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   Chapter 6 THE WOMAN DETECTIVE

The Ear in the Wall By Arthur B. Reeve Characters: 20941

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Half an hour later, a tall, striking, self-reliant young woman with an engaging smile opened the laboratory door and asked for Professor Kennedy.

"Miss Kendall?" Craig inquired, coming forward to meet her.

She was dark-haired, with regular features and an expression which showed a high degree of intelligence. Her clear grey eyes seemed to penetrate and tear the mask off you. It was not only her features and eyes that showed intelligence, but her gown showed that without sacrificing neatness she had deliberately toned down the existing fashions which so admirably fitted in with her figure in order that she might not appear noticeable. It was clever, for if there is anything a good detective must do it is to prevent people from looking twice.

I knew something of her history already. She had begun on a rather difficult case for one of the large agencies and after a few years of experience had decided that there was a field for an independent woman detective who would appeal particularly to women themselves. Unaided she had fought her way to a position of keen rivalry now with the best men in the profession.

Narrowly I watched Kennedy. Here, I felt instinctively, were the "new" woman and the "new" man, if there are such things. I wondered just how they would hit it off together. For the moment, at least, Clare Kendall was an absorbing study, as she greeted us with a frank, jerky straight-arm handshake.

"Mr. Carton," she said directly, "has told me that he received an anonymous letter this morning. May I see it?"

There are times when the so-called "new" woman's assumed masculine brusqueness is a trifle jarring, as well as often missing the point. But with Clare Kendall one did not feel that she was eternally trying to assert that she was the equal or the superior of someone else, although she was, as far as the majority of detectives I have met are concerned. It was rather that she was different; in fact, almost from the start I felt that she was indispensable. She seemed to have that ability to go straight to the point at issue, a sort of faculty of intuition which is often more valuable than anything else, the ability to feel or sense things for which at first there was no actual proof. No good detective ever lacks that sort of instinct, and Clare Kendall, being a woman, had it in large degree. But she had more. She had the ability to go further and get the facts and actual proof; for, as she often said during the course of a case, "Woman's intuition may not be good evidence in a court of law, but it is one of the best means to get good evidence that will convince a court of law."

"My investigators have been watching that place for some time," she remarked as she finished the letter. "Of course, having been closely in touch with this sort of thing for several months in my work, I have had all the opportunity in the world to observe and collect information. The letter does not surprise me."

"Then you think it is a good tip?" asked Kennedy.

"Decidedly, although without the letter I should not have started there, I think. Still, as nearly as I can gather, there is a rather nondescript crowd connected in one way or another with the Montmartre. For instance, there is a pretty tough character who seems to be connected with the people there, my investigators tell me. It is a fellow named 'Ike the Dropper,' one of those strong-arm men who have migrated up from the East Side to the White Light District. At least my investigators have told me they have seen him there, for I have never bothered with the place myself. There has been plenty of work elsewhere which promised immediate results. I'm glad to have a chance to tackle this place, though, with your help."

"What do you think of the rest of the letter?" asked Craig.

"I think I could make a pretty shrewd guess from what I have heard, as to the identity of some of those hinted at. I'm not sure, but I think the lawyer may be a Mr. Kahn, a clever enough attorney who has a large theatrical clientele and none too savoury a reputation as a local politician. The banker may be Mr. Langhorne, although he is not exactly a young man. Still, I know he has been associated with the place. As for the club-man I should guess that that was Martin Ogleby."

Kennedy and I exchanged glances of surprise.

"As a first step," said Kennedy, at length, "I am going to write a letter to Betty Blackwell, care of the Little Montmartre-or perhaps you had better do the actual writing of it, Miss Kendall. A woman's hand will look less suspicious."

"What shall I write?" she asked.

"Just a few lines. Tell her that you are one of the girls in the office, that you have heard she was at the Montmartre-anything. The actual writing doesn't make any difference. I merely want to see what happens."

Miss Kendall quickly wrote a little note and handed it to him.

"Then direct this envelope," he said, reaching into a drawer of his desk and bringing out a plain white one. "And let me seal it."

Carefully he sealed and stamped the letter and handed it to me to post.

"You will dine with us, Miss Kendall?" he asked. "Then we will plan the next step in our campaign."

"I shall be glad to do so," she replied.

Fifteen minutes later I had dropped the letter in the drop of a branch of the general post-office to ensure its more prompt delivery, and it was on its way through the mails to accomplish the purpose Kennedy may have contemplated.

"Just now it is more important for us to become acquainted with this Little Montmartre," he remarked. "I suppose, Miss Kendall, we may depend on you to join us?"

"Indeed you may," she replied energetically. "There is nothing that we would welcome more than evidence that would lead to the closing of that place."

Kennedy seemed to be impressed by the frankness and energy of the young woman.

"Perhaps if we three should go there, hire a private dining-room, and look about without making any move against the place that would excite suspicion, we might at least find out what it is that we are fighting. Of course we must dine somewhere, and up there at the same time we can plan our campaign."

"I think that would be ripping," she laughed, as the humour of the situation dawned on her. "Why, we shall be laying our plans right in the heart of the enemy's country and they will never realize it. Perhaps, too, we may get a glimpse of some of those people mentioned in the anonymous letter."

To Clare Kendall it was simply another phase of the game which she had been playing against the forces of evil in the city.

The Little Montmartre was, as I already knew, one of the smaller hotels

in a side street just off Broadway, eight or ten stories in height, of

modern construction, and for all the world exactly like a score of

other of the smaller hostelries of the famous city of hotels.

Clare, Craig, and myself pulled up before the entrance in a taxicab, that seeming to be the accepted method of entering with eclat. A boy opened the door. I jumped out and settled with the driver without a demur at the usual overcharge, while Craig assisted Clare.

Laughing and chatting, we entered the bronze plate-glass doors and walked slowly down a richly carpeted corridor. It was elegantly furnished and decorated with large palms set at intervals, quite the equal in luxuriousness, though on a smaller scale, of any of the larger and well-known hotels. Beautifully marked marbles and expensive hangings greeted the eye at every turn. Faultlessly liveried servants solicitously waited about for tips.

Craig and Clare, who were slightly ahead of me, turned quickly into a little alcove, or reception room and Craig placed a chair for her. Farther down the corridor I could see the office, and beyond a large main dining-room from which strains of music came and now and then the buzz of conversation and laughter from gay parties at the immaculately white tables.

"Boy," called Kennedy quietly, catching the eye of a passing bell hop and unostentatiously slipping a quarter into his hand, which closed over the coin almost automatically, "the head waiter, please. Oh-er-by the way-what is his name?"

"Julius," returned the boy, to whom the proceeding seemed to present nothing novel, although the whole atmosphere of the place was beyond his years. "I'll get him in a minute, sir. He's in the main dining-room. He's having some trouble with the cabaret singers. One of them is late-as usual."

We sat in the easy chairs watching the people passing and repassing in the corridor. There was no effort at concealment here.

A few minutes later Julius appeared, a young man, tall and rather good-looking, suave and easy. A word or two with Kennedy followed, during which a greenback changed hands-in fact that seemed to be the open sesame to everything here-and we were in the elevator decorously escorted by the polished Julius.

The door of the elevator shut noiselessly and it shot up to the next floor. Julius preceded us down the thickly carpeted corridor leading the way to a large apartment, or rather a suite of rooms, as handsomely furnished as any in other hotels. He switched on the lights and left us, with the remark, "When you want the waiter or anything, just press the button."

In the largest of the rooms was a dining-table and several chairs of Jacobean oak. A heavy sideboard and serving-table stood against opposite walls. Another, smaller room was furnished very attractively as a sitting-room. Deep, easy chairs stood in the corners and a wide, capacious davenport stretched across one wall. In another nook was a little divan or cosy corner.

Electric bulbs burned pinkly in the chandeliers and on silver candelabra on the table, giving a half light that was very romantic and fascinating. From a curtained window that opened upon an interior court we could catch strains from the cabaret singers below in the main dining-room. Everything was new and bright.

Kennedy pressed the button and a waiter brought a menu, imposing in length and breath-taking in rates.

"The cost of vice seems to have gone up with the cost of living," remarked Miss Kendall, as the waiter disappeared as silently as he had responded to the bell. It was a phrase that stuck in my head, so apt was it in describing the anomalous state of things we found as the case unrolled.

Craig ordered, now and then consulting Clare about some det

ail. The care and attention devoted to us could not have been more punctilious if it had been an elaborate dinner party.

"Well," he remarked, as the waiter at last closed the door of the private dining-room to give the order in downstairs in the kitchen, "the Little Montmartre makes a brave showing. I suppose it will be some time before the dinner arrives, though. There is certainly some piquancy to this," he added, looking about at the furnishings.

"Yes," remarked Miss Kendall, "risque from the moment you enter the door."

She said it with an impersonal tone as if there were complete detachment between herself as an observer and as a guest of the Montmartre.

"Miss Kendall," asked Kennedy, "did you notice anything particularly downstairs? I'd like to check up my own impressions by yours."

"I noticed that Titian beauty in the hotel office as we left the reception room and entered the elevator."

Craig smiled.

"So did I. I thought you would be both woman enough and detective enough to notice her. Well, I suppose if a man likes that sort of girl that's the sort of girl he likes. That's point number one. But did you notice anything else-as we came in, for instance?"

"No-except that everything seems to be a matter of scientific management here to get the most out of the suckers. This is no place for a piker. It all seems to run so smoothly, too. Still, I'm sure that our investigators might get something on the place if they kept right after it, although on the surface it doesn't look as if any law was being openly violated here. What do you mean? What is your point number two?"

"In the front window," resumed Craig, "just as you enter, I noticed one of those little oblong signs printed neatly in black on white-'Dr. Vernon Harris, M. D.' You recall that the letter said something about a doctor who was very friendly with that clique the writer mentioned? It's even money that this Harris is the one the writer meant. I suppose he is the 'house physician' of this gilded palace."

Clare nodded appreciatively. "Quite right," she agreed. "Just how do you think he might be involved?"

"Of course I can't say. But I think, without going any further, that a man like that in a place like this will bear watching anyway, without our needing more than the fact that he is here. Naturally we don't know anything about him as a doctor, but he must have some training; and in an environment like this-well, a little training may be a dangerous thing."

"The letter said something about drugs," mused Clare.

"Yes," added Kennedy. "As you know, alcohol is absolutely necessary to a thing like this. Girls must keep gay and attractive; they must meet men with a bright, unfaltering look, and alcohol just dulls the edge of conscience. Besides, look over that wine list-it fills the till of the Montmartre, judging by the prices. But then, alcohol palls when the pace is as swift as it seems to be here. Even more essential are drugs. You know, after all, it is no wonder so many drug fiends and drunkards are created by this life. Now, a doctor who is not over-scrupulous, and he would have to be not over-scrupulous to be here at all, would find a gold mine in the dispensing of drugs and the toning up of drug fiends and others who have been going the pace too rapidly."

"Yes," she said. "We have found that some of these doctors are a great factor in the life of various sections of the city where they hang out. I know one who is deeply in the local politics and boasts that any resort that patronizes him is immune. Yes, that's a good point about Dr. Harris."

"I suppose your investigators have had more or less to do with watching the progress of drug habits?" ventured Craig.

"Very much," she replied, catching the drift of his remarks. "We have found, for instance, that there are a great many cases where it seems that drugs have been used in luring young and innocent girls. Not the old knockout drops-chloral, you know-but modern drugs, not so powerful, perhaps, but more insidious, and in that respect, I suppose, more dangerous. There are cocaine fiends, opium smokers; oh, lots of them. But those we find in the slums mostly. Still, I suppose there are all kinds of drugs up here in the White Light District-belladonna to keep the eyes bright, arsenic to whiten the complexion, and so on."

"Yes," asserted Craig. "This section of the city may not be so brutal in its drug taking as others, but it is here-yes, and it is over on Fifth Avenue, too, right in society. Before we get through I'm sure we'll both learn much more than we even dream of now."

The door opened after a discreet tap from the waiter and the lavish dinner which Craig had ordered appeared. The door stayed open for a moment as the bus boy carried in the dishes. A rustle of skirts and low musical laughter was wafted in to us and we caught a glimpse of another gay party passing down the hall.

"How many private dining-rooms are there?" asked Craig of the waiter.

"Just this one, sir, and the next one, which is smaller," replied the model waiter, with the air of one who could be blind and deaf and dumb if he chose.

"Oh, then we were lucky to get this."

"Yes, sir. It is really best to telephone first to Julius to make sure and have one of the rooms reserved, sir."

Craig made a mental note of the information. The party in the next room were hilariously ordering, mostly from the wine list. None of us had recognized any of them, nor had they paid much attention to us.

Craig had eaten little, although the food was very good.

"It's a shame to come here and not see the whole place," he remarked.

"I wonder if you would excuse me while I drop downstairs to look over

things there-perhaps ingratiate myself with that Titian? Tell Miss

Kendall about our visit to Langhorne's office while I am gone, Walter."

There was not much that I could tell except the bare facts, but I thought that Miss Kendall seemed especially interested in the broker's reticence about his stenographer.

I had scarcely finished when Craig returned. A glance at his face told me that even in this brief time something had happened.

"Did you meet the Titian?" I asked.

"Yes. She is the stenographer and sometimes works the switchboard of the telephone. I happened to strike the office while the clerk was at dinner and she was alone. While I was talking to her I was looking about and my eye happened to fall on one of the letter boxes back of the desk, marked 'Dr. Harris.' Well, at once I had an overwhelming desire to get a note which I saw sticking in it. So I called up a telephone number, just as a blind, and while she was at the switchboard I slipped the note into my pocket. Here it is."

He had laid an envelope down before us. It was in a woman's hand, written hastily.

"I'd like to know what was in it without Dr. Harris knowing it," he remarked. "Now, the secret service agents abroad have raised letter-opening to a fine art. Some kinds of paper can be steamed open without leaving a trace, and then they follow that simple operation by reburnishing the flap with a bone instrument. But that won't do. It might make this ink run."

Among the ornaments were several with flat wooden bases. Kennedy took one and placed it on the edge of the table, which was perfectly square. Then he placed the envelope between the table and the base.

"When other methods fail," he went on, "they place the envelope between two pieces of wood with the edges projecting about a thirty-second of an inch."

He had first flattened the edge of the envelope, then roughened it, and finally slit it open.

"Scientific letter-opening," he remarked, as he pulled out a little note written on the hotel paper. It read:

DEAR HARRY:

Called you up twice and then dropped into the hotel, but you seem to be out all the time. Have something VERY IMPORTANT to tell you. Shall be busy to-night and in the morning, but will be at the dansant at the Futurist Tea Room to-morrow afternoon about four. Be sure to be there.

MARIE.

"I shall," commented Kennedy. "Now the question is, how to seal up this letter so that he won't know it has been opened. I saw some of this very strong mucilage in the office. Ring the bell, Walter. I'll get that impervious waiter to borrow it for a moment."

Five minutes later he had applied a hair line of the strong, colourless gum to the inside of the envelope and had united the edges under pressure between the two pieces of wood. As soon as it was dry he excused himself again and went back to the office, where he managed to secure an opportunity to stick the letter back in the box and chat for a few minutes longer with the Titian.

"There's a wild cabaret down in the main dining-room," he reported on his return. "I think we might just as well have a glimpse of it before we go."

Kennedy paid the cheque, which by this time had mounted like a taximeter running wild, and we drifted into the dining-room, a rather attractive hall, panelled in Flemish oak with artificial flowers and leaves about, and here and there a little bird concealed in a cage in the paper foliage.

As cabarets go, it was not bad, although I could imagine how wild it might become in the evening or on special occasion.

"That Dr. Harris interests me," remarked Kennedy across the table at us. "We must get something in writing from him in some way. And then there's that girl in the office, too. She seems to be right in with all these people here."

Evidently the cabaret had little of interest to Miss Kendall, who, after a glance that took in the whole dining-room and disclosed none there in the gay crowd who, as far as we could see, had any relation to the case, seemed bored.

Craig noticed it and at once rose to go.

As we passed out and into the corridor, Miss Kendall turned and whispered, "Look over at the desk-Dr. Harris."

Sure enough, chatting with the stenographer was a man with one of those black bags which doctors carry. He was a young man in appearance, one of those whom one sees in the White Light District, with unnaturally bright eyes which speak of late hours and a fast pace. He wore a flower in his buttonhole-a very fetching touch with some women. Debonair, dapper, dashing, his face was not one readily forgotten. As we passed hurriedly I observed that he had torn open the note and had thrown the envelope, unsuspectingly, into the basket.

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