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"Why did he come here?"
She hesitated, but only for the fraction of a second. "It was Barker who was driving me to distraction. He knew that I was the woman in the taxicab. He really believes that I killed Mr. Warren. He has been blackmailing me."
"A-ah! So _that_ explains his visits, and his plentiful supply of money?"
"Yes. Oh! it was shameful--that I should be so helpless before his demands. It didn't matter that I had nothing to do with the killing--it was enough that I had to pay any price to keep my name clear of scandal.
Looking back on the affair now, Mr. Carroll--I cannot understand my own weakness. But I felt that I owed it to my husband and my sister to protect them from scandal at any cost--and I have paid Barker a good deal of money--"
"I see." Carroll rose. "I want you to understand, Mrs. Lawrence, that you have helped me tremendously. And to know, also, that I shall probably succeed in keeping your name out of any disclosures which might have to be made to the public."
"But if my husband did it--"
"In that event, it will be impossible not to tell."
"And if he didn't do it?"
"Then you will be safe. But," finished the detective seriously, "if your husband didn't do it--I don't know who did. I have followed every possible trail and unless guilt can be fastened on either your husband or Barker, there isn't the faintest shadow of suspicion attached to anyone else. It will make things very difficult--for me."
During his ride to headquarters Carroll was busy with his thoughts. He was worried about the possible complicity of Gerald Lawrence in the shooting of Warren. He was more than halfway convinced that Lawrence knew a good deal about it--and the obvious method was to order Lawrence's arrest and make him prove an alibi. But such a procedure was impossible in view of his determination to protect Naomi's name to the ultimate moment.
He was greeted at headquarters by a reporter for one of the two evening papers. The reporter was eager for an interview. There had been an appalling dearth of local news, and the Warren story had been long since played beyond the point of public interest. The readers, explained the reporter, were growing tired of theories and column after column of conjecture. They wanted a few facts.
Carroll shook his head. "Nothing definite to give out yet."
The reporter was persistent. "You have made no new discoveries at all?"
"Well--I'd hardly say that."
"Then you _have_?"
"Yes," answered Carroll frankly, "I have."
"You think you know who killed Warren?"
Carroll, his mind still busy with Naomi's story, answered casually. "I believe I do. That is just a belief, mind you. But there is an outside chance that there will be important developments within the next twenty-four hours."
"Something definite, eh?"
"If anything at all happens, it will be definite."
Then Carroll excused himself and sought Eric Leverage. Under pledge of secrecy he told Leverage the entire story as he had heard it from Naomi Lawrence's lips. When he finished Leverage slammed his hand on the arm of his chair--
"Gerald Lawrence, or I'm a b.u.m guesser," he stated positively.
"Looks that way," admitted Carroll. "What I hate about the idea is that if Lawrence is the man there will be no way on earth to keep Mrs.
Lawrence's name out of it."
"You're right--How about Barker?"
"I believe Barker's story. So does Mrs. Lawrence. She believes that Barker thinks she killed Warren in the taxi."
Leverage glanced keenly at his friend. "You are going to arrest Lawrence?"
"No-o. Not yet. He may not have done it--"
"Well," sizzled the chief of police, "if he didn't and Barker didn't--who the devil did?"
Carroll shook his head hopelessly. "I don't know, Eric. If neither of those two men did, we'll be left hopelessly in the air."
"Exactly. We know that one of 'em did the shooting. We've covered this case from every angle, and if we believe that the shooting was not done by Mrs. Lawrence, we must suspect one of the two men involved. And if you are sure it wasn't Barker--"
"Let's wait a little while longer," counseled Carroll. "I want to be absolutely sure of my ground."
The two men sat in Leverage's office and talked. They discussed the case again from the beginning to its present status--threshing out each detail in the hope that they might have overlooked some vital fact which would give them a basis upon which to proceed. Their efforts were fruitless.
The investigation had developed results--true enough--but those results were not at all satisfactory.
And it was about an hour later that a knock came on the door. In response to Leverage's summons, an orderly entered. In his hand he carried an evening paper--
"Just brought this in, sir. Thought you and Mr. Carroll might like to read it."
The orderly retired. Carroll spread the paper--then did something very rare. He swore profoundly. His eyes focused angrily on the enormous first page headlines:
"CARROLL HAS SOLVED WARREN MYSTERY
"Ident.i.ty of Clubman's Slayer Known to Famous Detective
"WILL MAKE ARREST WITHIN 24 HOURS
"Sensational Developments Promised by David Carroll in Exclusive Interview with Reporter for The Star."
It all came back to Carroll now. The eager reporter, the news-hunger, his non-committal statements. He read furiously through the story. It proved to be one of those newspaper masterpieces which uses an enormous number of words and says nothing. Carroll was quoted as saying only what he had actually said. It was the personal conjecture of the reporter writing the story which had given spur to the vivid imagination of the headline writer.
"So now," questioned Leverage--"what are you going to do: deny it?"
"No!" snapped Carroll--"I can't. He hasn't misquoted a single line of what I said. It just makes things--makes 'em mighty embarra.s.sing."
He sat hunched in his chair staring at the screaming headlines and re-reading the lurid story. Again an orderly entered.
"Young lady out there," he announced, "who wants to know if Mr.
Carroll is here."
Instantly the mind of the detective leaped to the tragic figure of Naomi Lawrence. "She wants to see me?" he questioned.
"Show her in." He motioned to Leverage to remain. The orderly disappeared--and in a minute, the door opened and a woman entered.
Carroll sprang to his feet with an exclamation of surprise.