Six Seconds of Darkness/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

HALL opened his lips to speak, closed them suddenly without uttering a sound, and then repeated the fishlike motion. Carroll laughed.

“It is grim, but it’s funny,” he remarked.

“It’s—damnable! Yes, sir, that’s the word for it. Here we have three people confessing to a crime and a fourth hedged about with almost incontrovertible circumstantial evidence. And now my pet theory is exploded.”

“Which is?”

Was,” corrected Hall, “that Badger did the fatal shooting.”

“I’m afraid, Mr. Hall,” said Carroll kindly, “that you are ready to fasten the guilt on the one suspect most likely to be freed by a jury. Undoubtedly Badger is demented. I’ve seen men with the same look, and they were not men who were mentally normal. And now let me tell you what I have done so that you will play your cards accordingly. No one here except you and I know that Badger has confessed to the crime. I want no one else to know it.”

“Eunice Duval has been told.”

“Rollins must not be allowed to talk to her.”

“Very well. What you say goes—in this case. But why keep Rollins in the dark? Don’t you believe his story about Hartigan?”

“I believe everything and I believe nothing. Nor have I drawn any definite conclusions as yet. I admit frankly that I am up in the air for a solution of the mystery—as much as you are. The girl tells a straight story—such as it is. Harrelson’s story is also straight, and one reason I am inclined to give it credence is that, whether true or false, it is so framed that no jury would convict him under those circumstances. Then we have the possibility that the man knows the girl did it and is confessing to save her. On the other hand, we have the possibility that the girl knows her sweetheart committed the crime and is confessing to save him. On the third hand we have Badger—who I firmly believe shot at Hamilton—the stories of Badger and the girl tally too closely. Our fourth is Hartigan, who stoutly denies having had a hand in the matter. Altogether, I think our first job is to get a car and take a look over the scene of the crime.”

Hall rose promptly.

“A good idea, Carroll. My car is outside.”

The men strolled to the main room. They spoke to various policemen and ignored a very pointed question from the lips of top Sergeant Larry O’Brien. Orders were left that no one was to be allowed to see the girl or Harrelson until Hall’s return, exception being made in the case of Mr. Samuel Denson, Eunice’s lawyer. As the two men turned toward the door, Barrett Rollins rose to greet them.

“Going?” he queried idly.

Hall nodded.

“I’ll be back.”

“And you, Carroll?”

The little detective smiled genially.

“Oh, I’m trotting along! I’m afraid you knocked my props from under without giving me a chance to prove my ability.”

Rollins grinned.

“Blarney! Good night to you!”

“Goodnight!”

The doorkeeper saluted as they passed out, and Hall seated himself at the wheel of his giant roadster; Carroll curled up in the deep upholstery beside him. Hall pressed the starter, and the rhythmic hum of the motor answered immediately; and the car rolled smoothly and silently down the tree-lined avenue.

Neither man spoke. Hall, on his part, was busy driving, and his thoughts were too wildly chaotic to permit of coherent reasoning. But Carroll took advantage of the sudden removal from the scene of police activities to catalog the events of the night.

From a wide macadam roadway, Hall braked his car suddenly and swung in through a large, tree-studded lawn. For the first time since leaving the police station, Carroll spoke:

“This is the house?”

“Yes.”

“Stop a minute, please.”

As the car came to a halt a man in civilian’s garb detached himself from the shadows and joined them. Then he recognized Hall and saluted punctiliously.

“Mr. Rollins has three of us detailed here to watch, sir,” he explained. “Two outside and one inside. We’re to keep reporters away.”

Hall nodded.

“That’s right. This is Mr. David Carroll. He’s in charge of this case and is to have the right of way. You may pass the word to the other men on duty here.”

The policeman strode away and the two men left the automobile and trod the soft grass of the lawn.

To the right of the house there was a tennis court and to the left a lawn, dotted with trees and bushes, and extending more than two hundred yards to a brick wall which dropped sheer on the pavement.

“Is this the only house on this side of the street?” asked Carroll. “I’ve been here before, but I didn’t notice details.”

“Yes,” came the prompt answer. “The house stands about the middle, and the property covers the entire square block. Hamilton was a very rich man.”

“I see. Let’s look it over.”

They walked quietly about the grounds, inspecting every foot of the lawn. Then they crossed the lawn and mounted the steps which led to the centre of the veranda, a veranda different from the usual and modeled upon the Southern colonial style.

The front of the residence rose sheer from the ground, having merely a small flight of steps leading from the walk to a small vestibule, but the entire length of the house was bounded by the wide veranda, which ran the length of the library and living room, there to jut in with an abrupt L and thence along the narrower dining room.

There were two flights of steps leading to the veranda, one midway of its length, immediately opposite the head of which was the double door letting into the living room where the killing occurred. The other paralleled the L of the veranda diagonally opposite the corner of the dining room and living room.

Carroll paced the veranda slowly, then shook his head.

“It’s too dark out here, Hall. Suppose we go inside and look around.”

Hall led the way, made his mission known to the policeman on duty inside, gave orders that they were not to be disturbed, and closed the door of the living room behind them.

“Where is the light?” questioned Carroll with peculiar earnestness.

Hall scratched a match against his shoe. It flickered up quickly, illuminating the darkness with a ghastly glare and an array of dancing shadows. Then, guided by its feeble light, he walked unerringly across the room. His fingers found the electric-light switch, pressed it, and the room was bathed in light.

But Carroll was gazing only at the light switch. It was the usual two-button affair situated midway between an oak-panelled door and a large French window near the corner of the room. He questioned quietly:

“That window leads to the veranda?”

“Yes.”

“And the door?”

“Into the dining room.”

“You are familiar with the house?”

“Yes.”

“What lies beyond the dining room?”

“The butler’s pantry and the kitchen, on this side of the house, if that is what you mean.”

“Yes—that’s all I’m interested in at present. How far back does the veranda run?”

“To the end of the dining room.”

“Hmm! And didn’t I notice a screen protecting the corner of the veranda, where it juts in?”

“Yes. It has only been up there since the beginning of summer.”

“Good!” Carroll stared reflectively at the little electric buttons, and then allowed his eyes to rove about the walls. “Is there any other electric switch in this room?”

“No—that is, I am pretty sure there isn’t.”

Carroll acted without speaking. With meticulous care, he searched the walls for signs of another electric control button. He found none. Nor was there any electrolier which might have furnished the light. Hall caught the trend of his interest and questioned him:

“Still harping on that sudden period of darkness?”

“Yes,” answered the detective briefly. “It strikes me as rather—er—peculiar.”

Having satisfied himself that there was no other electric switch in the room, Carroll walked to the middle and surveyed the scene of the killing.

The room was a large one and very handsomely furnished. In the centre was a massive mahogany table on which rested a bookrack fitted with legal tomes, volumes of essays, and the better class of literature. On either side of the table were heavy Spanish-leather chairs. On the west side of the room, toward the front of the house and about the middle of the wall, a door opened into the library immediately opposite the dining-room door. In addition to the French window opening on the L of the veranda, there was another window on the southern side of the room, then a big double door—open—and a third French window. The three windows were draped with heavy opaque portières. The portières covering the two windows near the L of the veranda were held back by silken cords; those nearest the library were hanging straight down. Between the corner window and the dining-room door stood an ornate but extremely handsome Japanese screen. To this Carroll made his way. A careful examination disclosed a bullet hole in the screen. He rose and measured.

“Just about high enough for a bullet coming through to have hit Hartigan in the wrist,” he observed. “This is quite evidently the screen behind which Hartigan was hidden. The blood traces are still here. His story holds good as to those features. Now let’s see where Hamilton fell.”

They found the spot on the other side of the room near the library door, carefully marked out in chalk and identified by the bloodstains.

“That tallies, too,” said Hall. “Especially with the stories told by Hartigan and Mr. Harrelson. See, the drawer of the centre table is open; that’s where both men say the revolver came from.”

“If you will, Mr. Hall, step behind that screen and look at me as I stand here. See if you can discern me through the screen.”

Hall did as bidden and returned in a minute.

“I could see you, but only faintly. The screen is nearly opaque, but the bright light from the chandelier makes vision possible here.”

“Could you see well enough to aim accurately?”

“I’m not a good shot. Try it yourself.”

Carroll stepped behind the screen after placing Hall in the spot where Hamilton fell. He found that he could see the police commissioner’s figure as though in silhouette, yet clearly enough for him to have shot through the screen with a more than even chance of hitting his mark.

“And,” he remarked, half to himself, as he came from behind the screen, “Doctor Robinson was convinced that the bullet which killed Hamilton came from a distance of twenty or twenty-five feet—or more.”

He continued his inspection of the room. Its two pedestals with their burdens of handsome statuary; the well-filled bookcases; the three massive portraits in oil which decorated the tinted walls.

Then he crossed the room and entered the library. Hall followed and snapped on the switch near the door. The room, while not as handsomely furnished as the living room, was none the less attractive, mahogany and dull green throughout. The walls, from floor to ceiling, were lined with bookcases. It was quite evident that the array of books in the living room merely represented the overflow from the library. The centre table in the library, while massive, was different from that in the living room. While the latter was an ornamental table, the former was strictly utilitarian—a reading table with bookshelves built into the ends and a magazine rack for a base. The chairs in the room were deeply upholstered, the ornamentation sparse but effective. The room, as did the other, denoted the quintessence of good taste. As in the living room, the library’s walls were bedecked with three oil portraits.

There were four windows in the library; a French window similar to those in the living room giving out onto the veranda and three smaller windows overlooking the big lawn which gently sloped to the tree-lined avenue a hundred yards or so before it. There were two doors, the one through which the men had entered from the living room and another opposite the French window. To this Carroll led the way.

He opened it and stepped into the long hall, in which a dimmed electric bulb was glowing. They made their way down the hall, past a flight of steps, to another door. Carroll opened that, and, as he expected, found that it gave into the living room—the room in which Hamilton had been killed. A third door farther down the hall opened into the dining room, a fourth into the butler’s pantry, and a fifth into the kitchen.

The construction of the house on the other side of the hall was very similar, although there was no veranda. The parlour was opposite the library at the front of the house, and behind it the billiard room; then the storeroom, and behind that the summer kitchen. Carroll questioned idly:

“Hamilton employed how many servants?”

“Three—exclusive of Mrs. Faber; a cook, a maid for Miss Eunice, and a butler.”

“What do you know about them?”

“Nothing much. The cook has been with Hamilton for years. The maid I have seen here for two years at least. The butler I believe is a newcomer of the last few weeks. He’s a stranger to me, at any rate.”

“I’d like to speak to the maid,” the detective announced. “I’m still puzzled over that sudden darkness and the fact that we know three revolvers were fired and yet the people concerned say that there were only two shots. It’s possible that one of the domestics can throw a little light on that phase of the case. Call Rafferty from the parlour, will you?”

Hall was back in a minute with a big, strapping young policeman in tow. He was introduced to Carroll as the man in charge of the case.

“You’ve been here from the first, Rafferty?”

“Yis, sor.”

“Have you searched the house?”

“Yis, sor; with the help av Mrs. Faber, sor.

“A thorough search?”

The officer flushed slightly.

“Not what ye might call a thorough search, sor. There didn’t seem to be nothin’ special to look for, an’ we just looked in the rooms kind of general-like. Chief Rollins bein’ in charge av the case, sor, it seemed like all he wanted us to do was to watch ginerally an’ leave the close hunt to him—for clues and suchlike things. That bein’ the case, sor, an’ Mrs. Faber bein’ in a hurry an’ all excited up, we didn’t go pokin’ around too close.”

“Very good. And now I want to find out something about the servants. Where is the cook?”

“She’s gone for the night, sor. Mrs. Faber said it was her night off.”

“Call the maid, then—it isn’t her night off, is it?”

“No, sor; that’s pwhat made Mrs. Faber so mad, sor.”

“What is?”

“The maid isn’t here, sor.”

“What do you mean, isn’t here?”

“Just that, sor. Mrs. Faber said she must have taken French leave. She hunted for her, but she’s gone, sor. Nobody has seen her since the shooting.”

“I see. Well, the butler. Where is he?”

“That’s another funny thing,” announced Rafferty calmly. “The butler has disappeared, too, sor!”