Story type: Literature
As we sped out to the little mill-town on the last train, after Kennedy had insisted on taking us all to a quiet little restaurant, he placed us so that Miss Winslow was furthest from him and her father nearest. I could hear now and then scraps of their conversation as he resumed his questioning, and knew that Mr. Winslow was proving to be a good observer.
“Cushing used to hire a young fellow of some scientific experience, named Strong,” said Mr. Winslow as he endeavoured to piece the facts together as logically as it was possible to do. “Strong used to open his laboratory for him in the morning, clean up the dirty apparatus, and often assist him in some of his experiments. This morning when Strong approached the laboratory at the usual time he was surprised to see that though it was broad daylight there was a light burning. He was alarmed and before going in looked through the window. The sight that he saw froze him. There lay Cushing on a workbench and beside him and around him pools of coagulating blood. The door was not locked, as we found afterward, but the young man did not stop to enter. He ran to me and, fortunately, I met him at our door. I went back.
“We opened the unlocked door. The first thing, as I recall it, that greeted me was an unmistakable odour of oranges. It was a very penetrating and very peculiar odour. I didn’t understand it, for there seemed to be something else in it besides the orange smell. However, I soon found out what it was, or at least Strong did. I don’t know whether you know anything about it, but it seems that when you melt real rubber in the effort to reduce it to carbon and hydrogen, you get a liquid substance which is known as isoprene. Well, isoprene, according to Strong, gives out an odour something like ether. Cushing, or some one else, had apparently been heating isoprene. As soon as Strong mentioned the smell of ether I recognised that that was what made the smell of oranges so peculiar.
“However, that’s not the point. There lay Cushing on his back on the workbench, just as Strong had said. I bent over him, and in his arm, which was bare, I saw a little gash made by some sharp instrument and laying bare an artery, I think, which was cut. Long spurts of blood covered the floor for some distance around and from the veins in his arm, which had also been severed, a long stream of blood led to a hollow in the cement floor where it had collected. I believe that he bled to death.”
“And the motive for such a terrible crime?” queried Craig.
Mr. Winslow shook his head helplessly. “I suppose there are plenty of motives,” he answered slowly, “as many motives as there are big investments in rubber-producing ventures in Goodyear.”
“But have you any idea who would go so far to protect his investments as to kill?” persisted Kennedy.
Mr. Winslow made no reply. “Who,” asked Kennedy, “was chiefly interested in the rubber works where Cushing was formerly employed?”
“The president of the company is the Mr. Borland whom I mentioned,” replied Mr. Winslow. “He is a man of about forty, I should say, and is reputed to own a majority of the–“
“Oh, father,” interrupted Miss Winslow, who had caught the drift of the conversation in spite of the pains that had been taken to keep it away from her, “Mr. Borland would never dream of such a thing. It is wrong even to think of it.”
“I didn’t say that he would, my dear,” corrected Mr. Winslow gently. “Professor Kennedy asked me who was chiefly interested in the rubber works and Mr. Borland owns a majority of the stock.” He leaned over and whispered to Kennedy, “Borland is a visitor at our home, and between you and me, he thinks a great deal of Ruth.”
I looked quickly at Kennedy, but he was absorbed in looking out of the car window at the landscape which he did not and could not see.
“You said there were others who had an interest in outside companies,” cross-questioned Kennedy. “I take it that you mean companies dealing in crude rubber, the raw material, people with investments in plantations and concessions, perhaps. Who are they? Who were the men who went on that expedition to the Congo with Borland which you mentioned?”
“Of course, there was Borland himself,” answered Winslow. “Then there was a young chemist named Lathrop, a very clever and ambitious fellow who succeeded Cushing when he resigned from the works, and Dr. Harris, who was persuaded to go because of his friendship for Borland. After they took up the concession I believe all of them put money into it, though how much I can’t say.”
I was curious to ask whether there were any other visitors at the Winslow house who might be rivals for Ruth’s affections, but there was no opportunity.
Nothing more was said until we arrived at Goodyear.
We found the body of Cushing lying in a modest little mortuary chapel of an undertaking establishment on the main street. Kennedy at once began his investigation by discovering what seemed to have escaped others. About the throat were light discolourations that showed that the young inventor had been choked by a man with a powerful grasp, although the fact that the marks had escaped observation led quite obviously to the conclusion that he had not met his death in that way, and that the marks probably played only a minor part in the tragedy.
Kennedy passed over the doubtful evidence of strangulation for the more profitable examination of the little gash in the wrist.
“The radial artery has been cut,” he mused.
A low exclamation from him brought us all bending over him as he stooped and examined the cold form. He was holding in the palm of his hand a little piece of something that shone like silver. It was in the form of a minute hollow cylinder with two grooves on it, a cylinder so tiny that it would scarcely have slipped over the point of a pencil.
“Where did you find it?” I asked eagerly.
He pointed to the wound. “Sticking in the severed end of a piece of vein,” he replied, half to himself, “cuffed over the end of the radial artery which had been severed, and done so neatly as to be practically hidden. It was done so cleverly that the inner linings of the vein and artery, the endothelium as it is called, were in complete contact with each other.”
As I looked at the little silver thing and at Kennedy’s face, which betrayed nothing, I felt that here indeed was a mystery. What new scientific engine of death was that little hollow cylinder?
“Next I should like to visit the laboratory,” he remarked simply.
Fortunately, the laboratory had been shut and nothing had been disturbed except by the undertaker and his men who had carried the body away. Strong had left word that he had gone to Boston, where, in a safe deposit box, was a sealed envelope in which Cushing kept a copy of the combination of his safe, which had died with him. There was, therefore, no hope of seeing the assistant until the morning.
Kennedy found plenty to occupy his time in his minute investigation of the laboratory. There, for instance, was the pool of blood leading back by a thin dark stream to the workbench and its terrible figure, which I could almost picture to myself lying there through the silent hours of the night before, with its life blood slowly oozing away, unconscious, powerless to save itself. There were spurts of arterial blood on the floor and on the nearby laboratory furniture, and beside the workbench another smaller and isolated pool of blood.
On a table in a corner by the window stood a microscope which Cushing evidently used, and near it a box of fresh sterilised slides. Kennedy, who had been casting his eye carefully about taking in the whole laboratory, seemed delighted to find the slides. He opened the box and gingerly took out some of the little oblong pieces of glass, on each of which he dropped a couple of minute drops of blood from the arterial spurts and the venous pools on the floor.
Near the workbench were circular marks, much as if some jars had been set down there. We were watching him, almost in awe at the matter of fact manner in which, he was proceeding in what to us was nothing but a hopeless enigma, when I saw him stoop and pick up a few little broken pieces of glass. There seemed to be blood spots on the glass, as on other things, but particularly interesting to him.
A moment later I saw that he was holding in his hand what were apparently the remains of a little broken vial which he had fitted together from the pieces. Evidently it had been used and dropped in haste.
“A vial for a local anesthetic,” he remarked. “This is the sort of thing that might be injected into an arm or leg and deaden the pain of a cut, but that is all. It wouldn’t affect the consciousness or prevent any one from resisting a murderer to the last. I doubt if that had anything directly to do with his death, or perhaps even that this is Cushing’s blood on it.”
Unlike Winslow I had seen Kennedy in action so many times that I knew it was useless to speculate. But I was fascinated, for the deeper we got into the case, the more unusual and inexplicable it seemed. I gave that end of it up, but the fact that Strong had gone to secure the combination of the safe suggested to me to examine that article. There was certainly no evidence of robbery or even of an attempt at robbery there.
“Was any doctor called?” asked Kennedy.
“Yes,” he replied. “Though I knew it was of no use I called in Dr. Howe, who lives up the street from the laboratory. I should have called Dr. Harris, who used to be my own physician, but since his return from Africa with the Borland expedition, he has not been in very good health and has practically given up his practice. Dr. Howe is the best practising physician in town, I think.”
“We shall call on him to-morrow,” said Craig, snapping his watch, which already marked far after midnight. Dr. Howe proved, the next day, to be an athletic-looking man, and I could not help noticing and admiring his powerful frame and his hearty handshake, as he greeted us when we dropped into his office with a card from Winslow.
The doctor’s theory was that Cushing had committed suicide.
“But why should a young man who had invented a new method of polymerising isoprene, who was going to become wealthy, and was engaged to a beautiful young girl, commit suicide?”
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. It was evident that he, too, belonged to the “natural rubber set” which dominated Goodyear.
“I haven’t looked into the case very deeply, but I’m not so sure that he had the secret, are you?”
Kennedy smiled. “That is what I’d like to know. I suppose that an expert like Mr. Borland could tell me, perhaps?”
“I should think so.”
“Where is his office?” asked Craig. “Could you point it out to me from the window?”
Kennedy was standing by one of the windows of the doctor’s office, and as he spoke he turned and drew a little field glass from his pocket. “Which end of the rubber works is it?”
Dr. Howe tried to direct him but Kennedy appeared unwarrantably obtuse, requiring the doctor to raise the window, and it was some moments before he got his glasses on the right spot.
Kennedy and I thanked the doctor for his courtesy and left the office.
We went at once to the office of Dr. Harris, to whom Winslow had also given us cards. We found him an anaemic man, half asleep. Kennedy tentatively suggested the murder of Cushing.
“Well, if you ask me my opinion,” snapped out the doctor, “although I wasn’t called into the case, from what I hear, I’d say that he was murdered.”
“Some seem to think it was suicide,” prompted Kennedy.
“People who have brilliant prospects and are engaged to pretty girls don’t usually die of their own accord,” rasped Harris.
“So you think he really did have the secret of artificial rubber?” asked Craig.
“Not artificial rubber. Synthetic rubber. It was the real thing, I believe.”
“Did Mr. Borland and his new chemist Lathrop believe it, too?”
“I can’t say. But I should surely advise you to see them.” The doctor’s face was twitching nervously.
“Where is Borland’s office?” repeated Kennedy, again taking from his pocket the field glass and adjusting it carefully by the window.
“Over there,” directed Harris, indicating the corner of the works to which we had already been directed.
Kennedy had stepped closer to the window before him and I stood beside him looking out also,
“The cut was a very peculiar one,” remarked Kennedy, still adjusting the glasses. “An artery and a vein had been placed together so that the endothelium, or inner lining of each, was in contact with the other, giving a continuous serous surface. Which window did you say was Borland’s? I wish you’d step to the other window and raise it, so that I can be sure. I don’t want to go wandering all over the works looking for him.”
“Yes,” the doctor said as he went, leaving him standing beside the window from which he had been directing us, “yes, you surely should see Mr. Borland. And don’t forget that young chemist of his, Lathrop, either, If I can be of any more help to you, come back again.”
It was a long walk through the village and factory yards to the office of Lewis Borland, but we were amply repaid by finding him in and ready to see us. Borland was a typical Yankee, tall, thin, evidently predisposed to indigestion, a man of tremendous mental and nervous energy and with a hidden wiry strength.
“Mr. Borland,” introduced Kennedy, changing his tactics and adopting a new role, “I’ve come down to you as an authority on rubber to ask you what your opinion is regarding the invention of a townsman of yours named Cushing.”
“Cushing?” repeated Borland in some surprise. “Why–“
“Yes,” interrupted Kennedy, “I understand all about it. I had heard of his invention in New York and would have put some money into it if I could have been convinced. I was to see him to-day, but of course, as you were going to say, his death prevents it. Still, I should like to know what you think about it.”
“Well,” Borland added, jerking out his words nervously, as seemed to be his habit, “Cushing was a bright young fellow. He used to work for me until he began to know too much about the rubber business.”
“Do you know anything about his scheme?” insinuated Kennedy.
“Very little, except that it was not patented yet, I believe, though he told every one that the patent was applied for and he expected to get a basic patent in some way without any interference.”
“Well,” drawled Kennedy, affecting as nearly as possible the air of a promoter, “if I could get his assistant, or some one who had authority to be present, would you, as a practical rubber man, go over to his laboratory with me? I’d join you in making an offer to his estate for the rights to the process, if it seemed any good.”
“You’re a cool one,” ejaculated Borland, with a peculiar avaricious twinkle in the corners of his eyes. “His body is scarcely cold and yet you come around proposing to buy out his invention and–and, of all persons, you come to me.”
“To you?” inquired Kennedy blandly.
“Yes, to me. Don’t you know that synthetic rubber would ruin the business system that I have built up here?”
Still Craig persisted and argued.
“Young man,” said Borland rising at length as if an idea had struck him, “I like your nerve. Yes, I will go. I’ll show you that I don’t fear any competition from rubber made out of fusel oil or any other old kind of oil.” He rang a bell and a boy answered. “Call Lathrop,” he ordered.
The young chemist, Lathrop, proved to be a bright and active man of the new school, though a good deal of a rubber stamp. Whenever it was compatible with science and art, he readily assented to every proposition that his employer laid down.
Kennedy had already telephoned to the Winslows and Miss Winslow had answered that Strong had returned from Boston. After a little parleying, the second visit to the laboratory was arranged and Miss Winslow was allowed to be present with her father, after Kennedy had been assured by Strong that the gruesome relics of the tragedy would be cleared away.
It was in the forenoon that we arrived with Borland and Lathrop. I could not help noticing the cordial manner with which Borland greeted Miss Winslow. There was something obtrusive even in his sympathy. Strong, whom we met now for the first time, seemed rather suspicious of the presence of Borland and his chemist, but made an effort to talk freely without telling too much.
“Of course you know,” commenced Strong after proper urging, “that it has long been the desire of chemists to synthesise rubber by a method that will make possible its cheap production on a large scale. In a general way I know what Mr. Cushing had done, but there are parts of the process which are covered in the patents applied for, of which I am not at liberty to speak yet.”
“Where are the papers in the case, the documents showing the application for the patent, for instance?” asked Kennedy.
“In the safe, sir,” replied Strong.
Strong set to work on the combination which he had obtained from the safe deposit vault. I could see that Borland and Miss Winslow were talking in a low tone.
“Are you sure that it is a fact?” I overheard him ask, though I had no idea what they were talking about.
“As sure as I am that the Borland Rubber Works are a fact,” she replied.
Craig also seemed to have overheard, for he turned quickly. Borland had taken out his penknife and was moistening the blade carefully preparing to cut into a piece Of the synthetic rubber. In spite of his expressed scepticism, I could see that he was eager to learn what the product was really like.
Strong, meanwhile, had opened the safe and was going over the papers. A low exclamation from him brought us around the little pile of documents. He was holding a will in which nearly everything belonging to Cushing was left to Miss Winslow.
Not a word was said, although I noticed that Kennedy moved quickly to her side, fearing that the shock of the discovery might have a bad effect on her, but she took it with remarkable calmness. It was apparent that Cushing had taken the step of his own accord and had said nothing to her about it.
“What does anything amount to?” she said tremulously at last. “The dream is dead without him in it.”
“Come,” urged Kennedy gently. “This is enough for to-day.”
An hour later we were speeding back to New York. Kennedy had no apparatus to work with out at Goodyear and could not improvise it. Winslow agreed to keep us in touch with any new developments during the few hours that Craig felt it was necessary to leave the scene of action.
Back again in New York, Craig took a cab directly for his laboratory, leaving me marooned with instructions not to bother him for several hours. I employed the time in a little sleuthing on my own account, endeavouring to look up the records of those involved in the case. I did not discover much, except an interview that had been given at the time of the return of his expedition by Borland to the Star, in which he gave a graphic description of the dangers from disease that they had encountered.
I mention it because, though it did not impress me much when I read it, it at once leaped into my mind when the interminable hours were over and I rejoined Kennedy. He was bending over a new microscope.
“This is a rubber age, Walter,” he began, “and the stories of men who have been interested in rubber often sound like fiction.”
He slipped a slide under the microscope, looked at it and then motioned to me to do the same. “Here is a very peculiar culture which I have found in some of that blood,” he commented. “The germs are much larger than bacteria and they can be seen with a comparatively low power microscope swiftly darting between the blood cells, brushing them aside, but not penetrating them as some parasites, like that of malaria, do. Besides, spectroscope tests show the presence of a rather well-known chemical in that blood.”
“A poisoning, then?” I ventured. “Perhaps he suffered from the disease that many rubber workers get from the bisulphide of carbon. He must have done a good deal of vulcanising of his own rubber, you know.”
“No,” smiled Craig enigmatically, “it wasn’t that. It was an arsenic derivative. Here’s another thing. You remember the field glass I used?”
He had picked it up from the table and was pointing at a little hole in the side, that had escaped my notice before. “This is what you might call a right-angled camera. I point the glass out of the window and while you think I am looking through it I am really focusing it on you and taking your picture standing there beside me and out of my apparent line of vision. It would deceive the most wary.”
Just then a long-distance call from Winslow told us that Borland had been to call on Miss Ruth and, in as kindly a way as could be, had offered her half a million dollars for her rights in the new patent. At once it flashed over me that he was trying to get control of and suppress the invention in the interests of his own company, a thing that has been done hundreds of times. Or could it all have been part of a conspiracy? And if it was his conspiracy, would he succeed in tempting his friend, Miss Winslow, to fall in with this glittering offer?
Kennedy evidently thought, also, that the time for action had come, for without a word he set to work packing his apparatus and we were again headed for Goodyear.