Chapter Ten. The Phone Call from Nowhere
"Somebody groaning!" gasped Miss Cornelia. "It's horrible!"
The detective stepped up and took the receiver from her. He listened anxi6usly for a moment.
"I don't hear anything," he said.
"1 heard it! I couldn't imagine such a dreadful sound! I tell you - somebody in this house is in terrible distress."
"Where does this phone connect?" queried Anderson practically.
Miss Cornelia made a hopeless little gesture. "Practically every room in this house!"
The detective put the receiver to his ear again.
"Just what did you hear?" he said stolidly.
Miss Cornelia's voice shook.
"Dreadful groans - and what seemed to be an inarticulate effort to speak!"
Lizzie drew her gaudy wrapper closer about her shuddering form.
"I'd go somewhere," she wailed in the voice of a lost soul, "if I only had somewhere to go!"
Miss Cornelia quelled her with a glare and turned back to the detective.
"Won't you send these men to investigate - or go yourself?" she said, indicating Brooks and Billy. The detective thought swiftly.
"My place is here," he said. "You two men," Brooks and Billy moved forward to take his orders, "take another look through the house - don't leave the building - I'll want you pretty soon."
Brooks - or Jack Bailey, as we may as well call him through the remainder of. this narrative - started to obey. Then his eye fell on Miss Cornelia's revolver which Anderson had taken from beside Fleming's body and still held clasped in his hand.
"If you'll give me that revolver - " he began in an offhand tone, hoping Anderson would not see through his little ruse. Once wiped clean of fingerprints, the revolver would not be such telling evidence against Dale Ogden.
But Anderson was not to be caught napping. "That revolver will stay where it is," he said with a grim smile.
Jack Bailey knew better than to try and argue the point, he followed Billy reluctantly out of the door, giving Dale a surreptitious glance of encouragement and faith as he did so. The Japanese and he mounted to the second floor as stealthily as possible, prying into dark corners and searching unused rooms for any clue that might betray the source of the startling phone call from nowhere. But Bailey's heart was not in the search. His mind kept going back to the figure of Dale - nervous, shaken, undergoing the terrors of the third degree at Anderson's hands. She couldn't have shot Fleming of course, and yet, unless he and Billy found something to substantiate her story of how the killing had happened, it was her own, unsupported word against a damning mass of circumstantial evidence. He plunged with renewed vigor into his quest.
Back in the living-room, as he had feared, Anderson was subjecting Dale to a merciless interrogation.
"Now I want the real story!" he began with calculated brutality. "You lied before!"
"That's no tone to use! You'll only terrify her," cried Miss Cornelia indignantly. The detective paid no attention, his face had hardened, he seemed every inch the remorseless sleuthhound of the law. He turned on Miss Cornelia for a moment.
"Where were you when this happened?" he said.
"Upstairs in my room." Miss Cornelia's tones were icy.
"And you?" badgeringly, to Lizzie.
"In my room," said the latter pertly, "brushing Miss Cornelia's hair."
Anderson broke open the revolver and gave a swift glance at the bullet chambers.
"One shot has been fired from this revolver!"
Miss Cornelia sprang to her niece's defense.
"I fired it myself this afternoon," she said.
The detective regarded her with grudging admiration.
"You're a quick thinker," he said with obvious unbelief in his voice. He put the revolver down on the table.
Miss Cornelia followed up her advantage.
"I demand that you get the coroner here," she said.
"Doctor Wells is the coroner," offered Lizzie eagerly. Anderson brushed their suggestions aside.
"I'm going to ask you some questions!" he said menacingly to Dale.
But Miss Cornelia stuck to her guns. Dale was not going to be bullied into any sort of confession, true or false, if she could help it - and from the way that the girl's eyes returned with fascinated horror to the ghastly heap on the floor that had been Fleming, she knew that Dale was on the edge of violent hysteria.
"Do you mind covering that body first?" she asked crisply. The detective eyed her for a moment in a rather ugly fashion - then grunted ungraciously and, taking Fleming's raincoat from the chair, threw it over the body. Dale's eyes telegraphed her aunt a silent message of gratitude.
"Now - shall I telephone for the coroner?" persisted Miss Cornelia. The detective obviously resented her interference with his methods but he could not well refuse such a customary request.
"I'll do it," he said with a snort, going over to the city telephone. "What's his number?"
"He's not at his office; he's at the Johnsons'," murmured Dale.
Miss Cornelia took the telephone from Anderson's hands.
"I'll get the Johnsons', Mr. Anderson," she said firmly. The detective seemed about to rebuke her. Then his manner recovered some of its former suavity. He relinquished the telephone and turned back toward his prey.
"Now, what was Fleming doing here?" he asked Dale in a gentler voice.
Should she tell him the truth? No - Jack Bailey's safety was too inextricably bound up with the whole sinister business. She must lie, and lie again, while there was any chance of a lie's being believed.
"I don't know," she said weakly, trying to avoid the detective's eyes.
Anderson took thought.
"Well, I'll ask that question another way," he said. "How did he get into the house?"
Dale brightened - no need for a lie here.
"He had a key."
"Key to what door?"
"That door over there." Dale indicated the terrace door of the alcove.
The detective was about to ask another question - then he paused. Miss Cornelia was talking on the phone.
"Hello - is that Mr. Johnson's residence? Is Doctor Wells there? No?" Her expression was puzzled. "Oh - all right - thank you - good night - "
Meanwhile Anderson had been listening - but thinking as well. Dale saw his sharp glance travel over to the fireplace - rest for a moment, with an air of discovery, on the fragments of the roll of blue-prints that remained unburned among ashes - return. She shut her eyes for a moment, trying tensely to summon every atom of shrewdness she possessed to aid her.
He was hammering at her with questions again. "When did you take that revolver out of the table drawer?"
"When I heard him outside on the terrace," said Dale promptly and truthfully. "I was frightened."
Lizzie tiptoed over to Miss Cornelia.
"You wanted a detective!" she said in an ironic whisper. "I hope you're happy now you've got one!"
Miss Cornelia gave her a look that sent her scuttling back to her former post by the door. But nevertheless, internally, she felt thoroughly in accord with Lizzie.
Again Anderson's questions pounded at the rigid Dale, striving to pierce her armor of mingled truth and falsehood.
"When Fleming came in, what did he say to you?"
"Just - something about the weather," said Dale weakly. The whole scene was, still too horribly vivid before her eyes for her to furnish a more convincing alibi.
"You didn't have any quarrel with him?"
"He just came in that door - said something about the weather - and was shot from that staircase. Is that it?" said the detective in tones of utter incredulity.
Dale hesitated again. Thus baldly put, her story seemed too flimsy for words; she could not even blame Anderson for disbelieving it. And yet - what other story could she tell that would not bring ruin on Jack?
Her face whitened. She put her hand on the back of a chair for support.
"Yes - that's it," she said at last, and swayed where she stood.
Again Miss Cornelia tried to come to the rescue. "Are all these questions necessary?" she queried sharply. "You can't for a moment believe that Miss Ogden shot that man!" But by now, though she did not show it, she too began to realize the strength of the appalling net of circumstances that drew with each minute tighter around the unhappy girl. Dale gratefully seized the momentary respite and sank into a chair. The detective looked at her.
"I think she knows more than she's telling. She's concealing something!" he said with deadly intentness. "The nephew of the president of the Union Bank - shot in his own house the day the bank has failed - that's queer enough - " Now he turned back to Miss Cornelia. "But when the only person present at his murder is the girl who's engaged to the guilty cashier," he continued, watching Miss Cornelia's face as the full force of his words sank into her mind, "I want to know more about it!"
He stopped. His right hand moved idly over the edge of the table - halted beside an ash tray - closed upon something.
Miss Cornelia rose.
"Is that true, Dale?" she said sorrowfully.