The War Terror by Arthur B. Reeve
Chapter XIII. The Radium Robber
Kennedy simply reached for the telephone and called an ambulance. But it was purely perfunctory. Dr. Leslie himself was the only official who could handle Sato's case now.
We had planned a little vacation for ourselves, but the planning came to naught. The next night we spent on a sleeper. That in itself is work to me.
It all came about through a hurried message from Murray Denison, president of the Federal Radium Corporation. Nothing would do but that he should take both Kennedy and myself with him post-haste to Pittsburgh at the first news of what had immediately been called "the great radium robbery."
Of course the newspapers were full of it. The very novelty of an ultra-modern cracksman going off with something worth upward of a couple of hundred thousand dollars--and all contained in a few platinum tubes which could be tucked away in a vest pocket--had something about it powerfully appealing to the imagination.
"Most ingenious, but, you see, the trouble with that safe is that it was built to keep radium in--not cracksmen out," remarked Kennedy, when Denison had rushed us from the train to take a look at the little safe in the works of the Corporation.
"Breaking into such a safe as this," added Kennedy, after a cursory examination, "is simple enough, after all."
It was, however, a remarkably ingenious contrivance, about three feet in height and of a weight of perhaps a ton and a half, and all to house something weighing only a few grains.
"But," Denison hastened to explain, "we had to protect the radium not only against burglars, but, so to speak, against itself. Radium emanations pass through steel and experiments have shown that the best metal to contain them is lead. So, the difficulty was solved by making a steel outer case enclosing an inside leaden shell three inches thick."
Kennedy had been toying thoughtfully with the door.
"Then the door, too, had to be contrived so as to prevent any escape of the emanations through joints. It is lathe turned and circular, a 'dead fit.' By means of a special contrivance any slight looseness caused by wear and tear of closing can be adjusted. And another feature. That is the appliance for preventing the loss of emanation when the door is opened. Two valves have been inserted into the door and before it is opened tubes with mercury are passed through which collect and store the emanation."
"All very nice for the radium," remarked Craig cheerfully. "But the fellow had only to use an electric drill and the gram or more of radium was his."
"I know that--now," ruefully persisted Denison. "But the safe was designed for us specially. The fellow got into it and got away, as far as I can see, without leaving a clue."
"Except one, of course," interrupted Kennedy quickly.
Denison looked at him a moment keenly, then nodded and said, "Yes- -you are right. You mean one which he must bear on himself?"
"Exactly. You can't carry a gram or more of radium bromide long with impunity. The man to look for is one who in a few days will have somewhere on his body a radium burn which will take months to heal. The very thing he stole is a veritable Frankenstein's monster bent on the destruction of the thief himself!"
Kennedy had meanwhile picked up one of the Corporation's circulars lying on a desk. He ran his eye down the list of names.
"So, Hartley Haughton, the broker, is one of your stockholders," mused Kennedy.
"Not only one but the one," replied Denison with obvious pride.
Haughton was a young man who had come recently into his fortune, and, while no one believed it to be large, he had cut quite a figure in Wall Street.
"You know, I suppose," added Denison, "that he is engaged to Felicie Woods, the daughter of Mrs. Courtney Woods?"
Kennedy did not, but said nothing.
"A most delightful little girl," continued Denison thoughtfully. "I have known Mrs. Woods for some time. She wanted to invest, but I told her frankly that this is, after all, a speculation. We may not be able to swing so big a proposition, but, if not, no one can say we have taken a dollar of money from widows and orphans."
"I should like to see the works," nodded Kennedy approvingly.
"By all means."
The plant was a row of long low buildings of brick on the outskirts of the city, once devoted to the making of vanadium steel. The ore, as Denison explained, was brought to Pittsburgh because he had found here already a factory which could readily be turned into a plant for the extraction of radium. Huge baths and vats and crucibles for the various acids and alkalis and other processes used in treating the ore stood at various points.
"This must be like extracting gold from sea water," remarked Kennedy jocosely, impressed by the size of the plant as compared to the product.
"Except that after we get through we have something infinitely more precious than gold," replied Denison, "something which warrants the trouble and outlay. Yes, the fact is that the percentage of radium in all such ores is even less than of gold in sea water."
"Everything seems to be most carefully guarded," remarked Kennedy as we concluded our tour of the well-appointed works.
He had gone over everything in silence, and now at last we had returned to the safe.
"Yes," he repeated slowly, as if confirming his original impression, "such an amount of radium as was stolen wouldn't occasion immediate discomfort to the thief, I suppose, but later no infernal machine could be more dangerous to him."
I pictured to myself the series of fearful works of mischief and terror that might follow, a curse on the thief worse than that of the weirdest curses of the Orient, the danger to the innocent, and the fact that in the hands of a criminal it was an instrument for committing crimes that might defy detection.
"There is nothing more to do here now," he concluded. "I can see nothing for the present except to go back to New York. The telltale burn may not be the only clue, but if the thief is going to profit by his spoils we shall hear about it best in New York or by cable from London, Paris, or some other European city."
Our hurried departure from New York had not given us a chance to visit the offices of the Radium Corporation for the distribution of the salts themselves. They were in a little old office building on William Street, near the drug district and yet scarcely a moment's walk from the financial district.
"Our head bookkeeper, Miss Wallace, is ill," remarked Denison when we arrived at the office, "but if there is anything I can do to help you, I shall be glad to do it. We depend on Miss Wallace a great deal. Haughton says she is the brains of the office."
Kennedy looked about the well-appointed suite curiously.
"Is this another of those radium safes?" he asked, approaching one similar in appearance to that which had been broken open already.
"Yes, only a little larger."
"How much is in it?"
"Most of our supply. I should say about two and a half grams. Miss Wallace has the record."
"It is of the same construction, I presume," pursued Kennedy. "I wonder whether the lead lining fits closely to the steel?"
"I think not," considered Denison. "As I remember there was a sort of insulating air cushion or something of the sort."
Denison was quite eager to show us about. In fact ever since he had hustled us out to view the scene of the robbery, his high nervous tension had given us scarcely a moment's rest. For hours he had talked radium, until I felt that he, like his metal, must have an inexhaustible emanation of words. He was one of those nervous, active little men, a born salesman, whether of ribbons or radium.
"We have just gone into furnishing radium water," he went on, bustling about and patting a little glass tank.
I looked closely and could see that the water glowed in the dark with a peculiar phosphorescence.
"The apparatus for the treatment," he continued, "consists of two glass and porcelain receptacles. Inside the larger receptacle is placed the smaller, which contains a tiny quantity of radium. Into the larger receptacle is poured about a gallon of filtered water. The emanation from that little speck of radium is powerful enough to penetrate its porcelain holder and charge the water with its curative properties. From a tap at the bottom of the tank the patient draws the number of glasses of water a day prescribed. For such purposes the emanation within a day or two of being collected is as good as radium itself. Why, this water is five thousand times as radioactive as the most radioactive natural spring water."
"You must have control of a comparatively large amount of the metal," suggested Kennedy.
"We are, I believe, the largest holders of radium in the world," he answered. "I have estimated that all told there are not much more than ten grams, of which Madame Curie has perhaps three, while Sir Ernest Cassel of London is the holder of perhaps as much. We have nearly four grams, leaving about six or seven for the rest of the world."
Kennedy nodded and continued to look about.
"The Radium Corporation," went on Denison, "has several large deposits of radioactive ore in Utah in what is known as the Poor Little Rich Valley, a valley so named because from being about the barrenest and most unproductive mineral or agricultural hole in the hills, the sudden discovery of the radioactive deposits has made it almost priceless."
He had entered a private office and was looking over some mail that had been left on his desk during his absence.
"Look at this," he called, picking up a clipping from a newspaper which had been laid there for his attention. "You see, we have them aroused."
We read the clipping together hastily:
PLAN TO CORNER WORLD'S RADIUM
LONDON.--Plans are being matured to form a large corporation for the monopoly of the existing and future supply of radium throughout the world. The company is to be called Universal Radium, Limited, and the capital of ten million dollars will be offered for public subscription at par simultaneously in London, Paris and New York.
The company's business will be to acquire mines and deposits of radioactive substances as well as the control of patents and processes connected with the production of radium. The outspoken purpose of the new company is to obtain a world-wide monopoly and maintain the price.
"Ah--a competitor," commented Kennedy, handing back the clipping.
"Yes. You know radium salts used always to come from Europe. Now we are getting ready to do some exporting ourselves. Say," he added excitedly, "there's an idea, possibly, in that."
"How?" queried Craig.
"Why, since we should be the principal competitors to the foreign mines, couldn't this robbery have been due to the machinations of these schemers? To my mind, the United States, because of its supply of radium-bearing ores, will have to be reckoned with first in cornering the market. This is the point, Kennedy. Would those people who seem to be trying to extend their new company all over the world stop at anything in order to cripple us at the start?"
How much longer Denison would have rattled on in his effort to explain the robbery, I do not know. The telephone rang and a reporter from the Record, who had just read my own story in the Star, asked for an interview. I knew that it would be only a question of minutes now before the other men were wearing a path out on the stairs, and we managed to get away before the onrush began.
"Walter," said Kennedy, as soon as we had reached the street. "I want to get in touch with Halsey Haughton. How can it be done?"
I could think of nothing better at that moment than to inquire at the Star's Wall Street office, which happened to be around the corner. I knew the men down there intimately, and a few minutes later we were whisked up in the elevator to the office.
They were as glad to see me as I was to see them, for the story of the robbery had interested the financial district perhaps more than any other.
"Where can I find Halsey Haughton at this hour?" I asked.
"Say," exclaimed one of the men, "what's the matter? There have been all kinds of rumors in the Street about him to-day. Did you know he was ill?"
"No," I answered. "Where is he?"
"Out at the home of his fiancee, who is the daughter of Mrs. Courtney Woods, at Glenclair."
"What's the matter?" I persisted.
"That's just it. No one seems to know. They say--well--they say he has a cancer."
Halsey Haughton suffering from cancer? It was such an uncommon thing to hear of a young man that I looked up quickly in surprise. Then all at once it flashed over me that Denison and Kennedy had discussed the matter of burns from the stolen radium. Might not this be, instead of cancer, a radium burn?
Kennedy, who had been standing a little apart from me while I was talking with the boys, signaled to me with a quick glance not to say too much, and a few minutes later we were on the street again.
I knew without being told that he was bound by the next train to the pretty little New Jersey suburb of Glenclair.
It was late when we arrived, yet Kennedy had no hesitation in calling at the quaint home of Mrs. Courtney Woods on Woodridge Avenue.
Mrs. Woods, a well-set-up woman of middle age, who had retained her youth and good looks in a remarkable manner, met us in the foyer. Briefly, Kennedy explained that we had just come in from Pittsburgh with Mr. Denison and that it was very important that we should see Haughton at once.
We had hardly told her the object of our visit when a young woman of perhaps twenty-two or three, a very pretty girl, with all the good looks of her mother and a freshness which only youth can possess, tiptoed quietly downstairs. Her face told plainly that she was deeply worried over the illness of her fiance.
"Who is it, mother?" she whispered from the turn in the stairs. "Some gentlemen from the company? Hartley's door was open when the bell rang, and he thought he heard something said about the Pittsburgh affair."
Though she had whispered, it had not been for the purpose of concealing anything from us, but rather that the keen ears of her patient might not catch the words. She cast an inquiring glance at us.
"Yes," responded Kennedy in answer to her look, modulating his tone. "We have just left Mr. Denison at the office. Might we see Mr. Haughton for a moment? I am sure that nothing we can say or do will be as bad for him as our going away, now that he knows that we are here."
The two women appeared to consult for a moment.
"Felicie," called a rather nervous voice from the second floor, "is it some one from the company?"
"Just a moment, Hartley," she answered, then, lower to her mother, added, "I don't think it can do any harm, do you, mother?"
"You remember the doctor's orders, my dear."
Again the voice called her.
"Hang the doctor's orders," the girl exclaimed, with an air of almost masculinity. "It can't be half so bad as to have him worry. Will you promise not to stay long? We expect Dr. Bryant in a few moments, anyway."