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- The Ear in the Wall - 3/51 -
and not a case of aphasia, such a disappearance you would find to be due to the persistent, cunning, and unprincipled exploitation of young girls.
"No, Walter, it is not that women are weak or that men are inherently vicious. That doesn't account for a case like this. Then, too, some mawkish people to-day are fond of putting the whole evil on low wages as a cause. It isn't that--alone. It isn't even lack of education or of moral training. Human nature is not so bad in the mass as some good people think. No, don't you, as a reporter, see it? It is big business, in its way, that Carton is fighting--big business in the commercialized ruin of girls, such, perhaps, as Betty Blackwell--a vicious system that enmeshes even those who are its tools. I'm glad if I can have a chance to help smash it.
"Now, I'll tell you what I want you to do, just so that we can start this thing with a clear understanding of what it amounts to. I want you to look up just what the situation is. I know there is an army of 'vanishers' in New York. I want to know something about them in the mass. Can't you dig up something from your Star connections?"
Kennedy had some matters concerning other cases to clear up before he felt free to devote his whole time to this. As there was nothing we could do immediately, I spent some time getting at the facts he wanted. Indeed, it did not take me long to discover that the disappearance of Betty Blackwell, in spite of the prominence it had been given, was by no means an isolated case. I found that the Star alone had chronicled scores of such disappearances during the past few months, cases of girls who had simply been swallowed up in the big city. They were the daughters of neither the rich nor of the poor, most of them, but girls rather in ordinary circumstances.
Even the police records showed upward of a thousand missing young girls, ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-one years and I knew that the police lists scarcely approximated the total number of missing persons in the great city, especially in those cases where a hesitancy on the part of parents and relatives often concealed the loss from public records.
I came away with the impression that there were literally hundreds of cases every bit as baffling as that of Betty Blackwell, of young girls who had left absolutely no trace behind, who had made no preparations for departure and of whom few had been heard from since they disappeared. Many from homes of refinement and even high financial standing had disappeared, leaving no clues behind. It was not alone the daughters of the poor that were affected--it was all society.
Many reasons, I found, had been assigned for the disappearances. I knew that there must be many causes at work, that no one cause could be responsible for all or perhaps a majority of the cases. There were suicides and murders and elopements, family troubles, poverty, desire for freedom and adventure; innumerable complex causes, even down to kidnapping.
The question was, however, which of these causes had been in operation in the case of Betty Blackwell? Where had she gone? Where had this whole army of vanishers disappeared? Were these disappearances merely accidents--or was there an epidemic of amnesia? I could bring myself to no such conclusions, but was forced to answer my own queries in lieu of an answer from Kennedy, by propounding another. Was there an organized band?
And, after I had tried to reason it all out, I still found myself back at the original question, as I rejoined Kennedy at the laboratory, "Where had they all--where had Betty Blackwell gone?"
THE BLACK BOOK
I had scarcely finished pouring out my suspicions to Kennedy when the telephone rang.
It was Carton on the wire, in a state of unsuppressed excitement. Kennedy answered the call himself, but the conversation was brief and, to me, unenlightening, until he hung up the receiver.
"Dorgan--the Boss," he exclaimed, "has just found a detectaphone in his private dining-room at Gastron's."
At once I saw the importance of the news and for the moment it obscured even the case of Betty Blackwell.
Dorgan was the political boss of the city at that time, apparently entrenched, with an organization that seemed impregnable. I knew him as a big, bullnecked fellow, taciturn to the point of surliness, owing his influence to his ability to "deliver the goods" in the shape of graft of all sorts, the archenemy of Carton, a type of politician who now is rapidly passing.
"Carton wants to see us immediately at his office," added Craig, jamming his hat on his head. "Come on."
Without waiting for further comment or answer from me, Kennedy, caught by the infectious excitement of Carton's message, dashed from our apartment and a few minutes later we were whirling downtown on the subway.
"You know, I suppose," he whispered rather hoarsely above the rumble and roar of the train, but so as not to be overheard, "that Dorgan always has kept a suite of rooms at Gastron's, on Fifth Avenue, for dinners and conferences."
I nodded. Some of the things that must have gone on in the secret suite in the fashionable restaurant I knew would make interesting reading, if the walls had ears.
"Apparently he must have found out about the eavesdropping in time and nipped it," pursued Kennedy.
"What do you mean?" I asked, for I had not been able to gather much from the one-sided conversation over the telephone, and the lightning change from the case of Betty Blackwell to this had left me somewhat bewildered. "What has he done?"
"Smashed the transmitter of the machine," replied Kennedy tersely. "Cut the wires."
"Where did it lead?" I asked. "How do you know?"
Kennedy shook his head. Either he did not know, yet, or he felt that the subway was no place in which to continue the conversation beyond the mere skeleton that he had given me.
We finished the ride in comparative silence and hurried into Carton's office down in the Criminal Courts Building.
Carton greeted us cordially, with an air of intense relief, as if he were glad to have been able to turn to Kennedy in the growing perplexities that beset him.
What surprised me most, however, was that, seated beside his desk, in an easy chair, was a striking looking woman, not exactly young, but of an age that is perhaps more interesting than youth, certainly more sophisticated. She, too, I noticed, had a tense, excited expression on her face. As Kennedy and I entered she had looked us over searchingly.
"Let me present Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, Mrs. Ogleby," said Carton quickly. "Both of them know as much about how experts use those little mechanical eavesdroppers as anyone--except the inventor."
We bowed and waited for an explanation.
"You understand," continued Carton slowly to us in a tone that enjoined secrecy, "Mrs. Ogleby, who is a friend of Mr. Murtha, Dorgan's right-hand man, naturally is alarmed and doesn't want her name to appear in this thing."
"Oh--it is terrible--terrible," Mrs. Ogleby chimed in in great agitation. "I don't care about anything else. But, my reputation-- it will be ruined if they connect my name with the case. As soon as I heard of it--I thought of you, Mr. Carton. I came here immediately. There must be some way in which you can protect me-- some way that you can get along without using--"
"But, my dear Mrs. Ogleby," interrupted the District Attorney, "I have told you half a dozen times, I think, that I didn't put the detectaphone in--"
"Yes, but you will get the record," she persisted excitedly. "Can't you do something?" she pleaded.
I fancied that she said it with the air of one who almost had some right in the matter.
"Mrs. Ogleby," reiterated Carton earnestly, "I will do all I can-- on my word of honour--to protect your name, but--"
He paused and looked at us helplessly.
"What was it that was overheard?" asked Craig point-blank, watching Mrs. Ogleby's face carefully.
"Why," she replied nervously, "there was a big dinner last night which Mr. Dorgan gave at Gastron's. Mr. Murtha took me and--oh-- there were lots of others--" She stopped suddenly.
"Yes," prompted Kennedy. "Who else was there?"
She was on her guard, however. Evidently she had come to Carton for one purpose and that was solely to protect herself against the scandal which she thought might attach to having been present at one of the rather notorious little affairs of the Boss.
"Really," she answered, colouring slightly, "I can't tell you. I mustn't say a word about who was there--or anything about it. Good heavens--it is bad enough as it is--to think that my name may be dragged into politics and all sorts of false stories set in motion about me. You must protect me, Mr. Carton, you must."
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