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- Vicky Van - 5/40 -


Sure enough, where was Steele? I had forgotten all about him. And it was he who had introduced Somers to the Van Allen house, and no one else present, so far as I knew, was previously acquainted with the man now lying dead the other side of that closed door.

I looked over the people who had stayed. Only a handful--perhaps half a dozen.

And then I wondered if I'd better go home myself. Not for my own sake, in any way; indeed, I preferred to remain, but I thought of Aunt Lucy and Win. Ought I to bring on them any shadow of trouble or opprobrium that might result from my presence in that house at that time? Would it not be better to go while I could do so? For, once the police took charge, I knew I should be called on to testify in public. And even as I debated with myself, the police arrived.

CHAPTER III

THE WAITER'S STORY

Doctor Remson's police call had been imperative, and Inspector Mason came in with two men.

"What's this? What's wrong here?" the big burly inspector said, as he faced the few of us who had remained.

"Come in here, inspector," said the doctor, from the dining-room door.

And from that moment the whole aspect of the house seemed to change. No longer a gay little bijou residence, it became a court of justice.

One of the men was stationed at the street door and one at the area door below. Headquarters was notified of details. The coroner was summoned, and we were all for the moment under detention.

"Where is Miss Van Allen? Where is the lady of the house?" asked Mason. "Where are the servants? Who is in charge here?"

Was ever a string of questions so impossible of answers!

Doctor Remson told the main facts, but he was reticent. I, too, hesitated to say much, for the case was strange indeed.

Mrs. Reeves looked gravely concerned, but said nothing.

Ariadne Gale began to babble. That girl didn't know how to be quiet.

"I guess Miss Van Allen is upstairs," she volunteered. "She was in the dining-room, but she isn't here now, so she must be upstairs. Shall I go and see?"

"No!" thundered the inspector. "Stay where you are. Search the house, Breen. I'll cover the street door."

The man he called Breen went upstairs on the jump, and Mason continued. "Tell the story, one of you. Who is this man? Who killed him?"

As he talked, the inspector was examining Somers' body, making rapid notes in a little book, keeping his eye on the door, and darting quick glances at each of us, as he tried to grasp the situation.

I looked at Bert Garrison, who was perhaps the most favored of Miss Van Allen's friends, but he shook his head, so I threw myself into the breach.

"Inspector," I said, "that man's name is Somers. Further than that I know nothing. He is a stranger to all of us, and he came to this house to-night for the first time in his life."

"How'd he happen to come? Friend of Miss Van Allen?"

"He met her to-night for the first time. He came here with--" I paused. It was so hard to know what to do. Steele had gone home, ought I to implicate him?

"Go on--came here with whom? The truth, now."

"I usually speak the truth" I returned, shortly. "He came with Mr. Norman Steele."

"Where is Mr. Steele?"

"He has gone. There were a great many people here, and, naturally, some of them went away when this tragedy was discovered."

"Humph! Then, of course, the guilty party escaped. But we are getting nowhere. Does nobody know anything of this man, but his name?"

Nobody did; but Ariadne piped up, "He was a delightful man. He told me he was a great patron of art, and often bought pictures."

Paying little heed to her, the inspector was endeavoring to learn from the dead man's property something more about him.

"No letters or papers," he said, disappointedly, as he turned out the pockets. "Not unusual--in evening togs--but not even a card or anything personal--looks queer--"

"Look in his watch," said Ariadne, bridling with importance.

Giving her a keen glance, the inspector followed her suggestion. In the back of the case was a picture of a coquettish face, undoubtedly that of an actress. It was not carefully fastened in, but roughly cut out and pressed in with ragged edges.

"Temporary," grunted the inspector, "and recently stuck in. Some chicken he took out to supper. He's a club man, you say?"

"Yes, Mr. Steele said so, and also vouched for his worth and character." I resented the inspector's attitude. Though I knew nothing of Somers, and didn't altogether like him, yet, I saw no reason to think ill of the dead, until circumstances warranted it.

Further search brought a thick roll of money, some loose silver, a key-ring with seven or eight keys, eyeglasses in a silver case, handkerchiefs, a gold pencil, a knife, and such trifles as any man might have in his pockets, but no directly identifying piece of property.

R. S. was embroidered in tiny white letters on the handkerchiefs, and a monogram R. S. was on his seal ring.

His jewelry, which was costly, the inspector did not touch. There were magnificent pearl studs, a watch fob, set with a black opal and pearl cufflinks. Examination of his hat showed the pierced letters R. S., but nothing gave clue to his Christian name.

"Somers," said the inspector, musingly. "What club does he belong to?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Mr. Steele belongs to several, but Mr. Somers does not belong to any that I do. At least, I've never seen him at any."

"Call in the servants. Let's find out something about this household."

As no one else moved to do it, I stepped to the door of the butler's pantry, and summoned the head waiter of the caterer.

"Where are the house servants?" I asked him.

"There aren't any, sir," he replied, looking shudderingly at the grisly form on the floor.

"No servants? In a house of this type! What do you mean?"

"That's true," said Mrs. Reeves, breaking her silence, at last. "Miss Van Allen has a very capable woman, who is housekeeper and ladies' maid in one. But when guests are here, the suppers are served from the caterer's."

"Then call the housekeeper. And where is Miss Van Allen herself?"

"She's not in the house," said the policeman Breen, returning from his search.

"Not in the house!" cried Mrs. Reeves. "Where is she?"

"I've been all over--every room--every floor. She isn't in the house. There's nobody upstairs at all."

"No housekeeper or maid?" demanded Mason. "Then they've got away! Here, waiter, tell me all you know of this thing."

The Italian Luigi came forward, shaking with terror, and wringing his fingers nervously.

"I d--don't know anything about it," he began, but Mason interrupted, "You do! You know all about it! Did you kill this man?"

"No! Dio mio! No! a thousand no's!"

"Then, unless you wish to be suspected of it, tell all you know."

A commotion at the door heralded the coroner's arrival, also a detective and a couple of plain clothes men. Clearly, here was a mysterious case.

The coroner at once took matters in his own hands. Inspector Mason told him all that had been learned so far, and though Coroner Fenn seemed to think matters had been pretty well bungled, he made no comment and proceeded with the inquiries.

"Sure there's nobody upstairs?" he asked Breen.

"Positive. I looked in every nook and cranny. I've raked the whole house, but the basement and kitchen part."

"Go down there, then, and then go back and search upstairs again. Somebody may be hiding. Who here knows Miss Van Allen the most intimately?"

"Perhaps I do," said Mrs. Reeves. "Or Miss Gale. We are both her warm friends."


Vicky Van - 5/40

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