The Silent Bullet

第49章 The Azure Ring(5)

Like Mrs.Ralston's, it was open, but not doing business, pending the investigation by the Post-Office Department.

Vanderdyke was a type of which I had seen many before.Well dressed to the extreme, he displayed all those evidences of prosperity which are the stock in trade of the man with securities to sell.He grasped my hand when I told him I was going to present the other side of the post-office cases and held it between both of his as if he had known me all his life.Only the fact that he had never seen me before prevented his calling me by my first name.I took mental note of his stock of jewellery, the pin in his tie that might almost have been the Hope diamond, the heavy watch chain across his chest, and a very brilliant seal ring of lapis lazuli on the hand that grasped mine.He saw me looking at it and smiled.

"My dear fellow, we have deposits of that stuff that would make a fortune if we could get the machinery to get at it.Why, sir, there is lapis lazuli enough on our claim to make enough ultramarine paint to supply all the artists to the end of the world.Actually we could afford to crush it up and sell it as paint.And that is merely incidental to the other things on the concession.The asphalt's the thing.That's where the big money is.When we get started, sir, the old asphalt trust will simply melt away, melt away."He blew a cloud of tobacco smoke and let it dissolve significantly in the air.

When it came to talking about the suits, however, Vanderdyke was not so communicative as Mrs.Ralston, but he was also not so bitter against either the post-office or Templeton.

"Poor Templeton," he said."I used to know him years ago when we were boys.Went to school with him and all that sort of thing, you know, but until I ran across him, or rather he ran across me, in this investigation I hadn't heard much about him.Pretty clever fellow he was, too.The state will miss him, but my lawyer tells me that we should have won the suit anyhow, even if that unfortunate tragedy hadn't occurred.Most unaccountable, wasn't it? I've read about it in the papers for old time's sake, and can make nothing out of it."I said nothing, but wondered how he could pass so lightheartedly over the death of the woman who had once been his wife.However, I said nothing.The result was he launched forth again on the riches of his Venezuelan concession and loaded me down with "literature," which I crammed into my pocket for future reference.

My next step was to drop into the office of a Spanish-America paper whose editor was especially well informed on South American affairs.

"Do I know Mrs.Ralston?" he repeated, thoughtfully lighting one of those black cigarettes that look so vicious and are so mild.

"I should say so.I'll tell you a little story about her.Three or four years ago she turned up in Caracas.I don't know who Mr.

Ralston was--perhaps there never was any Mr.Ralston.Anyhow, she got in with the official circle of the Castro government and was very successful as an adventuress.She has considerable business ability and represented a certain group of Americans.But, if you recall, when Castro was eliminated pretty nearly everyone who had stood high with him went, too.It seems that a number of the old concessionaires played the game on both sides.This particular group had a man named Vanderdyke on the anti-Castro side.So, when Mrs.Ralston went, she just quietly sailed by way of Panama to the other side of the continent, to Peru--they paid her well--and Vanderdyke took the title role.

"Oh, yes, she and Vanderdyke were very good friends, very, indeed.I think they must have known each other here in the States.Still they played their parts well at the time.Since things have settled down in Venezuela, the concessionaires have found no further use for Vanderdyke either, and here they are, Vanderdyke and Mrs.Ralston, both in New York now, with two of the most outrageous schemes of financing ever seen on Broad Street.They have offices in the same building, they are together a great deal, and now I hear that the state attorney-general is after both of them."With this information and a very meagre report of the Wainwright trip to the Far East, which had taken in some out-of-the-way places apparently, I hastened back to Kennedy.He was surrounded by bottles, tubes, jars, retorts, Bunsen burners, everything in the science and art of chemistry, I thought.

I didn't like the way he looked.His hand was unsteady, and his eyes looked badly, but he seemed quite put out when I suggested that he was working too hard over the case.I was worried about him, but rather than say anything to offend him I left him for the rest of the afternoon, only dropping in before dinner to make sure that he would not forget to eat something.He was then completing his preparations for the evening.They were of the simplest kind, apparently.In fact, all I could see was an apparatus which consisted of a rubber funnel, inverted and attached to a rubber tube which led in turn into a jar about a quarter full of water.Through the stopper of the jar another tube led to a tank of oxygen.

There were several jars of various liquids on the table and a number of chemicals.Among other things was a sort of gourd, encrusted with a black substance, and in a corner was a box from which sounds issued as if it contained something alive.

I did not trouble Kennedy with questions, for I was only too glad when he consented to take a brisk walk and join me in a thick porterhouse.

It was a large party that gathered in Kennedy's laboratory that night, one of the largest he had ever had.Mr.and Mrs.

Wainwright and Miss Marian came, the ladies heavily veiled.

Doctor Nott and Mr.Whitney were among the first to arrive.Later came Mr.Vanderdyke and last of all Mrs.Ralston with Inspector O'Connor.Altogether it was an unwilling party.

"I shall begin," said Kennedy, "by going over, briefly, the facts in this case."Tersely he summarised it, to my surprise laying great stress on the proof that the couple had been asphyxiated.

Arthur Benjamin Reeve