The Adventures of Detective Barney/The Anonymous Letters
THE ANONYMOUS LETTERS
By this time, Barney Cook was a sleuth of several weeks’ experience. Disguised as a newsboy, he had kept watch over a post-box on a street corner until he had succeeded in identifying a blackmailer who was sending threatening letters to a client of the Babbing Bureau. Hidden in the cloak room of a Brooklyn machine shop, he had spied a confidential clerk putting drawings of a new lathe into the overcoat pocket of a confederate who was selling trade secrets to a rival company. He had peddled chewing gum at a subway entrance in Harlem, on the lookout for a cashier who was leading a double life; and he had located the flat in which the suspect concealed himself. Out at all hours of the night, eating from his pocket, and sleeping only when he was off shift, he had enjoyed the life of a street Arab, gloating over his adventures and taking his pay home to his mother, without counting it, as contemptuous as a young genius for the wages of his art.
But he had also to make out daily reports of his hours on duty, the items of his expenses, and those incidents of his day’s work that concerned the case on which he was engaged. And no school-room compositions could have been more tedious. At first he had been allowed to narrate his report to a stenographer, who put it into shape and typed it for him; later, he was required to write it out, for the stenographer to correct and typewrite; but now he had to type it himself, and retype it when the stenographer had revised his spelling and his punctuation, and then type it again if the office manager edited it—which he invariably did.
No cub reporter was ever more harassed. After hours of exhausting “leg-work” he had to hang over his machine till the back of his neck ached, pounding the keys till his stubby fingers were sore. He had to learn to spell. It was evident that he could never learn to punctuate. He had moments when he was as unhappy as if he had been sent back to school.
He was enduring such a moment, in the operatives’ room, on this particular morning, when he was called to Babbing’s private office by a message on the office ’phone; and he went as eagerly as if it were the recess bell that had rung. His admiration of “the Chief” had mounted to hero worship. If this little, elderly, fat man had been a companionable father, an adventurous elder brother, and a rich uncle all in one, Barney could not have looked up to him with a more idolizing eye, with a more possessive trust and absorbed devotion.
He found Babbing talking to a client—a heavy-shouldered, black young man, with a remarkable forehead—whom he introduced as Mr. P. P. Harper. “I think I ’ll put you in his office,” Babbing explained, “as an office boy—from what he has told me of the case. Sit down. I want you to hear the details.”
Harper was looking Barney over, and he did not notice the slow, significant scrutiny with which Babbing put the boy on his guard. Barney turned from that glance and regarded Harper innocently.
“Is he a detective?” Harper asked.
“You would never suspect it, eh?” Babbing said.
“I certainly would not.”
“That ’s what makes him so successful. Tell me, now; your office is in the Broad Street Building?”
“Are you a broker?”
“No, I ’m a promoter,” Harper answered. He settled back comfortably in his chair, “And a financial adviser.”
“Well, chiefly, for the Van Amberg estate.”
Babbing turned to Barney, who had seated himself at the left of the desk. “Mr. Harper,” he explained, “is being annoyed by anonymous letters. He wants us to find out who ’s sending them.” And again there was evidently concealed, behind his placid spectacles, some private thought which the boy could not decipher.
Harper said: “They don’t come to me. To my wife.”
“What put the Van Amberg estate in your office?”
“My wife was the only daughter of old Jacob Van Amberg?”
“Had he any other children?”
“Are you his financial adviser, also?”
“No. He handles his own property.”
“And you handle your wife’s?”
“Why don’t you handle your brother-in-law’s too? Smoke?”
Babbing had taken a box of cigars from a drawer of his desk. Harper selected one mechanically. “My relations with my brother-in-law are not very cordial. Don’t you smoke yourself?”
Babbing had closed the box. “No,” he said. “That ’s one of the little pleasures that we detectives have to deny ourselves.”
“For the same reason as circus acrobats. And jugglers. We ’re frequently in places where the trembling of a hand would arouse suspicion. Tobacco affects the control that a man has over his nerves.”
Babbing was putting the box away. He did not appear to notice that Harper’s hand shook as he held a match to his cigar. Barney noticed it. He had already noticed that Babbing’s tone of voice was somewhat too innocent.
Harper exhaled the smoke appreciatively. “You keep good cigars for your clients.”
“Not altogether for my clients,” Babbing explained. “They ’re strong enough to release the little unconscious movements of the body that indicate when a man ’s lying. I use them on suspects. Tell me: Are your relations with your brother-in-law such that these letters might be coming—”
“Hardly,” Harper put in. “I ’m unwilling to think that he—”
“Would you mind telling me about him?”
“No. Certainly not. Confidentially.” He glanced at Barney.
Babbing replied, to that glance: “Perfectly trustworthy. And not as young as he looks. He got his training in the Secret Service before he came to me. His father was a government operative. Used to put him through transoms to open doors—and to shadow persons who would ’ve suspected any one older.”
He invented it with such easy conviction that Barney almost believed it himself.
“Well,” Harper said, “I met Van Amberg first at college. We were . . . very chummy . . . for a while. I met his sister through him. He invited me to visit his home, during the Easter holidays.”
“And when did you quarrel?”
“When he practically accused me of wanting to marry her for her money.”
“You were not wealthy, then?”
“No, and I ’m not wealthy now. I was studying medicine when I married, and I gave it up—at her request—to look after the investments, the properties, that were left to her by her father. I ’ve taken a commission out of the estate, but it has never more than paid my expenses.”
“So—if these anonymous letters to your wife were to succeed in poisoning her mind against you—you ’d be ruined financially. Is that the situation?”
Harper looked narrowly at his cigar; it had gone out. “I ’m not so much concerned about the financial aspects of it. I ’ve been very happy with my wife. And I ’m fond of my boy.”
“Have you any of these letters?”
“Any copies of them?”
“No. . . . As a matter of fact—she’s not aware that I know she ’s been receiving them.”
“And how do you know it?”
“I had felt, for some time that there was something wrong. I had to take measures to protect myself.”
“I see. Have you noticed anything else—besides the letters?”
“Well, I ’ve had an idea that I was being followed on the street, and I supposed that the person interested in separating us had employed some crooked private detective to work up a case against me.”
“And I thought that if I could employ you to put men with me, I could have their testimony to refute any that might be manufactured against me.”
“Our office,” Babbing said, “does n’t handle divorce cases.”
“I understand that. This is not a divorce case. I don’t want a divorce—or a separation, either. I want to prevent it.”
“Have your wife’s suspicions ever had any real grounds?”
“Or anything that she has misconstrued to be such?”
“Well—once, last winter, I had supper at Rector’s with a young lady who is . . . in the confidence of one of our big railroad men. For business reasons, I wanted to get a line on something he was doing. That sort of thing, you know, is n’t uncommon in Wall Street.”
“And your wife learned of it?”
“Through her brother.”
“You ’re sure it was he?”
“He admitted it. He saw me there. And he told her.”
“There has never been any dissatisfaction about your handling of the estate?”
“Except on my side. I ’ve tripled the value of her property and made nothing for myself.”
“Her brother has had all my statements audited quarterly.”
“How old is your son?”
“He ’s your wife’s heir?”
“You did not marry until after her father’s death?”
“Yet you don’t think her brother ’s behind this attempt to separate you?”
“Well, he ’s hardly that sort.”
“What sort is he?”
“He ’s an inoffensive kind of idler. When I knew him first, he used to collect birds, and make water-color drawings of them. He ’s at the head of a local Audubon society—and mixed up with a society for the preservation of the Palisades, and another for abolishing bill-boards—and all that sort of piffle. He ’s getting into politics, I hear, now—as a reformer.”
“Your wife ’s very fond of him?”
“You’ve not separated? She’s still living with you?”
“She ’s been visiting her brother—lately.”
“At the old family place—up the Hudson. Our boy ’s had trouble with his throat. The winters in the city are bad for him.”
“You did n’t go with them?”
“I ’m not on speaking terms with Van Amberg.”
“These letters have been received by her there?”
“Yes. . . . As a matter of fact, some of them came to the house, here, and I redirected them.”
“I see. Well, I shall have to make a preliminary investigation before I can decide what line to work on. I can get you by telephone?”
“What sort of preliminary investigation?”
“The usual sort. It seems evident that this is a family affair, in no way connected with your business. And my first plan—of putting an operative in your office—will have to be given up.” Babbing rose. “I ’ll let you hear from me in a day or two.”
Harper came to his feet reluctantly. “What are you going to do?”
Babbing looked at him with a benign smile. “I have n’t the least idea.”
“But I want you to put men with me, at once—for protection.”
“You look as if you could take pretty good care of yourself. Where did you get those shoulders? College athletics?”
“Yes—I don’t mean that sort of protection. If they have detectives—”
“My dear sir—” Babbing held out his hand—“if there are detectives following you, they ’ll know that you ’re in this office now, and they ’ll be watching for my men. We must be cleverer than that.”
“Oh, I see.” Harper shook hands with him. “I ’ll hear from you as soon as possible.”
“Don’t worry. We ’ll begin at once. Go out this way.”
When the door had closed on him, Babbing sat down at his desk again, took off his gold spectacles and settled back meditatively in his chair, tapping with his spectacles upon his teeth. They were small, sharp teeth, set far apart and very white. “Well,” he asked Barney, “what do you make of it?”
Barney had made practically nothing of it. He had not tried to. He had regarded Harper as a surgeon’s assistant might regard a prospective patient. He had not expected to have to pay any attention until the case came to the operating table. He smiled, defensively.
“Well,” Babbing said, “you did n’t like him, did you?”
Barney shook his head.
Babbing studied him in silence a moment: then he rose. “I ’m disappointed in you, Barney,” he said, beginning to walk up and down the room. “You ’ve got the makings of a good detective in you, but you don’t seem to be developing. You ’ve no ‘nose,’ boy. And I don’t see you getting any. . . . When that man came in here, I had a distinct impression. Of something strongly sinister. That ’s why I called you in. I wanted to see whether you got it.”
“I thought you were tryin’ to—to tell me somethin’;” Barney stammered.
Babbing turned to him. “Oh? I see. I threw you off. Well, if I call you like that again, don’t watch me. Watch the person that ’s with me. I noticed that you saw his hand shake when he lit his cigar.”
Barney grinned. “I did n’t think you saw it.”
“Well, that ’s good. It shows that he didn’t. Why do you suppose it shook? He ’s in almost perfect physical condition. He ’s been an athlete. And evidently he does n’t dissipate. . . . I tell him that we detectives don’t smoke—because we ’re often in situations where the trembling of a hand would arouse suspicion. Now, if he has come with anything to conceal, he ’ll immediately become conscious of his hand. And it ’ll show. Understand?”
Barney nodded, big-eyed.
“When his hand shook, that alarmed him. When I added that the tobacco was strong enough to affect his nervous control of himself, he let his cigar go out, did n’t he?”
“I did n’t notice.”
“Well, if you ’re going to be of any use to this office, you ’ll have to begin to open your eyes. You ’ll have to learn to know when a man ’s lying to you and when he ’s telling you the truth. Otherwise, you ’ll be chasing off on all sorts of false scents. If you had watched Harper, you ’d have seen that when I questioned him about those anonymous letters, I purposely looked him square in the eye. He at once became uneasily conscious of the facts that were concealed behind his eyes. And his natural impulse was to look away from me. He was able to control that impulse. But in controlling it he overdid it. He stiffened the muscles. His eyes set. That might be an innocent reflex in the case of a suspect who knew he was unjustly suspected. But Harper had no reason to suppose that I suspected him. Why should he? Therefore the idea of guilt must have come from his own thoughts. Understand?”
Barney said he did.
“He pretended that he did n’t suspect his brother-in-law of sending the letters, but when he saw me apparently taking up that idea, his face— Look at me. At my eyes. I ’m watching you, intently. You say something that I secretly wished you to say. Do you see the change in the eye? It relaxes—almost imperceptibly. Watch my nostril. Now, I ’m listening intently. Now I hear it. Do you see? When a man takes a natural breath, he breathes in through the front of his nose; the sides of the nostrils do not move. But when he inhales in any secret excitement—with gratification— See? It’s almost as if he smelled a pleasant odor. Besides, his mouth showed that he was on his guard all the time. He was away off normal. You have to learn to watch people, until you know what the normal is, and recognize any departure from it instantly. Understand?”
Babbing was enjoying himself. He paced up and down, like an instructor expounding a beloved art. “Could n’t you see that he was writing—or planning to write—those letters himself?”
“Gee!” Barney said. “What for?”
“Well,” Babbing reflected, “if he were a different looking sort of man, I ’d say that he merely intended to make his wife believe there was a conspiracy of lies against him. I ’d say he was intending to make unjust accusations against himself, anonymously, and then produce the reports of our men to show that the accusations were unjust. He could show, for example, that he could n’t have done what the letters said, because he was n’t in the place where they accused him of being, at the time they said. Do you understand that?”
“Having convinced her that he was the victim of such a conspiracy, he could easily make her believe that she had been deceived about him in the past. And regain her sympathy. Eh?”
“Very good. But this man is too big to be playing that sort of game as an end in itself. He ’s too big. Unless I ’ve lost my eye.” He sat down and looked at Barney vacantly. His face became mildly blank in thought. “At college, studying medicine, he was probably a poor boy, very ambitious. He went in for athletics, and distinguished himself. Probably became a football hero. And attracted Van Amberg, who was evidently æsthetic. Van Amberg’s friendship flattered him. And he saw its possibilities. They became chummy. Van Amberg talked about him at home. And invited him there. The girl had heard her brother speak of him. She was predisposed. Harper saw his chance and took it. But he would conceal from Van Amberg the fact that he was making love to the sister. And having made sure of the girl, he would be less considerate of the brother. That ’s where the quarrel would come from. Then when the father’s death left the girl her money, they married. And Harper gave up medicine. He wanted power. It ’s in his face. Her money meant power. It meant a career.
“Having got the girl, he shows the other side of him. The marriage is n’t happy. The brother has authority enough to keep an eye on Harper’s handling of his wife’s estate. And Harper resents it. The wife refuses to take his side against her brother. After seven or eight years of bickering, Van Amberg is getting the wife away from him. Harper wants her back. But he wants her because he wants control of that estate. Well?” His gaze focused on Barney. “Is that your idea of the situation?”
“Then what do you think he ’s up to?”
Barney shook his head.
Babbing said: “I ’ve a notion it ’ll be interesting to find out.” He pressed a call button. When Archibald, his office manager, appeared, he gave him Harper’s card. “This man,” he said, “has separated from his wife. He seems to he using some rather questionable means to bring her back to him. I want to find out what he ’s up to—what his final purpose is. Never mind his office. Get a line on his house. On his servants. On his friends. On his evenings. And Arch: I want to get telephone connection with a man named Van Amberg—only son of old Jacob—at his place up the Hudson. Right away. You can go, Barney.”
Barney went, unwillingly. It was not that he was interested in Harper’s case, nor even in Babbing’s handling of it. He was simply so glamoured by Babbing himself that he could have sat listening to the Chief discourse in a foreign language, and been happy in the sound and the sight of him. And he was so single-minded in his infatuation that he was not aware how Babbing played down to him, and expanded before him, and enjoyed the incense of his boyish idealization of detectives and their work. He knew that Babbing liked him; but he was accustomed to having people like him; and he had learned not to presume on it. He returned to the labor of preparing his previous day’s report.
A while later, Babbing notified him by telephone: “Be at your desk at three o’clock this afternoon. I want you to make another appearance in this Harper business.”
At ten minutes after three he was called to Babbing’s private office and introduced to Eugene Van Amberg as “a young man who has been out on the case.” And with his morning’s lesson in his mind, Barney gave all his gaze to Van Amberg and took a good impression of him, demurely.
He was a tall, loose-shouldered, man of thirty-five, very drily tanned, with a philosophic long nose and a thin-lipped mouth. He did not actually smile at Barney, but his eyes softened and twinkled on him humorously, in an expression which Barney, as a telegraph messenger, had learned to recognize as the precursor of a twenty-five-cent tip. He was well-dressed in a negligent manner. He was growing bald: and it was evident that he had been trying to save his hair by going bare-headed out of doors. His scalp was sunburned.
He said to Babbing: “I did n’t exactly understand what the case was.” And he had a deep, but peculiarly gentle sort of voice.
Babbing nodded. “No. I could n’t be explicit over the telephone. Sit down.”
Van Amberg settled himself in a chair, leaning forward, his elbows on the chair arms, frankly interested in the “famous” Walter Babbing, but impersonally so, as a thoughtful spectator.
“What I am going to tell you,” Babbing said very slowly, “is, of course, confidential. We have a client who has been blackmailed systematically, for some years, by a woman and two men in this city. As in the majority of such cases, he is not in a position to prosecute. And we have been investigating the operations of the gang in the hope of finding a victim on whom we might successfully base a prosecution.” He reached a file of typewritten reports on his desk and began to turn the pages.
“In the course of this investigation we obtained evidence to indicate that the blackmailers had either sent, or were preparing to send, letters to a Mrs. P. P. Harper,—who, it seems, is your sister. Her address, as they had it in their note book, was a town address, was n’t it, Barney?”
“Yes, sir,” Barney said.
He put aside the report. “We found that she was away from home, visiting you. And I ’phoned you in order to find out whether the letters received by her were sufficient for our purpose.”
“To prosecute on?”
Van Amberg shook his head. “It ’s out of the question.”
“Because the letters were insufficient? Or because Mrs. Harper is averse to—”
“For both reasons. She ’s been very ill. I ’ve intercepted the letters, and she has never seen them. I would n’t have her involved in a case of this kind, if it were to convict all the blackmailers in America.”
“Can you let me see the letters?”
“Yes, if you promise not to involve her in any way.”
“There are only two.” He put his hand in an inner breast pocket. “And they seem absolutely futile—for purposes of blackmail.”
Babbing nodded. “I was afraid they had not gone far enough.” He glanced at the letters. “I see. Yes. There ’s nothing there.” He returned them. He tilted himself back in his swivel chair, cheerfully at his ease, as if the important part of the interview were over. And with one dimpled hand playing with the paper knife on his desk, and the other hooked into his watch pocket by the thumb, he continued chattily: “These people have been working with a dishonest lawyer in this way: the woman ’s in a position to hear most of the gossip of what our newspapers call ‘the smart set,’ and as soon as she gets a rumor of any marital difficulties she sends such letters as yours to the aggrieved party, anonymously. She follows them with a letter to the effect that the dishonest lawyer has evidence to prove the anonymous accusations. The lawyer almost invariably gets the case. He betrays his client into the hands of the blackmailers, who proceed to involve the client in a criminal conspiracy to manufacture evidence for the divorce proceedings: and when the divorce has been obtained, the client finds himself—or herself—threatened with exposure, and compelled to pay for silence. They were evidently working towards some such conclusion with your sister.”
Van Amberg straightened up. “They ’ll betray my sister into no such conspiracy.”
“No,” Babbing agreed. “I thought it unlikely. They have an alternative plan, however.”
“Mrs. Harper, you say, is very ill?”
“She has been. Yes. She ’s had what was supposed to be malaria. We find it was peripatetic typhoid.”
“And her son?”
“Nothing whatever the matter with him.”
“But if anything happened to his mother he would be her sole heir, wouldn’t he?”
“And being a minor, his father would be his guardian?”
“Until a few days ago, yes. My sister has recently made a new disposition of her estate.”
“Making you the boy’s guardian?”
“Does his father know this?”
“No. But I don’t see—”
“Mr. Van Amberg,” Babbing interrupted, “you have wisely intercepted the letters that came to your sister. I would advise you, now, to let it be generally known that in the event of your sister’s death, you will be her son’s guardian and her estate will be in your hands. That will protect her husband from blackmail and save him from being betrayed—as she might have been—in to the hands of these criminals.”
Van Amberg was frowning at him, puzzled. “I don’t understand you.”
“It is n’t necessary that you should.” Babbing rose to end the interview, smiling. “I ’m very much obliged to you for bringing me your letters. I think I can guarantee that you ’ll not receive any more. These people ‘fish in troubled waters,’ as the saying is. You ’ve not settled the trouble—but you ’ve removed the fish.”
Babbing shook hands with him. “Think it over. If I ’m wrong—and you continue to be annoyed—let me know. I ’ll be glad to return the compliment of your assistance, and help you all I can. Barney, show Mr. Van Amberg the way to the hall.”
“Well,” Van Amberg said, obviously worried, “I ’m altogether in the dark, but I ’ll take your word for it.”
“This way, sir,” Barney put in.
Van Amberg drifted out, piloted by Barney, who opened and closed the doors for him. They did not speak. Van Amberg was evidently busy with the mystifications in which Babbing had involved him; and Barney was preparing himself for the examination which he expected to face when he returned to Babbing’s desk. He found the Chief saying to Archibald: “He can get in to fix the electric lights. Plant it by telephone first. Have him search for evidences of experiments in germ cultures. Look at his books, too. Medical books. Go ahead.”
Archibald went out. Barney waited. Babbing looked at him over his glasses. “Well, anything wrong with Van Amberg?”
“I did n’t see anything, Chief?”
“Did you notice that he said there was nothing whatever the matter with his nephew?”
“Do you remember what Harper said about the boy?”
“What was it?”
“That they ’d took him away ’cause he had a sore t’roat.”
Babbing took off his glasses, surprised. “Why did you remember that? Because it was a boy?”
Barney grinned. “I ’ve had sore t’roats. They never took me up the Hudson.”
“I see. Envy, eh? Well, why do you suppose Harper said his son was sick when he was n’t—and said nothing about his wife, when she was?”
Barney was silent.
Babbing returned to the papers on his desk. “I ’ll show you before this time, to-morrow. Run along, now. I ’ll not need you on this case again till Harper comes.”
Barney went out as importantly as if he had been appointed consulting expert to the head of the Babbing Bureau. Almost immediately afterward, he was sent with an older operative to help “tail” a valet who was suspected of stealing from his employer; and he forgot Harper and the anonymous letters in the excitement of tracking his man up and down Broadway, in and out of hotels, on and off street cars, through crowds and along deserted side streets, to the pawnshop where the suspect had been disposing of his loot. By the time that the valet was on his way to the police station, Barney was sound asleep in his bed at home, tucked in by his mother. And it was not till he arrived at the Babbing Bureau next morning that he remembered Harper. There was a note on his desk: “Chief will call you to his office about ten.”
He had no report to write on the valet’s case; the other operative was attending to that; and he sat down with a yesterday’s newspaper to enjoy the “comics.” On the wall behind him there was hanging a dummy revolver that a convict had carved out of wood with a jack-knife and used to “break jail.” Barney had long since exhausted his awed interest in it. There were photographs of criminals stuck up here and there—clippings from newspapers, old cartoons of Babbing, finger print records and a miscellany of odd “exhibits” preserved by the men who used the office. Barney had come to accept them as the cub accepts the curiosities of the reporters’ room. He was growing blasé. It took the expected summons from Babbing to give him the thrill of a call from the editor.
As soon as he entered Babbing’s door, the detective said: “I understood you to report that no one was shadowing Mr. Harper.”
Harper was sitting there, massively composed.
“Mr. Harper tells me,” Babbing said, “that a detective got into his house yesterday, disguised as an electrician, on the pretext of renewing the light bulbs.”
“I did n’t cover the house,” Barney replied.
“He was detailed,” Babbing explained, “to see whose men were following you on the street. He found no one at it.”
“I think you ’d better put a man on the job,” Harper grumbled.
“I don’t think you ’ll feel that way when you hear his report. I want to go over it with you. Sit down, Barney.”
Barney sat down, alertly.
“He finds,” Babbing said, glancing over his typewritten sheets, “that the anonymous letters could not have come from Mr. Van Amberg.”
“Because Van Amberg intercepted them before they reached your wife. She has never received them.”
Harper turned on Barney. “How do you know that?”
Barney nodded to the paper in Babbing’s hands, as if it contained the answer.
“It does n’t matter how we know it,” Babbing said. “It ’s a fact.”
Harper glanced suspiciously from one to the other. The boy’s face was an ingenuous mask. Babbing’s expression was almost as innocent, but there was a keenness in his colorless eyes. He tapped the typewritten pages. “He also reports,” he said, “that you ’re probably sending these anonymous letters yourself.”
Harper took it without a quiver. He looked from Babbing to the papers on his desk. From the papers, he looked down at the hat in his hands. “Well,” he said, rising, “I ’ve no time to waste on this sort of nonsense.”
“You ’re not wasting it,” Babbing assured him. “You ’re employing it very profitably. Your wife has been ill. With typhoid fever. She ’s recovering. But she has made a will appointing her brother trustee of her estate—in the event of her death—till her son comes of age.”
“What ’s that got to do with you?”
“Nothing whatever,” Babbing said. “But a great deal to do with you. As long as she lives, I understand, you ’ll continue in your present position. But if she dies, you see, you ’ll lose it.”
Harper was very coolly pale, and he confronted Babbing’s critical scrutiny with a firm scowl. “What the devil are you trying to insinuate?”
“That you ’ve been very wise in making a study of the typhoid bacillus. No doubt you ’re experimenting to produce the anti-toxin. Eh?”
Harper sat down again, quickly. He leaned forward, with his jaw set. “You can’t say a thing like that to me, and get away with it. Now — — you, what do you mean?”
Babbing smiled at him, in ironical silence, contemptuously. “I ’ve been in this game for forty years. Did you think that you could sit into it, for the first time in your life, and make a fool of me? Barney, show this crook the quickest way to the hall.” He jerked a nod in the direction of the door. He added, as he dipped his pen: “I ’ll send you my bill as soon as my men report their expenses.”
“Blackmail, eh?” Harper said, hoarsely.
Babbing replied, in the voice of abstraction: “Worse than that. Ruin, if you don’t behave yourself. I have n’t enough evidence to convince a jury, perhaps, but I ’ve enough to satisfy Eugene Van Amberg and his sister.” He was signing his letters. “You ’ll tread gently for the rest of your days, you sneaking parasite. And if you so much as put a toe outside the straight path, I ’ll have you flung into the Broad Street gutters like a drunken bum. You can go.”
“This way,” Barney said, and threw the door open.
Harper hesitated, tugging his hat down on his forehead in a manner at once beaten and defiant. He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and bit his teeth together again. As he shouldered past Barney, his jaw muscles were swollen in his cheek as if he had taken a bull-dog grip on his rage and his disappointment.
Barney watched him down the hall. When he closed the door and returned to Babbing, he found the Chief still busily writing.
“Go back to your work,” he said, without stopping his pen. “And keep your mouth shut.”
“Yes, sir,” Barney promised, just as confidently as if he were quite clear what it had all been about. “I won’t have to write any other report, will I?”
“Other than what?”
He answered, with a straight face: “Other than the one you read to Harper.”
Babbing adjusted his glasses and blotted his signature. “No,” he said, in the game, “I think that one covers your end of it.”
And Barney went out, grinning cheerfully, pleased with himself, pleased with Babbing, but chiefly pleased because he thought he had outwitted the typewriter.