“It is hoped that the survivors of the wrecked car Ontario will be found, to tell what they know of the discovery of the crime.
“Mr. John Gilmore, head of the steel company for which Mr. Harrington was purchasing agent, has signified his intention of sifting the matter to the bottom.”
“So you see,” Hotchkiss concluded, “there’s trouble brewing. You and I are the only survivors of that unfortunate car.”
I did not contradict him, but I knew of two others, at least: Alison West, and the woman we had left beside the road that morning, babbling incoherently, her black hair tumbling over her white face.
“Unless we can find the man who occupied lower seven,” I suggested.
“I have already tried and failed. To find him would not clear you, of course, unless we could establish some connection between him and the murdered man. It is the only thing I see, however. I have learned this much,” Hotchkiss concluded: “Lower seven was reserved from Cresson.”
Cresson! Where Alison West and Mrs. Curtis had taken the train!
McKnight came forward and suddenly held out his hand. “Mr. Hotchkiss,” he said, “I—I’m sorry if I have been offensive. I thought when you came in, that, like the Irishman and the government, you were ‘forninst’ us. If you will put those cheerful relics out of sight somewhere, I should be glad to have you dine with me at the Incubator.” (His name for his bachelor apartment.) “Compared with Johnson, you are the great original protoplasm.”
The strength of this was lost on Hotchkiss, but the invitation was clear. They went out together, and from my window I watched them get into McKnight’s car. It was raining, and at the corner the Cannonball skidded. Across the street my detective, Johnson, looked after them with his crooked smile. As he turned up his collar he saw me, and lifted his hat.
I left the window and sat down in the growing dusk. So the occupant of lower seven had got on the car at Cresson, probably with Alison West and her companion. There was some one she cared about enough to shield. I went irritably to the door and summoned Mrs. Klopton.
“You may throw out those roses,” I said without looking at her. “They are quite dead.”
“They have been quite dead for three days,” she retorted spitefully. “Euphemia said you threatened to dismiss her if she touched them.”
By Sunday evening, a week after the wreck, my inaction had goaded me to frenzy. The very sight of Johnson across the street or lurking, always within sight of the house, kept me constantly exasperated. It was on that day that things began to come to a focus, a burning-glass of events that seemed to center on me.
I dined alone that evening in no cheerful frame of mind. There had been a polo game the day before and I had lent a pony, which is always a bad thing to do. And she had wrenched her shoulder, besides helping to lose the game. There was no one in town: the temperature was ninety and climbing, and my left hand persistently cramped under its bandage.