The Black Eagle Mystery
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He was in profile and didn't see her, and didn't hear her, she said, because she wore old soft shoes that made no sound. Just as she caught sight of him she remembered she'd left her duster in the sink closet and went back for it. When she returned to the main corridor he was gone, and she went into the Hudson Electrical Company's offices, staying there till six-twenty – she noted the time by a nickel clock on one of the desks. She decided to do the Azalea Woods Estates rooms next but on trying the door found it was locked. This didn't bother her, as she had found it so once or twice before during the past month. She then went down the hall into a rear suite in which she was shut when the suicide occurred.
This fixed the fact that Harland had gone straight from his own office, down the stairs on the Broadway side, into the Azalea Woods Estates, and that he or somebody in there had locked the door.
Who had let him in? What man had access to these offices? Can you see me as I sat listening to O'Mally and thinking of the fresh guy who'd wanted to take me out to dinner? Lord, I felt queer!
And I felt queerer, considerable queerer, when the day after that I got hold of Troop —and information. Wait till I tell you.
Mr. Whitney had told me to take my time, there was no rush, and above all things not to raise the ghost of a suspicion in Troop's mind. So I went about it very foxy, lying low in my little den behind the elevators. But when I'd see Troop, lounging in the door of his car, I'd flash a smile at him and get a good-natured grin back.
The evening after O'Mally'd brought in his stuff I thought the time was ready to gather in mine. So after I'd put on my hat and coat I stood loitering by the desk, keeping one eye on the door. Troop came off duty at half-past six, and regular, a few minutes after that, I'd see him sprinting down the hall for the main entrance.
As he came in sight I took up my purse, and he, looking in as I knew he would, caught me just right. There I was staring distracted into it and scrabbling round in the inside, pulling out handkerchiefs and samples and buttons and latchkeys.
"Hello," says he, drawing up, "you look like you'd lost something."
"Oh, Mr. Troop," I answered, "how fortunate you happened along! I havelost something, my carfare. And I ain't got another cent but a ten-dollar bill. Will you come across with a nickel till tomorrow?"
"Sure I will, and more too! Which way do you go?"
"Uptown," said I. Neither he nor anyone else in the building knew where I lived or who I was. Miss Morgenthau, temporarily in charge, was all they had on me.
"That's my direction – One Hundred and Fifty-ninth Street, subway."
Now I didn't see myself sleuthing as I hung from a strap in the sub. But in this world you got to grab your chance when it comes, so, "The subway for mine," I said, speaking in a cheerful, unmarried voice, and out we trotted into the street.
It was the thick of the rush hours and we were in the thick of the rush.Like we were leaves on a raging torrent we were whirled through the gate, swept on to the platform and carried into the car. Then the conductor came and pressed on us, leaned and squeezed, and when he'd mashed us in, slid the door shut for fear we'd burst out and flood the platform.
Troop got hold of a strap and I got hold of Troop, and, dangling together like a pair of chickens hung up to grow tender, I opened on the familiar subject of the Harland suicide. It wasn't as hard as I thought, for what with people clawing their way out and prying their way in, questions and answers were bound to be straight, with no trimmings.
"Where were you when it happened?" I said, getting a jiujitsu grip on the front of his coat.
"In the car, halfway down. Didn't know a thing till I got to the ground floor and saw the stampede."
"What did you do?"
"Ran for the street – forgot my job, forgot there was only one car running, forgot everything and made a break. Every passenger did the same – seized us all same as a panic, all racin' and hollerin'. I was right behind Mr. Ford."
It was sooner than I'd expected. The jump I gave was lost in that crush, just as the look that started out on my face wouldn't be noticed, or, if it was, be set down to a stamp on my toe.
"Was he in the car with you?"
"Yes, I'd just gone up to the seventeenth floor for him. Here, you want to get a firm holt on me or you'll be swep' away."
"I'm holding," I gasped, and believe me I was, for a line of people coming out like a bit of the Johnstown Flood was like to tear me loose from my moorings. "Then he must have been in the elevator when Harland jumped?"
"That's it. It was his ring brought me up to the seventeenth floor. He got in and it was while we was goin' down the body fell. Struck the street a few minutes before we reached the bottom."
We were whizzing through the blackness of the tunnel to Times Square. The overflow that had drained off at Forty-second Street had loosened things up a little. I unwrapped myself from around Troop, taking hold of the strap over his hand, and pigeonholing what he'd said. In that boiling pack of people I was cold and shivery down the spine.
"Did Mr. Ford run out in the street like the rest?"
"Did he? He done a Marathon! I couldn't make a dint on the crowd, but he shoved through, and when he come back he was all broke up. 'What do you make of that?' says he. 'There's a man committed suicide and they say it's Rollings Harland.'"
"Broke up! I shouldn't wonder. He was in the office late wasn't he – till half-past six?"
"He was that night, and he had been once or twice before this last month. Told me he was working overtime, though if you'd asked me I'd have said he wasn't the kind to do more than his salary called for."
"No," I said, thinking hard underneath. "Seems sort of loaferish."
"Well, I wouldn't say that, but easy, good-humored – you know the sort. But lately he's been on the job, busy, I guess, gettin' ready for the collapse. The night of the suicide he left early, soon after Miss Barry. And a little after six – ten or fifteen minutes maybe – he come bustling back sayin' he'd forgotten some papers and for me to shoot him up quick."
We slowed up for Sixty-ninth Street and two girls in the middle of the car began a football rush for the door. It was a good excuse to be quiet, to get it straight in my head: Ford left early, came back, went into the office after Harland, left probably three or four minutes before the body was flung from the window. This is the way I was thinking while we hung easy from our strap, swinging out sideways like the woman in "Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight," clinging to the tongue of the bell.
"Now that was real conscientious of him," I said, suspended over a large fat man and crushing down the paper he was trying to read, "coming back for papers he'd forgotten."
"It sure was," answered Troop. "Many a man would have let them wait."
The fat man dropped the paper and raised his eyes to me with a look like he was determined to be patient – but why did I do it?
"Pardon me, sir," says I, "but it's not me that's spoiling your homeward journey, it's the congested condition of the Empire City." And then to Troop, pleasant and regretful, "Dear, dear, that's a lesson not to pass judgment on your fellow creatures. He must have a strong sense of duty. I suppose you waited for him?"
"Not me," said Troop. "That's the time I'm on the jump with all the offices emptying, and especially that night with the other elevator out of commission. Besides it wouldn't have been no use, for he was in there quite a while. It wasn't till nearly half-past six he rang for the car."
"Pity he didn't wait a few minutes longer. Maybe if Mr. Harland had seen him he'd have given up the idea of suicide."
"I've thought of that myself, for accordin' to the inquest, Harland was round that corridor for a half-hour, like as not pacin' up and down while Ford was sittin' in the office near by. Strange, ain't it, the way things happen in this world?"
It was – a great deal stranger than he thought.
For a moment I didn't say anything. I was kind of quivering in my insides with the excitement of it. O'Mally hadn't got anything to beatthis. We swung lazily back and forth, my hand clasped below Troop's, and the fat man giving up in despair. Only when my wrist bag caught him on the hat, he gave me one reproachful look and then settled the hat hard on his head to show me what he was suffering.
The train began to slow up, white-tiled walls glided past the windows, and the conductor opened the door and yelled, "Ninety-sixth Street."
It had worked out just right. I had my information and here was where I got off. I thanked Troop for the ride I'd had off him, told him I'd give him his nickel tomorrow, and forging to the door like the Oregon going round Cape Horn, scrambled out.
Himself wasn't at home to tell things to – it was one of his late nights – so I took a call for Mr. Whitney's house and told him I'd got the stuff for him —real stuff. He said to come down that evening at half-past eight, they'd all be there. And after a glass of milk and a soda cracker – I hadn't time or appetite for more – out I lit, as excited as if I was going to a six-reel movie.
I was late and ran panting up the steps of the big, grand house in the West Fifties. I'd been there before, and as I stood waiting in the vestibule I couldn't but smile thinking of that other time when I was so scared, and Himself – he was "Mr. Babbitts" then – had had to jolly me up. He didn't know me as well then as he does now, bless his dear, faithful heart!
The unnatural solemn butler wasn't on the job tonight. Mr. George opened the door for me and showed me into that same room off the hall, with the gold-mounted furniture and the pale-colored rugs and the lights in crystal bunches along the walls. A fire was burning in the grate, its red reflection leaping along the uncovered spaces of floor, polished and smooth as ice. On a center table, all gilt and glass, was a common student lamp, looking cheap and mean in that quiet, rich, glittering room, and beside it were some sheets of paper and several pencils. Old Mr. Whitney and George were there, also Jack Reddy, but O'Mally hadn't come yet.
I told them what Troop had said and they listened as silent as the grave, not batting an eye while I spoke. You didn't have to guess at what they thought. It was in the air. The first real move had been made.
When I finished, Mr. George, who had been making notes on one of the bits of paper, threw down his pencil, and gave a long, soft whistle. The old man, sitting by the fire looking into it, his hands clasped loosely together, the fingers moving round each other – which was a way he had when he was thinking – said very quiet:
"Thank you, Molly – you've done well."
"This puts Ford in the center of the stage," said Mr. George, then turning to his father, "Pretty conclusive, eh, Governor?"
The old man grunted without looking up, his face in the firelight, heavy and brooding.
Jack rose and leaning over Mr. George's shoulder looked at the scribbled notes:
"Left soon after the Barry girl, came back about 6.15 and went to the Azalea Woods Estates offices. That would have been about fifteen to twenty minutes after Harland. Came out about half-past six and was in the elevator when the body fell."
"Positive proof that he was in the rooms with Harland," said Mr. George, "and equally positive proof he was not the man seen by the Meagher child."
"Evidently two men," said Jack.
"Two men," echoed Mr. George. Then turned to me, "Where was Miss Whitehall? Did this Troop fellow say anything about when she left?"
Jack looked up from the notes and cast a quick, sharp glance at me.
"She'd gone already, of course?" he said.
"Yes, she'd gone," I answered. "Anyway, Iola Barry said she always went before six." Then in answer to Mr. George, "I didn't ask Troop anything about her. I didn't think there was any need and I was afraid I'd get him curious if I wanted to know too much."
"Good girl," came from the old man in a rumbling growl.
At that moment there was a ring at the bell. With an exclamation of "O'Mally," Mr. George jumped up and went into the hall. It was O'Mally, red as a lobster, and with an important roll to his walk. He stood in the door and looked at the old man in a triumphant way till you'd suppose he'd got the murderer outside chained to the door handle. Babbitts, who'd come to know him well on the trip to Rochester, said he was a first-rate chap and as sharp as a needle, if you could get over his taking himself so dead serious.
When he heard my story some of the starch was taken out of him, but I will say he was so interested that, after the first shock, he forgot to be jealous and was as keen as mustard.
"Two men sure enough," he agreed. "And two men who operated together, one of them in that back room."
"How do you make that out?" asked Jack.
"I'll show you – I've been busy this afternoon." He looked round, selected a gold-legged chair and pulling it to the table, sat down, and taking a fountain pen from his pocket, drew a sheet of paper toward him. "Right next to the church, as you may remember, there are three houses, dwellings. The one nearest the church is occupied by a private party, the two beyond have been thrown together and are run as a boarding house. The last of the two has a rear extension built out to the end of the lot. The day we examined the Azalea Woods Estates I saw that the windows of that extension commanded the side wall of the Black Eagle Building.
"This afternoon I went to the boarding house, said I was a writer looking for a quiet place to work, and asked if they had an empty room in the extension. They had one, not yet vacated, but to be in February. It was occupied by an old lady – Miss Darnley – who being there gave me permission to see it.
"Now here's where I get busy," he drew the paper toward him and began marking it with long straight lines and little squares. "Miss Darnley is a nice old lady and some talker. We got gassing, as natural as could be, on the horrible suicide of Mr. Harland, so close by. She took me to the window and showed me where his offices were, and told me how it was her habit, every evening as night fell, to sit in that window and watch the lights start out, especially in the Black Eagle Building. She sat there always till half-past six, when the first gong sounded for dinner. And if I took the room I was to be sure and go down then – the food was better – she always did.
"By a little skillful jollying – mostly surprise at her powers of observation and memory – I got from her some significant facts about the lights on the seventeenth floor of the Black Eagle Building on the night of January fifteenth. The Harland suite – she'd located it from the papers – was lit till she went down to dinner. Wonderful how she'd remembered! How was the floor below – bet a hat she couldn't rememberthat! She could, and proud as a peacock, gave a demonstration. All dark as it usually was at six, then a light in the fourth window – Azalea Woods Estates, private office. Then that goes out and the three front windows are bright. Just before she goes down to dinner, she notices that every window on the whole sweep of the seventeenth floor is dark except that fourth one – Azalea Woods Estates, private office."
He stopped and pushed the paper he'd been drawing on across to George.
"Here it is, with the time as I make it marked on each window."
Jack and Mr. George leaned down studying the diagram and Mr. Whitney slowly rose and coming up behind them looked at it over their shoulders. All their faces, clear in the lamplight, with O'Mally's red and proud glancing sideways at the drawing, were intent and frowning.
"Let's see how the thing works out," said Mr. George, taking up a pencil and pulling a sheet of paper toward him. Mr. Whitney straightened up with a sort of tired snort and slouched back to his seat by the fire. Mr. George began, figuring on the paper:
"The Azalea Woods Estates were cleared at six – all lights out. At a few minutes after, Harland came down the stairs and entered them, going through to the private office and switching on the light, or meeting someone there who switched it on as he came. Some ten or fifteen minutes later Ford came in. That's evidently the moment, according to your old lady, when the private office was dark and the other two lit up. Just before 6:30 – time when Ford left – the front rooms are all dark again. Good deal of a mess to me." He tilted back in his chair so that he could see his father. "What do you make of it, Governor?"
"Let's hear what O'Mally has to say first," said Mr. Whitney. They couldn't see his face which was turned to the fire, but I could, and it had a slight, amused smile on it.
O'Mally sprawled back in his chair with his chest thrown out:
"Well, I don't like to commit myself so early in the game, but there are a few things that seem pretty clear. Though the Azalea Woods Estates were dark when Harland came down somebody was there."
"Who?" asked Jack.
O'Mally looked sort of pitying at him:
"His murderer. This man didn't attempt the job alone. Must have held Harland in talk in the private office till later when Tony Ford came in and helped, if he didn't do the actual killing. When that was over Ford went, leaving the other man to carry out the sensational denouement."
"What could have been Ford's motive?" said Mr. George. "Did he know Harland?"
"Oh, we'll find a motive all right. Wait till we've turned up the earth in his tracks. Wait a few days."
"This 'other man,' O'Mally," said Mr. Whitney, "have you any ideas about him?"
"There you got me stumped," said the detective. "Of course we don't know Harland's inner life – had he an enemy and if so who? But – " he paused and let his glance move over the faces of the two young men. "If the thing hadn't been physically impossible I'd have turned my searchlight eye on Johnston Barker."
"Barker!" exclaimed Mr. George. "But Barker was – "
O'Mally interrupted him with a wave of his hand —
"I said it was physically impossible."
The old man got up, shaking himself like a big, drowsy animal and came forward into the lamplight.
"Nevertheless, gentlemen," he said quietly, "I'm convinced that it wasJohnston Barker."
They all gaped at him. I think for the first moment they thought he had some information they hadn't heard and waited open-mouthed for him to give it to them. But he stood there, smiling a little, his eyes moving from one to the other, sort of quizzical as if their surprise tickled him.
"Now, father," said Mr. George, "what's the sense of saying that when we know that Barker was on the floor above, unable to get out without being seen?"
"I know, George, I know," said his father mildly. "I'm perfectly willing to admit it. But in that room – on the floor above – there had been a quarrel between the two men. Since the disappearance of Barker there's been a good deal of speculation as to the nature of that quarrel. That is, the public has speculated; I have felt sure. After the disappearance that quarrel, as far as I could see, had only one interpretation – the lawyer had discovered the perfidy of his associate and threatened exposure. And we all know that the only silent man is a dead man."
"That's all very well," said O'Mally, "but it doesn't get round the fact that Barker couldn't possibly have been there to instigate a murder, or help in murder or commit a murder himself."
"Quite true," said the old man, "as far as we know at present, but you see we know very little. We can speak with more authority when we've made a second examination of the Whitehall offices and a first one of the Harland suite. That's up to you, O'Mally, as soon as you can manage it. There's another important matter but I can't see my way clear to getting it just yet – Ford's own explanation of his movements that evening. I'm curious to hear what he has to say. But that'll have to wait till – "
He paused and Mr. George cut in:
"We land him in jail which I hope will be soon."
"Presently, presently," said his father, turning to the fire. "And now, gentlemen, I think we'll end this little s?ance. Just look out, George, and see if the limousine's there for Molly."
It was, and they all drifted out, talking as they went, making the date and arranging the plan for the examination of the two offices.
I'd said good-bye to the old man and was following them into the hall, when he caught me by the arm and drawing me back from the door said very low:
"You'll be on duty at the Black Eagle Building for a few days more. Try and get Troop again and ask him what time Miss Whitehall left that night. Don't say a word of what he tells you to anyone, but as soon as you get it let me know."
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