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The Master of Mysteries/The Middlebury Murder

 
 

THE MIDDLEBURY MURDER

 

RETURNING, late one night, from an investigation which had carried them down to the Battery, Astro the Seer and Valeska were suddenly nearly thrown from their seats by a sudden stop of the green limousine.

They were driving along Canal Street, and, as the vicinity was apparently deserted, the Seer of secrets looked in surprise from the window to see what was the matter.

A police officer was speaking in tones of command to the chauffeur. Astro, recognizing him as Lieutenant McGraw, smiled in relief. The police officer came to the window with his hat in his hand.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I recognized your car, so I just ordered your man to stop. I wanted to speak to you a moment. Ah, Miss Wynne, it's glad I am to see you!"

Valeska gave him her hand and a smile.

"I've just been called from the office," said McGraw, "on a case that may be interesting, as I know how you like mysteries. Perhaps you might help me out, even." And Officer McGraw winked elaborately. "When it comes to giving a crook the third degree, or raiding a joint, I'm there with the goods; but this looks like a murder, and murders are sometimes—"

"I see," said Astro suavely. "Well, if you can get in here, we'll go with you. Where is it?"

"Just around the corner, here, at the Aspenwall building on Grand Street." And, after Astro had given the order to the driver, McGraw went on. "You see, the night watchman has just telephoned for an officer, as something suspicious has happened. He seemed excited, and it may turn out something doing, or it may not."

"Well, I'll be glad to be first on the ground, at any rate," said Astro. "That ought to make it easier to solve, if it should happen to be a mystery."

He had scarcely finished when the car drew up at the entrance to the Aspenwall building. A full-bearded man in jumper and overalls was waiting scowling in the doorway. He came immediately forward.

"There's a murder or a suicide been committed here, I'm afraid," he began; "but I didn't want to do anything till I had the police, to be on the safe side. It's up on the tenth story, in Mr. Middlebury's office."

"Has any one left the building since you telephoned?"

"No, I made sure of that. The elevator boy thought he heard a shot fired, and I went around to all the lighted offices. They were all right except at Middlebury's office, where there was no answer when I knocked. The door was locked."

"How many tenants are in the building now?"

"There have only been two or three here to-night, and some went before this thing happened. There's only one I know of, Mr. Moffett, on the ninth. I think he's there yet. I spoke to him a little while ago."

"Better ring for a couple more men, McGraw," said Astro.

After the party had entered the corridor, McGraw rang up the office, then returned to the elevator. The boy had just come out, and was standing with white scared face in the corridor. He was a thin anemic youth of eighteen, with red hair and roving, pale blue eyes with dilated pupils.

"Now, young fellow," said McGraw, "what do you know about this?"

"Nothing, sir. Only, I thought I heard a shot fired, and I called Thompson."

"You didn't go up yourself?"

"No, only to take Thompson. I waited in the car while he knocked on the door."

"Where did you find Thompson?"

"On the fifth floor. I went down to the boiler-room at first, thinking he was there; then I tried each floor till I found him."

"What time did you hear the report?"

"About half past eleven o'clock."

"How many people have you taken up on the elevator this evening?"

"Only one or two. Mr. Moffett went up to his office on the ninth at eight o'clock or so—he must be there now—Mr. Smythe, on the fourth; but he left at ten o'clock, about. I don't remember the others."

Astro now turned to the night watchman, Thompson, a heavy-set hairy man, who stood with his mouth open, listening as if fascinated.

"What have you been doing this evening, Thompson?"

"Why, I had a bite of lunch in the boiler-room at about eight o'clock. Then at nine I made my rounds to see if everything was all right. I have to look for signs of fires or burglars or anything wrong, you know."

"How many offices were lighted up?"

"Smythe's and Moffett's and Mr. Middlebury's; that's all I remember, sir."

"Where were you when this boy called you?"

"On the stairs, going up to the sixth floor."

"This is the only elevator running at night?"

"Yes, sir. I'm supposed to keep run of this boy and see that he stays till midnight."

At this moment two officers appeared at the entrance. Astro turned to McGraw. "Tell them to keep hidden outside," he said, "and nab any one leaving the building. Now we'll go up and see what has happened."

As the five entered the car, Astro, whose look had fallen on the rubber matting on the floor, moved over nearer the elevator boy, and, pushing him a little aside, picked up a slip of paper on which he had been standing. It proved to be blank; but the Seer, after scrutinizing it, put it away in his pocketbook. The boy slammed the door and the car started up the shaft. Astro touched the boy's arm.

"Stop at the ninth floor!" he commanded.

The elevator boy looked up in surprise; but pulled the lever and threw open the hall door.

"You wait here," said Astro to Thompson and the lad. "Come on, McGraw. We'll see Moffett first."

They walked down the hall and around a corner till they came to a lighted door. Astro, without knocking, threw the door wide open. It was a small room, and at a roll-top desk a man jumped up quickly in consternation. In one hand he held a revolver, in the other a cleaning instrument. A box of cartridges was open beside him. He stared at his unexpected visitors.

"Good evening, Mr. Moffett," said Astro. "What are you doing with that pistol?"

"Why—I'm—cleaning it," said Moffett. The pistol dropped from his hand as he spoke, and he turned white at the scrutiny of his interlocutor.

The Seer gazed for a moment without speaking at the small, smooth-shaven, anxious-looking man who confronted him. He wore iron spectacles and was shabbily dressed. His thin bony hands trembled visibly.

"Did you fire that pistol this evening?"

"Why, no—of course not!"

"What were you cleaning it for?"

"Why—I always carry it when I go home. I live out at Kingsbridge, and there have been so many hold-ups—"

"Did you hear a shot fired in this building to-night?"

"Good God, no!" Moffett's alarm increased. He put his hand to his head. "You don't mean—there's anything happened?" he faltered.

Instead of answering, Astro walked over, picked up the revolver from the floor, and examined it. The chambers were empty. Next, he looked at the box of cartridges. Five were missing. Of these, four were scattered on the desk.

"When did you fire this gun last?" he demanded.

"Last night—at a cat," said Moffett.

McGraw laughed aloud.

Astro went to the window, threw up the sash, and looked out. The roof of the adjoining building was only two stories below. He gave it a glance, then lowered the window and walked to the door.

"Will I bring him along, sir?" said McGraw.

"No, leave him alone. Mr. Moffett, remain here till we come for you, please." And with that, Astro went out. In the hall he turned to McGraw.

"You don't mind my taking charge of this?" he asked.

"You bet I don't!" McGraw exclaimed. "But I don't see why you want Moffett to make a get-away."

"He can't get past the men down-stairs, can he?"

"That's right. But did you see any empty cartridge shells on the roof below?"

"No. We'll have to examine the roof later. Now we'll go up to Middlebury's office. We've lost too much time already."

"Have you a key to Middlebury's office, Thompson?" he asked on reentering the elevator.

"No, sir. Mr. Middlebury lost one of his office keys this week, and was given the duplicate the superintendent had till another one could be made for him."

"What did he need two for?"

"One was for his stenographer, I believe."

"Oh, he had a typewriter, then?" said Astro.

The elevator boy interrupted. "He had one, but she left to-day."

"How do you know that?" Astro turned to the youth with a keen gaze.

The elevator boy cowered under his inspection. "Why—she told me so, that's all."

The elevator had reached the tenth floor and stopped. The boy threw open the door and the party stepped out.

Almost opposite the elevator, across a narrow hall, appeared a lighted door, on which was painted the legend: "John Middlebury, Architect and Landscape Gardener." Above it was a transom tilted half open.

"Give me a leg up," said Astro, and, placing his foot in Thompson's big hand, he raised himself to the height of the lintel and looked in. He stayed there for a few minutes, then dropped to the floor again.

"Well, it's a murder, fast enough," he said to McGraw.

"We'll have to bust down the door, then," said the officer.

"Unless the boy can crawl through the transom."

"No, I can't!" exclaimed the boy. "It's too narrow."

"You try it," said Astro.

"I don't dare to!" the lad whimpered.

McGraw laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Now, then, my son, go to it, and no talk!"

With that, he lifted the lad bodily to a handhold on the lintel. "Hurry up, now, Dennis!" said Thompson gruffly, and the boy struggled through the opening, pulled his legs inside, and dropped to the floor. In a moment he opened the door and stood as white as paper, trembling in horror.

Beyond a counter that shut off the front part of the office, below a large drafting table in the center of the room, the body of a man lay on its back, the arms outstretched on the floor. The eyes were shut, and one hand still held a small black rubber drawing triangle. The counter shut off a view of his feet. He was a man of some thirty years, with black mustache and sparse beard, a handsome picturesque type of slightly foreign appearance.

Astro passed through the little door in the counter with McGraw, and together they bent over the body.

"There's no blood at all!" said the officer in amazement. "What is it, anyway? He can't be shot!"

Astro made no reply for some moments, but examined every detail of the body with care. At last he rose. "Thompson," he said, "have you a gun?"

"Why, no sir!" Thompson spoke anxiously. "At least, I ain't got any with me. I got one down in the boiler-room, though. I don't carry it all the time, sir."

"Go down and get it!" Astro spoke sharply. "Bring it to me! No, Dennis, you stay right here. Thompson, take the elevator down yourself. Tell the officers to telephone for a doctor."

The watchman left without a word, shaking his head. The elevator boy sat down on a chair outside the counter and gazed dismally into the corridor.

Astro stood for several minutes silently looking about the room. His eyes went from the drawing-board, where the perspective view of a country residence had been roughly sketched in pencil, past the ground-glass windows which admitted light from a side hall opposite the elevator, to the doors of an inner room. Valeska's eyes followed his in careful search of the room.

McGraw still stared in amazement at the body, looking for some sign of a bullet wound, but without success. At last he arose, and gazed long at Astro.

"He's dead, all right," he said finally; "but hanged if I can see what killed him! Could it be suicide? Perhaps we can find some poison, somewhere. Look in the dressing-room."

"He's shot," said Astro, without looking at the corpse. "Valeska, see what you can find in the private office in there." He pointed to the inner door.

As she started to go in through the door in the counter, her foot struck a strip of cardboard that shot in along the floor. Astro glanced at it, then stooped and picked up an advertising calendar. He walked to the waiting space outside and began to examine the wall carefully. The elevator boy's eyes followed him listlessly. The Seer stopped near the hall door and fixed his eyes on a small hole in the woodwork. Then he went back to the drawing-board and examined it attentively. There was a large black blot on it where evidently a bottle of India ink had been spilled. The paper was fastened down with thumb-tacks in the form of wire spirals. He drew one out and put it into his pocket.

Suddenly Valeska called out, "There has been a woman in here to-night!"

Astro and McGraw hurried into the private office. Valeska was standing by a small set bowl in the corner and held up a tiny gold ring.

"Do you see?" she exclaimed. "The bowl is full of soap-suds and dirty water. She must have left in a hurry without stopping for her ring."

"Ah, it was a woman shot him," said McGraw.

Astro examined it, took a long look about the room, tried the private door that led to the branch hall, and then went back to the architect's office. "What was Mr. Middlebury's stenographer's name?" he asked of the elevator boy.

"Miss Wilson." Dennis looked up with a look of alarm.

"What time did you take her up in the elevator?"

"I didn't take her up at all, to-night!" was the response; but his eye wandered away from his examiner.

"I took her down, though, when she left here, at five o'clock."

"It's queer she should leave her ring here, then, and dirty water in the bowl."

"Perhaps it was another woman," the boy ventured.

"Perhaps it was. Did you carry up any other?"

"Why, I think I did; but I can't quite remember. I think she went out again, though."

"You have a remarkably poor memory," said Astro acidly.

The door was now flung open again, and Thompson appeared. He showed signs of the greatest distress, his eyes staring, and his mouth lax.

"The gun has gone!" he exclaimed, and stood gazing helplessly at McGraw.

"It has! Then I'll have to arrest you," said the officer, and he took a pair of handcuffs from his pocket. "Hold out your hands, my man!"

Astro apparently paid no attention to this scene, and walked again into the office and stood looking at the body. "You'd better get Moffett and take them both down-stairs. I'll look about a bit. When the doctor comes, send him up. Send some one to look at the roof under Moffett's window to see if he can find an empty cartridge. Keep a watch out yourself for any one going down-stairs."

 

When McGraw had gone with his prisoner, Valeska approached the Seer and gazed timidly at the body of Middlebury.

"Look at his left eye," said Astro soberly.

Valeska shudderingly did so. "There's the tiniest drop of blood there!" she exclaimed. "It's a strange case and would puzzle any one who hadn't brains. I wonder what poor old McGraw would have done alone?"

Astro smiled grimly.

"Do you know who did it?" Valeska asked breathlessly.

"Of course."

"What, already? It seems impossible. There are three persons to suspect, aren't there?"

"Who are they?"

"Why, Moffett and the watchman and the mysterious woman who was undoubtedly here to-night."

"That woman is still in the building. I saw her hiding by a corner of the stairway as we came up; but I didn't mention it, as I knew the men below would get her if she attempted to escape."

"Which one did it, then?"

"That's what I shall have to prove before I leave the building. I'm sure enough; but I need evidence. Just at present what worries me is, how did that calendar happen to fall down from the wall where it was fastened with one of these spiral thumb-tacks?' He pointed to those on the drawing-board.

At this moment they heard the bell of the elevator, which now was standing at the floor below while Mcgraw made his second arrest, begin to ring furiously. Astro ran out into the hall and listened. In a moment McGraw entered the car with his two men and the car descended. The dial in the front of the shaft showed its descent to the fifth floor; then the marker stopped.

Astro pointed to it. "They've captured the girl," he said. "We'll wait for Miss Wilson in the office; I'm not through with my investigation yet."

He walked rapidly back, passed the body, and reentered the private office. Sitting down at the desk in the corner, he began a rapid investigation of the pigeonholes. Suddenly he held up an envelope on which was printed, "James Moffett, Aspenwall Bldg., New York City." Opening this, he took out a letter and read it aloud:

 

"My Dear Middlebury: I can't wait any longer for that money. You'll positively have to pay it by the fifteenth or there'll be trouble for you sure. I'd like an immediate answer. J. Moffett."

 

"Looks bad for Moffett, doesn't it?" said the Seer, putting the note into his pocket. "But look at this! Here's something worse."

He had just opened a small drawer and looked in. As he spoke he held up a revolver. "One cartridge used. I'm sorry for Miss Wilson."

"And the night watchman's pistol yet to be accounted for!" said Valeska.

"Oh, I think I can account for that, all right," said Astro. "I'll locate that as soon as I get the time. Here comes the latest suspect. See what you make of her. You know women."

The elevator door opened with a snap, and McGraw, holding a young woman by the wrist, entered the outer office. She was a pretty blonde, her eyes now red with weeping. She wore a neat blue tailormade suit and stylish hat. The elevator boy came in behind her and gazed at her hungrily.

"We found her on the fifth floor trying to get down," said McGraw. "She has acknowledged that she was up in Middlebury's office this evening."

Astro turned swiftly to the elevator boy. "What did you say you hadn't taken her up for?" he demanded.

"Oh, God! I knew she was up there; but I didn't take her up; she walked up-stairs. I hoped she'd get away and nobody'd know. I thought she'd gone already."

"And you wanted to shield her? Why?"

Dennis hung his head. Then he muttered shamefully, "Because I'm in love with her, sir, that's why! And I didn't want her to get into trouble. She didn't do it, sir. I'll swear she didn't shoot him!" He looked down at the body in horror, then turned his eyes away and began to sob hysterically.

"Well, then, Miss Wilson, what have you to say for yourself?"

She had taken one look at the corpse also, and had turned away, her tears breaking forth afresh. Between her gasps she told her story:

"Mr. Middlebury was too attentive to me, I thought, and then yesterday he kissed me. He said he wanted to marry me; but I didn't believe it. So I told him I was going to leave. I did leave to-day, and never expected to come back here. Mr. Middlebury had paid me, and everything, only I found I had forgotten my house keys. So I had dinner down-town and then came back here, because I knew Mr. Middlebury would be working late alone in the office on a rush job he had. I didn't want Dennis to know I went up, because I had told him about Mr. Middlebury's kissing me; so I waited till he went up in the elevator, and then I ran up-stairs, trying to keep out of his sight. Only, he caught me half-way up. Besides, I had to hide from the night watchman, because he had had a quarrel with Mr. Middlebury, and he thought I had complained of him."

"Oh, Thompson had quarreled with Middlebury, had he?" said McGraw meaningly.

"Yes, sir. Middlebury had Thompson discharged. He has to leave at the end of the week, and he was pretty angry about it. But I didn't have anything to do with that at all. It was on account of Thompson's refusing to let Mr. Middlebury have an extra key to the door."

"Where is Thompson?" Astro asked.

"Oh, he's safe enough with my men down on the first floor."

"Well, go ahead with your story, Miss Wilson."

"Why, Mr. Middlebury was awfully nice and apologized for kissing me, and proposed to me again. I didn't know what to say to him; but I was afraid he didn't mean it and was up to some game with me. He tried to hold my hand, and I snatched it away so quick I upset a bottle of India ink he was using. So I went into his private office to wash my hands. While I was in there—" She covered her face with her hands.

"You took a revolver from the desk drawer?" said Astro.

She looked at him in amazement, with widely opened eyes. "A revolver? No! Of course not! I washed my hands at the bowl, and just as I was finishing I heard a pistol-shot, and then I heard Mr. Middlebury fall."

"Did you look into this office?"

"Oh, no; I was so frightened I didn't dare to. I waited a minute till I heard the door slam: then I opened the door to the side hall and ran down-stairs."

"You saw nobody?"

"Not a soul."

"Was the elevator there?"

"Oh, I didn't look! I only wanted to get away as fast as I could. I was afraid that I was going to be suspected and arrested. You see, I knew there was a pistol in the private office, for Mr. Middlebury had shown it to me one day. I thought that if he threatened me I might use it to protect myself with."

"Yes, and that's exactly what you did do, I'm thinking," said McGraw gruffly.

Valeska took Miss Wilson's hand affectionately and pressed it. "Don't be afraid, my dear," she said.

With this friendly help the girl became more calm.

Astro, calm and picturesque, the cape of his Inverness thrown negligently across his shoulder, scrutinized the girl keenly for a few moments. His eyes passed over every detail of her costume, analyzed every feature. He was standing so, mysterious, potent, inscrutable, when his face changed suddenly.

"Do you remember, Miss Wilson, whether there was a small calendar pinned to the wall by the door there when you came in?"

She looked up, her eyes still streaming. "Why, yes, I'm sure there was. That is, I stuck it to the wall with a thumb-tack yesterday, and I don't remember its having been taken down." She looked at him in surprise at his question.

The door opened again, and the doctor, who had obtained a key to another of the elevators, coming up alone, entered the room and gave a curious look around.

"I'm Doctor Flynn," he announced. "What's the trouble?"

"There's your man," said Astro, pointing gravely to the body of Middlebury. "He's been dead an hour or so. You'll find he was shot through the eye. The bullet pierced the brain, and the man bled only internally. Lift his left eyelid and you'll see."

"That's more than I could find out," cried McGraw. "So he was shot, then, for sure. Now, then, who done it?"

"We'll leave the doctor here to make his examination," said the Seer. "We'll take Miss Wilson downstairs. I'm about through, now. I promise you the criminal will confess before you can get the coroner and the patrol wagon here."

Leaving the doctor to his examination of the body, Astro and Valeska walked into the elevator, followed by McGraw, who still held Miss Wilson in his heavy grip. The elevator boy stepped in, shut the door, and the car descended. In the hall of the ground floor an officer was standing with Moffett, and another with Thompson, each of the prisoners being handcuffed. As Astro came up, another policeman hurried in from the front entrance.

"I've found the cartridge," he said, holding up the small copper cylinder. "It was not twenty feet away from Moffett's window, on the roof of the next building."

"Yes, I threw it out of the window. It was just before I cleaned the gun. I told you I shot a cat last night with it."

McGraw laughed in derision.

Astro looked Moffett over quietly and said. "I believe, Mr. Moffett, that Mr. Middlebury owed you some money, did he not?"

"Yes—why?" Then Moffett's face changed to terror.

"And you threatened that he would have trouble if he didn't pay up, did you not?"

"By George! we got the man all right now!" said McGraw.

"I got my pay, though, only yesterday," exclaimed Moffett. "You'll probably find the receipt in Middlebury's pocket, or with his papers."

"Which shows how dangerous it is to judge a man on circumstantial evidence," remarked Astro.

"Well, it's more than we got against the others," McGraw grumbled.

"My dear old chap, I'll show you circumstantial evidence enough to convince you, before I'm through. Besides that, I'll let you listen to an outright confession. Now you had better let Mr. Moffett depart in peace. He's had a narrow escape. It's lucky some one with psychic perceptions was here to rescue him from the web of circumstance."

"It was the night watchman then, I'll bet on that!" said McGraw.

"Well, we'll take up his case next. Let's see, he owed Middlebury a grudge for having him discharged. He had a pistol; but he can't produce it. What has he done with it?"

They had approached Thompson by this time. The night watchman was listening, trembling in his turn. His face had the color of clay.

"I kept it down-cellar in my table drawer, near the foot of the elevator shaft. I have no idea what has become of it!" he pleaded.

Astro touched the officer who had been holding Moffett. "Take the elevator and go down to the cellar. Open the door of the nearest furnace and look in and see if you can find a gun."

"Is it there?" said McGraw. "How in blazes did you know that, you wizard?"

"Where would you hide a gun better?" said Astro, smiling. "If it isn't there, you'll find it in some corner, or in one of the ash barrels. It doesn't matter much, anyway."

Valeska, meanwhile, was trying to comfort Miss Wilson, who was crying and talking intermittently. The two blondes made a pretty picture together. McGraw, who since his first visit to the Seer's studio, had always admired Valeska, looked on, apparently touched. Finally he could endure his curiosity no longer.

"For God's sake, sir, it ain't the girl, is it?" he asked in a whisper.

Astro laughed, and waited. The elevator boy sat on a bench, a picture of dejection, waiting for the outcome. It was ten minutes before the officer reappeared from the basement. As he threw open the elevator door he showed, hanging from a bent wire, the distorted metal work of a revolver, still glowing a dull red.

"It was just where you said, sir," he explained.

Astro gave a glance at it, then turned to Thompson. "What have you to say?" he asked.

"I don't know how it got there," said Thompson dully.

"I believe this is your last week as watchman here?"

"Yes, sir."

"And it was Mr. Middlebury who caused your discharge?"

"Yes, sir." Thompson stared stupidly at his large feet.

"Then you had good reason to hate him? He is shot, and your revolver thrown into the furnace. It looks bad, my man!"

"I swear to God I'm innocent!" Thompson looked wildly into the impassive face of the Seer.

And, as he did so, Astro's face softened. "I believe you. I think you can take the handcuffs off him, McGraw."

"Take 'em off! Why, he must be the one who done it! Any fool could see that!"

"You're fool enough to, no doubt," said Astro, shrugging his shoulders; "but if you want the credit of detecting the murderer, you'd better free this man and listen to me."

Astro had proved his marvelous powers of deduction or intuition too many times, and too much to McGraw's own advantage, for the officer to refuse.

"It's sure too much for me!" he muttered to himself as he unlocked the handcuffs.

"Well, now we'll have an interview with the real criminal," said Astro, walking over to the two girls.

Miss Wilson, hearing this, looked terrified at him; but there was no expression there that could reassure her. She opened her lips to speak, but could not.

Astro began deliberately, speaking so that his words echoed through the corridor. "Miss Wilson, by your own confession you were in the office of Mr. Middlebury at the time he was shot."

"In the inner office, I was," she ejaculated.

"In the inner office, where there was found a revolver with one cartridge used," added Astro.

The girl nodded, her face pale.

"You have confessed to Dennis, here, that Mr. Middlebury had kissed you and that you were offended. You have confessed that he made a proposal of marriage to-night that you suspected was false and only a game to fool you with."

"Oh, but I'm sure now he was sincere!" Miss Wilson cried. "I am sure he loved me! I'm sorry I suspected him of anything ungentlemanly!"

"Nevertheless, there was a scuffle. He attempted to take your hand. You escaped to the inner room where the revolver was kept."

"Only to wash my hands!" she wailed.

"Your story is too flimsy," said Astro, his voice suddenly grown harsh, as he turned to McGraw. "Officers, I charge Miss Wilson with the crime of murder! Arrest her and handcuff her!"

Valeska, who had sprung up in surprise and indignation, opened her lips to protest. McGraw, instead of moving forward, had taken a step backward, when Dennis, the elevator boy, jumped up and seized Astro's arm.

"Don't arrest her, don't!" he shrieked. "I done it myself!"

"You done it?" McGraw echoed.

"Yes! Arrest me!" and the boy held out his wrists imploringly.

Astro coolly took out his cigarette case and lighted a cigarette. "Well, McGraw," he said, smiling, "didn't I promise you a confession?"

McGraw, stupefied, clasped the handcuffs on Dennis' wrists. Miss Wilson fell, almost fainting, on the bench, where Valeska put her arm tenderly about her.

"Well, Dennis, you're fairly caught," said Astro. "I've known for some time that you were guilty; but it's so much more satisfactory to have an out-and-out confession. Now I'll trouble you for the key to Middlebury's door." And, so saying, he reached into the boy's trousers pocket and brought forth a small Yale key.

"When did you find it, Dennis?"

"I found it last week, sir, on the floor of my car."

"And you kept it thinking it might come in handy, and perhaps get the night watchman into trouble, eh? So you were jealous of Mr. Middlebury on Miss Wilson's account, were you?"

"Oh, it made me wild, sir! I just couldn't stand it when she told me he had kissed her, and when I saw her going up there to-night I went crazy."

"So you stole Thompson's gun from the cellar, went up when Thompson was on his rounds, opened the door with your key, and shot Mr. Middlebury?"

"Yes, sir!" Dennis' voice was faint.

"Then you ran your car to the cellar, threw the gun into the furnace, then went up and found Thompson and told him you had heard a shot?"

"Yes, sir. Oh, I was crazy! I was crazy about her!"

"And you thought if you said nothing about her she would escape?"

The Master of Mysteries (1912) - p.459.jpg

"Don't arrest her! Please don't!"

"Yes, sir. For God's sake take me away! I don't ever want to see her again!"

"Patrol wagon's come, sir," said one of the officers, walking up to McGraw. He laid his hand on Dennis' arm.

"One minute, please," said Astro. "Dennis, my boy, will you please hold up your left foot? Thank you!" And as the boy did so Astro removed a spiral wire thumb-tack that was imbedded in the rubber heel of the boot.

"What's that for?" McGraw inquired.

"The law doesn't permit a defendant to plead guilty to a charge of murder. You may need this for evidence when the case is tried." As the elevator boy was led away he looked at him pityingly. "Cocaine," he remarked to McGraw.

"Sure. Dope done it, all right. He was worked up to it. It may do for an insanity defense."

"He's a mattoid. You'll find his parents or grandparents were criminals, poor devil!" The Seer turned to Miss Wilson. "You've had a lucky escape, too, my dear. It's fortunate that I was here."

"Oh, I don't know how to say how grateful I am!" she exclaimed.

"We'll drive you home," Valeska volunteered. "I know this shock has been terrible for you. Do come with us!"

She drew the girl toward the doorway and they bade good night to McGraw. As Astro and the officer waited talking for a moment, the girls entered the green limousine. But, hardly in, Valeska returned to the doorway hurriedly. McGraw had gone inside.

"I can't wait till we've left Miss Wilson," she said.

"Do please let me see that paper you picked up in the elevator. I think I see where you got your first clue, now. Dennis, the elevator boy, had stepped on it, hadn't he?"

Astro took the paper from his pocketbook and handed it to his assistant. Faintly indented on its surface was a small spiral.

"Yes, I'll have to confess, Valeska," he said, "that, if it hadn't been for that small scrap of paper, McGraw would have had three prisoners instead of one in custody to-night!"