CHAPTER XVI

ELEVEN TWENTY-TWO AGAIN

Burton's idea of exploiting Miss Jane's disappearance began to bear fruit the next morning. I went to the office early, anxious to get my more pressing business out of the way, to have the afternoon with Burton to inspect the warehouse. At nine o'clock came a call from the morgue.

"Small woman, well dressed, gray hair?" I repeated. "I think I'll go up and see. Where was the body found?"

"In the river at Monica Station," was the reply. "There is a scar diagonally across the cheek to the corner of the mouth."

"A fresh injury?"

"No, an old scar."

With a breath of relief I said it was not the person we were seeking and tried to get down to work again. But Burton's prophecy had been right. Miss Jane had been seen in a hundred different places: one perhaps was right; which one?

A reporter for the Eagle had been working on the case all night: he came in for a more detailed description of the missing woman, and he had a theory, to fit which he was quite ready to cut and trim the facts.

"It's Rowe," he said confidently. "You can see his hand in it right through. I was put on the Benson kidnapping case, you remember, the boy who was kept for three months in a deserted lumber camp in the mountains? Well, sir, every person in the Benson house swore that youngster was in bed at midnight, when the house was closed for the night. Every door and window bolted in the morning, and the boy gone. When we found Rowe—after the mother had put on mourning—and found the kid, ten pounds heavier than he had been before he was abducted, and strutting around like a turkey cock, Rowe told us that he and the boy took in the theater that night, and were there for the first act. How did he do it? He offered to take the boy to the show if he would pretend to go to bed, and then slide down a porch pillar and meet him. The boy didn't want to go home when we found him."

"There can't be any mistake about the time in this case," I commented. "I saw her myself after eleven, and said good night."

The Eagle man consulted his note-book. "Oh, yes," he asked; "did she have a diagonal cut across her cheek?"

"No," I said for the second time.

My next visitor was a cabman. On the night in question he had taken a small and a very nervous old woman to the Omega ferry. She appeared excited and almost forgot to pay him. She carried a small satchel, and wore a black veil. What did she look like? She had gray hair, and she seemed to have a scar on her face that drew the corner of her mouth.

At ten o'clock I telephoned Burton: "For Heaven's sake," I said, "if anybody has lost a little old lady in a black dress, wearing a black veil, carrying a satchel, and with a scar diagonally across her cheek from her eye to her mouth, I can tell them all about her, and where she is now."

"That's funny," he said. "We're stirring up the pool and bringing up things we didn't expect. The police have been looking for that woman quietly for a week: she's the widow of a coal baron, and her son-in-law's under suspicion of making away with her."

"Well, he didn't," I affirmed. "She committed suicide from an Omega ferry boat and she's at the morgue this morning."

"Bully," he returned. "Keep on; you'll get lots of clues, and remember one will be right."

It was not until noon, however, that anything concrete developed. In the two hours between, I had interviewed seven more people. I had followed the depressing last hours of the coal baron's widow, and jumped with her, mentally, into the black river that night. I had learned of a small fairish-haired girl who had tried to buy cyanide of potassium at three drug-stores on the same street, and of a tall light woman who had taken a room for three days at a hotel and was apparently demented.

At twelve, however, my reward came. Two men walked in, almost at the same time: one was a motorman, in his official clothes, brass buttons and patches around the pockets. The other was a taxicab driver. Both had the uncertain gait of men who by occupation are unused to anything stationary under them, and each eyed the other suspiciously.

The motorman claimed priority by a nose, so I took him first into my private office. His story, shorn of his own opinions at the time and later, was as follows:

On the night in question, Thursday of the week before, he took his car out of the barn for the eleven o'clock run. Barney was his conductor. They went from the barn, at Hays Street, down-town, and then started out for Wynton. The controller blew out, and two or three things went wrong: all told they lost forty minutes. They got to Wynton at five minutes after two; their time there was one-twenty-five.

The car went to the bad again at Wynton, and he and Barney tinkered with it until two-forty. They got it in shape to go back to the barn, but that was all. Just as they were ready to start, a passenger got on, a woman, alone: a small woman with a brown veil. She wore a black dress or a suit—he was vague about everything but the color, and he noticed her especially because she was fidgety and excited. Half a block farther a man boarded the car, and sat across from the woman. Barney said afterward that the man tried twice to speak to the woman, but she looked away each time. No, he hadn't heard what he said.

The man got out when the car went into the barn, but the woman stayed on. He and Barney got another car and took it out, and the woman went with them. She made a complete round trip this time, going out to Wynton and back to the end of the line down-town. It was just daylight when she got off at last, at First and Day Streets.

Asked if he had thought at the time that the veiled woman was young or old, he said he had thought she was probably middle-aged. Very young or very old women would not put in the night riding in a street-car. Yes, he had had men who rode around a couple of times at night, mostly to sober up before they went home. But he never saw a woman do it before.

I took his name and address and thanked him. The chauffeur came next, and his story was equally pertinent.

On the night of the previous Thursday he had been engaged to take a sick woman from a down-town hotel to a house at Bellwood. The woman's husband was with her, and they went slowly to avoid jolting. It was after twelve when he drove away from the house and started home. At a corner—he did not know the names of the streets—a woman hailed the cab and asked him if he belonged in Bellwood or was going to the city. She had missed the last train. When he told her he was going into town, she promptly engaged him, and showed him where to wait for her, a narrow road off the main street.

"I waited an hour," he finished, "before she came; I dropped to sleep or I would have gone without her. About half-past one she came along, and a gentleman with her. He put her in the cab, and I took her to the city. When I saw in the paper that a lady had disappeared from Bellwood that night, I knew right off that it was my party."

"Would you know the man again?"

"I would know his voice, I expect, sir; I could not see much: he wore a slouch hat and had a traveling-bag of some kind."

"What did he say to the woman?" I asked.

"He didn't say much. Before he closed the door, he said, 'You have put me in a terrible position,' or something like that. From the traveling-bag and all, I thought perhaps it was an elopement, and the lady had decided to throw him down."

"Was it a young woman or an old one," I asked again. This time the cabby's tone was assured.

"Young," he asserted, "slim and quick: dressed in black, with a black veil. Soft voice. She got out at Market Square, and I have an idea she took a cross-town car there."

"I hardly think it was Miss Maitland," I said. "She was past sixty, and besides—I don't think she went that way. Still it is worth following up. Is that all?"

He fumbled in his pocket, and after a minute brought up a small black pocket-book and held it out to me. It was the small coin purse out of a leather hand-bag.

"She dropped this in the cab, sir," he said. "I took it home to the missus—not knowing what else to do with it. It had no money in it—only that bit of paper."

I opened the purse and took out a small white card, without engraving. On it was written in a pencil the figures: C 1122

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