THE rapid-fire development of the unusual in the last fourteen hours had brought Police Commissioner Hall to the belief that surprise had lost its edge for him; he had rather fancied that he could no longer be stirred from his mental equilibrium by any new developments in the Hamilton case.
The announcement that the missing butler was a detective on Carroll’s private and very efficient staff had merely ruffled his complacency. But Donaldson’s calm and triumphant accusation that Lefty Scammon was Hamilton’s murderer completely destroyed his aplomb. He sank weakly into a chair.
Nor was he more surprised than the others in the room—except perhaps Carroll. But, then, thought the commissioner, facial control was a vital part of Carroll’s stock in trade, and the chances were——
Rollins had tensed rigidly. His eyes bored into those of the new suspect. Hall shifted his gaze from Rollins’ face to that of Lefty Scammon, and what he read there jarred him again.
For, beyond a question of doubt, Lefty Scammon was stunned with surprise. For perhaps fifteen seconds he tried to speak, opening his mouth and closing it again without uttering a sound other than a choked gurgle. Carroll strolled to the big doors and nodded briefly to Roberts, who entered the room, followed by the wounded Hartigan. The tableau would have been ludicrous were it not so fraught with melodramatic intensity.
And finally Scammon regained his speech.
“Wha-whadaya think of that!” he gasped. “Oh, my Gawd, whadaya think of that! Red—they got me for killin’ Hamilton!”
Hartigan’s poise was perfect. He merely shrugged.
“That’s a habit of theirs, Lefty. They got me for the same thing.”
The dry humour of his remark, and the fact that it was timed to break into a silence so tense as to be nerve-wrecking, brought involuntary smiles to the faces of all in the room. The terribly grim humour of the situation could not fail to appear to overwrought nerves. It was Rollins who broke in, roughly as usual.
“A lot o’ rot!” he raved. “Hartigan is the man who done it, an’ that’s all there is to it!”
Donaldson turned to Carroll.
“What’s that he’s sayin’, chief? Does he really think Hartigan done it?”
“So he says,” returned Carroll. “What do you think about it?”
“He’s wrong,” came back Donaldson respectfully. “Y’see, chief, I searched Hartigan before the burglary, an’ he didn’t pack a rod at all.”
“You are quite sure of that?”
“I searched him. Y’see, I was in on it, and I wasn’t runnin’ any chances of rough stuff—which is just what happened.”
“The third man concerned; who was he?”
“A yegg they call Pal Conover; yeller as a dog. He beat it when the thing started—scared stiff. He didn’t have a gun, either. This here bird,” indicating Lefty Scammon, “was the only one who had one.”
Scammon whirled on it.
“That’s a damned lie, Donaldson, an’ you know it. Didja find a gun on me?”
“Not after I caught you, no,” returned the ex-butler. “But it wasn’t so hard to chuck it away.”
“Yeh!” gibed Scammon, with forced bravado. “Go look for it. Y’d know it in a minute. See if you find it; there ain’t no chancst of y’r missing it—one of the plates on the butt is cracked in an L shape. G’wan look for it; see if y’ find it.”
“Which means,” interjected Carroll quietly, “that he is quite sure you will not find it there.”
“Ain’t it pretty rough jackin’ this man up for murder,” butted in Rollins, “just because he had a gat in his pocket?”
“No-o,” negatived Carroll, “I can’t see that it is. He had the motive for shooting and he had the weapon. What more is needed?”
“Proof!” snarled Rollins. “Just proof, that’s all. An’ that’s th’ one thing you don’t seem to pay no attention to.”
“Perhaps not, perhaps not. Suppose,” turning to Donaldson, “you tell us just what occurred, from first to last.”
“The whole business from the time you first came here to work for Mr. Hamilton.”
Donaldson seemed not at all averse to holding the centre of the stage. He started deliberately and talked clearly and distinctly throughout his story.
“About a month ago, the chief—Mr. Carroll here—sends for me; I’m working in Chicago then. He tells me that he’s been retained by this man Hamilton to gather evidence for some graft investigation directed against the police force. I’m to work in Mr. Hamilton’s house as butler, him, of course, knowing that I’m a ’tec.
“I take the job, my work bein’ to watch an’ see that there ain’t no attempt made to get away with a bunch of documentary evidence that Mr. Hamilton has in his safe; evidence that ain’t any too sweet readin’ to certain eyes. It seemin’ as though th’ parties goin’ to be caught in th’ dragnet was wise that it was kept in this house.
“Things run along pretty easy for a while, an’ then I meets up with this guy Scammon. Right away I spot him for a crook, an’ I know he must have somethin’ up his sleeve or he wouldn’t be hangin’ around an’ buyin’ me drinks whenever we got alone together.
“There ain’t no special use in goin’ into details of how I played this fish for a sucker—but the long and short of it is that in about two weeks I had him thinking I was the charter member of the independent order of yeggs.
“Then his proposition comes; he don’t tell me nothin’ about no graft investigation, but he says that he’s in with the police —stool pigeon, see?—an’ that certain parties what is goin’ to be caught wrong in this graft thing has framed up a burglary.
“Of course I knew what they was after. That there evidence Mr. Hamilton had was about all the written dope there was. Once let the right ones get their hands on it an’ burn it up, Hamilton an’ his Civic Reform League would have made fools outa themselves tryin’ to prove anything.
“So Scammon tells me that this here yegg job is under the protection of the police department; that him an’ Red Hartigan an’ this here yeller dog, Pal Conover, is goin’ to work; me helpin’ from the inside. That’s to make it look real, see? Scammon says me an’ th’ other two can divide the boodle, all he wants is some papers outa th’ safe.
“Well, sir, a blind man could of seen through that game. It was too easy. An’ I wasn’t tellin’ it to Mr. Hamilton, either; me figurin’—whether I was right or wrong—that he might spill the beans when the time come.
“I framed the night myself; Maggie was out, an’ I thought Ethel was goin’ out, too. She had asked for the evenin’ off, an’ I thought she’d got it. So I tol’ ‘em to come early, which they done; they was in the house when that young gentleman there come in.
“Things worked fine; Red an’ me bundled up all the joolry and silver, an’ I got him down in the dinin’ room. Then I went back upstairs to the attic, where I found that Ethel hadn’t gone out at all, but that Lefty had run foul of her, trussed her up, an’ stuck her in the attic—which reminds me I forgot all about her.”
“We found her,” reassured Carroll. “She’s all right.”
“Good! I’ll bet the poor kid was scared stiff. Anyway, Lefty had took his papers outa th’ safe in Mr. Hamilton’s bedroom—one of these here cheese boxes that’s an insult to a good cracksman—an’ he was satisfied. So I sends him downstairs with instructions to vamoose outa th’ front door, waitin’ in th’ garden for Hartigan.
“I goes down, an’ Red is still in th’ dinin’ room. He says he thinks he hears some one in the living room, so I walk in there. It’s empty, Mr. Hamilton an’ Mr. Harrelson bein’ in the library. So I come back an’ tip Red off he can slip behind the screen in the livin’ room an’ out through the winder, which was half open—which same he says he’ll do, an’ I go upstairs to Mr. Hamilton’s room to put th’ papers back in th’ safe.”
“What papers?” The question came from Commissioner Hall.
“Th’ evidence Mr. Hamilton had.”
“But I thought you said——”
“Oh! That bunch that Lefty Scammon had? Gee, I ain’t that soft! The stuff he got wasn’t nothin’ but copies. We still got the originals safe an’ sound!”
“O-o-oh!” A sigh of surprise went up from somewhere in the room. Donaldson chuckled softly and continued:
“That was where my job ended. I had all the dope on the men who were in the robbery, an’ they didn’t have nothin’ but some false documents that didn’t do ’em no good, an’ I had the name of the man who was behind the thing—it wasn’t such a hard job gettin’ that info, either. Even a crook’ll talk too much if you go at him right.”
He paused for a second.
“But right there was where things started goin’ wrong. All of a sudden there was two shots from the living room an’ a sort of a crash. I made a jump for the winder, an’ while I looked I seen lights come on downstairs where everything had been dark, an’ just then some one shot again from behind that bush yonder—about fifty feet away from the livin’-room door that opens onto the veranda.
“An’ then I seen a man runnin’ away—just as fast as he could travel.
“An’, gentlemen, I’m here to swear by everythin’ in the world that th’ man who jumped up an’ beat it after firin’ that shot was this here Mister Lefty Scammon! I could see him that plain in th’ moonlight!”
There followed five seconds of stunned silence. Carroll broke in with his quiet, soothing voice:
“And after that?”
“Well, sir, I plumb forgot all about Ethel bein’ tied up in the attic. I forgot everything except that somethin’ rotten had happened. Who Lefty had shot or why I didn’t know. I beat it down th’ front steps, through the library, an’ outa the window to the veranda. I scooted down past the door an’ looked in—there was Miss Eunice an’ Mr. Harrelson bendin’ over Mr. Hamilton. I knew, no matter how bad he was hurt, they’d see he got the best of attention. My job was clear—it was up to me to catch Scammon, an’ I lit a rag after him.
“An’, believe me, this bird is some elusive kid! An’ when I got him he put up a fair good scrap for such a little fellow. But here he is—an’ here”—he slipped deft fingers into Scammon’s coat pocket and produced a packet—“is the batch of fake evidence that I planted for him to steal.”
Carroll approached Lefty Scammon.
“What have you to say for yourself, Scammon?”
“You realize we’ve got you in a tight place?”
“I’ve been in tight places before.”
“Now don’t be a fool, Lefty. Facing a burglary charge and going into the dock with a murder indictment and this sort of evidence against you are different things; you’re liable to swing.” The man looked up, the light of a cornered rat in his eyes.
“I tol’ you I didn’t have nothin’ to say, an’ that goes!” he snapped viciously. “You can take your third-degree stuff to hell with you!”
But Carroll refused to be ruffled. He turned to Rollins.
“We’ve got him, haven’t we, Rollins?”
The detective shrugged.
“He says he didn’t do it.”
“But we’ve got the goods on him; you’ll admit yourself that he hasn’t got a chance, won’t you?” Rollins’ face flamed.
“I’m admittin’ nothin’. This is your case; go handle it your own way.”
“I’m afraid it’s the chair for you, Scammon,” said Carroll sadly. “We’ve got you where we want you, and we’re going to make you pay. Rollins, you see, don’t want to say anything officially because he has resigned from the police force——”
“What’s that?” gasped Scammon.
“It’s a lie!” flashed Rollins.
Carroll turned quietly to Hall.
“This is the police commissioner, Scammon. Mr. Hall, didn’t Rollins resign his position on the force a few minutes back?”
Hall took his cue cleverly.
“Yes,” he answered promptly, “and his resignation is accepted.”
Rollins would have interrupted, but Carroll ordered him back. Scammon turned large, hunted eyes to him.
“You’re tellin’ me th’ truth?’ he pleaded. “Honest t’ Grawd you ain’t lyin’?”
“What I’ve said is on the level, Scammon——”
“It’s a dirty lie!” from Rollins.
“It’s the truth!” verified Hall.
“Then,” said Scammon simply, “there ain’t a chancst for me, an’ I’m not gonna be th’ goat. S’long’s Rollins was th’ head of the plain-clothes squad I was ready to take chances, but now there’s——”
This time Rollins spoke. He shook his fist in the ratlike face of the little man.
“You dam’ little runt——”
“You can’t scare me, Rollins,” he said quietly. He turned to Carroll. “Rollins, here, is the man who murdered Hamilton!”