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- OF THE SILENT BULLET - 5/54 -
waiting for it to occur. There is an invention that makes it almost possible to strike a man down with impunity in broad daylight in any place where there is sufficient noise to cover up a click, a slight 'Pouf!' and the whir of the bullet in the air.
"I refer to this little device of a Hartford inventor. I place it over the muzzle of the thirty-two-calibre revolver I have so far been using--so. Now, Mr. Jameson, if you will sit at that typewriter over there and write--anything so long as you keep the keys clicking. The inspector will start that imitation stock-ticker in the corner. Now we are ready. I cover the pistol with a cloth. I defy anyone in this room to tell me the exact moment when I discharged the pistol. I could have shot any of you, and an outsider not in the secret would never have thought that I was the culprit. To a certain extent I have reproduced the conditions under which this shooting occurred.
"At once on being sure of this feature of the case I despatched a man to Hartford to see this inventor. The man obtained from him a complete list of all the dealers in New York to whom such devices had been sold. The man also traced every sale of those dealers. He did not actually obtain the weapon, but if he is working on schedule-time according to agreement he is at this moment armed with a search-warrant and is ransacking every possible place where the person suspected of this crime could have concealed his weapon. For, one of the persons intimately connected with this case purchased not long ago a silencer for a thirty-two-calibre revolver, and I presume that that person carried the gun and the silencer at the time of the murder of Kerr Parker."
Kennedy concluded in triumph, his voice high pitched, his eyes flashing. Yet to all outward appearance not a heart-beat was quickened. Someone in that room had an amazing store of self-possession. The fear flitted across my mind that even at the last Kennedy was baffled.
"I had anticipated some such anti-climax," he continued after a moment. "I am prepared for it."
He touched a bell, and the door to the next room opened. One of Kennedy's graduate students stepped in.
"You have the records, Whiting" he asked.
"I may say," said Kennedy, "that each of your chairs is wired under the arm in such a way as to betray on an appropriate indicator in the next room every sudden and undue emotion. Though it may be concealed from the eye, even of one like me who stands facing you, such emotion is nevertheless expressed by physical pressure on the arms of the chair. It is a test that is used frequently with students to demonstrate various points of psychology. You needn't raise your arms from the chairs, ladies and gentlemen. The tests are all over now. What did they show, Whiting?"
The student read what he had been noting in the next room. At the production of the coat during the demonstration of the markings of the bullet, Mrs. Parker had betrayed great emotion, Mr. Bruce had done likewise, and nothing more than ordinary emotion had been noted for the rest of us. Miss La Neige's automatic record during the tracing out of the sending of the note to Parker had been especially unfavourable to her; Mr. Bruce showed almost as much excitement; Mrs. Parker very little and Downey very little. It was all set forth in curves drawn by self-recording pens on regular ruled paper. The student had merely noted what took place in the, lecture-room as corresponding to these curves.
"At the mention of the noiseless gun," said Kennedy, bending over the record, while the student pointed it out to him and we leaned forward to catch his words, "I find that the curves of Miss La Neige, Mrs. Parker, and Mr. Downey are only so far from normal as would be natural. All of them were witnessing a thing for the first time with only curiosity and no fear. The curve made by Mr. Bruce shows great agitation and--"
I heard a metallic click at my side and turned hastily. It was Inspector Barney O'Connor, who had stepped out of the shadow with a pair of hand-cuffs.
"James Bruce, you are under arrest," he said.
There flashed on my mind, and I think on the minds of some of the others, a picture of another electrically wired chair.
II. The Scientific Cracksman
"I'm willing to wager you a box of cigars that you don't know the most fascinating story in your own paper tonight," remarked Kennedy, as I came in one evening with the four or five newspapers I was in the habit of reading to see whether they had beaten the Star in getting any news of importance.
"I'll bet I do," I said, "or I was one of about a dozen who worked it up. It's the Shaw murder trial. There isn't another that's even a bad second."
"I am afraid the cigars will be on you, Walter. Crowded over on the second page by a lot of stale sensation that everyone has read for the fiftieth time, now, you will find what promises to be a real sensation, a curious half-column account of the sudden death of John G. Fletcher."
I laughed. "Craig," I said, "when you put up a simple death from apoplexy against a murder trial, and such a murder trial; well, you disappoint me--that's all."
"Is it a simple case of apoplexy?" he asked, pacing up and down the room, while I wondered why he should grow excited over what seemed a very ordinary news item, after all. Then he picked up the paper and read the account slowly aloud.
JOHN G. FLETCHER, STEEL MAGNATE, DIES SUDDENLY
SAFE OPEN BUT LARGE SUM OF CASH UNTOUCHED
John Graham Fletcher, the aged philanthropist and steelmaker, was found dead in his library this morning at his home at Fletcherwood, Great Neck, Long Island. Strangely, the safe in the library in which he kept his papers and a large sum of cash was found opened, but as far as could be learned nothing is missing.
It had always been Mr. Fletcher's custom to rise at seven o'clock. This morning his housekeeper became alarmed when he had not appeared by nine o'clock. Listening at the door, she heard no sound. It was not locked, and on entering she found the former steel-magnate lying lifeless on the floor between his bedroom and the library adjoining. His personal physician, Dr. W. C. Bryant, was immediately notified.
Close examination of the body revealed that his face was slightly discoloured, and the cause of death was given by the physician as apoplexy. He had evidently been dead about eight or nine hours when discovered.
Mr. Fletcher is survived by a nephew, John G. Fletcher, II., who is the Blake professor of bacteriology at the University, and by a grandniece, Miss Helen Bond. Professor Fletcher was informed of the sad occurrence shortly after leaving a class this morning and hurried out to Fletcherwood. He would make no statement other than that he was inexpressibly shocked. Miss Bond, who has for several years resided with relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Greene of Little Neck, is prostrated by the shock.
"Walter," added Kennedy, as he laid down the paper and, without any more sparring, came directly to the point, "there was something missing from that safe."
I had no need to express the interest I now really felt, and Kennedy hastened to take advantage of it.
"Just before you came in," he continued, "Jack Fletcher called me up from Great Neck. You probably don't know it, but it has been privately reported in the inner circle of the University that old Fletcher was to leave the bulk of his fortune to found a great school of preventive medicine, and that the only proviso was that his nephew should be dean of the school. The professor told me over the wire that the will was missing from the safe, and that it was the only thing missing. From his excitement I judge that there is more to the story than he cared to tell over the 'phone. He said his car was on the way to the city, and he asked if I wouldn't come and help him--he wouldn't say how. Now, I know him pretty well, and I'm going to ask you to come along, Walter, for the express purpose of keeping this thing out of the newspapers understand?--until we get to the bottom of it."
A few minutes later the telephone rang and the hall-boy announced that the car was waiting. We hurried down to it; the chauffeur lounged down carelessly into his seat and we were off across the city and river and out on the road to Great Neck with amazing speed.
Already I began to feel something of Kennedy's zest for the adventure. I found myself half a dozen times on the point of hazarding a suspicion, only to relapse again into silence at the inscrutable look on Kennedy's face. What was the mystery that awaited us in the great lonely house on Long Island?
We found Fletcherwood a splendid estate directly on the bay, with a long drive-way leading up to the door. Professor Fletcher met us at the porte cochere, and I was glad to note that, far from taking me as an intruder, he seemed rather relieved that someone who understood the ways of the newspapers could stand between him and any reporters who might possibly drop in.
He ushered us directly into the library and closed the door. It seemed as if he could scarcely; wait to tell his story.
"Kennedy," he began, almost trembling with excitement, "look at that safe door."
We looked. It had been drilled through in such a way as to break the combination. It was a heavy door, closely fitting, and it was the best kind of small safe that the state of the art had produced. Yet clearly it had been tampered with, and successfully. Who was this scientific cracksman who had
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