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- OF THE SILENT BULLET - 6/54 -
apparently accomplished the impossible? It was no ordinary hand and brain which had executed this "job."
Fletcher swung the door wide, and pointed to a little compartment inside, whose steel door had been jimmied open. Then out of it he carefully lifted a steel box and deposited it on the library table.
"I suppose everybody has been handling that box?" asked Craig quickly.
A smile flitted across Fletcher's features. "I thought of that, Kennedy," he said. "I remembered what you once told me about finger-prints. Only myself has touched it, and I was careful to take hold of it only on the sides. The will was placed in this box, and the key to the box was usually in the lock. Well, the will is gone. That's all; nothing else was touched. But for the life of me I can't find a mark on the box, not a finger-mark. Now on a hot and humid summer night like last night I should say it was pretty likely that anyone touching this metal box would have left finger-marks. Shouldn't you think so, Kennedy?"
Kennedy nodded and continued to examine the place where the compartment had been jimmied. A low whistle aroused us: coming over to the table, Craig tore a white sheet of paper off a pad lying there and deposited a couple of small particles on it.
"I found them sticking on the jagged edges of the steel where it had been forced," he said. Then he whipped out a pocket magnifying-glass. "Not from a rubber glove," he commented half to himself. "By Jove, one side of them shows lines that look as if they were the lines on a person's fingers, and the other side is perfectly smooth. There's not a chance of using them as a clue, except--well, I didn't know criminals in America knew that stunt."
"Why, you know how keen the new detectives are on the finger-print system? Well, the first thing some of the up-to-date criminals in Europe did was to wear rubber gloves so that they would leave no prints. But you can't work very well with rubber gloves. Last fall in Paris I heard of a fellow who had given the police a lot of trouble. He never left a mark, or at least it was no good if he did. He painted his hands lightly with a liquid rubber which he had invented himself. It did all that rubber gloves would do and yet left him the free use of his fingers with practically the same keenness of touch. Fletcher, whatever is at the bottom of this affair, I feel sure right now that you have to deal with no ordinary criminal."
"Do you suppose there are any relatives besides those we know of?" I asked Kennedy when Fletcher had left to summon the servants.
"No," he replied, "I think not. Fletcher and Helen Bond, his second cousin, to whom he is engaged, are the only two."
Kennedy continued to study the library. He walked in and out of the doors and examined the windows and viewed the safe from all angles.
The old gentleman's bedroom is here," he said, indicating a door. "Now a good smart noise or perhaps even a light shining through the transom from the library might arouse him. Suppose he woke up suddenly and entered by this door. He would see the thief at work on the safe. Yes, that part of reconstructing the story is simple. But who was the intruder?"
Just then Fletcher returned with the servants. The questioning was long and tedious, and developed nothing except that the butler admitted that he was uncertain whether the windows in the library were locked. The gardener was very obtuse, but finally contributed one possibly important fact. He had noted in the morning that the back gate, leading into a disused road closer to the bay than the main highway in front of the house, was open. It was rarely used, and was kept closed only by an ordinary hook. Whoever had opened it had evidently forgotten to hook it. He had thought it strange that it was unhooked, and in closing it he had noticed in the mud of the roadway marks that seemed to indicate that an automobile had stood there.
After the servants had gone, Fletcher asked us to excuse him for a while, as he wished to run over to the Greenes', who lived across the bay. Miss Bond was completely prostrated by the death of her uncle, he said, and was in an extremely nervous condition. Meanwhile if we found any need of a machine we might use his uncle's, or in fact anything around the place.
"Walter," said Craig, when Fletcher had gone, "I want to run back to town to-night, and I have something I'd like to have you do, too."
We were soon speeding back along the splendid road to Long Island City, while he laid out our programme.
"You go down to the Star office," he said, "and look through all the clippings on the whole Fletcher family. Get a complete story of the life of Helen Bond, too--what she has done in society, with whom she has been seen mostly, whether she has made any trips abroad, and whether she has ever been engaged--you know, anything likely to be significant. I'm going up to the apartment to get my camera and then to the laboratory to get some rather bulky paraphernalia I want to take out to Fletcherwood. Meet me at the Columbus Circle station at, say half-past-ten."
So we separated. My search revealed the fact that Miss Bond had always been intimate with the ultra-fashionable set, had spent last summer in Europe, a good part of the time in Switzerland and Paris with the Greenes. As far as I could find out she had never been reported engaged, but plenty of fortunes as well as foreign titles had been flitting about the ward of the steel-magnate.
Craig and I met at the appointed time. He had a lot of paraphernalia with him, and it did not add to our comfort as we sped back, but it wasn't much over half an hour before we again found ourselves nearing Great Neck.
Instead of going directly back to Fletcherwood, however, Craig had told the chauffeur to stop at the plant of the local electric light and power company, where he asked if he might see the record of the amount of current used the night before.
The curve sprawled across the ruled surface of the sheet by the automatic registering-needle was irregular, showing the ups and downs of the current, rising sharply from sundown and gradually declining after nine o'clock, as the lights went out. Somewhere between eleven and twelve o'clock, however, the irregular fall of the curve was broken by a quite noticeable upward twist.
Craig asked the men if that usually happened. They were quite sure that the curve as a rule went gradually down until twelve o'clock, when the power was shut off. But they did not see anything remarkable in it. "Oh, I suppose some of the big houses had guests," volunteered the foreman, "and just to show off the place perhaps they turned on all the lights. I don't know, sir, what it was, but it couldn't have been a heavy drain, or we would have noticed it at the time, and the lights would all have been dim."
"Well," said Craig, "just watch and see if it occurs again to-night about the same time."
"All right, sir."
"And when you close down the plant for the night, will you bring the record card up to Fletcherwood?" asked Craig, slipping a bill into the pocket of the foreman's shirt.
"I will, and thank you, sir."
It was nearly half-past eleven when Craig had got his apparatus set up in the library at Fletcherwood. Then he unscrewed all the bulbs from the chandelier in the library and attached in their places connections with the usual green silk-covered flexible wire rope. These were then joined up to a little instrument which to me looked like a drill. Next he muffed the drill with a wad of felt and applied it to the safe door.
I could hear the dull tat-tat of the drill. Going into the bedroom and closing the door, I found that it was still audible to me, but an old man, inclined to deafness and asleep, would scarcely have been awakened by it. In about ten minutes Craig displayed a neat little hole in the safe door opposite the one made by the cracksman in the combination.
"I'm glad you're honest," I said, "or else we might be afraid of you--perhaps even make you prove an alibi for last night's job!"
He ignored my bantering and said in a tone such as he might have used before a class of students in the gentle art of scientific safe-cracking: "Now if the power company's curve is just the same to-night as last night, that will show how the thing was done. I wanted to be sure of it, so I thought I'd try this apparatus which I smuggled in from Paris last year. I believe the old man happened to be wakeful and heard it."
Then he pried off the door of the interior compartment which had been jimmied open. "Perhaps we may learn something by looking at this door and studying the marks left by the jimmy, by means of this new instrument of mine," he said.
On the library table he fastened an arrangement with two upright posts supporting a dial which he called a "dynamometer." The uprights were braced in the back, and the whole thing reminded me of a miniature guillotine.
"This is my mechanical detective," said Craig proudly. "It was devised by Bertillon himself, and he personally gave me permission to copy his own machine. You see, it is devised to measure pressure. Now let's take an ordinary jimmy and see just how much pressure it takes to duplicate those marks on this door."
Craig laid the piece of steel on the dynamometer in the position it had occupied in the safe, and braced it tightly. Then he took a jimmy and pressed on it with all his strength. The steel door was connected with the indicator, and the needle spun around until it indicated a pressure such as only a strong man could have exerted. Comparing the marks made in the steel in the
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