The Silent Bullet HTML version

3. The Bacteriological Detective
Kennedy was deeply immersed in writing a lecture on the chemical compositions of
various bacterial toxins and antitoxins, a thing which was as unfamiliar to me as
Kamchatka, but as familiar to Kennedy as Broadway and Forty-second Street.
"Really," he remarked, laying down his fountain-pen and lighting his cigar for the
hundredth time, "the more one thinks of how the modern criminal misses his
opportunities the more astonishing it seems. Why do they stick to pistols, chloroform, and
prussic acid when there is such a splendid assortment of refined methods they might
"Give it up, old man," I replied helplessly, "unless it is because they haven't any
imagination. I hope they don't use them. What would become of my business if they did?
How would you ever get a really dramatic news feature for the Star out of such a thing?
'Dotted line marks route taken by fatal germ; cross indicates spot where antitoxin
attacked it'--ha! ha! not much for the yellow journals in that, Craig."
"To my mind, Walter, it would be the height of the dramatic--far more dramatic than
sending a bullet into a man. Any fool can shoot a pistol or cut a throat, but it takes brains
to be up-to-date."
"It may be so;" I admitted, and went on reading, while Kennedy scratched away
diligently on his lecture. I mention this conversation both because it bears on my story,
by a rather peculiar coincidence, and because it showed me a new side of Kennedy's
amazing researches. He was as much interested in bacteria as in chemistry, and the story
is one of bacteria.
It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later when the buzzer on our hall door sounded.
Imagine my surprise on opening the door to discover the slight figure of what appeared to
be a most fascinating young lady who was heavily veiled. She was in a state almost
bordering on hysteria, as even I, in spite of my usual obtuseness, noticed.
"Is Professor Kennedy in?" she inquired anxiously.
"Yes, ma'am;" I replied, opening the door into our study.
She advanced toward him, repeating her inquiry.
"I am Professor Kennedy. Pray be seated," he said.
The presence of a lady in our apartment was such a novelty that really I forgot to
disappear, but busied myself straightening the furniture and opening a window to allow
the odour of stale tobacco to escape.