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- The War Terror - 6/65 -
"By a poison that is among the most powerful, approaching even cyanogen," he replied confidently, tapping the cigarettes. "Do you smell the odor in this room? What is it like?"
"Stale tobacco," I replied.
"Exactly--nicotine. Two or three drops on the mouth-end of a cigar or cigarette. The intended victim thinks it is only natural. But it is the purest form of the deadly alkaloid--fatal in a few minutes, too."
He examined the thin little cigarettes more carefully. "Nicotine," he went on, "was about the first alkaloid that was recovered from the body by chemical analysis in a homicide case. That is the penetrating, persistent odor you smelled at Fortescue's and also here. It's a very good poison--if you are not particular about being discovered. A pound of ordinary smoking tobacco contains from a half to an ounce of it. It is almost entirely consumed by combustion; otherwise a pipeful would be fatal. Of course they may have thought that investigators would believe that their victims were inveterate smokers. But even the worst tobacco fiend wouldn't show traces of the weed to such an extent."
Miss Lowe answered at last and Kennedy took the telephone.
"What is at five hundred and one East Fifth?" he asked.
"A headquarters of the Group in the city," she answered. "Why?"
"Well, I believe that the plans of that gun are there and that the Baron--"
"You damned spies!" came a voice from behind us.
Kennedy dropped the receiver, turning quickly, his automatic gleaming in his hand.
There was just a glimpse of a man with glittering bright blue eyes that had an almost fiendish, baleful glare. An instant later the door which had so unexpectedly opened banged shut, we heard a key turn in the lock--and the man dropped to the floor before even Kennedy's automatic could test its ability to penetrate wood on a chance at hitting something the other side of it.
We were prisoners!
My mind worked automatically. At this very moment, perhaps, Baron Kreiger might be negotiating for the electro-magnetic gun. We had found out where he was, in all probability, but we were powerless to help him. I thought of Miss Lowe, and picked up the receiver which Kennedy had dropped.
She did not answer. The wire had been cut. We were isolated!
Kennedy had jumped to the window. I followed to restrain him, fearing that he had some mad scheme for climbing out. Instead, quickly he placed a peculiar arrangement, from the little package he had brought, holding it to his eye as if sighting it, his right hand grasping a handle as one holds a stereoscope. A moment later, as I examined it more closely, I saw that instead of looking at anything he had before him a small parabolic mirror turned away from him.
His finger pressed alternately on a button on the handle and I could see that there flashed in the little mirror a minute incandescent lamp which seemed to have a special filament arrangement.
The glaring sun was streaming in at the window and I wondered what could possibly be accomplished by the little light in competition with the sun itself.
"Signaling by electric light in the daytime may sound to you ridiculous," explained Craig, still industriously flashing the light, "but this arrangement with Professor Donath's signal mirror makes it possible, all right.
"I hadn't expected this, but I thought I might want to communicate with Burke quickly. You see, I sight the lamp and then press the button which causes the light in the mirror to flash. It seems a paradox that a light like this can be seen from a distance of even five miles and yet be invisible to one for whom it was not intended, but it is so. I use the ordinary Morse code--two seconds for a dot, six for a dash with a four-second interval."
"What message did you send?" I asked.
"I told him that Baron Kreiger was at five hundred and one East Fifth, probably; to get the secret service office in New York by wire and have them raid the place, then to come and rescue us. That was Annenberg. He must have come up by that trolley we heard passing just before."
The minutes seemed ages as we waited for Burke to start the machinery of the raid and then come for us.
"No--you can't have a cigarette--and if I had a pair of bracelets with me, I'd search you myself," we heard a welcome voice growl outside the door a few minutes later. "Look in that other pocket, Tom."
The lock grated back and there stood Burke holding in a grip of steel the undersized Annenberg, while the chauffeur who had driven our car swung open the door.
"I'd have been up sooner," apologized Burke, giving the anarchist an extra twist just to let him know that he was at last in the hands of the law, "only I figured that this fellow couldn't have got far away in this God-forsaken Ducktown and I might as well pick him up while I had a chance. That's a great little instrument of yours, Kennedy. I got you, fine."
Annenberg, seeing we were now four to one, concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and ceased to struggle, though now and then I could see he glanced at Kennedy out of the corner of his eye. To every question he maintained a stolid silence.
A few minutes later, with the arch anarchist safely pinioned between us, we were speeding back toward New York, laying plans for Burke to dispatch warnings abroad to those whose names appeared on the fatal list, and at the same time to round up as many of the conspirators as possible in America.
As for Kennedy, his main interest now lay in Baron Kreiger and Paula. While she had been driven frantic by the outcome of the terrible pact into which she had been drawn, some one, undoubtedly, had been trying to sell Baron Kreiger the gun that had been stolen from the American inventor. Once they had his money and he had received the plans of the gun, a fatal cigarette would be smoked. Could we prevent it?
On we tore back to the city, across the bridge and down through the canyons of East Side streets.
At last we pulled up before the tenement at five hundred and one. As we did so, one of Burke's men jumped out of the doorway.
"Are we in time?" shouted Burke.
"It's an awful mix-up," returned the man. "I can't make anything out of it, so I ordered 'em all held here till you came."
We pushed past without a word of criticism of his wonderful acumen.
On the top floor we came upon a young man, bending over the form of a girl who had fainted. On the floor of the middle of the room was a mass of charred papers which had evidently burned a hole in the carpet before they had been stamped out. Near by was an unlighted cigarette, crushed flat on the floor.
"How is she?" asked Kennedy anxiously of the young man, as he dropped down on the other side of the girl.
It was Paula. She had fainted, but was just now coming out of the borderland of unconsciousness.
"Was I in time? Had he smoked it?" she moaned weakly, as there swam before her eyes, evidently, a hazy vision of our faces.
Kennedy turned to the young man.
"Baron Kreiger, I presume?" he inquired.
The young man nodded.
"Burke of the Secret Service," introduced Craig, indicating our friend. "My name is Kennedy. Tell what happened."
"I had just concluded a transaction," returned Kreiger in good but carefully guarded English. "Suddenly the door burst open. She seized these papers and dashed a cigarette out of my hands. The next instant she had touched a match to them and had fallen in a faint almost in the blaze. Strangest experience I ever had in my life. Then all these other fellows came bursting in--said they were Secret Service men, too."
Kennedy had no time to reply, for a cry from Annenberg directed our attention to the next room where on a couch lay a figure all huddled up.
As we looked we saw it was a woman, her head sweating profusely, and her hands cold and clammy. There was a strange twitching of the muscles of the face, the pupils of her eyes were widely dilated, her pulse weak and irregular. Evidently her circulation had failed so that it responded only feebly to stimulants, for her respiration was slow and labored, with loud inspiratory gasps.
Annenberg had burst with superhuman strength from Burke's grasp and was kneeling by the side of his wife's deathbed.
"It--was all Paula's fault--" gasped the woman. "I--knew I had better--carry it through--like the Fortescue visit--alone."
I felt a sense of reassurance at the words. At least my suspicions had been unfounded. Paula was innocent of the murder of Fortescue.
"Severe, acute nicotine poisoning," remarked Kennedy, as he rejoined us a moment later. "There is nothing we can do--now."
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