The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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Duvall listened to Mr. Stapleton's words with growing interest. "They are a shrewd lot," he exclaimed. "They will get away in their machine, and have ample opportunity to examine the package to see that it contains the amount they demand. By signaling to confederates at any point along the road, or in another automobile, they can advise them whether or not to return the child."
"But how will they be able to do this, without running the risk of being caught?"
"That is easy. They take the boy to Paris, employ a passerby – a man of their own class, no doubt – for a few francs, to deliver him at your door. To trace them, through that means, will be impossible. If you give them the money, the chances are that they will never be caught."
"Nevertheless, I shall give it to them."
"I expected that, Mr. Stapleton. I can understand your feelings. It is not right, of course, to submit to this blackmail; but no doubt, were I situated as you are, I would do the same thing. Still, it is a great pity."
"Because we have an excellent chance to capture these fellows."
"And lose the boy!"
"Yes, that might be true. Such men are apt to retaliate very promptly, and very severely. They have no pity. I wish I might handle the case to suit myself."
"What would you do?"
"I would arrange to follow you, in a fast car, keeping say five hundred feet in the rear. I should have several men, well armed, in the car. By watching carefully, with field glasses if necessary, I would observe the car which signaled you with the blue light. When this car passed me, I would follow, but make no move which would alarm the kidnappers until they had given the signal – whatever it is – that would ensure your boy being returned to you. Then I would close in on them, and arrest them."
"Your plan, Mr. Duvall, is open to serious objections. Suppose these men, undoubtedly on the watch, observe that they are being followed. They will give no signal – and I will lose not only my child, but the one hundred thousand dollars as well. No, no, I want no interference in the matter whatever."
Duvall remained a moment in silence. "Very well, Mr. Stapleton, I am under your orders, of course. But I dislike very much to see these fellows get away."
"So do I; but there's no help for it."
"If I can work out a plan for their capture, which will not involve the loss of the boy, you are willing, I take it, to let me go ahead?"
"Yes; but I insist that you first submit the plan to me."
"Very well. And now, another matter. This woman who brought the message to you is, you say, an agent of the police. Did she attempt to explain how she came by the message?"
"Yes. She was forcibly abducted, last night, carried a long distance out into the country, and the instructions given her. She was brought back to Paris, blindfolded, tonight."
"Mr. Stapleton, what would you say were I to tell you that less than an hour ago I saw this woman in the rooms of Alphonse Valentin, a man whom I suspect to be very deeply concerned in the kidnapping of your son?"
Stapleton started."Is it possible?" he said. "Have you any idea what she was doing there?"
"No. They seemed on excellent terms, however. Of course, it is not impossible that an agent of the police might pose as a friend of one of the criminals, and thus obtain information. But it looks decidedly queer."
"It does, indeed. Still, as I said before, if I get my boy back, I shall be satisfied." He took a turn about the room, chewing nervously upon his long black cigar. "Now, Mr. Duvall, what is your plan to capture these fellows?"
Duvall sat in deep thought for sometime. "It is not an easy matter, Mr. Stapleton, but there is one way which promises success, and that, too, without interfering with your arrangements to recover your boy."
"What is it?"
"This. It is necessary for us, in some way, to identify the car which gives you the signal of the blue light. It will pass close to you, at a moderate speed. I want you to mark that car, so that it may be recognized at once."
"How can I do that?"
"I will place in the bottom of your machine a small device, consisting of a rubber bulb, equipped with a small nozzle, projecting through a hole in the body of the car. The bulb will be filled with indelible red stain. When you stand up, to toss the package of money to the kidnappers, you must press this bulb with your foot. The two cars will then be side by side. The pressure on the bulb will discharge a blast of the red stain against the body and wheels of the car opposite you. It will then be a simple matter to identify it."
"Yes – yes. I see that. But what then?"
"The car, in passing you, will be headed for Paris. Undoubtedly it is the intention of these fellows to enter the city. I shall station myself at the Porte de Versailles, and I will arrange to have other men, members of the detective bureau, stationed at the neighboring gates in the fortifications. All cars entering the city will be momentarily halted. The one which bears upon its body or wheels the red stain will be seized, its occupants arrested."
"But suppose they have not yet notified their confederates to return the boy to me?"
"In that event, I feel certain that the child will be found in the automobile with them. Look at the thing as you would, were you in their place. They are forced to act with great quickness. Were they to signal, by lights or otherwise, to persons along the road, they could hardly hope to get the boy to your house before you yourself return there. They know you will return home immediately at your best speed as soon as you have delivered the money to them. What more likely, then, that they will have the boy with them in the car, will drive to some prearranged point in Paris, and deliver him to the person who will bring him to your house? That would seem, to my mind, their most probable plan."
"And if not – if the child is not with them?"
"Then there are but two courses open to them. The first is to signal, by lights or otherwise, to their confederates, before they enter Paris. If they do this, the boy will be returned to you, and we will capture the men as well. The only other alternative, of course, is for them to notify their confederates after they enter Paris."
"But, if you arrest him at the barrier, they cannot do that, and my boy will not be sent back."
"That is true; but I do not think they will wait to notify their confederates until after they enter Paris."
"Why not, Mr. Duvall?"
"First, because of the danger of being observed, in the crowded streets of the city. Secondly, because I do not think the child is in Paris at all. The woman who brought you the message from the kidnappers, I understand, saw the child at a point some distance in the country. It seems unlikely that these men would run the risk of conveying the child into the city, in broad daylight. By having the boy with them in the car, they avoid all danger of signaling anybody. They merely inspect the package of money, run into Paris, fully believing themselves for the time being safe, drop the child at a convenient point, divide the plunder, and scatter to their respective hiding places. Criminals of this sort know perfectly well that they are far safer, hiding in a big city, than fleeing through the country in an automobile. I feel scarcely any doubt that they have the child with them."
"But if he is still in the country, and they wait until after they are in Paris before notifying their confederates?"
"Then the latter are obliged to journey a long distance out into the country, get the child, and bring him back to your house. That would require a considerable period. They could not possibly do it before you return home."
Mr. Stapleton considered the matter for a long time in silence. "Your arguments seem sound, Mr. Duvall," he presently observed. "Like yourself, I am anxious to capture these fellows. It makes my blood boil, to think of their getting away. Of course, your deductions may be wrong."
"Then at least we will get the perpetrators of the crime, and it is most likely that one of them, at least, may be persuaded to turn state's evidence, and disclose the whereabouts of your son."
Mr. Stapleton pondered the matter with great care. Evidently he feared any course of action which did not insure the return of the child.
"It seems to me, Mr. Stapleton," the detective went on, "that you owe it to the public to let me make this effort to capture these fellows. It is a grave danger to the community, to have such rogues at large. Let me try my plan. Even if it fails, you are no worse off than you are now. The attempt cannot in any way be traced to you."
"Very well," said the banker, nervously. "It is a chance – that's all. However, since it seems to involve no breach of faith on my part, I am willing to take it."
"Good! I will bring the device I spoke of to your house tomorrow, and attach it to your car. Your man Fran?ois will drive you, I presume."
"You trust him?"
"I have no reasons for not doing so. And besides he will know nothing of the affair. His part will be merely to drive the car, as I direct him."
Duvall thought for a moment. "You will not, of course, give him his instructions until the last moment – just before you start."
"No. That will be best, I think."
"Undoubtedly. And to avoid any possible interference, I think I had better not attach the identifying device of which I have spoken to your car until late tomorrow afternoon, immediately before you set out. Then, if by any chance your chauffeur is in this plot, he will have no opportunity to give a warning."
"Very well. I think, however, that your precautions are needless. There has been nothing whatever brought out to connect Fran?ois with this matter."
"I know; but it is well to be careful. You will leave here tomorrow evening, at eight o'clock?"
"Yes. Promptly at eight."
"You might do well to have someone with you, some member of the police, perhaps."
"The instructions expressly forbid it."
"Ah – I see. These fellows are shrewd." He took up his hat. "Until tomorrow then. Good night."
AT the same hour that Richard Duvall was arranging with Mr. Stapleton his plan for the capture of the kidnappers the following day, Grace was closeted with Monsieur Lefevre, the Prefect of Police, in the latter's library, going over the affair in all its details. The Prefect was speaking, ticking off on his fingers the points in the case as he proceeded.
"First, we have the impossible story of the nurse, Mary Lanahan. She seems to be telling the truth; yet I believe she is lying. In my opinion, she is deeply concerned in the whole matter."
"But what about the attempt to poison her?"
"It is highly probable that she poisoned herself, taking a slight dose only. This would divert suspicion from her."
"Then we have the case of Alphonse Valentin, and the mysterious gold-tipped cigarettes. Your husband, Monsieur Duvall, I am informed, has found one of these cigarettes, partly smoked, on the grass at the scene of the crime. This might indicate that Valentin was there, with her, on some occasion, but not necessarily on the day the kidnapping occurred. It might readily have been the day before – or the week before, for that matter."
"I thought of that," remarked Grace, quietly. "It seems to me that Richard attached too much importance to the matter."
"That remains to be seen. Now, supposing Valentin to be concerned, with the nurse, in the plot. He of course does not think, at the start, that the possession of the cigarettes would involve him in the affair, because he does not know that Monsieur Duvall has found the one in the grass. Your husband, however, asks Mary Lanahan what kind of cigarettes Valentin smokes. She at once becomes suspicious, and at the first opportunity warns Valentin, by letter, to destroy them. That shows clearly that they are working together."
"Undoubtedly. But meanwhile the cigarettes are stolen from Valentin's room by a man with a dark beard, who subsequently enters Mr. Stapleton's house. For that, I confess, I can find no explanation."
"Nor I. The destruction of the cigarettes could be of no importance to anyone, except to the kidnappers themselves. It is of course possible that someone else in Mr. Stapleton's house – Fran?ois, for instance – is concerned in the plot."
"But the man who took the cigarettes had a black beard, while Fran?ois is smooth shaven."
"I know. But it might have been a disguise."
"I do not think so. The man I saw was taller than Fran?ois, and not so heavily built."
The Prefect considered the matter for a moment. "You are certain that he entered the Stapleton's house?"
"Absolutely certain. I saw the gate close behind him."
"Then I can only say that, so far, the matter is inexplicable. Now let us come back to Valentin. He claims to be working to capture the kidnappers – in order to clear the nurse, whom he loves."
"That is as I understand it."
"He denies that he smokes, yet offers no explanation of the presence of the cigarettes in his room."
"None. Further, someone sends a note to Valentin, advising him that the writer is suspicious of Fran?ois – suggesting that he watch him. Can this mean that Fran?ois is in the plot, and they fear he may be weakening – preparing to turn against them?"
"It certainly looks that way."
"I wish I could see one of these famous cigarettes."
Grace laughed suddenly. "Why," she exclaimed, "I have one in my pocketbook. I had quite forgotten it." She opened her purse and took out the slender white cylinder.
Lefevre examined the thing closely. "An Egyptian cigarette of American make," he mused. "Expensive, here in Paris, and rarely used, except by Americans."
"That is true; yet I understand that this man Valentin has lived a great deal in America."
For a moment the Prefect did not reply. Then a puzzled look crossed his face. "This is a woman's cigarette," he exclaimed. "No man would smoke such a thing." He brought his hand down sharply upon his knee. "My girl, it is not impossible that the child was stolen not by a man at all, but by a woman."
"A woman, apparently, that both Valentin and the nurse are trying to shield."
The Prefect sat for a moment buried in thought. Then he glanced at Grace keenly. "It seems to me," he remarked, in a quiet tone, "that we should endeavor to determine whether or not Mrs. Stapleton is in the habit of using cigarettes."
"Mrs. Stapleton!" gasped Grace, in amazement.
"Yes. I confess the idea is a new one, to me; but it may prove of interest."
"But why should the boy's mother wish to kidnap him?"
"I do not know. There is but one point of significance. During the past week my men have, naturally, questioned Mrs. Stapleton closely as to her movements during the past two or three months. They did this, to determine, if possible, whether the criminals were of Paris, or from some other place, where Mrs. Stapleton may have been, with the child, during the past winter. You know these fellows work in bands, and have their regular field of operations."
"I see. And where had she been?"
"Monte Carlo!" The Prefect uttered the two words significantly.
Grace was quick to grasp his meaning.
"Then you mean that possibly Mrs. Stapleton may have lost large sums at the gambling tables, and, fearing to tell her husband of her losses, has enlisted the services of the nurse, and of her friend Valentin, and spirited the child away for a few weeks, in order to get the sum of one hundred thousand dollars from her husband without his knowledge?"
"It is by no means impossible. I would recommend that you investigate the matter thoroughly. If we find that Mrs. Stapleton uses gold-tipped cigarettes of this variety, it may go far toward a solution of the whole affair."
Grace, remembering Mrs. Stapleton's grief-stricken appearance, felt that the clue was a very slender one, but determined to follow it up, nevertheless.
"Now," went on the Prefect, "we come to the sudden and most unexpected appearance of Valentin, clinging to the rear of the automobile that brought you back to Paris tonight."
"As I have told you, he claims to have clambered into Mr. Stapleton's car."
"Driven by Fran?ois?"
"And you say the man who drove the car had a black beard – the same man, in fact, who broke into Valentin's room and stole the cigarettes?"
"Then either Valentin is lying, or the man with the black beard is Fran?ois. Let us look at his story from both sides. If he is telling the truth, then Fran?ois is one of the kidnappers."
"So it would seem. You are having him watched, you say?"
"Yes. My men report that he did leave the house, in Mr. Stapleton's automobile tonight, at about nine o'clock. That would seem to agree with Valentin's story. They also report that he returned about eleven, alone."
"They did not follow him?"
"No. It is impossible to do so, in another car, without arousing his suspicion, and putting him on his guard. We do not wish him to know that he is being watched."
"But Mr. Stapleton must know where he has been – why the car was out."
"Yes. We have questioned him. He says the man reported that the gasolene tank was leaking, and that he ordered him to have it repaired at once."
"And was it repaired?"
The Prefect smiled. "Yes. The car was at a garage in the Boulevard St. Michel from half past nine until half past ten."
Grace fell back, astonished. "Then Valentin is lying!" she cried.
"So it seems; unless, of course, Fran?ois took out another car from the garage, while his own was being fixed."
"They would know that at the garage."
"They deny it. But these fellows all hang together. They would think nothing of protecting a brother chauffeur, in the matter of a little joy ride."
"Valentin says nothing about this, in his story."
"He may have omitted it, as an unimportant detail. I mean that he may have slipped into the second car, as he did into the first, without being observed. It was dark of course. He may not have thought it necessary to mention it. All this, of course, is on the assumption that he is telling the truth. Now let us say that he is lying – that the man with the black beard is not Fran?ois, but someone else concerned, with Valentin in the plot. What is the purpose of his tale?"
"I cannot imagine. Can you, Monsieur?"
"No, not immediately. The first contradiction, of course, is this. If Valentin and the man with the black beard are working together, why should the latter have broken into his room to get the cigarettes?"
"There seems no sense to it."
"Yet he may have realized the danger of the cigarettes being in Valentin's possession, and instead of trying to warn him simply came and took them away. It is not a particularly plausible explanation; but let us admit it, for the moment, in order to get ahead with our reasoning. Suppose Valentin, the man with the black beard, and Mary Lanahan, the nurse, to be all working together, either with Mrs. Stapleton, or with outside parties. They have the child safely hidden. They abduct you, and send the message to Mr. Stapleton through you. They do not trust you, knowing, no doubt, that you are an agent of my office. They send Valentin along, on the back of the machine, to pretend to be an enemy of theirs trying, like yourself, to recover the child. He thus gets into your confidence. He advises you to report your message from the kidnappers to Mr. Stapleton at once. He questions you, and learns that you do not know the location of the house where the child is hidden. He then offers to show you as nearly as he can where the house is located. If he is in league with the kidnappers, he will take you, and the men whom tomorrow I shall send with you, to some location miles removed from the actual point where the child is concealed, and you will waste the day in a useless search. Decidedly it would be a clever move on their part."
"It certainly would."
"Further, you told this fellow that you had a plan to capture the scoundrels. You are to acquaint him with that plan, tomorrow afternoon. If you do so, he will no doubt get to the telephone on some pretext and warn his comrades of what you intend to do. I strongly recommend that you put no faith in the fellow whatever."
"Still, you would advise trying to locate the house, as he suggests?"
"Yes, we may be wrong about him. We must leave no stone unturned. And now we come to your interview with Mr. Stapleton. You gave him the message, of course. What did he say?"
"He said that he intended to carry out the instructions I gave him to the letter – pay these fellows their money, and get back the boy."
Monsieur Lefevre uttered an exclamation of anger. "Sacr?! He must not do that! The stupid fellow! He will spoil everything!"
Grace laughed quietly to herself. "Hardly stupid, Monsieur! The poor man is half mad over the boy's loss. He will do anything, to get him back. I can scarcely blame him."
The Prefect held out his hand. "I beg your pardon, my child. You are right. It is perhaps but natural for him to feel as he does. But there are other things at stake, than the recovery of the child. For Monsieur Stapleton to pay over this huge sum to these criminals, and then to allow them to escape, is not only a grave reflection upon the efficiency of the Paris police, but is an injustice to the public as well. If these men are successful in this attempt, they will make others. Other children will be stolen. I cannot permit it. It must be prevented at all costs. These men must be brought to justice."
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