"GOOD evening, Basehore," said Dr. Harris as I entered the room. "I'm working on a case now that I think will interest you."
He did not need to say more. The remarkable success of Dr. David S. Harris as an investigator of crime has brought him both fame and fortune. He is perhaps the most famous detective in the world at the present time.
I seated myself in the chair he indicated with his thumb and waited for him to speak. After a few seconds he began, speaking slowly and precisely.
"After the funeral of Dr. D. Francis Javis this morning, his son and heir, Jack, decided to visit the vault in which his father had deposited his enormous fortune of artificial diamonds. When he entered the vault he found that its contents, a billion dollars' worth of perfect, flawless diamonds, had completely disappeared. They were there two days ago, according to the testimony of Arthur Garner, the guard, who has been a trusted employee of the Javis family for forty years. I tested him with a sphygmomanometer, and found out that he was telling the truth. The diamonds were there two days ago.
"But the most remarkable feature of the case is the bulky apparatus which was found in the vault. It is nothing less than a super-radio, which is capable of transmitting solids through space.
"It is well known, in scientific circles, that Mr. C. Gerald Clankey, the radio engineer, has been working for several years to perfect such an apparatus. Mr. Clankey has quite mysteriously disappeared, as has also his friend, Robert Kornfield. The police believe that they are responsible for the disappearance of the diamonds, as Mr. Clankey's fingerprints were found on the panel of the instrument. Various other circumstances, which I need not relate to you now, seem to connect Kornfield with the crime."
I interrupted. "Impossible, Doctor. I've known Bob Kornfield for ten years. We've been comrades in Alaska and Tibet. He's not a crook. He is—"
"Enough, Basehore, enough," said Dr. Harris calmly. "I have precisely the same opinion of the character of C. Jerry Clankey as you have of the character of Kornfield. No matter what the police think, Clankey and Kornfield are innocent. I have not yet informed the police that one of my clever assistants, Billy Wood, has definitely proved, by means of microphotographs, that the fingerprints are forgeries. I have seen more cleverly executed forgeries than these during my career. These are almost crude."
"Then you believe that the robbery was committed by some as yet unknown party, using the apparatus invented by C. Jerry Clankey, forging his fingerprints to confuse the authorities, and finally kidnaping Clankey and Kornfield to prevent them from disclosing what they know?"
"Precisely. We may deduce that the thief used Clankey's apparatus to transmit the diamonds from the vault for the reason that it would be practically impossible to get them out of the country in any other manner. One or two, perhaps, might be successfully smuggled out. But not a billion dollars' worth. No plane has yet been invented that can cross the invisible barrier of high-frequency waves maintained by the government along every mile of our coast and border, except at the airports, through one of which every incoming or outgoing plane must pass, where it is thoroughly searched by customs officers for both taxable and contraband articles. And, as you know, every outgoing auto, train, ship, or other vehicle is similarly searched. I tell you, Basehore, it's a difficult job to smuggle anything in or out of the country since the government adopted that system in 2072.
"My hypothesis at present is something like this. Clankey and Kornfield were last seen on Monday. Today is Friday. Sometime between then and now they were kidnaped by the criminal we are after. He transported them to some point outside the United States, having given a satisfactory excuse for their presence to the government agent who, at some airport, probably New York, inspected his plane. (I am assuming that he used a plane.) He also transported one of Clankey's instruments to the same place. I have been informed that Kornfield has not the slightest knowledge of radio. He was captured, I think, for no other purpose than to get him out of the way. Perhaps he attempted to free Clankey or to prevent his capture. I have no way of telling.
"The bandit must have forced Clankey to tell him how to operate the instrument. Then, leaving his prisoners under guard, he returned. There are several varieties of gas that will render a man totally unconscious in such a way that he will not have the slightest memory of it afterward. The criminal perhaps used one of these gases on Garner and the other guards, transported Clankey's other apparatus to the vault, and transmitted the diamonds through the ether to the place to which he had taken the other instrument. In that way he avoided all danger of apprehension by customs officials and various other government inspectors.
"Perhaps he did not care to risk discovery by removing the bulky apparatus, or perhaps some other reason influenced him to leave the transmitter in the vault. He did, and made his escape, leaving an imitation of the fingerprints of Clankey on the panel.
"Now, who is this thief? Basehore, I think he is none other than our friend 'M. W.'"
This statement surprised me. "M. W." was the signature of a criminal responsible for many daring robberies. For eighteen months he had baffled all detection. The newspapers called him a super-criminal. David Harris had twice tried to capture him, but without success. After each case had been given up as hopeless, the Doctor had received an impudent note signed "M. W.," ridiculing his efforts to catch him. Various other persons, among them some rich victims of the bandit and several important police officials, had received similar notes, heavy with sarcasm.
"What makes you think that M. W. is responsible for this robbery ?" I asked.
"The forged fingerprints," replied Dr. Harris. "M. W. has twice before left forged fingerprints at the scenes of his crimes. Under the microscope these bear a certain resemblance to the forged prints left on the instrument in the vault. It is not definite proof, but nevertheless I believe that M. W. is the gentleman we wish to apprehend."
"Then, Doctor, our friends are in danger. M. W. has a habit of performing an operation on the brain of anyone who knows too much of his affairs, which causes the victim to entirely lose his memory, and then turning him loose. Unless we hurry, Clankey and Kornfield may be transformed into idiots."
"I know, Basehore. I am working as speedily as I can. I have been working on the case for less than two hours, and I am forced to confess that at present I have nothing more than a hypothesis, which can quite possibly be entirely incorrect. I have ninety- three agents engaged in interviewing various members of the government at the present time. Until I hear from them I can do nothing further. They are attempting to find a clue to the direction taken by the criminal. I sincerely hope they succeed in locating the customs officer that inspected his plane when he was abducting Clankey, and that they find out what explanation he offered, what alias he used, and what direction he took. From those two other cases I have definitely learned that his home, the base from which he conducts his operations, is outside the United States."
The door opened, and the jovial, rotund Billy Wood, an expert on microphotography, entered, and addressed the Doctor somewhat as follows:
"Doc, a gent is outside which says his name is Wesley B. Gibson, a friend of C. Jerry Clankey. Shall I let him in?"
Dr. Harris nodded assent. Our visitor, who entered immediately, was slender, with a remarkably intellectual countenance. He seated himself and addressed my friend.
"Doctor, have you, or has anyone else, altered the position of the instrument found in the Javis vault?"
Dr. Harris leaned suddenly forward, a curious gleam in his eyes. "No. The police ordered it to be left as it is. Why?"
"Perhaps I can help you. A few months ago, Mr. Clankey disclosed to me the details of his invention, which I agreed not to repeat, because his patent arrangements are not yet complete. I can, however, say this. His mechanism reduces an object to its constituent atoms. It then changes—transmutes—these atoms into a certain class of waves, which are transmitted through space to his receiver, where an intricate process, the inverse of the first, restores them to their original form. But a thorough explanation of his invention is not possible, or necessary, at this time. What I'm getting at is this. Mr. Clankey's machine does not create matter, nor duplicate matter. It is obviously impossible for a diamond, for instance, to be broadcast, and the same diamond to be received at two, or sixty- seven, or a thousand or more different places. Mr. Clankey's apparatus transmits the object in one direction only. His receiver must be exactly in line with his transmitter, or no results are obtained. Mr. Clankey's system is to first broadcast an ordinary radio signal. This is received by the other operator, who, using accurate radio direction finders, and making allowances for the curvature of the earth, magnetic fields, and all other circumstances which deflect radio waves, finally accomplishes the necessary alignment. Then, after several tests, the object is transmitted.
"My hypothesis concerning the crime is about the same as that I heard you explaining to Mr. Basehore. I have come to request you to obtain a police permit for me to visit the vault, and to examine the instrument. If you will do this, I may be able to discover in what direction the diamonds were transmitted. Of course, it is quite possible that the thief purposely altered the position of the instrument, to throw us off the trail. But I sincerely hope that the criminal overlooked this important detail. If you will please give me a permit—"
Dr. Harris scribbled a few words on a piece of paper and signed. "This will be sufficient, Mr. Gibson," he said. "Shall I take you over to the vault?"
"It is unnecessary," said our visitor. "My cab is waiting." He left the room, and proceeded toward the elevator.
Dr. Harris suddenly sprang into action. He hurried to the phone, and in a few seconds had obtained his connection with the Philadelphia apartments of Richard Brown, the stuntflyer, skywriter, and daredevil. The Doctor did not use the television system because it would have required almost four minutes—four minutes that he did not care to waste—to obtain his connection if he had.
Brown himself answered the phone.
"Dick Brown? This is Dr. Harris speaking. Come at once with the Kelinov monoplane. Mount a couple of Marvite guns on it. Fuel up for a long trip. Hurry."
"I'm coming, Doc. I don't know what's up, but I'm with you. It's seven-thirty now. I'll be there by eight o'clock."
With these words the likable young adventurer hung up his receiver. I felt glad that I was shortly to see him again. He, Bob Kornfield and I had been bosom friends for several years. Dr. Harris could count on his loyalty and assistance positively, in any undertaking that might solve the mystery of Kornfield's disappearance.
Dr. Harris, after Brown had hung up, had proceeded to get in touch with government officials, and had obtained permission to pass through the New York airport, and the twenty-five hundred foot wide gap in the high-frequency barrier, without descending. After this permission had been granted, he called the Police Department, and asked for five reliable men to be assigned to him. This was done without question.
Then, calling the weather bureau, he obtained detailed information as to weather conditions within five hundred miles of New York. Meanwhile I was getting into a flying coat that the Doctor had lent me. He donned a second. His powerful motor car carried us to the great flying field at Brooklyn. The five officers were already there. Three minutes after our arrival, an enormous quintuple-motored Kelinov monoplane, piloted by the keen-faced, smiling, capable Brown, landed as lightly as a feather on the brilliantly lighted field. At the same instant I caught sight of a speeding white taxicab approaching the field from the direction of Manhattan. It stopped with screaming brakes. From it leaped the tall form of Wesley B. Gibson. He had succeeded in obtaining the desired information.
"Unless the position of the instrument has been altered," he said, "the diamonds were transmitted in a direction just one degree, four minutes, and thirty-eight seconds east of northeast. They were probably transmitted several hundred miles."
A few minutes later the great plane rose again into the cool evening air. After he had seen that the plane was exactly on its course, Brown locked the controls. The five powerful motors whirred quietly as the monoplane shot through the night.
In the comfortable cabin, Brown, Harris, myself, and the five officers sat silent, each occupied with his own thoughts. I was wondering vaguely why Dr. Harris had brought the five police officers along. We were leaving the country. They had no right to arrest anyone outside of the United States. The plane, I knew, would soon be proceeding in the general direction of Iceland.
I wondered if Dr. Harris had arranged for extradition papers in case the arrest of the criminal would be in foreign territory.
My wonderings were interrupted by a brilliant red light flashing past the windows of the cabin. It was the government signal. I knew then that we were passing through the airport. Dr. Harris flashed our red signal in return. Brown altered the direction of flight and locked the controls again. I looked below, but could see hardly anything. An exceedingly dense fog was obscuring the atmosphere. The great plane continued unswervingly on its way.
A WHITE light, that seemed to throw no shadow, came from a fixture near the ceiling of a large, windowless room. Directly beneath it lay two unconscious figures on an operating table. All around were stands and cupboards containing a large number of complex instruments, electrical devices and appliances, and many small, razor-edged knives, of various shapes and sizes. A white-clad figure, short and slender, stood at the side of the table. M. W., the super-criminal, was preparing to perform the delicate electro-surgical operation that would forever rob a famous radio engineer and his equally famous friend of their memories, change them into idiots, erase forever their knowledge of the Javis diamonds.
M. W. never killed. For a murder would mean execution if the criminal were ever captured. Though the physical evidence of a murder could perhaps be successfully concealed, the psychological evidence could never be hidden. A sphygmomanometer would betray the secret in three minutes. So M. W. never killed. Under the present laws, which were adopted in 2071, murder is the only crime punishable by death. And as M. W. did not consider capture to be an impossibility, M. W. did not commit murder. This operation would prevent Clankey and Kornfield from disclosing their knowledge of the criminal and the stolen fortune of diamonds quite as effectively as their death would.
The scientific criminal, holding a shining scalpel skillfully in long, sensitive fingers, bent over the unconscious C. Jerry Clankey to make the preliminary incision. The steely grey eyes glittered as brightly as the keen surgical knife.
A door at the far side of the room opened.
THE fog which enveloped the speeding plane became thicker every second. The locked controls kept the silent Kelinov exactly on its course, rigidly level, and traveling at the comparatively slow rate of 215 miles per hour. Brown was manipulating our infra-red searchlight. This sent a powerful beam of invisible light below us, which brilliantly, though invisibly, illuminated the sea. On our special receiving screens, the ocean was plainly visible. By using this device, we hoped to be able to find out where the criminal had landed, without betraying our presence as we would probably have done if we had used a searchlight employing visible light.
Suddenly the flyer leaped to his controls. He started the helicopter propellers that had not been used since the take-off, and switched off the tractors. Then he again locked the controls, and hastened back to the infra-red searchlight. He, Harris, and I regarded the screen that disclosed the scene below us, that our unaided eyes could not see. The monoplane hovered in the air, motionless, silent, hidden in the dense fog. Almost directly below it, revealed by the infra-red searchlight, was an artificial island.
Brown referred to some of the instruments on the dashboard, obtained his data, and proceeded to find out the exact latitude and longitude with a pilot's automatic calculator. The accurate mechanical computator soon supplied the desired information. Dr. Harris checked the position on a map. "The island has not been charted," he said.
Then I understood why the officers had been brought along. By international agreement, any artificial island was considered as territory of the nation whose citizens were responsible for its erection. M. W. was, it had been ascertained, an American citizen. Therefore, American officers had a perfect right to arrest an American lawbreaker on an American island. I wondered why I had not thought of that sooner.
If the island was the property of an honest person, it would have undoubtedly been charted, according to law. This island had not been. Here, far from the usual paths of commerce, the criminal had erected a base. I understood then why M. W. had been so hard to trace, why the best detectives of two continents had failed. Here, in the unfrequented northern ocean, was the bandit's stronghold.
Brown diminished the speed of his helicopters, and the plane dropped slowly, vertically, coming finally to rest on the island's darkened landing platform, without the slightest perceptible jar, owing to Brown's unusual skill as a flyer. Landing at night, without adequate lighting facilities, is not easy, even with the best of planes.
Two officers were left, fully armed, to guard the monoplane. Two were sent to the hangar at one end of the platform with instructions to disable every plane in it so completely that aerial escape would be impossible. The other officer, a sturdy chap named Finnegan, accompanied Brown, Dr. Harris, and me, as, with automatics drawn, we advanced to a door at one side of the platform. We opened it without any difficulty.
The room we entered was an electrical laboratory, well- equipped, at least fifty yards long, and about half as wide. No one was in it, although it was lighted. We assumed, therefore, that someone had been in it recently. It had two doors, not including the one we had entered by, at opposite sides of the room. The great amount of various radio and electrical apparatus it contained would probably be valued at more than a hundred thousand dollars.
After a whispered consultation, we decided to divide, the Doctor and Finnegan taking one door, and Brown and I taking another. This plan was carried out. Brown and I, having opened our door and passed through it, soon found ourselves in a narrow corridor. With the utmost caution, making as little noise as possible, we passed down the hallway, our guns in our hands.
We entered the first door we came to, Brown preceding me. I heard a metallic click, a bullet whistled past my face, and the aviator pitched forward to the floor. In the center of the room stood a tall man. I pulled the trigger of my gun without waiting to see what he looked like. My bullet must have struck his gun, or the hand that held it, for he dropped it with an exclamation of pain, and darted out a door behind him, slamming it shut. When I reached it, it was locked, as was also the door by which we had entered.
I bent over Brown, opening my pocket first-aid kit hurriedly. He was not seriously wounded, having merely been scratched. The bullet that scratched him, however, was anesthetic. I at once attempted to revive him. Having removed his coat, I ripped open his shirt sleeve so that I might more easily attend to the trifling wound.
On his upper arm were tattooed an anchor, a mermaid, and the two letters, "M. W."
DR. HARRIS and Finnegan had silently advanced to the other door leading out of the electrical laboratory. Opening it cautiously, Dr. Harris saw, for the first time, his archenemy. In the center of the room, M. W. was bending over an operating table, on which, the Doctor perceived, lay two unconscious figures. Dr. Harris fired, and ran to the table. In his intense excitement, he missed completely.
The criminal, eyes blazing, suspended the scalpel six inches above the throat of C. Jerry Clankey, holding it between thumb and forefinger. It was checkmate. If the Doctor shot again, the knife would fall.
The tall man, whose gun I had shot from his hand, having pressed the button that electrically locked all the doors of the room that Brown and I had discovered him in, ran down the corridor to warn his chief. It was he, who, bursting suddenly through the door at the rear of M. W., saved the radio engineer's life.
The criminal, startled by the noise, turned involuntarily. In that second, Dr. Harris fired. His bullet, by a freak of chance, hit the scalpel. The tall man snapped out the light. Several pistol shots rang out.
When Finnegan finally succeeded in extracting his flashlight from his pocket and lighting it, no one was in the room but himself and the two unconscious figures on the operating table. Finnegan set about to revive them, and in about fifteen minutes had succeeded in doing so.
Let Bob Kornfield tell the story from now on.
I, ROBERT KORNFIELD, sat up suddenly. A young chap I'd never seen before was regarding me with satisfaction. His name, I learned later, was Finnegan.
Suddenly memory came back to me. Excitedly I asked questions of Finnegan, who was attempting to revive Clankey, and obtained from him a brief synopsis of what has been narrated by Paul Basehore, with the exception of those details concerning the shooting of Brown, which Finnegan, of course, did not then know of. Then I borrowed one of Finnegan's guns, and, in spite of his protests, ventured out into the corridor. He continued to try to revive my unconscious friend, and therefore could not hinder me. I soon reached the electrical laboratory.
At one side of the laboratory stood the "super-radio" that had been invented by C. Jerry Clankey. Close beside it were three enormous chests. I opened one of them, and then the other two. Each was completely full of diamonds. Artificial diamonds, created by the genius of the late D. Francis Javis, who had carried his secret to his grave.
Even though diamonds were now comparatively cheap, because those that Javis had sold were to some extent flooding the market, I knew nevertheless that I was gazing at a colossal fortune. Fascinated, I picked up a beautiful gem of several hundred carats, and of the most delicate shade of rose, and held it in the light. It flashed, scintillated. The perfect beauty of it hypnotized me.
I heard a step behind me. I wheeled, and found myself face to face with M. W.
When the tall man had snapped off the lights in the operating room (as Basehore has narrated, though he was not there at that time, he obtained his information later from Harris, just as I did in several instances), the criminal had leaped for the door. The tall man had already escaped through it.
The keen ear of Dr. Harris enabled him to follow closely, even though the room was completely dark. When he passed through the door, he slammed it shut. Sprinting down the corridor, he succeeded in overtaking and grasping M. W. by the shoulder. An involuntary exclamation escaped from the criminal, and Dr. Harris' suspicion was confirmed. M. W. was a woman! The high- pitched voice could not possibly have been possessed by a man. The clothes that she was wearing had quite effectively concealed her figure.
The tall man, whom I might as well call Ericson, which we ascertained later was his name, had concealed himself in a doorway. Hearing the woman's cry, he had hurried to her assistance. One blow from his enormous ham-like fist, and the Doctor was down, with a fractured jaw. M. W. ordered Ericson to carry him to the next floor below, and tie him securely. Then she hurried to the radio laboratory, where, she knew, there were several guns, of various deadly varieties. It was her intention to obtain one of these, and then to return to the operating-room and dispose of Finnegan. When she entered the laboratory, my attention was completely absorbed by the great rose diamond.
I turned and faced her. For a moment I thought I saw fear in the steely grey eyes. I covered her with Finnegan's gun. She advanced toward me. I fired. The gun clicked futilely. It was empty. Finnegan had evidently been using it rather freely in the dark, before he had lit his flashlight, and set about to revive me. When M. W. perceived that the gun was my only weapon, and empty, the bravado vanished. She darted to a peculiar instrument at the opposite side of the room, threw in two switches with long, insulated handles, and manipulated one of three small levers. From a tube at the top of the instrument a small, blindingly brilliant object seemed to float through the air towards me.
It was an artificial ball of lightning!
I attempted to dodge it, and escape through a door. But it could move as fast as I could. It reached the door before I did, headed me off, and finally cornered me. M. W. quite evidently had it under control. It hovered around me.
I recalled various stories I had heard about that peculiar freak of nature, ball lightning. I remembered having heard of one that had rolled off a roof, floated through a window, and finally exploded, killing two men, and doing a considerable amount of property damage.
Scientists have long been able to produce artificial lightning, enormous discharges of electricity, but artificial ball lightning was something new. And M. W. had it under control! The bright, crackling, luminous ball of electricity went where the criminal wanted it to go. I did not doubt that she could explode it at will, too.
Even as the flaming ball hovered about me, I could not help thinking what a wonderful war-time weapon this invention would make. I had a mental picture of an airplane, high over an enemy's lines, sending out these electrical spheres by the dozen, to float gracefully down to an ammunition dump, set off tons of high explosive, and eliminate thousands of men at one time. These thoughts and others raced through my mind as I stood in the corner and watched the hovering ball of fire.
FINNEGAN had revived my friend C. Jerry Clankey, and had gone in search of Dr. Harris, while Clankey had come at once to the electrical laboratory, where Finnegan had told him I had gone.
Entering suddenly, he seized M. W. by the shoulder and threw her to the floor. Then he leaped to the instrument. Unfamiliar with its operation, he experimented with the three small levers that controlled the actions of the lightning sphere that was hovering level with my waist. He soon discovered how to manage it. The ball moved away from me in little jerks, approached M. W. She raised her head and regarded it intently, fearfully. She was sobbing. The excitement of the night had been too much even for her. C. Jerry Clankey had broken her nerve.
I looked at him. In the deep, blazing, blue eyes I read his intention. There was no chivalry there. He was not considering the fact that she was a woman. He thought only of his stolen invention, that he had worked at for so long, of the attempt to besmirch his honor by leaving the false fingerprints, and of his narrow escape from insanity at her hands. I have known him for many years, but this was the first and only time I had ever seen his temper thoroughly aroused. I read his eyes. There was murder in them.
Fascinated, unable to speak, I watched the flaming ball of electric fire, as it moved, slowly, but with a horrible certainty, to the figure of the sobbing "super-criminal." The ball seemed to hesitate about three feet from her.
The figure of a man sprang through the open doorway, and leaped directly at the ball of lightning. It exploded.
PAUL BASEHORE had discovered that Brown and he were locked in the room where they had first discovered the tall man, Ericson. He set about, as he has narrated, to revive the unconscious aviator, and in so doing, discovered the two initials tattooed on the daredevil's arm. His curiosity aroused, he redoubled his efforts to bring the man to consciousness. But the powerful anesthetic, contained in the tiny grooves in the bullet that had scratched Brown, had taken effect. It was some time before Brown finally opened his eyes, and said weakly, "Thanks, Paul. Where are we?"
Basehore at once started toward a door, determined to break free from the tiny room in which Ericson had imprisoned them, after having fired the bullet that had thrown the aviator into oblivion. But Basehore could not see the tall form of Ericson passing in the corridor outside, bearing the unconscious Dr. David Harris on his shoulder. Basehore could not see when Ericson paused in the corridor outside to open a tiny panel and throw a hidden switch. Then Ericson continued on his way with his burden. At the end of the corridor, Finnegan was waiting for him.
Basehore did not know all of this. He did not know that the switch had been thrown, or that it connected the metallic plate imbedded in the floor before the doorway, and also the cleverly concealed metallic plate in the door itself, with the gigantic generators far below, in the bowels of the island that supplied, directly from the never-ceasing tide, the light, and heat, and power that this artificial island, this ultra-modern laboratory of criminals, used. Basehore hurled his whole weight against the door, determined to break it down. As he did so, his body closed the circuit. That is why I, Robert Kornfield, am completing the story he began. Basehore did not return to consciousness, and feeling, and life, until many, many days had passed, and even then would not have done so, were it not for the superhuman skill and ability of the world's greatest surgeon. Of that, later.
BUT Basehore had broken down the door, snapping the electric wires it contained as he did so. Brown leaped over his body into the corridor, made sure that he was no longer in contact with the metallic plates, lifted him gently to his shoulder, and carried him down the corridor, in the opposite direction to that taken by Ericson. So it happened that he arrived at the entrance of the electrical laboratory just as C. Jerry Clankey was causing the ball of electric fire to approach M. W.
And Dick Brown recognized the girl. Fate is a curious thing. Chance. That is all. Of all the unusual episodes of the night, this was the most impossible. Brown had known her, four years before. They had attended the same university.
He had, for a while, been in love with her. She never had paid the slightest attention to him. She never had been known to display the slightest emotion, unless a biting, iconoclastic sarcasm, which showed itself in her notes, could be classed as an emotion. She always had been cold, scientific, unnatural, abnormal. She could have been beautiful, if she had tried. It is difficult to say just what quality in her had attracted the fun- loving Brown. He had had her initials tattooed on his arm once, and had been told by her that he was an exceedingly silly fool. He had never seen her after his graduation.
But chance had brought the impulsive adventure-seeker and the cold-blooded criminal scientist together once more. Dick Brown recognized Margaret Walters.
Hurriedly, though gently, he deposited his unconscious burden on the floor, and leaped through the doorway, directly at the flaming ball that menaced the young woman. It exploded. But it exploded harmlessly. They were both within six feet of it, but neither was seriously hurt, contrary to my expectations. Actual contact with the flaming ball, I have since learned, is necessary for the purpose of killing.
I turned my eyes again to C. Jerry Clankey. The madness, the flaming hate, was gone from his eyes. He switched off the machine. Then Finnegan entered, with Dr. Harris on his shoulder. When Ericson had seen him in the corridor, he had dropped the Doctor and fled. Finnegan had shot after him, but he had not stopped running until he was out of sight around a corner. Then Finnegan had bound up Dr. Harris' bleeding jaw as well as he could, and had carried him back to the laboratory.
The girl was manacled, and taken out to the plane, after Basehore and Dr. Harris had been carried out by Brown and Finnegan.
I stayed in the laboratory with Clankey, as he busied himself at his own invention. Five minutes later I heard him start to talk out loud to himself, as he has a habit of doing. "Good old Gibson," he said. "He's always where you want him when you want him there."
A FIERCE battle had been raging outside. The two officers who had been detailed to disable the planes in the hangar had, in so doing, inadvertently aroused from their slumber M. W.'s accomplices and assistants, whose living quarters were at one side of the hangar. Excluding M. W., Ericson, and the deaf- mute cook and housemaid, there were five others on the island, four men and a woman.
The four officers had managed, after some gun-fighting, in which one of the men was killed, and one of the officers severely wounded, to explode a tear-gas bomb, and, equipped with masks, had taken the three remaining men and the woman prisoners. Leaving them manacled, the three officers dressed the wounds of their comrade, and then decided to enter the building in search of Brown, Basehore, Harris, and Finnegan, and were about to do so when Basehore and the Doctor were carried out. Brown and Finnegan returned to the laboratory. The officers manacled M. W. to her friends, and attempted vainly to revive Basehore and Dr. Harris.
In the laboratory, Brown, Finnegan, and I watched Clankey. He had succeeded in getting in touch with Gibson, who had returned to the vault in New York, and he was transmitting the diamonds back to him. We watched with superlative interest as each sparkling gem was placed in the apparatus to be sent invisibly hundreds of miles through the ether to New York, where the other marvelous mechanism received them. Though at least one diamond was sent every ten seconds, it took a considerable amount of time to transmit the enormous fortune. When two of the three chests of jewels had been emptied, Ericson entered the laboratory.
He was bleeding. Finnegan's bullet had penetrated his abdomen, and the unfortunate man was dying a slow, torturous death. He laughed at us, a sobbing, jerking laugh. He spoke between spasms of pain.
"Au revoir!" he said. "Gentlemen, I shall blow you all to hell with me. That switch over there, when I throw it, will detonate about thirty tons of trinitrotoluene. I wish you a very happy journey."
As he spoke, Brown leaped toward him. The dying man laughed, and threw, not the switch he had spoken of, which was on the other side of the room, but another, which was close to his side.
A sheet of flame separated him from the rest of us. From one side of the room to the other, and from ceiling to floor, leaped roaring, blinding discharges of electricity.
No man could go through it and live. It divided the room into two parts. We were on one side of it. Ericson was on the other. We heard his laugh above the noise it made. We saw him stagger across the room to that other switch that would throw us all into eternity.
IN New York, Gibson bent over the other instrument with an anxious, puzzled frown. Only about two-thirds of the diamonds had been received, and the instrument had fallen silent. He tried desperately to signal Clankey, to find out what was wrong. Though he stayed at the instrument for more than an hour, no message, no diamonds, came through. In New York, he could not know immediately of the terrific explosion that had taken place so many miles out on the restless Atlantic. For Ericson had reached the switch.
But we escaped. Ericson had stumbled in the middle of the floor. He could not rise. But he crawled. And that gave us time. When Brown had found that bullets could not penetrate the great sheet of electricity that cut off that end of the room from us, and that we had no possible way to prevent Ericson from carrying out his purpose, Brown, Finnegan, Clankey, and I carried the other chest of diamonds out to the plane. By the time that Ericson had managed to reach the switch and throw it, the great Kelinov was nine hundred feet up in the air. A large fragment of the wreckage of the island hit the left wing and snapped it off. The plane reeled, and dove vertically to the ocean below.
GIBSON leaned back in his chair and looked steadily at the paper in his hand. It was the report of the Seismographic Station of New York, and told of the occurrence of a violent explosion in the North Atlantic. Gibson noticed the time that it had occurred, 1:35 A. M. The last diamond received had been transmitted to him at 1:24 A. M. He wondered if escape had been accomplished in those eleven minutes between the last signal received and the time of the explosion. He looked at the clock. It was thirteen minutes after two. It had been only eight hours before that the expedition had left the metropolis to attempt to apprehend the super-criminal.
Gibson was very tired. The nervous strain that he had been enduring was telling on him. He nibbled at a tablet of concentrated food.
Suddenly he seized a hypodermic needle from the desk before him, jabbed it viciously into his arm, and pushed down the plunger. Then, his drowsiness gone, his brain cleared by the drug, he rose and left the room to direct the search for what was left of the expedition that had set out in the early evening.
BY three o'clock, more than fifty small, fast, scout planes were searching the ocean from Greenland and Iceland south to the line of artificial islands that marks the trade route from Europe to America.
Several times their searchlight beams came close to the wrecked, silent monoplane floating on the angry water.
When the wreckage from the explosion had taken the wing off the Kelinov, it had plunged vertically towards the sea. But the master-flyer Brown had saved us once again. Fighting desperately at the controls, he had brought the plane out of its dive with inches to spare. It struck the water laterally, submerging what remained of the wing. But the fuselage was watertight. We floated, fuel gone, radio gone, food gone. The food, fuel and radio had been stored in the hollow compartments of the wing. The searchers found us just before dawn.
It was an unusual party they rescued. Five policemen, one badly wounded; the captives they had taken in the battle by the hangar; the horribly burned, scarcely breathing Basehore; Dr. David Harris, whom we had finally succeeded in reviving, with his broken jaw; Brown, the aviator; his former acquaintance, Margaret Walters, the super-criminal; C. Gerald Clankey, the radio engineer; and myself, Robert Kornfield. When Gibson's graceful amphibian biplane swooped down from the sky to take us aboard, the dawn broke, and the most exciting night of my life was over. Gibson's pilot took us all to MV-39B.
When we had arrived at this well-known British artificial island, which boasts of a population of more than a million and a half, we discovered that Herbert Wiessler, the world famous surgeon, would arrive there half an hour later. During that half hour, Gibson communicated with the authorities and made all necessary arrangements. He also sent a radiogram to Jack Javis informing him of the safety of the remaining diamonds.
Wiessler himself attended to Basehore. It was with very great joy indeed that we heard his announcement that our friend would live, though he was unconscious and would remain so indefinitely. I believe I have mentioned before that Basehore did not return to consciousness for many weeks.
Then Wiessler, leaving the wounded policeman (and also Dr. Harris' broken jaw), to the attention of other competent surgeons, performed what is known as operation 43A on Margaret Walters, after Gibson had obtained the necessary legal permission from New York.
The research of the last fifty years has shown that crime is, to a great extent, a mental disease, which can be cured, in most cases, by various operations on the brains of criminals, and our laws are now in a process of transition. If the sphygmomanometer tests had shown her to have been guilty of murder, the inexorable law would have required her execution, but this did not prove to be the case. So a great scientific brain was saved for the United States.
Just before the operation, while Wiessler was sterilizing his instruments, I happened to overhear a conversation between him and the aviator. For once in his life Richard Brown was not smiling. He was intensely in earnest.
"Doctor," he was saying, "I never knew her to display an emotion. I don't believe she ever felt any. Can't you implant in her mind at least a little tendency to be human, some appreciation of beauty, an inclination to smile once in a while? She's always been too damned scientific. Make her something like a human being, Doc, if it's possible."
Dr. Wiessler smiled, but did not say anything. He seldom did. He picked up a tray of instruments, and passed through the door to the next room, where the girl lay under the anesthetic.
THE real end of the adventure occurred three days later. C. Jerry Clankey expressed a desire to speak to the twenty-four-year-old genius who had so nearly succeeded in changing us both to idiots, in order to find out from her the secret of artificial "ball-lightning." He was fascinated with the possibilities of the invention. After supper I accompanied him to her room. The nurse, whom we met in the hallway, informed us that she was asleep. When we came to her door, it was ajar. Glancing in, we saw Dick Brown at the bedside of the girl he had once loved. Somehow, I realized very clearly that he still did. He bent over her. He would have kissed her if the grey eyes hadn't flickered open just then.
She smiled. "Hello, Dick," she said.
I felt fingers gripping my shoulder. C. Jerry jerked me down the corridor. "Bob," he said, "I'm ashamed of you. It is considered extremely impolite to be listening in while people are renewing old acquaintance. Let us proceed down this hallway, emerge from the door, and—"
"And?" said I softly, with gently rising inflection.
"And gaze intently at the moon," he finished lamely.
So we proceeded down that hallway, emerged from the door, and gazed intently at the moon.