From: The Skylark Of Space
Seaton and Crane spent some time developing the object-compass. Crane
made a number of these instruments, mounted in gymbals, so that the
delicate needles were free to turn in any direction whatever. They were
mounted upon jeweled bearings, but bearings made of such great strength,
that Seaton protested.
"What's the use, Mart? You don't expect a watch to be treated like a
stone-crusher. That needle weighs less than half a gram. Why mount it as
though it weighed twenty pounds?"
"To be safe. Remember the acceleration the Lark will be capable of, and
also that on some other worlds, which we hope to visit, this needle will
weigh more than it does here."
"That's right, Mart, I never thought of that. Anyway, we can't be too
safe to suit me."
When the compasses were done and the power through them had been
adjusted to one-thousandth of a watt, the lowest they could maintain
with accuracy, they focused each instrument upon one of a set of most
carefully weighed glass beads, ranging in size from a pin-head up to a
large marble, and had the beads taken across the country by Shiro, in
order to test the sensitiveness and accuracy of the new instruments. The
first test was made at a distance of one hundred miles, the last at
nearly three thousand. They found, as they had expected, that from the
weight of the object and the time it took the needle to come to rest
after being displaced from its line by a gentle tap of the finger, they
could easily calculate the distance from the compass to the object. This
fact pleased Crane immensely, as it gave him a sure means of navigation
in space. The only objection to its use in measuring earthly distances
was its extreme delicacy, the needle focused upon the smallest bead in
the lot at a distance of three thousand miles coming to rest in little
more than one second.
The question of navigation solved, the two next devoted themselves to
perfecting the "X-plosive bullet," as Seaton called it. From his notes
and equations Seaton calculated the weight of copper necessary to exert
the explosive force of one pound of nitro-glycerin, and weighed out, on
the most delicate assay-balance made, various fractions and multiples of
this amount of the treated copper, while Crane fitted up the bullets of
automatic-pistol cartridges to receive the charges and to explode them
They placed their blueprints and working notes in the safe, as usual,
taking with them only those notes dealing with the object-compass and
the X-plosive bullet, upon which they were still working. No one except
Shiro knew that the original tracings, from which the blue-prints had
been made, and their final, classified notes were always kept in the
vault. They cautioned him and the three guards to keep a close watch
until they returned. Then they set out in the biplane, to try out the
new weapon in a lonely place where the exploding shells could do no
* * * * *
They found that the X-plosive came fully up to expectations. The
smallest charge they had prepared, fired by Crane at a great stump a
full hundred yards away from the bare, flat-topped knoll that had
afforded them a landing-place, tore it bodily from the ground and
reduced it to splinters, while the force of the explosion made the two
"She sure is big medicine!" laughed Seaton. "Wonder what a real one will
do?" and drawing his pistol, he inserted a cartridge carrying a much
"Better be careful with the big ones," cautioned Crane. "What are you
going to shoot at?"
"That rock over there," pointing to a huge boulder half a mile away
across the small valley. "Want to bet me a dinner I can't hit it?"
"No. You forget that I saw you win the pistol trophy of the District."
The pistol cracked, and when the bullet reached its destination the
great stone was obliterated in a vast ball of flame. After a moment
there was a deafening report--a crash as though the world were falling
to pieces. Both men were hurled violently backward, stumbling and
falling flat. Picking themselves up, they looked across the valley at
the place where the boulder had stood, to see only an immense cloud of
dust, which slowly blew away, revealing a huge hole in the ground. They
were silent a moment, awed by the frightful power they had loosed.
"Well, Mart," Seaton broke the silence, "I'll say those one-milligram
loads are plenty big enough. If that'd been something coming after
us--whether any possible other-world animal, a foreign battleship, or
the mythical great sea-serpent himself, it'd be a good Indian now. Yes?
"Yes. When we use the heavier charges we must use long-range rifles.
Have you had enough demonstration or do you want to shoot some more?"
"I've had enough, thanks. That last rock I bounced off of was no pillow,
I'll tell the world. Besides, it looks as though I'd busted a leg or two
off of our noble steed with my shot, and we may have to walk back home."
An examination of the plane, which had been moved many feet and almost
overturned by the force of the explosion, revealed no damage that they
could not repair on the spot, and dusk saw them speeding through the air
toward the distant city.
In response to a summons from his chief, Perkins silently appeared in
Brookings' office, without his usual complacent smile.
"Haven't you done anything yet, after all this time?" demanded the
magnate. "We're getting tired of this delay."
"I can't help it, Mr. Brookings," replied the subordinate. "They've got
detectives from Prescott's all over the place. Our best men have been
trying ever since the day of the explosion, but can't do a thing without
resorting to violence. I went out there myself and looked them over,
without being seen. There isn't a man there with a record, and I haven't
been able so far to get anything on any one of them that we can use as a
"No, Prescott's men are hard to do anything with. But can't you...?"
Brookings paused significantly.
"I was coming to that. I thought one of them might be seen, and I talked
to him a little, over the phone, but I couldn't talk loud enough without
consulting you. I mentioned ten, but he held out for twenty-five. Said
he wouldn't consider it at all, but he wants to quit Prescott and go
into business for himself."
"Go ahead on twenty-five. We want to get action," said Brookings, as he
wrote an order on the cashier for twenty-five thousand dollars in
small-to-medium bills. "That is cheap enough, considering what
DuQuesne's rough stuff would probably cost. Report tomorrow about four,
over our private phone--no, I'll come down to the cafe, it's safer."
* * * * *
The place referred to was the Perkins Cafe, a high-class restaurant on
Pennsylvania Avenue, heavily patronized by the diplomatic, political,
financial, and sporting circles of upper-class Washington. It was famous
for its discreet waiters, and for the absolutely private rooms. Many of
its patrons knew of its unique telephone service, in which each call
went through such a devious system of relays that any attempt to trace
it was hopeless; they knew that while "The Perkins" would not knowingly
lend itself to any violation of law, it was an entirely safe and
thoroughly satisfactory place in which to conduct business of the most
secret and confidential character; a place from which one could enjoy
personal conversation with persons to whom he wished to remain invisible
and untraceable: a place which had never been known to "leak." For these
reasons it was really the diplomatic and political center of the
country, and over its secret wires had gone, in guarded language,
messages that would have rocked the world had they gone astray. It was
recognized that the place was occasionally, by its very nature, used for
illegal purposes, but it was such a political, financial, and diplomatic
necessity that it carried a "Hands Off" sign. It was never investigated
by Congress and never raided by the police. Hundreds of telephone calls
were handled daily. A man would come in, order something served in a
private room, leave a name at the desk, and say that he was expecting a
call. There the affair ended. The telephone operators were hand-picked,
men of very short memories, carefully trained never to look at a face
and never to remember a name or a number. Although the precaution was
unnecessary, this shortness of memory was often encouraged by bills of
No one except Perkins and the heads of the great World Steel Corporation
knew that the urbane and polished proprietor of the cafe was a criminal
of the blackest kind, whose liberty and life itself were dependent upon
the will of the Corporation; or that the restaurant was especially
planned and maintained as a blind for its underground activities; or
that Perkins was holding a position which suited him exactly and which
he would not have given up for wealth or glory--that of being the
guiding genius who planned nefarious things for the men higher up, and
saw to it that they were carried out by the men lower down. He was in
constant personal touch with his superiors, but in order to avoid any
chance of betrayal he never saw his subordinates personally. Not only
were they entirely ignorant of his identity, but all possible means of
their tracing him had been foreseen and guarded against. He called them
on the telephone, but they never called him. The only possible way in
which any of his subordinates could get in touch with him was by means
of the wonderful wireless telephone already referred to, developed by a
drug-crazed genius who had died shortly after it was perfected. It was a
tiny instrument, no larger than a watch, but of practically unlimited
range. The controlling central station of the few instruments in
existence, from which any instrument could be cut out, changed in tune,
or totally destroyed at will, was in Perkins' office safe. A man
intrusted with an unusually important job would receive from an unknown
source an instrument, with directions sufficient for its use. As soon as
the job was done he would find, upon again attempting to use the
telephone, that its interior was so hopelessly wrecked that not even the
most skilled artisan could reproduce what it had once been.
* * * * *
At four o'clock Brookings was ushered into the private office of the
master criminal, who was plainly ill at ease.
"I've got to report another failure, Mr. Brookings. It's nobody's fault,
just one of those things that couldn't be helped. I handled this myself.
Our man left the door unlocked and kept the others busy in another room.
I had just started to work when Crane's Japanese servant, who was
supposed to be asleep, appeared upon the scene. If I hadn't known
something about jiu-jutsu myself, he'd have broken my neck. As it was, I
barely got away, with the Jap and all three guards close behind me...."
"I'm not interested in excuses," broke in the magnate, angrily. "We'll
have to turn it over to DuQuesne after all unless you get something
done, and get it done quick. Can't you get to that Jap some way?"
"Certainly I can. I never yet saw the man who couldn't be reached, one
way or another. I've had 'Silk' Humphreys, the best fixer in the
business, working on him all day, and he'll be neutral before night. If
the long green won't quiet him--and I never saw a Jap refuse it yet--a
lead pipe will. Silk hasn't reported yet, but I expect to hear from him
any minute now, through our man out there."
As he spoke, the almost inaudible buzzer in his pocket gave a signal.
"There he is now," said Perkins, as he took out his wireless
instrument. "You might listen in and hear what he has to say."
Brookings took out his own telephone and held it to his ear.
"Hello," Perkins spoke gruffly into the tiny transmitter. "What've you
got on your chest?"
"Your foot slipped on the Jap," the stranger replied. "He crabbed the
game right. Slats and the big fellow put all the stuff into the box,
told us to watch it until they get back tonight--they may be late--then
went off in Slats' ship to test something--couldn't find out what. Silk
tackled the yellow boy, and went up to fifty grand, but the Jap couldn't
see him at all. Silk started to argue, and the Jap didn't do a thing but
lay him out, cold. This afternoon, while the Jap was out in the grounds,
three stick-up men jumped him. He bumped one of them off with his hands
and the others with his gat--one of those big automatics that throw a
slug like a cannon. None of us knew he had it. That's all, except that I
am quitting Prescott right now. Anything else I can do for you, whoever
"No. Your job's done."
The conversation closed. Perkins pressed the switch which reduced the
interior of the spy's wireless instrument to a fused mass of metal, and
Brookings called DuQuesne on the telephone.
"I would like to talk to you," he said. "Shall I come there or would you
rather come to my office?"
"I'll come there. They're watching this house. They have one man in
front and one in back, a couple of detectaphones in my rooms here, and
have coupled onto this telephone.
"Don't worry," he continued calmly as the other made an exclamation of
dismay. "Talk ahead as loud as you please--they can't hear you. Do you
think that those poor, ignorant flat feet can show me anything about
electricity? I'd shoot a jolt along their wires that would burn their
ears off if it weren't my cue to act the innocent and absorbed
scientist. As it is, their instruments are all registering dense
silence. I am deep in study right now, and can't be disturbed!"
"Can you get out?"
"Certainly. I have that same private entrance down beside the house wall
and the same tunnel I used before. I'll see you in about fifteen
* * * * *
In Brookings' office, DuQuesne told of the constant surveillance over
"They suspect me on general principles, I think," he continued. "They
are apparently trying to connect me with somebody. I don't think they
suspect you at all, and they won't unless they get some better methods.
I have devices fitted up to turn the lights off and on, raise and lower
the windows, and even cast shadows at certain times. The housekeeper
knows that when I go to my library after dinner, I have retired to
study, and that it is as much as anyone's life is worth to disturb me.
Also, I am well known to be firmly fixed in my habits, so it's easy to
fool those detectives. Last night I went out and watched them. They hung
around a couple of hours after my lights went out, then walked off
together. I can dodge them any time and have all my nights free without
their ever suspecting anything."
"Are you free tonight?"
"Yes. The time-switches are all set, and as long as I get back before
daylight, so they can see me get up and go to work, it will be all
Brookings told him briefly of the failures to secure the solution and
the plans, of the death of the three men sent to silence Shiro, and of
all the other developments. DuQuesne listened, his face impassive.
"Well," he said as Brookings ceased. "I thought you would bull it, but
not quite so badly. But there's no use whining now. I can't use my
original plan of attack in force, as they are prepared and might be able
to stand us off until the police could arrive."
He thought deeply for a time, then said, intensely:
"If I go into this thing, Brookings, I am in absolute command.
Everything goes as I say. Understand?"
"Yes. It's up to you, now."
"All right, I think I've got it. Can you get me a Curtiss biplane in an
hour, and a man about six feet tall who weighs about a hundred and sixty
pounds? I want to drive the plane myself, and have the man, dressed in
full leathers and hood, in the passenger's seat, shot so full of
chloroform or dope that he will be completely unconscious for at least
"Easy. We can get you any kind of plane you want in an hour, and Perkins
can find a man of that description who would be glad to have a dream at
that price. But what's the idea?... Pardon me, I shouldn't have asked
that," he added, as the saturnine chemist shot him a black look from
beneath his heavy brows.
Well, within the hour, DuQuesne drove up to a private aviation field and
found awaiting him a Curtiss biplane, whose attendant jumped into an
automobile and sped away as he approached. He quickly donned a heavy
leather suit, similar to the one Seaton always wore in the air, and drew
the hood over his face. Then, after a searching look at the lean form of
the unconscious man in the other seat, he was off, the plane climbing
swiftly under his expert hand. He took a wide circle to the west and
Soon Shiro and the two guards, hearing the roar of an approaching
airplane, looked out and saw what they supposed to be Crane's biplane
coming down with terrific speed in an almost vertical nose-dive, as
though the driver were in an extremity of haste. Flattening out just in
time to avert destruction it taxied up the field almost to the house.
The watchers saw a man recognizable as Seaton by his suit and his
unmistakable physique stand up and wave both arms frantically, heard him
shout hoarsely "... all of you ... out here," saw him point to Crane's
apparently lifeless form and slump down in his seat. All three ran out
to help the unconscious aviators, but just as they reached the machine
there were three silenced reports and the three men fell to the ground.
DuQuesne leaped lightly out of the machine and looked narrowly at the
bodies at his feet. He saw that the two detectives were dead, but found
with some chagrin that the Japanese still showed faint signs of life. He
half drew his pistol to finish the job, but observing that the victim
was probably fatally wounded he thrust it back into its holster and
went on into the house. Drawing on rubber gloves he rapidly blew the
door off the safe with nitro-glycerin and took out everything it
contained. He set aside a roll of blueprints, numerous notebooks, some
money and other valuables, and a small vial of solution--but of the
larger bottle there was no trace. He then ransacked the entire house,
from cellar to attic, with no better success. So cleverly was the
entrance to the vault concealed in the basement wall that he failed to
"I might have expected this of Crane," he thought, half aloud, "after
all the warning that fool Brookings persisted in giving him. This is the
natural result of his nonsense. The rest of the solution is probably in
the safest safe-deposit vault in the United States. But I've got their
plans and notes, and enough solution for the present. I'll get the rest
of it when I want it--there's more than one way to kill any cat that
Returning to the machine, DuQuesne calmly stepped over the bodies of the
detectives and the unconscious form of the dying Japanese, who was
uttering an occasional groan. He started the engine and took his seat.
There was an increasing roar as he opened the throttle, and soon he
descended upon the field from which he had set out. He noted that there
was a man in an automobile at some distance from the hangar, evidently
waiting to take care of the plane and his still unconscious passenger.
Rapidly resuming his ordinary clothing, he stepped into his automobile
and was soon back in his own rooms, poring over the blueprints and
* * * * *
Seaton and Crane both felt that something was wrong when they approached
the landing field and saw that the landing-lights were not burning, as
they always were kept lighted whenever the plane was abroad after dark.
By the dim light of the old moon Crane made a bumpy landing and they
sprang from their seats and hastened toward the house. As they neared it
they heard a faint moan and turned toward the sound, Seaton whipping out
his electric torch with one hand and his automatic pistol with the
other. At the sight that met their eyes, however, he hastily replaced
the weapon and bent over Shiro, a touch assuring him that the other two
were beyond the reach of help. Silently they picked up the injured man
and carried him gently into his own room, barely glancing at the wrecked
safe on the way. Seaton applied first-aid treatment to the ghastly wound
in Shiro's head, which both men supposed to be certainly fatal, while
Crane called a noted surgeon, asking him to come at once. He then
telephoned the coroner, the police, and finally Prescott, with whom he
held a long conversation.
Having done all in their power for the unfortunate man, they stood at
his bedside, their anger all the more terrible for the fact that it was
silent. Seaton stood with every muscle tense. He was seething with rage,
his face purple and his eyes almost emitting sparks, his teeth clenched
until the muscles of his jaws stood out in bands and lumps. His right
hand, white-knuckled, gripped the butt of his pistol, while under his
left the brass rail of the bed slowly bent under the intensity of his
unconscious muscular effort. Crane stood still, apparently impassive,
but with his face perfectly white and with every feature stern and cold
as though cut from marble. Seaton was the first to speak.
"Mart," he gritted, his voice husky with fury, "a man who would leave
another man alone to die after giving him that, ain't a man--he's a
thing. If Shiro dies and we can ever find out who did it I'll shoot him
with the biggest explosive charge I've got. No, I won't either, that'd
be too sudden. I'll take him apart with my bare hands."
"We will find him, Dick," Crane replied in a level, deadly voice
entirely unlike his usual tone. "That is one thing money can do. We will
get him if money, influence, and detectives can do it."
The tension was relieved by the arrival of the surgeon and his two
nurses, who set to work with the machine-like rapidity and precision of
their highly-specialized craft. After a few minutes, the work completed,
the surgeon turned to the two men who had been watching him so intently,
with a smile upon his clean-shaven face.
"Merely a scalp wound, Mr. Crane," he stated. "He should recover
consciousness in an hour or so." Then, breaking in upon Seaton's
exclamation, "It looks much worse than it really is. The bullet glanced
off the skull instead of penetrating it, stunning him by the force the
blow. There are no indications that the brain is affected in any way,
and while the affected area of the scalp is large, it is a clean wound
and should heal rapidly. He will probably be up and around in a couple
of days, and by the time his hair grows again, he will not be able to
find a scar."
As he took his leave, the police and coroner arrived. After making a
thorough investigation, in which they learned what had been stolen and
shrewdly deduced the manner in which the robbery had been accomplished,
they departed, taking with them the bodies. They were authorized by
Crane to offer a reward of one million dollars for information leading
to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. After everyone except the
nurses had gone, Crane showed them the rooms they were to occupy while
caring for the wounded man. As the surgeon had foretold, Shiro soon
recovered consciousness. After telling his story he dropped into a deep
sleep, and Seaton and Crane, after another telephonic conference with
Prescott, retired for the rest of the night.
Next: The Object-compass At Work
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