Chapter XXV. The "Happy Dust"
 

Veda Blair's rescue from the strange use that was made of the venom came at a time when the city was aroused as it never had been before over the nation-wide agitation against drugs.

Already, it will be recalled, Kennedy and I had had some recent experience with dope fiends of various kinds, but this case I set down because it drew us more intimately into the crusade.

"I've called on you, Professor Kennedy, to see if I can't interest you in the campaign I am planning against drugs."

Mrs. Claydon Sutphen, social leader and suffragist, had scarcely more than introduced herself when she launched earnestly into the reason for her visit to us.

"You don't realize it, perhaps," she continued rapidly, "but very often a little silver bottle of tablets is as much a necessary to some women of the smart set as cosmetics."

"I've heard of such cases," nodded Craig encouragingly.

"Well, you see I became interested in the subject," she added, "when I saw some of my own friends going down. That's how I came to plan the campaign in the first place."

She paused, evidently nervous. "I've been threatened, too," she went on, "but I'm not going to give up the fight. People think that drugs are a curse only to the underworld, but they have no idea what inroads the habit has made in the upper world, too. Oh, it is awful!" she exclaimed.

Suddenly, she leaned over and whispered, "Why, there's my own sister, Mrs. Garrett. She began taking drugs after an operation, and now they have a terrible hold on her. I needn't try to conceal anything. It's all been published in the papers--everybody knows it. Think of it--divorced, disgraced, all through these cursed drugs! Dr. Coleman, our family physician, has done everything known to break up the habit, but he hasn't succeeded."

Dr. Coleman, I knew, was a famous society physician. If he had failed, I wondered why she thought a detective might succeed. But it was evidently another purpose she had in mind in introducing the subject.

"So you can understand what it all means to me, personally," she resumed, with a sigh. "I've studied the thing--I've been forced to study it. Why, now the exploiters are even making drug fiends of mere--children!"

Mrs. Sutphen spread out a crumpled sheet of note paper before us on which was written something in a trembling scrawl. "For instance, here's a letter I received only yesterday."

Kennedy glanced over it carefully. It was signed "A Friend," and read:

"I have heard of your drug war in the newspapers and wish to help you, only I don't dare to do so openly. But I can assure you that if you will investigate what I am about to tell you, you will soon be on the trail of those higher up in this terrible drug business. There is a little center of the traffic on West 66th Street, just off Broadway. I cannot tell you more, but if you can investigate it, you will be doing more good than you can possibly realize now. There is one girl there, whom they call 'Snowbird.' If you could only get hold of her quietly and place her in a sanitarium you might save her yet."

Craig was more than ordinarily interested. "And the children--what did you mean by that?"

"Why, it's literally true," asserted Mrs. Sutphen in a horrified tone. "Some of the victims are actually school children. Up there in 66th Street we have found a man named Armstrong, who seems to be very friendly with this young girl whom they call 'Snowbird.' Her real name, by the way, is Sawtelle, I believe. She can't be over eighteen, a mere child, yet she's a slave to the stuff."

"Oh, then you have actually already acted on the hint in the letter?" asked Craig.

"Yes," she replied, "I've had one of the agents of our Anti-Drug Society, a social worker, investigating the neighborhood."

Kennedy nodded for her to go on.

"I've even investigated myself a little, and now I want to employ some one to break the thing up. My husband had heard of you and so here I am. Can you help me?"

There was a note of appeal in her voice that was irresistible to a man who had the heart of Kennedy.

"Tell me just what you have discovered so far," he asked simply.

"Well," she replied slowly, "after my agent verified the contents of the letter, I watched until I saw this girl--she's a mere child, as I said--going to a cabaret in the neighborhood. What struck me was that I saw her go in looking like a wreck and come out a beautiful creature, with bright eyes, flushed cheeks, almost youthful again. A most remarkable girl she is, too," mused Mrs. Sutphen, "who always wears a white gown, white hat, white shoes and white stockings. It must be a mania with her."

Mrs. Sutphen seemed to have exhausted her small store of information, and as she rose to go Kennedy rose also. "I shall be glad to look into the case, Mrs. Sutphen," he promised. "I'm sure there is something that can be done--there must be."

"Thank you, ever so much," she murmured, as she paused at the door, something still on her mind. "And perhaps, too," she added, "you may run across my sister, Mrs. Garrett."

"Indeed," he assured her, "if there is anything I can possibly do that will assist you personally, I shall be only too happy to do it."

"Thank you again, ever so much," she repeated with just a little choke in her voice.

For several moments Kennedy sat contemplating the anonymous letter which she had left with him, studying both its contents and the handwriting.

"We must go over the ground up there again," he remarked finally. "Perhaps we can do better than Mrs. Sutphen and her drug investigator have done."

Half an hour later we had arrived and were sauntering along the street in question, walking slowly up and down in the now fast- gathering dusk. It was a typical cheap apartment block of variegated character, with people sitting idly on the narrow front steps and children spilling out into the roadway in imminent danger of their young lives from every passing automobile.

On the crowded sidewalk a creation in white hurtled past us. One glance at the tense face in the flickering arc light was enough for Kennedy. He pulled my arm and we turned and followed at a safe distance.

She looked like a girl who could not have been more than eighteen, if she was as old as that. She was pretty, too, but already her face was beginning to look old and worn from the use of drugs. It was unmistakable.

In spite of the fact that she was hurrying, it was not difficult to follow her in the crowd, as she picked her way in and out, and finally turned into Broadway where the white lights were welcoming the night.

Under the glare of a huge electric sign she stopped a moment, then entered one of the most notorious of the cabarets.

We entered also at a discreet distance and sat down at a table.

"Don't look around, Walter," whispered Craig, as the waiter took our order, "but to your right is Mrs. Sutphen."

If he had mentioned any other name in the world, I could not have been more surprised. I waited impatiently until I could pick her out from the corner of my eye. Sure enough, it was Mrs. Sutphen and another woman. What they were doing there I could not imagine, for neither had the look of habitues of such a place.

I followed Kennedy's eye and found that he was gazing furtively at a flashily dressed young man who was sitting alone at the far end in a sort of booth upholstered in leather.

The girl in white, whom I was now sure was Miss Sawtelle, went over and greeted him. It was too far to see just what happened, but the young woman after sitting down rose and left almost immediately. As nearly as I could make out, she had got something from him which she had dropped into her handbag and was now hugging the handbag close to herself almost as if it were gold.

We sat for a few minutes debating just what to do, when Mrs. Sutphen and her friend rose. As she passed out, a quick, covert glance told us to follow. We did so and the two turned into Broadway.

"Let me present you to Miss McCann," introduced Mrs. Sutphen as we caught up with them. "Miss McCann is a social worker and trained investigator whom I'm employing."

We bowed, but before we could ask a question, Mrs. Sutphen cried excitedly: "I think I have a clue, anyway. We've traced the source of the drugs at least as far as that young fellow, 'Whitecap,' whom you saw in there."

I had not recognized his face, although I had undoubtedly seen pictures of him before. But no sooner had I heard the name than I recognized it as that of one of the most notorious gang leaders on the West Side.

Not only that, but Whitecap's gang played an important part in local politics. There was scarcely a form of crime or vice to which Whitecap and his followers could not turn a skilled hand, whether it was swinging an election, running a gambling club, or dispensing "dope."

"You see," she explained, "even before I saw you, my suspicions were aroused and I determined to obtain some of the stuff they are using up here, if possible. I realized it would be useless for me to try to get it myself, so I got Miss McCann from the Neighborhood House to try it. She got it and has turned the bottle over to me."

"May I see it?" asked Craig eagerly.

Mrs. Sutphen reached hastily into her handbag, drew forth a small brown glass bottle and handed it to him. Craig retreated into one of the less dark side streets. There he pulled out the paraffinned cork from the bottle, picked out a piece of cotton stuffed in the neck of the bottle and poured out some flat tablets that showed a glistening white in the palm of his hand. For an instant he regarded them.

"I may keep these?" he asked.

"Certainly," replied Mrs. Sutphen. "That's what I had Miss McCann get them for."

Kennedy dropped the bottle into his pocket.

"So that was the gang leader, 'Whitecap,'" he remarked as we turned again to Broadway.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Sutphen. "At certain hours, I believe he can be found at that cabaret selling this stuff, whatever it is, to anyone who comes properly introduced. The thing seems to be so open and notorious that it amounts to a scandal."

We parted a moment later, Mrs. Sutphen and Miss McCann to go to the settlement house, Craig and I to continue our investigations.

"First of all, Walter," he said as we swung aboard an uptown car, "I want to stop at the laboratory."

In his den, which had been the scene of so many triumphs, Kennedy began a hasty examination of the tablets, powdering one and testing it with one chemical after another.

"What are they?" I asked at length when he seemed to have found the right reaction which gave him the clue.

"Happy dust," he answered briefly.

"Happy dust?" I repeated, looking at him a moment in doubt as to whether he was joking or serious. "What is that?"

"The Tenderloin name for heroin--a comparatively new derivative of morphine. It is really morphine treated with acetic acid which renders it more powerful than morphine alone."

"How do they take them? What's the effect?" I asked.

"The person who uses heroin usually powders the tablets and snuffs the powder up the nose," he answered. "In a short time, perhaps only two or three weeks, one can become a confirmed victim of 'happy dust.' And while one is under its influence he is morally, physically and mentally irresponsible."

Kennedy was putting away the paraphernalia he had used, meanwhile talking about the drug. "One of the worst aspects of it, too," he continued, "is the desire of the user to share his experience with some one else. This passing on of the habit, which seems to be one of the strongest desires of the drug fiend, makes him even more dangerous to society than he would otherwise be. It makes it harder for anyone once addicted to a drug to shake it off, for his friends will give him no chance. The only thing to do is to get the victim out of his environment and into an entirely new scene."

The laboratory table cleared again, Kennedy had dropped into a deep study.

"Now, why was Mrs. Sutphen there?" he asked aloud. "I can't think it was solely through her interest for that girl they call Snowbird. She was interested in her, but she made no attempt to interfere or to follow her. No, there must have been another reason."

"You don't think she's a dope fiend herself, do you?" I asked hurriedly.

Kennedy smiled. "Hardly, Walter. If she has any obsession on the subject, it is more likely to lead her to actual fanaticism against all stimulants and narcotics and everything connected with them. No, you might possibly persuade me that two and two equal five--but not seventeen. It's not very late. I think we might make another visit to that cabaret and see whether the same thing is going on yet."