The Ear in the Wall by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview
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"It seems strange," remarked Kennedy the following morning when we had met in his laboratory for our daily conference to plan our campaign, "that although we seem to be on the right trail we have not a word yet about Betty Blackwell herself. Carton has just telephoned that her mother, poor woman, is worrying her heart out and is a mere shadow of her former self."
"We must get some word," asserted Miss Kendall. "This silence is almost like the silence of death."
"I'm afraid I shall have to impose on you that task," said Kennedy thoughtfully to her. "There seems to be no course open to us but to transfer our watch from Dr. Harris to this Marie. Of course it is too early to hear from our search by means of the portrait parle. But we have both seen Dr. Harris and Marie enter the beauty parlour of Madame Margot. Now, I don't mean to cast aspersions on your own good looks, Miss Kendall. They are of the sort with which no beauty parlour except Nature can compete."
A girl of another type than Clare would probably have read a half dozen meanings into his sincere compliment. But then, I reflected that a man of another type than Craig could not have made the remark without expecting her to do so. There was a frankness between them which, I must confess, considerably relieved me. I was not prepared to lose Kennedy, even to Miss Kendall.
She smiled. "You want me to try a course in artificial beautification, don't you?"
"Yes. Walter doesn't need it, and as for me, nothing could make me a modern Adonis. Seriously, though, a man couldn't get in there, I suppose. At least that is one of the many things I want you to find out. Under the circumstances, you are the only person in whom I have confidence enough to believe that she can get at the facts there. Find out all you can about the character of the place and the people who frequent it. And if you can learn anything about that Madame Margot who runs the place, so much the better."
"I'll try," she said simply.
Kennedy resumed his tests of the powder in the packets which Dr. Harris had been distributing, and I endeavoured to make myself as little in the way as possible. It was not until the close of the afternoon that a taxicab drove up and deposited Miss Kendall at the door.
"What luck?" greeted Kennedy eagerly, as she entered. "Do you feel thoroughly beautified?"
"Don't make me smile," she replied, as she swept in with an air that would have done credit to the star in a comic opera. "I'd hate to crack or even crease the enamel on my face. I've been steamed and frozen, beaten and painted and---"
"I'm sorry to have been the cause of such cruel and unusual punishment," apologized Craig.
"No, indeed. Why, I enjoyed it. Let me tell you about the place."
She leaned against the laboratory table, certainly an incongruous picture in her new role as contrasted with the stained and dirty background of paraphernalia of medico-legal investigation. I could not help feeling that if Clare Kendall ever had decided to go in for such things, Marie herself would have had to look sharp to her laurels.
"As you enter the place," she began, "you feel a delightful warmth and there is an odour of attar of roses in the air. There are thick half-inch carpets that make walking a pleasure and dreamy Sleepy Hollow rockers that make it an impossibility. It is all very fascinating.
"There are dull-green lattices, little gateways with roses, white enamel with cute little diamond panes of glass for windows, inviting bowers of artificial flowers and dim yellow lights. It makes you feel like a sybarite just to see it. It's a cosmetic Arcadia for that fundamental feminine longing for beauty.
"Well, first there are the little dressing-rooms, each with a bed, a dresser and mirror, and everything in such good taste. After you leave them you go to a white, steamy room and there they bake you. It's a long process of gentle showers, hot and cold, after that, and massage.
"I thought I was through. But it seems that I had only just started. There was a battery of white manicure tables, and then the hairdressers and the artists who lay on these complexions-- what do you think of mine? I can't begin to tell all the secrets of the curls and puffs, and reinforcements, hygienic rolls, transformations, fluffy puffers, and all that, or of the complexions. Why, you can choose a complexion, like wall-paper or upholstery. They can make you as pale as a sickly heroine or they can make you as yellow as a bathing girl. There is nothing they can't do. I asked just for fun. I could have come out as dusky as a gipsy.
"They tried electrolysis on my eyebrows, and one attendant suggested a hypodermic injection of perfume. Ever hear of that? She thought 'new mown hay' was the best to saturate the skin with. Then another suggested, as long as I had chosen this moonbeam make-up, that perhaps I'd like a couple of dimples. They could make them permanent or lasting only a few hours. I declined. But there is nothing so wild that they haven't either thought of themselves or imported from Paris or somewhere else. I heard them discussing someone who wanted odd eyes--made by pouring in certain liquids. They don't seem to care how they affect sight, hearing, skin, or health. It is decoration run mad." "How about the people there?" asked Kennedy.
"Oh, I must tell you about that. There's so much to tell, I hardly know where to begin--or stop. I saw some flashy people. You know one customer attracts her friends and so on. There is every class there from the demi-monde up to actresses and really truly society. And they have things for all prices from the comparatively cheap to the most extravagant. They're very accommodating and, in a way, democratic."
"Did it seem--straight?" asked Kennedy.
"On the surface, yes, as far as I could judge. But I'll have to go back again for that. For instance, there was one thing that seemed queer to me. I had finished the steaming and freezing and was resting. A maid brought a tray of cigarettes, those dainty little thin ones with gilt tips. There seemed to be several kinds. I managed to try some of them. One at least I know was doped, although I only had a whiff of it. I think after they got to know you they'd serve anything from a cocktail in a teacup to the latest fads. I am sure that I saw one woman taking some veronal in her coffee."
"Veronal?" commented Craig. "Then that may be where Dr. Harris comes in."
"Partly, I think. I've got to find out more about what is hidden there. Once I heard a man's voice and I know it was Dr. Harris's."
"Harris! Why, the elevator boy at the Montmartre said he was painting the town," I observed.
"I don't believe it. I think he has all he can do keeping up with the beauty shop. You see, it is more than a massage parlour. They do real decorative surgery, as it is called. They'll engage to give you a new skin as soft and pink as a baby's. Or they will straighten a nose, or turn an ear. They have light treatment for complexions--the ruby ray, the violet ray, the phosphorescent ray.
"You would laugh at the fake science that is being handed out to those gullible fools. They can get rid of freckles and superfluous hair, of course. But they'll even tell you that they can change your mouth and chin, your eyes, your cheeks. I should be positively afraid of some of their electrical appliances there. They sweat down your figure or build it up--just as you please.
"Oh, no one need be plain in these days, not as long as Madame Margot's exists. That is where I think Dr. Harris comes in. He can pose as a full-fledged, blown-in-the-bottle cosmetic surgeon. I'll bet there is no limit to the agonized beautification that they can put you through if they think they can play you for a sucker."
"By the way, did you see Madame Margot herself?" asked Craig. "No. I made all sorts of discreet inquiries after her, but they seemed to know nothing. The nearest I could get was a hint from one of the girls that she was away. But I'll tell you whom I think I heard, talking to the man whose voice sounded like Dr. Harris's, and that was Marie. Of course I couldn't see, but in the part of the shop that looks like a fake hospital I heard two voices and I would wager that Marie is going through some of this beautification herself. Of course she is. You remember how artificial she looked?"
"Did you see anyone else?"
"Oh, yes. You know the place is two doors from the Montmartre. Well, I think they have some connection with that place between them and the Montmartre. Anyhow it looks as if they did, for after I had been there a little while a girl came in, apparently from nowhere. She was the girl we saw paying money to Ike the Dropper, you remember--the one none of us recognized? There's something in that next house, and she seems to have charge of it."
"Well, you have done a good day's work," complimented Kennedy.
"I feel that I have made a start, anyhow," she admitted. "There is a lot yet to be learned of Margot's. You remember it was early in the day that I was there. I want to go back sometime in the afternoon or evening."
"Dr. Harris is apparently the oracle on beauty," mused Kennedy.
"Yes. He must make a lot of money there."
"They must have some graft, though, besides the beauty parlour," went on Kennedy. "They wouldn't be giving up money to Ike the Dropper if that was all there was."
"No, and that is where the doped cigarette comes in. That is why I want to go again. I imagine it's like the Montmartre. They have to know you and think you are all right before you get the real inside of the place."
"I don't doubt it." "I can't go around looking like a chorus girl," remarked Miss Kendall finally, with a glance at a little mirror she carried in her bag. "I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me until I get rid of this beautification."
The telephone rang sharply.
As Kennedy answered, we gathered that it was Carton. A few minutes of conversation, mostly on Carton's part, followed. Kennedy hung up the receiver with an exclamation of vexation.
"I'm afraid I did wrong to start anything with the portrait parle yet," he said. "Why, this thing we are investigating has so many queer turns that you hardly know whom to trust." "What do you mean?"
"I don't know who could have given the thing away, but Carton says it wasn't an hour after the inquiries began about Marie that it became known in the underworld that she was being looked for in this way. Oh, they are clever, those grafters. They have all sorts of ways of keeping in touch. I suppose they remember they had one experience with the portrait parle and it has made them as wary as a burglar is over finger-prints. Carton tells me that Marie has disappeared."
"I could swear I heard her or someone at Margot's," said Clare.
"And Harris has disappeared. Of course you thought you overheard him, too. But you may have been mistaken."
"As nearly as Carton can find out," said Kennedy quickly, "Marie is Madame Margot herself."