Story type: Literature
That night, instead of going to the laboratory, we walked down Broadway until we came to a hotel much frequented by the sporting fraternity.
We entered the restaurant, which was one of the most brilliant in the white-light region, took a seat at a table, and Kennedy proceeded to ingratiate himself with the waiter, and, finally, with the head waiter. At last, I saw why Kennedy was apparently wasting so much time over dinner.
“Do you happen to know that girl, Cecilie Safford, that Broadhurst’s trainer, Murchie, eloped with?” he asked.
The head waiter nodded.
“I used to know her,” he replied. “She used to come in here a good deal, but you won’t find her in the Broadway places any more these days. She’s more likely to be over on Eighth Avenue.” He mentioned the name of a cabaret saloon.
Kennedy paid the check and again we started out. We finally entered a place, down in a basement, and once more Kennedy began to quiz the waiter.
This time he had no trouble. Across the room, the waiter pointed to a girl, seated with a young fellow at a round table. I could scarcely believe what I saw. The face had the same features as that of the photograph in the oval gilt frame in Murchie’s apartment, but it was not the same face.
As I studied her, I could imagine her story without even hearing it. The months of waiting for Murchie to marry her and his callous refusal had been her ruin. Cecilie had learned to drink, and from that had gone to drugs.
Her mirror must have told her that she was not the same girl who had eloped with Murchie. Her figure had lost its slim, beautiful lines. Her features were bloated. Her eyes were smaller, and her lips were heavy. Her fresh color had disappeared. She had a gray, pasty look. All she had–her beauty–had vanished.
Murchie had been divorced, and was about to marry–but not Cecilie. It was to a young and lovely girl, with such a face of innocence as Cecilie had when Murchie had first dictated a letter to her in the office at the horse show, and had fascinated her with his glittering talk of wealth and ease. The news of his engagement had driven her frantic.
Curiously enough, the young fellow with her did not seem to be dissipated in the least. There was, on the contrary, an earnestness about him that one was rather sorry to see in such a place. In fact, he was a clean-cut young man, evidently more of a student than a sport. He reminded me of some one I had seen before.
I was getting rather interested in an underworld cabaret when, suddenly, Kennedy grasped my arm. At the same moment, a shot was fired.
We jumped to our feet in time to see a young tough, with a slouch like that of the rubbers and grooms at Broadhurst’s. The fellow who had been seated with Cecilie was struggling with him for the possession of a pistol, which had been discharged harmlessly. Evidently the tough had been threatening him with it.
The waiters crowded around them, and the general melee about Cecilie’s table was at its height when a policeman came dashing in on the run.
The arrest of the gunman and his opponent, as well as of Cecilie as a witness, seemed imminent. Kennedy moved forward slowly, working his way through the crowd, nearer to the table. Instead of interfering, however, he stooped down and picked up something from the floor.
“Let’s get out of this as quickly as possible, Walter,” he whispered, turning to me.
When we reached the street, he stopped under an arc-light, and I saw him dive down into his pocket and pull out a little glass vial. He looked at it curiously.
“I saw her take it out of her pocketbook and throw it into a corner as soon as the policeman came in,” he explained.
“What do you think it is?” I asked. “Dope? That’s what they all do if they get a chance when they are pinched–throw it away.”
“Perhaps,” answered Kennedy. “But it’s worth studying to see what drug she is really using.”
Late as it was, Craig insisted on going directly to the laboratory to plunge into work. First, he took the little hypodermic needle with which he had drawn several drops of blood from the race-horse, and emptied the contents into a test tube.
Finding that I was probably of more use at home in our apartment asleep than bothering Kennedy in the laboratory, I said good-night. But when I awoke in the morning, I found that Kennedy had not been in bed at all.
It was as I expected. He had worked all night, and, as I entered the laboratory, I saw him engaged in checking up two series of tests which he had been making.
“Have you found anything yet?” I asked.
He pointed to a corner where he kept a couple of guinea-pigs. They were sound asleep, rolled up in little fluffy balls of down. Ordinarily, in the morning, I found the little fellows very frisky.
“Yes,” he said; “I think I have found something. I have injected just a drop of blood from Lady Lee into one of them, and I think he’s good for a long sleep.”
“But how about the other one?” I asked.
“That’s what puzzles me,” ruminated Kennedy. “Do you remember that bottle I picked up last night? I haven’t finished the analysis of the blood or of the contents of the bottle, but they seem to contain at least some of the same substances. Among the things I find are monopotassium phosphate and sarcolactic acid, with just a trace of carbon dioxide. I injected some of the liquid from the bottle into the other fellow, and you see what the effect is–the same in both cases.”
The telephone bell rang excitedly.
“Is there a Mr. Kennedy there?” asked Long Distance, adding, without waiting for an answer, “Hold the wire, please.”
I handed the receiver to Kennedy. The conversation was short, and as he hung up the receiver, Craig turned to me.
“It was Broadhurst at the Idlewild Hotel,” he said quickly. “Today is the day of the great Interurban Handicap at Belmore Park with stakes of twenty-five thousand dollars. Usually they take the horse over to the track at least a week or two before the race, but as Broadhurst’s stable is so near, he didn’t do it–hoping he might keep a better watch over Lady Lee. But she’s no better. If the horse is being tampered with, he wants to know who is doing it and how.”
Kennedy paused a moment, then went over to a cabinet and took from it a bottle and a very large-sized hypodermic.
We must have been among the first on the field at Belmore Park that day. Lady Lee had been sent over there after we left Northbury the day before, under the care of Murchie and McGee, and had been stabled in the quarters on the track which had been assigned to Broadhurst.
With Broadhurst, who was waiting for us, we lounged across the field in the direction of the stables. There was no doubt about it, Lady Lee was not in prime condition. It was not that there was anything markedly wrong, but to the trained observer the famous race-horse seemed to lack just a trifle of the elan which meant a win.
While Murchie and the jockey were talking outside to Broadhurst, Kennedy slipped into the stall to look at the racer.
“Stand over by that side of the door, Walter,” he muttered. “I’ll be through in just a minute. I want you to act as a cover.”
Quickly he jabbed the hypodermic into the horse and pressed down the plunger.
Lady Lee reared and snorted as she had done before when he extracted the blood, and instantly Murchie and McGee were crowding past me. But the instant had been long enough for Kennedy. He had dropped the hypodermic into his pocket and was endeavoring to soothe the horse.
“I guess she’s not very much used to strangers,” he remarked coolly. No one thought any more of it, apparently.
A few minutes later, Broadhurst rejoined Kennedy and myself. I could see that his face showed plainly he was greatly worried.
“I don’t understand it,” he kept repeating. “And what is worse, the news seems to have leaked out that Lady Lee isn’t fit. The odds are going up.”
Kennedy looked at him fixedly a moment.
“If you want to win this race, Mr. Broadhurst,” he remarked in a low tone, “I should advise you to watch Lady Lee every minute from now until the start.”
“What do you mean?” whispered Broadhurst hoarsely.
“I can’t say yet–only watch.”
While Broadhurst and Kennedy hovered about the stall on one pretext or another, watching both Murchie and McGee as they directed the rubbers and others who were preparing for the race, I watched the trainer and the jockey minutely. They certainly did nothing, at least now, to excite suspicion. But might not the harm have already been done? Was it too late?
When the bell sounded the paddock call, McGee led the racer out of the stall and to the paddock. Presently the field, Lady Lee at the fore, walked past the grandstand and cantered slowly down the course to the starting-post.
Meanwhile, following Broadhurst, we had already made our way over to the club-house enclosure.
It was not like the old days when there was money everywhere, thousands of dollars in plain sight, in the cash-boxes of the bookmakers, when men rushed wildly about with handfuls of bills of large denomination and bets were made with frequent rapidity. And yet there was still a certain maelstrom of the betting-ring left; but the bookmakers had to carry everything in their heads instead of setting it down on paper. I knew the system, and knew that, in spite of the apparent ease with which it seemed possible to beat it, welshing was almost unheard of.
The grandstand was crowded, although it was quite a different crowd from that at race meets of former times and on other tracks. Belmore Park lay within motoring distance of the greatest aggregation of wealth and fashion in the country. It was a wonderful throng. The gay dresses of the women mingled kaleidoscopically with the more somber clothing of the men.
Every eye in that sea of moving humanity seemed to be riveted on Lady Lee and her rider. It was a pretty good example of how swiftly inside news at the race-track may become public property. Ill news, on this occasion, seemed to have traveled apace. Field-glasses were leveled at the horse which should have been the favorite, and one could tell, by the buzz of conversation, that this race was the great event of the season. As the jockeys maneuvered for position, one could almost feel that some wonderful feats of memory were being performed by the bookmakers. The odds, during the morning, had gradually lengthened against Lady Lee.
Like all thoroughbreds, Lady Lee had a most delicate organism, and the good rider, in such a case, was the one who understood his mount. McGee had, in the past at least, that reputation. He had reached pretty near the top of his profession by knowing how to deal with horses of all types. All this and more I had picked up from the gossip of the track.
The barrier was sprung and the flag dropped. They were off! The grandstand rose in a body.
For a moment, it seemed to me that McGee had lost his nerve. Alertness at the post is an important factor. He had not got away from the barrier ahead of the field. Another rider, too, had got the rail, and hence the shortest route. I wondered whether, after all, that had been the trouble all along, for nothing can win or lose a race quicker or better than those little failures of the jockey himself.
Lady Lee, I had heard it said, was one of those horses that do not require urging, but go to the front naturally. Just now, it did not seem that she was beaten, but that she lacked just the power to lead the field. Did McGee figure that the horses ahead of him were setting such a fast clip that they would drop back to him before the race was over?
Cleverly, however, he avoided being pocketed, as those ahead of and beside him tried to close in and make him pull up.
Around they went until the horses looked to the naked eye like toys strung on wires. Only the tension of the crowd made one feel that this was no play; it was deadly serious sport. On they sped, watched in a lull of deathly stillness. Surely, I felt, this was indeed a great sight–this acid test of the nerves of men and animals pitted against one another.
They were coming into the stretch now!
Suddenly, it seemed that, by some telepathic connection, both the horse and the rider caught the electric tension which swayed us in the club-house enclosure.
I myself was carried away by the frenzied spirit of the race. Broadhurst was leaning forward, oblivious of everything else in the world, straining his eyes through a field-glass. Murchie was watching the race with a supercilious air, which I knew was clearly assumed.
On they came!
I could not help wondering whether McGee had not really planned to throw the race. Would he, perhaps at the last moment, lose his nerve?
Lady Lee suddenly shot through the field. A mighty shout rose from the entire grandstand.
It was over in a matter of seconds. She had finished first by a half-length! She had won the classic and the rich stakes.
Pandemonium seemed to reign in the club-house inclosure. Broadhurst slapped Murchie over the back with a blow of congratulation that almost felled him. As for McGee, they nearly carried him off the field on their shoulders. Only Kennedy seemed to be calm. The race had been won–but had the problem been solved?
Broadhurst seemed to have forgotten all about his previous appeal to Kennedy in the unexpected joy of winning.
We paused awhile to watch the frantic crowd, and once, I recall, I caught sight of a stunning, dark-haired woman grasping Murchie’s both hands in an ecstasy of joy. Instantly I recognized Amelie Guernsey.
As Kennedy and I motored back to the city alone, he was silent most of the way. Only once did he make a remark.
“The Belmore Inn,” he said, as we passed a rather cheap road-house some distance from the track. “That’s where I heard one of the rubbers say the former Mrs. Murchie was living.”
That night, Craig plunged back again into work in the laboratory, and I, having nothing else to do, wrote a feature story of the great race for the Star.
Kennedy made up for the rest he had lost and the strain of the day by a long sleep; but early in the morning the telephone bell rang insistently. Kennedy bounded out of bed to answer it.
I could gather nothing from the monosyllables which he uttered, except that the matter under discussion was profoundly serious. Finally, he jammed down the receiver.
“Good God, Walter,” he exclaimed, “Murchie’s been murdered!”
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