The Fluoriscine Test by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature

Our trip over to the other borough was uneventful except for the toilsome time we had to get to the docks where South and Central American ships were moored. We boarded the Haytien at last and Burke led us along the deck toward a cabin. I looked about curiously. There seemed to be the greatest air of suppressed excitement. Everyone was talking, in French, too, which seemed strange to me in people of their color. Yet everything seemed to be in whispers as if they were in fear.

We entered the cabin after our guide. There in the dim light lay the body of Leon in a bunk. There were several people in the room, already, among them the beautiful Mademoiselle Collette. She pretended not to recognize Kennedy until we were introduced, but I fancied I saw her start at finding him in company with Burke. Yet she did not exhibit anything more than surprise, which was quite natural.

Burke turned the sheet down from the face of the figure in the bunk. Leon had been a fine-looking specimen of his race, with good features, strong, and well groomed. Kennedy bent over and examined the body carefully.

“A very strange case,” remarked the ship’s surgeon, whom Burke beckoned over a moment later.

“Quite,” agreed Craig absently, as he drew the vial and the hypodermic from his pocket, dipped the needle in and shot a dose of the stuff into the side of the body.

“I can’t find out that there is any definite cause of death,” resumed the surgeon.

Before Craig could reply someone else entered the darkened cabin. We turned and saw Collette run over to him and take his hand.

“My guardian, Monsieur Aux Cayes,” she introduced, then turned to him with a voluble explanation of something in French.

Aux Cayes was a rather distinguished looking Haytian, darker than Collette, but evidently of the better class and one who commanded respect among the natives.

“It is quite extraordinary,” he said with a marked accent, taking up the surgeon’s remark. “As for these people–” he threw out his hands in a deprecating gesture–“one cannot blame them for being perplexed when your doctors disagree.”

Kennedy had covered up Leon’s face again and Collette was crying softly.

“Don’t, my dear child,” soothed Aux Cayes, patting her shoulder gently. “Please, try to calm thyself.”

It was evident that he adored his beautiful ward and would have done anything to relieve her grief. Kennedy evidently thought it best to leave the two together, as Aux Cayes continued to talk to her in diminutives and familiar phrases from the French.

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“Were there any other people on the boat who might be worth watching?” he asked as we rejoined Burke, who was looking about at the gaping crowd.

Burke indicated a group. “Well, there was an old man, Castine, and the woman he calls his wife,” he replied. “They were the ones who really kept the rest from throwing the body overboard.”

“Oh, yes,” assented Kennedy. “She told me about them. Are they here now?”

Burke moved over to the group and beckoned someone aside toward us. Castine was an old man with gray hair, and a beard which gave him quite an appearance of wisdom, besides being a matter of distinction among those who were beardless. With him was Madame Castine, much younger and not unattractive for a negress.

“You knew Monsieur Leon well?” asked Kennedy.

“We knew him in Port au Prince, like everybody,” replied Castine, without committing himself to undue familiarity.

“Do you know of any enemies of his on the boat?” cut in Burke. “You were present when they were demanding that his body be thrown over, were you not? Who was foremost in that?”

Castine shrugged his shoulders in a deprecatory manner. “I do not speak English very well,” he replied. “It was only those who fear the dead.”

There was evidently nothing to be gained by trying on him any of Burke’s third degree methods. He had always that refuge that he did not understand very well.

I turned and saw that Collette and Aux Cayes had come out of the cabin to the deck together, he holding her arm while she dabbed the tears away from her wonderful eyes.

At the sight of us talking to Castine and the other woman, she seemed to catch her breath. She did not speak to us, but I saw the two women exchange a glance of appraisal, and I determined that “Madame” Castine was at least worth observing.

By the attitude of the group from which we had drawn them, Castine, it seemed, exercised some kind of influence over all, rich and poor, revolutionist and government supporter.

The appearance of Collette occasioned a buzz of conversation and glances, and it was only a moment before she retreated into the cabin again. Apparently she did not wish to lose anything, as long as Kennedy and Burke were about.

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Kennedy did not seem to be so much interested in quizzing Castine just yet, now that he had seen him, as he was in passing the time profitably for a few minutes. He looked at his watch, snapped it back into his pocket, and walked deliberately into the cabin again.

There he drew back the cover over Leon’s face, bent over it, raised the lids of the eyes, and gazed into them.

Collette, who had been standing near him, watching every motion, drew back with an exclamation of horror and surprise.

“The voodoo sign is on him!” she cried. “It must be that!”

Almost in panic she fled, dragging her guardian with her.

I, too, looked. The man’s eyes were actually green, now. What did it mean?

“Burke,” remarked Kennedy decisively, “I shall take the responsibility of having the body transferred to my laboratory where I can observe it. I’ll leave you to attend to the formalities with the coroner. Then I want you to get in touch with Forsythe & Co. Watch them without letting them know you are doing so–and watch their visitors, particularly.”

A private ambulance was called and, with much wagging of heads and tongues, the body of Leon was carried on a stretcher, covered by a sheet, down the gangplank and placed in it. We followed closely in a taxicab, across the bridge and uptown.

For some days, I may say, Kennedy had been at work in his laboratory in a little anteroom, where he was installing some new apparatus for which he had received an appropriation from the trustees of the University.

It was a very complicated affair, one part of which seemed to be a veritable room within the room. Into this chamber, as it were, he now directed the men to carry Leon’s body and lay it on a sort of bed or pallet that was let down from the side wall of the compartment.

I had been quite mystified by the apparatus which Kennedy had set up, but had had no opportunity to discuss it with him and he had been so busy installing it that he had not taken time, often, for meals. In fact, the only way I knew that he had finished was that when Burke had called he had seemed interested in the call.

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Outside the small chamber I have spoken of, in the room itself, were several large pieces of machinery, huge cylinders with wheels and belts, run by electric motors. No sooner had the body been placed in the little chamber and the door carefully closed than Kennedy threw a switch, setting the apparatus in motion.

“How could Leon have been killed?” I asked, as he rejoined me in the outside laboratory. “What did Collette mean by her frightened cry of the ‘voodoo sign’?”

The incident had made a marked impression on me and I had been unable quite to arrive at any sensible explanation.

“Of course, you know that voodoo means literally anything that inspires fear,” remarked Kennedy after a moment’s thought. “The god of voodoo is the snake. I cannot say now what it was that she feared. But to see the eyeballs turn green is uncanny, isn’t it?”

“I should say so,” I agreed. “But is that all?”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t believe it is. Hayti is the hotbed of voodoo worship. The cult has inaugurated a sort of priesthood–often a priest and a priestess, called ‘papaloi’ and ‘mammaloi’–papa and mamma, probably with a corruption of the French word, ‘roi,’ king. They are, as it were, heads of the community, father and mother, king and queen. Some of the leading men of the communities in the islands of the Caribbean are secret voodoists and leaders. Just what is going on under the surface in this case, I cannot even hazard a guess. But there is some deviltry afoot.”

Just then the telephone rang and Craig answered it.

“It was from Burke,” he said as he hung up the receiver. “Confidential agents of his have been about. No one from the ship seems to have been down to see Forsythe, but Forsythe has had people over at the ship. Burke says someone is sending off great bunches of messages to Hayti–he thinks the powerful wireless apparatus of the Haytien is being used.”

For a moment Kennedy stood in the center of the laboratory, thinking. Then he appeared to make up his mind to something.

“Has that taxicab gone?” he asked, opening a cabinet from which he took several packages.

I looked out of the window. The ambulance had gone back, but the driver of the car had evidently waited to call up his office for instructions. I beckoned to him, and together Kennedy and I placed the packages in the car.

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Thus we were able quickly to get back again to the wharf where the Haytien was berthed. Instead of going aboard again, however, Kennedy stopped just outside, where he was not observed and got out of the car, dismissing it.

In the office of the steamship company, he sought one of the employes and handed him a card, explaining that we were aiding Burke in the case. The result of the parley was that Kennedy succeeded in getting to the roof of the covered pier on the opposite side from that where the ship lay.

There he set to work on a strange apparatus, wires from which ran up to a flag pole on which he was constructing what looked like a hastily improvised wireless aerial. That part arranged, Kennedy followed his wires down again and took them in by a window to a sort of lumber-room back of the office. Outside everyone was too busy to watch what we were doing there and Craig could work uninterrupted.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Installing a wireless plant?”

“Not quite,” he smiled quietly. “This is a home-made wireless photo-recording set. Of course, wireless aerials of amateurs don’t hum any more since war has caused the strict censorship of all wireless. But there is no reason why one can’t receive messages, even if they can’t be sent by everybody.

“This is a fairly easy and inexpensive means by which automatic records can be taken. It involves no delicate instruments and the principal part of it can be made in a few hours from materials that I have in my laboratory. The basis is the capillary electrometer.”

“Sounds very simple,” I volunteered, trying not to be sarcastic.

“Well, here it is,” he indicated, touching what looked like an ordinary soft glass tube of perhaps a quarter of an inch diameter, bent U-shaped, with one limb shorter than the other.

“It is filled nearly to the top of the shorter limb with chemically pure mercury,” he went on. “On the top of it, I have poured a little twenty per cent sulphuric acid. Dipping into the acid is a small piece of capillary tube drawn out to a very fine point at the lower end.”

He filled the little tube with mercury also. “The point of this,” he observed, “is fine enough to prevent the mercury running through of its own weight–about as fine as a hair.”

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He dipped the point and held it in the sulphuric acid and blew through the capillary tube. When the mercury bubbled through the point in minute drops, he stopped blowing. It drew back for a short distance by capillary attraction and the acid followed it up.

“You can see that connections are made to the mercury in the arm and the tube by short pieces of platinum wire,” he continued. “It isn’t necessary to go into the theory of the instrument. But the most minute difference of potential between the two masses of mercury will cause the fine point at the junction of the liquids to move up and down.

“Connected to the aerial and the earth, with a crystal detector in series, it is only a matter of applying an ordinary photo-recording drum, and the machine is made.”

He had been setting up a light-tight box, inside of which was a little electric lamp. Opposite was a drum covered with bromide paper. He started the clockwork going and after a few moments’ careful observation, we went away, and left the thing, trusting that no one was the wiser.

Nothing further occurred that day, except for frequent reports from Burke, who told us how his men were getting on in their shadowing of Forsythe & Co. Apparently, the death of Leon had put a stop to revolutionary plots, or at least had caused the plotters to change their methods radically.

The time was shortening, too, during which Burke could keep the passengers of the Haytien under such close surveillance, and it was finally decided that on the next morning they should be released, while all those suspected were to be shadowed separately by Secret Service agents, in the hope that once free they would commit some overt act that might lead to a clew.

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