
was waxing loquacious. "You know, you must be right. Fact, if you put it
right up to me, I'd say there wasn't no doubt that Miss Gresham was the
woman in the taxicab."

"I had that idea," responded Carroll slowly. "But what I can't
understand, Barker, and what you might help me figure out, is this--why
should Miss Gresham kill Mr. Warren?"

"Huh! Ask me somethin' easy, will you? I never was good at riddles."

Leverage marveled at the change in the two men. Apparently Carroll had
swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Of course, Leverage was pretty sure
that he had not; but he was also sure that Barker thought he had. And
Barker was volunteering information--plenty of it--that was absolutely
valueless. For the first time he was forcing the conversational pace, and
Carroll seemed serenely content to drag limply along.

"Reckon she might have been jealous of him?" drawled Carroll.

"Jealous? Maybe. I ain't sayin' she wasn't. Of course, she must have
heard a good many things about him and other women; and when a woman gets
downright jealous there ain't much sayin' what she wouldn't do. Not that
I'm sayin' Miss Gresham croaked him. I ain't sayin' nothin' positive; but
if you're askin' me who he'd most naturally elope with, why I'd say it
was the girl he was engaged to marry. If he wasn't going to marry her,
what did he ever get engaged to her for?"

Carroll nodded.

"Certainly sounds reasonable." He paused, and then: "Where were you about
midnight last night?"

"I was"--Barker's figure stiffened defensively, and his eyebrows drew
down over the deep-set eyes--"I was just shootin' some pool."

"Shooting pool?"



"At Kelly's place."

"Where is that?"

The man hesitated, flushed, and then, somewhat sullenly:

"On Cypress Street."

"That's pretty close to the Union Station, isn't it?"

"Not so close."

"About how far away?"

Again the momentary hesitation.

"'Bout a half-block."

"And you were shooting pool there?"

"Sure I was! I c'n prove it."

Carroll grinned disengagingly.

"You don't need to prove anything to me, Barker. And for goodness' sake
get the idea out of your head that I'm suspecting you of anything. I had
to talk matters over with you. You knew more about the dead man than any
one else; but I couldn't think you had anything to do with it, could I?
You're not a woman!"

Barker grinned sheepishly.

"That's all right, Mr. Carroll. And as for me bein' a woman--well, you're
sure a woman killed him, ain't you?"

"As sure as any one can be. And now"--Carroll rose--"I'm tremendously
obliged for all the information you've given me. Any time you run
across anything more that you think might prove of interest, look me
up, will you?"

"Sure! Sure!" Barker's tone was almost hearty. "You're a regular feller,
Mr. Carroll--a regular feller!"

The two detectives departed. Carroll spoke to Cartwright as he passed:

"Keep both eyes on that fellow Barker," he ordered curtly. "I'll
send Reed up to team with you. Don't let him get away. Nab him if he
tries it."

Cartwright nodded briefly, and Carroll and Leverage climbed into the
former's car. As they rounded the corner, Leverage turned wide eyes upon
his professional associate.



"You beat the Dutch!"

"How so?"

"You didn't swallow that bird's yarn, did you?"

"Of course not," answered Carroll calmly.

"I didn't think so; but you had me worried, with that innocent look of
yours. Me, if I was wantin' to play safe on this case, I'd arrest William
Barker _pronto_."


"Because," snapped Leverage positively, "I think he was mixed up in
Warren's murder!"

"Aa-ah!" Carroll refused to become excited. "You do?"

"Yes, I do. What do you think?"

"I think this," answered Carroll. "I think that Mr. William Barker knows
a great deal more about the case than he has told!"



They drove in silence to headquarters, each man busy with his thoughts.
It was not until they were alone in Leverage's sanctum that the subject
of the recent interview was again broached. It was Leverage who brought
it up, in his characteristically gruff way.

"I reckon you're wonderin', Carroll, about what I said back yonder
in the car?"

"About arresting Barker?"

"Yes. I guess you're figuring what I'd arrest him for, eh?"

"I'm interested--yes."

"I'd arrest him for this." Leverage leaned forward earnestly, his
attitude that of a man eager to convince. "Let's admit right off the reel
that the skirt in the taxicab croaked Warren. Looks like she did, anyway;
but whether she did or not, it's an even bet that there was a man mixed
up in it somewhere. And if that man isn't Mr. William Barker, then I'll
eat a month's pay."

"You're sure there was a man mixed up somewhere?"

"Certainly. This murder deal was planned in advance. It must have been.
Things couldn't just work out that way. And no woman, no matter how much
she wanted to bump Warren off, could think of a thing that complicated.
Even if she did think of it, she wouldn't have the nerve to carry it out
that way. Ain't I right?"

"You may not be right, Leverage; but you're certainly logical."

"Good! Now, so far, we ain't got any man in this case except Barker."

Carroll shook his head.

"You're wrong there."


"Somewhere in this town is some man who is interested in the woman with
whom Warren was planning to elope. Don't forget this, Leverage--I let
Barker ramble on. I like to hear 'em talk. The minute he jumped at the
idea that the woman in the taxi was Miss Gresham, I knew perfectly well
that he knew she was not. I also believe that he knows who the woman
was. Further, I believe that she is socially prominent. That being the
case, it is a safe guess that there is some man who might commit a
murder, provided he knew in advance of the elopement. Our task now is to
discover that woman and, through her, the man interested."

Leverage frowned thoughtfully.

"Listens good," he volunteered at length. "Another thing--Barker admits
he was shooting pool in Kelly's place last night around midnight; and
Kelly's place is only half a block from the Union Station. That sounds

"It does; and then again it may mean nothing. What I am striving for is
to make William Barker feel that he is safe. The safer he feels, the more
readily he will talk. No matter how many lies he tells, everything that
he says is of value. He didn't know, of course, that we already had a
perfect alibi for Miss Gresham; but even if we hadn't, his assumed belief
that she committed the crime would have assured me that she did not.
No-o, I think we'd better not arrest the man unless he forces our
hand--tries to jump town, or something like that. Better let him remain
at large and talk frequently. If he has anything to betray, there's more
chance that he'll do it that way. Don't you think I'm right?"

"I wouldn't admit it if I didn't, Carroll. I've seen you in action too
often to believe you're ever wrong."

Carroll flushed boyishly.

"Don't be absurd, Leverage! I'm often wrong--very wrong. And don't think
that I'm a transcendent detective; they don't really exist, you know. I'm
merely trying to be human, to learn the nature of the people with whom
I'm dealing. I try to learn 'em as well as they know themselves--maybe a
little better; and then I try to separate the wheat of vital facts from
the chaff of the inconsequential."

"Just the same," insisted Leverage loyally, "you always get 'em!"

"And when I do, it is because I have used nothing more than plain common
sense. Don't think that I attach no importance to physical clues. They're
immensely valuable; but the one weakness in a criminal is his lack of
common sense. His perspective is awry, his sense of values distorted.
Usually he bothers his head about a myriad minor details, and pays but
scant attention to the genuinely important things. It is upon that
weakness that I am banking--particularly so in the case of Barker."

"I insist that you're a wonder, Carroll!"

"And I insist that you're foolishly complimentary. Did you ever stop to
realize, Eric, that when a crime is committed the advantage lies entirely
with the detective? The detective can make a thousand mistakes during the
course of his investigations and still trap his man; but the criminal
cannot make one single error--not _one_!"

"Maybe so, David; but it takes a good man to recognize that one, and to
know what to do with it."

Carroll grinned and left, and then for two days devoted himself to a
study of the conditions surrounding the murder--that and routine matters.
The trunk, for instance, was duly returned by the railroad from New York,
and Carroll and his friend made a minute investigation of every article
contained therein. Their search was well-nigh fruitless. The trunk
contained little save the wardrobe of a well-dressed man--suits, shirts,
underwear, shoes, caps. There were also golf and tennis togs; a few
books; a handsome leather secretary, containing a good many personal
letters and one or two business missives which were of little interest.
Altogether the examination of the trunk--a process which occupied three
hours--established nothing definite, save that there was nothing to be
discovered. Its results were hopelessly negative.

Meanwhile the city sizzled with gossip of the Warren murder. The
seemingly impenetrable mystery surrounding the case, its many sensational
features, the admission of the police department that the woman in the
case was not Hazel Gresham, fiancee of the dead man, yet the certainty
that there was a woman, and that she was of the better class--all this
served to keep the tongues of men and women alike wagging at both ends.

Carroll was besieged with anonymous letters. Dozens of prominent
married women were mentioned as having been, at one time or another,
the object of Warren's amorous attentions. Carroll read each one
carefully and filed it away. He had hoped for this, but the results had
far exceeded his expectations, and he found himself bewildered rather
than assisted by the response from nameless individuals who were
morbidly eager to be of help.

The detective knew that the running down of each individual trail--the
investigation of each of Warren's supposed affairs of the heart--would be
an interminable procedure. And so far not a single one of the letters had
varied from another. They connected Warren's name with that of some
married woman, and let it go at that. It was quite evident that the dead
man had been very much of a Lothario; too much so for the mental ease of
the investigator who was struggling to link the cause of his death with
one particular affair.

The reporters allowed their imaginations to run wild. The story was what
is known, in the parlance of the newspaper world, as a "space-eater."
City editors turned their best men loose on it and devoted columns to
conjecture. There was little definite information upon which to base the
daily stories that were luridly hurled into type. Thus far Spike Walters,
driver of taxicab No. 92,381, was the only person under arrest, and only
those persons too lazy to exercise their minds were willing to believe
that Spike was guilty or that he knew more of the crime than he had told.

Carroll read each news story attentively. No wild theory of a pop-eyed
reporter, hungry for fact, was too absurd to receive his careful
attention. But they proved of little assistance. With the spot-light of
publicity blazing on the crime, the investigation seemed to have become
static. There was no forward movement; nothing save that in the brain of
David Carroll salient facts were being seized upon and meticulously
catalogued for future reference.

Cartwright and Reed, the plain-clothes men detailed to shadow William
Barker, reported nothing suspicious in that gentleman's movements. He
seemed to be making no effort to secure employment, but, on the other
hand, there was little of interest in what he did do. Again the stone
wall of negative action.

Barker spent his mornings in his boarding-house, apparently luxuriating
in long slumbers; he ate always at the same cheap restaurant; and his
afternoons and evenings were devoted largely to the science of eight-ball
pool at Kelly's place. There may have been significance in his loyalty to
Kelly's place; but if there was, it was too vague for Carroll to
consider. He merely remembered the fact that Barker was a steady patron
of the pool-room near the Union Station, and filed it away with his
other threads of information concerning the murder.

Carroll was frankly puzzled. The case differed widely from any other
with which he had ever come in contact. Usually there was an array of
persons upon whom suspicion could be justly thrown; a collection of
suspects from whom the investigator could take his choice, or from whom
he could extract facts which eventually might be used to corner the
guilty person. In the present case there was no one to whom he could
turn an accusing finger.

Of course, he was convinced that William Barker knew a great deal about
the crime and the events which preceded it; but Barker wouldn't talk--and
he, Carroll, had no evidence that enabled him to bluff, to draw Barker
out against his will.

The crime seemed to have lost itself in the sleety cold of the December
midnight upon which it was committed. The trails were not blind--there
were simply no trails. The circumstances baffled explanation--a lone
woman entering an empty taxicab; a run to a distant point in the city;
the discovery of the woman's disappearance, and in her stead the sight of
the dead body of a prominent society man--that, and the further blind
information that the suit-case which the woman had carried was the
property of the man whose body was huddled horribly in the taxicab.

The woman, whoever she was, had either been unusually clever or
unusually lucky. Minute examination of the interior of the cab had
revealed nothing--not a fingerprint, nor a scrap of handkerchief.
There was absolutely nothing which could serve as a clue in establishing
her identity.

And yet, somewhere in the city--a city of two hundred thousand souls--was
the woman who could clear up the mystery.

Convinced that she was prominent socially, Carroll kept a close eye upon
the departures of society women for other cities. His vigil had been
unrewarded thus far. And the public as a whole waited eagerly for her
apprehension, for the public was unanimous in the belief that the woman
in the taxicab was the person who had ended Warren's life.

The very fact of having nothing definite upon which to work was getting
on Carroll's usually equable nerves. He had little to say to Leverage
regarding the case, for the simple reason that there was very little
which could be said. Leverage, on his part, watched the detective with
keen interest, sympathizing with him, and exhibiting implicit confidence,
but the men didn't agree upon the correct procedure. Leverage was all for
arresting Barker and charging him with the murder.

"You'll learn some facts then, Carroll," he insisted.

But Carroll shook his head.

"It wouldn't get us anywhere, Eric. We couldn't prove him guilty."

"No-o, but that don't make no difference. Of course the law says a man is
innocent until you prove he ain't, but that ain't what the law does. If
we arrest this here Mr. William Barker, everybody's going to believe he's
guilty until he proves himself innocent."

"And you think he can't do that?"

"No! At least I'm gambling on this--Barker can't prove himself innocent
without telling who is guilty!"

But Carroll refused to arrest the man. He knew that Leverage disapproved,
but he also knew that Leverage was sportsman enough to let him handle the
case in his own way.

On one of his long strolls through the downtown section of the
city--daily walks which helped him to think connectedly--David Carroll
felt a hand on his arm and heard an eager feminine voice in his ear:

"Gracious goodness! If it isn't the perfectly marvelous Mr. David

Carroll bowed instinctively. Then his lips expanded into the first
wholesome smile he had experienced in forty-eight hours.

"Miss Evelyn Rogers!"

"You did recognize me, didn't you? How simply splendiferous! I'm awfully
glad we met!"

"So am I, Miss Rogers."

She dropped her voice confidentially.

"Will you do me a _great_ favor--an _enormous_ favor?"

"Certainly. What is it?"

"It's this." She looked around carefully. "I told some of my friends that
you are a friend of mine, and they don't believe it. They're over yonder
in that ice-cream place. Now, what I want you to do for me is to show
'em. I want you to take me over there and buy me an ice-cream soda!"

Carroll laughed aloud as he took her by the arm and piloted her through
the traffic. He asked only one question:

"What flavor?"



If Evelyn Rogers, amply clad as to fur around the neck but somewhat
under-dressed as to lace stockings about the legs, had desired to
create a sensation among her friends, she more than succeeded. She
preceded Carroll into the place, her eyes glowing pridefully, skirted
the table at which her friends sat, then stopped abruptly, forcing
Carroll to do likewise.

"Mr. Carroll," she said sweetly, "I want to introduce you to my friends."
She called them by name. "Girls, this is Mr. Carroll, the famous

Carroll bowed in his most courtly manner, and assured them that he was
delighted to make their acquaintance. He insisted that it was always a
pleasure to meet any friends of his very dear friend, Miss Rogers. The
girls at the table giggled with embarrassment, and one or two of them
made rather pallid attempts at repartee. Then Carroll and the
seventeen-year-old found a table in the very center of the floor, even as
a boy, recognizing Carroll, appeared at their elbow.

The detective studied the list intently. Apparently there was no subject
in the world more vital at that moment than the selection of just the
proper concoction. Finally he looked up and shook his head.

"I can't decide," he announced gravely. "They all sound so good! Walnut
banana sundae; strawberry glory; peach Melba; chocolate parfait, with
whipped cream and cracked walnuts; elegantine fizz--Help me out, please."

She, too, plunged into the labyrinth of toothsome titles. Finally she
emerged smiling.

"Have you ever tasted a chocolate fudge-sundae?"

"No-o, I'm afraid not."

"Well, it's just the _elegantest_ thing--vanilla ice-cream with hot fudge
poured over it, and as soon as they pour the fudge--it's steaming hot,
you know--simply scalding--it forms into a sort of candy, and then when
they serve it--"

"I fancy you want one, too, don't you?"

"Oh, goodness me, yes! I _always_ eat chocolate fudge sundaes. They're
simply scrumptious--but they do take the edge off one's dinner appetite.
Personally, I don't care so very much. I believe we eat too much anyway,
don't you, Mr. Carroll? I read in a book once that after you reach a
certain point in eating--that is, after you've swallowed just the right
number of calories--the rest don't do you a single particle of good. And
besides, ice-cream is healthy, and certainly there's nothing with more
nourishment in it than chocolate--unless it is raisins. I like raisins
well enough--"

Carroll turned to the boy.

"Two chocolate fudge sundaes," he ordered; "and put a few raisins on
one of them."

He found the large eyes of the girl turned upon him adoringly.

"Do you know," she said, "that when I said the other day that you were
the most wonderful, the most marvelous man in the world, I didn't even
know half how wonderful or marvelous you really were?"

"Thanks! And what caused the discovery?"

"The way you acted just now. Why, I'm sure those girls think that you've
known me all your life--or that we're engaged, or something!"

Carroll was a trifle startled.


"Why not? You don't _look_ like an old man."

The detective chuckled.

"Nor do I feel like one when I'm with you. You're deliciously

"And you are--are--exquisite! Do you know, when I'm with you, I feel
inspired to great deeds--to noble--er--attainments."


"Uh-huh! Honest to goodness. And did I really help you by what I told you
the other day?"

"You certainly did, Miss Rogers. There isn't a doubt of it."

She lowered her voice and leaned confidentially across the table.

"Will you tell me something?"


"Who really killed Mr. Warren?"


"Who really did kill him?"

"Why, I'm sure I don't know. I'm trying to find out."

"Oh, pshaw! You can't pull the wool over _my_ eyes! You couldn't have
been working on the case this long and not have discovered

"But that's exactly what I have done. Also it's why I rather hoped that
you might have a little more information for me."

"Me? Information for you? How wonderful! As if you'd be interested in
anything I might know! Although I'm not an absolute fool. Gerald says I
am, of course--he's my brother-in-law--but then Gerald isn't anything but
an old crab, anyway. Hateful thing! But _you_ don't think I am, do you?"

"No, indeed. Ah, here we are!"

The chocolate fudge sundaes were served, and for a few moments they
gave themselves over to the task of enjoying them. It was Evelyn who
spoke first.

"What do you want me to tell you?"

"Almost anything. For instance--you knew Roland Warren pretty well,
didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! I've known him forever and ever. He was an awfully nice
boy, and crazy about me--simply wild! That is, he was before he died."

"H-m! And you saw a good deal of him?"

"Oceans! He used to call at the house all the time. It _was_ funny, too.
Gerald used to think he was the one Roland was coming to see, and
Naomi--she's my sister--used to think that he was coming to see her; and
all the time I knew that I was the person he was calling on. It's funny,
isn't it, how old folks will get those queer ideas?"

"Your sister is so very old?"

"Terribly. She was thirty on her last birthday."

"Horrors! She _is_ ancient, isn't she?"

"Awfully! Although Naomi isn't so bad looking--"

"_Your_ sister couldn't be."

"Aw, quit kidding! But she isn't bad-looking, really. Lord knows she
deserves a better husband than she drew. Honestly, when the divine
providence was handing out shrubbery, they planted a lemon-tree in his
yard just before he was born."

"Probably your sister doesn't agree with your opinion."

"Oh, yes, she does! Of course, she doesn't talk to me about it, but I
know she ain't wild about Gerald. How could she be? He's old enough to be
her father--forty-two, if he's a minute. Don't think of anything but
business and making money. And he's _terribly_ jealous!"

"A very complimentary picture you draw of him."

"If I wrote what I thought about him, I could be arrested for sending it
through the mails. Goodness knows, no husband at all is a hundred per
cent better than a man like that. Not that he beats Naomi. Fact is, I'd
think he was more human if he did. Only time I ever like him is when he
flies up in a rage. He swears simply _elegantly_!"


"I love it. And I don't think it's wicked to love swearing, do you? I was
reading in a book once something about swearing being a perfectly natural
mental reaction, or something--like a safety-valve on a steam-engine. If
the engine didn't have the safety-valve, it would blow up. So if it's
true that swearing is like that, then there can't be any harm in it;
because anything that keeps a person from blowing up must be pretty good,
don't you think?"

"It does sound reasonable."

"Not that I swear myself--not out loud, anyway, but sometimes, when I'm
right peeved at Gerald or Naomi or somebody, I get in my room and say
swear-words right out loud. And I feel ever so much better for it!"

The conversation languished while she again attacked the sundae.
Carroll spoke:

"Have you seen your friend, Miss Gresham, lately?"

"Hazel? I'll say I have--although she's horribly weepy since poor Roland
was killed. Of course, I'm not heartless or anything like that; but
what's the use of crying all the time when there are just as good fish in
the sea as ever were caught? I told her that, but it don't seem to do a
single bit of good. She just keeps saying, 'Poor Roland is dead,' just as
if I didn't know it as well as she does--him having been crazy about me
even before he was about her. I'm sort of afraid it's gone to the poor
girl's head. She's simply _horribly_ upset!"

"That's not unnatural, is it?"

"No-o, I suppose not; but it's terribly old-fashioned."

"Does she--discuss the affair much?"

"All the time."

"What does she think about the woman in the taxicab?"

"You mean the woman who killed him?"


"Well!" positively. "If I was that woman, I'd hate to meet Hazel
Gresham--if Hazel knew it!"

"But she has no suspicion of any certain person?"

"Goodness, no! How could she have? Of course, we agreed that it was some
vampire; but we can't decide which one. Most of the women we know don't
go in for killing men; and a heap of them are married, anyway."


"Yes. You wouldn't expect a nice chap like Roland to be eloping with a
_married_ woman, would you? Not in real life?"

Carroll with difficulty concealed a smile. The girl was a refreshing
mixture of world-old wisdom and almost childish innocence. She was a type
new to him, and, as such, absorbingly interesting.

"How about Miss Gresham's brother?" he inquired idly. "How does he take

"Oh, Garry seems all upset, too; but then the more I talk to people, the
more I think I'm the only level-headed one in the world. I haven't got a
bit excited over it, have I?"

"Not a bit. And now"--Carroll rose and reached for the check--"suppose
we go?"

"Where?" she asked naively.

The opening was too obvious.

"Where do you usually go with young gentlemen who meet you down-town in
the afternoons?"

"Picture show," she answered frankly. "Wouldn't you just _adore_ to see
that picture at the Trianon to-day? They say it's _stupendous_!"


They walked up the street together. On the way they passed Eric Leverage.
That gentleman bowed heavily and stood aside in surprise, while an
exclamation, rather profane, issued from his lips. David Carroll and a
seventeen-year-old girl headed for a picture show! The thing was
unbelievable. Leverage shook his head sadly and passed on as Carroll and
Evelyn disappeared behind the din of an orchestrion.

The picture proved not at all bad, although Evelyn excited adverse
comment from spectators unfortunate enough to be sitting within range of
her constant chatter. Apparently there was no stopping her. She talked
and talked and talked.

The picture ended eventually, and they left the theater. Night had
descended upon the city, and the busy thoroughfare was studded with
thousands of lights, which glared coldly through the December chill.
Principally because he did not know what else to do, Carroll requested
permission to take her home in his car. She accepted with rather
disarming alacrity.

Carroll had about run out of conversation, and his ears were tired by the
incessant din of the girl's talk. He followed her directions
mechanically, and eventually they rounded a corner in the heart of the
city's best residential district. Evelyn designated a white house which
stood back in a large yard.

"That's it," said she. "You'd better turn first, so you can park against
the curb."

Carroll slowed down and swung around. He was tired of the loquacious
girl, and anxious to be rid of her; but as he swung his car across the
street on the turn, something happened which riveted his attention.

The door of Evelyn's home opened. A man and woman stood framed in the
doorway. Then the door closed, and the man descended the steps, moved
down the walk to the street, and strode swiftly away. For perhaps three
seconds he had been held clearly in the glare of Carroll's headlights.

When the detective spoke, it was with an effort to control his tone, to
make his question casual.

"Did you see that man, Miss Rogers?"


"Do you know him?"

"Goodness me, no! He's been here before, though."

Carroll stopped his car at the curb. He assisted Evelyn to the ground.
Then he made a strange request.

"I wonder, Miss Rogers, whether you'd allow me to call on you some

Evelyn's eyes popped open with the marvel of it.

"You mean you want to come and call on _me_? Some _evening_?"

"If you will allow me."

"Allow you? Why, David Carroll--I think you're
simply--simply--_grandiloquent_! When will you come?"

"If your sister will permit--"

"Bother Sis! To-morrow night?"

"Yes, to-morrow night."

She executed a few exuberant dance steps.

"Oh, what'll the girls say when I tell 'em?"

Carroll climbed thoughtfully back into his car. He saw Evelyn enter the
house, but his thoughts were not with her. He was thinking of the man who
had just left.

Carroll never forgot faces, and he had recognized the visitor.

The man was William Barker, former valet to Roland Warren!



Carroll's forehead was seamed with thought as he turned his car townward
and sent it hurtling through the frosty air. He drove mechanically,
scarcely knowing what he was doing.

He was frankly puzzled, enormously surprised and not a little startled.
The afternoon had been at first amusing, then interesting--then utterly
boring. Evelyn's chatter had put him in a state of mental coma--a
lethargy from which he had been rudely aroused at sight of William Barker
leaving the residence of Evelyn Rogers' sister.

There was something sinisterly significant in what he had seen. Not for
a moment did he entertain the idea that Barker had been seeking
employment. Negativing that possibility was the cold statement of the
disinterested young girl that Barker had been there before, and, too,
the fact that Barker was leaving from the front door instead of through
the servant's door.

Obviously, then, Barker's mission had little to do with the matter of
domestic employment. And now that he had stumbled upon something
tangible--something definite--certain salient facts which had come to him
through the haze of girlish chatter began to stand out and assume proper

For instance there was her constant repetition of the fact that Roland
Warren had been a frequent visitor at the Lawrence home. That might mean
nothing: it might mean a great deal. Certainly it was indicative of a
close friendship between the dead man and the members of that household.
He paid little heed to the girl's protestations that Warren had been in
love with her. No expert in the ways of the rising generation, Carroll
yet knew that no man of Warren's maturity had unleashed his affections on
a girl who yet lacked several years of womanhood. The dead man had been
too much of an epicure in femininity for such as that.

But Carroll knew that in that house there was another woman: Naomi
Lawrence--Evelyn's sister. And while Evelyn had dismissed the sister
with a few words, Carroll remembered that the girl had described her as
being "not so bad looking" and had also said that Mrs. Lawrence fancied
that when Warren called at the house, he was calling on her.

There, too, was the matter of Gerald Lawrence to be considered. Evelyn
insisted that Gerald was "an old crab" and also that he was of an
exceedingly jealous disposition. If that were true, then his jealousy,
coupled with a possible intimacy between Mrs. Lawrence and Warren might
have been ample motive for the taxicab tragedy.

It was all rather puzzling. Carroll's mind leaped nimbly from one
mental trail to another. He held himself in check, afraid that his
deductions were proceeding too swiftly. He was acutely conscious of the
danger of jumping too avidly on this single tangible clue which had
come to him after four days of fruitless search. There was danger, and
he knew it, of attaching untoward importance to a combination of
circumstances which under other conditions might not have excited him
in the slightest degree.

It was there that the case bewildered him--and he was not slow in
confessing his bewilderment. Up to this moment there had been an
appalling dearth of physical clues--of things upon which a line of
investigation could be intelligently based. And he knew that now
something had turned up, he must watch himself lest the circumstance
assume unreasonable and unwarranted proportions.

The somber outline of police headquarters bulked in the night. Carroll
swung down the alley, shut off his motor and entered. He found Leverage
in his office and settled at once to a discussion of developments. But
when he would have spoken Leverage cut him off. Leverage had news--and
Leverage was frankly proud of the fact that he had news.

"Just got an interesting report from Cartwright," he announced.

"Regarding Barker?" Carroll hitched his chair forward eagerly.


"What is it?"

"Yesterday afternoon at five o'clock William Barker went to the residence
of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Lawrence. He was in the house eighteen minutes."

"Why wasn't this told me last night?"

"Cartwright didn't think anything of it. He included it in his report
which was turned in to me this morning."

"Why did he think it was unimportant?"

"Said he thought Barker was probably looking for a job."

"And he doesn't think so now?"

"No-o. That is: he thinks circumstances make an investigation worth
while. You see, just a few minutes ago Barker went to the Lawrence home
again. This time he was there four minutes."

"Does Cartwright know who was at home at that time?"

"He thinks so. He says a maid let Barker in and that apparently Mrs.
Lawrence let him out. A young girl--whom Cartwright believes to be Mrs.
Lawrence's sister--drove up just as Barker was leaving. She was in the
car with some man--but he didn't get out. Then, just a minute ago, Gerald
Lawrence reached home. So the idea is that Mrs. Lawrence was alone with
the servants when Barker called."

"And yet he only remained four minutes?"

"That's what Cartwright 'phoned." Leverage paused. "What do you make of
it, Carroll?"

"Off-hand," answered the youthful-appearing detective, "I'd say that
Barker had called to see _Mr_. Lawrence."


"We'll suppose Lawrence was home on the occasion of Barker's first
visit--do you know whether he was?"

"No. I asked. Cartwright doesn't know. Couldn't stay, you know--because
he was under orders to follow Barker. Tonight he sent Reed after Barker
and he watched the Lawrence house."

"Good. If it is so that Lawrence was at home when Barker called yesterday
evening and Barker then remained eighteen minutes; whereas this
afternoon, when we know that no one but Mrs. Lawrence was there--and he
remained but four minutes--it is fairly reasonable to suppose that he was
calling to see Mr. Lawrence."

"I think you're right, Carroll."

"I'm not at all convinced about that. But if we're proceeding along lines
of pure logic, that is the answer."

"How about the man who drove up with the kid sister?"

Carroll smiled. "I'm sure he had nothing whatever to do with the murder."

"Good Lord! I didn't think he had. But still he may have been a
friend, and--"

"That man was all right. I know that."

"You _know_?" Leverage was incredulous.

"Yes." Carroll grinned. "I was the man!"

"You--? Holy sufferin' mackerel! Sa-a-ay! Was that chicken I seen you
with downtown, Lawrence's sister-in-law?"

"Yes. Miss Evelyn Rogers. And Good Lord! Leverage, how that girl can
talk! She holds all records for conversational distance and speed. She
talked me dumb."

Leverage was staring respectfully at Carroll. "If you were the man who
was with her, David--you must have seen Barker when he left the house."

"I did."

The face of the chief showed his disappointment: "That's what I get for
thinking I had a real surprise up my sleeve. You sit back with that
innocent kid face of yours and let me spill all the dope--and then tell
me perfectly matter-of-factly that you knew it all the time. How'd you
ever get wise to the thing, anyway?"

Carroll was honest. "No thanks to my sagacity, Leverage. One of those
pieces of bull luck which I have always contended play an enormous part
in solving crime. In the first place Evelyn Rogers came to me the day
after Warren was killed to assure me that Miss Gresham had a perfect
alibi. This afternoon she lassoed me and dragged me into an ice cream
place because she wanted to prove to some of her school companions that
we were really friends." Carroll chuckled. "I quaffed freely from the
fountain of youth--and enjoyed it awhile. Then I got bored stiff. Took
her to the movies--she invited me--and did it only because I've passed
beyond the years of adolescence and didn't know how to crawfish out of
it. After which--because it seemed the proper thing to do--I volunteered
to ride her home in my car. And it was then that I saw Barker leaving the
Lawrence home. So you see, Leverage, my knowledge is the result of pure
accident--and not at all the fruit of keen perception."

"Well, anyway--Carroll: you knew! And that takes the edge off what I
told you."

"Not at all," returned Carroll seriously. "For while what I discovered is
perhaps valuable--that combined with the fact that Barker has been there
once before: and that on his first visit when Lawrence was probably at
home he stayed nearly five times as long as he did when we know that
Lawrence was not there--that is of help--or ought to be."

"What do you think of it?"

Carroll hesitated. "I don't know what to think, Eric. I'm afraid I'm
thinking about it more than I have any right. We've been so long without
anything to work on, that we're liable to let this bit of information
throw us off our balance. But of course we'll look more deeply into it."


Again Carroll chuckled. "Our little friend, Miss Rogers, is suffering
from a large case of hero-worship. I'm it! And so--when I saw Barker
leaving her home--I immediately made an engagement to call upon her
to-morrow night!"

"_You_ call on that kid--" Suddenly Leverage lay back in his swivel chair
and gave vent to a peal of raucous laughter. He banged his fist on the
arm of the chair: "Oh! _Boy_! That's the snappiest yet. David Carroll
paying a social call on a seventeen-year-old kid! Mama! Ain't that the

Carroll made a wry face. "Needn't rub it in. It's bad enough anyway.
And"--growing serious--"I'm hoping to meet Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. They
ought to prove interesting."

But Leverage could not tear himself away from the sheer humor of the
situation: "What the devil you and her going to talk about? Foxtrot
steps? Is the camel walk vulgar? Frat dance? Next week's basketball
game? Sa-a-ay! David--I'd give my chances of Heaven to be hidden behind
the door."

"So would I," said Carroll wryly.

"Above all things," counseled Leverage with mock severity: "Don't you go
making love to her."

Carroll reached a muscular hand across the table. His sinewy fingers
closed around a glass paperweight. He held this poised steadily. "One
more crack out of you, Eric, and I'll slam this against your head. You're
a pretty good chief of police--but you're a rotten humorist."

"Just the same," grinned the chief, "I can see that this joke is on you!
And now--what?"

"For one thing," and Carroll's manner was all business again, "I want
every bit of dope I can get on Gerald Lawrence and his wife. I know that
Warren was very intimate at the house: friendly with both wife and
husband, according to what Miss Rogers says. That connects them up. What
I want to find out now is where both of 'em were the night Warren was
killed. Put a couple of your best men out to gather this dope--there
isn't any of it too minor to interest me. Meanwhile, I'll pump the kid. I
have a hunch that this isn't going to be a cold trail."

"It better not be--or Mr. David Carroll is going to find himself with one
unsolved case on his hands. Yes, sir--if this is a blind lead, we're up
against it for fair."

"It isn't going to be entirely blind," postulated Carroll. "Barker
assures us of that!"



At four o'clock the following afternoon Carroll received from Chief
Leverage a detailed report on Gerald Lawrence:

"He's a manufacturer," said Leverage. "President of the Capitol City
Woolen Mills. Rated about a hundred thousand--maybe a little more. He's
on the Board of Directors of the Second National. Has the reputation of
being hard, fearless--and considerable of a grouch. Age forty-two.

"Married Naomi Rogers about five years ago. She was twenty-five
then--thirty now. Supposed to be beautiful--and would be a society light
except that Lawrence doesn't care for the soup-and-fish stuff. Report has
it that they're not very happy together. His parents and hers all dead.
Evelyn, her kid sister, lives with them.

"They employ a cook and two maids. No man-servant at all. Roland Warren
was pretty intimate at the house, but so far as I can discover there was
no scandal linking the names of Warren and Mrs. Lawrence. Of course, him
knowing her pretty intimately and being friendly at the house, you could
probably find a good many folks who would say nasty things. But there
hasn't been the real gossip about her and him that there was about a heap
of other women in this town.

"Warren and Lawrence were pretty good friends. Warren was a stockholder
in the woolen mills. On the other hand it seems as though Warren was at
the house a good deal more than just ordinary friendship would have
indicated. But that's just an idea. And there's your dope--"

"And on the night of the murder?" questioned Carroll. "Where were they?"

"Mrs. Lawrence was at home. Lawrence--if you're thinking of him in
connection with it--seems to have an iron-clad alibi. He went to
Nashville on a business trip and didn't get back until the
following morning."

"Alibi, eh?" Carroll's eyes narrowed speculatively, "are you _sure_ he
was in Nashville all that time?"

"Hm-m!" Leverage shook his head. "I don't know--but I can find out."

Carroll rose. "Do it please. And get the dope straight."

Carroll went to his apartment where he reluctantly commenced dressing for
the ordeal of the night. He felt himself rather ridiculous--a man of his
age calling on a girl not yet out of high school. The thing was funny--of
course--but just at the moment the joke was too entirely on him for the
full measure of amusement.

At that, he dressed carefully, selecting a new gray suit, a white
jersey-silk shirt and a blue necktie for the occasion. At six-thirty
Freda served his dinner and at fifteen minutes after eight o'clock he
rang the bell of the Lawrence home.

The door was opened by Evelyn: palpitant with excitement, and garbed
attractively in the demi-toilette of very-young-ladyhood.

"Mr. Carroll--so good of you to come. I'm simply tickled to death. Let me
have your hat and coat. Come right into the living room--I want you to
meet my brother-in-law and my sister--"

Sheepishly, Carroll followed the girl into the room. Mr. and Mrs.
Lawrence rose politely to greet him.

At the sight of the man he had really come to see, Carroll was conscious
of an instinctive dislike. Lawrence was of medium height, slightly
stooped and not unpleasing to the eye. But his brows were inclined to
lower and the eyes themselves were set too closely together. He was
dressed plainly--almost harshly, and he stared at Carroll in a manner
bordering on the hostile.

The detective acknowledged the introduction and then turned his gaze upon
the woman of the family. There he met with a surprise as pleasant as his
first glance at Lawrence had been unpleasant.

There was no gainsaying the fact that Naomi Lawrence was a beautiful
woman. Dressed simply for an evening at home in a strikingly plain gown
of a rich black material, and with her magnificent neck and shoulders
rising above the midnight hue--she caused a spontaneous thrill of
masculine admiration to surge through the ordinarily immune visitor in
the gray suit.

Her face was almost classic in its contour: her coloring a rich brunette,
her hair blue-black. No jewelry, save an engagement ring, adorned her
perfect beauty, and Carroll felt a loathing at the idea that this
magnificent creature was the wife of the stoop-shouldered, sour-faced man
who stood scowling by the living room table.

He gravely acknowledged the introduction of the young lady upon whom he
had called: feeling a faint sense of amusement at Lawrence's overt
disdain--and a considerable embarrassment under Naomi's questioning,
level gaze. For a few moments they talked casually--but that did not
satisfy Evelyn, and she dragged him into the parlor--

"--just the eleganest jazz piece--" Carroll heard as through a
haze "--just got it--feet can't keep still--play it for you--"

He found himself standing by the piano, the door between the music room
and the living room unaccountably closed. Evelyn banging out the opening
measures of the "elegant jazz piece."

He was still staring moodily at the closed door when the din ceased and
he again heard Evelyn's voice. "A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Carroll. A
real honest-to-goodness-spendable penny!"

"I was thinking," he remarked quietly, "that your sister is a very
beautiful woman."

"Naomi? Shucks! She isn't bad looking--but she's _old_. Abominably
old! Thirty!"

He glanced down on the girl and smiled. "That does seem old to you,
doesn't it?"

"Treacherously! I don't know what I'd ever do if I was to get that old.
Take up crocheting, probably."

The conversation died of dry-rot. Carroll was not at all pleased. His
excuse--the plea that he had come to call upon Evelyn--had been taken too
literally. He had fancied--in his blithe ignorance of the
seventeen-year-old ladies of the present day--that he could engineer
himself into a worthwhile conversation with the Lawrences. Since meeting
them, he was doubly anxious. There was a thinly veiled hostility about
the man which demanded investigation. And about the woman there was a
subtle atmosphere of tragedy which appealed to the masculine
protectiveness which surged strong in his bachelor breast.

But Carroll was a sportsman. The girl had carried things her own way--and
he was too game to spoil her evening. Therefore, he temporarily gave over
all thought of a chat with the Lawrences and devoted himself to her
amusement. He informed her that the jazz music she had strummed was
simply "glorious" and that he regretted he knew very little popular
stuff. She leaped upon his remark--

"Oh! do _you_ play: _really_?"

He was in again. "I have--a little."

"I wonder if you would? Here's the _grandest_ little old song I bought
downtown--" and she placed on the piano a gaudy thing with the modest
title--"All Babies Need Daddies to Kiss 'Em." Its cover exposed a tender
love scene wherein a gentleman in evening clothes was engaged in an act
of violent osculation with a young lady whose dress was as short as her
modesty. Carroll shrugged, placed his long, slender fingers on the
keys--shook his head--and went to it.

He played! A genuine artist--he tried to enter into the spirit of the
thing and succeeded admirably. The itchy syncopation rocked the room. His
hostess snapped her fingers deliciously and executed a few movements of a
dance which Carroll had heard referred to vaguely as the shimmy. In the
midst of the revelry he gave thought to Eric Leverage and chuckled.

He played the chorus a second time--then stopped on a crashing chord.
Evelyn's face was beaming--

"Gracious! You can play, can't you?"

"I used to--Suppose we talk awhile."

She agreed--reluctantly. They seated themselves in easy chairs before the
gas logs. Evelyn glanced hopefully at the chandelier. "I wish the belt
would slip at the power house, don't you?"

"Why?" innocently.

"Oh! just because Bright lights are such a nuisance when a girl has a
feller calling on her. And these logs give a perfectly respectable light,
don't they?"

"Indeed they do--but perhaps we'd better leave the others on."

She sighed resignedly. "I guess we'd better. Sis is so darned proper and
Gerald is an old crab--they might say something."

"I suppose they might. By they way, didn't they think it
was--er--strange: my coming to see you tonight?"

She turned red. "Suppose they did--what difference does that make? I'm
not a child and if a gentleman wants to call on me I guess they haven't
got any kick."

"What did they say when you told them I was coming?"

"They didn't believe me at first. Then Sis said you were too old--and
you're not old at all--and Gerald said--he said--" she giggled.

"What did Gerald say?"

"He said, 'Damned impertinence!'"

"H'm-m! I wonder just what he meant?"

"Oh! goodness! It doesn't matter what Gerald means. He makes me weary.
He's simply _impossible_--and I can't see what Sis ever married him for."

"I suppose she saw more in him than you do. They must be very happy

"Happy? Poof! Happy as two dead sardines in a can. They can't get out--so
they might as well be happy. Besides, he's away a good deal."

"He is, eh? When was his last out-of-town trip?"

Carroll was interested now--he had steered the conversation back to
matters of importance: "Oh! 'bout four days ago--you know--the day dear
Roland was killed by that vampire in the taxicab."

"He was away that night: all night?"

"Uh-huh! All night long. And would you believe that Sis--who is scared of
her shadow at night--was the one who suggested that I go spend the night
with Hazel? And it's certainly fortunate she did, because if she hadn't
I wouldn't have been with Hazel all night and you awful detectives would
probably not have believed her story that she was at home in bed, and
then you would have arrested her for murdering Roland--and she'd have
gone to jail and been hanged--or something. Wouldn't she?"

"Hardly that bad. But it was fortunate that you were there. It made the
establishing of the alibi a very simple matter. And you say your
sister--Mrs. Lawrence--is nervous at night?"

"Oh! fearfully. She's just like all women--scared of rats, scared of the
dark, scared of being alone--perfectly disgusting, I call it."

"Quite a few women are that way, though--"

"I'm not. I'm scared of snakes and flying bugs and things like that. But
I don't get scared of the dark--pff! Who's going to hurt you? That's what
I always say. I believe in figuring things out, don't you I read in a
book once where--"

"But maybe you do Mrs. Lawrence an injustice. Maybe she isn't as afraid
at night as you imagine."

"She is, too."

"Yet you say she let you spend the night at Miss Gresham's house when
Mr. Lawrence was out of the city and there wasn't anybody on the place
but the servants--"

"Worse than that: the servants don't even live on the place. She spent
the night here all alone--!"

"Then all I'll say is that she is a brave woman. When did Mr. Lawrence
get back from Nashville?"

"Oh! not until ten o'clock the following morning. And believe me, he was
all excited when he read about Roland in the papers. Poor Roland! If you
were only a girl, Mr. Carroll--you'd know how terrible it is to have a
man who's crazy about you and engaged to your best friend and
everything--go and get himself murdered. Why, when I read the papers that
morning, I couldn't hardly believe my own eyes. I just said to myself 'it
can't be!' I said it over and over again just like that. Having faith, I
think they call it. I was reading in a book once about having faith--"

She talked interminably. Carroll ceased to hear the plangent voice. He
was thinking of what she had just told him--thinking earnestly. He knew
he was desperately anxious to have a talk with the Lawrences, to talk
things over in a casual manner. And tonight was his opportunity. He knew
he'd never have another like it. He didn't want to be forced to seek them
out in his capacity of detective.

From somewhere in the rear of the house he heard the clamor of a
doorbell, then the sound of footsteps in the hall, the opening and
closing of the front door--and then Naomi Lawrence appeared in the music
room. Carroll could have sworn that her eyes were twinkling with
amusement as she addressed Evelyn--pointedly ignoring him.

"Evelyn--that Somerville boy is here."

"Oh! bother! What's he doin' here?"

"He says he came to call. He's got a box of candy."

"Piffle! What do I care about candy? He's just a kid!"

Naomi went to the hall door. "Right this way, Charley." And as the
slender, overdressed young gentleman of nineteen entered the room,
Carroll again glimpsed the light of amusement in Naomi's eyes.

Mr. Charley Somerville expressed himself as being "Pleaset'meetcha" and
tried to conceal his vast admiration when Evelyn informed him that this
was _the_ David Carroll. Charley was impressed but he was not particular
about showing it--Charley fancying himself considerable of a cosmopolite,
thanks to a year at Yale. His dignity was excruciatingly funny to Carroll
as the very young man seated himself, crossed one elongated and
unbelievably skinny leg over the other and arranged the creases so that
they were in the very middle.

"A-a-ah! Taking a vacation from your work on the Warren murder case,
I presume?"

Carroll nodded. "Yes--for awhile."

"Detective work must be a terrible bore--mustn't it?"

"Sometimes," answered Carroll significantly.

"Charley Somerville!" Evelyn flamed to the defense of her friend's
profession. "At least Mr. Carroll ain't--isn't--a college freshman."

"I'm a sophomore," asserted Charley languidly. "Passed all of my exams."

"Anyway," snapped Evelyn, "he ain't any kid!"

For a time the atmosphere was strained. Then Carroll recalled a
particularly good college joke he knew and he told it well. After which
Evelyn explained to Charley that Mr. Carroll was the wonderfulest piano
player in the world and David Carroll, detective, strummed out several
popular airs while the youngsters danced.

Horrible as the situation was, it appealed irresistibly to his sense of
humor. He found himself almost enjoying it. And he worked carefully.
Eventually his patience was rewarded. He succeeded in getting them
together on a lounge with a photograph album between them. And then, very
quietly and positively, and with a brief--"Excuse me for a moment," he
walked through the hall and into the living room.

Lawrence and his wife were at opposite sides of the library table. At
sight of Carroll, Lawrence laid down his paper and rose to his feet.

"Well?" he inquired inhospitably.

Carroll laughed lightly. "It got too much for me. Too much youth. I
dropped in here for a chat with you folks."

"I didn't understand that you had come to call on us," said
Lawrence coldly.

"Why, I didn't--"

"You did!" snapped Lawrence. "I'm no fool, Carroll. From the minute I
heard you were coming, I knew what you had up your sleeve. You wanted
to talk about the Warren case! Now suppose you go ahead and
talk--then get out!"



Carroll was rarely thrown from a mental balance, but this was one of the
exceptions to a rule of conduct where poise was essential. His eyes
half-closed in their clash with the coldly antagonistic orbs of his host.
His instinctive dislike of the man flamed into open anger and he
controlled himself with an effort.

One thing Lawrence had done: he had stripped from Carroll his disguise as
a casual caller and settled down ominously to brass tacks. Carroll
shrugged, forced a smile--then glanced at Naomi Lawrence.

She had risen and was staring at her husband with wide-eyed indignation.
Undoubtedly she was horrified at his brusqueness. For the first time,
she, too, had made it plain that Carroll was not welcome--that his ruse
of calling upon Evelyn had been seen through plainly--but he could see
that even under those circumstances she was not forgetful that he was a
guest in her home and, as such, he was entitled to ordinary courtesy.

Carroll was more than a little sorry for her, and also a bit rueful at
his own plight. Things had gone wrong for him from the commencement of
the evening. And this--well, the gage of battle had been flung in his
face and he was no man to refuse the challenge. But his muscles were taut
until the soft voice of Naomi broke in on the pregnant stillness--

"Won't you be seated, Mr. Carroll?"

Carroll smiled gratefully at her. With her words the unpleasant tension
had lightened. He dropped into an arm chair. Lawrence followed suit, his
close-set eyes focused belligerently on Carroll's face, the hostility of
his manner being akin to a personal menace. Naomi stood by the table,
eyes shifting from one to the other.

"I'd rather," she suggested softly, "that we did not discuss the
Warren case."

"It doesn't matter what you prefer," snapped her husband coldly. "Carroll
forced himself upon us for that purpose--with a lack of decency which
one might have expected. Let him have his say."

Carroll gazed squarely at Lawrence. "I'm sorry," he said, "that you see
fit to act as you are doing."

"I asked for no criticism of my conduct."

"Just the same, dear--" started Naomi, when her husband interrupted

"Nor any apologies to him from you, Naomi. Carroll has placed himself
beyond the pale by what he has done in having the impertinence to foist
himself upon us as a social equal. Now, Carroll--are you ready with your
little catechism?"

"Yes." The detective's voice was quite calm. "I'm quite ready."

"Well--ask." Lawrence paused. "You _did_ come here to inquire about
Warren, didn't you?"

Carroll could not forbear a dig: "I trust that you are not putting it
upon me to deny your statement to that effect."

"I don't give a damn what you deny or affirm."

"Good! Then we know all about each other, don't we. You know that I am a
detective in search of information and I know absolutely what you are!"
That dart went home--Lawrence squirmed. "So I'll come right to the point.
Is it not a fact that you were in this city at the hour Roland Warren is
supposed to have been killed?"

He heard a surprised gasp from Naomi and saw that her face had blanched
and that she was leaning forward with eyes wide and hands clutching the
arms of the chair in which she had seated herself.

Lawrence leered. "As the kids would say, Carroll--that's for me to know
and for you--super-detective that you are--to find out."

Carroll was more at ease now. Lawrence's sneering aggressiveness brought
him into his own element and he was hitting straight from the shoulder:
refusing pointblank to mince matters.

"I fancy I can," he returned calmly. "And now: is it not a fact that you
despised Warren even though you pretended to be his friend?"

"That, too, is my business, Carroll. Do you think I'm going to feed
pap to you?"

Carroll reflected carefully for a moment. Then suddenly his voice
crackled across the room--"You know, of course, that you are suspected of
Warren's murder?"

Silence! Then a forced, sickly grin creased Lawrence's lips--but his
figure slumped, almost cringed. From Naomi came a choked gasp--

"Mr. Carroll! Not Gerald--"

Carroll paid no heed to the woman. He sat back in his chair, eyes never
for one moment leaving Lawrence's pallid face. Nor did Carroll speak
again--he waited. It was Lawrence who broke the silence--

"Is--this--what you--detectives--call the third degree?"

"It is not. Now get this straight, Lawrence--I came here to find out
what you know about Warren and the circumstances surrounding his death. I
wanted to be decent about the thing--to cause you no embarrassment if I
was convinced that you were unconnected with the crime. You have forced
my hand. You have driven me to methods which I abhor--"

"You haven't a thing on me," said Lawrence and his tone had degenerated
into a half whine. "You can't scare me a little bit. I've got an alibi--"

"Certainly you have. So, too, have a good many men who have eventually
been proven guilty."

Lawrence rose nervously and paced the room. "You asked me a little while
ago if I was in this city at the hour when the crime was committed. I
answered that it was for me to know and you to find out. I'll answer
direct now--just to stop this absurd suspicion which has been directed
against me: I was _not_ in the city at that hour--or within six hours of
midnight. I was in Nashville."

"At what hotel?"

"At the--" Lawrence paused. "Matter of fact, I wasn't at any hotel."

"You had registered at the Hermitage, hadn't you?"

"Yes, but--"

"When did you check out?" Carroll's voice was snapping out with staccato

"About four o'clock in the afternoon."

"Where did you go? Where did you spend the night?"

Lawrence shook his head helplessly. "I'll be honest, Carroll--I took
several drinks--"


"Yes. And at two o'clock in the morning when my train left I was at the
station. I don't know what I did in the meantime--I don't remember
anything much about anything."

"In other words," said Carroll coldly, "You have no alibi except your
own word. On the other hand we know that you checked out of the Hermitage
Hotel in Nashville at four o'clock. You could have caught the 4:25 train
and reached this city at ten minutes after eleven o'clock. You have not

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