LIEUTENANT DONOVAN, with Macklin and McGroarty, searched the house from top to bottom—there was not a room, or closet, or cupboard that they did not investigate—but their search revealed no trace of Miss Saranov, the butler, or the body of the count. They had vanished as utterly as though they had never existed.
“It’s got me,” said Lieutenant Donovan.
Macklin shook his head. “There’s some explanation,” he said.
“Of course there is.”
“And I intend to find it. Good night, Dad. I’m going to my room again.”
The elder man reached into a pocket and produced an automatic pistol. “Take this, Mackie,” he said, “you may be needin’ it. I found it in the library table. And I’m goin’ to send a couple of the boys up to sit with you.”
“What for?” demanded the young man.
“I can’t be tellin’ you, Mackie—you wouldn’t understand; but I’ve got my own reasons, and they’re good ones. I been puttin’ two and two together this night—an’ they don’t make eight, either.”
“I can take care of myself, Dad.”
“Sure you can. That’s probably what Thorn and Saranov thought, too. Now look at ’em.”
Macklin shrugged. “All right,” he said; “but remember that I’m workin’ on a case, and tell ’em not to interfere with me.”
“They’ll be under your orders, me boy.”
Shortly after Macklin Donovan entered his room the two police officers knocked at the door.
“Make yourself at home, boys,” he said as the two entered, and going to the table he brought cigars for them. “I don’t want to talk”, he said, after they had seated themselves and lighted their cigars; “I want to listen.” They nodded.
Both the officers were sleepy and in a few minutes were half dozing. Macklin was listening and thinking. He was trying to figure some explanation that would account for the mysterious disappearance of two living inmates of the house and a dead man, and he attempted also to fathom the causes underlying his father’s recent apprehension concerning his own safety. If Terrance Donovan had known all that had occurred in the house and especially in Macklin’s room there would be ample grounds for his fear; but he did not. He must know something else, then, that Macklin did not know. What was it that his father could not tell him and that he would not understand? The inevitable palm went to the back of his neck, which it rubbed slowly back and forth.
Macklin sat beside the table near the window; one of the policemen sat near the corner of the dressing room, the other beside the closet door across the room. Both the officers were dozing and Macklin was deep in thought when he was startled by a sibilant “S—s—st!” from somewhere at his right. He wheeled around, facing the two officers. Neither one of them had moved, and their deep, regular breathing attested the fact that both were asleep. In the middle of the floor, between Donovan and one of the officers, lay a bit of paper rolled into a small cylinder about which was rubber band. Donovan rose and stepped quickly to the window. There was no one on any of the balconies. Then he turned to the closet door which he found still locked and the key on the outside where he had left it. He moved on tip-toe to avoid arousing the officers, and thus he investigated both his room and the bath. Finally he returned to the room where the policemen still slept and picked the piece of paper from the floor. As he unfolded it he expected to find the usual message—“Beware!”—but this was something different.
“Be quick! Get out of this room. Your life is in danger,” it read, in the same crude printing that had marked the others.
One of the officers awoke just as Macklin was stuffing the paper into his pocket.
“Anything wrong?” asked the policeman. “I thought someone was walkin’ ’round the room, or was I sleepin’?”
“You were sleeping all right,” said Donovan, “and you can go back to sleep if you want—I’ll watch.”
“What’s that?” whispered the officer, cocking an ear.
“Sounds like someone in Saranov’s room,” replied Macklin in a low tone, at the same time moving cautiously toward the door.
The sound they had heard was a subdued shuffling noise. Against the silence of the night, and coming as it did from the vacant room in which Saranov had been murdered, it induced an impression of uncanniness that both men felt, inured though they were to dangers and to mysteries. Behind Donovan came the policeman and as the former laid his hand upon the knob of the door the other officer awakened. Observing their silence and their stealthy movements at a glance he arose and followed them with equal quiet. Together the three crept out into the hallway and moved noiselessly toward Saranov’s door, which stood open as it had since McGroarty had broken it in. Macklin was in the lead. He had reached the frame of the door and was on the point of looking into the interior of the room when a figure stepped from it into the hall. Instantly Macklin seized it—it was Goertz.
The butler was evidently surprised, but he remained cool. “Beg pardon, sir,” he said, “but I did not see you.”
“No,” said Donovan, sarcastically; “but I saw you. I’ve been lookin’ for you, Goertz.”
“Oh, have you, sir?” exclaimed the butler, in his best official tones. “I am very sorry, sir. Is there anything that I can do for you, sir? I did not hear your ring—I have been in my room, sir.”
“You’re a damned liar, Goertz,” exclaimed Donovan.
“Yes, sir!” replied the butler. “I was looking for you, sir. You must not return to that room,” and he pointed along the hall towards Macklin’s door.
“Why?” demanded Donovan.
“It is not safe, sir.”
“Why is it not safe?”
“I cannot tell you, sir; but please believe me, it is not safe,” and then he turned to the officers. “Do not allow him to return to that room, I beg of you,” he insisted. “Even if you remain with him he will be a dead man within five minutes after he crosses the threshold.”
Macklin Donovan stood eyeing the butler closely. The man was evidently very much in earnest, but what motives prompted the warning? Donovan had his own opinion—the gang wanted to keep him out of that room for some particular reason and they were trying to frighten him out. First by the note and now by means of Goertz. Well, he wouldn’t be frightened. He saw that the butler was out of breath and that his clothing was soiled here and there with dust and cobwebs.
“Where have you been all night, Goertz?” he demanded suddenly.
“Attending to my duties,” responded the butler.
“Once more, you are a liar.”
“Where is Miss Saranov?”
“Is she not in her room, sir?”
“Where is she? Answer me!”
“You will pardon me, Mr. Donovan; but I have some other duties to attend to. I must be going,” and he moved toward the stairs leading to the upper floors.
“No you don’t,” cried Donovan, and grabbed for the man.
Goertz dodged him and started to run. “Grab him!” cried Macklin to the officer who was nearest the butler. The big Irishman jumped in front of the fugitive and held out both ponderous hands to seize him. It was a foolish move, for it left his chin exposed; but then who would expect a middle-aged butler to be so rough? Goertz struck the policeman once without even pausing and as the latter slumped to the floor the butler leaped across his body and made for the stairway. Just as he turned into it Macklin drew his gun and fired, at the same time leaping in pursuit with the second policeman at his heels. Macklin fired again as he reached the foot of the stairs and saw Goertz disappearing at the turn half way up. Donovan was young and active. He went up those stairs three or four at a time, but when he reached the top Goertz was nowhere to be seen. Followed by the officer, Donovan ascended at a run to the fourth floor—no Goertz. He searched every apartment there and even found the scuttle that lead to the roof; but that was fastened upon the inside, precluding the possibility that Goertz had escaped in this way, even had he had time to do so in the short interval of his lead over Donovan.
Crestfallen, the two men returned to the third floor and searched it thoroughly. They were joined there by Terrance Donovan and McGroarty who had been attracted by Macklin’s shooting. Young Donovan narrated the incidents of the last few minutes to his father. “He just vanished—that was all—vanished,” he concluded.
Donovan senior scratched his head. “As I’ve said about forty times this night, Mackie, it’s got me, and I’ve been twenty-two years on the New York police force an’ seen some funny things. If I hadn’t pounded on walls tonight until I’ve near wore all the hide off my knuckles I’d say the place was full o’ phony panels, but it ain’t—every wall’s as solid as every other one—there ain’t no air spaces nowhere. And then, too, boy, I’ve even paced off the length and breadth of the house and the rooms and the closets, and there’s no space unaccounted for. Yes, sir—it’s got me.”
“It’s getting me, too,” said his son; “but I’m goin’ to stick with it.”
“You keep out of that room, though,” said his father. “Better come down to the library with the others.”
Macklin shook his head. “I’ll go in the room across the hall from mine—that’s not being used,” he said.
“There ain’t any of ’em being used except the library,” remarked the lieutenant with a smile; “you can take your choice of a lot of rooms—but I wouldn’t care for Saranov’s, myself.”
“Nor I,” said Macklin—“there’s something funny about that room.”
Together they descended to the second floor. “On your way down turn the light on the landing out, Dad,” said Macklin; “I want to listen up here in the dark for a while.”
“Keep to your room,” cautioned his father.
“If it’s dark they can’t see me to harm me and I can listen from my doorway without being seen,” explained Macklin.
“All right,” agreed his father and walked down the hallway toward the stairs leading to the library while Macklin and the two officers turned toward the room opposite that which young Donovan had formerly occupied.
Macklin turned off the remaining hall lights, leaving the second floor in utter darkness; then he entered the room with the policemen, switched on the lights there long enough for them to find chairs and then switched them off again. Before their eyes could become accustomed to the darkness he recrossed the room to the door and stepped out into the hall, making no noise. In equal silence he crossed to the door of the room he had formerly occupied. Stealthily he turned the knob and opened the door. The darkness within was solid except for the two rectangular spaces that were the windows—areas that were but faintly visible against the deeper darkness of the room. As he stood just inside the door listening, he thought that he discerned something moving on one of the balconies—just a vague suggestion of a figure without definite form or shape. It riveted his attention and held his eyes. Very softly he reached behind him and closed the door, fearing that one of the officers in the room across the hall, missing him, might switch on a light that would be sure to reveal him standing there in the doorway.
Drawing his pistol he moved slowly forward toward the window—inch by inch he moved, fearing that the slightest noise might frighten away whatever haunted this balcony. He had crossed to about the middle of the room, when, without warning, the narrow beams of a flashlight burst from the closet full upon the window toward which he had been creeping. Macklin Donovan came up standing with a gasp as his eyes rested upon what the beams of the flash light revealed beyond the window—a face pressed close against the pane—the face of Saranov, the dead man, with the blood upon its forehead.
Almost instantly the face vanished toward the left and then the flashlight swung slowly about the room, coming closer and closer to Macklin Donovan. His first impulse was to flee—there was something so uncanny about the silence and the seeming inevitableness of that grisly light searching him out in the darkness of the chamber of mystery. Then he sought to keep ahead of it, but at last it drove him into a corner where he halted and held his pistol ready. An instant later the light touched his face and stopped upon it, blinding him. Then it was that he raised his weapon and fired point-blank into its fiery eye. Instantly the light disappeared.
A moment of silence was followed by a shuffling sound, coming, apparently, from the interior of the closet—then silence again. Donovan sprang through the darkness for the closet door. Fumbling for the knob, he found it; but the door was locked, and the key, which he had left upon the outside, was gone.