Six Seconds of Darkness/Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

CARROLL did not raise his eyes from the table, and Hall, following his lead, remained silent. Denson, still a bit shaken, seated himself again, and at length the silence grew too much for him. “Well, what about it?” he rasped.

Hall looked toward Carroll.

“What about it?” he echoed.

Carroll shook his head.

“I don’t know. What Mr. Denson tells me bears out my own theory to a certain extent.”

“Which is——

“That Miss Duval really thinks she killed Hamilton.”

“But, good God,” burst out Denson querulously, “don’t you suppose that a person knows when he kills another? How can there be a doubt about a thing like that?”

“It was dark in that room,” explained Carroll quietly, “for about six seconds. When we find out who turned off the lights and why, we’ll be closer to a solution. Until then—well, there is one thing certain, more than one person fired.”

“Yes,” said Hall, “three fired. We have the three revolvers—Mr. Hamilton’s, which both Miss Duval and Harrelson claim to have used; that of this man Hartigan, and Badger’s. All are police revolvers.”

“That’s a rather far-fetched coincidence, isn’t it?” questioned Denson.

“Ye-e-s; but so is the triple shooting. I gave Hamilton his weapon some time ago; he had a ridiculous, rusty old .32 which I used to joke him about. One day he jocularly remarked that if I didn’t like it I could give him another, and that’s how he happened to get a regulation revolver. I liked it and bought one. Badger bought his from a pawnshop where some police man evidently pawned it in sudden need for money. And Hartigan——

“And Hartigan?” prompted Carroll.

“Probably got his from a pawnshop, too, knowing that it is an efficient weapon. It’s funny, though——

“Damned funny!” snapped Denson. “Especially as only two shots were fired. How do you tally that with the three empty revolvers?”

“There are two solutions,” replied Carroll deliberately. “The first is that two shots were fired simultaneously—or so closely together that the reverberation in this room caused the hearers to think that it was one shot; the second following right afterward. The other solution is that—only two shots were fired!

“Only two shots? We have the three revolvers.”

“That is only an idea, probably absurd. My first theory may be the correct one. But we’ll take that up later. Meanwhile, Mr. Denson, didn’t I understand that you visited Hamilton tonight?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“The call was partly social and partly a business affair. The business end of it had to do with some affidavits I was getting for him in this Civic League work. And after what I saw there tonight I am trebly unable to believe that Miss Duval shot him.”

“There was no trouble between Mr. Hamilton and Miss Duval tonight?”

“Nothing unusual. She has never liked him. What I’m driving at is Badger.”

“What about Badger?”

“The truth of the story he tells. You see, gentlemen, I was there when Badger threatened to kill Hamilton!”

“A-a-h!” Carroll leaned forward eagerly. “You hadn’t mentioned that,”

“I’ve been trying to sift things for myself; trying to know what facts to tell and what to conceal. Now, since I’m telling everything—both helpful and detrimental to my clients—I may as well tell what happened when I visited there tonight.”

“Y-e-s,” said Carroll, “please.”

“I had telephoned Mr. Hamilton that I was coming down with those affidavits to talk things over with him. Shortly after I got there—and up to that time our talk had been purely social—Miss Duval came in. She was in evening dress, just as she is now. We rose, and Hamilton asked her where she was going. She replied that she was going out with Harrelson. Hamilton flushed and reminded her that he had forbidden Harrelson to the house. She flared up, trying not to show it too much before me, and said that she was over twenty-one years of age and would not be dictated to. Hamilton replied that he didn’t care to discuss the matter, but that he did not intend to have Harrelson visit the house nor allow her to go out with him. She swept out of the room, furiously angry.

“When she had gone, I asked Hamilton why he was so hard on the boy. ‘Denson,’ he said quietly, ‘you cannot understand. You may think it is—oh, any one of several things! You look at Harrelson through rose-coloured glasses. You like him for the very things I dislike in him. He is idealistic and impractical. He makes a pittance with his daubing, and will not work for a living. Why should I stand by and see such a girl throw herself away on that sort of man? I don’t like him personally; but if he was half a man I wouldn’t stand in their way. But, by God,’ and he slammed his fist on the table, ‘so long as he remains as worthless as he is I’ll keep him out of this house, no matter to what lengths I’m forced! I assumed responsibility with that girl, and I’ll shoulder it in full.”

“It was, gentlemen,” continued Denson, “a rather embarrassing subject to me and to him. Especially as he knew that I am very fond of the lad and am familiar with his impulsive, headstrong nature. So I tried to turn the subject back to the Civic Reform League work. Just as we got launched on that there were loud voices in the hall, and finally the butler entered.”

“The butler?” questioned Hall interestedly.

“Donaldson, his name is,” replied Denson. “I think he has only been with Hamilton a few weeks. Anyway, Donaldson said that there was a little man who acted very peculiarly and insisted on seeing Hamilton; that he thought it was the man whom Hamilton had given him orders not to admit, but that he had forced his way into the house. Hamilton shrugged and told Donaldson to let the man in. The man was Badger.”

“You know something of his past dealings with Badger—as his lawyer?” questioned Carroll.

“Yes. It dates back fully fifteen years. Badger, I take it, was one of those failures who have squandered a life looking for sudden riches. It seems that fifteen years or so ago some one took him in with a sale of oil lands. Badger sunk all his money—and he had several thousand dollars—in the purchase of these lands. He came to Hamilton—you know Hamilton has always had a weakness for listening to wildcat schemes—and convinced him that he—Badger—had sunk every dollar into the scheme. He wanted money to develop the land, and Hamilton reasoned, against my advice, that if Badger believed in it sufficiently to put in all of his money, Hamilton might take a chance.

“So Hamilton sent experts down to investigate. They reported, as I remember it, that there was oil in the land, but that there was small likelihood of striking sufficient of it to make drilling operations worth while. Against their advice and against mine, he sank about twenty thousand dollars in it. A company was incorporated with Hamilton holding fifty-one per cent, of the stock and Badger forty-nine per cent. After spending all that money and getting almost no oil, Hamilton quit.

“Badger, meanwhile, had seen visions of millions. I believe he was always half cracked. He insisted that Hamilton was trying to wrest all the land from him before working it; ridiculous logic as it was, Hamilton could never convince him that the proposition was really a failure. Badger has hounded the man for fifteen years, demanding back his land or his money. And Hamilton, gentlemen, was scrupulous to a fault in business matters. He refused point-blank. That was his way, and he could not be blamed. He had invested twenty thousand dollars in the scheme. At any rate, the idea that Hamilton had robbed him of a fortune became a monomania with Badger. It has been growing worse and worse. Hamilton has tried every method of pacifying him, but the development of the mania has been shown by Badger’s increasingly ridiculous demands—he recently had been insisting that Hamilton pay him twenty-five thousand dollars! Absurd, of course.

“Until a couple of months ago Hamilton has been indulgent, has loaned the man money which he knew would never be returned, and has always granted him an audience. But the man’s wild-eyed vituperation got on his nerves, and for some time he has refused to see him. I can produce a dozen witnesses—lawyers, most of them—to whom Badger has gone for advice, and in whose presence he has threatened Hamilton’s life.

“He came into the room and Hamilton dismissed Donaldson. And, gentlemen, if ever I saw the light of insanity in a man’s eyes, it was in Badger’s. He talked incoherently and made wild gestures. He cursed Hamilton in the worst billingsgate. And Hamilton grew angry. He ordered the man out of the house. With that Badger waved his arms and shrieked ‘You’ll be sorry! You’ll be sorry for this, you bloodsucker! You’d better pay me—or I’ll kill you!’

“Hamilton rose. ‘Get out of here—and get quick!’ he snapped.

“‘I’ll kill you!’

“‘Get out!’

“Badger turned to me. ‘You heard me warn him!’ he said levelly. ‘You heard me!’

“‘Don’t be a fool, Badger,’ I said kindly, rather sorry for the crazy old fellow. ‘You’ll get yourself in trouble.’ Hamilton swung on me.

“‘This is my affair, Denson. I’ve stood all I’m going to stand from this man. I’m done with him.’ Then he called Donaldson and Badger left—meekly enough and without further threats. When he had gone, Hamilton laughed shortly.

“‘He carried it too far tonight,’ he remarked. ‘I’m through with him.’ And then we both put the incident aside, reckoning Badger a crazy man and one not to be feared. And that is all there is to my story. I left a few minutes later, before Harrelson arrived. I went to his boarding house, thinking to find him there and ask him not to go to Hamilton’s home. But when I got there he had gone, and I forgot the whole thing until I heard the news of Hamilton’s death and the request that I come to see Miss Duval at the station here.”

There was a minute of silence. And then Hall broke it:

“That story tallies perfectly with Badger’s.”

“Yes,” agreed Carroll. “Almost too well. The farther we get into the case the more convinced we become that three of our four possibilities killed Hamilton—it is certain that the story of either Miss Duval or this chap Harrelson is untrue. We know that only one of them actually did it.”

There came a discreet rap at the door, and in response to Hall’s response Sergeant Larry O’Brien entered. In his hands he carried copies of the two morning newspapers.

“I was afther thinkin’ ye’d loike to see pwhat the papers have to say about the murder, sors.” He extended the dailies to Hall.

“Thanks, Larry.”

The men grouped about the table and Hall spread the News face upward. Seven-column headlines screamed the news of the sensational murder in forty-eight-point type. They glanced through the article swiftly and Carroll smiled.

“Barrett Rollins engineered the reporters cleverly,” he remarked, after glancing at the other paper. “Not a word about either Miss Duval or Mr. Harrelson.” He turned to O’Brien. “Did Chief Rollins leave any instructions regarding the news to be given to reporters?” he asked.

“Sure an’ he did, sor. He said that no wan on the force was to say a worrud about Miss Duval or the young gintleman, sor. Though ’tis my opinion that ’twill leak out and be in the avenin’ papers tomorry.”

“How about your docket? Aren’t their names entered here?”

“Only Hartigan’s, sor. The others have been kept on private memorandum.”

“Good! Keep it mum as long as you can.”

The stories of the two newspapers tallied as to facts, although they varied as to floridity of style. Both told of the killing, mentioned Red Hartigan as the murderer, described the finding of the evidence by the wonderful efforts of Chief of Detectives Rollins, and wound up with a statement that police headquarters refused to allow them to interview the man. There was no mention of any other person in the case. Separate stories in both newspapers were devoted to Hartigan’s lurid criminal record and to Edward J. Hamilton’s life.

“So far so good,” said Carroll, folding his paper and stuffing it in his coat pocket. “That was a very wise move Rollins made, although I’m very much afraid we shall not be able to keep Miss Duval’s name out of the public prints. At any rate—we’ll try. The evening papers will have more time to work the story. And now—I think a little sleep will do us all good. As for me, I’ll have a cot brought in here.”

“And I,” remarked Hall, “will remain with you.”

“I’ll go home,” said Denson, “with the express understanding that I’m to be called if needed.”

“Good!” They rose and shook hands. As they started toward the door it opened and Larry O’Brien poked his head in.

“Beg pardon, sors, but Red Hartigan is begging hard to see Mr. Hall. He says he has a confession to make.”

Hall turned away abruptly. Denson stared in petrified amazement. Only Carroll retained his facial composure and ordered the man brought in.

“Good Lord!” gasped Hall. “Is it possible that this man, too, is about to tell us that he murdered Hamilton?”

“I hope so,” said Denson briefly. “I’d like to believe that he did it.”

Hartigan was brought before them and O’Brien dismissed with orders to wait just outside the door, and to allow no one to enter. The man’s face was set with the pain of his injured wrist, and he stared at the trio defiantly.

“I’d like to spill this to you two,” he said significantly. He was plainly nonplussed at Denson’s presence. Carroll reassured him:

“You wanted to tell us——

“I been thinkin’ it over,” said Hartigan, “an’ it struck me that I’m in a pretty bad way in this mess. I didn’t kill the ol’ duck—so help me! I didn’t—an’ I gets to thinkin’ to meself that if you was to find out I lied about somethin’ you’d think I lied about the whole thing, so I’ve come to make a clean breast.”

“You mean you killed Hamilton?” burst out Hall.

“Na-a! I don’t mean nothin’ of the kind. The story I told you was true s’ far’s it went. But there was one thing I didn’t mention.” He paused.

“Which was?” prompted Carroll.

“You remember,” continued the big man, “that I told you the lights went off just before I was shot?”

“Yes.”

“Well—what I didn’t tell you was this: I’m the man that turned them off!