Six Seconds of Darkness/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

A HOARSE cry broke from the lips of the wounded prisoner. He tore away from his captor and stepped forward swiftly, waving the stained bandage in the very face of Hall and Carroll.

“It’s a damned lie!” he croaked hoarsely. “I was in that house, an’ I was in there to steal, but I didn’t kill, and when he says I did he lies!”

Hall was conscious of one rather ridiculous thought—he was relieved that one person at least protested innocence.

Rollins reached out a sinewy arm and wrapped his fingers around the prisoner’s uninjured wrist.

“Keep a civil tongue between them damned crooked lips of yours, Hartigan. You can’t get away with such stuff as that.”

Carroll was apparently not at all interested in the prisoner or his captor. He was scribbling on a bit of paper, and at length he slid it across the table toward Hall. Rollins caught the bit of byplay and scowled darkly at the little detective. Hall read:

“Let me handle this. Rollins is to know nothing at all about Badger. I will have Badger removed at once.”

Hall nodded, and immediately Carroll reclaimed the paper, which he tore into tiny bits and carefully placed in a vest pocket. The whole thing was done in the most casual manner. Rollins voiced a sneer:

“Old sleuth! Behind time, as usual.”

“I’d be a bit more civil, Rollins,” said Hall sharply. “Until I choose to remove him, Mr. Carroll is your superior officer and must be accorded due respect.”

Rollins shrugged.

“Obedience he’ll get,” he rasped, “but respect I’ll not give him. I’ve only contempt for such as him.”

“I tell you——” but Carroll put a quiet, restraining hand on Hall’s arm.

“No use to get excited, Mr. Hall. I can well understand how Rollins feels at having a rank outsider brought in and put over his head. I think we’ll get along better when he understands that I am working with him and not against him.”

The detective rose, and, crossing the room, placed himself squarely in front of Rollins. He spoke quietly and forcefully:

“I want you to understand, Rollins, that we’re not to pull against each other. You don’t like me and I can’t say that I’m wasting any love on you. But this is not a personal matter, and I’d rather work it as your ally. I’m perfectly willing to listen to your advice, and I haven’t a doubt that a good deal of it will be worth taking. I shall not use my authority unless I consider it necessary. After the case is finished you have my permission to vilify me as much as you choose. Until then I’d rather that we pulled together. How about it?”

Rollins stared at the little fellow curiously.

“You’re a funny sort of a boob,” he vouchsafed at length. “I don’t like you—never have and never will—and for three cents I’d resign my job. I think it’s a rotten deal, this calling in an outsider to get the glory for a case that I’ve solved in an hour. But there’s a lot of common sense in what you say, and if you are willing to pull with me, I’m no damned fool. I’ll say it’s a go!”

“Good! And one more thing, Rollins—my name will not figure in the case. So far as the newspapers are concerned, you are in charge. Now to business.”

Rollins was mollified in spite of himself. He seated himself and motioned the captive to a chair. Much of the aggressiveness had dropped from his grim visage as he prepared for Carroll’s quiet questioning.

“Suppose you tell us why you think this man Hartigan killed Mr. Hamilton?” suggested Carroll.

“Sure!” Rollins lighted a rank brier and launched into his story:

“It’s this way. When I gets to the house, the first thing I find out—this bein’ from the old dame who ran the shebang for Hamilton—is that there was two shots fired; get that?”

“Yes.”

“I poked my nose in on the doc who was making the autopsy, and he tells me the man was shot only once. So right away I get busy. I go into the room and find things just as they was with some one having had sense enough to mark the spot on the floor where the man fell. It’s a big room with a door opening on to a large veranda on the south side. Beyond that a garden. Next to the door one of these here big French windows. Then an L in the veranda and another French window facing east.

“Bight in the angle of the room is one of these here fancy screens. The window was open. First crack out of the bat I find a police revolver on the floor. Here it is.”

He tossed a blue steel weapon on the table. “As you’ll see, one chamber has been fired. That revolver was halfway between the centre table and the screen. I step behind the screen, and I find this bird lying there with a hole in his wrist. By his side is this gun—another police revolver”—he laid a second weapon beside its twin—“and that, also, has been exploded once. It’s the one this bucko used. See?”

“It’s a lie!” broke out Hartigan desperately. “I didn’t even carry a gun.”

“Keep your mouth shut! We’ll let you talk later. As I was sayin’, in the screen I find a bullet hole, and the case is simple as A B C. Right alongside Hartigan is a bundle of swag. What happened was that he was cleanin’ out the house when Hamilton hears a noise; Hartigan ducks behind the screen, but Hamilton knows he’s there. Hamilton takes a pot shot at him an’ hits him in the wrist; Hartigan shoots back and kills his man. And if that needs more explainin’ I don’t see where it comes in.”

Carroll spoke without raising his eyes:

“You are sure these are police revolvers, Rollins?”

“Sure as I am that you’re sitting there.”

“Hmm! Where did you get this gun, Hartigan?”

The prisoner shook his head hopelessly.

“I’m telling youse I didn’t have no gat. I ain’t never carried one. Rollins knows that as well as I do; he’s got a line on all of us yeggs, an’ he knows them that carries guns and them that don’t. A burglary charge I don’t mind facin’; but murder, no. You go ask my pals if they’ve ever known me to carry a gun; they’ll, tell you not.”

“Suppose you tell us what happened.” The confessed burglar leaned forward eagerly.

“It was this way. A pal o’ mine and——

“Who?”

Hartigan flushed. “I ain’t no squealer; y’can find that out for yourself. A pal o’ mine frames with me to crack this Hamilton crib. We go in together, leavin’ a lookout by the road in front of the garden. I get one bag of loot and he gets the other. It’s all framed that I’m to go out through the winder of that room. I get in there, and right away I hear two fellers scrappin’ in the next room. I duck behind the screen. The two guys come, fightin’, into the room——

“Nobody else in there?”

“Yes; that’s the funny part. Just as they come in, battin’ hell out of each other —one of ’em bein’ Hamilton an’ the other one a big man I don’t know—a girl steps out from behind some curtains over the window in the other corner of the room—over beyond the door.

“Hamilton breaks loose from the big feller and makes a jump for the table. He yanks a gun outa the drawer. Big man gets him before he can shoot. They scrap around; then all of a sudden it gets dark, and I hear two shots, and I get this—” He held up his wrist. “I hang on there for a while, afraid they’re going to find me. I feel right sick, so I lay down easy on the floor. Then I don’t remember anything eke until this bull,” pointing to Rollins, “has me in the horspital gettin’ fixed up. Then he brings me here. An’ that’s the truth, s’help me Gawd!”

Carroll nodded briefly.

“Call Cartwright, will you, Rollins?”

Rollins did as bidden, and into Cartwright’s custody the prisoner was given, with explicit instructions not to allow him to speak of the case to any one. Then Carroll excused himself, called a young protégé of his who wore the uniform of the force, and this man he placed on special duty before the concrete cell in which Badger had been placed.

“Under no circumstances,” he ordered, “is any one to be allowed to talk to this man. If he wants anything, or insists on seeing some one, call me. Understand? No one—Rollins or even the chief of police. I’m in charge of the case. Get it?”

The young officer nodded.

“I understand, Mr. Carroll. He’ll not be allowed to talk to any one. I’ll stick right here.”

“Good! I’ll remember you. And I’m trusting you. You’re not even to talk to him yourself. If any one asks who is in here, refuse to answer.”

Carroll returned to the rest room. Hall was sitting, as Carroll had left him, at the big domino table. Rollins slouched by the window, staring at nothing. Finally he turned and addressed Hall:

“That’s all, isn’t it?”

“Better ask Carroll, Rollins.”

“How about it, Carroll?”

“I’m afraid it isn’t, Rollins. There’s more to the case than you seem to know.”

“It’s open and shut. There’s your two shots; Hartigan popping at Hamilton an’ Hamilton at him. They both hit an’ one of ‘em croaks. The man’s story about the fight and all that is a rotten lie—thinner’n water. My Gawd, I don’t see what else you could want! His story don’t hold for a minute——

“Ye-e-es, I believe it does. What you don’t know is this: Two people have already given themselves up tonight for killing Mr. Hamilton!”

“Huh!” Rollins stared first at Carroll’s placid face and then at Commissioner Hall. “Two people! Aw, what is this, a joke party?”

“I’m deadly serious. Hartigan says Hamilton was fighting with a man, and that there was a girl in the room. That man and that girl are both here in this police station under arrest for Hamilton’s killing. The story that each tells exactly jibes with Hartigan’s. Undoubtedly one of the bullets was fired from the revolver you found on the floor. And the other must have come from Hartigan’s revolver.”

“Sure! Sure! Only—it seems sorter funny—two people giving themselves up! On the level, you ain’t stringing me, are you?”

“No! Now as to that second shot. There’s no question that it was fired. By the way, where did you find Hartigan’s revolver? Didn’t you say it was in his pocket?”

Rollins answered very slowly:

“Yes, it was in his pocket. I found it there.”

“I suppose he put it there after he shot at Hamilton. He was quite conscious; he admitted that when he said he felt himself getting weak and laid down gently so they wouldn’t hear him fall. Yes, he must have shot Hamilton.”

Rollins stared keenly at the other.

“Sure, he shot Hamilton! What gets me is this man and the girl giving themselves up an’ saying they done it. Who are they?”

“Hamilton’s ward, Miss Eunice Duval, and a young artist named Harrelson.”

“Vincent Harrelson?”

“Yes.”

“Him and her is pretty good friends, ain’t they?”

“Yes—why do you ask?”

“Nothin’, only it strikes me that maybe both are lyin’.”

Hall broke in shortly:

“People don’t usually go around trying to fasten the crime of murder on their own heads, Rollins.”

“No-o.”

“You’re quite sure,” persisted Carroll, “that you found that revolver in Hartigan’s pocket?”

Rollins rose to his feet.

“Say, what th’ hell you harping on that for? Of course I found it in his pocket, It was there when I drug him from behind the screen. Thought he’d croaked until I seen he’d only keeled over from loss of blood. It was him that done it, all right.”

“It looks that way. But why the confessions of Miss Duval and Harrelson?”

Rollins pondered deeply, and then suddenly he smiled with the light of inspiration.

“Cinch!”

“How?”

“There’s most likely something between them. They was both there—providin’ what Hartigan says is true. There was a lot of excitement. The girl thinks the man done it an’ the man thinks the girl did, an’ each one is sayin’ that the other done it so’s to save ’em. You read about that all the time.”

Carroll thought deeply. Then he brought his fist down on the table with a crash.

“You’re right, Rollins! You must be right! They all say that the lights went out just when the shooting took place, and both Miss Duval and Mr. Harrelson think that the other did it. So they both confess. It’s simple. I take my hat off to you. I’ll confess frankly that I never would have thought of it. I think you’ve solved it.”

Rollins flushed with pardonable pride.

“Us regular bulls ain’t the fools we’re given credit for bein’, Mr. Carroll,” he said, respectfully, glowing under the other’s praise. “All you gotta do now is tell ‘em about Hartigan and you’ll see ‘em withdraw their confessions so quick it’ll make your head swim. Y’see, Mr. Hall, there wasn’t no need for having any one else in on the case—not that I’m sore at Mr. Carroll here. He’s man enough to admit I got the goods right.”

Carroll rose and extended his hand. Rollins crushed it in a viselike grip.

“You’re all right, Rollins. I admit it cheerfully.”

“Thanks, Mr. Carroll. And there ain’t no hard feelin’s over my bein’ sore at you?”

“Not a one. I understand it perfectly. And now suppose you look after Hartigan. I want to get things straightened up with Mr. Hall. He’s a personal friend of Miss Duval, and he’ll have to tell her himself.”

“That’s all right., Good night, gentlemen!” And Barrett Rollins, chief of the plain-clothes staff, bowed himself out.

For a while Carroll stared at the door through which he had gone, and then he sank into a chair and thrummed on the table. Hall leaned forward, very much puzzled.

“What’s the idea?” he asked. “You certainly don’t think the case is finished?”

Carroll laughed sharply.

“Certainly not. It’s just begun.”

“Of course it might be that Hartigan killed Mr. Hamilton and the two young people confessed to save one another.”

“It might be,” said Carroll shortly, “but I’m very much of the opinion that it isn’t. You see, Mr. Hall—you are completely overlooking a certain Mr. Frederick Badger.