From Another World
It was undoubtedly one of the world's strangest rooms. The old-fashioned rolltop desk, the battered typewriter, and the steel filing cabinet indicated that it was an office. There was even a calendar memo pad, a pen and pencil set, and an overflowing ashtray on the desk, but any resemblance to any other office stopped right there.
The desk top also held a pair of handcuffs, half a dozen billiard balls, a shiny nickel-plated revolver, one celluloid egg, several decks of playing cards, a bright green silk handkerchief, and a stack of unopened mail. In one corner of the room stood a large, galvanized-iron milk can with a strait jacket lying on its top. A feathered devil mask from the upper Congo leered down from the wall and the entire opposite wall was papered with a Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey twenty-four sheet poster.
A loose-jointed dummy figure of a small boy with popeyes and violently red hair lay on the filing cabinet together with a skull and a fish-bowl filled with paper flowers. And in the cabinet's bottom drawer, which was partly open and lined with paper, there was one half-eaten carrot and a twinkly-nosed, live white rabbit.
A pile of magazines, topped by a French journal, «I'lllusioniste,» was stacked precariously on a chair, and a large bookcase tried vainly to hold an even larger flood of books that overflowed and formed dusty stalagmites growing up from the floor-books whose authors would have been startled at the company they kept. Shaw's «Saint Joan» was sandwiched between Rowan's «Story of the Secret Service «and the «Memoirs of Robert Houdin.» Arthur Machen, Dr. Hans Gross, William Blake, Sir James Jeans, Rebecca West, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ernest Hemingway were bounded on either side by Devol's «Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi «and Reginald Scott's «Discoverie of Witchcraft.»
The merchandise in the shop beyond the office had a similar surrealist quality, but the inscription on the glass of the outer door, although equally strange, did manage to supply an explanation. It read: Miracles For Sale-THE MAGIC SHOP, A. Merlini, Prop.
And that gentleman, naturally, was just as unusual as his place of business. For one thing, he hadn't put a foot in it, to my knowledge, in at least a week. When he finally did reappear, I found him at the desk sleepily and somewhat glumly eying the unopened mail.
He greeted me as though he hadn't seen another human being in at least a month, and the swivel chair creaked as he settled back in it, put his long legs up on the desk, and yawned. Then he indicated the card bearing his business slogan-NOTHING is IMPOSSIBLE-which was tacked on the wall.
"I may have to take that sign down," he said lazily. "I've just met a theatrical producer, a scene designer, and a playwright all of whom are quite impossible. They came in here a week before opening night and asked me to supply several small items mentioned in the script. In one scene a character said 'Begone!' and the stage directions read: 'The genie and his six dancing girl slaves vanish instantly.' Later an elephant, complete with howdah and princess, disappeared the same way. I had to figure out how to manage all that and cook up a few assorted miracles for the big scene in heaven, too. Then I spent thirty-six hours in bed. And I'm still half asleep." He grinned wryly and added, "Ross, if you want anything that is not a stock item, you can whistle for it."
"I don't want a miracle," I said. "Just an interview. What do you know about ESP and PK?"
"Too much," he said. "You're doing another magazine article?"
"Yes. And I've spent the last week with a queer assortment of characters, too-half a dozen psychologists, some professional gamblers, a nuclear physicist, the secretary of the Psychical Research Society, and a neurologist. I've got an appointment in half an hour with a millionaire, and after that I want to hear what you think of it."
"You interviewed Dr. Rhine at Duke University, of course?"
I nodded. "Sure. He started it all. He says he's proved conclusively that there really are such things as telepathy, mind reading, clairvoyance, X-ray vision, and probably crystal gazing as well. He wraps it all up in one package and calls it ESP-meaning extrasensory perception."
"That," Merlini said, "is not the half of it. His psychokinesis, or PK for short, is positively miraculous-and frightening." The magician pulled several issues of the «Journal of Parapsychology» from the stack of magazines and upset the whole pile. "If the conclusions Rhine has published here are correct-if there really is a tangible mental force that can not only reach out and influence the movements of dice but exert its mysterious control over other physical objects as well-then he has completely upset the apple cart of modern psychology and punctured a whole library of general scientific theory as well."
"He's already upset me," I said. "I tried to use PK in a crap game Saturday night. I lost sixty-eight bucks."
My scepticism didn't disturb Merlini. He went right on, gloomier than ever. "If Rhine is right, his ESP and PK have reopened the Pandora's Box in which science thought it had forever sealed voodooand witchcraft and enough other practices of primitive magic to make your hair stand on end. And you're growling about losing a few dollars-"
Behind me a hearty, familiar voice said, "I haven't got anything to worry about except a homicidal maniac who has killed three people in the last two days and left absolutely no clues. But can I come in?"
Inspector Homer Gavigan of the New York City Police Department stood in the doorway, his blue eyes twinkling frostily.
Merlini, liking the Cassandra role he was playing, said, "Sure. I've been waiting for you. But don't think that PK won't give you a splitting headache, too. All a murderer would have to do to commit the perfect crime-and a locked room one at that-would be to exert his psychokinetic mental force from a distance against the gun trigger." He pointed at the revolver on the desk. "Like this-"
Gavigan and I both saw the trigger, with no finger on it, move.
The gun's report was like a thunderclap in the small room. I knew well enough that it was only a stage prop and the cartridge a blank, but I jumped a foot. So did Gavigan.
"Look, dammit!" the inspector exploded, "how did you-"
The Great Merlini grinned. He was fully awake now and enjoying himself hugely. "No," he said, "that wasn't PK, luckily. Just ordinary run-of-the-mill conjuring. The Rising Cards and the Talking Skull are both sometimes operated the same way. You can have the secret at the usual catalogue price of-"
Like most policemen, Gavigan had a healthy respect for firearms and he was still jumpy. "I don't want to buy either of them," he growled. "Do we have a date for dinner-or don't we? I'm starved."
"We do," Merlini said, pulling his long, lean self up out of the chair and reaching for his coat. "Can you join us, Ross?"
I shook my head. "Not this time. I've got a date just now with Andrew Drake."
In the elevator Merlini gave me an odd look and asked, "Andrew Drake? What has he got to do with ESP and PK?"
"What doesn't he have something to do with?" I replied. "Six months ago it was the Drake Plan to Outlaw War; he tried to take over the U.N. single-handed. Two months ago he announced he was setting up a $15-million research foundation to find a cancer cure in six months. 'Polish it off like we did the atom bomb,' he says. 'Put in enough money, and you can accomplish anything.' Now he's head over heels in ESP with some Yoga mixed in. 'Unleash the power of the human mind and solve all our problems.' Just like that."
"So that's what he's up to," Merlini said as we came out on to Forty-second Street, a block from Times Square, to face a bitterly cold January wind. "I wondered."
Then, as he followed Gavigan into the official car that waited and left me shivering on the curb, he threw a last cryptic sentence over his shoulder.
"'When Drake mentions Rosa Rhys," he said, "you might warn him that he's heading for trouble."
Merlini didn't know how right he was. If any of us had had any clairvoyant ability at all, I wouldn't have taken a cab up to Drake's; all three of us would have gone in Gavigan's car and with the siren going full blast.
As it was, I stepped out all alone in front of the big Ninety-eighth Street house just off Riverside Drive. It was a sixty-year-old mansion built in the tortured style that had been the height of architectural fashion in the 1880's but was now a smoke-blackened monstrosity as coldly depressing as the weather.
I nearly froze both ears just getting across the pavement and up the steps, where I found a doctor with his finger glued-or frozen perhaps-to the bell push. A doctor? No, it wasn't ESP; a copy of the AMA Journal stuck out of his overcoat pocket, and his left hand carried the customary small black case. But he didn't have the medical man's usual clinical detachment. This doctor was jumpy as hell.
When I asked, "Anything wrong?" his head jerked around, and his pale blue eyes gave me a startled look. He was a thin, well-dressed man in his early forties.
"Yes," he said crisply. "I'm afraid so." He jabbed a long forefinger at the bell again just as the door opened.
At first I didn't recognise the girl who looked out at us. When I had seen her by daylight earlier in the week, I had tagged her as in the brainy-but-a-bit-plain category, a judgment I revised somewhat now, considering what the Charles hair-do and Hattie Carnegie dress did for her.
"Oh, hello, doctor," she said. "Come in."
The doctor began talking even before he crossed the threshold. "Your father, Elinor-is he still in the study?"
"Yes, I think so. But what-"
She stopped because he was already gone, running down the hall toward a door at its end. He rattled the doorknob, then rapped loudly.
"Mr. Drake! Let me in!"
The girl looked puzzled, then frightened. Her dark eyes met mine for an instant, and then her high heels clicked on the polished floor as she too ran down the hall. I didn't wait to be invited. I followed.
The doctor's knuckles rapped again on the door. "Miss Rhys!" he called. "It's Dr. Garrett. Unlock the door!"
There was no answer.
Garrett tried the doorknob once more, then threw his shoulder against the door. It didn't move.
"Elinor, do you have a key? We must get in there-quickly!"
She said, "No. Father has the only keys. Why don't they answer? What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Garrett said. "Your father phoned me just now. He was in pain. He said, «'Hurry! I need you. I'm'"«-the doctor hesitated, watching the girl; then he finished "'-»dying.'«After that-no answer." Garrett turned to me. "You've got more weight than I have. Think you can break this door in?"
I looked at it. The door seemed solid enough, but it was an old house and the wood around the screws that held the lock might give. "I don't know," I said. "I'll try."
Elinor Drake moved to one side and the doctor stepped behind me. I threw myself against the door twice and the second time felt it move a bit. Then I hit it hard. Just as the door gave way I heard the tearing sound of paper.
But before I could discover what caused that, my attention was held by more urgent matters. I found myself staring at a green-shaded desk lamp, the room's only source of light, at the overturned phone on the desk top, and at the sprawled shape that lay on the floor in front of the desk. A coppery highlight glinted on a letter opener near the man's feet. Its blade was discoloured with a dark wet stain.
Dr. Garrett said, "Elinor, you stay out," as he moved past me to the body and bent over it. One of his hands lifted Andrew Drake's right eyelid, the other felt his wrist.
I have never heard a ghost speak but the sound that came then was exactly what I would expect-a low, quivering moan shot with pain. I jerked around and saw a glimmer of white move in the darkness on my left.
Behind me, Elinor's whisper, a tense thread of sound, said, "Lights," as she clicked the switch by the door. The glow from the ceiling fixture overhead banished both the darkness and the spectre-but what remained was almost as unlikely. A chair lay overturned on the carpet, next to a small table that stood in the centre of the room. In a second chair, slumped forward with her head resting on the tabletop, was the body of a woman.
She was young, dark-haired, rather good-looking, and had an excellent figure. This latter fact was instantly apparent because-and I had to look twice before I could believe what I saw-she wore a brief, skintight, one-piece bathing suit. Nothing else.
Elinor's eyes were still on the sprawled shape on the floor. "Father. He's-dead?"
Garrett nodded slowly and stood up.
I heard the quick intake of her breath but she made no other sound. Then Garrett strode quickly across to the woman at the table.
"Unconscious," he said after a moment. "Apparently a blow on the head-but she's beginning to come out of it." He looked again at the knife on the floor. "We'll have to call the police."
I hardly heard him. I was wondering why the room was so bare. The hall outside and the living room that opened off it were furnished with the stiff, formal ostentation of the overly rich. But Drake's study, by contrast, was as sparsely furnished as a cell in a Trappist monastery. Except for the desk, the small table, the two chairs, and a three-leaf folding screen that stood in one corner, it contained no other furniture. There were no pictures on the walls, no papers, and although there were shelves for them, no books. There wasn't even a blotter or pen on the desk top. Nothing but the phone, desk lamp and, strangely enough, a roll of gummed paper tape.
But I only glanced at these things briefly. It was the large casement window in the wall behind the desk that held my attention-a dark rectangle beyond which, like a scattered handful of bright jewels, were the lights of New Jersey and, above them, frosty pinpoints of stars shining coldly in a black sky.
The odd thing was that the window's centre line, where its two halves joined, was criss-crossed by two-foot strips of brown paper tape pasted to the glass. The window was, quite literally, sealed shut. It was then that I remembered the sound of tearing paper as the lock had given way and the door had come open.
I turned. Elinor still stood there-motionless. And on the inside of the door and on the jamb were more of the paper strips. Four were torn in half, two others had been pulled loose from the wall and hung curled from the door's edge.
At that moment a brisk, energetic voice came from the hall. "How come you leave the front door standing wide open on the coldest day in-"
Elinor turned to face a broad-shouldered young man with wavy hair, hand-painted tie, and a completely self-assured manner. She said, "Paul!" then took one stumbling step and was in his arms.
He blinked at her. "Hey! What's wrong?" Then he saw what lay on the floor by the desk. His self-confidence sagged.
Dr. Garrett moved to the door. "Kendrick," he said, "take Elinor out of here. I'll-"
"No!" It was Elinor's voice. She straightened up, turned suddenly and started into the room.
But Paul caught her. "Where are you going?"
She tried to pull away from him. "I'm going to phone the police." Her eyes followed the trail of bloodstains that led from the body across the beige carpet to the overturned chair and the woman at the table. "She-killed him."
That was when I started for the phone myself. But I hadn't taken more than two steps when the woman in the bathing suit let out a hair-raising shriek.
She was gripping the table with both hands, her eyes fixed on Drake's body with the rigid unblinking stare of a figure carved from stone. Then, suddenly, her body trembled all over, and she opened her mouth again-but Garrett got there first.
He slapped her on the side of the face-hard.
It stopped the scream, but the horror still filled her round dark eyes and she still stared at the body as though it were some demon straight from hell.
"Hysteria," Garrett said. Then seeing me start again toward the phone, "Get an ambulance, too." And when he spoke to Paul Kendrick this time, it was an order. "And get Elinor out of here-quickly!"
Elinor Drake was looking at the girl in the bathing suit with wide, puzzled eyes. "She-she killed him. Why?"
Paul nodded. He turned Elinor around gently but swiftly and led her out.
The cops usually find too many fingerprints on a phone, none of them any good because they are superimposed on each other. But I handled the receiver carefully just the same, picking it up by one end. When headquarters answered, I gave the operator the facts fast, then asked him to locate Inspector Gavigan and have him call me back. I gave Drake's number.
As I talked I watched Dr. Garrett open his black case and take out a hypodermic syringe. He started to apply it to the woman's arm just as I hung up.
"What's that, doc?" I asked.
"Sedative. Otherwise she'll be screaming again in a minute."
The girl didn't seem to feel the needle as it went in.
Then, noticing two bright spots of colour on the table, I went across to examine them closely and felt more than ever as though I had stepped straight into a surrealist painting. I was looking at two rounded conical shapes each about two inches in length. Both were striped like candy canes, one in maroon against a white background, the other in thinner brilliant red stripes against an opalescent amber.
"Did Drake," I asked, "collect seashells, too?"
"No." Garrett scowled in a worried way at the shells. "But I once did. These are molluscs, but not from the sea. Cochlostyla, a tree snail. Habitat: the Philippines." He turned his scowl from the shells to me. "By the way, just who are you?"
"The name is Ross Harte." I added that I had had an appointment to interview Drake for a magazine article and then asked, "Why is this room sealed as it is? Why is this girl dressed only in-"
Apparently, like many medical men, Garrett took a dim view of reporters. "I'll make my statement," he said a bit stiffly, "to the police."
They arrived a moment later. Two uniformed prowl-car cops first, then the precinct boys and after that, at intervals, the homicide squad, an ambulance intern, a fingerprint man and photographer, the medical examiner, an assistant D. A. and later, because a millionaire rates more attention than the victim of a Harlem stabbing, the D. A. himself, and an assistant chief inspector even looked in for a few minutes.
Of the earlier arrivals the only familiar face was that of the homicide squad's Lieutenant Doran-a hard-boiled, coldly efficient, no-nonsense cop who had so little use for reporters that I suspected he had once been bitten by one.
At Dr. Garrett's suggestion, which the intern seconded, the girl in the bathing suit was taken, under guard, to the nearest hospital. Then Garrett and I were put on ice, also under guard, in the living room. Another detective ushered Paul Kendrick into the room a moment later.
He scowled at Dr. Garrett. "We all thought Rosa Rhys was bad medicine. But I never expected anything like this. Why would she want to kill him? It doesn't make sense."
"Self-defence?" I suggested. "Could he have made a pass at her and-"
Kendrick shook his head emphatically. "Not that gal. She was making a fast play for the old man-and his money. A pass would have been just what she wanted." He turned to Garrett. "What were they doing in there-more ESP experiments?"
The doctor laid his overcoat neatly over the back of an ornate Spanish chair. His voice sounded tired and defeated. "No. They had gone beyond that. I told him that she was a fraud, but you know how Drake was-always so absolutely confident that he couldn't be wrong about anything. He said he'd put her through a test that would convince all of us."
"Of what?" I asked. "What was it she claimed she could do?"
The detective at the door moved forward. "My orders," he said, "are that you're not to talk about what happened until after the lieutenant has taken your statements. Make it easy for me, will you?"
That made it difficult for us. Any other conversational subject just then seemed pointless. We sat there silent and uncomfortable. But somehow the nervous tension that had been in our voices was still there-a foreboding, ghostly presence waiting with us for what was to happen next.
A half hour later, although it seemed many times that long, Garrett was taken out for questioning, then Kendrick. And later I got the nod. I saw Elinor Drake, a small, lonely figure in the big hall, moving slowly up the wide stairs. Doran and the police stenographer who waited for me in the stately dining room with its heavy crystal chandelier looked out of place. But the lieutenant didn't feel ill at ease; his questions were as coldly efficient as a surgeon's knife.
I tried to insert a query of my own now and then, but soon gave that up. Doran ignored all such attempts as completely as if they didn't exist. Then, just as he dismissed me, the phone rang. Doran answered, listened, scowled and then held the receiver out to me. "For you," he said.
I heard Merlini's voice. "My ESP isn't working so well today, Ross. Drake is dead. I get that much. But just what happened up there, anyway?"
"ESP my eye," I told him. "If you were a mind reader you'd have been up here long ago. It's a sealed room-in spades. The sealed room to end all sealed rooms."
I saw Doran start forward as if to object. "Merlini," I said quickly, "is Inspector Gavigan still with you?" I lifted the receiver from my ear and let Doran hear the "Yes" that came back.
Merlini's voice went on. "Did you say sealed room? The flash from headquarters didn't mention that. They said an arrest had already been made. It sounded like a routine case."
"Headquarters," I replied, "has no imagination. Or else Doran has been keeping things from them. It isn't even a routine sealed room. Listen. A woman comes to Drake's house on the coldest January day since 1812 dressed only in a bathing suit. She goes with him into his study. They seal the window and door on the inside with gummed paper tape. Then she stabs him with a paper knife. Before he dies, he knocks her out, then manages to get to the phone and send out an SOS.
"She's obviously crazy; she has to be to commit murder under those circumstances. But Drake wasn't crazy. A bit eccentric maybe, but not nuts. So why would he lock himself in so carefully with a homicidal maniac? If headquarters thinks that's routine I'll-" Then I interrupted myself. There was too much silence on the other end of the wire. "Merlini! Are you still there?"
"Yes," his voice said slowly, "I'm still here. Headquarters was much too brief. They didn't tell us her name. But I know it now."
Then, abruptly, I felt as if I had stepped off into some fourth-dimensional hole in space and had dropped on to some other nightmare planet.
Merlini's voice, completely serious, was saying, "Ross, did the police find a silver denarius from the time of the Caesars in that room? Or a freshly picked rose, a string of Buddhist prayer beads, perhaps a bit of damp seaweed?"
I didn't say anything. I couldn't.
After a moment, Merlini added, "So-they did. What was it?"
"Shells," I said dazedly, still quite unconvinced that any conversation could sound like this. "Philippine tree snail shells. Why, in the name of-"
Merlini cut in hastily. "Tell Doran that Gavigan and I will be there in ten minutes. Sit tight and keep your eyes open."
"Merlini!" I objected frantically; "if you hang up without-"
"The shells explain the bathing suit, Ross, and make it clear why the room was sealed. But they also introduce an element that Gavigan and Doran and the D. A. and the commissioner are not going to like at all. I don't like it myself. It's even more frightening as a murder method than PK."
He hesitated a moment, then let me have both barrels.
"Those shells suggest that Drake's death might have been caused by even stranger forces-evil and evanescent ones-from another world!"
My acquaintance with a police inspector cut no ice with Doran; he ordered me right back into the living room.
I heard a siren announce the arrival of Gavigan's car shortly after, but it was a long hour later before Doran came in and said, "The inspector wants to see all of you-in the study."
As I moved with the others out into the hall I saw Merlini waiting for me.
"It's about time," I growled at him. "Another ten minutes and you'd have found me DOA, too-from suspense."
"Sorry you had to cool your heels," he said, "but Gavigan is being difficult. As predicted, he doesn't like the earful Doran has been giving him. Neither do I." The dryly ironic good humour that was almost always in his voice was absent. He was unusually sober, "Don't build it up," I said. "I've had all the mystery I can stand. Just give me answers. First, why did you tell me to warn Drake about Rosa Rhys?"
"I didn't expect murder, if that's what you're thinking," he replied. "Drake was elaborating on some of Rhine's original experiments aimed at discovering whether ESP operates more efficiently when the subject is in a trance state. Rosa is a medium."
"Oh, so that's it. She and Drake were holding a s'eance?"
Merlini nodded. "Yes. The Psychical Research Society is extremely interested in ESP and PK. It's given them a new lease on life. And I knew they had recommended Rosa, whom they had previously investigated, to Drake."
"And what about the Roman coins, roses, Buddhist prayer beads-and snail shells? Why the bathing suit and how does that explain why the room was sealed?"
But Doran, holding the study door open, interrupted before he could reply.
"Hurry it up!" he ordered.
Going into that room now was like walking on to a brightly lighted stage. A powerful electric bulb of almost floodlight brilliance had been inserted in the ceiling fixture and its harsh white glare made the room more barren and cell-like than ever. Even Inspector Gavigan seemed to have taken on a menacing air. Perhaps it was the black mask of shadow that his hat brim threw down across the upper part of his face; or it may have been the carefully intent way he watched us as we came in.
Doran did the introductions. "Miss Drake, Miss Potter, Paul Kendrick, Dr. Walter Garrett."
I looked at the middle-aged woman whose gayly frilled, altogether feminine hat contrasted oddly with her angular figure, her prim determined mouth, and the chilly glance of complete disapproval with which she regarded Gavigan.
"How," I whispered to Merlini, "did Isabelle Potter, the secretary of the Psychical Research Society, get here?"
"She came with Rosa," he answered. "The police found her upstairs reading a copy of Tyrrell's «Study of Apparitions."«Merlini smiled faintly. "She and Doran don't get along."
"They wouldn't," I said. "They talk different languages. When I interviewed her, I got a travelogue on the other world-complete with lantern slides."
Inspector Gavigan wasted no time. "Miss Drake," he began, "I understand the medical foundation for cancer research your father thought of endowing was originally your idea."
The girl glanced once at the stains on the carpet, then kept her dark eyes steadily on Gavigan. "Yes," she said slowly, "it was."
"Are you interested in psychical research?"
Elinor frowned. "No."
"Did you object when your father began holding stances with Miss Rhys?"
She shook her head. "That would only have made him more determined."
Gavigan turned to Kendrick. "Did you?"
"Me?" Paul lifted his brows. "I didn't know him well enough for that. Don't think he liked me much, anyway. But why a man like Drake would waste his time-"
"And you, doctor?"
"Did I object?" Garrett seemed surprised. "Naturally. No one but a neurotic middle-aged woman would take a s'eance seriously."
Miss Potter resented that one. "Dr. Garrett," she said icily, "Sir Oliver Lodge was not a neurotic woman, nor Sir William Crookes, nor Professor Zoellner, nor-"
"But they were all senile," Garrett replied just as icily. "And as for ESP, no neurologist of any standing admits any such possibility. They leave such things to you and your society, Miss Potter-and to the Sunday supplements."
She gave the doctor a look that would have split an atom, and Gavigan, seeing the danger of a chain reaction if this sort of dialogue were allowed to continue, broke in quickly.
"Miss Potter. You introduced Miss Rhys to Mr. Drake and he was conducting ESP experiments with her. Is that correct?"
Miss Potter's voice was still dangerously radioactive. "It is. And their results were most gratifying and important. Of course, neither you nor Dr. Garrett would understand-"
"And then," Garrett cut in, "they both led him on into an investigation of Miss Rhys's psychic specialty-apports." He pronounced the last word with extreme distaste.
Inspector Gavigan scowled, glanced at Merlini, and the latter promptly produced a definition. "An apport," he said, "from the French «apporter,» to bring, is any physical object supernormally brought into a s'eance room-from nowhere usually or from some impossible distance. Miss Rhys on previous occasions, according to the Psychical Society's Journal, has apported such objects as Roman coins, roses, beads, and seaweed."
"She is the greatest apport medium," Miss Potter declared somewhat belligerently, "since Charles Bailey."
"Then she's good," Merlini said. "Bailey was an apport medium whom Conan Doyle considered bona fide. He produced birds, Oriental plants, small animals, and on one occasion a young shark eighteen inches long which he claimed his spirit guide had whisked instantly via the astral plane from the Indian Ocean and projected, still damp and very much alive, into the s'eance room."
"So," I said, "that's why this room was sealed. To make absolutely certain that no one could open the door or window in the dark and help Rosa by introducing-"
"Of course," Garrett added. "Obviously there could be no apports if adequate precautions were taken. Drake also moved a lot of his things out of the study and inventoried every object that remained. He also suggested, since I was so sceptical, that I be the one to make certain that Miss Rhys carried nothing into the room on her person. I gave her a most complete physical examination-in a bedroom upstairs. Then she put on one of Miss Drake's bathing suits."
"Did you come down to the study with her and Drake?" Gavigan asked.
The doctor frowned. "No. I had objected to Miss Potter's presence at the s'eance and Miss Rhys countered by objecting to mine."
"She was quite right," Miss Potter said. "The presence of an unbeliever like yourself would prevent even the strongest psychic forces from making themselves manifest."
"I have no doubt of that," Garrett replied stiffly. "It's the usual excuse, as I told Drake. He tried to get her to let me attend but she refused flatly. So I went back to my office down the street. Drake's phone call came a half hour or so later."
"And yet"-Gavigan eyed the two brightly coloured shells on the table-" in spite of all your precautions she produced two of these."
Garrett nodded. "Yes, I know. But the answer is fairly obvious now. She hid them somewhere in the hall outside on her arrival and then secretly picked them up again on her way in here."
Elinor frowned. "I'm afraid not, doctor. Father thought of that and asked me to go down with them to the study. He held one of her hands and I held the other."
Gavigan scowled. Miss Potter beamed.
"Did you go in with them?" Merlini asked.
She shook her head. "No. Only as far as the door. They went in and I heard it lock behind them. I stood there for a moment or two and heard Father begin pasting the tape on the door. Then I went back to my room to dress. I was expecting Paul."
Inspector Gavigan turned to Miss Potter. "You remained upstairs?"
"Yes," she replied in a tone that dared him to deny it. "I did."
Gavigan looked at Elinor. "Paul said a moment ago that your father didn't like him. Why not?"
"Paul exaggerates," the girl said quickly. "Father didn't dislike him. He was just-well, a bit difficult where my men friends were concerned."
"He thought they were all after his money," Kendrick added. "But at the rate he was endowing medical foundations and psychic societies-"
Miss Potter objected. "Mr. Drake did not endow the Psychical Society."
"But he was seriously considering it," Garrett said. "Miss Rhys-and Miss Potter-were selling him on the theory that illness is only a mental state due to a psychic imbalance, whatever that is."
"They won't sell me on that," Elinor said, and then turned suddenly on Miss Potter, her voice trembling. "If it weren't for you and your idiotic foolishness Father wouldn't have been-killed." Then to Gavigan, "We've told all this before, to the lieutenant. Is it quite necessary-"
The inspector glanced at Merlini, then said, "I think that will be all for now. Okay, Doran, take them back. But none of them are to leave yet."
When they had gone, he turned to Merlini. "Well, I asked the questions you wanted me to, but I still think it was a waste of time. Rosa Rhys killed Drake. Anything else is impossible."
"What about Kendrick's cabdriver?" Merlini asked. "Have your men located him yet?"
Gavigan's scowl, practically standard operating procedure by now, grew darker. "Yes. Kendrick's definitely out. He entered the cab on the other side of town at just about the time Drake was sealing this room and he was apparently still in it, crossing Central Park, at the time Drake was killed."
"So," I commented, "he's the only one with an alibi."
Gavigan lifted his eyebrows. "The only one? Except for Rosa Rhys they «all» have alibis. The sealed room takes care of that."
"Yes," Merlini said quietly, "but the people with alibis also have motives while the one person who could have killed Drake has none."
"She did it," the inspector answered. "So she's got a motive, and we'll find it."
"I wish I were as confident of that as you are," Merlini said. "Under the circumstances you'll be able to get a conviction without showing motive, but if you don't find one, it will always bother you."
"Maybe," Gavigan admitted, "but that won't be as bad as trying to believe what she says happened in this room."
That was news to me. "You've talked to Rosa?" I asked.
"One of the boys did," Gavigan said sourly. "At the hospital. She's already preparing an insanity defence."
"But why," Merlini asked, "is she still hysterical with fright? Could it be that she's scared because she really believes her story-because something like that really did happen in here?"
"Look," I said impatiently, "is it top secret or will somebody tell me what she says happened?"
Gavigan glowered at Merlini. "Are you going to stand there and tell me that you think Rosa Rhys actually believes-"
It was my question that Merlini answered. He walked to the table in the centre of the room. "She says that after Drake sealed the window and door, the lights were turned off and she and Drake sat opposite each other at this table. His back was toward the desk, hers toward that screen in the corner. Drake held her hands. They waited. Finally she felt the psychic forces gathering around her-and then, out of nowhere, the two shells dropped onto the table one after the other. Drake got up, turned on the desk light, and came back to the table. A moment later it happened."
The magician paused for a moment, regarding the bare, empty room with a frown. "Drake," he continued, "was examining the shells, quite excited and pleased about their appearance when suddenly, Rosa says, she heard a movement behind her. She saw Drake look up and then stare incredulously over her shoulder." Merlini spread his hands. "And that's all she remembers. Something hit her. When she came to, she found herself staring at the blood on the floor and at Drake's body."
Gavigan was apparently remembering Merlini's demonstration with the gun in his office. "If you," he warned acidly, "so much as try to hint that one of the people outside this room projected some mental force that knocked Rosa out and then caused the knife to stab Drake-"
"You know," Merlini said, "I half expected Miss Potter would suggest that. But her theory is even more disturbing." He looked at me. "She says that the benign spirits which Rosa usually evoked were overcome by some malign and evil entity whose astral substance materialised momentarily, killed Drake, then returned to the other world from which it came."
"She's a mental case, too," Gavigan said disgustedly. "They have to be crazy if they expect anyone to believe any such-"
"That," Merlini said quietly, "may be another reason Rosa is scared to death. Perhaps she believes it but knows you won't. In her shoes, I'd be scared, too." He frowned. "The difficulty is the knife."
Gavigan blinked. "The knife? What's difficult about that?"
"If I killed Drake," Merlini replied, "and wanted appearances to suggest that psychic forces were responsible, you wouldn't have found a weapon in this room that made it look as if I were guilty. I would have done a little de-apporting and made it disappear. As it is now, even if the knife was propelled supernaturally, Rosa takes the rap."
"And how," Gavigan demanded, "would you make the knife disappear if you were dressed, as she was, in practically nothing?" Then, with sudden suspicion, he added, "Are you suggesting that there's a way she could have done that-and that you think she's not guilty because she didn't?"
Merlini lifted one of the shells from the table and placed it in the centre of his left palm. His right hand covered it for a brief moment, then moved away. The shell was no longer there; it had vanished as silently and as easily as a ghost. Merlini turned both hands palms outward; both were unmistakably empty.
"Yes," he said, "she could have made the knife disappear, if she had wanted to. The same way she produced the two shells." He made a reaching gesture with his right hand and the missing shell reappeared suddenly at his fingertips.
Gavigan looked annoyed and relieved at the same time. "So," he said, "you do know how she got those shells in here. I want to hear it. Right now."
But Gavigan had to wait.
At that moment a torpedo hit the water-tight circumstantial case against Rosa Rhys and detonated with a roar.
Doran, who had answered the phone a moment before, was swearing profusely. He was staring at the receiver he held as though it were a live cobra he had picked up by mistake.
"It-it's Doc Hess," he said in a dazed tone. "He just started the autopsy and thought we'd like to know that the point of the murder knife struck a rib and broke off. He just dug out a triangular pointed piece of-steel."
For several seconds after that there wasn't a sound. Then Merlini spoke.
"Gentlemen of the jury. Exhibit A, the paper knife with which my esteemed opponent, the district attorney, claims Rosa Rhys stabbed Andrew Drake, is a copper alloy-and its point, as you can see, is quite intact. The defence rests."
Doran swore again. "Drake's inventory lists that letter opener but that's all. There is no other knife in this room. I'm positive of that."
Gavigan jabbed a thick forefinger at me. "Ross, Dr. Garrett was in here before the police arrived. And Miss Drake and Kendrick."
I shook my head. "Sorry. There was no knife near the door and neither Elinor nor Paul came more than a foot into the room. Dr. Garrett examined Drake and Rosa, but I was watching him, and I'll testify that unless he's as expert at sleight of hand as Merlini, he didn't pick up a thing."
Doran was not convinced. "Look, buddy. Unless Doc Hess has gone crazy too, there was a knife and it's not here now. So somebody took it out." He turned to the detective who stood at the door. "Tom," he said, "have the boys frisk all those people. Get a policewoman for Miss Drake and Potter and search the bedroom where they've been waiting. The living room, too."
Then I had a brainstorm. "You know," I said, "if Elinor is covering up for someone-if three people came in here for the s'eance instead of two as she says-the third could have killed Drake and then gone out, with the knife. And the paper tape could have been-" I stopped.
"-pasted on the door after the murderer left?" Merlini finished. "By Rosa? That would mean she framed herself."
"Besides," Gavigan growled, "the boys fumed all those paper strips. There are fingerprints all over them. All Drake's."
Merlini said, "Doran, I suggest that you phone the hospital and have Rosa searched, too."
The lieutenant blinked. "But she was practically naked. How in blazes could she carry a knife out of here unnoticed?"
Gavigan faced Merlini, scowling. "What did you mean when you said a moment ago that she could have got rid of the knife the same way she produced those shells?"
"If it was a clasp knife," Merlini explained, "she could have used the same method other apport mediums have employed to conceal small objects under test conditions."
"But dammit!" Doran exploded. "The only place Garrett didn't look was in her stomach!"
Merlini grinned. "I know. That was his error. Rosa is a regurgitating medium, like Helen Duncan, in whose stomach the English investigator, Harry Price, found a hidden ghost-a balled-up length of cheesecloth fastened with a safety pin which showed up when he X-rayed her. X-rays of Rosa seem indicated, too. And search her hospital room and the ambulance that took her over."
"Okay, Doran," Gavigan ordered. "Do it."
I saw an objection. "Now you've got Rosa framing herself, too," I said. "If she swallowed the murder knife, why should she put blood on the letter opener? That makes no sense at all."
"None of this does," Gavigan complained.
"I know," Merlini answered. "One knife was bad. Two are much worse. And although X-rays of Rosa before the s'eance would have shown shells, I predict they won't show a knife. If they do, then Rosa needs a psychiatric examination as well."
"Don't worry," Gavigan said gloomily. "She'll get one. Her attorney will see to that. And they'll prove she's crazier than a bedbug without half trying. But if that knife isn't in her-" His voice died.
"Then you'll never convict her," Merlini finished.
"If that happens," the inspector said ominously, "you're going to have to explain where that knife came from, how it really disappeared, and where it is now."
Merlini's view was even gloomier. "It'll be much worse than that. We'll also have an appearing and vanishing murderer to explain: someone who entered a sealed room, killed Drake, put blood on the paper knife to incriminate Rosa, then vanished just as neatly as any of Miss Potter's ghosts-into thin air."
And Merlini's prediction came true.
The X-ray plates didn't show the slightest trace of a knife. And it wasn't in Rosa's hospital room or in the ambulance. Nor on Garrett, Paul, Elinor Drake, Isabelle Potter, nor, as Doran discovered, on myself. The Drake house was a mess by the time the boys got through taking it apart-but no knife with a broken point was found anywhere. And it was shown beyond doubt that there were no trapdoors or sliding panels in the study; the door and window were the only exits.
Inspector Gavigan glowered every time the phone rang. The commissioner had already phoned twice and without mincing words expressed his dissatisfaction with the way things were going.
And Merlini, stretched out in Drake's chair, his heels up on the desk top, his eyes closed, seemed to have gone into a trance.
"Blast it!" Gavigan said. "Rosa Rhys got that knife out of here somehow. She had to! Merlini, are you going to admit that she knows a trick or two you don't?"
The magician didn't answer for a moment. Then he opened one eye. "No," he said slowly, "not just yet." He took his feet off the desk and sat up straight. "You know," he said, "if we don't accept the theory of the murderer from beyond, then Ross must be right after all. Elinor Drake's statement to the contrary, there must have been a third person in this room when that s'eance began."
"Okay," Gavigan said, "we'll forget Miss Drake's testimony for the moment. At least that gets him into the room. Then what?"
"I don't know," Merlini said. He took the roll of gummed paper tape from the desk, tore off a two-foot length, crossed the room and pasted it across the door and jamb, sealing us in. "Suppose I'm the killer," he said. "I knock Rosa out first, then stab Drake-"
Gavigan was not enthusiastic. "You put the murder knife in your pocket, not noticing that the point is broken. You put blood on the paper knife to incriminate Rosa. And then-" He waited. "Well, go on."
"Then," Merlini said, "I get out of here." He scowled at the sealed door and at the window. "I've escaped from handcuffs, strait jackets, milk cans filled with water, packing cases that have been nailed shut. I know the methods Houdini used to break out of safes and jail cells. But I feel like he did when a shrewd old turnkey shut him in a cell in Scotland one time and the lock-a type he'd overcome many times before-failed to budge. No matter how he tried or what he did, the bolt wouldn't move. He was sweating blood because he knew that if he failed, his laboriously built-up reputation as the escape king would be blown to bits. And then-" Merlini blinked. "And then-" This time he came to a full stop, staring at the door.
Suddenly he blinked. "Shades of Hermann, Kellar, Thurston and Houdini! So that's it!"
Grinning broadly, he turned to Gavigan. "We will now pass a miracle and chase all the ghosts back into their tombs. If you'll get those people in here-"
"You know how the vanishing man vanished?" I asked.
"Yes. It's someone who has been just as canny as that Scotch jailer, and I know who."
Gavigan said, "It's about time." Then he walked across the room and pulled the door open, tearing the paper strip in half as he did so.
Merlini, watching him, grinned again. "The method by which magicians let their audiences fool themselves-the simplest and yet most effective principle of deception in the whole book-and it nearly took me in!"
Elinor Drake's eyes still avoided the stains on the floor. Paul, beside her, puffed nervously on a cigarette, and Dr. Garrett looked drawn and tired. But not the irrepressible Potter. She seemed fresh as a daisy.
"This room," she said to no one in particular, "will become more famous in psychic annals than the home of the Fox sisters at Lilydale."
Quickly, before she could elaborate on that, Merlini cut in. "Miss Potter doesn't believe that Rosa Rhys killed Drake. Neither do I. But the psychic force she says is responsible didn't emanate from another world. It was conjured up out of nothing by someone who was-who had to be-here in this room when Drake died. Someone whom Drake himself asked to be here."
He moved into the centre of the room as he spoke and faced them.
"Drake would never have convinced anyone that Rosa could do what she claimed without a witness. So he gave someone a key-someone who came into this room before Drake and Rosa and Elinor came downstairs."
The four people watched him without moving – almost, I thought, without breathing.
"That person hid behind that screen and then, after Rosa produced the apports, knocked her out, killed Drake, and left Rosa to face the music."
"All we have to do," Merlini went on, "is show who it was that Drake selected as a witness." He pointed a lean forefinger at Isabelle Potter. "If Drake discovered how Rosa produced the shells and realised she was a fraud, you might have killed him to prevent an exposure and save face for yourself and the society; and you might have then framed Rosa in revenge for having deceived you. But Drake would never have chosen you. Your testimony wouldn't have convinced any of the others. No. Drake would have picked one of the sceptics-someone he was certain could never be accused of assisting the medium."
He faced Elinor. "You said that you accompanied Rosa and your father to the study door and saw them go in alone. We haven't asked Miss Rhys yet, but I think she'll confirm it. You couldn't expect to lie about that and make it stick as long as Rosa could and would contradict you."
I saw Doran move forward silently, closing in.
"And Paul Kendrick," Merlini went on, "is the only one of you who has an alibi that does not depend on the sealed room. That leaves the most sceptical one of the three-the man whose testimony would by far carry the greatest weight.
"It leaves you, Dr. Garrett. The man who is so certain that there are no ghosts is the man who conjured one up!"
Merlini played the scene down; he knew that the content of what he said was dramatic enough. But Garrett's voice was even calmer. He shook his head slowly.
"I am afraid that I can't agree. You have no reason to assume that it must be one of us and no one else. But I would like to hear how you think I or anyone else could have walked out of this room leaving it sealed as it was found."
"That," Merlini said, "is the simplest answer of all. You walked out, but you didn't leave the room sealed. You see, it was not found that way!"
I felt as if I were suddenly floating in space.
"But look-" I began.
Merlini ignored me. "The vanishing murderer was a trick. But magic is not, as most people believe, only a matter of gimmicks and trapdoors and mirrors. Its real secret lies deeper than a mere deception of the senses; the magician uses a far more important, more basic weapon-the psychological deception of the mind. Don't believe everything you see is excellent advice; but there's a better rule: don't believe everything you think."
"Are you trying to tell me," I said incredulously, "that this room wasn't sealed at all? That I just thought it was?"
Merlini kept watching Garrett. "Yes. It's as simple as that. And there was no visual deception at all. It was, like PK, entirely mental. You saw things exactly as they were, but you didn't realise that the visual appearance could be interpreted two ways. Let me ask you a question. When you break into a room the door of which has been sealed with paper tape on the inside, do you find yourself still in a sealed room?"
"No," I said, "of course not. The paper has been torn."
"And if you break into a room that had been sealed but from which «someone has already gone out,» tearing the seals-what then?"
"The paper," I said, "is still torn. The appearance is-"
«"-exactly the same!"«Merlini finished.
He let that soak in a moment, then continued. "When you saw the taped window, and then the torn paper on the door, you made a false assumption-you jumped naturally, but much too quickly, to a wrong conclusion. We all did. We assumed that it was you who had torn the paper when you broke in. Actually, it was Dr. Garrett who tore the paper-when he went out!"
Garrett's voice was a shade less steady now. "You forget that Andrew Drake phoned me-"
Merlini shook his head. "I'm afraid we only have your own statement for that. You overturned the phone and placed Drake's body near it. Then you walked out, returned to your office where you got rid of the knife-probably a surgical instrument which you couldn't leave behind because it might have been traced to you."
Doran, hearing this, whispered a rapid order to the detective stationed at the door.
"Then," Merlini continued, "you came back immediately to ring the front-door bell. You said Drake had called you, partly because it was good misdirection; it made it appear that you were elsewhere when he died. But equally important, it gave you the excuse you needed to break in and find the body without delay-»before Rosa Rhys should regain consciousness and see that the room was no longer sealed!"«
I hated to do it. Merlini was so pleased with the neat way he was tying up all the loose ends. But I had to.
"Merlini," I said. "I'm afraid there is one little thing you don't know. When I smashed the door open, I heard the paper tape tear!"
I have seldom seen the Great Merlini surprised, but that did it. He couldn't have looked more astonished if lightning had struck him.
Elinor Drake said, "I heard it, too."
Garrett added, "And I."
It stopped Merlini cold for a moment, but only a moment.
"Then that's more misdirection. It has to be." He hesitated, then suddenly looked at Doran. "Lieutenant, get the doctor's overcoat, will you?"
Garrett spoke to the inspector. "This is nonsense. What possible reason could I have for-"
"Your motive was a curious one, doctor," Merlini said. "One that few murderers-"
Merlini stopped as he took the overcoat Doran brought in and removed from its pocket the copy of the AMA Journal I had noticed there earlier. He started to open it, then lifted an eyebrow at something he saw on the contents listing.
"I see," he said, and then read: "«A Survey of the Uses of Radioactive Traces in Cancer Research» by Walter M. Garrett, M.D. So that's your special interest?" The magician turned to Elinor Drake. "Who was to head the $15-million foundation for cancer research, Miss Drake?"
The girl didn't need to reply, The answer was in her eyes as she stared at Garrett.
Merlini went on. "You were hidden behind the screen in the corner, doctor. And Rosa Rhys, in spite of all the precautions, successfully produced the apports. You saw the effect that had on Drake, knew Rosa had won, and that Drake was thoroughly hooked. And the thought of seeing all that money wasted on psychical research when it could be put to so much better use in really important medical research made you boil. Any medical man would hate to see that happen, and most of the rest of us, too.
"But we don't all have the coldly rational, scientific attitude you do, and we wouldn't all have realised so quickly that there was one very simple but drastic way to prevent it-murder. You are much too rational. You believe that one man's life is less important than the good his death might bring, and you believed that sufficiently to act upon it. The knife was there, all too handy, in your little black case. And so-Drake died. Am I right, doctor?"
Doran didn't like this as a motive. "He's still a killer," he objected. "And he tried to frame Rosa, didn't he?"
Merlini said, "Do you want to answer that, doctor?"
Garrett hesitated, then glanced at the magazine Merlini still held. His voice was tired. "You are also much too rational." He turned to Doran. "Rosa Rhys was a cheap fraud who capitalised on superstition. The world would be a much better place without such people."
"And what about your getting that job as the head of the medical foundation?" Doran was still unconvinced. "I don't suppose that had anything to do with your reasons for killing Drake?"
The doctor made no answer. And I couldn't tell if it was because Doran was right or because he knew that Doran would not believe him.
He turned to Merlini instead. "The fact still remains that the cancer foundation has been made possible. The only difference is that now two men rather than one pay with their lives."
"A completely rational attitude," Merlini said, "does have its advantages if it allows you to contemplate your own death with so little emotion."
Gavigan wasn't as cynical about Garrett's motives as Doran, but his police training objected. "He took the law into his own hands. If everyone did that, we'd all have to go armed for self-protection. Merlini, why did Ross think he heard paper tearing when he opened that door?"
"He did hear it," Merlini said. Then he turned to me. "Dr. Garrett stood behind you and Miss Drake when you broke in the door, didn't he?"
I nodded. "Yes."
Merlini opened the medical journal and riffled through it. Half a dozen loose pages, their serrated edges showing where they had been torn in half, fluttered to the floor.
Merlini said, "You would have made an excellent magician, doctor. Your deception was not visual, it was auditory."
"That," Gavigan said, "tears it."
Later I had one further question to ask Merlini.
"You didn't explain how Houdini got out of that Scottish jail, nor how it helped you solve the enigma of the unsealed door."
Merlini lifted an empty hand, plucked a lighted cigarette from thin air and puffed at it, grinning.
"Houdini made the same false assumption. When he leaned exhaustedly against the cell door, completely baffled by his failure to overcome the lock, the door suddenly swung open and he fell into the corridor. The old Scot, you see, hadn't locked it at all!"