The address for Alma Dakin turned out to be a small three-story walk-u_partment building on a quiet residential street near the outskirts of town.
At two in the afternoon hardly anyone was visible on the sidewalks and only a_ccasional automobile passed.
Kirk parked his car half a block further on down and got out into the chil_ovember air. He entered the building foyer and looked at the name plate_bove the twin rows of buttons. The one for Alma Dakin told him the number o_er apartment was 3C.
He pushed the button several times but without response. The foyer was ver_uiet at this time of day, and he could hear the faint rasp of her bel_hrough the speaking tube.
Kirk was on the point of shifting his thumb to the button marke_UPERINTENDENT when a sudden thought stayed his hand. It was not the kind o_hought a conscientious, rule-abiding police officer would harbor for _oment. The lieutenant, however, was fully aware he had no business working o_ closed case to begin with—and when you're breaking one set of rules, yo_ight as well break them all.
He rang four of the other bells before the lock on the inner door began t_lick. Pushing it open, he waited until a female voice floated down th_tairs. "Who is it?"
"Police Department, ma'am. You folks own that green Buick parked out i_ront?" There was no Buick, green or otherwise, along the street curbing, bu_irk figured she wouldn't know that.
"Why, no. Officer. I can't imagine—"
"Okay. Sorry we bothered you, lady," Kirk let the door swing into place har_nough to be heard upstairs. But this time he was on the right side of it.
There was a moment of silence, then he caught the sound of retreating feet an_ door closed. Without waiting further, the Lieutenant mounted the stairs t_he third floor, his feet soundless on the carpeted treads.
The entrance to 3C was secured by a tumbler-type lock. From an inner pocke_irk took out a small flat leather case and a thin-edged tool from that.
Working with the smooth efficiency of the expert, he loosened the doo_oulding near the lock and inserted the tool blade until it found the bolt.
This he eased back, turned the door handle and, a moment later, was standin_n a small living room tastefully furnished in modern woods.
His first action was to enter the tiny kitchen and unbolt the door leading t_he rear porch. In case Alma Dakin arrived at an inopportune moment, he coul_e half way down the outer steps while she was still engaged with the fron_oor lock. Since he had pressed the moulding back into place, there would b_othing to indicate his presence.
Within ten minutes Kirk had ransacked every inch of the living room in searc_f something, anything, that would point to Alma Dakin as being more than _ine-to-five secretary. And while he found nothing, no one, not even the gir_ho lived here, could tell that an intruder had been at work.
The bedroom seemed even less promising at first. Dresser drawers gave up onl_he pleasantly personal articles of the average young woman. Miss Dakin, i_urned out, was almost indecently fond of frothy undergarments and blac_ransparent nightgowns—interesting but not at all important to the over-al_roblem.
Kirk, his search completed, sat down on the edge of the bed's footboard an_otaled up what he had learned. It didn't take long, for he knew absolutely n_ore about Alma Dakin than he had before entering her apartment. No persona_apers, no letters from a yearning boy friend in the old home town, no saving_r checking-account passbook. Not even a scrawled line of birthday o_hristmas greetings on the fly leaves of the apartment's seven books.
To Kirk's trained mind, the very lack of such things, the fact that Alma Daki_ived in a vacuum, was highly significant. It smacked of her having somethin_o hide—and his already strong suspicion of her was solidified into certaint_f her guilt. But certainty was a long way from rock-ribbed evidence—and tha_as something he must have to proceed further.
He was ready to leave when it dawned on him that he had not yet looked unde_he bed. Kneeling, he pushed up the hanging edge of the green batik spread an_eered into the narrow space. Nothing, not even a decent accumulation of dust.
The light from the window was too faint, however, to reach a section of th_loor near the footboard. Kirk climbed to his feet and attempted to shove tha_nd to one side.
The bed failed to move. He blinked in mild surprise and tried again. It wa_nly by exerting almost his entire strength that he was able to shift th_hing at all, and then no more than a few inches.
He felt his pulse stir with the thrill of incipient discovery. Once he mad_ure nothing was anchoring the bed to the floor, he began to tap lightl_gainst the wood in an effort to detect a possible false panel.
Within two minutes he located an almost microscopic crack in the headboar_leverly concealed by a decorative design running along the base. He ran hi_ingers lightly along the carvings until they encountered a small projectio_hich gave slightly under pressure.
Kirk pressed down harder on the knob. A tiny _click_ sounded against th_ilence and a section of wood some three feet square swung out. Lifting i_side, the detective found himself staring at an instrument board of some kin_ith a series of buttons and dials countersunk into it. The board itsel_ormed a part of what was obviously a machine of some sort which evidentl_ontained its own power, for there seemed to be no lead-in cord for pluggin_nto a wall socket.
It could, Kirk thought, be a short wave radio transmitter. If it was, i_ooked like none he had ever come across before. On the other hand it could b_ome sort of infernal machine, ready to blow half the city to bits at the tur_f a dial.
Even as his mind was weighing the advisability of tampering with the thing,
his fingers were reaching for the various controls. Gingerly he moved one o_wo of the dials but nothing happened. A little more boldly now, he began t_epress the buttons. As the third sank in, a low humming sound began to fil_he room. Before Kirk could find a cut-off switch of some kind, the fain_ight of day streaming through the room's one window winked out, plunging hi_nto a blackness so infinitely deep that it was like being buried alive.
Nothing can plunge a man into the sheerest panic like the absence of light.
Even a man like Martin Kirk, who had walked almost daily with danger for th_ast fifteen years. And since the form panic takes varies with the individual,
the Lieutenant's reaction was an utter inability to move so much as a finger.
Abruptly the low humming note ceased entirely, replaced immediately by th_ound of a human voice. "Mythox. Contact established. Proceed."
Almost as though the words had tripped a lever in his brain, Kirk's paralysi_nded. Both his hands seemed to swoop of their own volition to the invisibl_ontrol panel and their fingers danced across the dials and buttons.
"Mythox," said the voice again. It seemed to swell and recede, like a direc_adio newscast from half around the world. "Contact estab—"
The word ended as though it had run into a wall. The humming note came back,
then ceased—and without warning daylight from the window washed over th_ewildered and thoroughly frightened police officer.
Not until five minutes had passed was Martin Kirk sufficiently in control o_is nervous system to even attempt replacing the loose panel in the headboard.
When at last he managed to do so, he returned the bed to its origina_osition, closed and bolted the kitchen door, took one last look around t_ake sure nothing was out of place, then slunk out of the apartment.
By the time he was back behind the wheel of his car and had burned up half _igar, Kirk's brain was ready to function with something like its norma_bility. He sat limp as Satan's collar, trying to piece together th_ignificance of the last half hour's events.
There was no longer any doubt that Alma Dakin was in this mess up to he_angs. Linked as she was to the murders (and Kirk was convinced heart diseas_ad nothing to do with it) of those scientists, he would have sworn she was _oreign agent bent on weakening America's defenses. Except for one thing. Tha_achine. The kind of mind that could design and put together a mechanism lik_hat was not of this planet. No longer did Paul Cordell's story of a girl wh_loated in a ball of blue fire sound like the ravings of a deranged brain. An_he seeming miracle of Naia North's escape from a cell block now passed fro_antasy to the factual.
What to do about it? Martin Kirk, at this moment undoubtedly the mos_ewildered man alive, put his head in his hands and tried to reach a decision.
Take his story to the Police Commissioner? It would mean a padded cell—an_ithout even bothering to see if Alma Dakin possessed a machine mor_omplicated than an electric iron. Some government agency? By the time the re_ape was unsnarled the former secretary could have reached Pakistan on foot.
Slowly from the depths of his terror of the Unknown, Martin Kirk's training i_olice procedure began to make itself felt. A plan started to form—hazy a_irst, then in a sharp and orderly pattern.
He left the car and returned to the apartment building. A glimpse of his badg_nd a few incisive orders masked as requests reduced the superintendent to _tate of almost obsequious co-operation. Nor was the tenant of apartment 3D, _iddle-aged spinster, any less anxious to assist the law. It seemed she had a_lder sister living on the other side of town who would be happy to put her u_or a few days. She departed within the hour, a traveling bag in one fist.
Before that hour was gone, Chenowich, in response to a sizzling phone call,
skidded a department car to a stop at the curb a block from the building. H_elivered a dictograph to his superior, listened to a grim warning to keep hi_outh shut about this at Headquarters, asked a couple of questions that dre_o answers, and departed as swiftly as he had come.
The next step was the dangerous one. The superintendent admitted Kirk to th_akin apartment and went down to the foyer to ring the bell in case the gir_rrived at the wrong time. He soothed the Lieutenant's anxiety somewhat b_xplaining that she seldom returned to the place before seven o'clock, ove_hree hours from now, but Kirk was taking no chances.
By five o'clock he had Alma Kirk's bedroom bugged and the instrument i_orking order and thoroughly tested. He was painstaking about removing al_races of plaster and sawdust and bits of wires before pushing the dresse_ack into place to cover the dictograph's receiver.
He found the superintendent stiffly on guard in the foyer and gave him hi_inal instructions. The man listened respectfully, repeated them back to Kir_o convince him there would be no slip-up, and the Lieutenant went bac_pstairs to 3D to take up his vigil.
He was in the spinster's bedroom, working out a crossword puzzle, earphones i_lace, when he heard the sound of the bedroom door closing in the nex_partment.