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- The War Terror - 3/65 -
"Burke," he exclaimed suddenly, "let's join forces. I think we are both on the trail of a world-wide conspiracy--a sort of murder syndicate to wipe out war!"
Burke's only reply was a low whistle that involuntarily escaped him as he reached over and grasped Craig's hand, which to him represented the sealing of the compact.
As for me, I could not restrain a mental shudder at the power that their first murder had evidently placed in the hands of the anarchists, if they indeed had the electro-magnetic gun which inventors had been seeking for generations. What might they not do with it--perhaps even use it themselves and turn the latest invention against society itself!
Hastily Craig gave a whispered account of our strange visit from Miss Lowe, while Burke listened, open-mouthed.
He had scarcely finished when he reached for the telephone and asked for long distance.
"Is this the German embassy in Washington?" asked Craig a few moments later when he got his number. "This is Craig Kennedy, in New York. The United States Secret Service will vouch for me-- mention to them Mr. Burke of their New York office who is here with me now. I understand that Baron Kreiger is leaving for New York to meet some bankers this afternoon. He must not do so. He is in the gravest danger if he--What? He left last night at midnight and is already here?"
Kennedy turned to us blankly.
The door to his room opened suddenly.
There stood Miss Lowe, gazing wild-eyed at us. Evidently her supernervous condition had heightened the keenness of her senses. She had heard what we were saying. I tried to read her face. It was not fear that I saw there. It was rage; it was jealousy.
"The traitress--it is Marie!" she shrieked.
For a moment, obtusely, I did not understand.
"She has made a secret appointment with him," she cried.
At last I saw the truth. Paula Lowe had fallen in love with the man she had sworn to kill!
THE ELECTRO-MAGNETIC GUN
"What shall we do?" demanded Burke, instantly taking in the dangerous situation that the Baron's sudden change of plans had opened up.
"Call O'Connor," I suggested, thinking of the police bureau of missing persons, and reaching for the telephone.
"No, no!" almost shouted Craig, seizing my arm. "The police will inevitably spoil it all. No, we must play a lone hand in this if we are to work it out. How was Fortescue discovered, Burke?"
"Sitting in a chair in his laboratory. He must have been there all night. There wasn't a mark on him, not a sign of violence, yet his face was terribly drawn as though he were gasping for breath or his heart had suddenly failed him. So far, I believe, the coroner has no clue and isn't advertising the case."
"Take me there, then," decided Craig quickly. "Walter, I must trust Miss Lowe to you on the journey. We must all go. That must be our starting point, if we are to run this thing down."
I caught his significant look to me and interpreted it to mean that he wanted me to watch Miss Lowe especially. I gathered that taking her was in the nature of a third degree and as a result he expected to derive some information from her. Her face was pale and drawn as we four piled into a taxicab for a quick run downtown to the laboratory of Fortescue from which Burke had come directly to us with his story.
"What do you know of these anarchists?" asked Kennedy of Burke as we sped along. "Why do you suspect them?"
It was evident that he was discussing the case so that Paula could overhear, for a purpose.
"Why, we received a tip from abroad--I won't say where," replied Burke guardedly, taking his cue. "They call themselves the 'Group,' I believe, which is a common enough term among anarchists. It seems they are composed of terrorists of all nations."
"The leader?" inquired Kennedy, leading him on.
"There is one, I believe, a little florid, stout German. I think he is a paranoiac who believes there has fallen on himself a divine mission to end all warfare. Quite likely he is one of those who have fled to America to avoid military service. Perhaps, why certainly, you must know him--Annenberg, an instructor in economics now at the University?"
Craig nodded and raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. We had indeed heard of Annenberg and some of his radical theories which had sometimes quite alarmed the conservative faculty. I felt that this was getting pretty close home to us now.
"How about Mrs. Annenberg?" Craig asked, recalling the clever young wife of the middle-aged professor.
At the mere mention of the name, I felt a sort of start in Miss Lowe, who was seated next to me in the taxicab. She had quickly recovered herself, but not before I saw that Kennedy's plan of breaking down the last barrier of her reserve was working.
"She is one of them, too," Burke nodded. "I have had my men out shadowing them and their friends. They tell me that the Annenbergs hold salons--I suppose you would call them that--attended by numbers of men and women of high social and intellectual position who dabble in radicalism and all sorts of things." "Who are the other leaders?" asked Craig. "Have you any idea?"
"Some idea," returned Burke. "There seems to be a Frenchman, a tall, wiry man of forty-five or fifty with a black mustache which once had a military twist. There are a couple of Englishmen. Then there are five or six Americans who seem to be active. One, I believe, is a young woman."
Kennedy checked him with a covert glance, but did not betray by a movement of a muscle to Miss Lowe that either Burke or himself suspected her of being the young woman in question.
"There are three Russians," continued Burke, "all of whom have escaped from Siberia. Then there is at least one Austrian, a Spaniard from the Ferrer school, and Tomasso and Enrico, two Italians, rather heavily built, swarthy, bearded. They look the part. Of course there are others. But these in the main, I think, compose what might be called 'the inner circle' of the 'Group.'"
It was indeed an alarming, terrifying revelation, as we began to realize that Miss Lowe had undoubtedly been telling the truth. Not alone was there this American group, evidently, but all over Europe the lines of the conspiracy had apparently spread. It was not a casual gathering of ordinary malcontents. It went deeper than that. It included many who in their disgust at war secretly were not unwilling to wink at violence to end the curse. I could not but reflect on the dangerous ground on which most of them were treading, shaking the basis of all civilization in order to cut out one modern excrescence.
The big fact to us, just at present, was that this group had made America its headquarters, that plans had been studiously matured and even reduced to writing, if Paula were to be believed. Everything had been carefully staged for a great simultaneous blow or series of blows that would rouse the whole world.
As I watched I could not escape observing that Miss Lowe followed Burke furtively now, as though he had some uncanny power.
Fortescue's laboratory was in an old building on a side street several blocks from the main thoroughfares of Manhattan. He had evidently chosen it, partly because of its very inaccessibility in order to secure the quiet necessary for his work.
"If he had any visitors last night," commented Kennedy when our cab at last pulled up before the place, "they might have come and gone unnoticed."
We entered. Nothing had been disturbed in the laboratory by the coroner and Kennedy was able to gain a complete idea of the case rapidly, almost as well as if we had been called in immediately.
Fortescue's body, it seemed, had been discovered sprawled out in a big armchair, as Burke had said, by one of his assistants only a few hours before when he had come to the laboratory in the morning to open it. Evidently he had been there undisturbed all night, keeping a gruesome vigil over his looted treasure house.
As we gleaned the meager facts, it became more evident that whoever had perpetrated the crime must have had the diabolical cunning to do it in some ordinary way that aroused no suspicion on the part of the victim, for there was no sign of any violence anywhere.
As we entered the laboratory, I noted an involuntary shudder on the part of Paula Lowe, but, as far as I knew, it was no more than might have been felt by anyone under the circumstances.
Fortescue's body had been removed from the chair in which it had been found and lay on a couch at the other end of the room, covered merely by a sheet. Otherwise, everything, even the armchair, was undisturbed.
Kennedy pulled back a corner of the sheet, disclosing the face, contorted and of a peculiar, purplish hue from the congested blood vessels. He bent over and I did so, too. There was an unmistakable
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