The Three Overcoats

 

Under the influence of that singular feeling of some one being in the room with him, Carroll Garland opened his eyes suddenly from sound sleep. The intuition was correct; there was some one in the room with him—a man whose back was turned. At that particular moment he was examining the clothing Garland had discarded on retiring. Garland raised himself on one elbow, and the bed creaked a little.

“Don’t disturb yourself,” said the man, without turning, “I’ll be through in a minute.”

“Through what?” demanded Garland. “My pockets?”

The stranger straightened up and turned toward him. He was a tall, lithe, clean-cut young man, with crisp, curly hair, and a quizzical expression about his eyes and lips. He was in evening dress, and Garland could only admire the manner in which it fitted him. He wore an opera hat, and a light weight Inverness coat.

“I didn’t mean to wake you, really,” the stranger apologized pleasantly. “I’m sure I didn’t make any noise.”

“No, I dare say you didn’t,” replied Garland. “What do you want?”

The stranger picked up an overcoat, which lay across a chair, and deftly, with a penknife, slit the lining on each side. He did something then which Garland couldn’t see, after which he carefully folded the coat again, and laid it across the chair. “I have taken what you won at bridge at your club this evening,” he remarked. “It will save me the trouble of cashing a check.”

Garland gazed at this imperturbable, audacious person with a sort of admiration. “I trust you found the amount correct?” he said sarcastically.

“Yes, thirteen hundred and forty-seven dollars. That will do very nicely, thank you. I am leaving two hundred and some odd dollars of your own.”

“Oh, take it all,” said Garland magnanimously, “because I am going to make you return it, anyway.”

The stranger laughed pleasantly. “I am going now,” he said; “but before I go I should like to tell you that you play really an excellent game of bridge, except, perhaps, you are a little reckless on no trumps.”

“Thank you,” said Garland, and started to get out of bed.

“Now, don’t get up!” advised the stranger, still pleasantly. “I have something here in my pocket which I should dislike very much to have to use. But I will use it if necessary.”

Garland kept right on getting out of bed. “You are not such a fool as to shoot,” he said quietly. “You couldn’t get out of this hotel to save your life if you did. It is only half-past eleven o’clock, there are people passing in the halls, and always at this time there are a great many people in the lobby. You would have to go that way. So now I’ll trouble you for the money.”

The stranger drew a glistening, shining object from his pocket, examined it casually, then went over and stood beside the call button. There was a glitter of determination in his eyes, and the smile had gone from his lips. “I certainly have no intention of returning the money—now,” he said. “It would be best for both of us, of course, not to attract anyone’s attention.”

Garland was coming straight toward him.

“Now, don’t do anything foolish,” the stranger warned, not unkindly. “You can’t reach the call button unless you go over me; you won’t shout, because if you do I shall have to use this revolver, and take my chances below. You don’t happen to need this money, and I do. It was simply a pick-up for you at the club. If you give an alarm when I go out, it will be disagreeable for me.”

Garland stared at him in frank amazement for a moment. The stranger steadily returned the gaze.

“I’ll just take one whirl out of you anyhow,” declared Garland grimly. “I don’t happen to have a gun; but——”

And Garland sent in a vicious right swing, which would have been highly effective had the stranger’s head remained stationary. Instead, it ducked suddenly, and a left hand landed jarringly on one of Garland’s eyes. Instantly he forgot all about the burglarious intentions of his visitor; it was man to man, and Garland happened to be dexterous in the science of pugilism—Mike Donovan had taught him.

After four blows had been exchanged, Garland became suddenly convinced that the stranger’s teacher in the gentle art of bruising was more gifted even than Mike, because, in all the freedom of his pajamas, Garland got in only one blow for two, on a man who was hampered by overcoat and evening dress. A stinging jab to Garland’s mouth made him clinch, and in trying to reach the stranger’s throat, he forgot all the ethics of the game.

At this close range, the stranger delivered one short arm punch, and as Garland reeled and the world grew dark about him, he recalled the blow as being identical with one which was made famous in Carson City, at the time a world’s championship changed hands. Dazzling lights danced before his eyes for a moment, and then all was dark.

The stranger stood looking down at him, planted his opera hat more firmly on his head, drew on his gloves, opened the door, and went out. He sauntered through the lobby carelessly, paused to light a cigar, and disappeared through the revolving doors. At the curb outside, an automobile was waiting. In it sat a veiled woman, and a very much begoggled chauffeur.

“Well?” the woman asked quickly.

The stranger shook his head, climbed in beside her, and the car rushed away.

When Garland recovered consciousness, he had the impression of having experienced a remarkably vivid nightmare. But one look into the mirror at the bulbous black eye, and the absence of thirteen hundred and forty-seven dollars from his pockets, convinced him of the reality of it all. Incidentally he examined the two knife cuts in the overcoat lining, and shook his head in bewilderment.

“What the deuce did he cut those for?” he asked himself.

On the following morning Garland returned the overcoat to its owner, Hal Dickson. There is a freemasonry among roommates at college by which one acknowledges that whatever he owns belongs equally to the other. Garland had exercised certain rights which had accrued to him by reason of this comradeship upon his arrival in the city the day before. He wore then a light weight tan coat, entirely too thin for the extreme cold which set in immediately upon his arrival; so he borrowed a heavier coat, a thick frieze affair, from his old chum, and left his own light coat with him.

“I want to tell you something about this, Hal,” he said, and recited in detail the events of the night before. “Now look here where my friend cut your coat,” he said in conclusion.

Together they examined the long slits, after which they stared at each other in blank wonderment.

“Send it down to your tailor and have it relined,” remarked Garland. “Tell him to send the bill to me.”

Dickson continued to stare at the coat lining. “What did he want to cut it for?” he asked.

Garland shook his head. “Give me my own coat,” he said; “I’ve got to go back home at two-thirty, and can manage with this light coat until I get there, and may not have a chance to come here again.”

Garland was just about to put on his own coat, when he stopped in fresh amazement. “Well! Look at that!” he exclaimed.

Dickson looked. The lining of the coat was slit wide open on each side, as if with a sharp knife.

Ten minutes later the young men were on their way to police headquarters. Detective Mallory received them. The coats were laid under his official eyes, and he scrutinized them carefully.

Mallory listened, with his feet on his desk, and his cigar clinched in his teeth. “What did the thief look like?” he asked at the end.

“He had every appearance of a gentleman.”

“Just like me and you, eh?”

“Well, a little more like me,” replied Garland innocently.

“I shall put my men on it at once,” said the detective.

Garland caught the two-thirty train for a run of an hour and a half to a small city.

At fifteen minutes before five o’clock Detective Mallory was called to the long distance telephone.

“That Mr. Mallory?” came an excited voice. “Well, this is Carroll Garland. Yes, I am at home. Just as soon as I got here I went straight to my room to get a heavier overcoat. I was putting it on, when I found that the lining had been ripped open just like those other two. Now, what does that mean?”

For the first time in his life a question had been asked to which Mallory would confess that he didn’t know the answer. He scratched his head thoughtfully, then stopped doing that to tug violently at his bristly moustache. Finally he hung up the receiver with a bang, and went out personally to look into an affair which had not attracted more than passing interest at the time it was reported.

 

“I can readily understand,” Hutchinson Hatch was saying, “why the burglar took the money; but why did he slit the lining of the overcoat?”

The Thinking Machine didn’t say.

“Then why did he go to Dickson’s room, and slit the lining of an overcoat which Garland left there?”

Still The Thinking Machine was silent.

“And finally why did he go to Garland’s home, in another city forty miles away, and slit the lining of an overcoat there?”

Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen receded still farther into the depths of a huge chair, and sat for a long time with his squint eyes turned upward, and finger tips pressed together. At last he broke the silence. “You have given me every known fact?”

“Everything,” the reporter answered.

“There is really no problem in it at all,” The Thinking Machine declared, “unless one of the units remains undiscovered. If all are known, the solution is obvious. When the money is returned to Garland, it will definitely prove the only possible hypothesis that may be advanced.”

“When the money is returned?” gasped the reporter.

“That is what I said!” snapped the scientist crustily. “If Garland does not care to lose that thirteen hundred and forty-seven dollars, it would not be wise to press the investigation just now. If you will keep in communication with him, and inform me immediately when he receives the money, I shall undertake to close up the affair. Until then it is really not worth attention.”

Nearly a week elapsed before there was another development in the mystery—the return of thirteen hundred and forty-seven dollars, by express from Denver. Accompanying the money was an unsigned note of thanks for the use of it, and a line or two which might have been construed into an apology for the stranger’s conduct in Garland’s room.

The police were astounded; this was against all the rules of the game. Garland was a little more than astounded, and at the same time delighted at the generosity of the thief. It was not possible to develop any fact as to the identity of the intruder from the express records. Obviously the sender had used a fictitious name in Denver. When Hatch explained this point to The Thinking Machine, it was dismissed with a wave of one slender hand.

“It is really of no consequence,” declared the scientist. “Garland knows the name of the man who took the money and cut the overcoat.”

“But he says he doesn’t,” Hatch remonstrated.

“There may be circumstances which make it necessary for him to say that,” continued the scientist.

“He is prepared to swear that he never saw the man before.”

“That might be quite true,” was the curt rejoinder; “but I dare say he does know his name. The next time Garland comes to the city, let me know.”

“He is here now,” the reporter informed him. “He came in to-day to consult with Detective Mallory about the return of the money.”

“That simplifies matters,” said the scientist. “We’ll see him at once.”

Garland was in. Hatch introduced the distinguished man of science, and he came immediately to business.

“Tell me something of your love affairs, Mr. Garland,” The Thinking Machine began abruptly.

“My love affairs? I have no love affairs at all.”

“Oh, I see; married.”

Garland gazed straight into the squinting eyes, with a quizzical expression about his mouth. “I don’t see that it is absolutely inconsistent for a man to have a love affair and be married,” he said smilingly. “There are men, you know, who are in love with their own wives. I happen to be one of these. When you said love affairs, I presumed you meant——”

“There are men,” interrupted The Thinking Machine, “who because of being married dare not admit any other entanglements.” The aggressive blue eyes were staring straight into Garland’s.

After a moment the young man arose, with something like anger in his manner. “I don’t happen to be one of them,” he said sharply.

The Thinking Machine shrugged his shoulders. “Now, what is the name of the man who robbed you and cut those coats?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” retorted Garland.

“I know that is what you told the police,” said the scientist; “but believe me, it would be best, and possibly save you trouble, for you to give me the name of that man.”

“I don’t know it,” repeated Garland.

The Thinking Machine seemed satisfied on that point, but with his satisfaction came tiny, sinuous lines in his forehead. Hatch knew what that meant.

“You never saw the man before?” asked the scientist after a moment. The aggressiveness had gone from his voice now.

“No, I never saw him before,” Garland replied.

“Nor a photograph of him?”

“No, never.”

Almost imperceptibly the lines deepened in the brow of The Thinking Machine. His eyes were narrowed down to mere slits, and his thin lips set into a perfectly straight line. Garland studied the grotesque little figure with a curiosity backed by anger. For a long time there was silence, then:

“Mr. Garland, how long have you been married?”

“Four years.”

The Thinking Machine shook his head and arose. “Please pardon me,” he continued, “but what is your financial condition?”

“I am a salaried man; but it is a good salary, twelve thousand a year, quite enough for my wife and self.”

“Your married life has been happy?”

“Perfectly.”

Again The Thinking Machine shook his head.

 

Ten minutes later he and Hutchinson Hatch were in the street together.

“He has either lied, or else we have overlooked a unit,” volunteered the scientist as they walked on. “Now I can’t believe that we missed anything—ergo, he lied, and yet I can’t believe that.”

“Well, that doesn’t leave much,” the reporter suggested.

“The next step,” the scientist went on, “will be to establish beyond all doubt that he told the truth. I leave that to you. Get his record for the last five years, and inquire particularly about his family life, his club life, and always bear in mind the possibility of another woman in the case. There is a woman—some woman—because she was in the automobile. Of course, the case is inconsequential, since the money has been returned; but I happen to be interested in it, because the return of the money bears out my hypothesis, and other things tend to upset it.”

Hatch covered the affair thoroughly. Garland had told the truth, as far as investigation could develop. He so informed the scientist.

“It is singular, very singular,” remarked The Thinking Machine, in deep abstraction. “By the inexorable rule of logic we reach a point where we must believe that Garland slit the lining of the coats himself, and had the money sent to him from Denver. When we attempt to find a motive for that, we plunge into absurdities. Two and two always make four, Mr. Hatch, not sometimes, but all the time. No problem in arithmetic can be correctly solved, if one figure is missing. There is one figure missing. I’ll find it. In your investigation of Garland’s career you found out something about his father?”

“Yes. He died several years ago. His name, by the way, was also Carroll Garland.”

The Thinking Machine turned suddenly and squinted at the reporter. “Here is our missing unit, Mr. Hatch,” he said. “Do you happen to know if there were ever any other Carroll Garlands in the family?”

“Years ago, yes. The great-grandfather of the present one was also a Carroll Garland.”

The little scientist arose suddenly, paced back and forth half a dozen times, then passed into an adjoining room. Five minutes later he reŽntered, with his hat and coat. Accompanied by the reporter, he went straight to one of the fashionable clubs, and sent in a card. After a few minutes’ wait a young man appeared.

“My name is Van Dusen,” began The Thinking Machine. “I came here to see you about a personal matter. Could we go to some place where we should not be disturbed for a minute?”

The young man led the way into a private parlor and closed the door.

“It’s about that compromising letter which you carry there,” and The Thinking Machine touched the young man on the breast with one long slender finger.

“Did she send you?”

“No.”

“Well, what business is it of yours, then?”

“I do not think that a man of honor—a man of your social position—would care to carry about with him a paper which would not only imperil but might wreck the reputation of a woman who is now another man’s wife.”

That The Thinking Machine had spoken correctly, Hatch could not doubt from the expression on the other’s face.

“Another man’s wife,” repeated the young man in astonishment. “Since when?”

“A week or so ago. She is now in the West with her husband. He knows of the existence of this document, therefore whatever vengeful spirit you may have had in preserving it is wasted. I would advise you to destroy it.”

For a minute or more the young man stared straight into the squint eyes. “If the lady in question should have made such a request of me in person, I should have destroyed it,” said the young man; “otherwise I——”

“She makes that request now, through me,” the scientist lied glibly.

“Did she ask you to come to me?”

“She makes that request now, through me,” repeated the scientist.

Again the young man was silent. Finally he slowly removed his overcoat and laid it across the table. Then from a pocket in the lining, the opening of which was concealed in a seam where the sleeve joined the coat, he removed a letter. A strange expression played about his face, reminiscent, thoughtful, even tender, as he offered it to The Thinking Machine. Instead of accepting it, the scientist struck a match and touched it to the corner. In silence the three men watched it burn.

 

“It is obvious to the dullest intelligence,” said The Thinking Machine to Hutchinson Hatch, “that the man who entered Garland’s room at the hotel was not a thief. He went there to open the lining of Garland’s overcoat. Why? To find something which he had reason to believe was concealed therein. True, he took some money; but we can readily imagine that he happened to need a large sum at the minute, and took it, intending to return it, as he did.

“When we know that he was not a thief, we know that the thing he sought was in the lining of the coat. It just happened that this particular coat was not Garland’s. The thief didn’t know that when he cut it; but he had been so certain of finding what he sought that he took pains to see if it was Garland’s coat. Instead of Garland’s name, he found on a tailor’s tab inside the pocket the name of Dickson. If we give him credit for intelligence at all, we must give him credit for imagining how another man’s coat came into Garland’s possession. Therefore, he went to Dickson’s room, found Garland’s coat, and ripped that as he did the first. Still nothing. Naturally then, he went to Garland’s home and ripped open the third coat.

“All this was obvious. Now we come to the less obvious. What was he after? Money? No. He left money behind him. A jewel? Possibly but improbably, because his was not a mercenary pursuit. Then what? The remainder: some document or letter which was of such importance that he practically risked his life for it. Now, was this letter or document of value to himself, or to some one else?

“At this point logic met an obstacle in the veiled woman who waited in the automobile. Would the man permit the woman to take the chance she was taking with him if the document had been of value only to himself? It seems unlikely. On the other hand, if the document was of value to her, might she not insist on accompanying him?

“What paper was he after? A will or a deed? Perhaps; but would not that have gone into a court of law? A letter? More likely. So what did we have? A man risking his life, prison at least, to recover a letter for a woman near and dear to him. She, perhaps, informed him that the letter was concealed in the lining of Carroll Garland’s overcoat. How she knew this does not appear. We can even imagine the woman confessing the existence of a letter by which her character was menaced before she consented to become his wife. In that event everything else is accounted for; no other hypothesis would fit all the circumstances, therefore this must be correct. Obviously the stranger knew the name of the man who had the letter; therefore it would seem that there could be no mistake. I failed to see at the moment that there might be another Carroll Garland. When I saw that I telephoned to Garland, and he informed me that he had a cousin of the same name who occasionally visited this city and always stopped at the club where we called. You know what happened when we saw this second Carroll Garland. In searching for a Carroll Garland the stranger came across the wrong man and held him up. That is all, I think.”

There was a long silence.

“By the way,” Hatch inquired suddenly, “what is the name of the strange man and the woman?”

“Why, I don’t know,” responded The Thinking Machine in surprise.