The Gold of the Gods by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview

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8. The Anonymous Letter


"I think I will drop in to see Senorita Mendoza," considered Kennedy, as he cleared up the materials which he had been using in his investigation of the arrow poison. "She is a study to me--in fact, the reticence of all these people is hard to combat."

As we entered the apartment where the Mendozas lived, it was difficult to realize that only a few hours had elapsed since we had first been introduced to this strange affair. In the hall, however, were still some reporters waiting in the vain hope that some fragment of a story might turn up.

"Let's have a talk with the boys," suggested Craig, before we entered the Mendoza suite. "After all, the newspaper men are the best detectives I know. If it wasn't for them, half our murder cases wouldn't ever be solved. As a matter of fact, 'yellow journals' are more useful to a city than half the detective force."

Most of the newspaper men knew Craig intimately, and liked him, possibly because he was one of the few people to-day who realized the very important part these young men played in modern life. They crowded about, eager to interview him. But Craig was clever. In the rapid fire of conversation it was really he who interviewed them.

 "Lockwood has been here a long time," volunteered one of the men. "He seems to have constituted himself the guardian of Inez. No one gets a look at her while he's around."

 "Well, you can hardly blame him for that," smiled Craig. "Jealousy isn't a crime in that case."

 "Say," put in another, "there'd be an interesting quarter of an hour if he were here now. That other fellow--de Mooch--whatever his name is, is here."

 "De Moche--with her, now?" queried Kennedy, wheeling suddenly.

The reporter smiled. "He's a queer duck. I was coming up to relieve our other man, when I saw him down on the street, hanging about the corner, his eyes riveted on the entrance to the apartment. I suppose that was his way of making love. He's daffy over her, all right. I stopped to watch him. Of course, he didn't know me. Just then Lockwood left. The Spaniard dived into the drug store on the corner as though the devil was after him. You should have seen his eyes. If looks were bullets, I wouldn't give much for Lockwood's life. With two such fellows about, you wouldn't catch me making goo-goo eyes at that chicken--not on your life."

 Kennedy passed over the flippant manner in view of the importance of the observation.

 "What do you think of Lockwood?" he asked. "Pretty slick," replied another of the men. "He's the goods, all right."

 "Why, what has he done?" asked Kennedy.

"Nothing in particular. But he came out to see us once. You can't blame him for being a bit sore at us fellows hanging about. But he didn't show it. Instead he almost begged us to be careful of how we asked questions of the girl. Of course, all of us could see how completely broken up she is. We haven't bothered her. In fact, we'd do anything we could for her. But Lockwood talks straight from the shoulder. You can see he's used to handling all kinds of situations."

 "But did he say anything, has he done anything?" persisted Kennedy.

 "N-no," admitted the reporter. "I can't say he has."

 Craig frowned a bit. "I thought not," he remarked. "These people aren't giving away any hints, if they can help it."

"It's my idea," ventured another of the men, "that when this case breaks, it will break all of a sudden. I shouldn't wonder if we are in for one of the sensations of the year, when it comes."

 Kennedy looked at him inquiringly. "Why?" he asked simply.

"No particular reason," confessed the man. "Only the regular detectives act so chesty. They haven't got a thing, and they know it, only they won't admit it to us. O'Connor was here."

 "What did he say?"

"Nothing. He went through all the motions--'Now, pens lifted, boys,' and all that--talked a lot--and after it was all over he might have been sure no one would publish a line of his confidences. There wasn't a stick of copy in the whole thing."

Kennedy laughed. "O'Connor's all right," he replied. "We may need him sorely before we get through. After all, nothing can take the place of the organization the police have built up. You say de Moche is in there yet?"

 "Yes. He seemed very anxious to see her. We never get a word out of him. I've been thinking what would happen if we tried to get him mad. Maybe he'd talk."

 "More likely he'd pull a gun," cautioned another. "Excuse ME."

 Kennedy said nothing, evidently content to let the newspaper men go their own sweet way.

 He nodded to them, and pressed the buzzer at the Mendoza door.

 "Tell Senorita Mendoza that it is Professor Kennedy," he said to Juanita, who opened the door, keeping it on the chain, to be sure it was no unwelcome intruder.

 Evidently she had had orders to admit us, for a second later we found ourselves again in the little reception room.

We sat down, and I saw that Craig's attention had at once been fixed on something. I listened intently, too. On the other side of the heavy portieres that cut us off from the living room I could distinguish low voices. It was de Moche and Inez.

 Whatever the ethics of it, we could not help listening. Besides there was more at stake than ethics.

 Evidently the young man was urging her to do something that she did not agree with.

"No," we heard her say finally, in a quiet tone, "I cannot believe it, Alfonso. Mr. Whitney is Mr. Lockwood's associate now. My father and Mr. Lockwood approved of him. Why should I do otherwise?"

De Moche was talking earnestly but in a very muffled voice. We could not make out anything except a few scattered phrases which told us nothing. Once I fancied he mentioned his mother. Whatever it was that he was urging, Inez was firm.

 "No, Alfonso," she repeated, her voice a little higher and excited. "It cannot be. You must be mistaken."

She had risen, and now moved toward the hall door, evidently forgetting that the folding doors behind the portieres were open. "Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson are here," she said. "Would you care to meet them?"

 He replied in the negative. Yet as he passed the reception room he could not help seeing us.

As Inez greeted us, I saw that Alfonso was making a desperate effort to control his expression. He seemed to be concealing a bitter disappointment. Seeing us, he bowed stiffly, and, with just the murmur of a greeting, excused himself.

He had no sooner closed the door to run the gauntlet of the sharp eyes in the hall than the Senorita faced us fully. She was pale and nervous. Evidently something that he had said to her had greatly agitated her. Yet with all her woman's skill she managed to hide all outward traces of emotion that might indicate what it was that racked her mind.

 "You have something to report?" she asked, a trifle anxiously. "Nothing of any great importance," admitted Craig.

Was it actually a look of relief that crossed her face? Try as I could, it seemed to me to be an anomalous situation. She wanted the murderer of her father caught, naturally. Yet she did not seem to be offering us the natural assistance that was to be expected. Could it be that she suspected some one perhaps near and dear to her of having some knowledge, which, now that the deed was done, would do more harm than good if revealed? It was the only conclusion to which I could come. I was surprised at Kennedy's next question. Was the same idea in his mind, also?

 "We have seen Mr. Whitney," he ventured. "Just what are Mr. Lockwood's relations with him--and yours?"

"Merely that Mr. Lockwood and my father were partners," she answered hastily. "They had decided that their interests would be more valuable by some arrangement with Mr. Whitney, who controls so much down in Peru."

"Do you think that Senora de Moche exercises a very great influence on Mr. Whitney?" asked Craig, purposely introducing the name of the Indian woman to see what effect it might have on her.

 "Oh," she cried, with a little exclamation of alarm, "I hope not."

 Yet it was evident that she feared so.

 "Why is it that you fear it?" insisted Kennedy. "What has she done to make you fear it?"

"I don't like her," returned Inez, with a frown. "My father knew her--too well. She is a schemer, an adventuress. Once she has a hold on a man, one cannot say--" She paused, then went on in a different tone. "But I would rather not talk about the woman. I am afraid of her. Never does she talk to me that she does not get something out of me that I do not wish to tell her. She is uncanny."

 Personally, I could not blame Inez for her opinion. I could understand it. Those often baleful eyes had a penetrating power that one might easily fall a victim to.

 "But you can trust Mr. Lockwood," he returned. "Surely he is proof against her, against any woman."

Inez flushed. It was evident that of all the men who were interested in the little beauty, Lockwood was first in her mind. Yet when Kennedy put the question thus she hesitated. "Yes," she replied, "of course, I trust him. It is not that woman whom I fear with him."

She said it with an air almost of defiance. There was some kind of struggle going on in her mind, and she was too proud to let us into the secret.

 Kennedy rose and bowed. For the present he had come to the conclusion that if she would not let us help her openly the only thing to do was to help her blindly.

Half an hour later we were at Norton's apartment, not far from the University campus. He listened intently as Kennedy told such parts of what we had done as he chose. At the mention of the arrow poison, he seemed startled beyond measure.

 "You are sure of it?" he asked anxiously.

 "Positive, now," reiterated Kennedy.

 Norton's face was drawn in deep lines. "If some one has the secret," he cried hastily, "who knows when and on whom next he may employ it?"

 Coming from him so soon after the same idea had been hinted at by the coroner, I could not but be impressed by it.

"The very novelty of the thing is our best protection," asserted Kennedy confidently. "Once having discovered it, if Walter gives the thing its proper value in the Star, I think the criminal will be unlikely to try it again. If you had had as much experience in crime as I have had, you would see that it is not necessarily the unusual that is baffling. That may be the surest way to trace it. Often it is because a thing is so natural that it may be attributed to any person among several, equally well."

 Norton eyed us keenly, and shook his head. "You may be right," he said doubtfully. "Only I had rather that this person, whoever he may be, had fewer weapons."

 "Speaking of weapons," broke in Kennedy, "you have had no further idea of why the dagger might have been taken?"

"There seems to have been so much about it that I did not know," he returned, "that I am almost afraid to have an opinion. I knew that its three-sided sheath inclosed a sharp blade, yet who would have dreamed that that blade was poisoned?"

 "You are lucky not to have scratched yourself with it by accident while you were studying it."

 "Possibly I might have done it, if I had had it in my possession longer. It was only lately that I had leisure to study it."

 "You knew that it might offer some clue to the hidden treasure of Truxillo?" suggested Kennedy. "Have you any recollection of what the inscriptions on it said?"

"Yes," returned Norton, "I had heard the rumours about it. But Peru is a land of tales of buried treasure. No, I can't say that I paid much more attention to it than you might have done if some one asserted that he had another story of the treasure of Captain Kidd. I must confess that only when the thing was stolen did I begin to wonder whether, after all, there might not be something in it. Now it is too late to find out. From the moment when I found that it was missing from my collection I have heard no more about it than you have found out. It is all like a dream to me. I cannot believe even yet that a mere bit of archaeological and ethnological specimen could have played so important a part in the practical events of real life."

 "It does seem impossible," agreed Kennedy. "But it is even more remarkable than that. It has disappeared without leaving a trace, after having played its part."

"If it had been a mere robbery," considered Norton, "one might look for its reappearance, I suppose, in the curio shops. For to- day thieves have a keen appreciation of the value of such objects. But, now that you have unearthed its use against Mendoza--and in such a terrible way--it is not likely that that will be what will happen to it. No, we must look elsewhere."

 "I thought I would tell you," concluded Kennedy, rising to go. "Perhaps after you have considered it over night some idea may occur to you."

 "Perhaps," said Norton doubtfully. "But I haven't your brilliant faculty of scientific analysis, Kennedy. No, I shall have to lean on you, in that, not you on me."

We left Norton, apparently now more at sea than ever. At the laboratory Kennedy plunged into some microphotographic work that the case had suggested to him, while I dashed off, under his supervision, an account of the discovery of curare, and telephoned it down to the Star in time to catch the first morning edition, in the hope that it might have some effect in apprising the criminal that we were hard on his trail, which he had considered covered.

I scanned the other papers eagerly in the morning for Kennedy, hoping to glean at least some hints that others who were working on the case might have gathered. But there was nothing, and, after a hasty bite of breakfast, we hurried back to take up the thread of the investigation where we had laid it down.

To our surprise, on the steps of the Chemistry Building, as we approached, we saw Inez Mendoza already waiting for us in a high state of agitation. Her face was pale, and her voice trembled as she greeted us.

 "Such a dreadful thing has come to me," she cried, even before Kennedy could ask her what the trouble was.

 From her handbag she drew out a crumpled, dirty piece of paper in an envelope.

"It came in the first mail," she explained. "I could not wait to send it to you. I brought it myself. What can it mean?"

 Kennedy unfolded the paper. Printed in large characters, in every way similar to the four warnings that had been sent to us, was just one ominous line. We read:

 "Beware the man who professes to be a friend of your father."

 I glanced from the note to Kennedy, then to Inez. One name was in my mind, and before I knew it I had spoken it.

 "Lockwood?" I queried inadvertently.

 Her eyes met mine in sharp defiance. "Impossible," she exclaimed. "It is some one trying to injure him with me. Beware of Mr. Lockwood? How absurd!"

Yet it must have meant Lockwood. No one else could have been meant. It was he, most of all, who might be called a friend of her father. She seemed to see the implication without a word from us.

I could not help sympathizing with the brave girl in her struggle between the attack against Lockwood and her love and confidence in him. It did not need words to tell me that evidence must be overwhelming to convince her that her lover might be involved in any manner.