Scientific Criminal Investigators
The sign on the frosted glass of the corridor door was painted in small, black letters. It bore the following inscription:
ORR & ORR DETECTIVE AGENCY
Scientific Criminal Investigators
Inside the small office, Catherine was saying, "I'm afraid for him. I don't know why, but — I just feel something might happen."
Orville Orr grinned at his wife across the wide expanse of His desk.
"Nonsense," he admonished. "Nelson knows how to take care of himself. If anything were wrong, he'd have called us."
The blond, petite Catherine wasn't convinced. She bit her underlip, went around the desk and sat on Orr's lap.
"You don't understand," she argued. "He's already found this formula; he discovered it this past month. It's proved successful in all the monkey experiments. It's certain it'll prove successful on humans."
Orr — hard-hitting, dark-haired and wiry — gazed at her patiently. She was referring to one of their best friends. But Orr already knew Dr. Nelson had discovered a specific therapy for the treating of cholera.
"Please!" Catherine begged. "At least call him. Something must have happened or he wouldn't have broken that luncheon appointment."
Orr scowled but reached for the phone and got an out-of-town number. The scowl disappeared from his face as an excited voice came over the wire. Catherine stared at him.
"Your hunch was right." Orr swore. "Culler just found Dr. Nelson dead in his room. Thinks a monkey bit him and that he died of cholera." He added tensely: "We're going out there."
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A Monkey Farm
Dr. Nelson's residence — the papers called it a monkey farm — was outside the city limits. It was a comfortable, two-story stone structure. Behind it was a wire-covered, tropical-like garden where the monkeys were kept.
Orville Orr parked his coupé behind a large sedan, and he and Catherine got out. A bony, red-faced youth ran out of the house to meet them. He was Vic Culler, Dr. Nelson's handy man.
"It is cholera!" he cried. "Dr. Torgerson says it is."
He led the two newcomers into the house.
In the front room were two grave-faced men. One was Dr. Torgerson — a small, fussy, potbellied individual — who had been working on the cholera experiments with Nelson. The second man — husky, blond-haired and clad in a leather jacket and corduroy trousers — was Dennis Spight. He was Torgerson's assistant.
"No doubt about it," Torgerson revealed fussily. "It's cholera — the disease we were fighting."
Orr quickly gathered the main facts. Vic Culler had got the day off. He'd come in about twenty minutes ago and had found Dr. Nelson dead in his bedroom. Two large monkeys were in there. There had been a struggle inside; Nelson had undoubtedly been attacked by them.
"They jumped me, too," Culler added. "I had to kill both."
"Culler phoned us and then you called," Dennis Spight offered nervously.
Orr and Catherine exchanged glances. She asked Vic Culler: "When did you see Dr. Nelson last – alive?"
The youth swallowed.
"I — it was yesterday noon, when I fed the monkeys."
Orr asked Torgerson: "Can we go see the body?"
The doctor looked at his watch.
"If you want; but just for a moment," he replied uneasily. "I'm having the room disinfected. Too much risk of an epidemic starting."
He led the way up the stairs, turned right. There was a door at the left in the hallway. Torgerson said:
"The room's got a strong gas, so take a long breath before you look inside." He threw the door open.
Orr drew back horrified at sight of the dead man. Catherine, behind him, gasped.
Nelson — a middle-aged, bald-headed man — lay curled up on the bed, fully dressed. His lips were blackish-blue, his face ghastly pale.
The room itself showed signs of a struggle, as had been said. The two monkeys — large, black-faced specimens — were sprawled out dead before the bed. Culler had shot both.
Torgerson closed the door, and they started down the stairway. Several men were coming in through the front door: the county coroner, the sheriff and several others.
Orr and Catherine spoke to them briefly and went outside. They got into their small coupé to wait. They knew there'd be little to be learned in the house just now. As Torgerson had said, they were running the risk of contracting the fatal and very infectious disease.
Orr gazed grimly at his wife. "You don't by any chance think it's — murder, Catherine?"
"I wish I could be sure. If it is murder, it's so clever that we'll probably never prove it."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Catherine said tensely. "You know Dr. Nelson was to get a hundred and twenty thousand dollars from a foreign government if he discovered a worthy therapy for cholera. It's a problem on which a number of prominent doctors all over the world have been working."
Orr's lips thinned. "There's a motive in that all right. Nelson was working with Torgerson. Torgerson was to get forty per cent if they succeeded."
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Before them now. Dr. Torgerson and Spight were coming toward their sedan. Orr honked, calling the potbellied doctor. He asked him:
"Now that Nelson's dead, what becomes of the formula?"
"I don't know," Torgerson said worriedly. "Nelson hid it somewhere, but I don't know where. Naturally I'm interested; I'm to get money out of it. I worked with Nelson for the past two years on the thing."
"What about Mr. Spight?" Catherine asked softly.
"He'll get ten per cent of what I get," the doctor said, slightly annoyed. "He's just been with me five months, but I promised him that."
He glanced toward Spight, then joined him. Both got in their car and drove off.
"Now about this Vic Culler?" Orr murmured.
"He looks innocent enough," Catherine ventured. "But of course — "
She hesitated. The skinny county coroner was coming toward them.
He whined out troubledly: "We gotta be careful of this cholera disease."
"How do you think Dr. Nelson contracted the disease?" Catherine inquired.
"From them monkeys, lady. Got bitten by 'em. The two thet were in his room were the two thet had the germs."
Orr frowned. "How'd the monkeys ever get up into his room?"
"Oh, that's possible. Thet Culler kid says he sometimes had 'em around his lab downstairs. They just went on up the stairs. Monkeys are smart little creatures."
Orr nodded. The explanation was possible, but he still wasn't satisfied. After the coroner and his men left, taking the body, he asked Catherine:
"How long does it take for a person to die of cholera?"
"From what I remember," she said, "it might be a few hours — or days."
He stared fixedly toward his dead friend's house, eyes troubled and thoughtful. If it just wasn't for the formula part now, he would have agreed with the others. He would have let the case pass on as a terrible accident, due to Nelson's carelessness.
"Say!" he exclaimed suddenly. "What's that smoke?"
Quickly he got out and ran down the sidewalk and around the side of the house, with the startled Catherine following. From behind, Orr had seen trails of smoke go up into the late afternoon sky.
The weird chattering of excited monkeys came from the gardens now. Turning at the rear of the house, Orr stopped shortly.
Vic Culler was piling wood on a large fire. He whirled frightenedly.
"What's the idea ?" Orr demanded.
"Why, I — I'm going to destroy these two dead monkeys," Culler explained. He indicated a gunny sack at his side.
"Mr. Spight said I should. They're infected. Dr. Nelson was experimenting with 'em."
"You'd better go," Orr said grimly. "We'll take care of the monkeys."
A slow smirk crossed the youth's face.
"Suit yourself," he said. He hurried to a battered flivver behind a gate by the monkey gardens; then he was driving off.
The fire was now going out; Orr threw dirt on it. Some twenty yards behind him, in the monkey gardens, the little jungle beasts were whimpering and jumping around their large cages.
"Sorry, fellas," Orr grinned at them grimly, "but we're going to have to take your two dead pals to town."
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It was late that night when Catherine Orr looked up from her microscope. Stretching a little, she said, tiredly: "That's the last of it. There's an undue amount of the Vibrio comma in the blood of these monkeys. Then their skins are punctured in several places — and not from bites or bruises."
Orr came to his feet, eyes hardening.
"Someone must have injected the disease into 'em! Nelson never did; he always let 'em get it much as a human would — through contaminated food or water." He tapped a thick medical book.
"Then it says here this cholera Vibrio seldom if ever invades the blood stream." Catherine nodded. "Yes, and another thing is, the disease gains entrance by way of the gastro-intestinal tract. That would mean we should have found cholera germs in the mouths. But my findings there are all negative."
Muscles knotted in Orr's throat. He knew now that if the two monkeys had been given cholera germs by Nelson, his specific therapy had made them immune to the disease. And they would have had the germs in the intestinal tract — not the blood. He said tonelessly:
"The more I think of this, the more I believe it's murder." Seething rage rode his brain with the thought. "And if it is murder," he went on bitterly, "we've got to prove it!"
Half an hour later, they were back at the dead Dr. Nelson's monkey farm. The night was moonless, ominously dark. They went around the house to the monkey garden.
Catherine had learned the cage number of the dead animals earlier in the day. They neared the place now, hoping for a new lead.
Catherine suddenly stopped dead still. She grabbed Orr's arm, whispered: "I — I think some one's coming!"
From behind the garden, there was the faint but unmistakable sound of footsteps. Abruptly, as though warned by this, the caged monkeys began a frantic, maddening chatter. Orr gave silent thanks that he and Catherine had driven in without lights; that they'd made little noise.
Some ten yards away from them now, a low voice ground out angry curses. The footsteps continued.
Straining his eyes, Orr saw a shadow go toward the two-story house. The intruder faded into the blackness. Behind, the monkeys ceased their jabbering; became sepulchrally silent.
Then, from the direction of the towering mass of darkness that was the house, there came the whack-whack-whack sounds of something striking dirt.
"He must be digging," Catherine breathed fearfully into her husband's ear.
"We'll see," Orr breathed back tightly.
He waited for what was at least ten minutes, while the digging continued. Then, as it stopped, he slid forward. Catherine followed.
Orr, gun and flashlight now out, kept moving. But just as he was about to snap the light, his foot caught over something — the pile of unburned wood with which Vic Culler was going to destroy the monkeys.
There was a loud, cracking snap. Orr's foot had crushed a stick. He instinctively stumbled forward, half jumping to prevent his falling.
Before him, the unknown newcomer was darting toward the side of the house. Simultaneously, a gun was roaring thunderous loud in his hand.
Catherine screamed. Orr dropped, blazing back at the seeing shadow. He dared not turn on his light, for fear of offering too good a target.
And then something struck him on the temple with savage impact; lightning seemed to dance madly in his skull. Then he was going down into a pit of horrible nothingness.
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A Small, Ironclad Box
He came to with the screeching cries of the terrified monkeys in his ears. Someone was shaking him, saying:
"Oh, darling, are you hurt? Are you hurt?"
Orr sat erect. Catherine wiped blood from his cheek and head.
"I — I'm all right," he said dazedly. "You?"
"I lost my head," she sobbed. "I — I couldn't help screaming."
He felt his head. The bullet had grazed his right temple.
"What became of him?"
"He got away," Catherine explained. "Drove off in a car he had parked down the road. I got your gun and fired back — but I'm sure I missed."
Orr stood up, and he and Catherine went to the side of the house. He flashed his light on the spot where the other had dug.
"Don't get too close!" Orr warned. Dug against the side of the house, was a hole about two feet deep. Around it in spots, the dirt was slightly tamped, as though with wires. But what caught Orr's eye was a small, ironclad box at the bottom of the hole — chained to several water pipes.
"Dr. Nelson's formula!" Orr gasped. "That's what the fellow who came here wanted. It's beginning to look more and more like murder." He turned to his wife. "What did that car sound like?"
"I didn't hear it very well, for worrying about you. But it didn't sound like Culler's car."
"He could have used another one," Orr said.
He stared wonderingly at the ironlike box. It was the same size as a nickel match box, but the padlock under one of its rungs was nearly twice as large. Orr kept staring at this and the freshly dug dirt. Then an icy thought struck his brain, and he snapped:
"We've got to act quick, Catherine. I think I know how we can get this guy." He led Catherine to the front of the house. "This isn't exactly legal," he announced, "but we can't take time to be too careful!"
With his gun muzzle, he poked a hole in a window, turned the window-latch. He went in and made three phone calls. Coming back out quickly, he said:
"One was to Vic Culler. He lives at the Lincoln Hotel in Carbondale, about three miles away from here. Hotel operator says he ain't in. I called Dr. Torgerson's house — it's about two miles down the road — and he's not in. Spight, who lives with him, says he's in town on business. I also got the sheriff."
"What do you plan to do?" Catherine asked tremulously.
"I'm going to round up everybody. They should be here within forty-five minutes."
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Dr. Nelson Was Murdered
The sheriff, bringing two deputies, came first.
"Wait here with my wife," Orr ordered. "I'll be back soon."
They were waiting for him, impatiently, when he got back — Dr. Torgerson, Dennis Spight, and Vic Culler, together with the county lawmen.
Catherine had turned on the lights of the coupé, and everyone stood before these.
"See here, Orr," Torgerson rapped. "You can't keep us here. I had important business in town; the sheriff brought me here much against my will."
"You were in town," Orr cut in, voice edged. "And you, Spight?"
"Why, I was home, reading." Dennis Spight shuffled his feet uneasily.
"I don't have to believe that," Orr commented. "What about you. Culler?"
The red-faced youth had trouble speaking.
"I — I had stepped out to buy a paper when you called. The sheriff got me, too. I — I don't know what this is all about!"
"Well, tell us, Orr," mattered the burly sheriff. "Your wife says yuh got somethin' important."
"Yes, sheriff," Orr began, "it is important. Dr. Nelson didn't just die accidentally. He was murdered!"
There was a stunned silence. Then Torgerson cried thickly: "Murdered! Ah — why that's insane, man! What proof have you?"
"I've got proof," Orr said, voice steely. His eyes drilled into the three suspects; watched every move they made.
"Yes," he went on. "Nelson finally found this specific therapy for the cure and immunizing of cholera. You, Torgerson, and Spight, were to share in the prize money from the foreign government. Culler here was just working for wages. Then one of you got greedy — and killed him."
Questions and oaths leaped to the others' mouths. Orr held up his hand.
"One of you injected cholera germs in those two monkeys. The idea was to make it look as though they'd bitten him and given him cholera. The thing backfired. Nelson died from cholera all right, but he didn't get it from a monkey bite. One of you slipped him the disease, in a very clever but simple way.
"Being kind of old and having been given a large dosage, the infection was extremely severe." Orr's tone took on a harder vibrancy. "He died before he could help himself or before he could get help!"
"You — you can prove all that?" Vic Culler stammered.
"Yes. Tonight the killer came back. He's somehow or other found out where the cholera formula was. But when he got his hands on it, he found it was locked to waterpipes. I know who that man is."
Spight eyed Torgerson and Culler suspiciously. "Who is it?" he asked.
"It's you," Orr barked. "Culler's killing the monkeys wrecked your scheme; they wouldn't have showed postmortem signs of cholera. So you told him to burn 'em. They wouldn't have showed signs anyway; they'd been immunized. You didn't — Take him, sheriff!"
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At those startling words, Spight had moved back, then darted toward the dark. But one of the sheriff's two men, surprisingly fleet-footed, tripped him. Snarling, he tried to fight back. He was quickly handcuffed.
"I — I don't have anything to do with this," Torgerson wheezed.
"No, I don't think you do," Orr said. "He worked at it alone. He wanted to hog the formula for himself."
Spight babbled out a curse. "You can't prove anything."
Orr pulled out a carefully wrapped bottle.
"Wine," he said. "This was in your room." He smiled at Torgerson. "I took the liberty of checking this with your microscope. Doc. The wine's loaded with cholera germs!"
"Why, yes!" Torgerson cried at Spight. "You did give him a drink of that yesterday. He was pretty tired, and you said that would pep him up. It killed him instead, eh?"
"And he's the man that tried to dig out the formula from the side of the house," Orr said. "A check-up of his fingernails will show the dirt under 'em matches that alongside the house."
Spight cursed savagely, jeered: "Yeah, Yeah, you got me all right. Don't rub it in. But if it hadn't been for you, wise guy, these other punks wouldn't have figured it."
The sheriff jerked him away angrily. "We got it figured now," he growled.
Alone with Catherine and Torgerson later, Orr said: "About Nelson's share on this formula — I think we'd better turn it over to some hospital for research purposes."
"Good idea," Torgerson agreed. "He would have probably done that himself."
Catherine slipped her arm under her husband's. She said, "Darling, I still can't understand how you tagged Spight."
"Those wirelike impressions on the dirt around that hole he dug," Orr explained. "Only one thing could have done that — corduroy pants. I noticed that's what Spight was wearing this afternoon. In his hurry to get his fingers on the formula, he knelt in several spots. He left knee marks. The fool tagged himself!"
~ The End ~
By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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