Adelia Applegate's Compliment 5 глава





He presented his card to a suspicious door man at the Crescent and was finally admitted backstage and shown down a brilliantly lighted corridor to the dressing room of Harold Morley. It was a snug little place, the dressing room, for Morley had fitted it up to suit his own tastes once it was assured that the company would remain at the Crescent for an extended run. There were pictures on the walls, a potted plant in the window overlooking the alleyway, and a rug on the floor.

Seated before a mirror with electric lights at either side, was a stout little man, almost totally bald. He was diligently rubbing cold cream on his face, and when Fenton Hardy entered he did not turn around but, eyeing his visitor in the mirror, casually told him to sit down.

"Often heard of you, Mr. Hardy," he said, in a surprisingly deep voice that had a comical effect in contrast to his diminutive appearance "Often heard of you. Glad to meet you. What kind of call is this! Social-or professional?"

"Professional."

Morley continued rubbing cold cream on his jowls.

"Spill it," he said briefly. "What's it all about?"

"Ever see this wig before?" asked Mr. Hardy, tossing the red wig on the table.

Morley turned from the mirror, and an expression of delight crossed his plump countenance,

"Well, I'll say I've seen it before!" he declared. "Old Kauffman-the best wig-maker in the country-made that for me about a year and a half ago. That's the kind of wig I wear for Launcelot Gobbo in 'The Merchant of Venice.' Where did you get it? I sure didn't think I'd ever see that wig again."

"Why?"

"Stolen from me. Some low-down egg cleaned out my dressing room one night. During the performance. Nerviest thing I ever "heard of. Came right in here while I was doing my stuff out front, grabbed my watch and money and a diamond ring I had lying by the mirror, took this wig and a couple of others that were lying around, and beat it. Nobody saw him come or go. Must have got in by that window."

Morley talked in short, rapid sentences, and there was no mistaking his sincerity.

"How many wigs did be taken?"

"About half a dozen. Funny thing about that, too. They were all red. Took nothin' but red wigs. I told the cops to be on the lookout for a red-headed thief. I didn't worry so much about the other wigs, for they were for old plays, but this one was being used right along. Kauffman made it specially for me. I had to get him to make another. But say-where did you find it?"

'' Oh, just a little case I'm investigating. The crook left this behind him. I was trying to trace it."

"Well, you've traced it all right But that's all the help I can give you. The cops never did find out who cleaned out my dressing room."

Mr. Hardy was disappointed. The clue of the red wig had led only to a blind alley. But he concealed his chagrin and tossed the wig over to Morley.

"Gee, and I'm sure glad to get it back again," declared the actor. "Things haven't gone right with me at all since I lost that wig. Losing it brought me a whole flock of bad luck, Sorry I can't help you find the guy that took it, What's he been up to now?"

Fenton Hardy evaded the question.

"Oh, I'll probably get him some other way, give me a list and description of the stuff that he took from you. Probably I can trace him through that."

"Hop to it," said Morley breezily. "Hop right to it, old man. Here's a list of the stuff right here," He reached in a drawer and drew out a sheet of paper which he handed over to the detective. "That's the same list I gave to the cops when I reported the robbery. Number of the watch, and everything."

Mr. Hardy folded the list and put it in his pocket. Morley glanced at his watch, lying beside the mirror, face up, and gave an exclamation.

"Suffering Sebastopol! Curtain in five minutes and I'm not half made up yet. Excuse me, Mr. Hardy, but I've got to get busy. In this business 'I'll be ready in a minute' doesn't go."

He seized a stick of grease paint and feverishly resumed the task of altering his appearance to that of the character he was portraying at the matinee that day. Mr. Hardy, smiling at the actor's casual informality, withdrew from the dressing room and made his way out to the street.

"A blind alley!" he muttered. "I was sure I could trace the fellow by means of the wig. Oh, well!" He shrugged his shoulders. "I still have the hat and coat. And if the worst comes to the worst I can try to trace the chap through the stuff he stole from Morley-for it was probably the same man, But it looks like a big job."

It was a big job.

Efforts to trace the purchaser of the hat and coat were fruitless. The search ended at a secondhand store where the owner vainly tried to sell Mr. Hardy a complete outfit of clothing at a bargain, but could not or would not remember who had bought the coat from him. He sold so many coats, and at such bargains, that he could not remember the customers who came into his store. Mr. Hardy was forced to retire, defeated.

The predominating quality of the detective's character was patience. When he found that he could not trace the thief through the wig, the hat or the coat, he doggedly set to work trying to trace the man who had broken into the dressing room of the actor, Morley, and this, in spite of the fact that the police had already given up that case as hopeless.

Then, in his spare time, Mr. Hardy spent hours at police headquarters, poring over records, searching for particulars of hundreds of red-headed criminals.

It was over a week before he found what he wanted and it came from a chance note at the bottom of a police description of a thief who was at that time out on parole, But when

Fenton Hardy saw the note he knew he had stumbled ov the clue he needed. And he smiled grimly.

"It won't be long now," he remarked, to himself as he went back home.

 

CHAPTER XIII

In Poor Quarters

 

In the meantime, the Hardy boys were finding the suspense almost unbearable. They had expected that their father would be away for a day at the most, but when two days dragged 'by, then three, and finally an entire week, without word from Mr. Hardy further than a brief note from New York stating that he was well and that the case was not as easy of solution as he had hoped, they became depressed.

"If dad can't get the thief, no one can," declared Joe, with conviction, "and I'm beginning to think that even dad is falling down on this affair."

"'Better wait till he admits it himself," suggested Frank. "Although I don't mind telling you I'm not very hopeful myself."

Frank's preoccupied air had not gone unobserved. Callie Shaw had noticed his abstraction. More than once, when she had smiled hesitantly at him as they met one another In the hallways or in the classroom at the high school, he had merely nodded moodily. Callie was too sensible to be hurt by this, but she wondered what was worrying Frank. So one afternoon, when they happened to leave school together, she taxed him with it.

"What's on your mind, Frank?" she asked gaily, "You've been going around looking like a human thundercloud for the last week."

"Who, me? I didn't notice," returned Frank tonelessly.

"Yes, you!" she replied, mimicking his lifeless tone. "You used to be full of fun. What's the matter? Can't I help?" She glanced up at him eagerly.

Frank shook his head.

"No, you can't help, Callie. It's about Slim."

"Slim Robinson? Oh, yes! Wasn't that too sad?" said Callie, with quick sympathy "He had to leave school. They tell me he's working. But until they find who did take the stuff, Mr. Robinson is out of a job and nobody will hire him."

"Isn't that too bad? I'm going over to see Paula and Tessie and Mrs. Robinson tonight. Where are they living?"

Frank gave Callie the address. Her eyes widened.

"Why that's in one of the poorest sections of the city! Frank, I had no idea it was that bad !"

"It is-and it'll be a lot worse unless Mr. Robinson gets work pretty soon. Slim's earnings aren't nearly enough to keep the family yet."

"Isn't there any chance that Mr. Robinson will be cleared?"

"That's what's worrying me. Dad is working on the case."

"Then why should you worry?" said Callie triumphantly. "'Why, that means it'll be all cleared up. Your father can do anything!"

"I used to think so, too. But he seems to be stuck, this time."

"What's the matter?"

"He went to New York almost a week ago with some clues that Joe and I were certain) would clear up the affair, and so far we haven't heard from him, only to know that the case was harder than he expected."

"But he hasn't given up, has he?'"

"Well-no - "

"Then what are you worrying about? If your father had given up the case there would be something to worry about. If he is still working on it there's always hope."

They walked on in silence for a while.

"Let's go out to see the Robinsons," Callie said suddenly.

"I've been intending to go, but- I sort of - well-you know - "

"You thought it might embarrass them. Well, it won't. I know Paula and Tessie well, and they're not that kind. They'd appreciate a friendly visit."

Frank hesitated. He had the natural shyness of his age and he felt awkward about visiting the Robinsons in their new home, for he knew they were now in reduced circumstances and might not wish their former friends to see them in their present plight. But Callie's words reassured him.

"All right. I'll go. We can't stay long though."

"We can't. I must be back in time for supper. We'll just drop in on them so they'll know we haven't forgotten all about them,"

"I thought you were going over to see them tonight?"

"I was, but I've changed my mind. It will be a change for you to come with me now."

Frank hailed a passing street car bound for the section of the city in which the Robinsons lived and they got on board. It was a long ride and the streets became poorer and meaner as they neared the outskirts of Bayport.

"It's an outrage, that's what it is!" declared Callie abruptly. "Mrs. Robinson and the girls are always accustomed to having everything so nice! And now they have to live away out here! Oh, I hope your father catches the man that committed that robbery!"

Her eyes flashed and for a moment she looked so fierce that Frank laughed.

"I suppose you'd like to be the judge and jury at his trial, eh?" he chuckled.

"I'd give him a hundred years in jail!"

When at length they came to the street to which the Robinsons had moved they found that It was an even poorer thoroughfare than they had expected. There were squalid shacks and tumbledown houses on either side of the narrow street, and ragged children were playing im the roadway. At the far end of the street they came to a small, unpainted cottage that some how contrived to look neat in spite of the surroundings. The picket fence had been repaired and the yard had been cleaned up.

"This is where they live," said Frank. "It's the neatest place on the whole street."

Paula answered their knock. She was filled with pleasure when she saw who the callers were.

"Frank and Callie!" exclaimed the girl. "You've come to see us! Come in. We're dying of loneliness. There hasn't been a soul out this way since we moved"

Callie flashed Frank a look of triumph, and whispered:

"There, now! Didn't I tell you they'd be glad?" as they went into the house.

They were greeted with kindly dignity by Mrs. Robinson and with girlish good humor by Tessie. Mrs. Robinson received them with the same self-possession she would have shown had they been back at Tower Mansion, and Frank wondered at himself for thinking that these good people might be ashamed to meet their old friends in this new and humbler home.

"We can't stay long," explained Callie, "But Frank and I just thought we'd run out m see how you all are."

"We're all well-that's one mercy to be thankful for," answered Mrs. Robinson, «perry is working, I suppose you knew that."

"And Mr. Robinson?" inquired Frank.

She shook her head.

"Not yet." Mrs. Robinson's lips quivered.

"It's so hard for him," she said. "Without a recommendation. You know It looks although he might have to go to another city to get work."

"And leave you here?"

"I suppose so. We don't know what to do."

"It's so unjust!'' flared Paula. "Papa didn't have a thing to do with that miserable robbery, and yet he has to suffer for it just the same!"

"Has your father-discovered anything-yet, Frank?" asked Mrs. Robinson hesitantly.

"I'm sorry,'' admitted Frank. '' We haven't heard from him. He's been away in New York following up some clues. But so far there's been nothing. Of course, it isn't often he falls down on a case."

"We hardly dare hope that he'll be able to clear Mr. Robinson. The whole case is so mysterious."

"I've given up thinking of it," Tessie declared. "If it is cleared up, all well and good. If it isn't-we won't starve, at any rate, and papa knows we all believe in him."

"Yes, I suppose it doesn't do much good to keep talking about it," agreed Mrs. Robinson. "We've gone over it all so thoroughly that there is nothing more to say."

So, by tacit consent, the subject was changed, and for the rest of their stay Frank and Callie chatted of doings at school. Mrs. Robinson and the girls invited them to remain for supper, but Callie insisted that she must go. When they left they promised faithfully to pay another visit in the near future. Only once again was the subject that was nearest their hearts brought up, and that was when Mrs. Robinson drew Frank to one side as he was leaving.

"Promise me one thing," she said. "Let me know as soon as your father returns-if he has any news."

"I'll do that, Mrs. Robinson," agreed the boy. "I know what this suspense must be like for you."

"It's terrible. But as long as Fenton Hardy is working on the case I'm sure that it will be cleared up if it is humanly possible."

And with that, the matter rested. Callie was unusually silent all the way home. It was evident that she had been profoundly affected by the change that the Tower Mansion mystery had caused in the lives of the Robinsons. Naturally sympathetic and tender-hearted, she felt keenly the injustice of it all, and she realized even more than Frank what it had meant to Mrs. Robinson and the girls to move from their comfortable home in the Mansion to the squalid and distant part of the city in which they now lived.

Callie lived but a few blocks away from the Hardy home, and Frank accompanied her to her house.

"Mercy!" she exclaimed, glancing at her watch, "it's after six. I'm already late for supper."

"So am I. See you tomorrow."

"Surely. But, Frank - "

"Yes?"

Callie hesitated, then looked directly into his eyes. "Frank," she said, "if your father somehow, doesn't clear up this affair, you and Joe simply must do it! You must! For the Robinsons. It means so much to them."

"Dad won't fall down on it. Don't worry. And Joe and I are giving all the help we can."

His confidence was contagious. Callie brightened up immediately.

"In that case," she said, gaily, "the mystery is as good as solved. The three best detectives in the world are working on it. Goodbye, Frank."

With that she ran lightly into the house.

 

CHAPTER XIV

Red Jackley

 

It was another week before Fenton Hardy returned to Bayport.

Contrary to the expectations of the boys, he did not arrive from New York. Instead, he came home early one morning, having reached the city by a train from the west. He had sent in advance notice of his arrival, and the first his sons knew of it was when a servant told them that their father had reached the house in the early hours of the morning, plainly careworn and travel-stained. He had gone immediately to bed, leaving orders that he was on no account to be disturbed.

This was at breakfast, and although the boys were wild with impatience to learn the outcome of their father's trip, they were obliged to curb their curiosity. Mr. Hardy was still sleeping when they left for school that morning and, to their surprise, he was asleep when they came back home for lunch.

"He must be mighty tired!" remarked Joe. "I wonder where on earth he came from?"

reed Jackley 11T

"Probably been up all night. When dad gets hard at work on a case he forgets all about sleep. I'll bet he found something."

"Hope so. But I wish he'd wake up and tell us. I hate to go back to school without knowing."

But Mr. Hardy had not awakened by the time the boys set out for school again, although they lingered until they were in danger of being late.

All afternoon they were tormented by curiosity. Where had their father been? What had he discovered? As soon as school was out they fled down the steps, broke away from a group of boys anxious to get up a baseball game, and shattered all records in their race for home.

Fenton Hardy was in the library, and as they rushed panting into the room he grinned broadly at his sons, for he was quite well aware that they were impatient to hear an account of his trip.

He looked refreshed after his long sleep and it was evident that his trip had not been entirely without success, for his manner was cheerful. The Hardy boys knew their father well, and they knew that when a case was difficult of solution the great detective became moody and worried.

"What luck, dad?" asked Frank, perching on the arm of an easy chair.

Mr. Hardy raised his eyebrows, pretending not to understand.

"About what?" he inquired.

"About the case. The Tower Mansion case. The red wig. Did you find out who owned it? Did you catch the thief?"

"Whoa! Whoa! Not all at once. A question at a time please. Now, do I understand that you want to know if I found out anything about the Tower Mansion affair?"

"Don't keep us waiting, dad," pleaded Joe. "You know that's what we're asking you about."

"Well," answered Mr. Hardy, "yes-and no!"

"That's not much of an answer," objected Frank, in disappointment.

"It's the best answer I can give, unfortunately. I did find out something about the red wig. But as for connecting its wearer with the Tower robbery-that is still to come."

"You traced the fellow who wore the wig?"'

"I did. And he turned out to be a well-known criminal-well known to the police, that Is."

"What's his name?" asked Joe.

"Jackley. John Jackley - commonly known as 'Red'."

"Because he has red hair?"

"Because he hasn't red hair. That reverses the usual order of nicknames, I imagine. This fellow Jackley has a fondness for wearing red wigs."

"And was he the man who stole Chet's roadster?"

"It seems almost certain. I traced the wig which had been originally stolen from an actor in New York. I traced it to Jackley because his habit of wearing red wigs is well known to the police, and by locating him and keeping a close watch on him and paying a call at his room one night when he was out, I managed to find some of the loot that he had taken when he robbed the actor. That seemed to connect everything up very well."

"Where did you find him?" asked Frank.

"In New York. He wasn't in hiding, for he hadn't been sought for any particular crime at the time. The police seemed to overlook him in their investigation of the dressing-room theft."

"Did you accuse him?"

"No. I wanted to learn more. When I found the articles that had been stolen from the actor and knew that the wig found by the roadster had been taken at the same times, I knew Red Jackley was the auto thief. But I wanted to get some information on the Towel-Mansion affair if possible. So I took a room in the house in which Jackley was living, kept a close watch on him."

"Did you learn anything?"

Mr. Hardy shook his head.

''Jackley himself spoiled everything, He got mixed up in a jewel robbery and cleared out of the city. Luckily, I heard him packing up, and I trailed him. The police were watching for him and he couldn't get out by railway- that is, not in the ordinary manner. Instead, he tried to make his escape by jumping a freight."

"And you still followed?"

"I lost him two or three times, but luck was with me, and somehow I managed to pick up his trail again. He got out of the city, out into New Jersey, and then his luck failed him. A railway detective recognized him and then the chase was on. Up to that time I had been content with just keeping behind him, i had hoped to pose as a fellow fugitive and win his confidence. But when the chase started in real Earnest I had to join with the other officers."

"And they caught Jackley?"

"Not without a chase. Jackley, by the way, was once a railroad man. Strangely enough,, 'he once worked not many miles from here. He managed to steal a railway gasoline speeder and got away from us. But he didn't last long, for the speeder jumped the tracks on a Bridge and Jackley was badly smashed up."

"Was he killed?"

"I don't think he'll live. He's in a hospital right now and the doctors say he hasn't much of a chance."

"But he's under arrest."

"Oh, yes. He is being held for the jewel robbery and also for the robbery from the actor's dressing room. But I don't think he'll live to answer either charge."

"Didn't you find out anything that would connect him with the Tower robbery!"

"Not a thing."

The Hardy boys were disappointed, and their expressions showed it. If Red Jackley died, the secret of the Tower robbery would die with him, for by now Frank and Joe were convinced that the notorious criminal had indeed been the thief for whose misdeeds Mr. Robinson was now suffering. And if the secret died with him, Mr. Robinson would be doomed to spend the rest of his life under a cloud, suspected of being a thief.

"Have you seen Jackley yet?" asked Frank.

"After the smash-up. But I didn't have a chance to talk to him."

"You might have been able to get a confession from him."

Fenton Hardy nodded.

"I may be able to get one yet. If he is sure he is going to die he may admit everything. I intend to make an effort to see him in the hospital and ask him about the Tower rol anyway."

"Is he far away?"

Mr. Hardy named a small city not far distant from Bayport.

"I explained my mission to the doctor in charge and he promised to telephone me as soon as it was possible for Jackley to see anyone. I'm convinced that the fellow had something to do with the Tower affair. It's a certainty that he stole the automobile-the wig proves that. By the same token it's certain that he was the man who tried to hold up the ticket office. Having failed in that attempt, it seems more than likely that an old-time criminal like Jackley would look around for something else to do before he left Bayport."

"You say he used to work near here!" asked Joe.

"He was once employed by the railroad, and he knows all the country around here well Then he got mixed up in some thefts from freight cars and after he got out of jail he been a professional criminal. It was when i was looking over the records that I found out about his fondness for wearing a red wig. That was what eventually proved his undoing. If he had not robbed the actor's dressing room to get the wig that he used when he was in Bayport, I would never have traced him."

At that moment it was announced that Chief Collig of the Bayport police force wished to see Fenton Hardy. The detective winked at the boys, and told the servant to show the chief in.

Chief Collig entered the room, mopping his brow with a handkerchief, for it was a hot day and he was a stout man. Behind him came Detective Smuff, fanning himself with a straw hat.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said Mr. Hardy genially. "Won't you sit down?"

Chief Collig eased himself into an arm chair. Detective Smuff leaned against the table. Both glanced inquiringly at the two boys.

"Unless your business is very private, I'd just as soon have the boys stay," suggested Mr. Hardy pleasantly. He did not trust Chief Collig and Detective Smuff, who came to him only in emergencies and who usually took all the credit for themselves whenever he helped them out of their difficulties. He preferred to have the boys present as witnesses.

"How about it, chief ?" asked Smuff heavily. "Can they stay?"

"I guess so," granted Chief Collig, undoing the collar of his uniform. "Can't do no good and they can't do no harm."

"Well, gentlemen, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?" asked Mr. Hardy.

"We've been hearing things about this Tower Mansion case," observed Chief Collig gravely. "You've been workin' on it, eh!"

"Perhaps."

"You've been out of town for quite a few days. You must have been working on it."

"That's what we dedooce, anyway," put in Detective Smuff.

"Perhaps it's my own business."

"Police business is everybody's business," declared Collig judicially. "What we want to know is-did you find any clues?"

Detective Smuff fished out the inevitable notebook and pencil.

"I'll note 'em down, chief," he remarked.

"You may as well put back the notebook, Smuff," snapped Fenton Hardy, with annoyance. "If I went away, it is my own business, and if I am still working on the Tower robbery, that's my business too. I'll thank you to keep to your own affairs."

Chief Collig opened his mouth, then closed it again. He took out his handkerchief and mopped his brow, all the while staring at Fenton Hardy. Then he turned and gazed at Smuff,

"Detective Smuff," he said, in a solemn voice, "did you hear that!"

"I did."

"What do you think of it, Detective Smuff ?"

"I think - I think-" Detective Smuff groped for an expression that would encompass the magnitude of the offence. "I think Mr. Hardy is guilty of obstructin' the cause of justice," he said grandly.

"Obstructing fiddlesticks!" said Mr. Hardy. "I'm minding my own business. Which is more than some police officers seem capable of doing."

Chief Collig sighed.

"The trouble with you, Mr. Hardy," he said, "is that you won't co-operate. If you co-operated a little more, we would all be farther ahead. There ain't any co-operation at alL. Here is me and Smuff, doin' our best to drive crime out of Bayport, and you won't co-operate."

"Perhaps the fact that there is a thousand dollars reward in the case isn't making you anxious for some co-operation!" suggested Fenton Hardy dryly.

"It ain't got nothin’ to do with it," replied Chief Collig virtuously. "We're just anxious to see this affair cleared up, that's all. Now, Mr. Hardy, we hear you were with the officers that chased this notorious criminal Red Jackley."

Mr. Hardy gave a perceptible start. He had no idea that news of the capture of Jackley had reached Bayport, much less that news of his own participation in the chase had reached the city-

"What of it?"

"Did Jackley have anything to do with the Tower case?"

"How should I know?"

"Wasn't that what you were working on?"





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