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Chapter 15 Will Holley's Theory

  • When the bag was completely repacked and again securely locked, Bob Ede_limbed with it to the dusty attic. He reappeared, the trap-door was close_nd the stepladder removed. The three men faced one another, pleased wit_heir morning's work.
  • "It's after twelve," said Holley. "I must hurry back to town."
  • "About to make heartfelt suggestion you remain at lunch," remarked Chan.
  • Holley shook his head. "That's kind of you, Charlie, but I wouldn't think o_t. You must be about fed-up on this cooking proposition, and I won't spoi_our first chance for a little vacation. You take my advice, and make Ede_ustle his own grub today."
  • Chan nodded. "True enough that I was planning a modest repast," he returned.
  • "Cooking business begins to get tiresome like the company of a Japanese.
  • However, fitting punishment for a postman who walks another man's beat. If Mr.
  • Eden will pardon, I relax to the extent of sandwiches and tea this noon."
  • "Sure," said Eden. "We'll dig up something together. Holley, you'd bette_hange your mind."
  • "No," replied Holley. "I'm going to town and make a few inquiries. Just by wa_f substantiating what we found here today. If Jerry Delaney came out her_ast Wednesday, he must have left some sort of trail through the town. Som_ne may have seen him. Was he alone? I'll speak to the boys at the ga_tation, the hotel proprietor—"
  • "Humbly suggest utmost discretion," said Chan.
  • "Oh, I understand the need of that. But there's really no danger. Madden ha_o connection whatever with the life of the town. He won't hear of it. Jus_he same, I'll be discretion itself. Trust me. I'll come out here again late_n the day."
  • When he had gone, Chan and Eden ate a cold lunch in the cookhouse, and resume_heir search. Nothing of any moment rewarded their efforts, however. At fou_hat afternoon Holley drove into the yard. With him was a lean, sad-lookin_outh whom Eden recognized as the real-estate salesman of Date City.
  • As they entered the room, Chan withdrew, leaving Eden to greet them. Holle_ntroduced the youth as Mr. DeLisle.
  • "I've met DeLisle," smiled Bob Eden. "He tried to sell me a corner lot on th_esert."
  • "Yeah," said Mr. DeLisle. "And some day, when the United Cigar Stores an_oolworth are fighting for that stuff, you'll kick yourself up and down ever_ill in Frisco. However, that's your funeral."
  • "I brought Mr. DeLisle along," explained Holley, "because I want you to hea_he story he's just told me. About last Wednesday night."
  • "Mr. DeLisle understands that this is confidential—" began Eden.
  • "Oh, sure," said the young man. "Will's explained all that. You needn't worry.
  • Madden and I ain't exactly pals—not after the way he talked to me."
  • "You saw him last Wednesday night?" Eden suggested.
  • "No, not that night. It was somebody else I saw then. I was out here at th_evelopment until after dark, waiting for a prospect—he never showed up, th_owlife. Anyhow, along about seven o'clock, just as I was closing up th_ffice, a big sedan stopped out in front. I went out. There was a little gu_riving and another man in the back seat. 'Good evening,' said the littl_ellow. 'Can you tell me, please, if we're on the road to Madden's ranch?' _aid sure, to keep right on straight. The man in the back spoke up. 'How fa_s it?' he wants to know. 'Shut up, Jerry,' says the little guy. 'I'll atten_o this.' He shifted the gears, and then he got kind of literary. 'And a_ighway shall be there and a way,' he says. 'Not any too clearly defined, Isaiah.' And he drove off. Now why do you suppose he called me Isaiah?"
  • Eden smiled. "Did you get a good look at him?"
  • "Pretty good, considering the dark. A thin pale man with sort of grayis_ips—no color in them at all. Talked kind of slow and precise—awful nea_nglish, like he was a professor or something."
  • "And the man in the back seat?"
  • "Couldn't see him very well."
  • "Ah, yes. And when did you meet Madden?"
  • "I'll come to that. After I got home I began to think—Madden was out at th_anch, it seemed. And I got a big idea. Things ain't been going so well her_ately—Florida's been nabbing all the easy—all the good prospects—and I sai_o myself, how about Madden? There's big money. Why not try and interes_adden in Date City? Get him behind it. Worth a shot anyhow. So bright an_arly Thursday morning, I came out to the ranch."
  • "About what time?"
  • "Oh, it must have been a little after eight. I'm full of pep at that hour o_he day, and I knew I'd need it. I knocked at the front door, but nobod_nswered. I tried it—it was locked. I came around to the back and the plac_as deserted. Not a soul in sight."
  • "Nobody here," repeated Eden, wonderingly.
  • "Not a living thing but the chickens and the turkeys. And the Chinese parrot, Tony. He was sitting on his perch. 'Hello, Tony,' I said. 'You're a dam_rook,' he answers. Now I ask you, is that any way to greet a hardworking, honest real-estate man? Wait a minute—don't try to be funny."
  • "I won't," Eden laughed. "But Madden—"
  • "Well, just then Madden drove into the yard with that secretary of his. I kne_he old man right away from his pictures. He looked tired and ugly, and h_eeded a shave. 'What are you doing here?' he wanted to know. 'Mr. Madden,' _aid, 'have you ever stopped to consider the possibilities of this land roun_ere?' And I waltzed right into my selling talk. But I didn't get far. H_topped me, and then he started. Say—the things he called me. I'm not used t_hat sort of thing—abuse by an expert, and that's what it was. I saw hi_sychology was all wrong, so I walked out on him. That's the best way—when th_ld psychology ain't working."
  • "And that's all?" Eden inquired.
  • "That's my story, and I'll stick to it," replied Mr. DeLisle.
  • "I'm very much obliged," Eden said. "Of course, this is all between ourselves.
  • And I may add that if I ever do decide to buy a lot on the desert—"
  • "You'll consider my stuff, won't you?"
  • "I certainly will. Just at present, the desert doesn't look very good to me."
  • Mr. DeLisle leaned close. "Whisper it not in Eldorado," he said. "I sometime_ish I was back in good old Chi myself. If I ever hit the Loop again, I'_oing to nail myself down there."
  • "If you'll wait outside a few minutes, DeLisle—" Holley began.
  • "I get you. I'll just mosey down to the development and see if the fountain'_orking. You can pick me up there."
  • The young man went out. Chan came quickly from behind a near-by door.
  • "Get all that Charlie?" Eden inquired.
  • "Yes, indeed. Most interesting."
  • "We move right on," said Holley. "Jerry Delaney came out to the ranch abou_even o'clock Wednesday night, and he didn't come alone. For the first time _ourth man enters the picture. Who? Sounded to me very much like Professo_amble."
  • "No doubt about that," replied Eden. "He's an old friend of the prophe_saiah's—he admitted it here Monday after lunch."
  • "Fine," commented Holley. "We begin to place Mr. Gamble. Here's anothe_hing—some one drove up to the doctor's Sunday night and carried Shaky Phi_way. Couldn't that have been Gamble, too? What do you say, Charlie?"
  • Chan nodded. "Possible. That person knew of Louie's return. If we could onl_iscover—"
  • "By George," Eden, cried. "Gamble was at the desk of the Oasis when Louie cam_n. You remember, Holley?"
  • The editor smiled. "All fits in very neatly. Gamble sped out here like som_inister version of Paul Revere with the news of Louie's arrival. He and Shak_hil were at the gate when you drove up."
  • "But Thorn. That tear in Thorn's coat?"
  • "We must have been on the wrong trail there. This new theory sounds too good.
  • What else have we learned from DeLisle? After the misadventure with Delaney, Madden and Thorn were out all night. Where?"
  • Chan sighed. "Not such good news, that. Body of Delaney was carried far fro_his spot."
  • "I'm afraid it was," admitted Holley. "We'll never find it without help fro_omebody who knows. There are a hundred lonely canyons round here where poo_elaney could have been tossed aside and nobody any the wiser. We'll have t_o ahead and perfect our case without the vital bit of evidence—the body o_elaney. But there are a lot of people in on this, and before we get through, somebody is going to squeal."
  • Chan was sitting at Madden's desk, idly toying with the big blotting pad tha_ay on top. Suddenly his eyes lighted, and he began to separate the sheets o_lotting paper.
  • "What is this?" he said.
  • They looked, and saw in the detective's pudgy hand a large sheet of paper, partly filled with writing. Chan perused the missive carefully, and handed i_o Eden. The letter was written in a man's strong hand. "It's dated las_ednesday night," Eden remarked to Holley. He read:
  • "DEAR EVELYN:
  • "I want you to know of certain developments here at the ranch. As I've tol_ou before, Martin Thorn and I have been on very bad terms for the past year.
  • This afternoon the big blow-off finally arrived, and I dismissed him from m_ervice. Tomorrow morning I'm going with him to Pasadena, and when we ge_here, we part for all time. Of course he knows a lot of things I wish h_idn't—otherwise I'd have scrapped him a year ago. He may make trouble, and _m warning you in case he shows up in Denver. I'm going to take this letter i_own myself and mail it tonight, as I don't want Thorn to know anything abou_t—"
  • The letter stopped abruptly at that point.
  • "Better and better," said Holley. "Another sidelight on what happened her_ast Wednesday night. We can picture the scene for ourselves. Madden i_itting at his desk, writing that letter to his daughter. The door opens—som_ne comes in. Say it's Delaney—Delaney, the man P.J.'s feared for years.
  • Madden hastily slips the letter between the leaves of the blotter. He gets t_is feet, knowing that he's in for it now. A quarrel ensues, and by the tim_t's over, they've got into Thorn's room somehow and Delaney is dead on th_loor. Then—the problem of what to do with the body, not solved until morning.
  • Madden comes back to the ranch tired and worn, realizing that he can't dismis_horn now. He must make his peace with the secretary. Thorn knows too much.
  • How about it, Charlie?"
  • "It has plenty logic," Chan admitted.
  • "I said this morning I had some ideas on this affair out here," the edito_ontinued, "and everything that has happened today has tended to confirm them.
  • I'm ready to spring my theory now—that is, if you care to listen."
  • "Shoot," said Eden.
  • "To me, it's all as clear as a desert sunrise," Holley went on. "Just let m_o over it for you. Reconstruct it, as the French do. To begin with, Madden i_fraid of Delaney. Why? Why is a rich man afraid of anybody? Blackmail, o_ourse. Delaney has something on him—maybe something that dates back to tha_ambling house in New York. Thorn can't be depended on—they've been rowing an_e hates his employer. Perhaps he has even gone so far as to link up wit_elaney and his friends. Madden buys the pearls, and the gang hears of it an_ecides to spring. What better place than way out here on the desert? Shak_hil goes to San Francisco; Delaney and the professor come south. Louie, th_aithful old retainer, is lured away by Shaky Phil. The stage is set. Delane_rrives with his threat. He demands the pearls, money, both. An argumen_ollows, and in the end Delaney, the blackmailer, is killed by Madden. Am _ight so far?"
  • "Sounds plausible," Eden admitted.
  • "Well, imagine what followed. When Madden killed Delaney, he probably though_erry had come alone. Now he discovers there are others in the gang. They hav_ot only the information with which Delaney was threatening him, but they hav_omething else on him too. Murder! The pack is on him—he must buy them off.
  • They clamor for money—and the pearls. They force Madden to call up and orde_he Phillimore necklace sent down here at once. When did he do that, Eden?"
  • "Last Thursday morning," Eden replied.
  • "See—what did I tell you? Last Thursday morning, when he got back from hi_risly midnight trip. They were on him then—they were blackmailing him to th_imit. That's the answer to our puzzle. They're blackmailing him now. At firs_adden was just as eager as they were for the necklace—he wanted to settle th_hing and get away. It isn't pleasant to linger round the spot where you'v_one murder. The past few days his courage has begun to return, he'_emporizing, seeking a way out. I'm a little sorry for him, I really am."
  • Holley paused. "Well, that's my idea. What do you think, Charlie? Am I right?"
  • Chan sat turning Madden's unfinished letter slowly in his hand.
  • "Sounds good," admitted the detective. "However, here and there objection_rise."
  • "For example?" Holley demanded.
  • "Madden is big man. Delaney and these others, nobody much. He could announc_e killed blackmailer in self-defense."
  • "So he could—if Thorn were friendly and would back him up. But the secretar_s hostile and might threaten to tell a different story. Besides, remember i_sn't only the killing of Delaney they have against him. There's th_nformation Delaney has been holding over his head."
  • Chan nodded. "So very true. One other fact, and then I cease my bruta_aultfinding. Louie, long in confidence of Chinese parrot, is killed. Ye_ouie depart for San Francisco on Wednesday morning, twelve hours befor_ragic night. Is not his murder then a useless gesturing?"
  • Holley considered. "Well, that is a point. But he was Madden's friend, whic_as a pretty good reason for not wanting him here. They preferred their victi_lone and helpless. A rather weak explanation, perhaps. Otherwise I'm stron_or my theory. You're not so keen on it."
  • Chan shook his head. "For one reason only. Long experience has taught fata_onsequence may follow if I get too addicted to a theory. Then I try and see, can I make everything fit. I can, and first thing I know theory explodes in m_ountenance with loud bang. Much better I have found to keep mind free an_pen."
  • "Then you haven't any idea on all this to set up against mine?" Holley asked.
  • "No solitary one. Frankly speaking, I am completely in the dark." He glance_t the letter in his hand. "Or nearly so," he added. "We watch and wait, an_aybe I clutch something soon."
  • "That's all right," said Eden, "but I have a feeling we don't watch and wai_uch longer at Madden's ranch. Remember, I promised that Draycott would mee_im today in Pasadena. He'll be back soon, asking how come?"
  • "Unfortunate incident," shrugged Chan. "Draycott and he have failed t_onnect. Many times that has happened when two strangers make appointment. I_an happen again."
  • Eden sighed. "I suppose so. But I hope P.J. Madden's feeling good-natured whe_e comes home from Pasadena tonight. There's a chance that he's toting Bil_art's gun again, and I don't like the idea of lying behind a bed with nothin_howing but my shoes. I haven't had a shine for a week."