Sergeant Mahoney wiped the perspiration from his brow and began unbuttoning his coat. The persistence of this crook was beginning to get on his nerves. He removed the heavy garment, folded it carefully and placed it across the back of his chair. He turned to where Hanlon sat sweltering under the brilliant lights and, resting his hands on his hips, he began his examination again.
“Now look here, Hanlon,” he started, in a manner that was almost wheedling in its softness. “We’ve really got the good on ye, this time. I’ll admit it’s a clever crook ye are, and ye’ve kept out of the pen for a long time. But this time, ye’ve laid yerself wide open. What’s the use of wastin’ our time an’ yer won, and makin’ us put ye through all this bright lights an’ rubber hose stuff? I kin git ye off light, if ye’ll come clean. Come on, now be a shport and spill it.”
Hanlon raised his head with a sneer.
“I ast fer me lawyer,” he snarled. “And do I git him? Naw. Is this a free country? All I do is ast fer me lawyer. I ain’t talkin’ till I see him.”
Patrolman Tom Miller, who until now had remained in the background, stepped forward. “Let me talk to him again for a minute will you, Sarge?” he asked. Sergeant Mahoney stepped aside readily enough, for it was hot under those lights, and he suspected that he with all his fat, suffered almost as much as the prisoner. Miller turned to Hanlon.
“Look here, Scats,” he started. “You can’t get out of this so easily, this time. You probably know that the man at the statich which was held up has identified you, and that girl, who drove up as you drove off, had a camera and managed to get a snapshot of you before you made your getaway. Here’s the picture. Any jury in the land would convict you on the picture alone. Why don’t you admit it and clear things up for us? Then maybe we can make it a little easier for you.”
The prisoner looked at him and then at the others with a curiously speculative air. Miller noticed what appeared to be the usual signs of weakening, and stepped away, discreetly silent. Hanlon started to speak, thought better of it, and lapsed into sullen silence. Under the hot lights, the sweat poured down his face and dripped off of his nose and chin. His red hair was shiny with moisture and his little sandy moustache looked straggly and pale. Miller continued his silence, and after a minute or two, Hanlon raised his head.
“I’ve been keepin’ my trap shut ever since I came in here, because I hate cops and wouldn’t lift a finger to help ‘em,” he said contemptuously. “But I didn’t keep still because I had a hand in this business, whatever it is. I got an alibi an’ a good one. So why should I let you mugs get away with this stuff, when I kin git out of it so easy.” He glanced around at them and the sneer on his lips grew wider. “Call up Father Chester at St. Mark’s,” he said. “Me and a bunch of the fellows was down at the gym last night, when that heist was pulled off.”
Mahoney started forward, his face reddening with rage. “What!” he roared. “D’you think ye’re goin’ to drag Father Chester into this? Why, you cheap crook…” His voice trailed off in silence as he realized the absurdity of his outburst. Hanlon sneered openly and go up out of the chair, and none of the police made any effort to stop him.
“Why don’t you call him up and see?” Hanlon snapped. “You know Father Chester wouldn’t lie. If he says I was with him last night, I was with him, that’s all.”
“If you’re tryin’ to sting me, jist to git a rest, I’ll hose ye black an’ blue, ye scut,” warned Mahoney, grimly. “Sit him back under those lights, boys, an’ see that he stays sittin’ till I call up the father.”
He slipped on his coat and left the room. For several minutes silence reigned in the room. Hanlon stared at the officers arrogantly, his good eye snapping at them and his glass one staring unconcernedly in another direction. Presently Mahoney came back, mopping his brow with a big blue bandana.
“It’s true, be the saints,” he murmured. “Father Chester says he was there all evening, and at least a dozen people saw him!” He held up the snapshot and groaned, “But if he was at Father Chester’s all evenin’, who in the divvle is this? He whirled on the now nonchalant Hanlon. “Have ye got a twin brother, ye omadhaun?”
Hanlon was now absolutely the master of the situation.
Would I tell you if I had, you cheap flattie?” he sneered. “You’ll have to get me into court before I answer any more of your fool questions. I think you’ve done enough for one trial, Mahoney. Better let me send for my lawyer.”
“It’s too late in the evenin’,” said Mahoney, grasping at the first excuse that came into his mind. “Ye kin see hyer lawyer in the marnin’. Meanwhile, we’ll keep ye here. Ye’re booked on - - on suspicion.
He waved an angry hand, and one of the officers led him back to the cells. Mahoney and Miller and a couple of the other sauntered out to the front office. Several of them renewed the game of rum that they had left; others lounged at the window or picked up magazines. Mahoney too his seat at his desk and was no sooner seated than the phone rang. He snapped it up and barked into it.
“Sixteenth district. Yes, this is the police. What’s that, Ma’am? What - - killed? How? Yes - - murder, be the saints! Yes, I’ll send a man over right away.”
As he spoke the word “murder”, the other officers had leaped to their feet, and Miller had swung around from his position at the window. Mahoney beckoned to him.
“Look, Tom,” he blurted out. “Now there’s been a murder up on Lacey Street! When trouble comes, it comes in bunches. That was a girl, and I think she’s almost nuts. Says some man brought her old man home, dead. Get up there, quick. Here’s the address, the name’s Fielding.”
Tim Miller gasped. He knew the Fieldings, slightly. If he wasn’t mistaken, the old man of whom Mahoney spoke was none other than Louis Gregg Fielding, the scientist, whose researches into electronics and radio theory were the pride of the city. Miller climbed into his coat and was out of the door, before you could say, Jack Robinson.”
At the house on Lacey Street, he was admitted by a well-nigh hysterical young girl who showed him into an old-fashioned parlor and then relapsed into a spasm of weeping. He spent several moments trying to calm her before she could speak clearly enough to tell him that the body of her father was on a bed in a room upstairs. Miller went up and examined the man; he was dead all right, and had evidently been shot some time before, for he lay rigidly on the bed, his eyes shut as if sleeping, and a dark, crimson spot read like a halo behind his head.
An inspection showed that death had occurred from a shot at the base of the brain. There were powder burns on the hair, as if the murderer had placed the gun right against the man’s head when he fired. Miller examined everything carefully, made several notes in his notebook and then went downstairs and called the homicide bureau and the coroner. He went back into the parlor and found the girl still weeping on the couch.
“Miss - - Fielding,” he began, hesitantly. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if I may. After all, you know, the most important thing, just at present, is to find your father’s murderer, and bring him to justice. I believe the sergeant said someone brought your father home, dead?”
She nodded and wiped her eyes - - made a brave attempt to stifle her sobs. Miller took out his notebook.
“Miss Fielding, I don’t know whether you remember me or not, but you and I were in a couple of classes together, in high school. I’m Tom Miller.”
She nodded and wiped her nose.
“I remember you,” she said, with a faint quaver still in her voice. “But it hardly seemed the time or place to start reminiscing about high school days.”
Miller held up a protesting hand.
“I only mentioned it because I thought it might make the questioning easier,” he objected. He sat down beside her and took a pencil out of his pocket. “Now, Miss Fielding, when did you see your father alive last?”
“About seven-thirty, last night. He told me he was going down to his laboratory, and wouldn’t be back until late.”
“And he didn’t come back last night at all?”
“No, but that wasn’t very unusual. He often stayed at the laboratory, especially if he was working no something interesting and worked late.”
“But he didn’t come back this morning?”
“No, he didn’t, and I began to worry when he didn’t even call me.”
“Well, what did you do then?”
“I didn’t do anything. Father has always been perfectly able to care for himself, and, although I worried today, as a woman will, I didn’t really feel that anything serious and happened to him.”
“Well, when did the - - when did this man arrive with the body, and how did it happen that you didn’t hold him?”
“It was about four o’clock, this evening. A taxi stopped outside, and a man came to the door and asked if Fieldings lived her, and when I said ‘yes’, he said that he had my father in the taxi. I got frightened, but he said not to worry, that my father had been celebrating something, and had merely had a little too much to drink.”
“Was your father a hard drinker?”
“I should say not!” Her eyes sparkled indignantly. “I had never seen my father in such a condition before. Dad did take a drink now and then, but never to excess.”
“Well, what did you think, then, when he showed you your father in that condition?”
“I didn’t know what to think, but of course, I believed the man. I suppose I had a sort of vague feeling that father had made an important discovery and had gone out and celebrated a little too thoroughly. But the idea that father might be - - might be dead, or dying, never entered my head - -” she stopped, perilously close to tears again. After a moment she went on: “The man was very pleasant, in crude way. He offered to take father up to his room; and he did, and laid him on the bed, just as his is now.”
“And all this time, you didn’t notice anything strange at all?”
“Everything was strange!” she flashed. “But it seemed that everything was accounted for by the man’s tale. I saw that father seemed to be resting all right, and then I went downstairs again, and paid the man, and he went away. I got supper and after about an hour I went up to see how father was - - and - - there was all that blood on the pillow.”
This time her feelings got the best of her and she burst into a new spasm of weeping. After a while, her sobs ceased and Fielding was able to renew his questions.
“There’s one thing most important, Miss Fielding,” he said. “Can you describe this taxi driver that brought your father here?”
“Of course,” she replied. “He’s not hard to describe. He was tall - - about six feet, I would say. And he was red-haired and had a little sandy moustache. And one of his eyes was crossed, or something. It gave him an appearance of looking two ways at once.
Fielding started up with an exclamation. He started to make a note in his book, changed his mind and dived into his pocket, coming out with the snapshot which the girl at the filling station had made of the robber, the night before.
He showed it to Miss Fielding, and she identified it at once as the man who had brought her father home. A minute later, Miller was on the phone and talking to Mahoney.
“Where’s Hanlon?” he blurted out, the minute he heard the sergeant’s voice.
“He’s right here, where he ought to be of course,” came back the answer.
“Has he been there all the time?”
“He has that. What the divvle’s the matter with ye, Miller?”
“What time did they bring him in, this morning?”
“Ten o’clock. And he’s been right here, ever since we pinched ‘im. What’s got into ye, Miller?”
“Holy cow! Hold him there, Sarge. There’s something screwy going on here. This girl up here - - Miss Fielding - - just identified him as the fellow that brought her father’s dead body back here, about four o’clock. I’ll be right down, Sarge. Hold that guy.”
As he hung up the phone, he heard the doorbell ringing, and, motioning Miss Fielding to remain seated, he went to the door and let in the men from central office. He hastily informed them of why he had learned of the crime, turned over the notes he had made, showed them the body, and then left. He drove as fast as he could back to the district headquarters and rushed into the office quite breathless from excitement.
“Mahoney!” he cried. “Is Hanlon still here? Are you sure? There’s something screwy going on here, as sure as the Lord made little apples. That girl identified him, positively, as the man who brought her dead father’s body home.”
“He was rushing to the group of cells in the rear of the building as he spoke. Mahoney jumped from his seat behind the desk and hurried after him. They reached the cell Hanlon had been incarcerated and, of course, Hanlon was there, sitting indolently on his cot. He was dozing, apparently, but Miller’s eyes were keen enough to see that he was watching them sharply from beneath lowered lashers. Miller seized him by a shoulder and jerked him roughly to his feet.
“All right, Hanlon!” he barked harshly. “It’s time to come clean - - or else! We haven’t got time to fiddle with you anymore.” He slammed the crook back on the cot, snarling as he did so, “Answer me now, and answer me straight, if you know what’s good for you. Have you got a twin brother that looks like you? Have you got a brother that was born with red hair and a glass eye - -”
He stopped suddenly as he realized the absurdity of what he was saying. There was something more than mere resemblance to the man who had brought Phyllis Fielding’s father back to his home. It could have been possible that Hanlon had a twin brother who looked just like him, but what were the chances that that brother would also have a glass eye? He stood baffled for a moment, and then he turned and walked out of the cell. Behind him, he heard Hanlon give a snarling horse-laugh.
Out in the office, he turned to Mahoney.
“There’s something screwy going on, Sarge.” he insisted. “This Fielding girl described Hanlon to a “T”. She even identified him as the same guy as the one in the snapshot. There’s no doubt it was either him or his double that brought old man Fielding home.”
He stood in thought for a minute, and then spoke again.
“Look, Mahoney, I go off duty in about fifteen minutes. How about releasing Hanlon and letting me tail him? You’re going to have to let him go before long, anyhow. Maybe I can learn something. What do you say?”
Mahoney shook his head resignedly.
“If you want to work yer own time, Tom, it’s O.K. with me. This mix-up has got me about nuts, and I guess I can’t be holdin’ Hanlon much longer. I’ll do it, Tom, but, fer Pat’s sake, take care of yerself. I wouldn’t want to lose ye, me boy, “and something tells me this business is pretty dangerous.”
Miller nodded absently at Mahoney’s warning and went back to the locker room to change into his civvies. By the time he returned, Mahoney had Hanlon at his desk, ready to turn him loose. Miller remained out in the hall, out of Hanlon’s sight, until the latter left the building; then he, too, left, and turned down the street in the direction opposite to the one Hanlon had taken. He walked a few dozen paces, crossed the street and climbed into a taxi. He ordered the driver to drive a few blocks up the street and turn a corner. There he got out and ducked into a corner cigar store, where he casually bought a pack of cigarettes.
All this time, his eyes had never left Hanlon, who was sauntering nonchalantly up the street. Hanlon passed the store where he was hiding, and Miller noticed him turn once or twice, cautiously, to see if he was being shadowed. By the time Hanlon had walked a block past the cigar store, Miller decided that it was safe to come out and follow him. He kept to his own side of the street, though, and allowed the crock plenty of distance.
For ten minutes he followed the redheaded mystery, and at last had the satisfaction of seeing him turn into a house on residential Kasson Street. There was a cigar store on the corner of the street, too, and Miller ducked in, and, after showing his badge, took up a station in one corner of the store, where he could watch the entrance of the house.
He was there for over an hour before anything happened. He had just decided that nothing was going to happen, anymore that night, when a machine drove up in front of the house. The horn blew, and in a moment the door opened and three figures stepped out and made their way to the car.
One of them, he saw at once, was Hanlon. Another - - Miller gulped and started again - - the other was almost certainly “Bug” Becker, the man who held the ice of this town in his covetous grasp; the man whom even the police might well hesitate to antagonize; whose grip on politics and politicians had only recently begun to be felt.
The third man, who walked between the two, and who seemed to be partially supported by them, was a little fellow, muffled in a long coat and a hat that was too big for him. The intention obviously was to keep the little man from being seen, and it served the purpose admirably. Miller couldn’t even make out the nose of the man. Hanlon and Becker, if Becker it was, hurried the third man into the machine, and it started up and drove away.
Miller dashed out and looked about. It was rapidly getting dark, and in the dusk, any cruising taxicabs that might have been about managed to keep themselves invisible. He gave up the idea of following the machine, and turned his attention to the house again.
He strolled down the street past it; he took a walk around the block and studied it from the rear, between two houses. It was dark, back and front, and though night came on as he walked and it grew quite dark, no lights were turned on.
For a little while, Miller was uncertain; then he shrugged and made his decision. He had no legal right to enter this house, but he was morally justified if he could learn something in there. He went around to the back; tried the rear door and windows. They were all locked, but then he noticed the basement windows, and, sure enough, one of them was open.
In less time that it takes to tell about it, he was in. He reached into his hip pocket and got out his flashlight, and got the surprise of his life as he flashed it about the cement covered floor. He had expected the usual furnishings of a basement; he had suspected, perhaps, the booty of robberies and the tools of a criminal’s trade. But the entire basement was filled with complicated apparatus, mostly such apparatus as is used in radio and television experimentation.
The stuff had been assembled hurriedly, he noticed after he had studied it for a while. It appeared to have been brought in and set up, piece by piece, and then wired together in a most amateurish style. There were several great glass cylinders with peculiar metal tops, and a number of intricate machines that Miller couldn’t understand at all, but which seemed to be a part of the hook-up.
He thought of Fielding, the murdered man. Hadn’t he been an experimenter in radio, - - in some advanced form of radio? Didn’t this tie in with the murder of Fielding, somehow? He continued to search around the room, but he found noting that definitely hooked up this place with the murder or with the mystery of Hanlon.
He found the steps and went up to the third floor. He opened the basement door and found himself in the kitchen. Nothing seemed odd or out of place here. There were a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and several empty cans on the drain board. That seemed to indicate that the inhabitants of the house were strictly masculine.
He went into the dining room, saw nothing there to interest him, and turned toward the living room. The double doors between the living room and the dining room were closed and it took both hands to open them. The doors stuck and he pushed them violently. They flew open and as they did so, a voice from the living room said calmly: “You make a fine target, silhouetted against those back windows, nosey.”
Miller gave a yelp of dismay and started back. A grim cry of “Hold it!” steadied him and he relaxed, his hands half raised. In the dimness, he could just make cut a corm and the dull gleam of an automatic. The man got up from where he sat and moved toward a light switch: his aim with the pistol never wavering. The light snapped on once more Miller couldn’t help an involuntary cry, though this time it was not so much from dismay as from amazement.
The man who held the gun was “Bugs” Becker, whom Miller could have sworn had went out with Hanlon and the muffled little man, half an hour before!
“You- - you- - ,” he started to stammer, controlled himself by an effort, and said, more calmly, “I thought I saw you leave here, a while ago, Bugs.”
Becker smiled. He advanced on Miller swiftly, patted his pockets dexterously and drew out Miler’s own weapon. He tossed it on the table, and stepped back again, still keeping his own pistol trained on Miller’s middle.
“Maybe you did,” he said, quietly. “And maybe you didn’t. Maybe I came back, unexpected like. And maybe I’m just another fellow. It’s conffoosin’, but amoosin’, isn’t it?”
He laughed, then his face grew grimmer.
“I don’t know what you want here, fly-cop,” he said, harshly. “But you’ve butted in at a damn poor time. And it’s going to be a damn’ sight harder to get out than it was to get in. Get upstairs. Come on, now, get up!”
At the point of his gun, he drove Miller up the stairs and into a room.
“Make yourself at home here, dick,” he said with a snarl. “You’re going to be here for a while. I don’t know what nosey lug sent you here, but I’ll get his badge for it, as sure as I’m a foot high. And as for you- - I don’t think your chances of leaving here are any too good.”
He turned without further word and left the room. Miller heard the key click in the lock and immediately dashed to the door and tried it. It was locked, all right. He snapped the ceiling light on, and looked around him. There was another door on the opposite side of the room. It was probably a closet, but Miller left nothing to chance. If it was an exit, he wanted to get out before Becker managed to get around to it and locked it.
The door was unlocked. He threw it open and started back, prepared for any emergency, or so he thought. He was little prepared for what actually took place, however. For the door did enter on a closet, and a man was standing there in that closet, a man who began to topple even as Miller looked at him; a man who fell like a log as soon as the door was open, who tumbled at Miller’s feet and lay there, stiff and stark.
Redheaded mustached, tall; with a glass eye that now stared no colder than the one that had been living, at Miller’s feet was the cold, still body of “Scats” Hanlon!
For a moment, Miller stood frozen with amazement and the shock of horror. He had been so positive that Hanlon and Becker had both left the house that finding them both here almost unsettled him. After a minute or two, though, the rational explanation came to him and he snorted with contempt at his fear. Obviously, Hanlon and Becker had returned while he was down in the cellar, or while he was getting in the cellar window. They had been so quiet that he hadn’t heard them - -
The weakness of his explanation forced itself upon him. This body had been dead for hours. The man was stiff as a board. If that man had led the muffled little fellow out to the auto had been Hanlon, this was certainly somebody else.
He remembered trouble about the two Hanlons and smiled suddenly. Things seemed to be clearing up a bit. It began to look as if there were two Hanlons. One of them had evidently been the robber that had held up the filling station and had brought the dead body of Fielding back to his home. The other had been the one whom Father Chester had seen and who had been arrested.
And they had quarreled or something and now one of them was dead.
So that there were two Hanlons, but more than likely not tow Beckers. Becker was probably the one who had come back while he was getting in the window. He sighed. The explanation didn’t satisfy him, somehow, but it was the best he could make, with the facts at his disposal.
Having worked out a theory that halfway satisfied him, he turned his mind to other things. First and foremost was the problem of getting out of this room. The door of course was locked. The window - - a glance showed him that if he was to get out at all, it would have to be by the window; and he weighed the possibility over carefully.
Below the window was a drop of about fifteen feet. Not too much for a drop, but he would drop into a clump of bushed and things and without a doubt would make enough noise to attract Becker’s attention. And he did not doubt that the latter would shoot, if he saw him escaping.
Below the window was a small ledge about two inches wide. If he could hold onto something, that ledge would offer a foothold and he might be able to make it to the next window. That window opened on another room, and it might be possible to get downstairs from there.
He opened the window cautiously and stepped out on the ledge. The upper part of the house was stained shingle and he was able to dig his fingers into the bottoms of the shingles and make a slow progress toward the other window. Step by step he advanced, and, at last, after a seemingly endless period of time, he reached it, and raised it (Thank God, it wasn’t locked), and a moment later, he was in the room.
Across the room he sped on tip-toe; he tried the door softly and sighed an immense sigh of relief as it yielded to his touch. He turned back into the room and spent a minute glancing around to see if he could find anything of importance before he left.
The place was a bedroom. There was a bed that had been slept in and not remade; there was a desk and a table by the bed with a number of books on it. More out of curiosity than anything else, Miller glanced at the books and was at once glad that he had done so. They were all technical works and one of them was “The Next Step After Television” by Louis Gregg Fielding.
Miller gave a grunt of interest and reached for the book. Was there something here that might tie in with the murder of the scientist? He opened the book and noted with interest that Fielding’s own name was inscribed on the bookplate on the fly-leaf. Either Fielding had brought this book here, or he had presented it to someone connected with this place.
Miller placed the book in his pocket and started for the door. He had almost reached it when he heard a car draw up, outside. He tiptoed to the window and saw the car stopped there, and noticed with interest that it was the same car that had driven away, earlier in the evening. Three figures were emerging from it. The driver started to hand out a number of bundles, and soon the other two were loaded down. They turned and started for the door of the house. They emerged from the shade of the surrounding trees, and for a moment, the light from a street lamp shown full upon them.
It was “Bugs” Becker, “Scats” Hanlon, and the little man in the big coat. The same three who had left a couple of hours before!
Again Miller felt that wave of perplexity sweep over him. He was willing to grant that there were two Hanlons. That was not beyond the bounds of possibility, and it seemed impossible to avoid that conclusion. But he was certain that Becker had not left the house after locking him in the next room. Yet, here he was, driving up to the house with the living Hanlon and the little man.
He ran swiftly back to the door, opening it and listening intently to hear what went on, downstairs. He heard the doorbell ring, and then heard footsteps of someone going to the door. He felt the hair on his back begin to rise as he pondered just who it was that was answering the bell. The incredible picture of a “Bugs” Becker going to the door to let another “Bugs” Becker in came into his mind, and he snorted it silently at the absurdity of it.
He heard the door open and hear Becker’s voice say, “Well, did you get ‘em?” Then he heard the same voice again, apparently answering the question. “I’ll say we did,” came the answer. “We’ll be all set now, for several weeks.”
“There was a dick here while you were gone,” the voice of Becker went on. “He started to search the house and I got him when he came into the living room. He’s upstairs now. We’re going to have to rub him out.”
Hanlon’s voice spoke up.
“Where is he? In the front room? Gosh, bugs, that’s where I stuck the body of - -”
“Okay,” snarled Becker. “So if he finds the body, what? More than likely, it’ll scare him to death, and save us a job.”
“Maybe I better go upstairs and sort of clean things up,” came Hanlon’s voice, suggestively.
“Not yet,” Becker’s voice came from the kitchen. “We go to get this stuff downstairs and see if it’s going to work. You can clean up, up there, after that. Come on, now.”
Miller stepped out into the hall and tiptoed his way to the stairs. He heard the men going down the basement stairs, and after a moment, heard a low buzz of conversation from far below. He made his way cautiously down the steps and into the hall. He opened the door, stepped out on the porch, and closed the door carefully behind him. In a minute he was off the porch and around in the back of the house, where the basement window by which he had entered earlier in the evening was still slightly ajar.
By lying on his belly, he could look in and see everything that was going on, in the basement. He was halfway prepared to see something strange, but certainly not for anything so strange as what he did see.
For there were four men in the cellar, and two of them were “Bugs” Becker! Hanlon sat on a bench on one side of the room and dangled a pistol on one finger. The two Beckers were working over some of the complicated radio apparatus, and apparently were taking orders or instructions from the little man whom Miller had seen entering with them. The little man was no longer muffled up in hat and overcoat, and Miller could see him quite plainly.
It was Louis Gregg Fielding, the scientist, whose dead body Miller had seen, in his house, only a few hours before!
Patrolman Tom Miller has always maintained stoutly that he never fainted in his life; but if he didn’t faint then, it was the next thing to it. His head buzzed and swam, dizzily, and for a little while he had no conception of what was going on about him. When he could control himself again, he stood up, groggily, for a minute, breathing deeply and trying to recover his dazed faculties. Then he remembered what was going on and dropped eagerly to his stomach again and put his eye to the crack under the basement window.
Evidently the work on the machine was finished. The two Beckers were standing talking to Fielding (or to Fielding’s ghost), and Hanlon was studying a group of dials and switches on a control board at one side of the room. One of the Beckers turned to Hanlon and said, “Sure you understand all that, Scats?”
Hanlon nodded and repeated something that had evidently been taught, something about throwing this dial and that switch and so forth. Fielding nodded and the two Beckers turned to the tall glass cylinders; one going to one of them, the other to the other. They turned a knob of some sort, the cylinders opened into halves and a Becker stepped into each one.
And then, just as Miller began to feel that all this was most important and that he was about to solve the mystery, a voice said, “All right, wise guy. I guess you’ve seen enough, now. Up on yer toes an’ start answerin’ questions.”
Miller leaped up and whirled on the speaker. The stranger jumped back, and Miller saw a gun in his hand. He stopped dead and slowly raised his hands. The stranger laughed shortly and stepped forward again, and as he did so, a sliver of light, trickling through the trees from the front of the house, fell on his face.
Miller felt a sagging sense of disbelief, of refusal to face facts sweep over him. For the man who held the gun on him was another “Scats” Hanlon!
Hanlon curtly ordered Miller to move. He led him around to the back of the house and kicked at the door. Presently a voice called out, he answered and the door opened. One of the Beckers let them in, and started with surprise as he saw Miller.
“I thought I locked you in, upstairs, a while ago,” he snapped.
Miller shrugged and made no attempt to explain. Becker turned to Hanlon and ordered, “Get him downstairs, Scats. I guess we’ll have to rub him out, but I ain’t got time now. I got the old nut putting me together again.”
He led them down the steps that led from the kitchen to the basement, and presently Miller found himself once again in the room that held the amazing mess of machinery. If he was dazed before, he was almost speechless now, for here were two Hanlons and two Beckers, as well as a living Fielding, who should have been, by all the laws of nature, still lying dead in his home, several miles away.
The Hanlon who held the gun on him gave a curt order to him to sit down. Becker (the one who had admitted them) spoke to Fielding. “Let’s get on with this now,” he said; and once again the two Beckers took their places in the glass cylinders. The other Hanlon began turning the dials on the control board, and Fielding began to work a number of switches and levers on the table.
Miller, at a complete loss as to what was going on, had his eyes on one of the Beckers, when a sharp whine arose suddenly from one part of the apparatus. Before his very eyes, the Becker in the glass cylinder disappeared - - disappeared as thoroughly as if he had been but a puff of smoke in a gust of wind. He glanced at the other cylinder - - that Becker, too, was gone!
Then he heard a creaking sound from the third cylinder, on the opposite side of the room - - and the third cylinder was opening, and a single Becker was stepping out from it!
“I feel kind of funny,” he said, dazedly. “My mind seems all mixed up, somehow.”
Fielding turned toward him and spoke, for the first time.
“Of course it does,” he said,. “You have two memory tracks to contend with. You’ll be all right in a moment or so.”
Becker looked at him and gave a snarl.
“I’d better,” he said. “If this bothered me, it would be just too bad for you, little man.”
He turned to the two Hanlons. “Better lock these two guys up,” he commanded. “And lock ‘em up where they can’t get out. That dick is a little too smart. Better put ‘em in the bathroom.”
One of the Hanlons motioned them out of the basement with a wave of his pistol. The other muttered, “Upstairs, bums.” Miller and Fielding started up the stairs, walked through the hall and up to the second floor. The Hanlons followed, their guns ready to blaze at any second. Miller made no attempt to oppose them, for it was evident that they were going to lock him up with Fielding; and he felt that there was noting that he needed so much, right at that moment, as a long talk with Fielding, alone.
The bathroom was not a large one, but it was big enough for tow. As soon as they were locked in and Miller had made sure that he had heard the footsteps of the Hanlons going down the hallway, he turned to Fielding and snapped, “All right, now, what’s this all about? If there’s anyone who knows the answer to this mix-up, it’s you. Come on, now. Spill it.”
Fielding looked at him in a disgusted sort of way, started to speak, hesitated and finally did say, “Officer, I’ve been kidnapped, and in the power of those two crooks, for the last twenty-four hours. If they succeed in accomplishing what they’ve set out to do, there’ll be one of the dog-gonedest crime waves in history in this city in another day or so. This is the first chance I’ve had to plan any kind of escape, and you’re the first person I’ve seen who might become an ally. And you want me to waste time explaining. Please don’t bother about that, now. Try and think of some way to get us out of here. I don’t think I’m going to be necessary to those thugs much longer.”
Miller shook his head, dazedly.
“You’d better give me some sort of an inkling as to what this is all about,” he warned. “I’m about nuts with the things I’ve seen tonight. I don’t know whether I’m going or coming. What’s all this about there being two Hanlons and two Beckers? Why did I see you dead, with a bullet in your skull, this afternoon, and see you here now, without a scratch? This business is driving me nutty. You’d better give me a slant on what is what, if you want me to be worth anything to you.”
Fielding nodded a reluctant assent, and sat himself down on the only seat available.
“I suppose you would be worth more as an ally, if you know what this is all about,” he admitted. “So I’ll tell you, but I’m going to make it as brief as possible.”
“Have you ever read anything on the theory of the possibility of the radio transmission of matter?” he asked.
Miller shook his head. “You’ve got me there, Mr. Fielding,” he answered. “Radio and its theory are all over my head. I’m just a harness bull, you know, not a G-man.”
Fielding looked disgruntled.
“That makes it a little more difficult to tell.” He stated. “But perhaps I can simplify it enough. You’ve heard of the theory that all matter is electrical in composition, haven’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. We had that, in physics, in high school.”
“Well, certain investigators have long suspected that, as matter is primarily electrical, it might be broken down into its fundamental parts and broadcast like sound or the picture on a television screen; being picked up at another station, some distance away and reassembled. You can imagine what a wonderful thing it would be, for instance, if oil could be pumped out of its wells in Texas and broadcast to New York, instead of having to go by tanker or pipeline.”
Miller’s eyes took on a glistening luster.
“Say,” he said admiringly. “That would be a honey of an idea, all right. But what has that got to do with this mix-up?”
“Everything,” Fielding answered. “You see, I’ve been working on the wireless transmission of matter for several years; and a month or so ago, I completed my first successful machine. This man Becker must have heard of my work from somewhere, and decided that he could use the instrument in some one of his nefarious schemes. So he and this Hanlon kidnapped me from my laboratory yesterday and have held me prisoner ever since. They stole my apparatus, too, and have forced me to operate it, for their own vile ends.”
“But I still don’t see what that’s got to do with this business of the extra Hanlons and Beckers. And how come I saw your dead body at your house this afternoon, and now I see you here, alive and unhurt? And how come - - Oh, hell, I don’t get it!”
Fielding frowned and smiled at the same time.
“I hardly realized,” he said, “just how impossible this must seem to the average layman. But it is easily explained. You see, I had quite a bit of extra experimental apparatus in my laboratory, and when Becker forced me to explain my instrument to him, I was nervous and excited, and I made a small mistake that even all my imagination had never suggested before.
“I was showing him the possibility of transmitting living matter, for this was the thing he seemed to be most interested in, and in doing so I had put a guinea pig in the transmitter and broadcast it. It was picked up by another receiver I had placed across the room, but it was also picked up by another receiver Which in my excitement I had turned on and forgotten to turn off again. The result, of course, was two guinea pigs.”
“What?” Miller barked the word out in utter disbelief. “What did you say, Mr. Fielding? How could that be? After all, there was only one guinea pig, you know. I’ll admit that you could broadcast him, maybe, but making two where only one was before - - that’s a little too much.”
“Not at all,” Fielding replied; calmly. “If you’ll just think for a minute, you’ll see that there’s nothing strange about it at all. Look. If I play an instrument at a radio station, it can be picked up and amplified in a thousand homes; and in each case, as loud or louder than it was at the original station. If I broadcast a scene on a television apparatus, it, too, can be picked up and reassembled until the scene can be seen in a thousand places about the country. And although it may seem impossible at first, the same thing can be done with the radio transmission of matter. It only requires that there be enough energy or enough matter of the proper elements in the receiver, in order to build up the secondary forms.”
“Then - - then all these extra Hanlons and Beckers are - - are - -”
“Are the same ones, broadcast and picked up at my two stations.”
Miller let out a long, low whistle. He sat for a full minute letting the idea slowly sink into his mind. It was a lot to swallow at one bite, and it took a lot of chewing. Ast last he lifted his head.
“And what about the dead ones?” he asked.
“Well, the first time we tried it with a man, Becker forced Hanlon to go into the machine. I managed to have the second receiver slightly out of time, and one of the Hanlons arrived slightly spoiled. Instead of a living Hanlon, one of them was dead when he arrived. The other, however, was all right, and he detected by ruse. They forced me to do it over again, and the result was the two living Hanlons. But they were left with a dead body to get rid of, and they haven’t had time to dispose of it, yet.”
“But what’s the idea back of it all? What do they expect to make by it?”
“Fielding grunted a little scornfully at Miller’s obtuseness.
“I should think it would be perfectly obvious to a policeman,” He answered. “Think how easy it would be to establish an alibi, if you could prove that you were at another place when your - - er - - alter ego was performing a crime.”
“Holy cow!” Miller cried in amazed realization. “that’s just what Hanlon did, last night! So that explains the mystery of the gas station hold-up.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Fielding, drily. “It also explains that murder of me. They forced me to enter the machine, duplicated me, and killed my other self as he emerged from the machine. It was their intention to make it appear that I was dead, so that people wouldn’t be looking for me. They intended to hold me a prisoner until I had told them all I know about the machine.”
Miller said no more for several minutes. He sat, trying to digest the various facts that he was now in possession of, trying to fit the various parts of the story together and find out just what had really been happening. At last he rose and said, “Well Fielding, it looks like our next problem is to get out of here.
Fielding made some sort of an answer, but the policeman paid little attention to it. He stepped over and examined the one little window in the room, and found out that at some time, someone had nailed it carefully shut. He tried the door, glancing around the room as he did so, and wondering if there were anything available which he could use as a tool. He opened the medicine chest, but it was empty; he looked under the bathtub and found nothing; he was just about to give up in disgust when it dawned on him that there was a bathrobe hanging in a corner behind the door.
He had half-consciously noticed that bathrobe before, but it had meant nothing to him, then. Now he hurried over and jerked it from its hook, and tore the robe from the hanger. It was a wire hanger, and her couldn’t refrain from giving a little whoop of satisfaction when he saw that this was so.
Fielding looked at him, a little puzzled. “It looks just like an ordinary wire hanger to me,” he said, inanely.
Miller laughed. “Does it?” he asked. “Well, to me, it looks like a screwdriver. It looks like a skeleton key, too, and a pretty effective dagger, if that becomes necessary. Watch.”
He twisted the heavy wire back and forth until it broke at one end. He twisted it at the other end, and presently he had a straight piece of wire about fifteen inches long in his hand. He glanced around the room, decided that the tile of the floor was the best place for his operation, and, after a moment of looking around, began to dig out one of the tiles at the most promising place.
It took him some ten minutes to dig out the tile, then, using it as a whetstone, he began to grind down one end of the wire. Presently he had it ground down to where it would slip into the slot of a screw. He moved over to the door, and in a jiffy, he had the plate removed from the door’s lock.
“Another minute of looking around, and he found a place by the lock of the window where he could insert his wire and bend it at right angles. He now had a hook and, with the door plate removed, he could see what he was doing as he inserted the hook and began to fish around the lock.
It took patience to accomplish his object. Several times he had to stop to grind down the wire again, and once he had to bend it to a sharper angle. Minute after minute went by, with Fielding standing over him and breathing down his neck, and the expectation over in his mind that at any moment the men below might decide that it was time to come up and finish what they had started. At last, he felt the last pin yield; he bent his wire carefully again, at his end and began to turn it. He turned to Fielding with a triumphant gesture and clapped a finger to his lips to keep the old man from crying out.
Then, slowly and carefully, he turned the knob, drew the door toward him, and put his head out to look around. The hall was empty. He stepped out, motioning Fielding to follow him. He glanced around in the hope of finding something that he could use as a weapon, but the hall was as sparse of furnishings as second floor halls usually are, so he beckoned again for Fielding to stay close to him, and started down the stairs.
Below in the basement, he heard someone speak. He froze, instantly; straining his ears to hear if the sounds indicated the approach of the speaker. For a full minute, the two stood there, but though they could hear the answer, though they heard the conversation continue, it soon became plain that the speakers were not likely to come upstairs, for a while, anyhow.
They continued their way down to the first floor. They might have fled out of the front door, then;’ but Miller had gotten too involved in this thing to even think of fleeing feebly at that moment. The idea simply never entered his head. He turned and started for the rear of the house, intent on finding out what was going on down in the basement, now. But he had little more than reached the door of the kitchen when he heard the sounds of footsteps ascending the basement stairs.
He looked around a little wildly, spied a closet, and flung the door open, pushing Fielding into it and darting in, himself, not a moment too soon. Even as he closed the door, he heard the door of the basement open.
They stood, hardly daring to breathe, for a while; then Miller noticed that a beam of light was coming in the key hole. He dropped to his knees and peered out into the hall. He could hear the footsteps of the approaching thug, but as yet he could not see anything save the balk wall opposite the keyhole.
Fielding suddenly pt a hand on his shoulder and let it run down his are until it reached his hand. “Take this,” the little scientist whispered, in tones that were barely distinguishable. “I found it on the floor, here.”
He thrust something into Miller’s hand and the patrolman almost chuckled with satisfaction. The object Fielding had handed him was - - of all things - - an Indian club. And just then the light from the keyhole was wiped out as the dark form of the man outside stepped in front of it.
Miller waited until the light appeared again, counted five, to give the man a chance to pass, turned the knob quietly and leaped suddenly into the hall. The Indian club rose and fell, there was a soft “thunk”, and Miller’s arms darted out to catch the thug and lower him gently to the floor.
He frisked him at once and came up triumphantly with an automatic, just as Fielding emerged from the closet with a delighted grin on his face. Miller gave a warning “shush” before he could say anything, showed him the gun and motioned to the basement steps. Without so much as a backward glance at the supine figure of the crook (it was one of the Hanlons), they started through the kitchen to the entrance to the basement.
He went up to the door, found it slightly ajar, and slowly pushed his ear next to it where he could hear the slow buzz of conversation as Becker talked to the remaining Hanlon. By stooping low he could see further into the basement and make out the forms of the two, evidently starting to dismantle the machines. They were busy, and Miller saw a ray of hope that he might be able to get down into the basement without either of the crooks noticing him. He took one step down, then another - - and another - -
From the kitchen came a cry. It was Hanlon’s voice, and Miller cursed as he realized that the blow he had struck with the Indian club hand only dazed, and not rendered completely unconscious that crook. The cry was “The dick’s out Bugs!” Get him he’s on the steps!”
He saw Becker whirl, saw the other Hanlon reached for his gun, and fired blindly with his own weapon. Hanlon winced, hesitated a second as if to see if he was injured, and in that second, Miller had a chance to aim more carefully. He fired, and saw Hanlon start back, and then begin to topple.
He knew that his second shot had taken effect, but before he could fire again, or even turn his gun toward Becker, he was hurled from his feet and went tumbling down the remaining steps, to land with a crash at the bottom. The last Hanlon hurled himself on him from the top of the steps.
He sorted himself dazedly from a complex tangle of crook, cop, and scientist. He looked up and managed to grin ruefully at what he saw. Becker standing over him with two guns, his own and the one that had fallen from Miller’s hand as he tumbled down the stairs.
“Get up,” commanded Becker curtly. Miller rose, straightening his clothes and combing back the hair from his eyes with his fingers.
“You got to give me credit for trying,” he said grimly. “If that hoodlum’s skull wasn’t so thick…”
“Give you credit?” Becker’s voice was menacing, with a strange air of uncertainty in it. “I owe you more than credit, copper. And I think I’ll pay you off, right now.”
He raised one of the guns as he spoke, and that would probably been the end of Miller and of this story, had not the remaining Hanlon suddenly given a groan and sunk slowly to the floor. For a moment, even Miller was at a loss to conceive what had struck him; then it dawned on him that the blow with the Indian club and the fall down the stairs had been sufficient to produce injuries that might account for this sudden loss of consciousness. Miller, of course, considered it merely a temporary respite for him, but Becker evidently looked upon it differently. He had started out the evening with a number of friends and allies, he suddenly found himself alone with two enemies. He backed away from Miller and Fielding, his gun still ready; backed away until he was halfway across the room.
“Don’t you punks move!” he warned in a voice that was not without a certain element of panic. “I’m still boss here, even if there is only me left. Get over in that corner and hold up your hands.”
Fielding looked at Miller and Miller nodded a reluctant consent. The basic cowardice of Becker’s nature had rendered him panicky as soon a she found himself fighting without allies, and Miller knew that a panicky man is often far more dangerous than a cool one. Becker motioned them into the farthest corner of the room, and then, with his eyes fixed on them and his gun wavering in his hand, he stood thinking what he could do.
Presently he snorted a command.
“Fielding,” he said. “Get that rope, over on the wall, and tie the bull up.”
Miller half expected Fielding to hesitate, but the little man acted at once. He tied Miller tightly, avoiding his eyes as he did so. And all the time he was tying him, Becker’s gun pointed at him. At last Miller was bound helplessly, hand and foot, and Becker motioned Fielding over to him.
“Now, listen, you little rat,” Becker said, viciously. “You’re going to set up this apparatus and make me into two again. If you do a good job, I’ll promise you that you’ll get out of this whole and sound. But if you fumble anything, I’ll shoot you, and your pal, too, before I leave this place, so help me! Now get to work and set that stuff up again.”
Fielding bowed his head in apparent resignation, ashamed, it seemed, to even look at the bound from of Miller. Sullenly, he began to do as he was told. For half an hour he worked, and all during that time, Becker sat fiddling with his pistol and snarling commands to the scientist to hurry.
At last, the setup was complete. Fielding took a chair and put it in the transmitting cylinder, set the machine to work and, a moment later, took a chair from each of the receiving cylinders. Becker took a look at each of the chairs, decided that the test was all right, and stepped to the transmitter.
His eyes gritted steely as he grated harshly through his teeth: “Remember, now, little man, no mistakes; or you’ll regret it to your dying day - - which’ll be damn soon!”
Fielding’s lips were white as he murmured, “There’ll be no mistakes, Mr. Becker.” He adjusted a dial on the transmitter, closed the door on the transmitter, and snapped a switch on each of the receivers. Becker was still standing in the transmitter, his gun trained through the glass on Fielding. The little scientist called, “Are you ready?” and Miller saw Becker nod. Fielding pulled a lever and there was a characteristic whine from the machine. Becker disappeared from the transmitting cylinder and - -
“Where is he?” Miller asked, after a second or two.
“I broadcast him!” Fielding answered, grimly. He attitude of meekness and cowardice had disappeared completely. He looked about the room as if in search of something, and then said, casually, “Got a knife in your pocket?”
“No,” answered Miller, shortly, and turned at once to the subject that was most interesting to him. “Where is Becker Fielding? He didn’t appear in either of the cylinders. Where is he?”
“He couldn’t appear in either of the receivers,” said Fielding calmly. “I had ‘em turned off.” He stooped down and began to untie Miller’s arms and legs. “As far as telling you where he is - - Well, he’s gone off in all directions, like Paul Revere. It would take a pretty smart detective to establish a corpus delicti, now.”
The last rope fell from Miller’s body and he stood up, stiffly. Fielding tossed the rope aside and went back to his dials and switches.
“You know, Miller, I think it would be a pretty good idea to broadcast these two dad bodies of Hanlon, too. You’re going to have a terrible time of it, if you try to explain all that’s happened here tonight, and then prove it. Why don’t you run upstairs and get that other Hanlon, and we’ll just eliminate it and the one you shot. Then you can fix up a story without any mystery.”
Miller thought for a minute, and then nodded and started for the stairs. The Hanlon who still lay unconscious on the floor would have to be enough for this case, he decided. He had been wondering ever since he got into this mix-up, how he was going to explain it. With two or three extra Hanlons and Beckers out of the way, the explanation was going to be a lot simpler.
He picked up the stiff body of the upstairs Hanlon and brought it down to the basement. When he got there, he glanced around in surprise. Both the living and the dead Hanlon were gone and Fielding was quite alone.
“Hey!” he ejaculated, protestingly. “What about the one that was alive?”
Fielding grinned, “What in the world are you talking about, officer. Are you intimating that there were any other men down here with me? I think you’d have a hard time proving it, in a court of law.”
Miller looked at the little man, at first angrily and then admiringly. “Boy!” he murmured. “I’d hate to have you get mad at me, with that machine in your control.”
Fielding winked and said, “That’s what the Japanese Government is going to think, after I’ve turned this machine over to Washington.”