The Miltonvale Nemesis

The Miltonvale Nemesis  (1918) 
by Anthony M. Rud
Extracted from Green Book magazine, July 1918, pp. 157–168. Illustrations by Robert A. Graef may be omitted. A Detective Masters mystery story.

The Miltonvale Nemesis

By Anthony M. Rud
Author of “The October Blight.”

IT started three months ago. Five weeks ago Basil Bennett, Dr. Morgan Lasher—he is health commissioner—and J. Kerrett O'Sann, the general manager of the Miltonvale Steel Company, called for Masters. I went with him, for it sounded interesting. Jigger Masters was still at it last week, but I had given up all hope, and returned to my studio, knowing that if any real developments occurred, Masters would be only too glad to let me in.

I would never be admitting any part in the affair at all if I had not seen the horrifying conclusion—but that is not this part of the story.

The first interview Masters and I had with O'Sann was, as I have said, in the company of Dr. Lasher and the Chief of Police. It had been Bennett who had insisted upon my friend. O'Sann naturally knew nothing of him, and Dr. Lasher, a flashy, self-sufficient bureaucrat in his own small way, had been irritated beyond measure at the summoning of a mere detective to wrestle with what he termed “a problem in the physician's province.” We met in one of Bennett's private offices.

The three were waiting for us. Basil Bennett, whom we knew of old, was heavily quiet as usual. One capable fist, loosely clenched, lay upon a file of papers before him. He bowed impressively without rising when we entered.

When he introduced us to O'Sann, the latter got up and proffered his hand. Following Masters, I had an instant's glimpse of two searching, deep-set eyes, as cold in color as the Miltonvale steel itself, yet not unkindly—just appraising, always judging and appraising men. Lasher did not rise, but nodded his acknowledgments jerkily.

Bennett plunged directly into the matter.

“This is a queer one, 'J. M.,'” he began, addressing Masters by the initials he always used. Bennett glanced apologetically toward the uncompromising face of Dr. Lasher. “The Doctor, here, thinks it isn't in your field.”

“I should say not,” affirmed Lasher snappily. I watched his face as he uttered these words, and the curling of his thin upper lip reminded me strongly of the face of a snarling, snippy fox terrier who is jealous of attention shown another dog.

“But as I said, it's a queer one!” repeated Bennett with emphasis, ignoring Lasher O'Sann has agreed to have you look into the matter for him, and I think it would be a mighty good hunch. If you think we are making a bugaboo out of a series of unfortunate coincidences, why—”

Masters had been sitting with arms folded, his lank body erect in the straight-backed chair. “Tell me all about it,” he suggested, drawing his chair nearer Bennett's desk. The latter nodded to O'Sann.


THE steely eyes had taken on a faint trace of amusement while watching Lasher, but now they narrowed and became cold again. “As Chief Bennett says, this may be nothing but misfortune,” said O'Sann, and I was surprised mightily to hear the pleasant, musical inflection of his voice, “but here are the facts as we know them: The general offices of the Miltonvale Steel Company, as you doubtless know, occupy the first three floors of the Hercules Building. Over three hundred male employees, and at least as many girls, are to be found in these offices.”

“I know the general plan of the offices,” remarked Masters quietly.

O'Sann nodded quick approval. “I shall not dwell upon that phase, then,” he said. “I do not know whether you have noticed anything in the papers recently” It was the efficient office-manager talking, striving to eliminate all familiar detail.

“I believe I noticed, a few weeks ago, that your employees were having trouble with their eyes, and that Dr. Coulton, the optical and lighting specialist, had been called in to attempt a readjustment of the artificial lighting. Was that it?” Masters had fallen into a tone of voice similar, oddly enough, to that of O'Sann. It was queer indeed to be able to find any similarity, for Masters usually rumbled and growled as he talked, while O'Sann was an expert at soothing the nerves. I guessed the reason: Masters had found a man who knew how to help and not be in the way, and Masters was trying to lead him on.

“Part of it only!” O'Sann flashed a quizzical glance across at Dr. Lasher, who at that moment was examining disgustedly the tip of his patent-leather shoe. “I don't want you to think that—” He broke off suddenly, evidently considering his half-phrased sentence a waste of time. “The size of it is that we have lost irrevocably sixteen of our most dependable employees through a mysterious affliction—I hesitate to call it an illness, yet that is probably what it is; and now, just within the past three days, four more have dropped out! Many more are showing signs of uneasiness for a still different reason—they think that the building is unhealthy. I wouldn't be afraid to predict a general exodus if this thing keeps up another week or two.”

“What is the ailment—eye-trouble?” queried Masters.

“Yes, and more than that! These men who have dropped out have gone blind, most of them, and over half have had strokes of paralysis! Two have died, and one is now at a private asylum, pronounced incurably insane!”

O'Sann told the terrible news quietly, but when he finished speaking, there was not a sound of any kind in the room for a full minute, except a light scraping of Lasher's shoes on the floor.

“That is almost unbelievable!” answered Masters at last. “You say that twenty in all—” The immense seriousness of the condition had gripped him, and I saw the last trace of careless ease vanish from his attitude.

“Twenty!” confirmed O'Sann. “There may be more to-day. Wait!” He reached over, seized Bennett's desk-phone and secured a connection with his office.

“One more!” he said grimly. “A department-head by the name of Matthews—handles the requisitions—is unable to work. His wife sent word that his eyes have gone bad, and that he has a chilling of his limbs which hints strongly at paralysis, considering—”

“I have no desire for particulars,” broke in Masters, nodding recognition of the symptoms stated; “but would you mind telling us whether the Miltonvale Company is—is supplying the United States Government under any war-contracts?”

O'Sann bowed somberly. “It must be considered confidential, gentlemen, but we are devoting nearly all our resources at present to making plates for the steel cargo-carriers. But,” he added quickly, “in taking such a contract we were most careful! Only a small minority of employees know what the plates are for—of course, I suppose a good many can guess, but we combed through the record of every man on our pay-rolls before the work was started and have employed plain-clothes men in the guise of workers to keep strict watch over all the employees who have been taken on since the declaration of war.”

Masters' expression was a curious combination of polite, absent-minded agreement—the sort of acquiescence I knew meant nothing more nor less than pigeonholing the matter—with the familiar blurry, dull look which implied concentration.


LASHER rose to his feet disdainfully. “When you get over this nonsense of looking for a criminal, I shall be glad to coöperate again. It's nothing but a series of unfortunate coincidences.” He took up his coat, hat and stick and left abruptly.

“Do you think so?” asked Bennett as he saw a grim smile cross Masters' face.

Masters turned slowly to Bennett. “Well, I take it so seriously,” he said with quiet emphasis, “that I am going to put a revolver in each of my coat pockets, and then apply for that vacant job in the requisition department.”

The upshot of the interview was that Masters did go to work for the Miltonvale Company. He took the desk of the unfortunate who had dropped out the day Masters was called. Because I was used to the swift methods that always had distinguished Masters in previous cases, I asked for and secured a place as ledger-clerk a few desks from my friend. Before I went to college, I had done routine work of a similar character, and so my position was not embarrassing. Masters made little pretense of really filling his job, but there was not much need; several capable subordinates shouldered the burden. The first day Masters spent most of his time familiarizing himself with the building. After the offices had cleared in the evening, Masters and O'Sann seated themselves at the former's desk. “Any more to-day?” asked Masters. I lingered near by.

O'Sann shook his head. “No. Any developments?”

Masters threw open a drawer and pulled out a roll of tracing paper. “Here,” he said, indicating the drawings done in pencil on the three sheets he separated, “are the floor- and desk-plans of the Miltonvale offices. I have marked in red ink the position of the desk of each man who has been smitten by this malady.”

O'Sann bent down, carefully examining the ink-checks. “I can't quite see any connection,” he said slowly, as if reluctant to admit stupidity.

Masters shook his head somberly. “There is no apparent connection,” he answered. “I had hoped to find that this terrible attack had been directed against some single department, or some coterie of men, but that is not the case. See here,”—and his finger ran to one of the red marks of the third-floor plan: “This chap is a fifteen-dollar clerk. The red check farther on here is one of your consulting engineers.”

“Loren Hammer—six thousand a year,” supplemented O'Sann tersely. He rose to his feet, anxious for a chance at action.

“The lad worked on cost-accounting; the engineer had a semi-private office and was one of your bigger men. Surely these two could not have incurred the enmity of the same person! Look here and here!” Masters touched other checks lightly. “Here is a responsible employee, getting a good salary.”

“Brooks—hundred a week,” assented O'Sann expectantly.

“And here is an office-boy!” Masters stopped, and I noticed that a far-away, dull expression crept for an instant into his blue eyes. This meant concentrated thought.

“Yes—what do you make of it?” O'Sann's voice was still quiet, but a little of the pleasantness had vanished. As he stood there, bent forward a little over the chart, I shivered at the thought of how fatally he would strike, once he had located the criminal. His eyes were thin slits of metal in the electric light, and though I watched him a full minute, I did not see him blink.


MR. O'SANN!” Masters drew a deep breath and faced the business man squarely. “You are an intelligent man, and I can afford to be perfectly frank with you. Your company is face to face with either a condition of affairs that will kill you all in the course of time, or else with a criminal genius who has this same object! I can say truly that this is the first time in my career that I have spent ten hours on a case without being able to state positively whether or not it is a criminal I am seeking.”

O'Sann waited, his lips compressed. I saw that he was disappointed but still very much game.

“I can make you a promise,” continued Masters, his voice dropping to a deep growl of determination; “and that is that I shall make you, sooner or later, a complete report, covering every phase of the situation, but I cannot promise how long it will take!”

“Heavens!” cried O'Sann. “How long?”

“A week, a month … I cannot promise,” returned Masters grimly.

“But we'll all be dead!”

“I shall do my work as quickly as possible.”

“But is there no way to find out now? Why, at the rate my men are dropping out—” O'Sann's lips clipped shut. “We must do something immediately!” he announced. You say that you are not sure that we are searching for a criminal. Very well; then it must be a condition. We move our offices to-morrow!”

Masters shook his head. “No,” he said, “that would be of little use. I have not told you positively that this is the work of a man or band of men, but personally I have not the slightest doubt—”

“You just said—” began O'Sann doubtfully.

“That I cannot state positively that this is a criminal's work. That is true, but by to-morrow morning I shall be able to tell you. There is just one possibility in the realm of science.”

“What is that?” O'Sann asked breathlessly.

“Radium! We must find out whether there is or has been any of that valuable element in the building. Do you know of any?”

O'Sann made a curt gesture of negation. “No, this company doesn't use it, to the best of my knowledge. How can you make sure?”

“Electric brush,” answered Masters laconically. “I'll get one to-night, and we'll go over everything on these three floors. If there's radium here, it will glow in the dark. If we find any, your condition will be in hand, and I imagine a solution of the whole problem will develop easily. If not—well, we will have to catch our criminal!”


THAT night I stayed through the tedious work. Beginning with the top floor, Masters went over every desk, every file, every nook and corner of the building. Except for one trifling discovery,—O'Sann and I both catalogued it as trifling at the time,—the brush was a complete failure. One of the iron lockers in the men's dressing-room on the second floor seemed to give out just the slightest, most evanescent of rays. This was so faint that none of us could be sure, and as the locker belonged to a steady, unimaginative subordinate who had been with the company many years, and who was not on the sick list, we did not feel called upon to make any arrest. Besides, the locker was entirely empty; the emanation, if such it was, came from the tiny shelf at the top.

“It's a criminal!” decided Masters at last. “And now,” he said, turning to O'Sann, “I'll tell you how to keep your business going without any more casualties, until it's all over!

“Simply watch the men. When you see that one or another is getting genuinely scared, and ready to throw up his place, go to him, tell him to send in a report the next morning that he is too sick to come to work, and then put him to work in another office somewhere downtown. Gradually you will transfer a goodly portion of your force in this way, and also you will accomplish more than that, if I am not mistaken. The man who is killing off your employees will know that he is not responsible for the new sick ones; so he will be puzzled, stop and let the other fellow—as he will think—finish the job. I'll wager that if you do this, you wont have any more real casualties!”

The latter part of the program made good, at any rate. One more chap, a timekeeper on the third floor, succumbed on the second day following, but he was the last of the real fatalities—even of the real seizures. O'Sann evidently followed Masters' recommendation to the letter, for each day several employees failed to appear at their desk, and though nothing official was said, each empty chair aroused indignant and apprehensive discussion throughout the offices.

During the second week, a portrait sitting which I could not afford to refuse came my way. Reluctantly I deserted Masters and my clerk's job. I made my friend promise, though, that when the final show-down came, he would call on me.

I saw him often. He flitted in and out of the studio at all hours of the night, stopping sometimes to work an hour or two at my desk in the alcove—his own apartments, at the time, were in the hands of the decorators—and on other occasions just picking up a book or paper he had left, and hurrying out again without speaking. His skin grew paler, and his deep eyes shrank farther and farther into their sockets. I knew that he was not sleeping.

“You are ruining your health, Jigger!” I remonstrated one morning when I awoke at five to see him still sitting before my green-shaded light, his long chin resting in the palm of one hand, and an expression of the deepest dejection on his haggard countenance.

He whirled about with a queer, deep-throated cry. “Awake? Oh, don't mind me. I'm getting nervous, I guess.” He took three strides toward me and then stopped. “They've started again!” he announced hoarsely, leaning forward toward my cot.

I sat up suddenly. “The strokes?” I queried, a chill tingling down my spine.

Jigger nodded, and I saw his white, irregular teeth strike together. “Yes, curse it!” he answered savagely. “Bert, I'm up against it! O'Sann is crazy. He thinks me a fool. His men are disorganized, and the whole company is going to pot, and—and I can't help it!” The last was the first and only time in my life I ever heard Masters' tone admit complete defeat, and it filled me with horror. I got out of bed and walked to him. Throwing my arm about him, I led him to the cot and forced him to lie down.

“Now, for three hours,” I said, simulating a calmness I did not feel, “you close your eyes and lie right there! Sleep, if you can; think about a flock of sheep falling over a precipice, if you can't. Anyway, don't open your eyes! There'll be time enough to tackle this again in the morning!”

Masters did not obey. He lay with his tired eyes staring up at me for five minutes, without speaking. “Do you know who the fiends killed to-day?” he asked finally, his voice quiet again and weak.

“No, but let's not talk about it.”

“Harvey Ainsworth!” went on my friend, as if he had not heard. “Poor old Harvey! He leaves a wife and two babies!”


I WAS stricken dumb, for I knew and loved Ainsworth. He was the only mutual acquaintance Masters and I possessed outside those we had made in the course of his work. He had been a man whom everyone liked, never brilliant even at his best, but always likable, capable and generous of heart. He had helped me once when I was in a bad scrape during college days, and Masters' news burst a floodgate of resentment within me that the impersonal horror of the other calamities had not moved.

“When closing-time came, he didn't leave his desk,” continued Masters, his voice reaching the monotonous level of real grief. “I found him. He was cold, but still breathing. I had him taken to the hospital, but it was too late. Oh, Lord! I am a brainless idiot!”

“Haven't you some possible solution?” I asked bitterly, and hated myself the second I had uttered the sentence. Masters raised his head with a groan.

“You too!” he said. “Yes, I have!” The latter was almost a defiance, and a little of my friend's ordinary fire returned. “It can be only one thing, as I have told O'Sann, and that one thing is radium!”

“But how—” I began.

“Yes, there's the rub!” he retorted bitterly. “How and why! It's my job to find out, and for the first time in my life, Bert, I am afraid! I have analyzed and combed the situation from end to end, and it must be radium. That is the only method by which rays can be directed against the human body and accomplish what these rays are accomplishing.”

“Just what is that?” I asked. Masters had never explained, and to me radium represented scientific magic and nothing more.

This aroused him a little more, and he raised himself to his elbow. “I can quote Professor Pierre Curie,” he began. “That scientist, who discovered the element in uraninite, says that a single gram of the substance, if properly placed and used upon each person individually, would kill or render hopelessly paralytic every soul in the city of Paris! That means that nearly two million—”

“Wait!” I said sharply. “How would you have to place a gram of radium in order to bring about this effect?”

“In close proximity to the person under treatment.”

An idea had stirred in my mind, and although I was sure Masters had gone over the ground already, something impelled me to continue. “Well, where have you looked for it?”

“Everywhere!” Masters' gesture was eloquent, but I was not yet quite ready to surrender.

“Well, just where?” I insisted.

“Oh, in the desks of the victims, in the walls, in the electric lights, in the paper-cutters on the desks, in the ink-wells—oh, every possible place in an office.”

“Did you,”—I thrilled so at my own question, now that Masters practically had confessed that he had not covered the point,—”did you think to examine the clothes of each victim?”

For a full minute Masters was silent. I knew that the shaft had penetrated, for the queer dullness that I often had observed on previous occasions now had full control of his eyes. “No-o. … I have not thought to do so. Except for the impossibility of carrying sufficient radium around on one's person without burning the skin visibly, I'd think you had it. … Well, we shall see!” He leaped from the bed.

“Take it easy!” I cautioned. “It is just a quarter of seven, and the Miltonvale offices aren't open until eight-thirty. Let's have some breakfast.”

Even with all the delays I could invent, we were among the first to arrive. Just as we had doffed our wraps, O'Sann marched past us, not speaking. After him came the mincing Doctor Lasher, with a complacent smirk on his oily face. He nodded, as much as to say: “Well, you see, Mr. Know-All, I'm called in again, after all!”

Masters made no sign. He drew me into a corner of the locker-room and there watched the incoming employees, the while feigning to be upbraiding me for leaving my place. Suddenly he stopped. Into the dressing-room shambled a familiar figure. It was the tall, stooping figure of the office-boy of the requisition department, but how different from the smart-Alecky lad, always alert and whistling even in the office, whom we knew! This specimen dragged each foot as if every step were taken in cooling glue. The freckles seemed strangely faded, and a pallor most unhealthy had replaced them.


MASTERS gave a queer little sound in his cavernous throat and seized the lad by the arm. “Come in here, Pinto,” he said. “I want to see you!” Despite the boy's weak protest against the hurry, my friend literally dragged him into O'Sann's office, where the latter and Lasher were busily engaged in conversation.

“Some more clues?” inquired O'Sann sarcastically, flashing one glance at Masters.

“Yes,” answered my friend shortly.

“Well, take them along with you,” retorted O'Sann, motioning toward the door with his thumb. “I'm busy.”

“Hang your business!” said Masters coolly, and turned to the sick boy. “Strip, Pinto!” he commanded.

“Oh, I say!” protested Lasher.

Masters reached down suddenly, pushing Lasher's chair away from the desk, almost overturning the smug physician. From beneath the desk came our old friend the electric brush.

“Still playing with that?” asked O'Sann impatiently, but Masters paid no heed. As quickly as he could attach the brush to a light-socket, he began upon the articles of apparel which Pinto had shed.

Shirt, trousers and shoes yielded no clue, and Masters was next to frantic when the union suit, garters, socks and necktie in turn passed under the brush and each was discarded in turn.

“Don't you think you've been at that monkey-business long enough?” asked Lasher ironically. “A couple of huskies like yourself could make honest dollars digging ditches—”

“Masters,” I burst out, “try the brush on his hat!” The idea had flashed across me, and simultaneously I saw that if the radium were to be concealed anywhere, it must be near the head of the victim.

Without a word Masters jumped for the lad's soft felt hat, which we had somehow overlooked before. Kneeling, he ran the brush over it, quickly yet thoroughly. Then, holding it down in the shadow of the desk as he had the other pieces of clothing, he looked carefully.

That instant I saw the muscles of his arms stiffen at the shoulders. “Pull down the shade,” he commanded, and impelled as much by the strangled tone as by the order, O'Sann obeyed.

From the semidark came a deep cry of triumph! Masters leaped to his feet, holding the hat. The felt crept and glowed with a queer, crawling flame which encircled the base of the crown almost as a living reptile coiled above the brim!

“The radium!” fairly shrieked Masters. Like one suddenly gone insane, he ran to the window and threw up the shade. Then, first extracting the lead foil he had carried in his pocket from the first, he spread it on the table and carefully turned down the hatband from which the emanations seemed to come.

Out of this hiding-place dropped—what was certainly the last thing I had expected to see—a plain piece of copper wire, approximately one foot in length!

For a second Masters seemed dazed; then he ran down the shade again and used the brush on the bit of wire. It glowed and crawled under the ionizing influence, in the same way that the hat itself had done.

“Great Scott!” exclaimed O'Sann in a low tone.


MASTERS straightened suddenly, and I saw that his lean jaw was set peculiarly. I knew he was thinking fast. “Yes, we have him now—I think. O'Sann,” he demanded, “where do you keep your hat?”

“Mine? Why, there, on a hook behind that door,” answered O'Sann, pointing out a small vault at the end of the office, which was used for stationery-storage and as a wash-room.

Masters strode quickly across the intervening space, jerked open the door and seized a green velours hat hanging there. “You were in line, all right!” he commented grimly, tossing out another length of wire that had been concealed under the band.

O'Sann was game. He smiled the bitter smile of a strong man who sees retribution within his grasp. “Probably lucky for me I don't wear the same hat every day!” he commented.

Masters nodded sharply. “That's just what I was going to ask,” he said. “Have you a brown felt?”

“Yes. I wear that and a derby alternately with different suits of clothes.”

“Well, then, I can tell you the name of the man we are after!” I saw Masters' fingers twitching as he said this, and except for the hatred I myself bore the man who had finished poor Harvey Ainsworth, I might have pitied the criminal, for I knew that my friend now would be mercilessly vindictive.

“Who?” cried O'Sann, Lasher and myself all in one breath.

Masters turned aside for one moment. “We wont need you, Dr. Lasher, I believe,” he said quietly. “You can take care of poor Pinto.” With a wave of his hand he motioned to the naked office-boy, who had collapsed, pale and shivering, in a heap in the corner.

As the crushed health commissioner was helping the boy to don his clothes, Masters leaned over to O'Sann. “Call up your home,” he said. “Ask some one there to look under the sweat-bands of your derby and brown felt.”

O'Sann nodded and pulled out his extension phone. “Madge,” he said softly when he had connection with his house, “bring my black derby and my brown felt hat to the phone-table.” He directed the girl then how to proceed.

“A wire in the brown felt, but none in the derby,” he announced, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone.

Masters smiled triumphantly. “Tell her to put it back in the hat and hang the hat up!” he commanded.

“You have worn the derby most of the time since a week ago Tuesday, haven't you?” he questioned, his tone taking for granted an affirmative answer.

“Yes.”

“Lucky for you that you did! On Tuesday I saw one of your trusted department-heads monkeying with that brown felt hat. If you had only possessed that one, you probably now would be in the hospital.”

“Who?” asked O'Sann grimly. I saw his hand slide into the top desk-drawer and emerge with a heavy revolver.

“Just a minute!” cautioned Masters. “We might as well get him with the goods if we can. Here, this chair will do.” He pulled over the armchair in which Lasher had been sitting. “Have you a few straps?”

O'Sann yanked out a bottom drawer. “No,” he said; “but here is a hundred feet of muskellunge trolling-line. It will hold fifty pounds.”

“Fine!” answered my friend, seizing the spool. “Now you may call in—Eldredge Simms!”


O'SANN'S eyes opened wide at this, but he said nothing. I saw him press the general-office buzzer three times.

“The assistant manager!” I muttered, awed.

“Yes!” gritted Masters. “You will help me, Hoffman, in arranging the entertainment.”

I knew well what this meant, and rose to receive our man as he knocked. The moment he crossed the threshold, Masters and I grappled with him. I clasped his legs at the ankles, while Masters pinned his arms to his sides. Simms was a large man but not physically strong, and we had little difficulty.

“Take the cord, O'Sann, and fasten his wrists,” directed Masters. O'Sann did so as coolly as if he were tying a bundle. “Now his ankles!” And Masters turned a savage glare on our captive.

“This is strange treatment to give to a—friend and—and subordinate!” protested Simms, breathing heavily.

“Consider yourself under arrest for murder!” retorted O'Sann shortly. Masters deprived the prisoner of all chance for further parley by dumping him unceremoniously on his face on the floor; then he went carefully through his pockets.

“See!” he exclaimed a second later, holding up a circular bit of lead foil which he extracted from a side coat pocket.

The three of us then lifted Simms to a sitting position in the chair we had prepared. Masters tied him securely to the arms. Then he took up the green velours hat from the desk and silently showed the prisoner the single copper wire under the band. Then, with no comment, my friend gingerly undid the lead-foil package, dropping four of the deadly wires to his knee. These he pushed under the hatband just as the other wire was placed.

“It's lucky you have a small head, Simms!” he gritted, jamming the hat well down over the captive's forehead.

“Wh-what are you doing this for?” Simms faltered, and I laughed inwardly to hear the tone of dismay in his voice.

“Just to give you a chance to confess,” replied Masters, cool again. “We will have no difficulty sending you to the chair, but you'll go all the quicker if we get your written confession. Besides, your 'friend' here, Mr. O'Sann, is naturally a trifle curious to know just why you should want to kill him and all the other employees of this firm, and how you chanced on such devilish means.”

“I didn't—” began Simms in a wailing, tremulous voice, but I saw him glance fairly into the remorseless face of O'Sann, and he stopped, the blue eyes widening with terror under the green hat-brim.

“I shall take down your confession whenever you are ready!” announced O'Sann coldly, uncapping his fountain pen.

“Of course there is no real reason why you should confess,” continued Masters ironically. “Since you are innocent, you have not the faintest idea in the world what those copper wires are doing under your hatband!” He turned to us. “Am I right, gentlemen, in saying that we will wait right here until Mr. Simms is ready to give us his story?”

“If it takes six weeks!” returned O'Sann quietly, and I nodded.

“Of course if you do know what those wires will do to your brain, perhaps you would prefer—”

“You would starve me to death?” exclaimed Simms, interrupting Masters.

“Oh, no! We will feed you, all right, just as long as you are able to eat.”

A long silence followed, during which interval I studied the face of our prisoner. It had been pale, but now it was growing greenish-gray with horror. Strangely enough, with the certainty of doom from one source or another staring him in the face, Simms seemed calmer. As the moments ticked themselves away in silence, I saw white beads of perspiration gather on the bridge of his nose, and his complexion lost the last vestige of normal color it possessed; yet his youth, which had possessed a peculiar slackness about the lips, now was shaping itself into a firmer line. As I watched, fascinated, a gleam of defiance crept into the pale blue eyes, hardening them into a cold hate of which, a moment before, I would have deemed Simms incapable.


WELL,” he remarked a moment later in what was admirably near a casual tone, “I've failed, and you've got me. Take off the hat, now, wont you?”

“Why did you do it, Simms?” grated O'Sann through clenched teeth. I saw that the self-contained manager was having a difficult time bridling his anger and horror.

“Why?” Simms laughed shortly and savagely. “Deutschland über Alles! Versteh'n Sie?” His teeth met in a metallic click, and he threw back his head.

O'Sann's jaw dropped. “A spy!” he ejaculated in a low tone.

“Yes—a spy, if you like! Now will you take off the hat?”

“Just a moment!” Masters interposed. “Fix up that confession, and let him sign it.”

“Now, just tell us one more thing,” continued Masters when this was done. “How did you come to know about the radio-active properties of charged wires?””

“How?” The prisoner's face wreathed in a contemptuous smile. “Before I came here, I was superintendent of Elektrische Fabriken at—” He stopped and scowled. “Go to the devil!” he concluded with a snarl. “For you I shall remain Eldredge Simms!”

“Well, I think that is sufficient,” remarked Masters, taking off the deadly hat and placing it far away upon the top of O'Sann's desk. “You may call Bennett now.”

Five minutes later Basil Bennett himself arrived with a squad of policemen. They regarded Simms much as if he had been some horribly poisonous reptile. Masters sketched the story to Bennett, and gave over the signed confession to his keeping.

When the police had left, O'Sann arose. “I do not understand it all, and scarcely expect to understand, Mr. Masters,” he said humbly, facing my friend. “But I certainly owe you the most abject of apologies. I am sorry for all the idiocies I have been thinking and saying about you and your work, and pray believe that I consider myself a fool.”

Masters silently held out his hand. “I don't blame you in the least,” he answered. “I deserved all your thoughts. To Hoffman, here, goes all the credit.”

“Nonsense!” I cut in, blushing absurdly. “Cut out the bouquets, and tell us about that wire.”

O'Sann nodded, and sat down at his desk. While Masters talked, I saw him writing something on a bit of paper.

“You will remember,” began Masters, “that I insisted from the first that the agency which was causing all this paralysis, insanity and death must be radium. Well, it was!”

“I am sure,” continued Masters, “that if Simms' home be examined, there will be found a queer sort of laboratory. You see, it is a scientific fact—one that I had forgotten, by the way, until I saw the rays emanating from that wire—that if a charge of five hundred or more volts of electricity—negative electricity—is allowed to pass constantly through a wire for a year or more, the wire gathers up radioactive properties from the atmosphere.

“These properties, of course, do not mean that much radium is present; and that, probably, is why I never thought to look for a wire. I was seeking an elusive gram or more of radium all the time.

“Simms doubtless has had several hundred of these wires charging all the time. As soon as one got strong enough, he simply clipped it off, brought it down here in lead foil and inserted it in the sweat-band of the first hat he came across in the locker-room. He did not pick and choose much. Doubtless he intended to kill every employee who came to work here, if necessary.

“The use of the wire puzzled me completely,—it was really devilishly clever!—because the rays worked over weeks instead of hours as I supposed, and left no burns on the outside. Each victim wore his hat several hours each day for weeks, and then the rays acted on the cortex of the cerebrum, causing a lesion, paralysis, insanity or death. Oh, I don't know but that I regret our civilization! I should like to kill that man by slow torture.” Masters emphasized his words by a blow of the fist on O'Sann's desk.


THE latter arose. “Well, the law will take care of him,” he said, extending a blue slip of paper to both Masters and myself. “Your salaries,” he said awkwardly, “as employees in the requisition-department!”

I looked down at mine, and my gaze blurred. I saw a two, then a five, then— “Twenty-five thousand dollars!” I gasped, pushing the check back toward his hand.”No, I—that's about one hundred times too much!”

O'Sann smiled. “The sincere thanks of all the Miltonvale owners and employees go with it,” he said. “It's not overtime. Now run along, both of you, and get some sleep. I'm going to tell the boys in the office.”


The Giant Footprints,” which describes perhaps the strangest and most exciting of all Detective Masters' exploits, will appear in the next—the August—GREEN BOOK MAGAZINE.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1942, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 79 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.