The Silent Bullet HTML version

8. Spontaneous Combustion
Kennedy and I had risen early, for we were hustling to get off for a week-end at Atlantic
City. Kennedy was tugging at the straps of his grip and remonstrating with it under his
breath, when the door opened and a messenger-boy stuck his head in.
"Does Mr. Kennedy live here" he asked.
Craig impatiently seized the pencil, signed his name in the book, and tore open a night
letter. From the prolonged silence that followed I felt a sense of misgiving. I, at least, had
set my heart on the Atlantic City outing, but with the appearance of the messenger-boy I
intuitively felt that the board walk would not see us that week.
"I'm afraid the Atlantic City trip is off, Walter," remarked Craig seriously. "You
remember Tom Langley in our class at the university? Well, read that."
I laid down my safety razor and took the message. Tom had not spared words, and I
could see at a glance at the mere length of the thing that it must be important. It was from
Camp Hang-out in the Adirondacks.
"Dear old K.," it began, regardless of expense, "can you arrange to come up here by next
train after you receive this? Uncle Lewis is dead. Most mysterious. Last night after we
retired noticed peculiar odour about house. Didn't pay much attention. This morning
found him lying on floor of living-room, head and chest literally burned to ashes, but
lower part of body and arms untouched. Room shows no evidence of fire, but full of sort
of oily soot. Otherwise nothing unusual. On table near body siphon of seltzer, bottle of
imported limes, and glass for rickeys. Have removed body, but am keeping room exactly
as found until you arrive. Bring Jameson. Wire if you cannot come, but make every effort
and spare no expense. Anxiously, Tom Langley."
Craig was impatiently looking at his watch as I hastily ran through the letter.
"Hurry, Walter," he exclaimed. "We can just catch the Empire State. Never mind
shaving--we'll have a stopover at Utica to wait for the Montreal express. Here, put the
rest of your things in your grip and jam it shut. We'll get something to eat on the train--I
hope. I'll wire we're coming. Don't forget to latch the door."
Kennedy was already half-way to the elevator, and I followed ruefully, still thinking of
the ocean and the piers, the bands and the roller chairs.
It was a good ten-hour journey up to the little station nearest Camp Hang-out and at least
a two hour ride after that. We had plenty of time to reflect over what this death might
mean to Tom and his sister and to speculate on the manner of it. Tom and Grace Langley
were relatives by marriage of Lewis Langley, who, after the death of his wife, had made
them his proteges. Lewis Langley was principally noted, as far as I could recall, for being