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- The Voice on the Wire - 10/37 -
table, Mr. Harrison. This gink is nuts: he thinks's he's Mike Angelo or some other sculpture. He'll start sculpin' the crowd in a minute!"
"You take the picture and keep your opinions to yourself," snapped Shirley whose hearing was highly trained.
The man lapsed into silence. For two hours they fumed and perspired and swore, under the intense heat of the low-hung mercury lamps, until at last a test proved they had the right combination. Shirley greased the skill of the camera man with a well-directed gratuity, and ordered speedy development of the film. Before this was done, however, he took six other records of voices from the folk in the studio, using the same words: "Can you hear me now?"
The three strips of triple exposures were taken to the dark room and developed by the camera man. They were dried on the revolving electric drums, near a battery of fans. Shirley studied every step of the work, with this and that question --this had been his method of acquiring a curiously catholic knowledge of scientific methods since leaving the university, where sporting proclivities had prompted him to slide through courses with as little toil as possible.
A print upon "positive" film was made from each: every strip was duplicated twenty-five times, at Shirley's suggestion. Then after two hours of effort the material was ready to be run through the projecting machine, for viewing upon the screen.
The manager led Shirley to the small exhibition theatre in which every film was studied, changed and cut from twenty to fifty times before being released for the theatres. The camera man went into the little fire-proof booth, to operate the machine.
"Which one first, chief?"
"Take one by chance," said Shirley, "and I will guess its number. Start away."
There was a flare of light upon the screen, as the operator fussed with the lamp for better lumination. He slowly began to turn the crank, and the criminologist watched the screen with no little excitement. The picture thrown up resembled nothing so much as three endless snakes twisting in the same general rhythm from top to bottom of the frame. The twenty-five duplicates were all joined to the original, so that there was ample opportunity to compare the movements.
"Well, gov'nor, which film was that?" asked the operator.
"Not A--it was B or C!"
"Correct. How'd you guess it? Which is this one?"
As he adjusted another roll of film in the projector, Shirley turned to the manager sitting at his side. "Mr. Harrison, were those snakes all exactly alike?"
"No. They all wriggled in the same direction, at the same time. But little rough angles in some movements and queer curves in others made each individually different."
"Just what I thought. There goes another.--That is not film A, either!"
"Righto!" confirmed the camera man. As the detailed divergence between the lines became more evident in the repetitions, Shirley slapped his knee.
"Now for the finish. Try reel A."
This time the three snakey lines moved along in almost identical synchronism. The only difference was that the first was thin, the second heavier, the third the darkest and most ragged of all. The relationship was unmistakable!
"I got you gov'nor," cried the operator. "Some dope, all right, all right."
"Why, what is all this?" asked the manager, nonplussed. "The last three are alike, but what good does it do?"
"It is known that the human voice in its inflections is like handwriting--with a distinct personality. Certain words, when pronounced naturally, without the alterations of dialect, are always in the same rhythm. The records taken in the studio of those five words, 'Can you hear me now?' are in the same general rhythm, but only the last three snakes show exact similarity, to each little quaver and turn. There was only the difference in shading: one was the voice of a women. The second of a man of perhaps forty, the third of an old man--all three taken at different times, and I thought from different people. But they all came from one throat, and my work is completed along this line--Will you please lock up the films, the phonograph, and my records in your film vault, until I send for them; through Mr. Holloway?"
The criminologist arose and walked into the deserted studio, from whence the company had long since departed for belated slumbers. He picked up three bricks which lay in a corner of the big studio, and placed them gently into his grip. The manager and the camera man observed this with blank amazement, as he locked it and put the key into his pocket. Then he handed each of them a large-sized bill.
"I'm very grateful, gentlemen, for your assistance. Pleasant dreams."
Shirley abstractedly walked out of the studio, one hand comfortably in his overcoat pocket, swinging the grip in the other.
"Say, Lou," confided the manager, "he's the craziest guy I've ever seen in the movies. And that's going some, after ten years of it."
Lou treated himself to a generous bite of plug tobacco, and spat philosophically, before replying.
"Sure, he's crazy. Crazy, like the grandfather of all foxes!"
ENTER A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
A reddening zone in the East silhouetted the serrated line of the distant elevated structure, as Shirley walked along the gray street, his thoughts busy with the possibilities of applying his new certainty.
He had reached Sixth Avenue, and was just passing one of the elevated pillars when a black touring car crept up behind him. The clanging bell and the grinding motors of an early surface car drowned the sound of the automobile in his rear. Suddenly the big machine sprang forward at highest speed. A man leaned from the driver's seat, and snatched the grip from his hand.
The motorman, cursing, threw on the emergency brake, in time to barely graze the machine with his fender as it shot across the street before him.
Shirley's view was cut off, until he had run around the street-car--then he beheld the big automobile skidding in a half-circle, as it turned down Fifth Avenue. It was too far away to distinguish the number of the singing license tag.
"Much good may the bricks do them! Perhaps they will help to build the annex necessary up the river, when these gentry go there for a long visit."
Shirley laughed at the joke on his pursuers, and turned into a little all-night grill for a comforting mutton chop of gargantuan proportions, with an equally huge baked potato. He was a healthy brute, after all his morbid line of activities! Later, at the Club, he submitted to the amenities of the barber, whose fine Italian hand smoothed away, in a skilful massage, the haggard lines of his long vigil. As he left the club house for William Grimsby's residence he looked as fresh and bouyant as though he had enjoyed the conventional eight hours' sleep.
"You are this Montague Shirley?" was the querulous greeting from the old gentleman, when he was admitted to the drawing-room. "You kept me in anguish the entire night, with your silly words. The telephone bell rang at intervals of half an hour until dawn: I may have missed some important business deal by not replying What do you mean? Is this some blackmail game?"
"No, sir. It has to deal with blackmailing, however--but not for my profit."
"Explain quickly. I am a busy man. My motor is waiting now to take me to my office."
"Look here, Mr. Grimsby, at this memorandum book," said Shirley, holding forward the list which he had copied from the joy-party article in the theatrical paper. "With some friends of yours, you held merry carnival to Venus and Bacchus at an all-night lobster palace not long ago. Have I the right names?"
"This is rank impertinence. How dare you? Get out of my house."
"Not so fast, my dear sir, until you understand my drift. Throughout Club circles you and Mr. Van Cleft, with these other cronies are sarcastically referred to as the Lobster Club. Did you know that?"
Grimsby's face was purple with angry mortification, but Shirley would not be gainsaid. "I am acting in this matter as a friend of Howard Van Cleft," he continued. "Your three friends have met their deaths at the hand of a cunning conspirator. Last night, white I talked with you on the telephone, young Van Cleft was receiving advice over another wire from a person who pretended to be William Grimsby--advising him to hush the matter up and drop the investigation. But--Captain Cronin the famous detective--has received a tip that the number of victims would be increased very soon--frankly, now: do you want to be the fourth?"
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