Six Seconds of Darkness/Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

A POLICEMAN in the crowd said “Oh!” very suddenly, and another one broke in with a hoarse “Shut up!” Farris, the old-timer, mechanically took down the report of the patrolman on beat sixteen. The orderly produced a chair as though by magic, and into it Eunice Duval sank gratefully.

Not even the sensational news of Hamilton’s death had created the stir in the minds of the policemen which was begotten by the confession of the girl that she was guilty of the crime. It was Larry O’Brien who first regained a semblance of his poise, and he forced a light laugh to his lips.

“Av course,” he said in what he fondly believed to be a calm and matter-of-fact tone, “that’s different. There bein’ extenuatin’ circumstances——

The girl looked up quickly.

“There—there weren’t,” she said simply. “I—I just shot him.”

“Ah, g’wan wid yez! He was thryin’ to attack ye——” O’Brien was talking more to soothe her than to arrive at any definite conclusion, but she had grown suddenly calmer.

“No, he wasn’t attacking—me. I—well, I’ve told you. I shot him, and—I’ve given myself up.”

“But surely——

“I’m afraid I don’t want to say anything else right now. I believe there’s no bail in mur—in such cases as this—and I’d rather you put me—wherever you’re going to put me. I’m very tired.”

Larry scratched his head in bewilderment.

“If it was silf-definse, now——

“I’m afraid it wasn’t. And I’d prefer not to say anything else.”

“If there’s something we can be afther doin’—”

Another car whirred to a stop outside, and a slender man, clean-shaven and rather boyish of appearance, entered the hall. There was something aggressive in his calm blue eyes and in the carriage of his small, well-set frame. Some of the policemen, seeing him, jerked to attention and touched their hands to the visors of their caps. But O’Brien was too dazed even for that.

“Good avenin’, sor!” was his greeting.

Police Commissioner Clement Hall looked up sharply. Then his eyes lighted on the pitiful figure of the girl in evening dress. Instantly his frigidity of manner dropped, and he took her hand in both of his.

“Eunice! You’ve given us a frightful scare. I stopped at the house and they told me that you had gone somewhere in the car.”

“Yes; I came here to tell——

“They knew about it, my girl. Mrs. Faber telephoned me, and I got in touch with them. Well go back——

“No—I’m going to stay.”

“No, you’d better come back; or, if you don’t want to return to the house, you can come with me. Mrs. Hall will look after you for a few days.”

“You don’t understand,” she explained slowly. “I’m a prisoner.”

“A prisoner?” Hall forced a smile to his lips. “I’m afraid the—er—a tragedy has worked on your nerves.”

“My nerves are—very good. You see, I—I——” She was shaken with a sudden paroxysm of sobs, and the police commissioner turned dazedly to Larry O’Brien.

“What is she talking about?”

“That I dunno, sor, excipt that she came in here a bit agone all shook up like ye see her now, sor, and says that she killed Mr. Hamilton!”

“What? Good God!” Hall stared in amazement, and then voiced the thought that was uppermost in the minds of each: “It’s ridiculous!”

“I said as much, sor; but she says she shot him——

“I shot him,” said Eunice dully. “Just a little while ago. I came right down in the car to give myself up.”

“Here!” Hall placed his hands paternally on her shoulders. “You are unnerved, and I’m afraid—not quite yourself. You know that you didn’t shoot Mr. Hamilton.”

Again she was calm, although her body was still wracked by an occasional sob.

“You mean that you think I did not—even after I say that I did? That is very foolish, Mr. Hall. I shot Mr. Hamilton.”

“Come home with me——

“Won’t you understand? They are to hold me here. They can’t let me go. There’s no bail in such cases as this. I admit that I am unstrung, but I haven’t lost my senses. I shot Mr. Hamilton less than an hour ago. You can tell the detectives to come back. I—I—shot him—in the dark!”

“In the dark?”

She passed a tired hand across her forehead.

“The lights went out—for about six seconds. But I’d rather not discuss it now. I wish you’d call Mr. Denson. He is my lawyer as well as Mr. Hamilton’s. I’d rather tell him about it. I have a very bad headache.”

Hall stared at her, pop-eyed.

“O’Brien,” he snapped, “telephone Samuel R. Denson to come here immediately. Say Miss Duval is here and wants to see him. At once, you understand And now, Eunice, let me beg you to be careful of your words. I am sure that there is some dreadful mistake. You couldn’t have killed Mr. Hamilton——

“I did,” she repeated monotonously. “I killed him. I’d rather not talk about it now. I’m very tired. Won’t you ask them to put me somewhere—by myself? Please—you don’t understand—and I’d rather not discuss it now.”

“Very well; I’ll take you to the chief’s office and try to make you comfortable. I am sure that there is a mistake somewhere. You had no motive.”

“Yes, I had a motive.”

“And it was?” eagerly.

“I’d rather not talk about it now, if you please. Won’t you take me to that—that—room?”

He offered her his arm in his most courtly fashion, and together they crossed to the door of the chief’s office. Once in there, she sank down on the couch.

“Now please go, Mr. Hall.”

“But, Eunice——

“Go—please. I’d rather be alone.”

“You must tell me.”

“I will tell no one anything. Just let me know when Mr. Denson comes. I’ve said all I care to say—now.”

Hall shook his head.

“I—I—am all up in the air. I’ll wait here at the station, of course. If you need me or want me, you can press that button. And when Mr. Denson comes I’ll send him in.”

“Thank you,” she answered in a tired little voice. “There’s nothing you can do—really. Perhaps they might let Mrs. Faber stay here with me. If you’ll just send her down——

“I’ll be waiting here, and of course she can come.”

“I wish you wouldn’t see me any more tonight, Mr. Hall. I appreciate your— your—kindness, but really I’d rather not. Oh, you must understand that I’d rather not be bothered! It was all so quick and so—so—horrible! Go, please.”

The police commissioner made his way into the main room slowly. He was frowning with bewilderment. The thing was beyond his powers of comprehension. He could not understand the girl. Undoubtedly she had shot Hamilton—her reiteration was too sincere. But how? Or why? Above all—why?

Hall had known Hamilton intimately for twenty years. He had known Eunice since her birth. He had watched her grow through a skinny-legged girlhood to a magnificent maturity. He had been present at the guardianship proceedings after the death of her parents, when, by the will of her father, Hamilton was made the girl’s guardian and trustee of her considerable estate.

That she instinctively disliked Hamilton he had realized, but a mere dislike does not usually lead to tragedy. They had never gotten along well together—despite the fact that the dead man had been passionately fond of his young ward. As for her dislike for the man she had killed, that had dated back to childhood, and ripened with the passing of years. She had tolerated him because of her legal status in his household, but she made no secret of her aversion. And now—— Why, the thing was inconceivable.

The group of thoroughly excited policemen divided into little knots as Hall appeared. Then one of them came forward and touched his cap.

“Mr. Carroll is here, sir. He says you telephoned him.”

“Yes. Show him into the office of the chief of detectives.”

Glad that he had something definite to do, Hall made his way to the room of the chief of detectives, after first instructing O’Brien to do nothing except by his orders.

Once in the room, he telephoned to Mrs. Faber, housekeeper for the dead man, and requested that she come to police headquarters at once. Then he waited for David Carroll. Clement Hall had great faith in Carroll, but he knew that the man faced a difficult assignment, an unusual task—that of plumbing the depths of the mad impulse which must have prompted Eunice Duval to the shooting of her guardian.

The door opened and Carroll entered, entered so silently that for a moment Hall was not fully conscious of his presence. The police commissioner laughed shortly.

“If I didn’t know you better, Carroll, I’d say that that was a pose of yours—that damnable pussy-footed way you have of getting about. I don’t wonder they call you Silent Carroll. Sit down.”

The detective obeyed. Slumped down in the easy-chair by the side of the chiefs desk, he looked anything other than a famous detective. His pink-cheeked, boyish face gave the lie to the actuality of his thirty-eight years, his narrow shoulders gave no hint of the wiry strength they possessed, his baby blue eyes were partly veiled by silky lashes. David Carroll would have passed for anything anywhere save a detective. He was immaculately dressed in the latest tight-fitting clothes, his shoes were narrow and pointed, he carried a light cane and wore his hair pompadoured.

Yet David Carroll was known in six States as one of the cleverest of private detectives. His inoffensive appearance, which had proved a handicap to confidence at the outset of his career, was not his greatest asset. He had a way of insinuating himself into one’s consciousness without saying a word or making a physical motion. One could easily fancy him a college senior, or a cub of a lawyer; but a detective, never.

Immediately on hearing of Hamilton’s murder, Hall had telephoned Carroll. The men had worked together in the past, and Carroll’s assistance had been enlisted by the Civic Reform League during the past few months for the purpose of collecting data against certain members of the police force and the city-hall officials. For that reason, if for no other, the man was intensely unpopular at headquarters; yet he carried himself with an attitude of confidence which begot respect even where it inspired fear. Hall leaned forward and launched into his story; the news of Hamilton’s killing, the telephoning to the police department, and the assignment of Rollins to cover the case; then the startling confession of Eunice Duval. Finally he finished.

“I had intended putting you in charge of the case over Rollins’ head,” he said, “but of course Miss Duval’s confession alters matters. I’ll have to engage you privately to collect evidence which will result in her acquittal at the inevitable trial. You have met her yourself, and you know it is absurd to think that she would have killed Hamilton without good and sufficient motive—though what that motive could have been, God only knows. The man was my friend, and, while he was the victim of a terrific temper and strong passions, he was a gentleman, and I cannot imagine him giving cause for such a thing—especially to Eunice Duval.”

Carroll was not given to prodigality of words. His questions came slowly, drawlingly:

“Why ‘especially Eunice Duval’?”

“Because——” Hall flushed. “The man was a bachelor, you know. And I fancy that he was very much in love with Eunice. Her father had been his best friend—it had been one of those rare friendships which did not founder when both men fell in love with the same woman. Duval won her, and it seemed that the affair cemented their affection. Eunice is a replica of her mother, but Hamilton, poor fellow, never felt toward her as a father toward a daughter, although he tried to make her think so. It is another case of—well—he fell in love with the reincarnation of the mother and his best friend.”

“She didn’t like him?”

“No. Instinct probably. She must have guessed that he loved her—as a lover loves, and not as a father. She barely tolerated him. He has spoken to me of the matter many times. It worried him. There was no outspoken dislike, but her attitude has always been such that he has been forced to remain constantly on his best behaviour in her presence. Can’t you understand the utter absurdity of her plea that she killed him? There is a mistake, there must be!”

“Hmm!” Carroll thrummed idly on the arm of his chair. “I’d suggest that you put me in charge of the case.”

“Over Rollins?”

“Over Rollins or not at all.”

“But I’m more interested in freeing Miss Duval.”

“You’re convinced that the truth will clear her, are you not?”

“Yes.”

“Then let me discover the truth.”

“You have a theory?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to permit me to remain silent. I do not care to voice unsubstantiated opinions. I know nothing of the case.”

“But surely you can tell me——

“Nothing!”

The eyes of the two men met; Hall’s black and penetrating, Carroll’s boyishly blue and almost stony in their blankness. Hall shrugged resignedly.

“It’s a go. You’re in charge. I’ll notify the chief of police as soon as he gets back to the city—I’ve wired for him—and I’ll tell Barrett Rollins personally. Which reminds me that I’d better telephone him to come in. There’s no use to have him continue nosing about Hamilton’s home. The coroner’s probably there by this time, and I’d better go there myself. Mrs. Faber is leaving to come down here.”

Carroll rose languidly.

“Think I’ll go with you. You say Miss Duval doesn’t wish to make a statement now?”

“So she says. I’ve telephoned for Mr. Denson, her lawyer. Probably after she sees him she’ll be willing to give us details regarding the shooting. Until then—you know, old man, these things are the basis of your profession, but the thing has hit me all of a heap. And, funny as it sounds, I’m not nearly so shocked by the death of my friend as I am by the confession of his ward. Of course you can’t appreciate——

“I believe I can,” smiled Carroll. “I’m human, you see—quite human.”

“Yes,” slowly, “sometimes I believe you are. At other times I am not quite sure that you are not a fish.”

The men walked into the main hall to receive the report of Sergeant Larry O’Brien that Mrs. Faber had arrived and had taken charge of Eunice in the private office of the chief. In response to Hall’s query, via a patrolman, as to whether she cared to see him, Eunice sent word that she would have no statement to make until after she had seen Mr. Denson, except that she repeated the statement that she had killed Hamilton.

Hall shrugged and turned to Carroll.

“You see, she is very insistent.”

“Yes,” returned Carroll significantly, “very!”

“And now,” continued the commissioner, “to telephone Rollins. Hello! What’s this?”

“This” was a narrow-shouldered, sunken-chested, rather wild-eyed old man who slouched into headquarters from the street. His watery eyes blinked in the glare of the brilliant light, and he eyed the crowd of uniformed men dazedly. From Sergeant O’Brien came a muttered:

“The owld geezer looks half cracked.”

The old man, apparently upward of sixty years of age, appeared bewildered. He shifted uncertainly from one foot to the other, undecided as to what to do next. Then he timidly inquired for the chief of police.

“Not in the city,” answered one of the policemen. “What do you want?”

“Who—who is in charge here?” faltered the old fellow.

The policeman designated Commissioner Hall, and immediately the newcomer turned toward him. His weak eyes roved here and there about the room, apparently unable to come to rest for any time on any definite object. Hall turned away quickly.

“Take charge of him, O’Brien. I haven’t time to waste with——

“I want to see you, sir,” said the little fellow. “My name is Badger, Frederick Badger.”

Hall’s subconscious mind vaguely recalled that the name was not unfamiliar. Frederick Badger. Badger? Where had he heard the name before?

He turned to the old man and touched him gently on the shoulder.

“I’m the police commissioner. You wanted to see me privately?”

“Yes, sir; if you’re in charge here.”

“I am. Come this way. Come along, Carroll.”

He led the way to the policemen’s rest room, Badger following him timidly, Carroll bringing up the rear. Hall closed the door carefully and faced the little fellow.

“What is it you wish?”

Badger cleared his throat; he was very ill at ease.

“I guess you’ve heard my name from Mr. Hamilton, sir; haven’t you?”

Hamilton! Why, of course. Hamilton had spoken of some one named Badger. Hall scrutinized the man with interest. Why had he mentioned Hamilton, of all people?

“Well——” started Hall somewhat brusquely, and then, at sight of the man’s pitiful dejection, he softened his tone considerably. “What can I do for you?”

By way of answer, the queer little fellow dived down into a capacious pocket of his frayed summer coat. And then Hall started back with an exclamation of surprise, for from its depths Frederick Badger produced an ugly revolver. Quite calmly he extended it to Hall.

“That’s it, sir.”

“That’s—that’s—what?”

“The revolver, sir. The one I used.”

“Used for what?” Hall dimly realized that the little old man was driving at something in connection with the Hamilton killing.

“Didn’t you know that Mr. Hamilton had been killed?” he inquired anxiously, as though surprised that the police department should have so long remained in ignorance of an important occurrence.

“Yes, yes—we know that Mr. Hamilton is dead. But what have you and this gun to do with it.”

The answer of Mr. Frederick Badger was quite naïve.

“You see,” he explained slowly, “that is the revolver I used when I killed him!” ..