Kent approached and bent over him. He had seen death too many times not to recognize it now, but seldom had he seen a face twisted and distorted as Kedsty’s was. His eyes were open and bulging in a glassy stare. His jaws hung loose. His—
It was then Kent’s blood froze in his veins. Kedsty had received a blow, but it was not the blow that had killed him. Afterward he had been choked to death. And the thing that had choked him was a tress of woman’s hair.
In the seconds that followed that discovery Kent could not have moved if his own life had paid the penalty of inaction. For the story was told—there about Kedsty’s throat and on his chest. The tress of hair was long and soft and shining and black. It was twisted twice around Kedsty’s neck, and the loose end rippled down over his shoulder, glowing like A bit of rich sable in the lamplight. It was that thought of velvety sable that had come to him at the doorway, looking at Marette. It was the thought that came to him now. He touched it; he took it in his fingers; he unwound it from about Kedsty’s neck, where it had made two deep rings in the flesh. From his fingers it rippled out full length. And he turned slowly and faced Marette Radisson.
Never had human eyes looked at him as she was looking at him now. She reached out a hand, her lips mute, and Kent gave her the tress of hair. And the next instant she turned, with a hand clasped at her own throat, and passed through the door.
After that he heard her going unsteadily up the stairs.
Kent did not move. His senses for a space were stunned. He was almost physically insensible to all emotions but that one of shock and horror. He was staring at Kedsty’s gray-white, twisted face when he heard Marette’s door close. A cry came from his lips, but he did not hear it—was unconscious that he had made a sound. His body shook with a sudden tremor. He could not disbelieve, for the evidence was there. From behind, as he had sat in his chair Marette Radisson had struck the Inspector of Police with some blunt object. The blow had stunned him. And after that—
He drew a hand across his eyes, as if to clear his vision. What he had seen was impossible. The evidence was impossible. Assaulted, in deadly peril, defending either honor or love, Marette Radisson was of the blood to kill. But to creep up behind her victim—it was inconceivable! Yet there had been no struggle. Even the automatic on the floor gave no evidence of that. Kent picked it up. He looked at it closely, and again the unconscious cry of despair came in a half groan from his lips. For on the butt of the Colt was a stain of blood and a few gray hairs. Kedsty had been stunned by a blow from his own gun!