The Black Eagle Mystery
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"Struck on his head, eh?"
"He did," said the janitor in a loud voice. "An' if you'd listen to me you'd have known it without me tellin' yer."
The girl, who was sort of peeved at the way he answered her, spoke up:
"You never told it at all! You only spoke about the glasses."
The janitor gave her a look sort of enduring and patient as if, she being a woman, he'd got to treat her gentle even if she was a fool.
"Say, young lady," says he, "I'm not goin' to bandy words with you. Have it any way you like. I was here, I seen it, I seen the corpse lyin' all bunched up, I seen the crowd, I seen the amberlanch, and I seen Mr. Harland's clerk come down and identify the body – but maybe I don't know. Take it or leave it – any way you choose."
The people snickered and looked at the girl, who got red and walked off muttering. The janitor went back to picking at a piece of ice as big as a half dollar, watching out for the next one to come along.
I hadn't phoned to Iola this time and it being an unusual occasion I decided to go up. There were men in the entrance hall talking together in groups and from every group I could hear the name of Harland coming in low tones. In the elevator when the other passengers had got out, the boy looked at me and said:
"Tough what happened here last night, ain't it?"
I agreed with him and as we shot up with the floors flashing between the iron grills, he had his little say about it. One of the things that seemed to trouble him most was that he hadn't been there, as the express elevator which he ran was broken early in the afternoon and he'd gone home before the event.
The corridor of the seventeenth floor was a bare, clean place, all shining stone, not a bit of wood about it but the doors. At one end was a window looking out on the Broadway side and near it the stairs went down, concrete with a metal balustrade. I'd asked for Miss Whitehall's office and as I got out of the car the boy had said, "First door to your left, Azalea Woods Estates." There were two doors on each side, the upper halves ground glass with gold lettering. Those to the right had "The Hudson Electrical Company" on them and those to the left "Azalea Woods Estates" with under that "Anthony Ford, Manager."
As I walked toward the first of these I could see out of the window the great back of the Massasoit Building, tan color against the bright blue of the sky. Pausing before I rang the bell, I leaned against the window ledge and spied down. The street looked like a small, narrow gully, dotted with tiny black figures, and the houses that fronted on it, extending back to the Massasoit, no bigger than match boxes.
I pressed the bell and as I waited turned and looked down the corridor, stretching away in its shiny scoured cleanness between the shut doors of offices. Just beyond the elevator shafts there was a branch hall and along the polished floor I could see the white, glassy reflection of another window.That was on the side street, one of those I had looked up at, and as I was thinking that, the door opened slowly and Iola peered out, with her eyes big and scared and a sandwich in her hand.
"Good gracious, Molly!" she cried. "I'm so glad to see you. Come in."
I hesitated, almost whispering:
"Will Miss Whitehall mind?"
"She's not here. I had a phone this morning to say she was sick and wouldn't be down, and Mr. Ford's gone out to lunch." She took me by the hand and pulled me in, shutting the door. "Jerusalem, but it's good to see you. I'm that lonesome sitting here I'm ready to cry."
She didn't look very chipper. Usually she's a pretty girl, the slim, baby-eyed, delicate kind, with a dash of powder on the nose and a touch of red on the lips to help out. But today she looked sort of peaked and shriveled up, the way those frail little wisps of girls do at the least jar.
"Isn't it awful?" she said as soon as she'd got me in – "Just the floor above us!"
I didn't want her to talk about it, but she was like the janitor – only a gag would stop her. So I let her run on while I looked round and took in the place.
It was a fine, large room, two windows in the front and two more on the sides. The furniture was massive and rich-looking and the rugs on the floor as soft to your foot as the turf in the Park. On the walls were blue and white maps, criss-crossed with lines, and pictures of houses, in different styles. But the thing that got me was a little model of a cottage on a table by the window. It was the cutest thing you ever saw – all complete even to the blinds in the windows and the awning over the piazza. I was looking at it when Iola, having got away with the sandwich, said:
"Come on in to Mr. Ford's office while I finish my lunch. I got to get through with it before he comes back."
I followed her into the next room, nearly as large as the one we'd been in, with a wide window and in the center a big roll-top desk. On the edge of this stood a pasteboard box, with some crumpled wax paper in it and an orange. Iola sat down in the swivel chair and picking up the orange began to peel it.
"I hardly ever do this," she explained, "but I thought Miss Whitehall wouldn't mind today as I felt so mean I couldn't face going out to lunch. And then it was all right as she won't be down and I'll have it all cleared off before Mr. Ford comes back."
"Would he be mad?"
You ought to have seen the look she gave me.
"Mad – Tony Ford? It's easy seen you don't know him. She wouldn't say anything either. She's awful considerate. But she's so sort of grand and dignified you don't like to ask favors off her."
"Was she here when it happened last night?"
"I don't know, but I guess not. She generally leaves a little before six. Thanks be to goodness, she told me I could go home early yesterday. I was out of the building by half-past five." She broke the orange apart and held out a piece. "Have a quarter?" I shook my head and she went on. "We're all out of here soon after six. Tony Ford generally stays last and shuts up. Did you see all the papers this morning?"
"Most of them. Why?"
"I was wondering if any of them knew that Mr. Harland and Mr. Barker were both in here yesterday afternoon."
"It wasn't in any of the papers I saw."
"Well, they were – the two of them. And I didn't know but what the reporters, nosing round for anything the way they do, mightn't have heard it. Not that there was anything out of the ordinary about it. She knew them both. Mr. Harland's been in here a few times and Mr. Barker often."
"Why did he come?" I said, surprised, for Iola had never told me they'd the magnate for a customer.
"Business," she looked at me over the orange that she was sucking, her eyes sort of intent and curious. "Didn't I tell you that? He was going to buy a piece of land in the Azalea Woods Estates and build a house for his niece."
"Seems to me," I said, "that the press'll be interested to know about those two visits."
"Well, if any reporters come snooping round here Tony Ford told me to refer them to him or Miss Whitehall, and that's what I'm going to do."
"What time was Mr. Harland here?"
"A little after four. He and Miss Whitehall went into the private office and had a talk. And I'll bet a new hat that he hadn't no more idea of suicide then than you have now, sitting there before me. When he came out he was all smiles, just as natural and happy as if he was going home to a chicken dinner and a show afterward."
"All the papers think it was what Mr. Barker said that drove him to it."
"And they're right for a change – not that I'm saying anything against the press with your husband in it. But it does make more mistakes than any printed matter I ever read, except the cooking receipts on the outside of patent foods. It was Barker that put the crimp in him."
"Then Barker came in afterward?"
"Yes, just before I left. And he and she went into the private office."
I turned in my chair and looked through the open doorway into the third room of the suite.
"Is that the private office?" I asked.
"Yes," says Iola with a giggle, "that's its society name, but Mr. Ford calls it the Surgery."
Before I could ask her why Mr. Ford called it that, the bell rang and she jumped up, squashing the orange peel and bits of paper back in the box.
"Here, you go and answer it," I said, "I'll hide this." She went into the front office and as I pushed the box out of sight on a shelf I could hear her talking to a man at the door. The conversation made me stand still listening.
The man's voice asked for Miss Whitehall, Iola answering that she wasn't there.
"Where is she?" said the man, gruff and abrupt it seemed to me.
"In her own home – she hasn't come down today at all."
"Is she coming later?"
"No, she's sick in bed."
There was a slight pause and then he said:
"Well, I got to see her. I've notes here that are overdue and the endorsee's dead."
"Endorsee?" came Iola's little pipe, full of troubled surprise, "who's he?"
"Hollings Harland who killed himself last night. What's her address?"
I could hear Iola giving it and the man muttering it over. Then there was a gruff "Good morning" and the door snapped shut.
Iola came back, her eyes big, her expression wondering.
"What do you suppose that means?" she said.
I didn't know exactly myself but – notes, endorsee dead! – it had a bad sound. As Iola reached down her lunch box and tied it up, talking uneasily about the man and what he'd wanted, I remembered the gossip in New Jersey when Miss Whitehall started her land scheme. There'd been rumors then that maybe she was backed, and if Hollings Harland had been behind it – My goodness! you couldn't tell what might happen. But I wasn't going to say anything discouraging to Iola, so to change the subject I moved to the door of the private office and looked in.
"Why does Mr. Ford call this the surgery?"
At the mention of the managing clerk Iola brightened up and said with a smirk:
"Because it's where Miss Whitehall chloroforms her clients with her beauty and performs the operation of separating them from their money. He's always saying cute things like that."
We stood in the doorway and looked in. It was a smaller room than the others, but furnished just as richly, with a mahogany center table, big leather-covered armchairs and photographs of foreign views on the walls. In one corner was an elegant, gold-embossed screen, that, when I spied behind it, I saw hid a washstand. It was the last room of the suite and had only one door that led into the office we'd been sitting in. In the outside wall was a window from which you could see way over the city – a wonderful view.
I walked to it and looked out. Over the roofs and chimneys I caught a glimpse of the Hudson, a silvery gleam, and the Hoboken hills beyond. Pressing my forehead against the glass I glimpsed down the sheer drop of the walls to the roof of a church – a flat, black oblong with a squatty dome at one end – squeezed as close as it could get against the lower stories. Back of that were old houses, dwellings that would soon be swept away, the yards behind them narrow strips with the separating fences as small as lines made by a pencil.
I was so interested that for a moment I forgot Iola, but she brought me back with a jerk.
"It was in the room above this that Mr. Harland was sitting with Mr. Barker, before it happened."
"You don't say," I answered. "Is it like this?"
"Exactly the same. I've seen it – one day when the boss was away and I went up with Della Franks. They were in there just as we are in here and then he went out this way – "
The door had been partly pushed to and she started to illustrate how he had left the room, brushing round its edge. Something caught her, there was a sound of ripping and she stopped, clapping her hand on her back:
"There go my pleats – Ding it!" she craned round over her shoulder trying to see the back of her skirt. "What's got me? Oh, the key. Well what do you make of that – caught me like a hook."
She drew her dress off the key, which fell out of the lock on to the floor.
"It's only ripped," I said consolingly. "I can pin it for you."
"Well, there's always something to be thankful for," she said, as I pinned her up. "But it's an unlucky day, I can feel that. That key's never before been on the inside of the door." She bent and picked it up. "I'd like to know what smart Aleck changed it."
"Probably the scrubwoman."
"I guess so," she grumbled, "put it on the wrong side where it waited patiently and then got its revenge on me. Such is life among the lowly."
That night Babbitts was late for dinner. I expected it but Isabella, who says she never lived out except in families where the husband comes home at six like a Christian, was getting restive about the chops, when he finally showed up, tired as a dog.
"My Lord!" he said, as I helped him off with his coat. "What a day!"
"Because of the suicide?"
"Outcome of the suicide and all the rest of it. The wildest panic on the Street. The Copper Pool's gone smash. Let's have something to eat. I've had no lunch and I'm famished."
When we were at table and the edge off his hunger he told me more:
"It began this morning, and this afternoon when there was still no trace of Barker – Gee whizz! it was an avalanche."
"You mean he's gone? Disappeared?"
"That's the way it looks. They had their suspicions when they couldn't find him last night. And today – nobody knows a thing about him at his house or his office, can't account for it, don't understand. Then we turned up something that looked like a clincher. One of his motors, a limousine, and his chauffeur, fellow called Heney, have disappeared too."
"What do they say about that at the house?"
"Same thing – know nothing. Nobody was in the garage from six to half-past eight. When the other men who sleep there came back Heney and the limousine were gone."
"Did anyone see Barker at the Black Eagle Building?"
"No – that's the strongest proof that he's decamped. You'd suppose with such a scene as that going on he'd have shown up. But not a soul's been found who saw him there. If he wanted to slip out quietly he could easily have done it. Jerome and the Franks girl say they were so paralyzed they never gave him another thought and he could have passed behind them, as they stood in the corridor, and gone down by the side stairs. There's another flight round the corner on the branch hall. The street on that side was deserted – the boys say every human being in the neighborhood was round on the Broadway front."
"But, but," I stammered, for I couldn't understand it all, "what's he done? What's the reason for his going?"
"Reason!" said Babbitts with a snort. "Believe me, there's reason enough. Somebody's welched on the Copper Pool and they think it's he and that he's disappeared with twenty million."
"Twenty million! How could he?"
"By selling out on the rest of the crowd. They think he's been selling copper to the Pool itself of which he was the head."
"Was that what he and Mr. Harland were supposed to be quarreling about yesterday afternoon?"
"Yes. The idea now is that Harland, who was one of the Copper crowd, suspected and accused him, that there was a fierce interview in the course of which the lawyer realized he was beaten and ruined."
"Good gracious!" I said. "What are they going to do with him?"
"If he doesn't show up, go after him. A group of ruined financiers doesn't kneel down and pray for their money to come back. And they've got a man looking after their interests who's a lightning striker. A friend of yours. Guess who?"
"Wilbur Whitney!" I crowed.
"The same," said Babbitts.
"Then," I cried, "they'll have him and the twenty millions served up on a salver before the week's out."
If you don't know the story of the Hesketh Mystery you don't know who Wilbur Whitney is, so I'll tell you here. He's one of the biggest lawyers in New York and one of the biggest men anywhere. You'd as soon suspect that an insignificant atom like me would know a man like him as that the palace ashman would know the Czar of Russia, but I do, well – I guess I'm not stretching things if I say we're friends. The Babbitts and the Whitneys don't exchange calls, but they think a lot of each other just the same. And it's my doing, little Molly's – yes, sir, the ex-telephone girl. In the Hesketh case I did a job for Mr. Whitney that brought us together, and ever since it's been kindnesses from the big house off Fifth Avenue, to the little flat on Ninety-fifth Street. He doesn't forget – the real eighteen-carat people never do – and he'll send me tickets for the opera one night and tip off Soapy to a bit of news so he'll get a scoop the week after. Oh, he's just grand!
And right in his office – Mr. Whitney's assistant this year – is one of our realest, truest, dearest pals, Jack Reddy. If this is your first acquaintance with me you don't know much about him and I'll have to give you a little sketch of him for he's got a lot to do with this story.
To look at he's just all right, brown with light-colored hair and gray eyes, over six feet and not an ounce of fat on him. It's not because he's my friend that I'm saying all this, everybody agrees on it. He's thirty years old now and not married. That's because of a tragedy in his life: the girl he loved was killed nearly three years ago. It's a long story – I can't stop to tell it to you – but it broke him up something dreadful, though I and Babbitts and all of us know it was better that he shouldn't have married her. Ever since I've been hoping he'd meet up with his real affinity, someone who'd be the right woman for him. But he hasn't so far. Babbitts says the girl isn't born I'd think good enough – but I don't know. I guess in the ninety millions of people we've got scattered round this vast republic there's a lady that'll fill the bill.
Once I had a crush on him – Babbitts teases me about it now – but it all faded away when Himself came along with his curly blond hair and his dear, rosy, innocent face. But Jack Reddy's still a sort of hero to me. He showed up so fine in those old dark days and he's showed up fine ever since – don't drop off his pedestal and have to be boosted back. I've put several people on pedestals and seen them so unsteady it made me nervous, but he's riveted on.
He's got a country place out in New Jersey – Firehill – where he used to live. But since he's been with Mr. Whitney he stays in town, only going out there in summer. His apartment's down near Gramercy Park – an elegant place – where his two old servants, David and Joanna Gilsey, keep house for him and treat him like he was their only son. Babbitts and I go there often, and Gee, we do have some eats!
"Well," I said, wagging my head proud and confident at Babbitts, "if Wilbur Whitney and Jack Reddy are out to find that Barker man, they'll do it if he burrows through to China."