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- The Voice on the Wire - 5/37 -


request, as he nodded with a wry face.

"Impossible, my dear sir, for I learned it, according to the Oriental custom under the most sacred obligations of secrecy. One must advance through the whole course, by initiatory degrees, before learning the final mysteries of the samurais. Now, we have a working hypothesis. The girls could never have accomplished this. One man and one alone must have killed the three, although doubtless with confederates. Yamashino assured me that there were only six men in this country who knew it beside myself. We must find an Orientalist!"

Shirley paced the floor, but his meditations were interrupted by the arrival of the Coroner and his physician. Van Cleft hurried into the room with them, to present the doctor, who exchanged a formal greeting with the men he had met twice before that week.

"A sad affair, Professor," observed the Coroner nervously, drinking in with profound respect the magnificent surroundings which symbolized the great wealth of which he secretly hoped to gain a tithing. "I trust that, as usual, in such cases, I may suggest an undertaker?"

"Why--talk about that at once, sir?" asked Howard with a shudder.

The physician, familiar with the subtleties of coroners, gently placed an arm about the young man's shoulder. He nodded, understandingly, to the Coroner, as he turned toward Shirley.

"I must be going now," the latter interposed. "Just a word with you, Howard, that I may send a message to your mother and sister."

The physician led away the two officials as Shirley continued: "I must go to see Cronin--deserted there like a run-over mongrel on the street. Can I leave this house by the rear, so that none shall know of my assistance in the case, or follow me to the hospital? If you can secure an old hat and coat, I will leave my own, with my stick, to get them some other time."

"I will get some from the butler, if you wait just a moment. You can leave by the rear yard, if you don't mind climbing a high board fence."

Van Cleft hurried downstairs, in a few minutes, bearing a weather-beaten overcoat and an English cap, which Shirley drew down over his ears. With the coat on, he looked very unlike the well-groomed club man who had entered. Unseen by Van Cleft he shifted an automatic revolver into the coat pocket from the discarded garment.

"Now, Mr. Shirley, come this way. Follow the rear area-way, across to the next yard, where after another climb you find a vacant lot where the Schuylers are preparing to erect their new city house. Will you attend to everything?"

"Everything. I'll start sooner than you expect."

Truly he did! For no sooner had he descended the second fence into the empty lot than a stinging blow sent him at full length on the rocky ground, where the excavations were already being started. Two men pounced upon him in a twinkling--only his great strength, acquired through the football years, saved him from immediate defeat. His head throbbed, and he was dizzy as he caught the wrist of the nearest assailant with a quick twist which resulted in a sudden, sickening crunch. The man groaned in agony, but his companion kicked with heavy-shod feet at the prostrate man. Shirley's left hand duplicated the vice-like grip upon the ankle of the standing assailant, and his deftness caused another tendon strain! Both men toppled to the ground, now, and before they realized it Shirley had reversed the advantage. His automatic emphasized his superiority of tactics. He understood their silence, broken only by muted groans: they feared the police, even as did he, although for different reasons. He "frisked" the man nearest him upon the ground, and captured deftly the rascal's weapon: then he sprang up covering the twain.

"Get up! Youse guys is poachin' in de wrong district--dis belongs to de Muggins gang. I'll fix youse guys fer buttin' in. Up, dere!" His hands went into his coat pockets, but the men knew that they were still pointing at them, the gunman's "cover" as it is called. They staggered sullenly to their feet. He beckoned with his head, toward the front of the lot. They followed the silent instructions, one limping while his mate wrung the injured wrist in agony.

Directly before the lot stood a throbbing, empty automobile. Shirley decided to take another car--he could not guard them and drive at the same time.

"Down to Fift' Avnoo," he ordered. "I got two guns--not a woid from youse!" His erstwhile amiable physiognomy, now gnarled into an unrecognizable mask of low villainy bespoke his desperate earnestness. The men obeyed. This was apparently a gangster, of gangsters--their fear of the dire vengeance of a rival organization of cut-throats instilled an obedience more humble than any other threats.

Toward the Park side they advance, one leaning heavily upon the other. Shirley, his broad shoulders hunched up; with the collar drawn high about his neck, the murderous looking cap down over his eyes, followed them doggedly.

A big limousine was speeding down the Avenue from some homing theater party. Shirley hailed it with an authoritive yell which caused the chauffeur to put on a quick brake.

"Git out dere,--no gun play. Up inter dat car!" he added, as they approached the machine.

"Say, what you drivin' at?" cried the driver, queruously. "Is this a hold-up?" It was a puzzling moment, but the criminologist's calm bravado saved the situation: as luck would have it no policemen were in sight, to spoil the maneuver.

"No," and he assumed a more natural voice and dialect. "I'm a detective. These men were just house-breaking, and I got them. There's twenty-five dollars in it for you, if you take us down to the Holland Detective Agency, in ten minutes."

"He's kiddin' ye, feller," snapped out one man.

"Don't fall fen him, yen boob!" sung out the other.

But Shirley's automatic now appeared outside the coat pocket. The chauffeur realized that here was serious gaming. With his left hand Shirley jerked out the ever ready police card and fire badge, which seemed official enough to satisfy the driver.

"Quick now, or I'll run you in, too, for refusing to obey an officer. You men climb into that back seat. Driver, beat it now to Thirty-nine West Forty Street, if you need that twenty-five dollars. I'll sit with them. I don't want any interference so I can come back and nab the rest of their gang."

His authoritative manner convinced this new ally, and he climbed into the car, facing his prisoners, with the two weapons held down below the level of the windows. Pedestrians and other motorists little recked what strange cargo was borne as the car raced down the broad thoroughfare.

In nine minutes they drew up before the Holland Agency, a darkened, brown front house of ancient architecture. The chauffeur sprang out to swing back the door.

"Go up the steps, and tell the doorman that Captain Cronin wants two men to bring down their guns and handcuffs and get two prisoners. Quick!"

The street was not empty, even at this hour. Yet the passersby did not realize the grim drama enacted inside the waiting machine. Hours seemed to pass before Cronin's men returned with the driver, as much surprised by the three strange faces within the machine, as he had been.

"You take these men upstairs and keep them locked up," bluntly commanded the criminologist. "They're nabbed on the new case of the Captain's which started to-night, I'm going over to Bellevue to see him." His voice was still disguised, his features twisted even yet.

The men gave him a curious glance, and then obeyed. As they disappeared behind the heavy wooden door, Shirley stepped into a dark hallway, close by. He lit a wax match to give him light for the choosing of the right amount, from the roll of bills which he drew forth. The chauffeur whistled with surprise at the size of the denominations. The twenty-five were handed over.

"Thanks very much, my friend," and the face unsnarled itself, into the amiable lines of the normal. The voice was agreeable and smooth, which surprised the man the more. "You took me out of a ticklish situation tonight. I don't want any mere policemen to spoil my little game. Please oil up your forgettery with these, and then--forget!"

"Say, gov'nor," retorted the driver, as he put the money into the band of his leather cap. "I ain't seen so much real change since my boss got stung on the war. I ain't so certain but what you was the gink robbin' that house, at that. But that's them guys funeral if you beat 'em to it. Good-night--much obliged. But I got to slip it to you, gov'nor--you ain't none of them Central Office flat-feet, sure 'nuff! If you are a detective, you're some fly cop!"

CHAPTER IV

A SCIENTIFIC NOVELTY

In a private ward room at Bellevue Hospital, Captain Cronin was just returning to memory of himself and things that had been. Shirley arrived at his cot-side as he was being propped up more comfortably. The older man's face broke into game smiles, as the criminologist took the chair provided by the pretty nurse.

"Thanks, I'll have a little chat with my friend, if you don't think it will do him any harm."


The Voice on the Wire - 5/37

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