Story type: Literature
“For Heaven’s sake, Gregory, what is the matter?” asked Craig Kennedy as a tall, nervous man stalked into our apartment one evening. “Jameson, shake hands with Dr. Gregory. What’s the matter, Doctor? Surely your X-ray work hasn’t knocked you out like this?”
The doctor shook hands with me mechanically. His hand was icy. “The blow has fallen,” he exclaimed, as he sank limply into a chair and tossed an evening paper over to Kennedy.
In red ink on the first page, in the little square headed “Latest News,” Kennedy read the caption, “Society Woman Crippled for Life by X-Ray Treatment.”
“A terrible tragedy was revealed in the suit begun today,” continued the article, “by Mrs. Huntington Close against Dr. James Gregory, an X-ray specialist with offices at Madison Avenue, to recover damages for injuries which Mrs. Close alleges she received while under his care. Several months ago she began a course of X-ray treatment to remove a birthmark on her neck. In her complaint Mrs. Close alleges that Dr. Gregory has carelessly caused X-ray dermatitis, a skin disease of cancerous nature, and that she has also been rendered a nervous wreck through the effects of the rays. Simultaneously with filing the suit she left home and entered a private hospital. Mrs. Close is one of the most popular hostesses in the smart set, and her loss will be keenly felt.”
“What am I to do, Kennedy?” asked the doctor imploringly. “You remember I told you the other day about this case–that there was something queer about it, that after a few treatments I was afraid to carry on any more and refused to do so? She really has dermatitis and nervous prostration, exactly as she alleges in her complaint. But, before Heaven, Kennedy, I can’t see how she could possibly have been so affected by the few treatments I gave her. And to-night, just as I was leaving the office, I received a telephone call from her husband’s attorney, Lawrence, very kindly informing me that the case would be pushed to the limit. I tell you, it looks black for me.”
“What can they do?”
“Do? Do you suppose any jury is going to take enough expert testimony to outweigh the tragedy of a beautiful woman? Do? Why, they can ruin me, even if I get a verdict of acquittal. They can leave me with a reputation for carelessness that no mere court decision can ever overcome.”
“Gregory, you can rely on me,” said Kennedy. “Anything I can do to help you I will gladly do. Jameson and I were on the point of going out to dinner. Join us, and after that we will go down to your office and talk things over.”
“You are really too kind,” murmured the doctor. The air of relief that was written on his face was pathetically eloquent.
“Now not a word about the case till we have had dinner,” commanded Craig. “I see very plainly that you have been worrying about the blow for a long time. Well, it has fallen. The neat thing to do is to look over the situation and see where we stand.”
Dinner over, we rode down-town in the subway, and Gregory ushered us into an office-building on Madison Avenue, where he had a very handsome suite of several rooms. We sat own in his waiting-room to discuss the affair.
“It is indeed a very tragic case,” began Kennedy, “almost more tragic than if the victim had been killed outright. Mrs. Huntington Close is–or rather I suppose I should say was–one of the famous beauties of the city. From what the paper says, her beauty has been hopelessly ruined by this dermatitis, which, I understand, Doctor, is practically incurable.”
Dr. Gregory nodded, and I could not help following his eyes as he looked at his own rough and scarred hands.
“Also,” continued Craig, with his eyes half closed and his finger-tips together, as if, he were taking a mental inventory of the facts in the case, “her nerves are so shattered that she will be years in recovering, if she ever recovers.”
“Yes,” said the doctor simply. “I myself, for instance, am subject to the most unexpected attacks of neuritis. But, of course, I am under the influence of the rays fifty or sixty times a day, while she had only a few treatments at intervals of many days.”
“Now, on the other hand,” resumed Craig, “I know you, Gregory, very well. Only the other day, before any of this came out, you told me the whole story with your fears as to the outcome. I know that that lawyer of Close’s has been keeping this thing hanging over your head for a long time. And I also know that you are one of the most careful X-ray operators in the city. If this suit goes against you, one of the most brilliant men of science in America will be ruined. Now, having said this much, let me ask you to describe just exactly what treatments you gave Mrs. Close.”
The doctor led us into his X-ray room adjoining. A number of X-ray tubes were neatly put away in a great glass case, and at one end of the room was an operating-table with an X-ray apparatus suspended over it. A glance at the room showed that Kennedy’s praise was not exaggerated.
“How many treatments did you give Mrs. Close?” asked Kennedy.
“Not over a dozen, I should say;” replied Gregory. “I have a record of them and the dates, which I will give you presently. Certainly they were not numerous enough or frequent enough to have caused a dermatitis such as she has. Besides, look here. I have an apparatus which, for safety to the patient, has few equals in the country. This big lead-glass bowl, which is placed over my X-ray tube when in use, cuts off the rays at every point except exactly where they are needed.”
He switched on the electric current, and the apparatus began to sputter. The pungent odour of ozone from the electric discharge filled the room. Through the lead-glass bowl I could see the X-ray tube inside suffused with its peculiar, yellowish-green light, divided into two hemispheres of different shades. That, I knew, was the cathode ray, not the X-ray, for the X-ray itself, which streams outside the tube, is invisible to the human eye. The doctor placed in our hands a couple of fluoroscopes, an apparatus by which X-rays can be detected. It consists simply of a closed box with an opening to which the eyes are placed. The opposite end of the box is a piece of board coated with a salt such as platino-barium cyanide. When the X-ray strikes this salt it makes it glow, or fluoresce, and objects held between the X-ray tube and the fluoroscope cast shadows according to the density of the parts which the X-rays penetrate.
With the lead-glass bowl removed, the X-ray tube sent forth its wonderful invisible radiation and made the back of the fluoroscope glow with light. I could see the bones of my fingers as I held them up between the X-ray tube and the fluoroscope. But with the lead-glass bowl in position over the tube, the fluoroscope was simply a black box into which I looked and saw nothing. So very little of the radiation escaped from the bowl that it was negligible–except at one point where there was an opening in the bottom of the bowl to allow the rays to pass freely through exactly on the spot on the patient where they were to be used.
“The dermatitis, they say, has appeared all over her body, particularly on her head and shoulders,” added Dr. Gregory. “Now I have shown you my apparatus to impress on you how really impossible it would have been for her to contract it from her treatments here. I’ve made thousands of exposures with never an X-ray burn before–except to myself. As for myself, I’m as careful as I can be, but you can see I am under the rays very often, while the patient is only under them once in a while.”
To illustrate his care he pointed out to us a cabinet directly back of the operating-table, lined with thick sheets of lead. From this cabinet he conducted most of his treatments as far as possible. A little peep-hole enabled him to see the patient and the X-ray apparatus, while an arrangement of mirrors and a fluorescent screen enabled him to see exactly what the X-rays were disclosing, without his leaving the lead-lined cabinet.
“I can think of no more perfect protection for either patient or operator,” said Kennedy admiringly. “By the way, did Mrs. Close come alone?”
“No, the first time Mr. Close came with her. After that, she came with her French maid.”
The next day we paid a visit to Mrs. Close herself at the private hospital. Kennedy had been casting about in his mind for an excuse to see her, and I had suggested that we go as reporters from the Star. Fortunately after sending up my card on which I had written Craig’s name we were at length allowed to go up to her room.
We found the patient reclining in an easy chair, swathed in bandages, a wreck of her former self. I felt the tragedy keenly. All that social position and beauty had meant to her had been suddenly blasted.
“You will pardon my presumption,” began Craig, “but, Mrs. Close, I assure you that I am actuated by the best of motives. We represent the New York Star–“
“Isn’t it terrible enough that I should suffer so,” she interrupted, “but must the newspapers hound me, too?”
“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Close,” said Craig, “but you must be aware that the news of your suit of Dr. Gregory has now become public property. I couldn’t stop the Star, much less the other papers, from talking about it. But I can and will do this, Mrs. Close. I will see that justice is done to you and all others concerned. Believe me, I am not here as a yellow journalist to make newspaper copy out of your misfortune. I am here to get at the truth sympathetically. Incidentally, I may be able to render you a service, too.”
“You can render me no service except to expedite the suit against that careless doctor–I hate him.”
“Perhaps,” said Craig. “But suppose someone else should be proved to have been really responsible? Would you still want to press the suit and let the guilty person escape?”
She bit her lip. “What is it you want of me?” she asked.
“I merely want permission to visit your rooms at your home and to talk with your maid. I do not mean to spy on you, far from it; but consider, Mrs. Close, if I should be able to get at the bottom of this thing, find out the real cause of your misfortune, perhaps show that you are the victim of a cruel wrong rather than of carelessness, would you not be willing to let me go ahead? I am frank to tell you that I suspect there is more to this affair than you yourself have any idea of.”
“No, you are mistaken, Mr. Kennedy. I know the cause of it. It was my love of beauty. I couldn’t resist the temptation to get rid of even a slight defect. If I had left well enough alone I should not be here now. A friend recommended Dr. Gregory to my husband, who took me there. My husband wishes me to remain at home, but I tell him I feel more comfortable here in the hospital. I shall never go to that house again–the memory of the torture of sleepless nights in my room there when I felt my good looks going, going”–she shuddered–“is such that I can never forget it. He says I would be better off there, but no, I cannot go. Still,” she continued wearily, “there can be no harm in your talking to my maid.”
Kennedy noted attentively what she was saying. “I thank you, Mrs. Close,” he replied. “I am sure you will not regret your permission. Would you be so kind as to give me a note to her?”
She rang, dictated a short note to a nurse, signed it, and languidly dismissed us.
I don’t know that I ever felt as depressed as I did after that interview with one who had entered a living death to ambition, for while Craig had done all the talking I had absorbed nothing but depression. I vowed that if Gregory or anybody else was responsible I would do my share toward bringing on him retribution.
The Closes lived in a splendid big house in the Murray Hill section. The presentation of the note quickly brought Mrs. Close’s maid down to us. She had not gone to the hospital because Mrs. Close had considered the services of the trained nurses quite sufficient.
Yes, the maid had noticed how her mistress had been failing, had noticed it long ago, in fact almost at the time when she had begun the X-ray treatment. She had seemed to improve once when she went away for a few days, but that was at the start, and directly after her return she grew worse again, until she was no longer herself.
“Did Dr. Gregory, the X-ray specialist, ever attend Mrs. Close at her home, in her room?” asked Craig.
“Yes, once, twice, he call, but he do no good,” she said with her French accent.
“Did Mrs. Close have other callers?”
“But, m’sieur, everyone in society has many. What does m’sieur mean?”
“Frequent callers–a Mr. Lawrence, for instance?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Lawrence frequently.”
“When Mr. Close was at home?”
“Yes, on business and on business, too, when he was not at home. He is the attorney, m’sieur.”
“How did Mrs. Close receive him?”
“He is the attorney, m’sieur,” Marie repeated persistently.
“And he, did he always call on business?”
“Oh, yes, always on business, but well, madame, she was a very beautiful woman. Perhaps he like beautiful women–eh bien? That was before the Doctor Gregory treated madame. After the doctor treated madame M’sieur Lawrence do not call so often. That’s all.”
“Are you thoroughly devoted to Mrs. Close? Would you do a favour for her?” asked Craig point-blank.
“Sir, I would give my life, almost, for madame. She was always so good to me.”
“I don’t ask you to give your life for her, Marie,” said Craig, “but you can do her a great service, a very great service.”
“I will do it.”
“To-night,” said Craig, “I want you to sleep in Mrs. Close’s room. You can do so, for I know that Mr. Close is living at the St. Francis Club until his wife returns from the sanitarium. To-morrow morning come to my laboratory”–Craig handed her his card–“and I will tell you what to do next. By the way, don’t say anything to anyone in the house about it, and keep a sharp watch on the actions of any of the servants who may go into Mrs. Close’s room.”
“Well,” said Craig, “there is nothing more to be done immediately.” We had once more regained the street and were walking up-town. We walked in silence for several blocks.
“Yes,” mused Craig, “there is something you can do, after all, Walter. I would like you to look up Gregory and Close and Lawrence. I already know something about them. But you can find out a good deal with your newspaper connections. I would like to have every bit of scandal that has ever been connected with them, or with Mrs. Close, or,” he added significantly, “with any other woman. It isn’t necessary to say that not a breath of it must be published–yet.”
I found a good deal of gossip, but very little of it, indeed, seemed to me at the time to be of importance. Dropping in at the St. Francis Club, where I had some friends, I casually mentioned the troubles of the Huntington Closes. I was surprised to learn that Close spent little of his time at the Club, none at home, and only dropped into the hospital to make formal inquiries as to his wife’s condition. It then occurred to me to drop into the office of Society Squibs, whose editor I had long known. The editor told me, with that nameless look of the cynical scandalmonger, that if I wanted to learn anything about Huntington Close I had best watch Mrs. Frances Tulkington, a very wealthy Western divorcee about whom the smart set were much excited, particularly those whose wealth made it difficult to stand the pace of society as it was going at present.
“And before the tragedy,” said the editor with another nameless look, as if he were imparting a most valuable piece of gossip, “it was the talk of the town, the attention that Close’s lawyer was paying to Mrs. Close. But to her credit let me say that she never gave us a chance to hint at anything, and–well, you know us; we don’t need much to make snappy society news.”
The editor then waged even more confidential, for if I am anything at all, I am a good listener, and I have found that often by sitting tight and listening I can get more than if I were a too-eager questioner.
“It really was a shame,–the way that man Lawrence played his game,” he went on. “I understand that it was he who introduced Close to Mrs. T. They were both his clients. Lawrence had fought her case in the courts when she sued old Tulkington for divorce, and a handsome settlement he got for her, too. They say his fee ran up into the hundred thousands–contingent, you know. I don’t know what his game was”–here he lowered his voice to a whisper “but they say Close owes him a good deal of money. You can figure it out for yourself as you like. Now, I’ve told you all I know. Come in again, Jameson, when you want some more scandal, and remember me to the boys down on the Star.”
The following day the maid visited Kennedy at his laboratory while I was reporting to him on the result of my investigations.
She looked worn and haggard. She had spent a sleepless night and begged that Kennedy would not ask her to repeat the experiment.
“I can promise you, Marie,” he said, “that you will rest better to-night. But you must spend one more night in Mrs. Close’s room. By the way, can you arrange for me to go through the room this morning when you go back?”
Marie said she could, and an hour or so later Craig and I quietly slipped into the Close residence under her guidance. He was carrying something that looked like a miniature barrel, and I had another package which he had given me, both carefully wrapped up. The butler eyed us suspiciously, but Marie spoke a few words to him and I think showed him Mrs. Close’s note. Anyhow he said nothing.
Within the room that the unfortunate woman had occupied Kennedy took the coverings off the packages. It was nothing but a portable electric vacuum cleaner, which he quickly attached and set running. Up and down the floor, around and under the bed he pushed the cleaner. He used the various attachments to clean the curtains, the walls, and even the furniture. Particularly did he pay attention to the base board on the wall back of the bed. Then he carefully removed the dust from the cleaner and sealed it up in a leaden box.
He was about to detach and pack up the cleaner when another idea seemed to occur to him. “Might as well make a thorough job of it, Walter,” he said, adjusting the apparatus again. “I’ve cleaned everything but the mattress and the brass bars behind the mattress on the bed. Now I’ll tackle them. I think we ought to go into the suction-cleaning business–more money in it than in being a detective, I’ll bet.”
The cleaner was run over and under the mattress and along every crack and cranny of the brass bed. This done and this dust also carefully stowed away, we departed, very much to the mystification of Marie and, I could not help feeling, of other eyes that peered in through keyholes or cracks in doors.
“At any rate,” said Kennedy exultingly, “I think we have stolen a march on them. I don’t believe they were prepared for this, not at least at this stage in the game. Don’t ask me any questions, Walter. Then you will have no secrets to keep if anyone should try to pry them loose. Only remember that this man Lawrence is a shrewd character.”
The next day Marie came, looking even more careworn than before.
“What’s the matter, mademoiselle?” asked Craig. “Didn’t you pass a better night?”
“Oh, mon Dieu, I rest well, yes. But this morning, while I am at breakfast, Mr. Close send for me. He say that I am discharged. Some servant tell of your visit and he verry angr-ry. And now what is to become of me–will madame his wife give a recommendation now?”
“Walter, we have been discovered,” exclaimed Craig with considerable vexation. Then he remembered the poor girl who had been an involuntary sacrifice to our investigation. Turning to her he said: “Marie, I know several very good families, and I am sure you will not suffer for what you have done by being faithful to your mistress. Only be patient a few days. Go live with some of your folks. I will see that you are placed again.”
The girl was profuse in her thanks as she dried her tears and departed.
“I hadn’t anticipated having my hand forced so soon,” said Craig after she had gone, leaving her address. “However, we are on the right track. What was it that you were going to tell me when Marie came in?”
“Something that may be very important, Craig,” I said, “though I don’t understand it myself. Pressure is being brought to bear on the Star to keep this thing out of the papers, or at least to minimise it.”
“I’m not surprised,” commented Craig. “What do you mean by pressure being brought?”
“Why, Close’s lawyer, Lawrence, called up the editor this morning–I don’t suppose that you know, but he has some connection with the interests which control the Star–and said that the activity of one of the reporters from the Star, Jameson by name, was very distasteful to Mr. Close and that this reporter was employing a man named Kennedy to assist him.
“I don’t understand it, Craig;” I confessed, “but here one day they give the news to the papers, and two days later they almost threaten us with suit if we don’t stop publishing it.”
“It is perplexing,” said Craig, with the air of one who was not a bit perplexed, but rather enlightened.
He pulled down the district telegraph messenger lever three times, and we sat in silence for a while.
“However,” he resumed, “I shall be ready for them to-night.”
I said nothing. Several minutes elapsed. Then the messenger rapped on the door.
“I want these two notes delivered right away,” said Craig to the boy; “here’s a quarter for you. Now mind you don’t get interested in a detective story and forget the notes. If you are back here quickly with the receipts I’ll give you another quarter. Now scurry along.”
Then, after the boy had gone, he said casually to me: “Two notes to Close and Gregory, asking them to be present with their attorneys to-night. Close will bring Lawrence, and Gregory will bring a young lawyer named Asche, a very clever fellow. The notes are so worded that they can hardly refuse the invitation.”
Meanwhile I carried out an assignment for the Star, and telephoned my story in so as to be sure of being with Craig at the crucial moment. For I was thoroughly curious about his next move in the game. I found him still in his laboratory attaching two coils of thin wire to the connections on the outside of a queer-looking little black box.
“What’s that” I asked, eyeing the sinister looking little box suspiciously. “An infernal machine? You’re not going to blow the culprit into eternity, I hope.”
“Never mind what it is, Walter. You’ll find that out in due time. It may or it may not be an infernal machine of a different sort than any you have probably ever heard of. The less you know now the less likely you are to give anything away by a look or an act. Come now, make yourself useful as well as ornamental. Take these wires and lay them in the cracks of the floor, and be careful not to let them show. A little dust over them will conceal them beautifully.”
Craig now placed the black box back of one of the chairs well down toward the floor, where it could hardly have been perceived unless one were suspecting something of the sort. While he was doing so I ran the wires across the floor, and around the edge of the room to the door.
“There,” he said, taking the wires from me. “Now I’ll complete the job by carrying them into the next room. And while I’m doing it, go over the wires again and make sure they are absolutely concealed.”
That night six men gathered in Kennedy’s laboratory. In my utter ignorance of what was about to happen I was perfectly calm, and so were all the rest, except Gregory. He was easily the most nervous of us all, though his lawyer Asche tried repeatedly to reassure him.
“Mr. Close,” began Kennedy, “if you and Mr. Lawrence will sit over here on this side of the room while Dr. Gregory and Mr. Asche sit on the opposite side with Mr. Jameson in the middle, I think both of you opposing parties will be better suited. For I apprehend that at various stages in what I am about to say both you, Mr. Close, and you, Dr. Gregory, will want to consult your attorneys. That, of course, would be embarrassing, if not impossible, should you be sitting near each other. Now, if we are ready, I shall begin.”
Kennedy placed a small leaden casket on the table of his lecture hall. “In this casket,” he commenced solemnly, “there is a certain substance which I have recovered from the dust swept up by a vacuum cleaner in the room of Mrs. Close.”
One could feel the very air of the room surcharged with excitement. Craig drew on a pair of gloves and carefully opened the casket. With his thumb and forefinger he lifted out a glass tube and held it gingerly at arm’s length. My eyes were riveted on it, for the bottom of the tube glowed with a dazzling point of light.
Both Gregory and his attorney and Close and Lawrence whispered to each other when the tube was displayed, as indeed they did throughout the whole exhibition of Kennedy’s evidence.
“No infernal machine was ever more subtle,” said Craig, “than the tube which I hold in my hand. The imagination of the most sensational writer of fiction might well be thrilled with the mysteries of this fatal tube and its power to work fearful deeds. A larger quantity of this substance in the tube would produce on me, as I now hold it, incurable burns, just as it did on its discoverer before his death. A smaller amount, of course, would not act so quickly. The amount in this tube, if distributed about, would produce the burns inevitably, providing I remained near enough for a long-enough time.”
Craig paused a moment to emphasise his remarks.
“Here in my hand, gentlemen, I hold the price of a woman’s beauty.”
He stopped again for several moments, then resumed.
“And now, having shown it to you, for my own safety I will place it back in its leaden casket.”
Drawing off his gloves, he proceeded.
“I have found out by a cablegram to-day that seven weeks ago an order for one hundred milligrams of radium bromide at thirty-five dollars a milligram from a certain person in America was filled by a corporation dealing in this substance.”
Kennedy said this with measured words, and I felt a thrill run through me as he developed his case.
“At that same time, Mrs. Close began a series of treatments with an X-ray specialist in New York,” pursued Kennedy. “Now, it is not generally known outside scientific circles, but the fact is that in their physiological effects the X-ray and radium are quite one and the same. Radium possesses this advantage, however, that no elaborate apparatus is necessary for its use. And, in addition, the emanation from radium is steady and constant, whereas the X-ray at best varies slightly with changing conditions of the current and vacuum in the X-ray tube. Still, the effects on the body are much the same.
“A few days before this order was placed I recall the following despatch which appeared in the New York papers. I will read it.
“‘Liege, Belgium, Oct.–, 1910. What is believed to be the first criminal case in which radium figures as a death-dealing agent is engaging public attention at this university town. A wealthy old bachelor, Pailin by name, was found dead in his flat. A stroke of apoplexy was at first believed to have caused his death, but a close examination revealed a curious discolouration of his skin. A specialist called in to view the body gave as his opinion that the old man had been exposed for a long time to the emanations of X-ray or radium. The police theory is that M. Pailin was done to death by a systematic application of either X-rays or radium by a student in the university who roomed next to him. The student has disappeared.’
“Now here, I believe, was the suggestion which this American criminal followed, for I cut it out of the paper rather expecting sooner or later that some clever person would act on it. I have thoroughly examined the room of Mrs. Close. She herself told me she never wanted to return to it, that her memory of sleepless nights in it was too vivid. That served to fix the impression that I had already formed from reading this clipping. Either the X-ray or radium had caused her dermatitis and nervousness. Which was it? I wished to be sure that I would make no mistake. Of course I knew it was useless to look for an X-ray machine in or near Mrs. Close’s room. Such a thing could never have been concealed. The alternative? Radium! Ah! that was different. I determined on an experiment. Mrs. Close’s maid was prevailed on to sleep in her mistress’s room. Of course radiations of brief duration would do her no permanent harm, although they would produce their effect, nevertheless. In one night the maid became extremely nervous. If she had stayed under them several nights no doubt the beginning of a dermatitis would have affected her, if not more serious trouble. A systematic application, covering weeks and months, might in the end even have led to death.
“The next day I managed, as I have said, to go over the room thoroughly with a vacuum cleaner–a new one of my own which I had bought myself. But tests of the dust which I got from the floors, curtains, and furniture showed nothing at all. As a last thought I had, however, cleaned the mattress of the bed and the cracks and crevices in the brass bars. Tests of that dust showed it to be extremely radioactive. I had the dust dissolved, by a chemist who understands that sort of thing, recrystallised, and the radium salts were extracted from the refuse. Thus I found that I had recovered all but a very few milligrams of the radium that had been originally purchased in London. Here it is in this deadly tube in the leaden casket.
“It is needless to add that the night after I had cleaned out this deadly element the maid slept the sleep of the just–and would have been all right when next I saw her but for the interference of the unjust on whom I had stolen a march.”
Craig paused while the lawyers whispered again to their clients. Then he continued: “Now three persons in this room had an opportunity to secrete the contents of this deadly tube in the crevices of the metal work of Mrs. Close’s bed. One of these persons must have placed an order through a confidential agent in London to purchase the radium from the English Radium Corporation. One of these persons had a compelling motive, something to gain by using this deadly element. The radium in this tube in the casket was secreted, as I have said, in the metal work of Mrs. Close’s bed, not in large enough quantities to be immediately fatal, but mixed with dust so as to produce the result more slowly but no less surely, and thus avoid suspicion. At the same time Mrs. Close was persuaded–I will not say by whom–through her natural pride, to take a course of X-ray treatment for a slight defect. That would further serve to divert suspicion. The fact is that a more horrible plot could hardly have been planned or executed. This person sought to ruin her beauty to gain a most selfish and despicable end.”
Again Craig paused to let his words sink into our minds.
“Now I wish to state that anything you gentlemen may say will be used against you. That is why I have asked you to bring your attorneys. You may consult with them, of course, while I am getting ready my next disclosure.”
As Kennedy had developed his points in the case I had been more and more amazed. But I had not failed to notice how keenly Lawrence was following him.
With half a sneer on his astute face, Lawrence drawled: “I cannot see that you have accomplished anything by this rather extraordinary summoning of us to your laboratory. The evidence is just as black against Dr. Gregory as before. You may think you’re clever, Kennedy, but on the very statement of facts as you have brought them out there is plenty of circumstantial evidence against Gregory–more than there was before. As for anyone else in the room, I can’t see that you have anything on us–unless perhaps this new evidence you speak of may implicate Asche, or Jameson,” he added, including me in a wave of his hand, as if he were already addressing a jury. “It’s my opinion that twelve of our peers would be quite as likely to bring in a verdict of guilty against them as against anyone else even remotely connected with this case, except Gregory. No, you’ll have to do better than this in your next case, if you expect to maintain that so-called reputation of yours for being a professor of criminal science.”
As for Close, taking his cue from his attorney, he scornfully added: “I came to find out some new evidence against the wretch who wrecked the beauty of my wife. All I’ve got is a tiresome lecture on X-rays and radium. I suppose what you say is true. Well, it only bears out what I thought before. Gregory treated my wife at home, after he saw the damage his office treatments had done. I guess he was capable of making a complete job out of it–covering up his carelessness by getting rid of the woman who was such a damning piece of evidence against his professional skill.”
Never a shade passed Craig’s face as he listened to this tirade. “Excuse me a moment,” was all he said, opening the door to leave the room. “I have just one more fact to disclose. I will be back directly.”
Kennedy was gone several minutes, during which Close and Lawrence fell to whispering behind their hands, with the assurance of those who believed that this was only Kennedy’s method of admitting a defeat. Gregory and Asche exchanged a few words similarly, and it was plain that Asche was endeavouring to put a better interpretation on something than Gregory himself dared hope.
As Kennedy re-entered, Close was buttoning up his coat preparatory to leaving, and Lawrence was lighting a fresh cigar.
In his hand Kennedy held a notebook. “My stenographer writes a very legible shorthand; at least I find it so–from long practice, I suppose. As I glance over her notes I find many facts which will interest you later–at the trial. But–ah, here at the end–let me read:
“‘Well, he’s very clever, but he has nothing against me, has he?’
“‘No, not unless he can produce the agent who bought the radium for you.’
“‘But he can’t do that. No one could ever have recognised you on your flying trip to London disguised as a diamond merchant who had just learned that he could make his faulty diamonds good by applications of radium and who wanted a good stock of the stuff.’
“‘Still, we’ll have to drop the suit against Gregory after all, in spite of what I said. That part is hopelessly spoiled.’
“‘Yes, I suppose so. Oh, well, I’m free now. She can hardly help but consent to a divorce now, and a quiet settlement. She brought it on herself–we tried every other way to do it, but she–she was too good to fall into it. She forced us to it.’
“‘Yes, you’ll get a good divorce now. But can’t we shut up this man Kennedy? Even if he can’t prove anything against us, the mere rumour of such a thing coming to the ears of Mrs. Tulkington would be unpleasant.’
“‘Go as far as you like, Lawrence. You know what the marriage will mean to me. It will settle my debts to you and all the rest.’
“‘I’ll see what I can do, Close. He’ll be back in a moment.’”
Close’s face was livid. “It’s a pack of lies!” he shouted, advancing toward Kennedy, “a pack of lies! You are a fakir and a blackmailer. I’ll have you in jail for this, by God–and you too, Gregory.”
“One moment, please,” said Kennedy calmly. “Mr. Lawrence, will you be so kind as to reach behind your chair? What do you find?”
Lawrence lifted up the plain black box and with it he pulled up the wires which I had so carefully concealed in the cracks of the floor.
“That,” said Kennedy, “is a little instrument called the microphone. Its chief merit lies in the fact that it will magnify a sound sixteen hundred times, and carry it to any given point where you wish to place the receiver. Originally this device was invented for the aid of the deaf, but I see no reason why it should not be used to aid the law. One needn’t eavesdrop at the keyhole with this little instrument about. Inside that box there is nothing but a series of plugs from which wires, much finer than a thread, are stretched taut. Yet a fly walking near it will make a noise as loud as a draft-horse. If the microphone is placed in any part of the room, especially if near the persons talking–even if they are talking in a whisper–a whisper such as occurred several times during the evening and particularly while I was in the next room getting the notes made by my stenographer–a whisper, I say, is like shouting your guilt from the housetops.
“You two men, Close and Lawrence, may consider yourselves under arrest for conspiracy and whatever other indictments will lie against such creatures as you. The police will be here in a moment. No, Close, violence won’t do now. The doors are locked–and see, we are four to two.”
Was this helpful?
0 / 0