Citadel of Fear, by Francis Stevens

Chapter XII

The Opinion of Mr. MacClellan

THE hostile look faded from the white-clad woman’s eyes and her face brightened.

“Oh, are you Mr. Rhodes? And the lady’s brother? I’m so glad you’ve come! Dr. Glynn is with her now, and I am sure he will permit you to see her at once, for she is still unconscious.” -

Cliona was sunk in the depths of a deathlike coma in which she might remain for many hours; and to rouse her from it by the use of powerful restoratives would mean probable insanity, possible death. This was Dr. Glynn’s verdict, and it was confirmed by the specialist called into consultation that evening at Glynn’s request.

In the meantime Rhodes and Colin had learned all that could be known until Cliona’s own story should be told — if that time were destined to come. They had talked with Marjory and David; they had followed the same grim trail that Cliona had traced, somewhat overtrodden now, to the deep disgust of both detectives and themselves. By this time the crowd had dispersed and the place was lonely again.

Cliona’s men folks had returned, then, to talk over the wreckage of furniture, and the splintered doors and floor. The bullet-holes and the empty pistol formed a phase of the silent tale that Blake and MacClellan, the detectives, enlarged upon to the utmost.

MacClellan, the elder of the two plainclothesmen, was a large, stolid, matter-of-fact man, and he delivered his verdict in the tone of an ultimatum.

“Now then, the possibilities are these.” He ticked them off on the stubby fingers of his left hand. “Number One, burglars. Nothing has been stolen, but that don’t do away with the intent to steal. There may have been a gang of hoboes; and they may have got in a fight, torn up the place, knifed each other, and finally been scared off by the pistol.

“Number two, a lunatic. I say one lunatic, because that sort don’t generally hunt in couples.

“Number three (and number three, I may as well tell you, is the number I’m banking on as the most probable and the one that fits best), that this whole business was done in the nature of a particularly horrid and vicious practical joke, carried out with elaborate care and directed not at Mrs. Rhodes, who they couldn’t have known was alone here —— ”

“A joke, is it?” snarled O’Hara, eyeing the stolid detective with intense disgust. “A pretty joke it would be for a man to shed his blood by the bucketful and then vanish into thin air! Is it crazy you are?”

MacClellan flushed angrily.

“No, I ain’t crazy. As for blood, how do you know all this red stuff is blood and not some kind of red paint or something?”

The detective continued, “I sent a sample of it in to be analyzed, but I don’t believe it is blood at all. Crazy? Why, what kind of man or animal do you think could spill that much blood, anyway? It would take an elephant with wings to get away afterward.

“A while ago, Mr. O’Hara, you suggested that some tiger or other wild beast might have escaped from a menagerie and broken its way in. There is nothing to bear that out except the claw marks, or rather the apparent claw marks. Anyway, the beast that could bleed like that would be too large to get in an ordinary doorway.”

“You’ve the right of it there,” conceded O’Hara regretfully, for he had taken an instinctive dislike to the man and his cocksure way of speaking. By the very look of him he was a man of no imagination, and the type had no appeal for Colin.

“You say,” objected Rhodes, “that the brute would have needed wings to disappear so completely. Mightn’t it have gone up of down the creek bed?”

“Blake and me followed the creek pretty nearly a mile in both directions. There wasn’t a sign on either bank. How far do you think a beast bleeding like that could get? It ain’t even worth while to put dogs on it, though of course if you say so we might try bloodhounds. It won’t be a particle of good, though. Whoever done this was human, and with all the other tracks that’s been tracked around here, the bloodhounds ain’t born that could pick up the trail.

“I tell you, this job was done by some crazy fool or fools with a grudge against Mr. Rhodes here. Why didn’t the burglar-alarm work?”

“I couldn’t say,” answered Rhodes. “The company who installed it must tell that.”

“I know it. And when they do, you’ll find it was put out of commission in some darned clever way. No beast could have done that, could they? Another thing, there ain’t any tracks, except man tracks there. I’ll admit that fool gardener of yours let the crowd tramp all over everything before we got here, though the chief warned him over the phone not to do that very thing.

“When we came in he was gassing away to a couple of reporters in the house. Spilling everything he’d ever known about the whole family and showing ’em a china image he said had been right in the room with Mrs. Rhodes when this thing happened, and got busted when she fell — as if that gave it the biggest kind of news value!

“The man’s a fool! If he’d tended to business, instead of letting those reporters jolly him along, Blake and me would have had some show. But even with all the tramping, if the thing was an animal there ought to some trace left.”

“There is,” put in Rhodes quietly. “There is a broad track, trodden over as you say, but still evident.”

“Where?”

“Before your eyes.” Rhodes pointed at to turf in front of them.

The four men were standing where the trail left the macadamized drive and led off across the grass down the hill.

Blake leaned forward and stared keenly at the place Rhodes indicated. Then he rose with a shake of the head.

“I don’t see anything.”

“You don’t? Why, the grass is laid flat in a long swat.”

“Oh, that! I didn’t know what you meant. That ain’t tracks. Somebody’s dragged something heavy over the ground.”

“Sure,” put in MacClellan scornfully. “I saw that long ago. That’s what I mean when I say this is all the work of some vicious practical joker. Whatever tub or can or thing he used to hold all that red stuff, he dragged it after him as he went along.”

“The marks on the doors?”

MacClellan shrugged “How do I know? A chisel, maybe. This fellow was clean bughouse, perhaps, with just the infernal cleverness and devilish sense of humor that some lunatics have. Or else it’s a scheme of some sort in connection with something I don’t know about.”

He looked keenly from Rhodes to O’Hara, a flash of suspicion in his eyes. It was not the first hint he had given that he thought they were keeping something from him.

“Ah, now, don’t start that again,” snapped Colin. “You’ve already asked us every question in the world, man. What is it you think? That Tony here and myself ran home from the capital yesterday night and raised all this devilment just to destroy his house and the happiness of both of us?”

“Certainly not! What I am looking for and what you haven’t helped me find, is the possible motive that lies behind. In our business — even you must know this — half the time to find the motive is to find the criminal. You ought to understand that, Mr. Rhodes, you being a lawyer.”

“If I were the district attorney,” observed that young man thoughtfully, “it might be worth while to review my record in search of some desperate criminal who had taken a vow of vengeance against me. But since my only cases have been in the civil courts, and those cases, I must admit, most obscure and unimportant ones, such a review seems hardly worth while.”

He looked up with a faintly boyish smile.

“So far as I know, I haven’t a personal enemy in the world!”

“Well,” said the detective sulkily, “the analysis will show whether it’s blood or not, and if you can’t tell me anything else you — won’t, that’s all. Blake and I must be getting back to town.”

“Sorry we can’t help you out,” said Rhodes stiffly.

“So am I. Well, I’ll let you know what the analysis tells us about this stuff that’s been spilled around here, and we’ll keep right on the job till we get to the bottom of it. By the way, do you want me to send another man out to relieve Morgan for the night?”

Morgan was the officer still on guard at the front entrance. But Rhodes shook his head and O’Hara volunteered gloomily: “No need. The harm’s done. They’ll not come back, whoever they are — though by all the powers, ’tis the one wish of my soul that they might do just that!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30