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- The Exploits of Elaine - 3/58 -


murder?"

The word seemed to stick in my throat. If it was a murder, what was the motive? Could it have been to get the evidence which Dodge had that would incriminate the master criminal?

Kennedy moved over quietly and examined the body of Dodge. When he rose, his face had a peculiar look.

"Terrible!" he whispered to me. "Apparently he had been working at his accustomed place at the desk when the telephone rang. He rose and crossed over to it. See! That brought his feet on this register let into the floor. As he took the telephone receiver down a flash of light must have shot from it to his ear. It shows the characteristic electric burn."

"The motive?" I queried.

"Evidently his pockets had been gone through, though none of the valuables were missing. Things on his desk show that a hasty search has been made."

Just then the door opened and Bennett burst in.

As he stood over the body, gazing down at it, repressing the emotions of a strong man, he turned to Elaine and in a low voice, exclaimed, "The Clutching Hand did this! I shall consecrate my life to bring this man to justice!"

He spoke tensely and Elaine, looking up into his face, as if imploring his help in her hour of need, unable to speak, merely grasped his hand.

Kennedy, who in the meantime had stood apart from the rest of us, was examining the telephone carefully.

"A clever crook," I heard him mutter between his teeth. "He must have worn gloves. Not a finger print--at least here."

. . . . . . . .

Perhaps I can do no better than to reconstruct the crime as Kennedy later pieced these startling events together.

Long after I had left and even after Bennett left, Dodge continued working in his library, for he was known as a prodigious worker.

Had he taken the trouble, however, to pause and peer out into the moonlight that flooded the back of his house, he might have seen the figures of two stealthy crooks crouching in the half shadows of one of the cellar windows.

One crook was masked by a handkerchief drawn tightly about his lower face, leaving only his eyes visible beneath the cap with visor pulled down over his forehead. He had a peculiar stoop of the shoulders and wore his coat collar turned up. One hand, the right, seemed almost deformed. It was that which gave him his name in the underworld--the Clutching Hand.

The masked crook held carefully the ends of two wires attached to an electric feed, and sending his pal to keep watch outside, he entered the cellar of the Dodge house through a window whose pane they had carefully removed. As he came through the window he dragged the wires with him, and, alter a moment's reconnoitering attached them to the furnace pipe of the old-fashioned hot-air heater where the pipe ran up through the floor to the library above. The other wire was quickly attached to the telephone where its wires entered.

Upstairs, Dodge, evidently uneasy in his mind about the precious "Limpy Red" letter, took it from the safe along with most of the other correspondence and, pressing a hidden spring in the wall, opened a secret panel, placed most of the important documents in this hiding place. Then he put some blank sheets of paper in an envelope and returned it to the safe.

Downstairs the masked master criminal had already attached a voltmeter to the wires he had installed, waiting.

Just then could be heard the tinkle of Dodge's telephone and the old man rose to answer it. As he did so he placed his foot on the iron register, his hand taking the telephone and the receiver. At that instant came a powerful electric flash. Dodge sank on the floor grasping the instrument, electrocuted. Below, the master criminal could scarcely refrain from exclaiming with satisfaction as his voltmeter registered the powerful current that was passing.

A moment later the criminal slid silently into Dodge's room. Carefully putting on rubber gloves and avoiding touching the register, he wrenched the telephone from the grasp of the dead man, replacing it in its normal position. Only for a second did he pause to look at his victim as he destroyed the evidence of his work.

Minutes were precious. First Dodge's pockets, then his desk engaged his attention. There was left the safe.

As he approached the strong box, the master criminal took two vials from his pockets. Removing a bust of Shakespeare that stood on the safe, he poured the contents of the vials in two mixed masses of powder forming a heap on the safe, into which he inserted two magnesium wires.

He lighted them, sprang back, hiding his eyes from the light, and a blinding gush of flame, lasting perhaps ten seconds, poured out from the top of the safe.

It was not an explosion, but just a dazzling, intense flame that sizzled and crackled. It seemed impossible, but the glowing mass was literally sinking, sinking down into the cold steel. At last it burned through--as if the safe had been of tinder!

Without waiting a moment longer than necessary, the masked criminal advanced again and actually put his hand down through the top of the safe, pulling out a bunch of papers. Quickly he thrust them all, with just a glance, into his pocket.

Still working quickly, he took the bust of the great dramatist which he had removed and placed it under the light. Next from his pocket he drew two curious stencils, as it were, which he had apparently carefully prepared. With his hands, still carefully gloved, he rubbed the stencils on his hair, as if to cover them with a film of natural oils. Then he deliberately pressed them over the statue in several places. It was a peculiar action and he seemed to fairly gloat over it when it was done, and the bust returned to its place, covering the hole.

As noiselessly as he had come, he made his exit after one last malignant look at Dodge. It was now but the work of a moment to remove the wires he had placed, and climb out of the window, taking them and destroying the evidence down in the cellar.

A low whistle from the masked crook, now again in the shadow, brought his pal stealthily to his side.

"It's all right," he whispered hoarsely to the man. "Now, you attend to Limpy Red."

The villainous looking pal nodded and without another word the two made their getaway, safely, in opposite directions.

. . . . . . . .

When Limpy Red, still trembling, left the office of Dodge earlier in the evening, he had repaired as fast as his shambling feet would take him to his favorite dive upon Park Row. There he might have been seen drinking with any one who came along, for Limpy had money--blood money,--and the recollection of his treachery and revenge must both be forgotten and celebrated.

Had the Bowery "sinkers" not got into his eyes, he might have noticed among the late revellers, a man who spoke to no one but took his place nearby at the bar.

Limpy had long since reached the point of saturation and, lurching forth from his new found cronies, he sought other fields of excitement. Likewise did the newcomer, who bore a strange resemblance to the look-out who had been stationed outside at the Dodge house a scant half hour before.

What happened later was only a matter of seconds. It came when the hated snitch--for gangdom hates the informer worse than anything else dead or alive--had turned a sufficiently dark and deserted corner.

A muffled thud, a stifled groan followed as a heavy section of lead pipe wrapped in a newspaper descended on the crass skull of Limpy. The wielder of the improvised but fatal weapon permitted himself the luxury of an instant's cruel smile--then vanished into the darkness leaving another complete job for the coroner and the morgue.

It was the vengeance of the Clutching Hand--swift, sure, remorseless.

And yet it had not been a night of complete success for the master criminal, as anyone might have seen who could have followed his sinuous route to a place of greater safety.

Unable to wait longer he pulled the papers he had taken from the safe from his pocket. His chagrin at finding them to be blank paper found only one expression of foiled fury--that menacing clutching hand!

. . . . . . . .

Kennedy had turned from his futile examination for marks on the telephone. There stood the safe, a moderate sized strong box but of a modern type. He tried the door. It was locked. There was not a mark on it. The combination had not been tampered with. Nor had there been any attempt to "soup" the safe.

With a quick motion he felt in his pocket as if looking for gloves. Finding none, he glanced about, and seized a pair of tongs from beside the grate. With them, in order not to confuse any possible finger prints on the bust, he lifted it off. I gave a gasp of surprise.

There, in the top of the safe, yawned a gaping hole through which one could have thrust his arm!


The Exploits of Elaine - 3/58

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