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- The Ear in the Wall - 40/51 -
Kennedy had bent down and was examining the mutilated body minutely.
"How do you suppose such a thing is possible--that he could lie about the city, even here until the night keeper came on,-- unknown?" asked Carton, aghast.
"I don't know," I said, "but I imagine that in connection with the actual inadequacy of the equipment one would find reflected the same makeshift character in the attitude and actions of those who handle the city's dead. It used to be the case, at least, that the facilities for keeping records were often almost totally neglected, and not through the fault of the Morgue keepers, entirely. But, I understand it is better now."
"This is terrible," repeated Carton, averting his face. "Really, Jameson, it makes me feel like a hound, for ever thinking that Murtha might have been putting up a game on me. Poor old Murtha--I should have preferred to remember him as the 'Smiling Boss' as everyone always called him!"
I called to mind the last time we had seen Murtha, in Carton's office as the bearer of an offer which had made Carton almost beside himself with anger at the thought of the insult that he would compromise with the organization. What a contrast, this, with the Murtha who, in turn, had been trembling with passion at Carton's refusal!
And yet I could not but reflect on the strangeness of it all--the fact that the organization, of which Murtha was a part, had by its neglect and failure to care for the human side of government when there was graft to be collected, brought about the very conditions which had made possible such neglect of the district leader's body, as it had been bandied back and forth, unwittingly by many who owed their very positions to the organization.
I could not help but think that if he had served humanity with one-half the zeal which he had served graft, this could not have happened.
The more I contemplated the case, the more tragic did it seem to me. I longed for the assignment of writing the story for the Star- -the chance I would have had in the old days to bring in a story that would have got me a nod of approval from my superior. I determined, as soon as possible, to get the Star on the wire and try to express some of the thoughts that were surging through my brain in the face of this awful and unexpected occurrence.
There he lay, alone, uncared for except by such rude hands as those of the Morgue attendants. I could not help reflecting on the strange vicissitudes of human life, and death, which levelled all distinctions between men of high and low degree. Murtha had almost literally sprung from the streets. His career had been one possible only in the social and political conditions of his times. And now he had only by the narrowest chance escaped a burial in a pauper's grave at the hands of the city which he had helped Dorgan to debauch.
Carton, too, I could see was overwhelmed. For the moment he did not even think of how this blow to the System might affect his own chances. It was only the pitiful wreck of a human being before us that he saw.
I was not an expert on study of wounds, such as was Kennedy, who was examining Murtha's body with minute care, now and then muttering under his breath at the rough and careless handling it had received in its various transfers about the city. But there were some terrible wounds and disfigurements on the body, which added even more to the horror of the case.
One thing, I felt, was fortunate. Murtha had had no family. There had been plenty of scandal about him, but as far as I knew there was no one except his old cronies in the organization to be shocked by his loss, no living tragedy left in the wake of this.
"How do you suppose it happened?" I asked the night keeper.
He shook his head doubtfully. "No one knows, of course," he replied slowly. "But I think the big fellow got worse up there in that asylum. He wasn't used to anything but having his own way, you know. They say he must have waited his chance, after the dinner hour, when things were quiet, and then slipped out while no one was looking. He may have been crazy, but you can bet your life Pat Murtha was the smartest crazy man they ever had up there. THEY couldn't hold him."
"I see," I said, struck by the faith which the man had inspired even in those who held the lowest of city positions. "But I meant how do you suppose he was killed?"
The attendant looked at me thoughtfully a while. "Young man," he answered, "I ain't saying nothing and it may have been an accident after all. Have you ever been up in that part of town?"
I had not and said so.
"Well," he continued, "those electric trains do sneak up on a fellow fast. It may have been an accident, all right. The coroner up there said so, and I guess he ought to know. It must have been late at night--perhaps he was wandering away from the ordinary roads for fear of being recaptured. No one knows--I guess no one will know, ever. But it's a sad day for many of the boys. He helped a lot of 'em. And Mr. Dorgan--he knows what a loss it is, too. I hear that it's hit the Chief hard."
The attendant, rough though he was and hardened by the daily succession of tragedies, could not restrain an honest catch in his voice over the passing of the "big fellow," as some of them called the "Smiling Boss." It was a pretty good object lesson on the power of the system which the organization had built up, how Murtha, and even the more distant Dorgan himself, had endeared himself to his followers and henchmen. Perhaps it was corrupt, but it was at least human, and that was a great deal in a world full of inhumanities. In the face of what had happened, one felt that much might be forgiven Murtha for his shortcomings, especially as the era of the Murthas and Dorgans was plainly passing.
"Here at least," whispered Carton, as we withdrew to a corner to escape the palling atmosphere, "is one who won't worry about what happens to that Black Book any more. I wonder what he really knew about it--what secrets he carried away with him?"
"I can't say," I returned. "But, one thing it does. It must relieve Mrs. Ogleby's fears a bit. With Murtha out of the way there is one less to gossip about what went on at Gastron's that night of the dinner."
He said nothing and just then Kennedy straightened up, as though he had finished his examination. We hurried over to him. I thought the look on Craig's face was peculiar.
"What is it--what did you find?" both Carton and I asked.
Kennedy did not answer immediately.
"I--I can't say," he answered slowly at length, as we thanked the Morgue keeper for his courtesy and left the place. "In fact I'd rather not say--until I know."
I knew from previous experiences that it was of no use to try to quiz Kennedy. He was a veritable Gradgrind for facts, facts, facts. As for myself, I could not help wondering whether, after all, Murtha might not have been the victim of foul play--and, if so, by whom?
We did not have to wait long for the secret of the robbery of Carton to come out. It was not in any "extras," or in the morning papers the next day, but it came through a secret source of information to the Reform League.
"A clerk in the employ of the organization who is really a detective employed by the Reform League," groaned Carton, as he told us the story himself the next morning at his office, "has just given us the information that they have prepared a long and circumstantial story about me--about my intimacy with Mrs. Ogleby and Murtha and some others. The story of the robbery of my study is in the papers this morning. To-morrow they plan to publish some photographs--alleged to have been stolen."
"Photographs--Mrs. Ogleby," repeated Kennedy. "Real ones?"
"No," exclaimed Carton quickly, "of course not--fakes. Don't you see the scheme? First they lay a foundation in the robbery, knowing that the public is satisfied with sensations, and that they will be sure to believe that the robbery was put up by some muckrakers to obtain material for an expose. I wasn't worried last night. I knew I had nothing to conceal."
"Then what of it?" I asked naively.
"A good deal of it," returned Carton excitedly, "The story is to be, as I understand it, that the fake pictures were among those stolen from me and that in a roundabout way they came into the possession of someone in the organization, without their knowing who the thief was. Of course they don't know who took them and the original plates or films are destroyed, but they've concocted some means of putting a date on them early in the spring."
"What are they that they should take such pains with them?" persisted Kennedy, looking fixedly at Carton.
Carton met his look without flinching. "They are supposed to be photographs of myself," he repeated. "One purports to represent me in a group composed of Mrs. Ogleby, Murtha, another woman whom I do not even know, and myself. I am standing between Murtha and Mrs. Ogleby and we look very familiar. Another is a picture of the same four riding in a car, owned by Murtha. Oh, there are several of them, of that sort."
He paused as a dozen unspoken questions framed themselves in my mind. "I don't hesitate to admit," he added, "that a few months
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