“Not Stell? Why, man, I know him. Look—here he comes. If it isn’t Stell, he won’t speak to me.”
The little dried-up man was moving slowly up the aisle. As he neared McCarren he made a slight gesture of recognition.
“How’do, Doctor Stell? Pretty slim show, ain’t it?” the reporter cheerfully flung out at him. And Mr. J. B. Hewson, with a nod of amicable assent, passed on.
Granice sat benumbed. He knew he had not been mistaken—the man who had just passed was the same man whom Allonby had sent to see him: a physician disguised as a detective. Allonby, then, had thought him insane, like the others—had regarded his confession as the maundering of a maniac. The discovery froze Granice with horror—he seemed to see the mad-house gaping for him.
“Isn’t there a man a good deal like him—a detective named J. B. Hewson?”
But he knew in advance what McCarren’s answer would be. “Hewson? J. B. Hewson? Never heard of him. But that was J. B. Stell fast enough—I guess he can be trusted to know himself, and you saw he answered to his name.”
SOME days passed before Granice could obtain a word with the District Attorney: he began to think that Allonby avoided him.
But when they were face to face Allonby’s jovial countenance showed no sign of embarrassment. He waved his visitor to a chair, and leaned across his desk with the encouraging smile of a consulting physician.
Granice broke out at once: “That detective you sent me the other day—”
Allonby raised a deprecating hand.
“—I know: it was Stell the alienist. Why did you do that, Allonby?”
The other’s face did not lose its composure. “Because I looked up your story first—and there’s nothing in it.”
“Nothing in it?” Granice furiously interposed.
“Absolutely nothing. If there is, why the deuce don’t you bring me proofs? I know you’ve been talking to Peter Ascham, and to Denver, and to that little ferret McCarren of the Explorer. Have any of them been able to make out a case for you? No. Well, what am I to do?”
Granice’s lips began to tremble. “Why did you play me that trick?”
“About Stell? I had to, my dear fellow: it’s part of my business. Stell is a detective, if you come to that—every doctor is.”
The trembling of Granice’s lips increased, communicating itself in a long quiver to his facial muscles. He forced a laugh through his dry throat. “Well—and what did he detect?”
“In you? Oh, he thinks it’s overwork—overwork and too much smoking. If you look in on him some day at his office he’ll show you the record of hundreds of cases like yours, and advise you what treatment to follow. It’s one of the commonest forms of hallucination. Have a cigar, all the same.”
“But, Allonby, I killed that man!”