The War Terror by Arthur B. Reeve
Chapter IX. The Radio Detective
It was early the following morning when a launch drew up beside the Nautilus. In it were Edwards and Dr. Jermyn, wildly excited.
"What's the matter?" called out Waldon.
"They--they have found the body," Edwards blurted out.
Waldon paled and clutched the rail. He had thought the world of his sister, and not until the last moment had he given up hope that perhaps she might be found to have disappeared in some other way than had become increasingly evident.
"Where?" cried Kennedy. "Who?"
"Over on Ten Mile Beach," answered Edwards. "Some fishermen who had been out on a cruise and hadn't heard the story. They took the body to town, and there it was recognized. They sent word out to us immediately."
Waldon had already spun the engine of his tender, which was about the fastest thing afloat about Seaville, had taken Edwards over, and we were off in a cloud of spray, the nose of the boat many inches above the surface of the water.
In the little undertaking establishment at Seaville lay the body of the beautiful young matron about whom so much anxiety had been felt. I could not help thinking what an end was this for the incomparable beauty. At the very height of her brief career the poor little woman's life had been suddenly snuffed out. But by what? The body had been found, but the mystery had been far from solved.
As Kennedy bent over the body, I heard him murmur to himself, "She had everything--everything except happiness."
"Was it drowning that caused her death?" asked Kennedy of the local doctor, who also happened to be coroner and had already arrived on the scene.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't know," he said doubtfully. "There was congestion of the lungs--but I--I can't say but what she might have been dead before she fell or was thrown into the water."
Dr. Jermyn stood on one side, now and then putting in a word, but for the most part silent unless spoken to. Kennedy, however, was making a most minute examination.
As he turned the beautiful head, almost reverently, he saw something that evidently attracted his attention. I was standing next to him and, between us, I think we cut off the view of the others. There on the back of the neck, carefully, had been smeared something transparent, almost skin-like, which had easily escaped the attention of the rest.
Kennedy tried to pick it off, but only succeeded in pulling off a very minute piece to which the flesh seemed to adhere.
"That's queer," he whispered to me. "Water, naturally, has no effect on it, else it would have been washed off long before. Walter," he added, "just slip across the street quietly to the drug store and get me a piece of gauze soaked with acetone."
As quickly and unostentatiously as I could I did so and handed him the wet cloth, contriving at the same time to add Waldon to our barrier, for I could see that Kennedy was anxious to be observed as little as possible.
"What is it?" I whispered, as he rubbed the transparent skin-like stuff off, and dropped the gauze into his pocket.
"A sort of skin varnish," he remarked under his breath, "waterproof and so adhesive that it resists pulling off even with a knife without taking the cuticle with it."
Beneath, as the skin varnish slowly dissolved under his gentle rubbing, he had disclosed several very small reddish spots, like little cuts that had been made by means of a very sharp instrument. As he did so, he gave them a hasty glance, turned the now stony beautiful head straight again, stood up, and resumed his talk with the coroner, who was evidently getting more and more bewildered by the case.
Edwards, who had completed the arrangements with the undertaker for the care of the body as soon as the coroner released it, seemed completely unnerved.
"Jermyn," he said to the doctor, as he turned away and hid his eyes, "I can't stand this. The undertaker wants some stuff from the--er--boat," his voice broke over the name which had been hers. "Will you get it for me? I'm going up to a hotel here, and I'll wait for you there. But I can't go out to the boat--yet."
"I think Mr. Waldon will be glad to take you out in his tender," suggested Kennedy. "Besides, I feel that I'd like a little fresh air as a bracer, too, after such a shock."
"What were those little cuts?" I asked as Waldon and Dr. Jermyn preceded us through the crowd outside to the pier.
"Some one," he answered in a low tone, "has severed the pneumogastric nerves."
"The pneumogastric nerves?" I repeated.
"Yes, the vagus or wandering nerve, the so-called tenth cranial nerve. Unlike the other cranial nerves, which are concerned with the special senses or distributed to the skin and muscles of the head and neck, the vagus, as its name implies, strays downward into the chest and abdomen supplying branches to the throat, lungs, heart and stomach and forms an important connecting link between the brain and the sympathetic nervous system."
We had reached the pier, and a nod from Kennedy discouraged further conversation on the subject.
A few minutes later we had reached the Lucie and gone up over her side. Kennedy waited until Jermyn had disappeared into the room of Mrs. Edwards to get what the undertaker had desired. A moment and he had passed quietly into Dr. Jermyn's own room, followed by me. Several quick glances about told him what not to waste time over, and at last his eye fell on a little portable case of medicines and surgical instruments. He opened it quickly and took out a bottle of golden yellow liquid.
Kennedy smelled it, then quickly painted some on the back of his hand. It dried quickly, like an artificial skin. He had found a bottle of skin varnish in Dr. Jermyn's own medicine chest!
We hurried back to the deck, and a few minutes later the doctor appeared with a large package.
"Did you ever hear of coating the skin by a substance which is impervious to water, smooth and elastic?" asked Kennedy quietly as Waldon's tender sped along back to Seaville.
"Why--er, yes," he said frankly, raising his eyes and looking at Craig in surprise. "There have been a dozen or more such substances. The best is one which I use, made of pyroxylin, the soluble cotton of commerce, dissolved in amyl acetate and acetone with some other substances that make it perfectly sterile. Why do you ask?"
"Because some one has used a little bit of it to cover a few slight cuts on the back of the neck of Mrs. Edwards."
"Indeed?" he said simply, in a tone of mild surprise.
"Yes," pursued Kennedy. "They seem to me to be subcutaneous incisions of the neck with a very fine scalpel dividing the two great pneumogastric nerves. Of course you know what that would mean--the victim would pass away naturally by slow and easy stages in three or four days, and all that would appear might be congestion of the lungs. They are delicate little punctures and elusive nerves to locate, but after all it might be done as painlessly, as simply and as safely as a barber might remove some dead hairs. A country coroner might easily pass over such evidence at an autopsy--especially if it was concealed by skin varnish."
I was surprised at the frankness with which Kennedy spoke, but absolutely amazed at the coolness of Jermyn. At first he said absolutely nothing. He seemed to be as set in his reticence as he had been when we first met.
I watched him narrowly. Waldon, who was driving the boat, had not heard what was said, but I had, and I could not conceive how anyone could take it so calmly.
Finally Jermyn turned to Kennedy and looked him squarely in the eye. "Kennedy," he said slowly, "this is extraordinary--most extraordinary," then, pausing, added, "if true."
"There can be no doubt of the truth," replied Kennedy, eyeing Dr. Jermyn just as squarely.
"What do you propose to do about it?" asked the doctor.
"Investigate," replied Kennedy simply. "While Waldon takes these things up to the undertaker's, we may as well wait here in the boat. I want him to stop on the way back for Mr. Edwards. Then we shall go out to the Lucie. He must go, whether he likes it or not."
It was indeed a most peculiar situation as Kennedy and I sat in the tender with Dr. Jermyn waiting for Waldon to return with Edwards. Not a word was spoken.
The tenseness of the situation was not relieved by the return of Waldon with Edwards. Waldon seemed to realize without knowing just what it was, that something was about to happen. He drove his boat back to the Lucie again in record time. This was Kennedy's turn to be reticent. Whatever it was he was revolving in his mind, he answered in scarcely more than monosyllables whatever questions were put to him.
"You are not coming aboard?" inquired Edwards in surprise as he and Jermyn mounted the steps of the houseboat ladder, and Kennedy remained seated in the tender.
"Not yet," replied Craig coolly.
"But I thought you had something to show me. Waldon told me you had."
"I think I shall have in a short time," returned Kennedy. "We shall be back immediately. I'm just going to ask Waldon to run over to the Nautilus for a few minutes. We'll tow back your launch, too, in case you need it."
Waldon had cast off obediently.
"There's one thing sure," I remarked. "Jermyn can't get away from the Lucie until we return--unless he swims."
Kennedy did not seem to pay much attention to the remark, for his only reply was: "I'm taking a chance by this maneuvering, but I think it will work out that I am correct. By the way, Waldon, you needn't put on so much speed. I'm in no great hurry to get back. Half an hour will be time enough."
"Jermyn? What did you mean by Jermyn?" asked Waldon, as we climbed to the deck of the Nautilus.
He had evidently learned, as I had, that it was little use to try to quiz Kennedy until he was ready to be questioned and had decided to try it on me.
I had nothing to conceal and I told him quite fully all that I knew. Actually, I believe if Jermyn had been there, it would have taken both Kennedy and myself to prevent violence. As it was I had a veritable madman to deal with while Kennedy gathered up leisurely the wireless outfit he had installed on the deck of Waldon's yacht. It was only by telling him that I would certainly demand that Kennedy leave him behind if he did not control his feelings that I could calm him before Craig had finished his work on the yacht.
Waldon relieved himself by driving the tender back at top speed to the Lucie, and now it seemed that Kennedy had no objection to traveling as fast as the many-cylindered engine was capable of going.
As we entered the saloon of the houseboat, I kept close watch over Waldon.
Kennedy began by slipping a record on the phonograph in the corner of the saloon, then facing us and addressing Edwards particularly.
"You may be interested to know, Mr. Edwards," he said, "that your wireless outfit here has been put to a use for which you never intended it."
No one said anything, but I am sure that some one in the room then for the first time began to suspect what was coming.
"As you know, by the use of an aerial pole, messages may be easily received from any number of stations," continued Craig. "Laws, rules and regulations may be adopted to shut out interlopers and plug busybody ears, but the greater part of whatever is transmitted by the Hertzian waves can be snatched down by other wireless apparatus.
"Down below, in that little room of yours," went on Craig, "might sit an operator with his ear-phone clamped to his head, drinking in the news conveyed surely and swiftly to him through the wireless signals--plucking from the sky secrets of finance and," he added, leaning forward, "love."
In his usual dramatic manner Kennedy had swung his little audience completely with him.
"In other words," he resumed, "it might be used for eavesdropping by a wireless wiretapper. Now," he concluded, "I thought that if there was any radio detective work being done, I might as well do some, too."
He toyed for a moment with the phonograph record. "I have used," he explained, "Marconi's radiotelephone, because in connection with his receivers Marconi uses phonographic recorders and on them has captured wireless telegraph signals over hundreds of miles.
"He has found that it is possible to receive wireless signals, although ordinary records are not loud enough, by using a small microphone on the repeating diaphragm and connected with a loud- speaking telephone. The chief difficulty was to get a microphone that would carry a sufficient current without burning up. There were other difficulties, but they have been surmounted and now wireless telegraph messages may be automatically recorded and made audible."
Kennedy started the phonograph, running it along, stopping it, taking up the record at a new point.
"Listen," he exclaimed at length, "there's something interesting, the WXY call--Seaville station--from some one on the Lucie only a few minutes ago, sending a message to be relayed by Seaville to the station at Beach Park. It seems impossible, but buzzing and ticking forth is this message from some one off this very houseboat. It reads: "Miss Valerie Fox, Beach Park. I am suspected of the murder of Mrs. Edwards. I appeal to you to help me. You must allow me to tell the truth about the messages I intercepted for Mrs. Edwards which passed between yourself on the ocean and Mr. Edwards in New York via Seaville. You rejected me and would not let me save you. Now you must save me."
Kennedy paused, then added, "The message is signed by Dr. Jermyn!"
At once I saw it all. Jermyn had been the unsuccessful suitor for Miss Fox's affections. But before I could piece out the rest of the tragic story, Kennedy had started the phonograph record at an earlier point which he had skipped for the present.
"Here's another record--a brief one--also to Valerie Fox from the houseboat: 'Refuse all interviews. Deny everything. Will see you as soon as present excitement dies down.'"
Before Kennedy could finish, Waldon had leaped forward, unable longer to control his feelings. If Kennedy had not seized his arm, I verily believe he would have cast Dr. Jermyn into the bay into which his sister had fallen two nights before in her terribly weakened condition.
"Waldon," cried Kennedy, "for God's sake, man--wait! Don't you understand? The second message is signed Tracy Edwards."
It came as quite as much a shock of surprise to me as to Waldon.
"Don't you understand?" he repeated. "Your sister first learned from Dr. Jermyn what was going on. She moved the Lucie down here near Seaville in order to be near the wireless station when the ship bearing her rival, Valerie Fox, got in touch with land. With the help of Dr. Jermyn she intercepted the wireless messages from the Kronprinz to the shore--between her husband and Valerie Fox."
Kennedy was hurrying on now to his irresistible conclusion. "She found that he was infatuated with the famous stage beauty, that he was planning to marry another, her rival. She accused him of it, threatened to defeat his plans. He knew she knew his unfaithfulness. Instead of being your sister's murderer, Dr. Jermyn was helping her get the evidence that would save both her and perhaps win Miss Fox back to himself."
Kennedy had turned sharply on Edwards.
"But," he added, with a glance that crushed any lingering hope that the truth had been concealed, "the same night that Dr. Jermyn arrived here, you visited your wife. As she slept you severed the nerves that meant life or death to her. Then you covered the cuts with the preparation which you knew Dr. Jermyn used. You asked him to stay, while you went away, thinking that when death came you would have a perfect alibi--perhaps a scapegoat. Edwards, the radio detective convicts you!"