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Doctor Zero by Paul Chadwick

The night glowed purple! From the black vault of the heavens came a hissing ball of purple light. As if possessing uncanny human intelligence, it rocketed straight for the victim it had marked. The police were helpless before that sinister sphere of Doctor Zero's. And now, Wade Hammond, explorer and criminal investigator, had stepped into the eerie glow of the Purple Peril.

CHAPTER I - DEATH'S MESSENGER

"WHAT'S that?" Detective O'Conner's voice was a nasal bleat. His eyes bulged under the brim of his soft felt hat. His dank cigarette slipped from trembling fingers. He stared off into the darkness across the wide lawn of Gordon Munn's suburban house.

A fellow dick, one of a cordon thrown around the place to protect its owner from the mysterious menace of "Doctor Zero," shook his head. He also was staring in amazement.

"It looks like a rocket," O'Conner went on. "No--it's coming nearer. Hell, we ought to warn Munn."

He started off across the lawn at a lumbering gallop. The sky behind him had turned into a vivid violet. There was a strange, hissing sound in the air. A fantastic ball of eerie purple light was descending toward the house. It moved as though some unseen power were directing it--moved with horrible certainty toward the window of Munn's study.

O'Conner waved his arms and shouted. At that instant the ball of purple fire touched the window panes. There came a noise like the crack of a giant whip, then a deafening concussion that shattered every piece of glass in the sash, sending gleaming slivers inward and outward and searing the boards along the side of the house.

A stinging needle of glass struck the detective. He bawled loudly and clutched at his face. Men were shouting to each other out on the lawn now. A half-score of plainclothes men came running up, converging on the house from three sides. A babble of voices sounded.

"It's a bomb--who threw it?"

"See if Munn's hurt!"

"Turn in an alarm!"

Questions, orders and explanations tumbled over each other. Then O'Conner spoke again. "There's another one coming--look out!"

The ball this time seemed to swoop out of the black night sky like a sinister will-o'-the-wisp. It appeared first as a pinpoint of light, hardly distinguishable from the stars. It might have been a shooting star as it flashed across the sky.

But as it came nearer its speed diminished. Again there was that uncanny effect of diabolical intelligence. The hissing, whirling ball of purple fire followed its predecessor. The first one had cleared the way. The second plunged through the gaping hole of the shattered window while detectives screamed a warning.

They heard a muffled explosion this time. Lurid tongues of light speared from the window, dancing like an aurora borealis. The room inside looked for a moment to those staring from the darkness like the mouth of some fantastic inferno such as the hand of a Doré might have depicted.

Above the noise of the concussion they heard a single, horrible cry. Then blackness descended and the night seemed to close in, bringing silence with it. The voices of the detectives grew hushed with amazement and the awe of the unknown.

O'Conner entered the house with his men behind him. They found the servants huddled into a frightened, whispering group near the hall stairway. Then they climbed to the floor above, entered Munn's study and swore harshly at the thing they saw.

Gordon Munn, director in a great and powerful bank, and shareholder in a dozen corporations, was lying face downward on the rug, his clothing in singed tatters, his body twisted and blackened into an unsightly caricature of a man.

THREE miles away in Wade Hammond's apartment the French-type telephone jangled into life. The curio-lined walls of the living room threw the sound back harshly. The stuffed heads of big game, collected in a dozen far corners of the world, stared down with unblinking eyes as though listening.

Hammond, sprawled in a big armchair, dropped his cigarette into an ashtray, untangled his legs and got up. He crossed the room in four quick strides. Ten years of newspaper and police work had taught him to answer phone calls promptly. But his deeply tanned face was impassive as he picked the instrument up. People were always giving him a buzz for one thing or another. His lips below their thin mustache line barely moved in the mouthpiece.

"Hello! Hammond speaking."

Words came from the other end of the wire in an excited quaver.

"Listen, Hammond--this is Sergeant O'Conner. All hell's popping. Gordon Munn's been knocked off in spite of us."

"Gordon Munn?"

"Yeah--the bank man. You know who he is. Can you come out? The chief wants you. Follow Parkway Boulevard and make the first turn to your right. It's the big yellow house with the iron fence in front of it. Step on it!"

"O.K." Again Wade's lips moved. No use asking questions now. The dope would come later after he got to the scene of the killing. When Inspector Thompson called, it meant there was a tough nut to be cracked.

Wade's movements in the next few seconds were like those of a well-oiled machine--a machine taut with blued steel springs and rapidaction mechanism. But the springs were his muscles and the motivating mechanism was the flashing power of his quick-fire brain.

He threw off his dressing gown, pulled on a coat, stuck his feet into shoes, shoved a flat, wicked-looking automatic into his pocket and grabbed a hat. Three minutes later wind was whistling past the radiator cap on the battleship nose of his sport roadster.

He held the button on the steering column down at every intersection, defying traffic lights and making the night raucous. Twice he lifted a gloved hand at red-faced cops who stared belligerently. The fighting expressions left their faces when they saw who it was.

It was known that Wade Hammond carried a special investigator's card bearing the signature of the commissioner himself. It was also known that it didn't pay to interfere with him.

He swung into the driveway of the Munn estate. Gravel snapped under fat balloon tires as he roared up to the front steps. The headlights of his car goggled into the shrubbery. Almost before the motor stopped ticking over he was up the steps and inside the house.

Inspector Thompson, the grizzled chief of the City Homicide Bureau, was coming forward through the hallway to meet him, his expression owlish as always.

"Sorry to dig you out of bed, Hammond. They caught me at a banquet--right in the middle of a steak, smothered with onions. It's tough when a fellah can't enjoy his grub."

"Tough is right. What's going on here, chief? O'Conner sounded fussed when he called."

"Why wouldn't he? Didn't he tell you Munn had got his?"

Wade nodded grimly. Thompson's features suddenly reddened. His voice was thick with anger.

"I'm going to burn up somebody for this. Munn asked for protection. I sent enough men out here to guard the sub-treasury--and they let that devil rub him out anyway."

"Who?"

"Doctor Zero."

Wade shook his head.

"You'll have to start from scratch, chief. You've been holding out on me. Who's Doctor Zero?"

"I wish I knew. That's what he calls himself. He tried to get cash out of Munn--sent him a scare letter--and a bundle."

"A bundle? What was in it?"

"Come here, I'll show you."

THOMPSON turned and Wade followed him. They climbed to the second floor, to the room where Munn had been killed. The place was filled with headquarters' men; detectives, the medical examiner and his assistant, and experts from the bomb squad. Munn was still sprawled on the rug near a table, pieces of glass all around him from the shattered window. Thompson spoke in Wade's ear.

"Look here."

The inspector was lifting an odd-looking contraption from a pasteboard box. There was a handful of thin, collapsed rubber; a small metal ball attached to it, and a long brass cylinder with a tube at its end stoppered by a brass valve.

"What is it--a bomb?" Wade spoke grimly.

"No, a balloon, Hammond--with a tank of compressed gas to fill it, and a place to put the cash."

"A present from Doctor Zero, eh?"

"Yeah. Munn was supposed to put fifty thousand dollars into that tea-ball gadget and send the balloon up when it got dark. I don't know how the hell Zero expected to get it back. It might land any place within a thousand miles. He must be a nut."

Wade did not answer. He was looking interested, staring at the balloon keenly, and fingering the small round cash box. It was made of some lightweight metal. There was a coating on it. Some sort of waterproof paint apparently.

"Munn would have done better to have followed instructions," he said. Thompson swore under his breath and nodded.

"He had plenty of dough, but he didn't want to send fifty thousand of it sky-hooting all over the landscape--you can't blame him. He sat tight and called on us. Now it'll get out that the department fell down on the job. It's going to raise a stink."

Wade fired a sudden question. "What sort of a bomb did Doctor Zero use and where did it come from?"

Thompson shrugged. "Nobody knows yet. Carmichael and Parks are working on it now. The fellahs who saw it say it wasn't a bomb at all. It floated through the air, they say. It seemed to come from the sky--sort of purple fire."

Wade spoke quickly, his voice hard.

"This Doctor Zero is no nut, chief. You can bet on that. He must have known what he was doing when he sent that balloon. We've both heard of scientific criminals, and read yarns about them. Now we're up against one. It's the smartest extortion racket I've ever bumped into, with murder as a side line. Some guy who's half genius and half devil is behind this--and he must want the money bad."

Thompson grunted and Wade spoke again.

"We won't learn much here. That's a cinch. Mind if I go off with that balloon?"

"I can't let you, Hammond." Thompson spoke regretfully. "My men have got to have it to trace the material--see where it was bought."

Wade made an impatient gesture.

"They'll have a good time doing it. Let me have a few scrapings then. I think there's something queer here--and deep, too."

Inspector Thompson stared uncomprehendingly while Wade took a penknife from his pocket and scraped some of the paint and metal off the balllike cash receptacle onto a paper. He stuffed this into his pocket and spoke slowly.

"That's the angle I'm going to work on first, chief. I got a hunch about something. I think--"

He stopped suddenly. A girl was standing in the door of the room; a girl with blonde hair, frightened eyes, and bloodless lips. She made a little whimpering sound in her throat, and moved forward; but a detective held her back.

"Better not look at him, miss. It won't do any good."

The girl burst into a spasm of crying, her slim shoulders shaking.

"That's Munn's daughter, Arlene," Thompson whispered. "She must have just come. We'll have to get her out."

Wade followed the inspector, and as they neared the doorway he saw a man standing behind the girl. Thompson was speaking in a kindly voice.

"We'd better go downstairs, Miss Munn. There was an explosion--you'd better remember your father the way he was."

E led the girl gently out into the hall while Wade sized up her escort. The man was thin and aristocratic looking with features so clean-cut as to be almost harsh. He was dressed elegantly, and wore an aloof expression. Wade had seen the face somewhere before.

Arlene Munn recovered enough to introduce him when they got downstairs. The formalities had been bred into her.

"Professor Ornstein," she said. "We were dancing at the Belmont when they paged us--and told me about father." She choked again.

"I came here as fast as I could," Ornstein said. "It's a terrible thing. I'm awfully sorry." His words were sympathetic, but his tone sounded casual. Wade's thoughts were active, building up impressions, remembering scraps of information.

He had Professor Harold Ornstein checked now. The man was connected with the Technological Institute--a brilliant scientist specializing in physics; a dapper society light when he cared to be, and a person of independent means. It was an odd combination. Wade recalled Ornstein's name in connection with a recent breach-of-promise suit. The man, who was at least twenty years older than Arlene Munn, had a bad reputation with women. Science was his life work; philandering his recreation. He had won the Nobel Prize for his researches into the nature of matter, and the "ignoble" prize in his dealings with the ladies. Wade smiled grimly at the bad pun.

But he didn't like Ornstein, and sensed a certain hostility in the man. Still, the professor was a genius in his line. He might even be able to help in this strange case. Wade started to speak, but Arlene Munn interrupted, weeping again.

"I can't stand it!" she said. "I can't! Take me away from here, Harry."

"That's a good idea," said Inspector Thompson. "We can talk to you later, Miss Munn."

"I'll take her to her aunt's," said Ornstein smoothly. "She'll feel better when she's had a drink and quieted down a bit. If I can be of any service let me know."

The two of them moved toward the front door; Arlene slender and wilting, Ornstein tall and bland, looking somehow like a suave Satan.

"A pretty slick bird," said Thompson. "If there's science mixed up in this as you say, Hammond, we'd better check up on him. I wonder if he was at the Belmont with Miss Munn all evening?"

Thompson called one of his men and had a lowvoiced conversation with him. Then he whirled, facing Wade and listening.

Shouts had suddenly come from outside, then the sound of two pistol shots in quick succession. Wade was already headed for the door.

"Come on, chief," he said. "This seems to be our busy night!"

CHAPTER II - A SPY IN THE DARK

WHEN Wade Hammond reached the broad side veranda of Munn's house he saw three figures coming up the steps. Two of them were detectives. The man in the middle seemed to be their prisoner. They had him by the arms and were pushing him forcibly forward.

One of the detectives, a man with a red, perspiring face, turned to Inspector Thompson and spoke.

"We found this bird snooping around outside, chief. He started to run and Bill had to pull a gun on him. He's lucky he didn't get bumped off. He would have if I'd done the shooting."

"Bring him in the house," said Thompson. "Who is he?"

"You've got me, chief; but he looks like a bad actor."

The two plainclothes men shoved their prisoner into the lighted hallway. Wade stared at the man sharply. He was young, somewhere in his early twenties apparently, and he had the gangling look of a student with bookish tendencies. This was accentuated by the heavy shell-rimmed spectacles he wore. His face had a sullen expression as he stood blinking his eyes in the light.

"What's your name?" asked Thompson harshly. "What were you doing out there on the lawn?"

The young man continued to blink. Then he spoke in a surly monotone.

"I was just looking around. I'm Zadok Smith."

"Looking around!" The inspector's voice was sarcastic. "What were you looking for--did you lose a nickel or something?"

Smith's face reddened. He pressed his lips together and shook his head. Thompson flared up.

"You won't talk, eh? You're one of those tightlipped guys! Frisk him, Ed, and see if he's heeled."

The red-faced detective began going through Zadok Smith's pockets with professional thoroughness. He gave an excited exclamation as he drew something from the young man's coat where a conspicuous bulge had showed. It was an oblong leatherette case with two button fasteners. Thompson took it out of his hand and opened it while Wade stared over his shoulder.

Inside the case were two round glass dials with a knurled screw head in the center. Needle-shaped indicators behind the glass of the dials were quivering. Wade spoke tensely.

"That's a galvanometer, I think. The other's a compass. They seem to be hitched together. It's a funny-looking gadget."

"What's a galvanometer?" asked Thompson peevishly.

"It shows when there's an electric current," said Wade. "What were you doing with this thing, Smith?"

Smith stared at Wade as sullenly as he had at the inspector. "It's my business," he said. "I wasn't hurting anybody, was I?"

The cords in Inspector Thompson's neck swelled. "No?" he shouted. "Well--somebody hurt Gordon Munn here tonight--killed him! You've got a lot of explaining to do, Smith. You'd better answer our questions."

Wade nodded. "It'll save you trouble," he said. "Tell us what you know, Smith. You wouldn't be carrying that thing around if you weren't in on something. There's been a murder in this house---and murder can't be laughed off."

Smith's sullen face turned pale, but he maintained a stony silence. Wade shrugged. "Have it your own way. You'll talk later if you don't now."

"You bet he will," said Thompson angrily. "Take him down to headquarters, Ed. We can find a way to unbutton his lip down there."

Thompson, Wade saw, was still smarting under the knowledge that the police department had fallen down in its attempt to protect Munn. The inspector handed the leatherette case to one of the detectives.

"Give this to Carmichael and Parks. They're going down with that balloon contraption. They can take Smith along with them. Go out and see if anybody else is snooping around here."

The two detectives turned their prisoner over to Parks and Carmichael who were just coming down the stairs with the cardboard box containing the balloon. Wade spoke.

"I think I'll follow after them, chief. There's not much I can do here--and I'm curious about that gadget of Smith's. He wasn't carrying it just for fun."

Wade left the house with the two headquarters men and their prisoner. He had no clear picture of the crime in his mind as yet. He'd taken an active part in many other strange homicide cases; but this murder gave indications of being the most sinister and fantastic he'd ever bumped into. His mind reverted to the sprawled and blackened form of Gordon Munn and to the weeping figure of Arlene as he had first seen her in the doorway of the room where her father had met death. What human fiend was behind this? Who was Doctor Zero, and what did Zadok Smith know about the case that he was not willing to tell?

WADE was still asking himself these questions as the police car containing Parks, Carmichael and their prisoner turned out of the driveway. He followed it in his own fast roadster. He wanted to be on hand when an expert in the criminal investigation bureau examined the instrument that Smith carried.

The tail-light of the police car stared unwinkingly out of the darkness ahead like the eye of some monster. They passed other rich men's estates; big houses set far back on well-kept lawns. An indefinable pall of horror seemed to blend with the shadows of the night.

The police car neared Parkway Boulevard with Wade's roadster a hundred feet behind. There were no other cars in sight. For a distance equaling two city blocks an embankment rose on either side of the road and the pole lights were spaced far apart.

Wade, occupied with his own thoughts, became aware suddenly of an unnatural glow on the distant horizon. Eerie reflections danced on the vibrating windshield of his roadster. His eyes, registering that glow and those faint reflections, telegraphed a warning to his subconscious mind. A sensation that was like the touch of chill fingers ran up his spine.

Then he cried out. The glow had deepened. It was concentrated in a pinpoint of light like a shooting star--a star that was coming nearer and which shed a lurid, uncanny radiance.

Wade heard a sudden squeal of brakes ahead. Then a scream of human terror sounded, followed by the noise of breaking glass. The police car swerved toward the side of the road, and, in the glare of his own car's headlights, Wade saw a gangling, bespectacled form jump from the auto in front of him.

He recognized it as Zadok Smith. He saw Smith stumble and drop to his knees. Pinpoints of orange flame speared the darkness over his head as one of the detectives fired at the escaping prisoner. Then with an awkward leap Smith vanished into the shadows of the shrub-clothed embankment. Behind him the night was made ghastly by another unearthly scream.

The cause of Smith's terror was plain now. It wasn't his fear of the detectives' bullets. It was that dancing, fantastic pinpoint of light which had now become a ball of purple fire headed straight toward the police car.

Wade heard one of the detectives shout a warning. They, too, had become aware of their peril. He saw the police car slew around and leap forward under the powerful thrust of a suddenly speeded motor.

Carmichael and Parks were trying to escape their doom.

Wade held his breath in horror. That lethal willo'--the-wisp of light had changed its course now.

Some hidden intelligence acting through unknown physical forces was guiding it. It curved down in a hawk-like swoop and followed the flying police car. For seconds that seemed to Wade like an eternity the terrible purple death pursued the speeding vehicle. It gained foot by foot, hovered over the car for an instant, then dropped like a falling meteor.

CHAPTER III - THE HAND OF DOCTOR ZERO

WADE hadn't been on the scene when Munn was killed. But he heard a ripping, crackling burst of sound now. Then a terrible detonation blasted the air like an exploding bomb. He saw the top of the police car disintegrate in a pall of smoke and flame and zigzag streamers of light.

The swiftly-moving car swerved from the road and headed up the embankment. He got a blurred glimpse of churning wheels, flying grass and thrashing bushes. Then the car swerved again in its erratic course. It turned turtle and came rolling back down the bank, where it lay, a smoking, twisted ruin beside the ditch.

The darkness of the night closed in, and Wade, feeling momentarily sick and weak for all the violent deaths he had seen in his life, brought his own roadster to a halt. He got out and walked forward unsteadily.

A man was lying dead in the roadway. It was one of the detectives, blown clear of the car when the fireball had exploded, shattering the vehicle's top. Another man, whom Wade identified with a shudder, as Parks, was half-pinned under the battered wreckage. He, too, had been killed instantly.

Wade wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. The thing he had just seen was enough to shake any man's nerves. He remembered Zadok Smith then. Smith's frantic, terrified screams seemed still to ring in his ears. The young man had sensed his danger in time to jump from the car. His fear of the Purple Peril had driven him to risk the detectives' bullets.

Any evidence that the police car had contained had been destroyed.

Wade went back to his roadster and pulled a flashlight from under the front seat. He walked along the road to the spot where he'd seen Smith dive from the moving car. The dirt here was kicked up, showing the marks of Smith's knees. Up the embankment the branches of a number of bushes were broken, marking the trail of Smith's mad flight to escape death.

Then Wade caught his breath. His probing flashlight had revealed a gleam of metal in the shrubbery. He focused the beam and stooped down.

A small fraternity pin with some sort of cabalistic markings on it was lying at his feet. It had apparently been brushed from Zadok Smith's clothing. Wade picked it up and slipped it into his pocket.

There seemed to be little use in trying to follow Smith now. He should be a half-mile away by this time. Terror had lent speed to his feet and the darkness would act as an all-concealing curtain.

Wade had been the sole witness of this grisly double murder. He lifted the body of the slain detective from the road and laid it beside the ruins of the police car.

Then he got into his roadster. He wanted to reach the nearest telephone quickly and let Inspector Thompson know that the sinister hand of Doctor Zero had brought death again.

He came to a filling station a mile down the road and stopped. There was a telephone in it. Wade's own voice was hoarse as he talked to the inspector over the wire.

Images of the killing he had witnessed and echoes of Zadok Smith's terrified screams still seemed to pulsate through his brain.

He felt as though the whole thing were a mad nightmare--but he knew it wasn't. In brief sentences he gave the details of the double murder to Thompson. He wound up with his own conclusions.

"We're dealing with a murderer who kills as unemotionally as a machine. He had nothing against Parks and Carmichael personally. He killed them because they carried evidence which might be dangerous."

Thompson's voice came back with a tremor in it.

"I can't have my men knocked off like this. We've got to find Doctor Zero."

ADE knew that the inspector wasn't taking the deaths of his two assistants lightly. The old crime-hunter concealed human emotion under a bluff, hardboiled exterior. Parks and Carmichael had been with him for years.

"We'll find him," said Wade grimly. "There's a question mark after his name now--but it'll be a death sentence before we're through."

"What'll you do next, Hammond--try to trace Smith?"

"Yes. Then I want to have a talk with Professor Ornstein. Have you any more dope on him, chief?"

"He stayed at the Belmont all evening with Miss Munn, as he told us. He left her only once to make a short telephone call. The house detective helped us check up on him. His alibi is watertight."

"You and I've seen alibis break down before," Wade said. "Smith has an alibi, too, now. He was in the police car when the fireball came, But he hasn't explained yet what he was doing prowling around Munn's house at the exact time of the murder."

"No--and here's another angle I've just thought of," said Thompson with a snap in his voice. "It didn't take more than three minutes for those balls that killed Munn to drop out of the air and explode. Ornstein's call was made somewhere around the same time. We don't know what sort of thing we're dealing with."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that if there's science mixed up in this, as we think, we've got a tough job on our hands."

"Tough is right, chief." There was a humorless smile on Wade's face as he spoke.

It was after eleven when Wade drove to the campus of the Technological Institute and asked to be directed to Professor Ornstein's quarters. A night watchman stared at him, then pointed across the campus grounds to where lights were burning in the third story of a modernistic looking building.

"He's up there," the watchman said. "That's where he works. I saw his car go by ten minutes ago."

Wade examined the building that housed Ornstein's laboratory. It surprised him to find the man at work so late at night. Ornstein, he figured, must have left Arlene at her aunt's, then come back here. And he must be a man with stout nerves to go calmly back to work after being at the scene of Munn's murder such a short time before.

A fire escape snaked down the side of the building, passing Professor Ornstein's windows. Wade noticed this and also saw the light in the front vestibule was burning. An automatic elevator connected with the various floors.

Wade took the elevator to Ornstein's floor and knocked. Ornstein himself came to the door. He had slipped a white coat over his evening clothes and looked trim and efficient. For a moment he stared at Wade blankly. Then he smiled in recognition.

"Hammond," he said. "I remember now. Come in."

"Sorry to interrupt your work, professor."

"Don't mind that. I'm always puttering around. I've got so I can't sleep if I don't amuse myself for a while before going to bed."

Wade studied the man for a second, then spoke.

"There was another murder after you left--a double one. Two detectives were killed. I want to ask you about a man named Zadok Smith. Ever hear of him?"

Ornstein whistled. Then an odd look came into his eyes. His sharp features had the satanic quality that Wade had noticed before.

"I know young Smith too well," Ornstein said. "He's a student here--one of Professor Hartz's, specializing in mineralogy and analytical chemistry. Frankly I don't like him. He's an impertinent young devil. He has a habit of coming in here uninvited and making a nuisance of himself. I think he imagines he's spying on my work. He's annoyed Arlene, too."

"So Miss Munn knows him then?"

"Yes, slightly. She's good-hearted enough to tolerate his mooning around."

Wade nodded.

"Smith was found prowling outside the Munn house just after the murder. He had a queer instrument in his pocket--a compass and a galvanometer hitched together apparently. Two men started back to headquarters with him. Then another of those fireballs dropped out of the sky. Smith jumped and escaped and the two detectives were killed. Have you any theory, professor, as to what Smith might have been doing?"

A veil of suspicion seemed to drop over Ornstein's face for a moment. He laughed uneasily.

"You're connected with the police, Hammond," he said. "I wouldn't want to commit myself. I'd advise you, though, to find out all you can about Smith. Talk to Professor Hartz tomorrow. Smith's actions have certainly been queer."

"What about those fireballs?" said Wade. "I've got a theory that they may be electrical. You're a physicist. You ought to know."

"You mean you think they're controlled charges of static, like lightning?"

"Something of the sort."

"Look here!" Ornstein walked across the room quickly and opened a door. Through it Wade saw the complex paraphernalia of a modern scientific laboratory. There were shelves of chemicals, various electrical apparatus, including static machines of the Whymshurst type, Geissler tubes, and delicate instruments to demonstrate the composition of matter.

ORNSTEIN threw a small knife switch which sent current into the terminals of a ten-inch spark coil. The pungent, pleasant smell of ozone filled the air as miniature lightning flared between the gaps. A battery of foil-covered condensers were being charged. Close to them was an apparatus with adjustable electrodes. At the moment they were spaced four feet apart. The bottom one consisted of a copper plate two inches square.

"Watch," said Ornstein. "Here's lightning for you."

He reached into a box on a shelf and drew out a common walnut. He placed the nut on the copper electrode and stepped back.

"Call that nut a house," he said. "The electrode above is the sky. Now we have a thunderstorm. The electrode becomes a cloud."

He was speaking in his best classroom manner. Suddenly he turned off the overhead lights, then pressed another switch attached to a flexible cord.

There came a sharp, crackling report as a streak of violet light shot down from the top electrode. It struck the plate below in the millionth part of a second, passing through the walnut and sending shattered pieces of shell flying in all directions.

"In the General Electric Laboratories at Schenectady," said Ornstein, "they've made lightning that can shatter a block of hardwood. I use this little machine to give practical demonstrations to my students."

"There's more than one kind of lightning," said Wade. "This sort is known as chain, I believe. Could ball lightning be made in a laboratory, too, professor?"

Ornstein shot Wade a quick look, then smiled.

"Ball lightning is a rare phenomenon, Hammond. Its existence has been proven, but unusual atmospheric conditions cause it and it has never been reproduced artificially. Nothing is impossible, though, in the light of modern science. Lightning is the result of an electrical disturbance in the atoms of the air. The atoms in turn are made up of electrons. If a man found a way of controlling the electrons themselves he might do wonders. Professor Osterhout of Harvard estimates that there is enough potential electronic energy in a teaspoonful of water to drive a train across the continent."

Wade nodded, staring around him. There seemed to be other rooms connected with the main laboratory, but Ornstein didn't offer to show them. Wade sensed that the man was an adept at disguising his real thoughts. He was something of an enigma, always disarmingly pleasant.

Wade thanked the professor for his information and was preparing to go when the telephone in the outer room jangled. Ornstein picked the instrument up, then his face suddenly stiffened.

"My God--no!"

It was the first time Wade had seen any sign of emotion on Ornstein's part. The professor held the receiver to his ear for nearly a minute, then whirled around. He spoke tensely.

"Arlene--Miss Munn--has been kidnapped. I left her at her aunt's. She was going to spend the night there. A maid went to her room a few minutes ago and found her gone. The window was open and a ladder was leaning against it from the outside."

CHAPTER IV - THE SINISTER VISITOR

ORNSTEIN began slipping out of his white jacket. He put on his overcoat, and in a moment he and Wade were descending in the elevator together. Two minutes later they turned out of the campus driveway in Wade's car and began speeding through the night toward the home of Arlene Munn's aunt.

When they reached it Wade saw more evidences of wealth, though the house wasn't quite as pretentious as Gordon Munn's. The dead man's sister, a large, florid woman of about forty, was in the drawing room with a bottle of smelling salts in her hand. She was close to hysteria, and the servants were running about panic stricken.

"Have you called the police?" asked Wade. The woman nodded. Her voice was a wail.

"This is terrible, terrible, terrible! Arlene came to me for protection--and now the poor girl is gone, and my poor dear brother, too!"

"She's not dead yet," said Wade. "We'll get her back."

With a flashlight in his hand he went outside. He saw that nothing had been touched. The window was still open in the room Arlene had been given for the night. The ladder still leaned against the house.

He walked carefully so as not to disturb any footprints before men from the bureau of identification came with their cameras and measuring instruments. He stooped over once, and a puzzled look flashed into his eyes. Two imprints of a girl's high-heeled slipper showed in a spot where the grass was thin. It looked to him as though Arlene Munn had walked calmly away from the house.

He waited till the police arrived, then left them to their methodical search for clews of the missing girl and drove Ornstein back to his quarters near the Technological Institute. Behind the professor's calm exterior Wade was aware of nervous tenseness. But Ornstein refused to admit that he was worried.

"Arlene has a lot of spirit," he said. "She can generally take care of herself."

THE next day Wade began systematically checking up on Zadok Smith. No trace of Smith had been found as yet. Arlene Munn hadn't been located, and the killing of Gordon Munn was still veiled in mystery.

The morning editions of the papers had run the stories of the Purple Peril and newsboys were still shouting in the streets. The whole city was agog with dread interest over the sinister series of murders which had taken place the previous night. The police department was coming in for a storm of criticism and Inspector Thompson was beside himself.

At a little after nine Wade Hammond drove into the campus grounds of the Technological Institute again. He went directly to the administration office and asked to see Professor Hartz.

"The police are anxious to check up on one of the students here named Zadok Smith," he told the girl at the desk. "Perhaps you've seen the morning papers. I believe Smith's name is mentioned."

The girl nodded. There was a scared look in her eyes.

"Professor Hartz has his laboratory in No. 14, Newton Hall," she said. "Follow the walk at the right as you go out."

Wade did as directed and found Hartz located in the top of one of the old brick buildings which had formed the nucleus of the institute before modern additions had been made. The Professor, with his woolly, white hair and his long, benign face, seemed as much a fixture as the building itself. He was dressed with comfortable simplicity in a baggy gray suit. The only touches of ornateness about him were the large diamond ring on his finger and the diamond scarf pin in his tie. These looked like heirlooms. A morning paper was carefully folded on the desk before him.

Wade introduced himself, displaying his special investigator's card.

"Sit down," said Hartz in a rumbling bass voice. "I suppose you've come about young Smith, one of my students. I see he's got his name in the papers." There was, thought Wade, a note of sadness in the professor's voice.

He nodded.

"Smith's wanted as a witness in connection with the murder of Gordon Munn and those two detectives. He's technically under arrest now. What's your opinion of his character?"

Hartz shook his white head slowly, and tapped the paper.

"They already have him branded as the murderer here," he said. "He was a brilliant student but an erratic one. I don't know what to say. It's hard to believe he'd do a thing like this."

"Where is he, then?" asked Wade. "What made him refuse to answer questions, and what was he doing on Munn's lawn?"

"I can't imagine where he is," said Hartz. "Curiosity might have led him to the scene of the murder; but none of it looks right."

"Professor Ornstein says that Smith is inclined to be impertinent," said Wade.

Hartz smiled and shrugged. His tone was slightly bitter.

"There's jealousy even in the halls of learning, Mr. Hammond. I sometimes think Professor Ornstein fears Smith as a future rival. Ornstein is a little erratic himself at times. He works too hard---often late at night. And he goes in for social life a great deal. We all wonder how he stands up under it."

After his interview with Professor Hartz, Wade got permission to search Zadok Smith's dormitory room. He hoped to find a diary, or papers that might throw more light on his character. But he found only an endless quantity of scientific notes written in Smith's painfully neat hand.

The room was neat, too, and Smith's few personal belongings had been chosen with care. He was evidently a serious-minded student who felt that he had a career before him.

Wade spent the rest of the day going over every detail of the case with Inspector Thompson.

A footprint had been found outside the window of Arlene Munn's room, just beside the ladder. It compared with another footprint discovered on the lawn of Munn's house. Both had been made by Zadok Smith apparently. This led to the belief that he had kidnapped her. A police dragnet was thrown out in an effort to trap the missing man.

Wade went back to his apartment late that evening and for a time paced the floor in deep thought.

He wondered grimly if the Purple Peril would strike again. Would the police find the man who hid behind the name of Doctor Zero before another victim had been claimed?

HE went to bed toward eleven that night and read a book for half an hour before dropping off to sleep. His brain was tired but restless from beating against the blank wall that had been reached in the Munn murder case.

Sometime after midnight he woke up suddenly. His nerves were tingling oddly and he had a strange feeling--a sense that someone or something had been in the room with him while he slept.

Was it a dream brought on by the happenings of the past twenty-four hours? Or had someone really entered his apartment?

He got up, half ashamed of himself, and snapped on the lights. So far as he could see nothing had been disturbed. There was no one hiding in the place, and the doorway into the hall was locked. But he had used skeleton keys often enough himself to know that locks were not invulnerable. Someone might have entered.

He took the precaution now of snapping the special night latch on his door into place. Then he turned off the lights and went back to bed again.

But he couldn't sleep. Back in his mind was a feeling of uneasiness that refused to be shaken off. Something else was growing out of it--an intangible sense of menace which deepened steadily like a thickening gray cloud.

He tried to ignore it, tried to tell himself that it was only his imagination playing tricks on him. But he kept on tossing restlessly.

He turned on his pillow for the tenth time and faced the window. Then suddenly his body tensed and his eyes grew wide with horror.

The oblong patch of sky that he could see was growing lighter, turning from the dark of night into a weird purple.

He leaped out of bed and reached the window with one bound. There, over the housetops, he could see it plainly now--a strange pinpoint of light like a shooting star. As he watched, it gained in size, revolving itself into a whirling, eerie ball of fire.

The Purple Peril! The beacon of death itself!

With cold fingers clutching at his heart, Wade Hammond realized that the sinister ball of light was coming straight toward the window of his own apartment!

CHAPTER V - THE FIGURE IN BLACK

HE stared for seconds at the onrushing messenger of doom, unable to move. The ball came nearer, hovered overhead for an instant, then began a parabolic swoop toward earth. As it did so Wade's brain whipped the paralyzed muscles of his body into action.

He'd been a fighter all his life. Now he had a fight on his hands against the unknown forces of Doctor Zero.

He jumped to the window and slammed it shut, then turned and grabbed for his coat on the wall. He pulled it over his night clothes and reached the door in three strides. To stay in that room meant being blasted into eternity as Gordon Munn had been.

He snapped the lock open, stepped into the hallway and banged the door shut behind him. At the instant he did so the fireball reached its mark.

There came again that sound like a giant whip being cracked, then a jarring concussion and the noise of shattering glass. The door strained on its hinges and slivers of glass tinkled against it.

Wade went down the apartment house stairs three at a time. He wanted to reach the street and see if another ball were coming. His brain was grappling with the mystery of the thing. It looked as though this visit had something to do with the deadly certainty of the fireball's approach.

He ran across the dimly lighted foyer, stepped out into the street and looked up. A purple glow was visible again. Another of the lethal spheres was on its way. The street was deserted; but lights were beginning to show in nearby windows.

The glow deepened as Wade watched. Then the ball flashed into sight. It was coming across the housetops like a comet.

Wade stared, and his face whitened in horror. The ball hung overhead for an instant as the first one had done, then curved downward, a darting will-o'-the-wisp of destruction. But it wasn't headed for his window now. Its single glowing eye was moving straight toward him with terrible purpose, as though it possessed human intelligence.

Dampness broke out on Wade's forehead as he dashed headlong up the street. The ball dropped past his window and reached the spot where he had been a second before. It hung over the pavement, a glowing, incandescent globe of death. Then it floated after him in the same way that it had pursued the police ear.

Screams came from those looking on overhead. Wade's breath whistled through his teeth in labored, horrified gasps. He zigzagged, trying to escape the terror that followed him like Fate itself. He could feel the heat of it close behind him now. Any instant it might make contact with his body and accomplish its work of destruction. His feet seemed weighted with lead and his flapping overcoat hampered him.

Then he noticed something he hadn't been conscious of before. The left pocket of his coat seemed to sag. He thrust his hand in. His groping fingers closed over a piece of oblong metal, cold to the touch.

He hadn't put it there himself. What was it? Where had it come from? A strange look came into his eyes. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the purple ball of light close behind. He could hear the hissing, crackling noise it made as it swept through the air.

His hand came out of his pocket grasping the oblong piece of metal. With a fierce gesture he flung it away--and then a miracle seemed to happen.

The purple ball flashed off at a sudden tangent, hissing and whirling as it went, then dropped toward the spot where the strange metal had skidded to a stop.

Wade threw himself flat on the pavement as the air behind him seemed to explode with a roar. A wave of deafening sound came, followed by a battering current of wind. Stones and asphalt flew up in shattered pieces.

Where the metal had been all was darkness except for a few glowing sparks. These faded, and Wade, panting for breath, lifted himself to his feet.

He understood now. Someone had visited his room. Someone had dropped that piece of metal into his coat. Doctor Zero had visited him and marked him for death with this element that would attract the Purple Peril.

ADE went grimly back to his apartment with the ripping, crackling sound of the exploding fireball still ringing in his ears. An alarm had been turned in by someone. He could hear a fire engine tearing up the street with its siren shrieking.

Bric-a-brac around the apartment had been broken by the explosion, and the telephone had been knocked off its table. Wade picked it up and called Inspector Thompson's number. Thompson would want to know that he was all right when reports of the attack came. The voice of the inspector reached him over the wire, sleepy and peevish.

"A hell of a time to get a man out of bed, Hammond."

"That's what I thought just now when Doctor Zero tried to bump me off," said Wade. "He pretty nearly succeeded, chief. My room here looks like a Texas cyclone had struck it."

He heard Thompson's gasp of surprise.

"He tried to get you, Hammond? Did you find out anything?"

"Yes, it's scientific stuff we're dealing with all right. I'm going to see someone about it."

"Who?"

"Professor Ornstein, chief. He can tell me a lot of things if he wants to, I'll bet."

Wade was dressed at the end of five minutes and on his way downstairs again. A huge crowd had collected in the street outside. People were staring up at his broken windows, at the shattered glass, and at the hole in the pavement.

He shouldered his way through them and got his roadster out of the garage. He shoved the accelerator down to the floorboards as he headed for the Technological Institute campus.

This time he parked his car outside the grounds and went toward Ornstein's laboratory without letting the night watchman see him. Lights were burning in Ornstein's place again. The professor was evidently hard at work.

Wade started to go in the front way; then hesitated and walked around to the fire escape. He wondered if he could jump up and reach the bottom ladder which was balanced and hung up from the ground by a weight. Then suddenly he shrank back into the shadows. He had heard the sound of footsteps on the iron rungs. Someone was coming down.

A moment more and Wade got a glimpse of a muffled black form descending the fire escape. As he watched, the man stepped on the ladder which automatically lowered itself as the weight went up. Rusty pivots squeaked in protest. The figure in black seemed hardly more than a sinister shadow.

Who was he and what was he doing there?

Wade leaped forward. But a flower box close to the building and hidden by the darkness caught his foot. He half-tripped over it, fell to his knees on the grass, and his shoe clattered on the box.

The man on the ladder gave a muttered curse. He leaped sidewise, landing on his feet on the grass below, then turned and darted away, blending with the night shadows before Wade could reach him.

Wade didn't try to give chase. There were a score of places on the campus where the blackrobed stranger could hide. Wade ran into the building and pressed the button controlling the automatic elevator.

He waited impatiently while the car crawled up. Who was this stranger he had seen? Was it Ornstein himself?

He ran along the corridor and knocked loudly on Ornstein's door. He waited, knocked again, but there was no answer. Then he examined the door. He could see a thin glow of light coming from beneath it. Someone must be inside--unless the man he had seen had been Ornstein--or unless---

Wade suddenly reached into his pocket and drew out a bunch of skeleton keys. They were marvelously delicate. One was more than a key. It was a complicated little tool with an adjusting screw at the end and teeth that could be set into any size lock. It was Wade's own invention.

He thrust it into the lock on Ornstein's door, turned the knurled screw head with sensitive fingers, and in a moment had the door open.

The lights in Ornstein's laboratory were still burning brightly. He stared around, then his eyes suddenly came to rest on the far end of the room. They widened in horror.

The huddled figure of Professor Ornstein was lying on the floor, his white coat thrown open. And at one side of the coat was a sinister circle of spreading crimson!

CHAPTER VI - A CRY FOR HELP

"MURDERED!" Wade's lips framed the word silently.

The man whom he had more than half-suspected of being the killer was now lying dead at his feet! The handle of a small, sharp knife projected from Ornstein's side.

It was a knife that Wade remembered having seen on a shelf at the time of his former visit. Ornstein had used it as a paper cutter.

There were no signs of a struggle. The killer must have taken Ornstein by surprise.

Then Wade saw a half-open door into the next room. He walked to it, opened it farther, and saw that it gave into a small laboratory with a window opening on a fire escape.

Something was lying in the center of the floor. It was a crumpled cambric handkerchief. He picked it up, then whistled. In one corner of the handkerchief were the initials "Z.S."

He went to the window and stared at it tensely. A square had been cut cleverly out of the pane and the glass pushed in so that someone could reach the lock. It had been done so neatly and quietly that Ornstein in the next room hadn't heard anyone enter.

Wade examined the edges of the cut pane. The cuts were deep but uneven. They hadn't been made by any regular glass cutter; but they had been effective.

He went back into the main laboratory, picked up the telephone and called Thompson's number again.

"You might as well stay out of bed, chief," he said. "You won't get any sleep tonight. Ornstein has been bumped off now. Not a fireball this time. Someone sneaked up and stabbed him with his own knife. You'll want to come over and take a look."

In fifteen minutes the siren of a fast police car made complaining echoes over the campus grounds. Wade had spent those fifteen minutes prowling around Ornstein's laboratory. But he hadn't found anything of interest. The still, marblewhite face of the professor kept its secret. There was surprise rather than fear written on his dead features.

When Thompson arrived Wade told him all that he had seen and found, including the handkerchief with the initials Z.S. on it.

"It's Smith all right," said Thompson grimly. "But how to find him? He must have a hideout somewhere near here."

The inspector turned and snapped orders to two of his men.

"Hunt around the campus. Look for his tracks. If you find one of his footprints near the fire escape we'll have him nailed as the murderer. Then we'll smoke him out of his hole if it takes a year."

He sent two other men on the run to Smith's dormitory.

"We've had the place shadowed," he said. "But he may have sneaked in."

All over the campus, lights were springing up as the news of the murder spread to students and sleepy faculty members.

Wade began to examine the window again with Thompson at his side. Then the telephone in the outer laboratory began ringing harshly.

A detective picked it up, listened, then held the instrument out. There were tense lines in his face.

"Someone's calling for help!" he said.

Wade, stepping forward first, snatched the phone from the man's hand and put the receiver to his ear. A voice he recognized at once came over the wire.

"For God's sake--I'm being attacked--here in my laboratory--help--I--"

The voice trailed off in a wheezing gasp. It was Professor Hartz speaking.

Wade verified this from the frightened operator downstairs. Hartz had called the Institute switchboard and the operator had transferred the call to Ornstein's room, knowing the police were there.

"Come on," said Wade, turning to Thompson. "I know where Hartz is. Someone is up there with him--Doctor Zero, I think."

He went downstairs with Thompson and a detective at his side. They ran across a section of the campus and Wade led them to the building, on the top floor of which Hartz had his place.

Thompson fumed with impatience as the oldfashioned elevator in Hartz's building went skyward sluggishly.

"Hell," he said, "this place is like the Ark. He'll be dead by the time we get there."

But Hartz wasn't dead. A muffled voice called out in answer to their knock.

"Come in!"

HARTZ was on the floor, his head and shoulders resting against a couch. His collar and tie were ripped open. He was fingering his neck and gasping hoarsely. The room was in complete disorder with books and papers scattered around and a chair tipped over. The window was open. Hartz pointed toward it.

"He came through there--and left the same way." Hartz's voice was a hoarse croak. "I didn't see him. He grabbed me from behind."

Wade ran to the window. A fire escape zigzagged down here, too, and night shadows obscured its bottom.

Thompson lifted Hartz onto the sofa, then went and got him a drink of water from the cooler.

"Was it young Smith? Didn't you get a glimpse of him?"

Hartz shook his white head.

"No, but it was his hands I felt. The poor boy must have gone insane."

"Ornstein was murdered a few minutes ago," said Thompson. "We've got to locate Smith now. He and Doctor Zero are the same man."

Hartz nodded.

"An egomaniac," he said. "A man with a Napoleonic complex."

Wade recognized phrases from the terminology of popular psychology. He was staring around Hartz's laboratory. A skylight window lighted it in the daytime. Batteries of powerful bulbs hung down with silvered reflectors behind them to make the place bright at night. On three sides of the room the walls were lined with books and cabinets containing minerals and chemicals.

Wade seemed suddenly to loose interest in Hartz and what he was saying. He walked over to a bookshelf and began taking down volumes. The professor turned his white head to stare at Wade's back. Inspector Thompson turned, too. His voice was sarcastic.

"We've got a murder investigation on our hands, Hammond. If you want to read why don't you join a library?"

But Wade wasn't reading. He couldn't seem to find a book that satisfied him. He was pulling them out now and piling them on a nearby table. Thompson spoke again.

"What the hell's the matter with you, Hammond? Have you gone nuts? Leave those books alone!"

Professor Hartz lifted his feet off the sofa and banged them down on the floor. His expression had suddenly changed.

"Keep away from my books," he snapped. "Leave them alone, young man."

Harsh lines had come into the professor's face all at once. They were lines of poisonous bitterness; lines that seemed to have been etched there by hidden, unhealthy emotions and secret hell fires.

He rose and moved toward Wade, one claw-like hand stretched out and his eyes blazing. For Wade had paid no attention to either him or Thompson. He was pulling out more books and reaching in behind them.

Suddenly he grabbed two large red volumes. They left a hole in the shelf, and Wade's hand darted in. For a moment his fingers groped. Then there came a click of metal.

Wade stepped back and Inspector Thompson gasped. The shelves of books covering the whole side of the room were swinging outward, disclosing a door in the wall behind them.

"My God, Hammond--what's this?"

Thompson was staring in amazement at the secret door.

Professor Hartz seemed suddenly to have turned into a madman. He leaped toward Wade, his withered old features a hideous mask of hate. His eyes seemed inhuman in their ferocity. He wasn't the cool scientist now. His hands reached toward Wade's throat like talons. But Wade stepped aside and whirled. He gave Hartz a sudden violent push that sent him staggering back across the room.

"Watch him, chief. See that he doesn't pull a gun or a knife. I want to take a look in here."

WADE spoke with an air of confidence that left Thompson speechless. He pulled the hidden door open and stepped into the room behind it after snapping on a light switch. The room was another laboratory, compact and efficient, with a cement floor and a strange, squat piece of mechanism crouching in the center like an evil monster.

"Look!" Wade was pointing up toward the skylight.

There were windows up there which could be slid back on rollers, and, close to them, was the end of a telescoping metal shaft which had its base in the strange machine.

"I'm not enough of a scientist to tell you just what it is," said Wade. "But here's where those fireballs that killed Munn and the two detectives came from. It's an electro-atomic generator of some sort, capable of creating ball lightning which can be directed by means of a radioactive metal."

A noise interrupted his words. It was the sound of thumping feet. Someone was kicking on wood. It came from the door of a nearby closet. Wade walked over and flung it open. His face showed little surprise; but Thompson muttered in amazement.

Inside the closet a young man with a gag in his mouth was tied hand and foot and lying on the floor. He had drawn his knees up and was thumping his heels against the wall lustily. It was Zadok Smith.

Wade took a penknife from his pocket, reached down and freed the young man. Smith was willing to talk this time. Words tumbled over each other, "What did that old buzzard mean--tying me up? Did Ornstein put him up to it--and what's this place here?" "This," said Wade softly, "is Doctor Zero's laboratory. Our old friend, Hartz, has a dual personality. He's Doctor Zero, master criminal, with a brain fired by ambitious schemes, and Professor Hartz, Ph.D., savant of science. You've been studying with a versatile man, Smith. You should feel honored."

"Good God--you don't mean it! Hartz has been doing all this?"

"Yes, look over there, Smith. Even I can guess what he was doing here besides making lethal ball lightning. That was a side issue."

Wade was pointing toward one side of the secret laboratory. A big electric furnace stood on a metal table. There was a cooling tank beside it and a shelf of glass jars containing hundreds of carbon crystals.

"I knew he was bugs on the notion of making artificial diamonds," said Smith. "But I didn't guess he'd ever tried it."

"That was the motive behind his killings," said Wade. "He had to have money and lots of it for his experiments. It was why he thought of his extortion plot against Munn. He was nuts on diamonds. I felt when I first met him that those two stones he wore were somehow out of character. He even used a diamond to cut the glass on Ornstein's window. He must have thought Ornstein was getting suspicious and he went there to plant a chunk of metal as he did in my apartment and then send a couple of fireballs to do the trick. Ornstein caught him at it and Hartz used a knife to cover his tracks. He used you, Smith, to spy on Ornstein's electrical work and keep track of him."

Smith stammered and flushed.

"I thought Ornstein was the murderer," he said.

"Yes," said Wade. "You thought you were being a pretty clever amateur detective with that gadget of yours. I suppose you found that the fireballs came from the direction of the Institute."

"Yes, I thought Ornstein was sending them."

"So did I for a while," said Wade. "Hartz was clever. His acting just now showed that. He knew we'd suspect Ornstein and you. He dropped your handkerchief when he went to Ornstein's place to make sure."

Thompson edged forward. "There's one thing I don't get," he said. "Who kidnapped Miss Munn? Where is she?"

Wade nodded toward Smith. "I've got an idea you can answer that," he said.

Smith nodded and turned red again.

"I didn't kidnap her," he said. "I warned her that she was in danger and got her to hide for a while in a safe place. She was scared. She didn't like Ornstein as much as she seemed to. She always trusted me. She's in a hotel in the country."

"That's another reason I began to think Smith wasn't the criminal," said Wade. "I figured by the tracks that Arlene Munn had left her aunt's willingly. Then that clue of the handkerchief in Ornstein's place was a little too obvious. That and the diamond scratches on the window made me think that Hartz was the murderer. With Ornstein dead and Smith out there seemed to be no one else. This room of Hartz's didn't look big enough to take up all the space here. I figured there was another room behind one of those book shelves."

Thompson wiped his face.

"You've done a swell job, Hammond. We may not land Hartz in the hot seat. They may send him to the bughouse instead. But with Doctor Zero out of the way we'll be able to get a good night's sleep again and the department will have some peace."

 
 
 

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