The Super-Toxin by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature“I’ve got to make good in this Delaney case, Kennedy,” appealed our old friend, Dr. Leslie, the coroner, one evening when he had dropped unexpectedl …

Story type: Literature

“I’ve got to make good in this Delaney case, Kennedy,” appealed our old friend, Dr. Leslie, the coroner, one evening when he had dropped unexpectedly into the laboratory, looking particularly fagged and discouraged.

“You know,” he added, “they’ve been investigating my office–and now, here comes a case which, I must confess, completely baffles us again.”

“Delaney,” mused Craig. “Let me see. That’s the rich Texas rancher who has been blazing a trail through the white lights of Broadway–with that Baroness Von Dorf and—-“

“And other war brokers,” interrupted Leslie.

“War brokers?” queried Craig.

“Yes. That’s what they call them. They’re a new class–people with something to sell to or with commissions to buy for belligerent governments. In Delaney’s case it was fifty thousand or so head of cattle and horses, controlled by a syndicate of which he was the promoter. That’s why he came to New York, you know,–to sell them at a high price to any European power. The syndicate stands to make a small fortune.”

“I understand,” nodded Kennedy, interested.

“Just as though there wasn’t mystery enough about Delaney’s sudden death,” Leslie hurried on, “here’s a letter that came to him today–too late.”

Kennedy took the note Leslie handed him. It was postmarked “Washington,” and read:

DEAR DALEY:

I intended writing to you sooner but haven’t felt well enough since I came here. The strangest thing about it is that the doctors I have consulted seem to be unable to tell me definitely what is the matter.

I can tell you I have been badly frightened. I seemed to have a lot of little boils on my face and new ones kept coming. I felt weak and chilly and had headaches that almost drove me crazy. Perhaps the thing, whatever it is, has made me insane, but I cannot help wondering whether there may not be something back of it all. Do you suppose someone could have poisoned me, hoping to ruin my beauty, on which, to a great measure, depends my success in my mission to America during the war?

Since I came here I have been wondering, too, how you are. If there should be anything in my suspicions, perhaps it would be safest for you to leave New York. There is nothing more I can say, but if you feel the least bit unwell, do not disregard this warning.

If you will meet me here, we can arrange the deal with those I represent at almost any price you name.

Try hard to get here.
As ever,
LOUISE.

Craig looked up quickly. “Have you communicated with the Baroness?” he asked.

Dr. Leslie leaned forward in his chair. “The fact is,” he replied slowly, “the woman who calls herself the Baroness Von Dorf has suddenly disappeared, even in Washington. We can find no trace of her whatever. Indeed, the embassy down there does not even admit that she is a war buyer. Oh, the newspapers haven’t got the whole Delaney story–yet. But when they do get it”–he paused and glanced significantly at me–“there’s going to be some sensation.”

I recalled now that there had been an air of mystery surrounding the sudden death of Daley Delaney the day before. At least one of the papers had called it “the purple death”–whatever that might mean. I had thought it due to the wild career of the ranchman, perhaps a plain case of apoplexy, around which the bright young reporters had woven a slender thread of romance. Kennedy, however, thought otherwise.

“The purple death,” he ruminated, turning the case over in his mind. “Have you any idea what the papers mean by that?”

“Why, it’s one of the most grewsome things you ever heard of,” went on Leslie eagerly, encouraged. “In some incomprehensible way the hand of fate seems to have suddenly descended on the whole Delaney entourage. First his Japanese servant fell a victim to this ‘purple death,’ as they call it.

“He had scarcely been removed to a hospital where, after fighting a brave fight, he succumbed to the unknown peril, when the butler was stricken. Delaney himself packed up, to leave, in panic, when suddenly, apparently without warning, the purple death carried him off. In three days three of them have died suddenly. Then came this letter from the Baroness. It set me thinking. Perhaps it was poison–I don’t know.”

Craig read the letter of the Baroness again. “Most interesting,” he exclaimed energetically as Dr. Leslie finished. “I shall be only too glad to help you if I can. Could you take us up to Delaney’s rooms? Is the body still there?”

“No, it has been removed to a private undertaking establishment and the apartment is guarded by police. We can stop at the undertaker’s on the way over to the apartment.”

There could be no doubt that Leslie was considerably relieved to think that Craig would consent to take the case. As for Kennedy, I could see that the affair aroused his interest to the keenest point.

“Was anyone associated with Delaney in the syndicate here?” inquired Craig as we settled ourselves in Dr. Leslie’s car.

“Yes,” answered the coroner, hurrying us along, “another member of the syndicate was his friend, Dr. Harris Haynes.”

“Who is he?” asked Kennedy.

“Haynes has been a veterinary, but found that there was more money in the cattle business than in practicing his profession. The needs of European war seemed to offer just the opportunity they needed to reap a quick fortune.”

“I’ve heard,” nodded Craig, “that conditions abroad have led to a great influx of adventurers with other people’s money.”

“Yes. According to all accounts, Delaney and Haynes have been leading a rather rapid existence since they came to New York. It’s quite right. The city is full of queer and mysterious characters, both men and women, who profess to be agents for various foreign governments, often unnamed. Delaney and Haynes have met about all of this curious army, I suppose.”

“I see,” prompted Craig. “Among them, I take it, was this stunning woman who calls herself the Baroness Louise Von Dorf. How friendly were they?”

“Well, she spent a great deal of time, when she was in the city, up at the apartment Delaney had rented.”

Leslie and Kennedy exchanged a significant glance. “Who is she?” asked Craig. “Do you know?”

“No one seems to know. Yet she is always plentifully supplied with money and they tell me she talks glibly of those whose ‘influence’ she can command in Washington.”

“But she has disappeared,” mused Kennedy. “Were there any others?”

“Haynes hasn’t been proof against their wiles,” answered the coroner. “I have found out that he was introduced by one of the ‘war brokers’ to a Madame Daphne Dupres.”

“And she?”

Leslie shook his head. “I don’t know anything about her, except that she lives at the Hotel St. Quentin–the same place, by the way, where Haynes makes his headquarters.”

Our car pulled up at the private morgue of the burial company to which Delaney’s body had been taken.

We entered, and Kennedy wasted no time in making a careful examination of the remains of the unfortunate victim.

“I couldn’t make anything out of it, even after an autopsy,” confessed Dr. Leslie. “It seemed as though it were something that had been conveyed by the blood all over the body, something that blocked the capillaries and caused innumerable hemorrhages into organs and tissues, and especially nerve centers.”

The body seemed to be discolored and variegated in color, with here and there little marks of boils or vesicles.

“It looks like something that has depleted the red corpuscles of oxygen,” continued Leslie, noticing that Kennedy had drawn off a little of the body fluids, evidently for future study. “As nearly as I could make out there had been a cyanosis in a marked degree. He had all the appearance of having been asphyxiated.”

“Which seems to have been enough to suggest to some imaginative mind the ‘purple death,’” remarked Kennedy dryly.

Still, I could not help noticing that it was really no exaggeration to call it the purple death.

One of the morgue attendants had called Dr. Leslie aside and a moment later he rejoined us.

“They tell me Haynes has been here,” he reported. “I left word that any visitors were to be carefully watched.”

“Strange,” muttered Kennedy, absorbing Dr. Leslie’s latest information and then looking back at the body, puzzled. “Very strange. Let us go up to the apartment right away.”

Kennedy stowed the little tube in which he had placed the body fluid safely in his pocket and led the way out again to our waiting car.

Delaney had picked out a fashionable neighborhood in which to live. As we entered the bronze grilled door and rode up in the elevator, Kennedy handed each of us a cigar and lighted one himself. I lighted up, too, thinking that perhaps there might be some virtue in tobacco to ward off the unseen perils into which we were going.

The wealthy ranchman, evidently, on his arrival in New York had rented an apartment, furnished, from a lawyer, Ashby Ames, who had gone south on account of his health.

We entered and found that it was a very attractive place that Ames had fitted up. At one side of a library or drawing-room opened out a little glass sun-parlor or conservatory on a balcony. Into it a dining-room opened also. In fact, the living rooms of the whole suite could be thrown into one, with this sun-parlor as a center.

Everything about the apartment was quite up-to-date, also. For instance, I noticed that the little conservatory was lighted brilliantly by a mercury vapor tube that ran around it in a huge rectangle of light.

Dr. Leslie and the police had already ransacked the place and there did not seem to be much likelihood that anything could have escaped them. Still, Kennedy began a searching examination after his own methods, while we waited, gazing at him curiously.

By the frown on his forehead I gathered that he was not meeting with much encouragement, when, suddenly, he withdrew the cigar from his mouth, looked at it critically, puffed again, then moved his lips and tongue as if trying to taste something.

Mechanically I did the same. The cigar had a peculiar flavor. I should have flung it away if Kennedy himself had not given it to me. It was not mere imagination, either. Surely there had been none of that sweetishness about the fragrant Havana when I lighted it on the way up.

“What is the matter?” I asked.

“There’s cyanogen in this room,” Craig remarked keenly, still tasting, as he stood near the sun-parlor.

“Cyanogen?” I repeated.

“Yes, there are artificial aids to the senses that make them much keener than nature has done for us. For instance, if air contains the merest traces of the deadly cyanogen gas–prussic acid, you know–cigar smoke acquires a peculiar taste which furnishes an efficient alarm signal.”

Dr. Leslie’s face brightened as Kennedy proceeded.

“That is something like my idea,” he exclaimed. “I have thought all along that it looked very much like a poisoning case. In fact, the very first impression I had was that it might have been due to a cyanide–or at least some gas like cyanogen.”

Kennedy said nothing, and the coroner proceeded. “And the body looked cyanotic, too, you recall. But the autopsy revealed nothing further. I have even examined the food, as far as I can, but I can’t find anything wrong with it.”

There was a noise at the door, outside in the hall, and Dr. Leslie opened it.

“Dr. Haynes,” he introduced, a moment later.

Haynes was a large man, good-looking, even striking, with a self-assertive manner. We shook hands, and taking our cue from Craig, waited for him to speak.

“It’s very strange what could have carried Delaney off so suddenly,” ventured Haynes a moment later. “I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. But I must admit that so far it has completely stumped me.”

He was pacing up and down the room and I watched him more or less suspiciously. Somehow I could not get the idea out of my head that he had been listening to us outside. Now and then, I fancied, he shot a glance at us, as if he were watching us.

“They tell me at the burial company that you were there today,” put in Dr. Leslie, his eyes fixed on Haynes’ face.

Haynes met his gaze squarely, without flinching. “Yes. I got thinking over what the papers said about the ‘purple death,’ and I thought perhaps I might have overlooked something. But there wasn’t–“

The telephone rang. Haynes seized the receiver before any of the rest of us could get to it. “That must be for me,” he said with a brusque apology. “Why–yes, I am here. Dr. Leslie and Professor Kennedy are up here. No–we haven’t discovered anything new. Yes–I shall keep the appointment. Good-by.”

The conversation had been short, but, to me at least, it seemed that he had contrived to convey a warning without seeming to do so.

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