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- The Gold of the Gods - 3/45 -


days all he had talked about was the 'big fish,' the peje grande, whatever that might mean--and the curse of Mansiche."

The recollection of the past few days seemed to be too much for her. Almost before we knew it, before Norton, who had started to ask her a question, could speak, she excused herself and fled from the room, leaving only the indelible impression of loveliness and the appeal for help that was irresistible.

Kennedy turned to Norton. But just then the door to the den opened and we saw our friend Dr. Leslie. He saw us, too, and took a few steps in our direction.

"What--you here, Kennedy?" he greeted in surprise as Craig shook hands and introduced Norton. "And Jameson, too? Well, I think you've found a case at last that will baffle you."

As we talked he led the way across the living room and into the den from which he had just come.

"It is very strange," he said, telling at once all that he had been able to discover. "Senor Mendoza was discovered here about midnight last night by his partner, Mr. Lockwood. There seem to be no clues to how or by whom he was murdered. No locks had been broken. I have examined the hall-boy who was here last night. He seems to be off his post a good deal when it is late. He saw Mr. Lockwood come in, and took him in the elevator up to the sixth floor. After that we can find nothing but the open door into the apartment. It is not at all impossible that some one might have come in when the boy was off his post, have walked up, even have walked down, the stairs again. In fact, it must have been that way. No windows, not even on the fire-escape, have been tampered with. In fact, the murder must have been done by some one admitted to the apartment late by Mendoza himself."

We walked over to the couch on which lay the body covered by a sheet. Dr. Leslie drew down the sheet.

On the face was a most awful look, a terrible stare and contortion of the features, and a deep, almost purple, discoloration. The muscles were all tense and rigid. I shall never forget that face and its look, half of pain, half of fear, as if of something nameless.

Mendoza had been a heavy-set man, whose piercing black eyes beetled forth, in life, from under bushy brows. Even in death, barring that horrible look, he was rather distinguished-looking, and his close-cropped hair and moustache set him off as a man of affairs and consequence in his own country.

"Most peculiar, Kennedy," reiterated Dr. Leslie, pointing to the breast. "You see that wound? I can't quite determine whether that was the real cause of death or not. Of course, it's a bad wound, it's true. But there seems to be something else here, too. Look at the pupils of his eyes, how contracted they are. The lungs seem congested, too. He has all the marks of having been asphyxiated. Yet there are no indications on his throat of violence such as would be necessary if that were the case. There could have been no such thing as illuminating gas, nor have we found any trace of any receptacles which might have held poison. I can't seem to make it out."

Kennedy bent over the body and looked at it attentively for several minutes, while we stood back of him, scarcely uttering a word in the presence of this terrible thing.

Deftly Kennedy managed to extract a few drops of blood from about the wound and transfer them to a very small test-tube which he carried in a little emergency pocket-case in order to preserve material for future study.

"You say the dagger was triangular, Norton?" he asked finally, without looking up from his minute examination.

"Yes, with another blade that shot out automatically when you knew the secret of pressing the hilt in a certain way. The outside triangular blade separated into three to allow an inner blade to shoot out."

Kennedy had risen and, as Norton described the Inca dagger, looked from one to the other of us keenly.

"That blade was poisoned," he concluded quietly. "We have a clue to your missing dagger. Mendoza was murdered by it!"

II

THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE

"I should like to have another talk with Senorita Inez," remarked Kennedy, a few minutes later, as with Dr. Leslie and Professor Norton we turned into the living room and closed the door to the den.

While Norton volunteered to send one of the servants in to see whether the young lady was able to stand the strain of another interview, Dr. Leslie received a hurry call to another case.

"You'll let me know, Kennedy, if you discover anything?" he asked, shaking hands with us. "I shall keep you informed, also, from my end. That poison completely baffles me--so far. You know, we might as well work together."

"Assuredly," agreed Craig, as the coroner left. "That," he added to me, as the door closed, "was one word for me and two for himself. I can do the work; he wants to save his official face. He never will know what that poison was--until I tell him."

Inez had by this time so far recovered her composure that she was able to meet us again in the living room.

"I'm very sorry to have to trouble you again," apologized Kennedy, "but if I am to get anywhere in this case I must have the facts."

She looked at him, half-puzzled, and, I fancied, half-frightened, too. "Anything I can tell you--of course, ask me," she said.

"Had your father any enemies who might desire his death?" shot out Kennedy, almost without warning.

"No," she answered slowly, still watching him carefully, then adding hastily: "Of course, you know, no one who tries to do anything is absolutely without enemies, though."

"I mean," repeated Craig, carefully noting a certain hesitation in her tone, "was there any one who, for reasons best known to himself, might have murdered him in a way peculiarly likely under the circumstances, say, with a dagger?"

Inez flashed a quick glance at Kennedy, as if to inquire just how much or how little he really knew. I got the impression from it, at least, that she was holding back some suspicion for a reason that perhaps she would not even have admitted to herself.

I saw that Norton was also following the line of Kennedy's questioning keenly, though he said nothing.

Before Kennedy could take up the lead again, her maid, Juanita, a very pretty girl of Spanish and Indian descent, entered softly.

"Mr. Lockwood," she whispered, but not so low that we could not hear.

"Won't you ask him to come in, Nita?" she replied.

A moment later a young man pushed open the door--a tall, clean-cut young fellow, whose face bore the tan of a sun much stronger than any about New York. As I took his appraisal, I found him unmistakably of the type of American soldier of fortune who has been carried by the wander-spirit down among the romantic republics to the south of our own.

"Professor Kennedy," began Senorita Mendoza, presenting us all in turn, "let me introduce Mr. Lockwood, my father's partner in several ventures which brought us to New York."

As we shook hands I could not help feeling that the young mining engineer, for such he proved to be by ostensible profession, was something more to her than a mere partner in her father's schemes.

"I believe I've met Professor Norton," he remarked, as they shook hands. "Perhaps he remembers when we were in Lima."

"Perfectly," replied Norton, returning the penetrating glance in kind. "Also in New York," he added.

Lockwood turned abruptly. "Are you quite sure you are able to stand the strain of this interview?" he asked Inez in a low tone.

Norton glanced at Kennedy and raised his eyebrows just the fraction of an inch, as if to call attention to the neat manner in which Lockwood had turned the subject.

Inez smiled sadly. "I must," she said, in a forced tone.

I fancied that Lockwood noted and did not relish an air of restraint in her words.

"It was you, I believe, Mr. Lockwood, who found Senor Mendoza last night?" queried Kennedy, as if to read the answer into the record, although he already knew it.

"Yes," replied Lockwood, without hesitation, though with a glance at the averted head of Inez, and choosing his words very carefully, as if trying hard not to say more than she could bear. "Yes. I came up here to report on some financial matters which interested both of us, very late, perhaps after midnight. I was about to press the buzzer on the door when I saw that the door was slightly ajar. I opened it and found lights still burning. The rest I think you must already know."

Even that tactful reference to the tragedy was too much for Inez. She suppressed a little convulsive sob, but did not, this time, try to flee from the room.

"You saw nothing about the den that aroused any suspicions?"


The Gold of the Gods - 3/45

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