The Gold of the Gods by Arthur B. Reeve - HTML preview
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I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that I had better go slow that day and regain my strength, a fortunate decision, as it turned out.
Kennedy, also, spent most of the time in the laboratory, so that, after all, I did not feel that I was missing very much.
It was along in the afternoon that the telephone began acting strangely, as it will do sometimes when a long distance connection is being made. Twice Kennedy answered, without getting any response.
"Confound that central," he muttered. "What do you suppose is the matter?"
Again the bell rang.
"Hello," shouted Kennedy, exasperated. "Who's this?"
There was a pause. "Just a minute," he replied.
Quickly he jammed the receiver down on a little metal base which he had placed near the instrument. Three prongs reaching upward from the base engaged the receiver tightly, fitting closely about it.
Then he took up a watch-case receiver to listen through in place of the regular receiver.
"Who is it?" he answered.
Apparently the voice at the other end of the wire replied rather peevishly, for Kennedy endeavoured to smooth over the delay. I wondered what was going on, why he was so careful. His face showed that, whatever it was, it was most important.
As he restored the telephone to its normal condition, he looked at me puzzled.
"I wonder whether that was a frame-up!" he exclaimed, pulling a little cylinder off the instrument into which he had inserted the telephone receiver. "I thought it might be and I have preserved the voice. This is what is known as the telescribe--a recent invention of Edison which records on a specially prepared phonograph cylinder all that is said--both ways--over a telephone wire."
"What was it about?" I asked eagerly.
He shoved the cylinder on a phonograph and started the instrument.
"Professor Kennedy?" called an unfamiliar voice. "Yes," answered a voice that I recognized as Craig's.
"This is the detective agency employed by Mr. Whitney. He has instructed us to inform you that he has obtained the Peruvian dagger for which you have been searching. That's all. Good-bye."
I looked at Kennedy in blank surprise.
"They rang off before I could ask them a question," said Craig. "Central tells me it was a pay station call. There doesn't seem to be any way of tracing it. But, at least I have a record of the voice."
"What are you going to do?" I queried. "It may be a fake."
"Yes, but I'm going to investigate it. Do you feel strong enough to go down to Whitney's with me?"
The startling news had been like a tonic. "Of course," I replied, seizing my hat.
Kennedy paused only long enough to call Norton. The archaeologist was out, and we hurried on downtown to Whitney's.
Whitney was not there and his clerk was just about to close the office. All the books were put away in the safe and the desks were closed. Now and then there echoed up the hall the clang of an elevator door.
"Where is Mr. Whitney?" demanded Craig of the clerk.
"I can't say. He went out a couple of hours ago."
"Did he have a visit from one of his detectives?" shot out Craig suddenly.
The clerk looked up suspiciously at us.
"No," he replied defiantly.
"Walter--stand by that door," shouted Craig. "Let no one in until they break it down."
His blue-steel automatic gleamed a cold menace at the clerk. A downtown office after office hours is not exactly the place to which one can get assistance quickly. The clerk started back.
"Did he have a visit from one of his detectives?"
"Yes." "What was it about?"
The clerk winced. "I don't know," he replied, "honest--I don't."
Craig waved the gun for emphasis. "Open the safe," he said.
Reluctantly the clerk obeyed. Under the point of the gun he searched every compartment and drawer of the big chrome steel strong-box which Whitney had pointed out as the safest place for the dagger on our first visit to him. But there was absolutely no trace of it. Had we been hoaxed and was all this risk in vain?
"Where did Mr. Whitney go?" demanded Craig, as he directed the clerk to shut the door and lock the safe again, baffled.
"If I should try to tell you," returned the man, very much frightened, "I would be lying. You would soon find out. Mr. Whitney doesn't make a confidant of me, you know."
It was useless. If he had the dagger, at least we knew that it was not at the office. We had learned only one thing. He had had a visit from one of his detectives.
As fast as the uptown trend of automobiles and surface cars during the rush hour would permit, Kennedy and I hurried in a taxicab to the Prince Edward Albert in the hope of surprising him there.
"It's no use to inquire for him," decided Craig as we entered the hotel. "I still have the key to that room, 827, next to his. We'll ride right up in the elevator boldly and get in."
No one said anything to us, as we let ourselves into the room next to Whitney's. A new lock had been placed on the door between the suites, but, aside from the additional time it took to force it, it presented no great difficulty.
"He wouldn't leave the dagger here, of course," remarked Kennedy, as at last we stepped into Whitney's suite. "But we may as well satisfy ourselves. Hello--what's this?"
The room was all upset, as though some one had already gone through it. For a moment I thought we had been forestalled.
"Packed a grip hastily," Craig remarked, pointing to the marks on the bedspread where it had rested while he must literally have thrown things into it.
We made a hasty search ourselves, but we knew it was hopeless. Two things we had learned. Whitney had had a visit from his detectives, and he had gone away hurriedly. An anonymous telephone message had been sent to Kennedy. Had it been for the purpose of throwing us off the track?
The room telephone rang. Quickly Craig jumped to it and took down the receiver. "Hello," he called. "Yes, this is Mr. Whitney."
A silence ensued during which, of course, I could not gather any idea of what was going on over the wire.
"The deuce!" exclaimed Kennedy, working the hook up and down but receiving no response. "The fellow caught on. Something must have happened to Norton, too."
"How's that?" I asked.
"Why," he replied, "some one just called up Whitney and said that Norton had got away from him."
"Perhaps they're trying to keep him out of the way just as they are with us," I suggested. "I think the thing is a plant."
Down the hall, Kennedy stopped and tapped lightly at the door of 810, the de Moche suite. I think he was surprised when the Senora's maid opened it.
"Tell Senora de Moche it is Professor Kennedy," he said quickly, "and that I must see her."
The maid admitted us into the sitting-room where we had had our first interview with her and a moment later she appeared. She was evidently not dressed for dinner, although it was almost time, and I saw Kennedy's eye travel from her to a chair in the corner over which was draped a linen automobile coat and a heavy veil. Had she been preparing to go somewhere, too? The door to Alfonso's room was open and he clearly was not there. What did it all mean?
"Have you heard anything of a report that the dagger has been found?" demanded Kennedy abruptly.
"Why--no," she replied, greatly surprised, apparently.
"You were going out?" asked Kennedy with a significant glance at the coat and veil.
"Only for a little ride with Alfonso, who has gone to hire a car," she answered quickly.
I felt sure that she had heard something about the dagger.
We had no further excuse for staying and on the way out, now that he had satisfied himself that Whitney was not there, Craig inquired at the office for him. They could tell us nothing of his whereabouts, except that he had left in his car late in the afternoon in a great hurry.
Kennedy stepped into a telephone booth and called up Lockwood, but no one answered. Inquiry in the garages in the neighbourhood finally located that at which Lockwood kept his car. There, all that they could tell us was that the car had been filled with gas and oil as if for a trip. Lockwood was gone, too.
Kennedy hastily ordered a touring car himself and placed it at a corner of the Prince Edward Albert where he could watch two of the entrances, while I waited on the next corner where I could see the entrance on the other street.
For some time we waited and still she did not come out. Had she telephoned to Alfonso and had he gone alone? Perhaps she had already been out and had taken this method of detaining us, knowing that we would wait to watch her.
It must have been a mixture of both motives, for at length I was rewarded by seeing her come cautiously out of the rear entrance of the hotel alone and start to walk hurriedly up the street. I signalled to Craig who shot down and picked me up.
By this time the Senora had reached a public cab stand and had engaged a hack.
Sinking back in the shadows of the top, which was up, Craig directed our driver to follow the hack cautiously, keeping a couple of blocks behind. There was some satisfaction, though slight, in it, at least. We felt the possibility of the trail leading somewhere, now.
On uptown the hack went, while we kept discreetly in the rear. We had reached a part of the city where it was sparsely populated, when the hack suddenly turned and doubled back on us.
There was not time for us to turn and we trusted that by shrinking back in the shadow we might not be observed.
As the hack passed us, however, the Senora leaned out until it was perfectly evident that she must recognize us. She said nothing but I fancied I saw a smile of satisfaction as she settled back into the cushions. She was deliberately going back along the very road by which she had led us out. It had been an elaborate means of wasting our time.
She did not have the satisfaction, however, of shaking us off, for we followed all the way back to the hotel and saw her go in. Then Kennedy placed the car where we had it before and left the driver with instructions to follow her regardless of time if she should come out again.
Surely, I reasoned, there must be something very queer going on, if they were all it to eliminate us and Norton. What had happened to him?
Kennedy hastened back to the campus, late as it was, there to start anew. Norton was not in his quarters and, on the chance that he might have sought to elude Whitney's detectives by doing the unexpected and going to the Museum, Kennedy walked over that way. There was nothing to indicate that anybody had been at the Museum, but, as we passed our laboratory, we could hear the telephone ringing inside, as though some one had been trying to get us for a long time.
Kennedy opened the door and switched on the lights. Waiting only long enough to jam the receiver down into place on the telescribe, he answered the call.
"The deuce you will!" I heard him exclaim, then apparently whoever was talking rang off and he could not get them back.
"Another of those confounded telephone messages," he said, turning to me and taking the cylinder off. "I looks as though the ready- letter writer who used to send warnings had learned his lesson and taken to the telephone as leaving fewer clues than handwriting."
He placed the record on the phonograph so that I could hear it. It was brief and to the point, as had been the first.
"Hello, is that you, Kennedy? We've got Norton. Next we'll get you. Good-bye."
Kennedy repeated the first message. It was evident that both had been spoken by the same voice.
"Whose is it?" I asked blankly. "What does it mean?" Before Craig could answer there was a knock at our door and he sprang to open it.