Story type: Literature
It was, I recall, at that period of the late unpleasantness in the little Central American republic of Vespuccia, when things looked darkest for American investors, that I hurried home one evening to Kennedy, bursting with news.
By way of explanation, I may add that during the rubber boom Kennedy had invested in stock of a rubber company in Vespuccia, and that its value had been shrinking for some time with that elasticity which a rubber band shows when one party suddenly lets go his end. Kennedy had been in danger of being snapped rather hard by the recoil, and I knew he had put in an order with his broker to sell and take his loss when a certain figure was reached. My news was a first ray of light in an otherwise dark situation, and I wanted to advise him to cancel the selling order and stick for a rise.
Accordingly I hurried unceremoniously into our apartment with the words on my lips before I had fairly closed the door. “What do you think, Craig” I shouted. “It is rumoured that the revolutionists have captured half a million dollars from the government and are sending it to–” I stopped short. I had no idea that Kennedy had a client, and a girl, too.
With a hastily mumbled apology I checked myself and backed out toward my own room. I may as well confess that I did not retreat very fast, however. Kennedy’s client was not only a girl, but a very pretty one, I found, as she turned her head quickly at my sudden entrance and betray a lively interest at the mention of the revolution. She was a Latin-American, and the Latin-American type of feminine beauty is fascinating at least to me. I did not retreat very fast.
As I hoped, Kennedy rose to the occasion. “Miss Guerrero,” he said, “let me introduce Mr. Jameson, who has helped me very much in solving some of my most difficult cases. Miss Guerrero’s father, Walter, is the owner of a plantation which sells its product to the company I am interested in.”
She bowed graciously, but there was a moment of embarrassment until Kennedy came to the rescue.
“I shall need Mr. Jameson in handling your case, Miss Guerrero,” he explained. “Would it be presuming to ask you to repeat to him briefly what you have already told me about the mysterious disappearance of your father? Perhaps some additional details will occur to you, things that you may consider trivial, but which, I assure you, may be of the utmost importance.”
She assented, and in a low, tremulous, musical voice bravely went through her story.
“We come,” she began, “my father and I–for my mother died when I was a little girl–we come from the northern part of Vespuccia, where foreign capitalists are much interested in the introduction of a new rubber plant. I am an only child and have been the constant companion of my father for years, ever since I could ride a pony, going with him about our hacienda and on business trips to Europe and the States.
“I may as well say at the start, Mr. Jameson, that although my father is a large land-owner, he has very liberal political views and is deeply in sympathy with the revolution that is now going on in Vespuccia. In fact, we were forced to flee very early in the trouble, and as there seemed to be more need of his services here in New York than in any of the neighbouring countries, we came here. So you see that if the revolution is not successful his estate will probably be confiscated and we shall be penniless. He is the agent–the head of the junta, I suppose you would call it–here in New York.”
“Engaged in purchasing arms and ammunition,” put in Kennedy, as she paused, “and seeing that they are shipped safely to New Orleans as agricultural machinery, where another agent receives them and attends to their safe transit across the Gulf.”
She nodded and after a moment resumed
“There is quite a little colony of Vespuccians here in New York, both revolutionists and government supporters. I suppose that neither of you has any idea of the intriguing that is going on under the peaceful surface right here in your own city. But there is much of it, more than even I know or can tell you. Well, my father lately has been acting very queerly. There is a group who meet frequently at the home of a Senora Mendez–an insurrecto group, of course. I do not go, for they are all much older people than I. I know the senora well, but I prefer a different kind of person. My friends are younger and perhaps more radical, more in earnest about the future of Vespuccia.
“For some weeks it has seemed to me that this Senora Mendez has had too much influence over my father. He does not seem like the same man he used to be. Indeed, some of the junta who do not frequent the house of the senora have remarked it. He seems moody, works by starts, then will neglect his work entirely. Often I see him with his eyes closed, apparently sitting quietly, oblivious to the progress of the cause–the only cause now which can restore us our estate.
“The other day we lost an entire shipment of arms–the Secret Service captured them on the way from the warehouse on South Street to the steamer which was to take them to New Orleans. Only once before had it happened, when my father did not understand all the things to conceal. Then he was frantic for a week. But this time he seems not to care. Ah, senores,” she said, dropping her voice, “I fear there was some treachery there.”
“Treachery?” I asked. “And have you any suspicions who might have played informer?”
She hesitated. “I may as well tell you just what I suspect. I fear that the hold of Senora Mendez is somehow or other concerned with it all. I even have suspected that somehow she may be working in the pay of the government that she is a vampire, living on the secrets of the group who so trust her. I suspect anything, everybody–that she is poisoning his mind, perhaps even whispering into his ear some siren proposal of amnesty and his estate again, if he will but do what she asks. My poor father–I must save him from himself if it is necessary. Argument has no effect with him. He merely answers that the senora is a talented and accomplished woman, and laughs a vacant laugh when I hint to him to beware. I hate her.”
The fiery animosity of her dark eyes boded ill, I felt, for the senora. But it flashed over me that perhaps, after all, the senora was not a traitress, but had simply been scheming to win the heart and hence the hacienda of the great land-owner, when he came into possession of his estate if the revolution proved successful.
“And finally,” she concluded, keeping back the tears by an heroic effort, “last night he left our apartment, promising to return early in the evening. It is now twenty-four hours, and I have heard not a word from him. It is the first time in my life that we have ever been separated so long.”
“And you have no idea where he could have gone?” asked Craig.
“Only what I have learned from Senor Torreon, another member of the junta. Senor Torreon said this morning that he left the home of Senora Mendez last night about ten o’clock in company with my father. He says they parted at the subway, as they lived on different branches of the road. Professor Kennedy,” she added, springing up and clasping her hands tightly in an appeal that was irresistible, “you know what steps to take to find him. I trust all to you–even the calling on the police, though I think it would be best if we could get along without them. Find my father, senores, and when we come into our own again you shall not regret that you befriended a lonely girl in a strange city, surrounded by intrigue and danger.” There were tears in her eyes as she stood swaying before us.
The tenseness of the appeal was broken by the sharp ringing of the telephone bell. Kennedy quickly took down the receiver.
“Your maid wishes to speak to you,” he said, handing the telephone to her.
Her face brightened with that nervous hope that springs in the human breast even in the blackest moments. “I told her if any message came for me she might find me here,” explained Miss Guerrero. “Yes, Juanita, what is it–a message for me?”
My Spanish was not quite good enough to catch more than a word here and there in the low conversation, but I could guess from the haggard look which overspread her delicate face that the news was not encouraging.
“Oh!” she cried, “this is terrible–terrible! What shall I do? Why did I come here? I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t believe what, Miss Guerrero?” asked Kennedy reassuringly. “Trust me.”
“That he stole the money–oh, what am I saying? You must not look for him–you must forget that I have been here. No, I don’t believe it.”
“What money?” asked Kennedy, disregarding her appeal to drop the case. “Remember, it may be better that we should know it now than the police later. We will respect your confidence.”
“The junta had been notified a few days ago, they say, that a large sum–five hundred thousand silver dollars–had been captured from the government and was on its way to New York to be melted up as bullion at the sub-treasury,” she answered, repeating what she had heard over the telephone as if in a dream. “Mr. Jameson referred to the rumour when he came in. I was interested, for I did not know the public had heard of it yet. The junta has just announced that the money is missing. As soon as the ship docked in Brooklyn this morning an agent appeared with the proper credentials from my father and a guard, and they took the money away. It has not been heard of since–and they have no word from my father.”
Her face was blanched as she realised what the situation was. Here she was, setting people to run down her own father, if the suspicions of the other members of the junta were to be credited.
“You–you do not think my father–stole the money?” she faltered pitifully. “Say you do not think so.”
“I think nothing yet,” replied Kennedy in an even voice. “The first thing to do is to find him–before the detectives of the junta do so.”
I felt a tinge–I must confess it–of jealousy as Kennedy stood beside her, clasping her hand in both of his and gazing earnestly down into the rich flush that now spread over her olive cheeks.
“Miss Guerrero,” he said, “you may trust me implicitly. If your father is alive I will do all that a man can do to find him. Let me act–for the best. And,” he added, wheeling quickly toward me, “I know Mr. Jameson will do likewise.”
I was pulled two ways at once. I believed in Miss Guerrero, and yet the flight of her father and the removal of the bullion swallowed up, as it were, instantly, without so much as a trace in New York–looked very black for him. And yet, as she placed her small hand tremblingly in mine to say good-bye, she won another knight to go forth and fight her battle for her, nor do I think that I am more than ordinarily susceptible, either.
When she had gone, I looked hopelessly at Kennedy. How could we find a missing man in a city of four million people, find him without the aid of the police–perhaps before the police could themselves find him?
Kennedy seemed to appreciate my perplexity as though he read my thoughts. “The first thing to do is to locate this Senor Torreon from whom the first information came,” he remarked as we left the apartment. “Miss Guerrero told me that he might possibly be found in an obscure boarding-house in the Bronx where several members of the junta live. Let us try, anyway.”
Fortune favoured us to the extent that we did find Torreon at the address given. He made no effort to evade us, though I noted that he was an unprepossessing looking man–undersized and a trifle over-stout, with an eye that never met yours as you talked with him. Whether it was that he was concealing something, or whether he was merely fearful that we might after all be United States Secret Service men, or whether it was simply a lack of command of English, he was uncommonly uncommunicative at first. He repeated sullenly the details of the disappearance of Guerrero, just as we had already heard them.
“And you simply bade him good-bye as you got on a subway train and that is the last you ever saw of him?” repeated Kennedy.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Did he seem to be worried, to have anything on his mind, to act queerly in any way?” asked Kennedy keenly.
“No,” came the monosyllabic reply, and there was just that shade of hesitation about it that made me wish we had the apparatus we used in the Bond case for registering association time. Kennedy noticed it, and purposely dropped the line of inquiry in order not to excite Torreon’s suspicion.
“I understand no word has been received from him at the headquarters on South Street to-day.”
“None,” replied Torreon sharply.
“And you have no idea where he could have gone after you left him last night?”
“No, senor, none.”
This answer was given, I thought, with suspicious quickness.
“You do not think that he could be concealed by Senora Mendez, then?” asked Kennedy quietly.
The little man jumped forward with his eyes flashing. “No,” he hissed, checking this show of feeling as quickly as he could.
“Well, then,” observed Kennedy, rising slowly, “I see nothing to do but to notify the police and have a general alarm sent out.”
The fire died in the eyes of Torreon. “Do not do that, Senor,” he exclaimed. “Wait at least one day more. Perhaps he will appear. Perhaps he has only gone up to Bridgeport to see about some arms and cartridges–who can tell? No, sir, do not call in the police, I beg you–not yet. I myself will search for him. It may be I can get some word, some clue. If I can I will notify Miss Guerrero immediately.”
Kennedy turned suddenly. “Torreon,” he flashed quickly, “what do you suspect about that shipment of half a million silver dollars? Where did it go after it left the wharf?”
Torreon kept his composure admirably. An enigma of a smile flitted over his mobile features as he shrugged his shoulders. “Ah,” he said simply, “then you have heard that the money is missing? Perhaps Guerrero has not gone to Bridgeport, after all!”
“On condition that I do not notify the police yet–will you take us to visit Senora Mendez, and let us learn from her what she knows of this strange case?”
Torreon was plainly cornered. He sat for a moment biting his nails nervously and fidgeting in his chair. “It shall be as you wish,” he assented at length.
“We are to go,” continued Kennedy, “merely as friends of yours, you understand? I want to ask questions in my own way, and you are not to–“
“Yes, yes,” he agreed. “Wait. I will tell her we are coming,” and he reached for the telephone.
“No,” interrupted Kennedy. “I prefer to go with you unexpected. Put down the telephone. Otherwise, I may as well notify my friend Inspector O’Connor of the Central Office and go up with him.”
Torreon let the receiver fall back in its socket, and I caught just a glimpse of the look of hate and suspicion which crossed his face as he turned toward Kennedy. When he spoke it was as suavely as if he himself were the one who had planned this little excursion.
“It shall be as you wish,” he said, leading the way out to the cross-town surface cars.
Senora Mendez received us politely, and we were ushered into a large music-room in her apartment. There were several people there already. They were seated in easy chairs about the room.
One of the ladies was playing on the piano as we entered. It was a curious composition–very rhythmic, with a peculiar thread of monotonous melody running through it.
The playing ceased, and all eyes were fixed on us. Kennedy kept very close to Torreon, apparently for the purpose of frustrating any attempt at a whispered conversation with the senora.
The guests rose and with courtly politeness bowed as Senora Mendez presented two friends of Senor Torreon, Senor Kennedy and Senor Jameson. We were introduced in turn to Senor and Senora Alvardo, Senor Gonzales, Senorita Reyes, and the player, Senora Barrios.
It was a peculiar situation, and for want of something better to say I commented on the curious character of the music we had overheard as we entered.
The senora smiled, and was about to speak when a servant entered, bearing a tray full of little cups with a steaming liquid, and in a silver dish some curious, round, brown, disc-like buttons, about an inch in diameter and perhaps a quarter of an inch thick. Torreon motioned frantically to the servant to withdraw, but Kennedy was too quick for him. Interposing himself between Torreon and the servant, he made way for her to enter.
“You were speaking of the music,” replied Senora Mendez to me in rich, full tones. “Yes, it is very curious. It is a song of the Kiowa Indians of New Mexico which Senora Barrios has endeavoured to set to music so that it can be rendered on the piano. Senora Barrios and myself fled from Vespuccia to Mexico at the start of our revolution, and when the Mexican government ordered us to leave on account of our political activity we merely crossed the line to the United States, in New Mexico. It was there that we ran across this very curious discovery. The monotonous beat of that melody you heard is supposed to represent the beating of the tom-toms of the Indians during their mescal rites. We are having a mescal evening here, whiling away the hours of exile from our native Vespuccia.”
“Mescal?” I repeated blankly at first, then feeling a nudge from Kennedy, I added hastily: “Oh, yes, to be sure. I think I have heard of it. It’s a Mexican drink, is it not? I have never had the pleasure of tasting it or of tasting that other drink, pulque–poolkay–did I get the accent right?”
I felt another, sharper nudge from Kennedy, and knew that I had only made matters worse.
“Mr. Jameson,” he hastened to remark, “confounds this mescal of the Indians with the drink of the same name that is common in Mexico.”
“Oh,” she laughed, to my great relief, “but this mescal is something quite different. The Mexican drink mescal is made from the maguey-plant and is a frightfully horrid thing that sends the peon out of his senses and makes him violent. Mescal as I mean it is a little shrub, a god, a cult, a religion.”
“Yes,” assented Kennedy; “discovered by those same Kiowa Indians, was it not?”
“Perhaps,” she admitted, raising her beautiful shoulders in polite deprecation. “The mescal religion, we found, has spread very largely in New Mexico and Arizona among the Indians, and with the removal of the Kiowas to the Indian reservation it has been adopted by other tribes even, I have heard, as far north as the Canadian border.”
“Is that so?” asked Kennedy. “I understood that the United States government had forbidden the importation of the mescal plant and its sale to the Indians under severe penalties.”
“It has, sir,” interposed Alvardo, who had joined us, “but still the mescal cult grows secretly. For my part, I think it might be more wise for your authorities to look to the whiskey and beer that unscrupulous persons are selling. Senor Jameson,” he added, turning to me, “will you join us in a little cup of this artificial paradise, as one of your English writers–Havelock Ellis, I think–has appropriately called it?”
I glanced dubiously at Kennedy as Senora Mendez took one of the little buttons out of the silver tray. Carefully paring the fuzzy tuft of hairs off the top of it–it looked to me very much like the tip of a cactus plant, which, indeed, it was–she rolled it into a little pellet and placed it in her mouth, chewing it slowly like a piece of chicle.
“Watch me; do just as I do,” whispered Kennedy to me at a moment when no one was looking.
The servant advanced towards us with the tray.
“The mescal plant,” explained Alvardo, pointing at the little discs, “grows precisely like these little buttons which you see here. It is a species of cactus which rises only half an inch or so from the ground. The stem is surrounded by a clump of blunt leaves which give it its button shape, and on the top you will see still the tuft of filaments, like a cactus. It grows in the rocky soil in many places in the state of Jalisco, though only recently has it become known to science. The Indians, when they go out to gather it, simply lop off these little ends as they peep above the earth, dry them, keep what they wish for their own use, and sell the rest for what is to them a fabulous sum. Some people chew the buttons, while a few have lately tried making an infusion or tea out of them. Perhaps to a beginner I had better recommend the infusion.”
I had scarcely swallowed the bitter, almost nauseous decoction than I began to feel my heart action slowing up and my pulse beating fuller and stronger. The pupils of my eyes expanded as with a dose of belladonna; at least, I could see that Kennedy’s did, and so mine must have done the same.
I seemed to feel an elated sense of superiority–really I almost began to feel that it was I, not Kennedy, who counted most in this investigation. I have since learned that this is the common experience of mescal-users, this sense of elation; but the feeling of physical energy and intellectual power soon wore off, and I found myself glad to recline in my easy chair, as the rest did, in silent indolence.
Still, the display that followed for an enchanted hour or so was such as I find it hopeless to describe in language which shall convey to others the beauty and splendour of what I saw.
I picked up a book lying on the table before me. A pale blue-violet shadow floated across the page before me, leaving an after-image of pure colour that was indescribable. I laid down the book and closed my eyes. A confused riot of images and colours like a kaleidoscope crowded before me, at first indistinct, but, as I gazed with closed yes, more and more definite. Golden and red and green jewels seemed to riot before me. I bathed my hands in inconceivable riches of beauty such as no art-glass worker has ever produced. All discomfort ceased. I had no desire to sleep–in fact, was hyper-sensitive. But it was a real effort to open my eyes; to tear myself away from the fascinating visions of shapes and colours.
At last I did open my eyes to gaze at the gasjets of the chandelier as they flickered. They seemed to send out waves, expanding and contracting, waves of colour. The shadows of the room were highly coloured and constantly changing as the light changed.
Senora Barrios began lightly to play on the piano the transposed Kiowa song, emphasising the notes that represented the drum-beats. Strange as it may seem, the music translated itself into pure colour–and the rhythmic beating of the time seemed to aid the process. I thought of the untutored Indians as they sat in groups about the flickering camp-fire while others beat the tom-toms and droned the curious melody. What were the visions of the red man, I wondered, as he chewed his mescal button and the medicine man prayed to Hikori, the cactus god, to grant a “beautiful intoxication?”
Under the gas-lights of the chandelier hung a cluster of electric light bulbs which added to the flood of golden effulgence that bathed the room and all things in it. I gazed next intently at the electric lights. They became the sun itself in their steadiness, until I had to turn away my head and close my eyes. Even then the image persisted–I saw the golden sands of Newport, only they were blazing with glory as if they were veritable diamond dust: I saw the waves, of incomparable blue, rolling up on the shore. A vague perfume was wafted on the air. I was in an orgy of vision. Yet there was no stage of maudlin emotion. It was at least elevating.
Kennedy’s experiences as he related them to me afterwards were similar, though sufficiently varied to be interesting. His visions took the forms of animals–a Cheshire cat, like that in “Alice in Wonderland,” with merely a grin that faded away, changing into a lynx which in turn disappeared, followed by an unknown creature with short nose and pointed ears, then tortoises and guinea-pigs, a perfectly unrelated succession of beasts. When the playing began a beautiful panorama unfolded before him–the regular notes in the music enhancing the beauty, and changes in the scenes, which he described as a most wonderful kinetoscopic display.
In fact, only De Quincey or Bayard Taylor or Poe could have done justice to the thrilling effects of the drug, and not even they unless an amanuensis had been seated by them to take down what they dictated, for I defy anyone to remember anything but a fraction of the rapid march of changes under its influence. Indeed, in observing its action I almost forgot for the time being the purpose of our visit, so fascinated was I. The music ceased, but not the visions.
Senora Mendez advanced toward us. The spangles on her net dress seemed to give her a fairy-like appearance; she seemed to float over the carpet like a glowing, fleecy, white cloud over a rainbow-tinted sky.
Kennedy, however, had not for an instant forgotten what we were there for, and his attention recalled mine. I was surprised to see that when I made the effort I could talk and think quite as rationally as ever, though the wildest pranks were going on in my mind and vision. Kennedy did not beat about in putting his question, evidently counting on the surprise to extract the truth.
“What time did Senor Guerrero leave last night?”
The question came so suddenly that she had no time to think of a reply that would conceal anything she might otherwise have wished to conceal.
“About ten o’clock,” she answered, then instantly was on her guard, for Torreon had caught her eye.
“And you have no idea where he went?” asked Kennedy.
“None, unless he went home,” she replied guardedly.
I did not at the time notice the significance of her prompt response to Torreon’s warning. I did not notice, as did Kennedy, the smile that spread over Torreon’s features. The music had started again, and I was oblivious to all but the riot of colour.
Again the servant entered. She seemed clothed in a halo of light and colour, every fold of her dress radiating the most delicate tones. Yet there was nothing voluptuous or sensual about it. I was raised above earthly things. Men and women were no longer men and women–they were brilliant creatures of whom I was one. It was sensuous, but not sensual. I looked at my own clothes. My everyday suit was idealised. My hands were surrounded by a glow of red fire that made me feel that they must be the hands of a divinity. I noticed them as I reached forward toward the tray of little cups.
There swam into my line of vision another such hand. It laid itself on my arm. A voice sang in my ear softly:
“No, Walter, we have had enough. Come, let us go. This is not like any other known drug–not even the famous Cannabis indica, hasheesh. Let us go as soon as we politely can. I have found out what I wanted to know. Guerrero is not here.”
We rose shortly and excused ourselves and, with general regrets in which all but Torreon joined, were bowed out with the same courtly politeness with which we had been received.
As we left the house, the return to the world was quick. It was like coming out from the matinee and seeing the crowds on the street. They, not the matinee, were unreal for the moment. But, strange to say, I found one felt no depression as a result of the mescal intoxication.
“What is it about mescal that produces such results?” I asked.
“The alkaloids,” replied Kennedy as we walked slowly along. “Mescal was first brought to the attention of scientists by explorers employed by our bureau of ethnology. Dr. Weir Mitchell and Dr. Harvey Wiley and several German scientists have investigated it since then. It is well known that it contains half a dozen alkaloids and resins of curious and little-investigated nature. I can’t recall even the names of them offhand, but I have them in my laboratory.”
As the effect of the mescal began to wear off in the fresh air, I found myself in a peculiar questioning state. What had we gained by our visit? Looking calmly at it, I could not help but ask myself why both Torreon and Senora Mendez had acted as if they were concealing something about the whereabouts of Guerrero. Was she a spy? Did she know anything about the loss of the half-million dollars?
Of one thing I was certain. Torreon was an ardent admirer of the beautiful senora, equally ardent with Guerrero. Was he simply a jealous suitor, angry at his rival, and now glad that he was out of the way? Where had Guerrero gone The question was still unanswered.
Absorbed in these reveries, I did not notice particularly where Kennedy was hurrying me. In fact, finding no plausible answer to my speculations and knowing that it was useless to question Kennedy at this stage of his inquiry, I did not for the moment care where we went but allowed him to take the lead.
We entered one of the fine apartments on the drive and rode up in the elevator. A door opened and, with a start, I found myself in the presence of Miss Guerrero again. The questioning look on her face recalled the object of our search, and its ill success so far. Why had Kennedy come back with so little to report?
“Have you heard anything?” she asked eagerly.
“Not directly,” replied Kennedy. “But I have a clue, at least. I believe that Torreon knows where your father is and will let you know any moment now. It is to his interest to clear himself before this scandal about the money becomes generally known. Would you allow me to search through your father’s desk?”
For some moments Kennedy rummaged through the drawers and pigeonholes, silently.
“Where does the junta keep its arms stored–not in the meeting-place on South Street does it?” asked Kennedy at length.
“Not exactly; that would be a little too risky,” she replied. “I believe they have a loft above the office, hired in someone else’s name and not connected with the place down-stairs at all. My father and Senor Torreon are the only ones who have the keys. Why do you ask?”
“I ask,” replied Craig, “because I was wondering whether there might not be something that would take him down to South Street last night. It is the only place I can think of his going to at such a late hour, unless he has gone out of town. If we do not hear from Torreon soon I think I will try what. I can find down there. Ah, what is this?”
Kennedy drew forth a little silver box and opened it. Inside reposed a dozen mescal buttons.
We both looked quickly at Miss Guerrero, but it was quite evident that she was unacquainted with them.
She was about to ask what Kennedy had found when the telephone rang and the maid announced that Miss Guerrero was wanted by Senor Torreon.
A smile of gratification flitted over Kennedy’s face as he leaned over to me and whispered: “It is evident that Torreon is anxious to clear himself. I’ll wager he has done some rapid hustling since we left him.”
“Perhaps this is some word about my father at last,” murmured Miss Guerrero as she nervously hurried to the telephone, and answered, “Yes, this is Senorita Guerrero, Senor Torreon. You are at the office of the junta? Yes, yes, you have word from my father–you went down there to-night expecting some guns to be delivered?–and you found him there–up-stairs in the loft–ill, did you say?–unconscious?”
In an instant her face was drawn and pale, and the receiver fell clattering to the hard-wood floor from her nerveless fingers.
“He is dead!” she gasped as she swayed backward and I caught her. With Kennedy’s help I carried her, limp and unconscious, across the room, and placed her in a deep armchair. I stood at her side, but for the moment could only look on helplessly, blankly at the now stony beauty of her face.
“Some water, Juanita, quick!” I cried as soon as I had recovered from the shock. “Have you any smelling-salts or anything of that sort? Perhaps you can find a little brandy. Hurry.”
While we were making her comfortable the telephone continued to tinkle.
“This is Kennedy,” I heard Craig say, as Juanita came hurrying in with water, smelling-salts, and brandy. “You fool. She fainted. Why couldn’t you break it to her gently? What’s that address on South Street? You found him over the junta meeting-place in a loft? Yes, I understand. What were you doing down there? You went down expecting a shipment of arms and saw a light overhead I see–and suspecting something you entered with a policeman. You heard him move across the floor above and fall heavily? All right. Someone will be down directly. Ambulance surgeon has tried everything, you say? No heart action, no breathing? Sure. Very well. Let the body remain just where it is until I get down. Oh, wait. How long ago did it happen? Fifteen minutes? All right. Good-bye.”
Such restoratives as we had found we applied faithfully. At last we were rewarded by the first flutter of an eyelid. Then Miss Guerrero gazed wildly about.
“He is dead,” she moaned. “They have killed him. I know it. My father is dead.” Over and over she repeated: “He is dead. I shall never see him again.”
Vainly I tried to soothe her. What was there to say? There could be no doubt about it. Torreon must have gone down directly after we left Senora Mendez. He had seen a light in the loft, had entered with a policeman–as a witness, he had told Craig over the telephone–had heard Guerrero fall, and had sent for the ambulance. How long Guerrero had been there he did not know, for while members of the junta had been coming and going all day in the office below none had gone up into the locked loft.
Kennedy with rare skill calmed Miss Guerrero’s dry-eyed hysteria into a gentle rain of tears, which relieved her overwrought feelings. We silently withdrew, leaving the two women, mistress and servant, weeping.
“Craig,” I asked when we had gained the street, “what do you make of it? We must lose no time. Arrest this Mendez woman before she has a chance to escape.”
“Not so fast, Walter,” he cautioned as we spun along in a taxicab. “Our case isn’t very complete against anybody yet.”
“But it looks black for Guerrero,” I admitted. “Dead men tell no tales even to clear themselves.”
“It all depends on speed now,” he answered laconically.
We had reached the university, which was only a few blocks away, and Craig dashed into his laboratory while I settled with the driver. He reappeared almost instantly with some bulky apparatus under his arm, and we more than ran from the building to the near-by subway station. Fortunately there was an express just pulling in, as we tumbled down the steps.
To one who knows South Street as merely a river-front street whose glory of other days has long since departed, where an antiquated horsecar now ambles slowly uptown, and trucks and carts all day long are in a perpetual jam, it is peculiarly uninteresting by day, and peculiarly deserted and vicious by night. But there is another fascination about South Street. Perhaps there has never been a revolution in Latin America which has not in some way or other been connected with this street, whence hundreds of filibustering expeditions have started. Whenever a dictator is to be overthrown, or half a dozen chocolate-skinned generals in the Caribbean become dissatisfied with their portions of gold lace, the arms- and ammunition-dealers of South Street can give, if they choose, an advance scenario of the whole tragedy or comic opera, as the case may be. Real war or opera-bouffe, it is all grist for the mills of these close-mouthed individuals.
Our quest took us to a ramshackle building reminiscent of the days when the street bristled with bowsprits of ships from all over the world, an age when the American merchantman flew our flag on the uttermost of the seven-seas. On the ground floor was an apparently innocent junk dealer’s shop, in reality the meeting-place of the junta. By an outside stairway the lofts above were reached, hiding their secrets behind windows opaque with decades of dust.
At the door we were met by Torreon and the policeman. Both appeared to be shocked beyond measure. Torreon was profuse in explanations which did not explain. Out of the tangled mass of verbiage I did manage to extract, however, the impression that, come what might to the other members of the junta, Torreon was determined to clear his own name at any cost. He and the policeman had discovered Senor Guerrero only a short time before, up-stairs. For all he knew, Guerrero had been there some time, perhaps all day, while the others were meeting down-stairs. Except for the light he might have been there undiscovered still. Torreon swore he had heard Guerrero fall; the policeman was not quite so positive.
Kennedy listened impatiently, then sprang up the stairs, only to call back to the policeman: “Go call me a taxicab at the ferry, an electric cab. Mind, now, not a gasoline-cab–electric.”
We found the victim lying on a sort of bed of sailcloth in a loft apparently devoted to the peaceful purposes of the junk trade, but really a perfect arsenal and magazine. It was dusty and cobwebbed, crammed with stands of arms, tents, uniforms in bales, batteries of Maxims and mountain-guns, and all the paraphernalia for carrying on a real twentieth-century revolution.
The young ambulance surgeon was still there, so quickly had we been able to get down-town. He had his stomach-pump, hypodermic syringe, emetics, and various tubes spread out on a piece of linen on a packing-case. Kennedy at once inquired just what he had done.
“Thought at first it was only a bad case of syncope,” he replied, “but I guess he was dead some minutes before I got here. Tried rhythmic traction of the tongue, artificial respiration, stimulants, chest and heart massage–everything, but it was no use:”
“Have you any idea what caused his death?” asked Craig as he hastily adjusted his apparatus to an electric light socket–a rheostat, an induction-coil of peculiar shape, and an “interrupter.”
“Poison of some kind–an alkaloid. They say they heard him fall as they came up-stairs, and when they got to him he was blue. His face was as blue as it is now when I arrived. Asphyxia, failure of both heart and lungs, that was what the alkaloid caused.”
The gong of the electric cab sounded outside. As Craig heard it he rushed with two wires to the window, threw them out, and hurried downstairs, attaching them to the batteries of the cab.
In an instant he was back again.
“Now, Doctor,” he said, “I’m going to perform a very delicate test on this man. Here I have the alternating city current and here a direct, continuous current from the storage-batteries of the cab below. Doctor, hold his mouth open. So. Now, have you a pair of forceps handy? Good. Can you catch hold of the tip of his tongue? There. Do just as I tell you. I apply this cathode to his skin in the dorsal region; under the back of the neck, and this anode in the lumbar region at the base of the spine–just pieces of cotton soaked in salt solution and covering the metal electrodes, to give me a good contact with the body.”
I was fascinated. It was gruesome, and yet I could not take my eyes off it. Torreon stood blankly, in a daze. Craig was as calm as if his every-day work was experimenting on cadavers.
He applied the current, moving the anode and the cathode slowly. I had often seen the experiments on the nerves of a frog that had been freshly killed, how the electric current will make the muscles twitch, as discovered long ago by Galvani. But I was not prepared to see it on a human being. Torreon muttered something and crossed himself.
The arms seemed half to rise–then suddenly to fall, flabby again. There was a light hiss like an inspiration and expiration of air, a ghastly sound.
“Lungs react,” muttered Kennedy, “but the heart doesn’t. I must increase the voltage.”
Again he applied the electrodes.
The face seemed a different shade of blue, I thought.
“Good God, Kennedy,” I exclaimed, “do you suppose the effect of that mescal on me hasn’t worn off yet? Blue, blue everything blue is playing pranks before my eyes. Tell me, is the blue of that face–his face–is it changing? Do you see it, or do I imagine it?”
“Blood asphyxiated,” was the disjointed reply. “The oxygen is clearing it.”
“But, Kennedy,” I persisted; “his face was dark blue, black a minute ago. The most astonishing change has taken place. Its colour is almost natural now. Do I imagine it or is it real?”
Kennedy was so absorbed in his work that he made no reply at all. He heard nothing, nothing save the slow, forced inspiration and expiration of air as he deftly and quickly manipulated the electrodes.
“Doctor,” he cried at length, “tell me what is going on in that heart.”
The young surgeon bent his head and placed his ear on the cold breast. As he raised his eyes and they chanced to rest on Kennedy’s hands, holding the electrodes dangling idly in the air, I think I never saw a greater look of astonishment on a human face. “It–is–almost–natural,” he gasped.
“With great care and a milk diet for a few days Guerrero will live,” said Kennedy quietly. “It is natural.”
“My God, man, but he was dead!” exclaimed the surgeon. “I know it. His heart was stopped and his lungs collapsed.”
“To all intents and purposes he was dead, dead as ever a man was,” replied Craig, “and would be now, if I hadn’t happened to think of this special induction-coil loaned to me by a doctor who had studied deeply the process of electric resuscitation developed by Professor Leduc of the Nantes Ecole de Medicin. There is only one case I know of on record which compares with this–a case of a girl resuscitated in Paris. The girl was a chronic morphine-eater and was ‘dead’ forty minutes.”
I stood like one frozen, the thing was so incomprehensible, after the many surprises of the evening that had preceded. Torreon, in fact, did not comprehend for the moment.
As Kennedy and I bent over, Guerrero’s eyes opened, but he apparently saw nothing. His hand moved a little, and his lips parted. Kennedy quickly reached into the pockets of the man gasping for breath, one after another. From a vest pocket he drew a little silver case, identical with that he had found in the desk up-town. He opened it, and one mescal button rolled out into the palm of his hand. Kennedy regarded it thoughtfully.
“I suspect there is at least one devotee of the vision-breeding drug who will no longer cultivate its use, as a result of this,” he added, looking significantly at the man before us.
“Guerrero,” shouted Kennedy, placing his mouth close to the man’s ear, but muting his voice so that only I could distinguish what he said, “Guerrero, where is the money?”
His lips moved trembling again, but I could not make out that he said anything.
Kennedy rose and quietly went over to detach his apparatus from the electric light socket behind Torreon.
“Car-ramba!” I heard as I turned suddenly.
Craig had Torreon firmly pinioned from behind by both arms. The policeman quickly interposed.
“It’s all right,–officer,” exclaimed Craig. “Walter, reach into his inside pocket.”
I pulled out a bunch of papers and turned them over.
“What’s that?” asked Kennedy as I came to something neatly enclosed in an envelope.
I opened it. It was a power of attorney from Guerrero to Torreon.
“Perhaps it is no crime to give a man mescal if he wants it–I doubt if the penal code covers that,” ejaculated Kennedy. “But it is conspiracy to give it to him and extract a power of attorney by which you can get control of trust funds consigned to him. Manuel Torreon, the game is up. You and Senora Mendez have played your parts well. But you have lost. You waited until you thought Guerrero was dead, then you took a policeman along as a witness to clear yourself. But the secret is not dead, after all. Is there nothing else in those papers, Walter? Yes? Ah, a bill of lading dated to-day? Ten cases of ‘scrap iron’ from New York to Boston–a long chance for such valuable ‘scrap,’ senor, but I suppose you had to get the money away from New York, at any risk.”
“And Senora Mendez?” I asked as my mind involuntarily reverted to the brilliantly lighted room up-town. “What part did she have in the plot against Guerrero?”
Torreon stood sullenly silent. Kennedy reached in another of Torreon’s pockets and drew out a third little silver box of mescal buttons. Holding all three of the boxes, identically the same, before us he remarked: “Evidently Torreon was not averse to having his victim under the influence of mescal as much as possible. He must have forced it on him–all’s fair in love and revolution, I suppose. I believe he brought him down here under the influence of mescal last night, obtained the power of attorney, and left him here to die of the mescal intoxication. It was just a case of too strong a hold of the mescal–the artificial paradise was too alluring to Guerrero, and Torreon knew it and tried to profit by it to the extent of half a million dollars.”
It was more than I could grasp at the instant. The impossible had happened. I had seen the dead–literally–brought back to life and the secret which the criminal believed buried wrung from the grave.
Kennedy must have noted the puzzled look on my face. “Walter,” he said, casually, as he wrapped up his instruments, “don’t stand there gaping like Billikin. Our part in this case is finished–at least mine is. But I suspect from some of the glances I have seen you steal at various times that–well, perhaps you would like a few moments in a real paradise. I saw a telephone down-stairs. Go call up Miss Guerrero and tell her her father is alive–and innocent.”
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