Professional Sleuth

The Case of the Lie Detector

A Dixon Hawke Mystery

Dixon Hawke Case Book | Spring 1940 | No. 4

When Customs Inspector Thomas Are is stabbed to death at the docks, can Dixon Hawke prove to Chief Inspector Baxter that is more than a routine job and prove the killer is lying?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

A Routine Job

Chief Inspector Baxter was not in the best of tempers. He snorted as he opened the door of the police car and stepped into the drizzle of rain. The cobblestones of Shadwell Dock were slippery, and nearby the muddy river splashed against the wharf as some big liner nosed downstream.

“I don’t know why the Excise people called you in, Hawke,” Baxter said gruffly. “It’s a job we can handle.”

“Sorry!” The famous criminologist smiled as he followed the Yard officer from the car. “I told them the same thing,” he said, “but they insisted I should look into this murder.”

“It’s a routine job,” Baxter went on. “I believe you know the bare facts? Inspector Thomas Ware of the Customs Service was stabbed to death at the entrance to this dock. There was a thick fog and nobody saw the killer. The only clue is that Ware was on the watch for dope-smugglers, and had information that stuff might be brought in on this ship.”

As he spoke, the inspector pointed to a rusty tramp-steamer moored to the wharf. She was the S.S. Rover, a three-thousand-ton craft which had arrived from India two weeks previously. The ship was unloaded and was due to sail again, but she had been held up for inquiries.

“Ware was on the watch from the time she arrived?” Hawke asked.

“Day and night. He was positive the dope-runner would try to bring the stuff ashore just before sailing. I have men on board making a thorough search. In the meantime, the crew are confined to the ship, and they’re not pleased about it.”

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Chapter 2

The Dope Discovery

Groups of sullen men were standing about the deck when the investigators went aboard. Captain Brent, the commander of the vessel, was outspoken regarding his displeasure at being kept in dock.

“How much longer are you keeping us here?” he demanded. “I’m two days late already, and this ship runs on a time schedule. I’m not going to be tied up by a big-footed copper for the rest of my life!”

Baxter flushed and struggled to keep his temper in check. He introduced Hawke, and the skipper stretched out a hairy paw.

“I’ve heard of you,” he said. “Perhaps you’ll solve the thing quickly, and let me get on my way.”

The captain rammed his hat on his head, and led the way down a steep iron ladder into the bowels of the ship. A number of men were busy in the bunkers shifting tons of coal. The search had been completed elsewhere, and the bunkers were the last hope. If nothing was found there, the ship would be released immediately.

“You have the same crew for this trip?” Hawke asked.

“The same,” Captain Brent said. “They all signed on with the exception of two men who are in hospital. I brought ’em in sick, and they went off in an ambulance. You can’t suspect them.”

“Do you know your crew well?”

“As much as you can ever know sailormen. They’re tough, if that’s what you mean.”

He was interrupted by a shout from one of the police officers who was searching a nearby bunker. The captain, Dixon Hawke and Baxter climbed over the coal. The officer had uncovered a metal bin hidden by a thin layer of coal. It contained two dozen tins bearing the name of a well-known brand of tobacco.

Baxter quickly opened a tin, and his eyes gleamed when he found it was filled with a white powder. He tasted the stuff, and made a wry face as he spat.

“Dope,” he said. “Poor Ware was right when he suspected this ship!” He turned to face Captain Brent, and his voice became harsh.

“What do you know about this?” he asked.

“What should I know about it, mister?” the skipper roared. “I don’t live down in the bunkers. Anybody could have stored the stuff away without another man in the ship being aware of it.”

“If we find the man who hid this, we get Ware’s killer,” said Baxter. “He was probably taking the cans ashore a few at a time, and Ware caught him with a load. We know the killing was done with a seaman’s bowie knife. The man we want is on your ship!”

“Does this mean I can’t sail?” asked the skipper.

“Correct,” Baxter said. “I’ll keep you tied up until the killer loses his nerve and tries to desert!”

Captain Brent ripped out an oath. “We’ll see about that,” he said. “I’ll telephone my owners and tell ’em to take legal action. I’ll sail in twenty-four hours!”

The Yard officer frowned. He was aware that he could not keep the ship in dock indefinitely. Unless he had some strong clue, the courts would order the vessel to be released, particularly since the drugs had been found.

“I’ve got a suggestion to make,” Dixon Hawke said. He had been silent for a long time, but his shrewd brain had been busy. “I may be able to hurry matters,” he went on. “Have you ever heard of Professor Zolty?”

“Zolty?” Baxter frowned. “Isn’t he the crack-brained Pole who invented a machine for reading people’s thoughts?”

“That’s right,” Hawke said. “The Thought Machine, he calls it, but thanks to the newspapers it’s more popularly known as the Lie-Detector. I’m going to ask permission to use it on the crew!”

Chief Inspector Baxter gave vent to a laugh of derision.

“I’ve heard of lie-detectors and truth drugs,” he said, “but they’re all as mad as perpetual-motion machines. What’s the matter with you, Hawke? You know those things won’t work.”

“I’ll take the risk. If the captain gives permission, I’ll use it tomorrow. Professor Zolty is in London, and I’ll borrow the apparatus.”

The skipper called the men together and told them of the suggestion. Some of the hands grinned and others looked uneasy, but a throaty chorus gave assent to the experiment.

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Chapter 3

“The Thing Works!”

Baxter went off, but Hawke remained on the vessel for a private talk with Captain Brent. When he finally left the dock, the skipper walked with him to the gates. There was a curious twinkle in his blue eyes as he wrung Hawke’s hand.

For the rest of the day Dixon Hawke was very busy making certain arrangements. He telephoned Baxter that he would be ready to try out the machine in the morning.

It was just after nine o’clock the following day when the criminologist’s car stopped at the gates of the dock. Tommy Burke, his assistant, was at the wheel. Hawke lifted a heavy black case from the car, and carried it carefully aboard the freighter.

Baxter and some other police officials had already arrived, and they grinned broadly as the Thought Machine was set up. It consisted of a small cabinet, very much like a radio receiver. There was a metal band to place round the head of the man to be tested. Another strap of metal was to be fastened to the wrist.

Hawke clipped a pair of headphones over his ears, and pressed a switch. There was a faint humming from the apparatus, and a large dial lit up.

“I’m ready now,” the criminologist said quietly. “I wish Professor Zolty had been able to come. Unfortunately he is confined to his room with a mild attack of fever.”

“Brain fever?” Baxter asked. “Go ahead, Hawke. It’s your funeral!”

Tommy placed a chair within reach of the apparatus, and the members of the Rover’s crew lined up on deck. The men stared curiously at the Thought Machine.

When Hawke beckoned, the first man in the line stepped forward. He was a perky Cockney, and winked at his mates as he sat in the chair. The contacts were attached, and the apparatus switched on. A faint expression of alarm crossed the sailor’s face.

“Where were you on the night of the murder?” Hawke asked.

“In me ’ammock, guv’nor. S’welp me, I was! I don’t know nuffin’. If that thing works, you can tell by me thoughts.”

“I can. You’re more worried about what’s going to win the 2.30 than anything else. Next man, please!”

The Cockney blinked as he left the chair, and Tommy heard him telling his mates that the 2.30 race had been in his mind. The young fellow also noticed a sporting journal sticking out of the man’s pocket, and he wondered if his employer had made a shrewd guess because of it.

The next man was a hungry-looking fellow with shifty eyes. He was very pale, and hesitated before he finally sat down. As Hawke adjusted the contacts, the man mumbled protests.

“I don’t know anything about this,” he said. “I wasn’t here, sir. I’ve only just signed on.”

“That’s true,” Captain Brent agreed. “I signed on two men to replace the sick members of my crew.”

Hawke motioned him to be silent. He had switched on the Thought Machine and was watching the dial, where a needle swung to and fro. Frowning, he fixed the sailor with a hard stare.

“You’re afraid! ” he said curtly.

“I—I—” The man twisted in his seat, and his hands trembled. He seemed to be on the verge of getting up and running. “That’s a lie! ” he panted. “I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”

“Now, that’s a lie! What about the police?” Hawke asked.

The needle on the dial moved violently, and Baxter, who had been watching it, gave a start of surprise. Hawke gave a grim smile.

“You are afraid of the police,” he said. “”What’s your name? Why are you afraid?”

The sailor stuttered that his name was Caudwell, but after that his voice trailed away, and he huddled back in the chair. Hawke moved a knob, and the buzzing from the apparatus became louder. He put his hands over the headphones, pressing them tightly against his ears. “You are thinking about the police,” he insisted. “I know you—”

With a wild cry Caudwell tore the contacts from his head and wrist, and jumped to his feet.

“Ail right! ” he panted. “It’s true, and I’m glad you found out! I did a job in Manchester last week. I hit an old woman who ran a shop, and pinched the till! That’s why I came down here and signed up on this ship. I was trying to get out of the country! You’ve got me—it’s a fair cop! ”

A roar of excitement came from the crew, and a constable stepped forward and gripped the sailor’s arm. Baxter, with an exclamation of astonishment, stared from Hawke to the machine, and from the machine to the petty criminal.

“By Jove! ” he said. “The thing works! ”

“It appears to,” the criminologist said. “I wasn’t looking for such a success. You’d better hold this man for inquiries.”

He turned to face the crew. Those men who had been joking were now serious, and there was some hesitating when Hawke beckoned for another man to come forward.

Very slowly a burly stoker came forward and sat down awkwardly in the chair. Beads of perspiration showed on his forehead as the apparatus was adjusted.

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Chapter 4

The Guilty Conscience

“Take it easy,” said Dixon Hawke. “If you are innocent there is nothing for you to fear.”

He let the man go after a brief examination, and another took his place. Slowly Hawke worked down the line of men.

It was a slow process, for each examination took about five minutes, and there were thirty-six men in the crew. Those who were at the end of the line, and had a long time to wait, showed signs of nervousness.

“Well, we’re not getting anywhere,” Baxter said gruffly after most of the crew had been examined.

“There are still five men left,” Hawke said. “I have great faith in the machine. If the killer is on the ship, I shall find him.”

He gave the remaining five of the Rover’s crew a keen look. One of them was the ship’s cook, a Chinese, and the others were two stokers, a deckhand, and Captain Brent’s steward. The cook in particular looked alarmed, and when Hawke beckoned, a stoker gave the man a rough push.

“Go on, Chinky! ” he growled. “I bet you’re the one he wants. I saw you nosing about in them bunkers after we left Singapore.”

“Not true! ” said the cook. “Velly innocent man. Know nothing! ”

“Come here! ” Hawke said, pointing to the stoker. “I’ll take you next.” The man hesitated. He was a big fellow, and had watched the proceedings with a leering smile on his lips. The grin was still there as he stepped to the chair. He cleared his throat and spat.

“I didn’t agree to this,” he muttered. “A sailor has got his rights like any other bloke—”

“Sit down,” snapped Hawke. Slowly the fellow obeyed, and Hawke fastened the metal bands about his forehead and wrist.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Sam Toller. Listen here, mister, I don’t like this thing. Besides, whoever heard of a machine that could read a bloke’s thoughts?”

“It read correctly in one case,” Hawke said.

As he touched the switch and set the apparatus humming, the man in the chair became silent. The defiant smile faded, and Hawke saw his big hands begin to twitch.

Very deliberately the criminologist turned a knob, increasing the power. The humming went up to a higher pitch than ever, and the needle on the dial swung violently from side to side. Before Hawke could ask a question, a yell came from Sam Toller. Jumping to his feet he seized the Thought Machine in both hands and, raising it over his head, sent it smashing down on the deck.

The criminologist plunged forward, but ducked as Toller swung a vicious blow at his head. With an oath the man turned and ran along the deck.

“Stop him! ” Dixon Hawke roared. “He’s the killer of Inspector Ware! ” The two constables at the top of the gangway intercepted the man, and a few minutes later he was taken below to await the arrival of the police van.

“Toller is your man all right,” Hawke assured Baxter, when the excitement was over. “I haven’t a doubt he killed Inspector Ware. All the same, you’ll need more evidence than that. I suggest you check up his movements since coming ashore. A diver had better be sent down to search for his knife. You’ll get strong evidence by comparing it with the stab wounds in Ware’s body.” Baxter nodded.

“I’ll do that, Hawke. I realise a jury will not accept the evidence of the Thought Machine. By Jove, but you certainly made me look silly! That apparatus will revolutionise the detection of crime! ”

A twinkle came into Dixon Hawke’s eyes, and his assistant smiled broadly. There was also a loud guffaw from Captain Brent.

“What’s the joke?” Baxter asked.

“The machine. You were right about it, Baxter. It was tested and proved to be worthless. The apparatus I used was merely an old radio set that Tommy fixed up for me last night.”

“But what about Professor Zolty?”

“As far as I know, he is still on the Continent.”

“Confound it, Hawke! Then how did you catch that man Caudwell who confessed to a crime in Manchester?” Dixon Hawke beckoned to the sailor who had made such an astounding confession at the beginning of the experiment. He came forward smiling and holding out his handcuffed wrists.

“I’ll be glad to have these removed, Mr. Hawke. I hope you’ll excuse my saying so, but that was the best piece of acting I’ve done to date.”

“Acting?” bellowed Baxter.

“Acting,” repeated Hawke. “Mr. Caudwell happens to be on the stage, and has never committed a crime in his life. I got Captain Brent to sign him on just for this experiment. You see, like you, I was convinced the killer was one of the crew. I was certain he would hang back to the last when I made the fake test, so Mr. Caudwell kindly obliged with a confession to make it appear the Thought Machine was a success. You know the rest. Waiting broke Toller’s nerve. He really feared I would read his thoughts, so he bolted in panic and gave himself away.”

~ The End ~

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