There was no sense to the note. There was no sense to anything that Vic
Butler did, for that matter. Where he hid away his vast scientific
knowledge in that rattle-brained, red-haired head of his has always been
a mystery to me. The note read:
If you get this, I'm in a jam that promises some action.
Drive out, if plane-peddling is palling on you, and bust into
the lab. I'm leaving another note there for you, old son, and
after you read it you can let your conscience be your guide.
Bring a gat along, and plenty of ammo. Hope's away, at Aunt
Cleo's, so don't get in touch with her and spoil her visit.
I had a hot prospect lined up for a demonstration that morning, but I
didn't even stop to give him a ring. Vic and I had been buddies ever
since we were kids--and, besides, he was Hope's brother.
Vic's place was out on the river, about ten miles from town, and that
little tan roadster of mine made it in just about ten minutes. The
traffic in the business district slowed me up a bit.
There was nothing at all pretentious about the place; it was a rambling,
lazy-looking house built largely of native stone, stretching its length
comfortably in the shade of the big maples. Perrin, Vic's
man-of-all-work, came hurrying out of the house to greet me as I locked
my wheels on the drive before the door.
"I'm glad you're here, sir!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "I was just
about to phone for the police; I was for certain, sir. Such goings on, I
don't know what to think!"
"What's the matter, Perrin? Where's Mr. Butler?"
"That's it, sir! That's exactly it. Where's Mr. Butler? And--"
"Just a moment, please! Cut it short, Perrin. What's happened?"
* * * * *
"I don't know. Yesterday afternoon Mr. Butler leaves a letter for me,
which I'm to mail early this morning, special delivery. It's to you. I
reckon you got it, sir?"
"That's why I'm here. Go on."
"Well, after that, he locks himself up in his workroom, so Mrs. Perrin
says, she being housekeeper, as you know, sir, leaving word not to
disturb him for dinner.
"We don't think so much of that, Mr. Butler being took with streaks of
working at all hours, as you know. But when Miss Hope came home
unexpected this morning--"
"She cut her visit a few days short, her aunt having other house guests
turn up unexpected like, and Miss Hope arrives first thing this morning,
being here when I return from town after mailing the letter to you, sir.
"Mrs. Perrin had just told her about the master, and Miss Hope looks
into his room. He isn't there, and the bed hasn't been slept in. 'The
poor dear,' she says, 'he's worked himself half to death, and dropped
off on that horrible cot he keeps in his laboratory,' says Miss Hope.
'I'll let him sleep.'
"But just a few minutes ago, just before you arrived, sir, she became
nervous like, and rapped on the door. There wasn't a sound. So she went
up to the master's room and found a key, and went in. And now _she_
don't answer, and we were just about ready to call the police!"
"Let's go inside!" I hurried by Perrin and through the cool, quiet hall
to the broad door that opened into the big room at the back of the
house, which was Vic's laboratory.
* * * * *
"Vic! Hope!" I pounded as hard as I could, shouting their names. There
was no response.
"Is there another key, Perrin?" I snapped.
"No, sir; none that I know of. The master was mighty fussy about his