Constance Dunlap/Chapter 5
"I suppose you have heard something about the troubles of the Motor Trust? The other directors, you know, are trying to force me out."
Rodman Brainard, president of the big Motor Corporation, searched the magnetic depths of the big brown eyes of the woman beside his desk. Talking to Constance Dunlap was not like talking to other women he had known, either socially or in business.
"A friend of yours, and of mine," he added frankly, "has told me enough about you to convince me that you are more than an amateur at getting people out of tight places. I asked you to call because I think you can help me."
There was a directness about Brainard which Constance liked.
"It's very kind of you to place such confidence in me—on such short acquaintance," she returned pointedly, searching his face.
"I don't need to tell you, Mrs. Dunlap, that anything I have said so far is an open secret in Wall Street. They have threatened to drag in the Sherman law, and in the reorganization that will follow the investigation, they plan to eliminate Rodman Brainard—perhaps set in motion the criminal clauses of the law. It's nothing, Mrs. Dunlap, but a downright hypocritical pose. They reverse the usual process. It is doing good that evil may result."
He watched her face intently. Something in her expression seemed to please him. "By George," he thought to himself, "this is a man's woman. You can talk to her."
Brainard, accustomed to quick decisions, added aloud, "Just now they are using Mrs. Brainard as a catspaw. They are spreading that scandal about my acquaintance with Blanche Leblanc, the actress. You have seen her? A stunning woman—wonderful. But I long ago saw that such a friendship could lead to nothing but ruin." He met Constance's eye squarely. There was nothing of the adventuress in it as there had been in Blanche Leblanc. "And," he finished, almost biting off the words, "I decided to cut it out."
"How does Blanche Leblanc figure in the Motor Trust trouble?" asked Constance keenly.
"They had been shadowing me a long time before I knew it, ferreting back into my past. Yesterday I learned that some one had broken into Miss Leblanc's apartments and had stolen a package of letters which I wrote to her. It can't hurt her. People expect that sort of thing of an actress. But it can hurt the president of the Motor Trust—just at present."
"Who has been doing the shadowing?"
"Worthington, the treasurer, is the guiding spirit of the 'insurgents' as they call themselves—it sounds popular, like reform. I understand they have had a detective named Drummond working for them."
Constance raised her eyes quickly at the name. Was Drummond always to cross her trail?
"This story of the letters," he went on, "puts on the finishing touch. They have me all right on that. I can tell by the way that Sybil—er, Mrs. Brainard—acts, that she has read and reread those letters. But, by God," he concluded, bringing down his fist on the desk, "I shall fight to the end, and when I go down,"—he emphasized each word with an additional blow,—"the crash will bring down the whole damned structure on their own heads, too."
He was too earnest even to apologize to her. Constance studied the grim determination in the man's face. He was not one of those destined to fail.
"All is not lost that is in peril, Mr. Brainard," she remarked quietly. "That's one of the maxims of your own Wall Street."
"What would you do?" he asked. It was not an appeal; rather it was an invitation.
"I can't say, yet. Let me come into the office of the Trust. Can't I be your private secretary?"
"Consider yourself engaged. Name your figure—after it is over. My record on the Streets speaks for how I stand by those who stand by me. But I hate a quitter."
"So do I," exclaimed Constance, rising and giving him her hand in a straight-arm shake that made Brainard straighten himself and look down into her face with unconcealed admiration.
The next morning Constance became private secretary to the president of the Motor Trust.
"You will be 'Miss' Dunlap," remarked Brainard. "It sounds more plausible."
Quietly he arranged her duties so that she would seem to be very busy without having anything which really interfered with the purpose of her presence.
She had been thinking rapidly. Late in the forenoon she reached a decision. A little errand uptown kept her longer than she expected, but by the late afternoon she was back again at her desk, on which rested a small package which had been delivered by messenger for her.
"I beg you won't think as badly of me as it seems on the surface, Miss Dunlap," remarked Brainard, stopping beside her desk.
"I don't think badly of you," she answered in a low voice. "You are not the only man who has been caught with a crowd of crooks who plan to leave him holding the bag."
"Oh, it isn't that," he hastened, "I mean this Blanche Leblanc affair. May I be frank with you?"
It was not the first time Constance had been made a confidante of the troubles of the heart, and yet there was something fascinating about having a man like Brainard consider her worthy of being trusted with what meant so much to him.
"I'm not altogether to blame." he went on slowly. "The estrangement between my wife and myself came long before that little affair. It began over—well—over what they call a serious difference in temperament. You know a man—an ambitious man—needs a partner, a woman who can use the social position that money gives not alone for pleasure but as a means of advancing the partnership. I never had that. The more I advanced, the more I found her becoming a butterfly—and not as attractive as the other butterflies either. She went one way—I, another. Oh well—what's the use? I went too far—the wrong way. I must pay. Only let me save what I can from the wreck."
It was not Constance, the woman, to whom he was talking. It was Constance, the secretary. Yet it was the woman, not the secretary, who listened.
Brainard stopped again beside her desk.
"All that is neither here nor there," he remarked, forcing a change in his manner. "I am in for it. Now, the question is—what are we going to do about it!"
Constance had unwrapped the package on her desk, disclosing an oblong box.
"What's that?" he asked curiously.
"Mr. Brainard," she answered tapping the box, "there's no limit to the use of this little machine for our purposes. We can get at their most vital secrets with it. We can discover every plan which they have against us. We may even learn the hiding place of those letters Why, there is no limit. This is one of those new microphone detectives."
"A microphone?" he repeated as he opened the box, looked sharply at the two black little storage batteries inside, the coil of silk-covered wire, a little black rubber receiver and a curious black disc whose face was pierced by a circular row of holes.
"Yes. You must have heard of them. You hide that transmitter behind a picture or under a table or desk. Then you run the wire out of the room and by listening in the receiver you can hear everything!"
"But that is what detectives use——"
"Well?" she interrupted coolly, "what of it? If it is good for them, is it not just as good for us?"
"Better!" he exclaimed. "By George, you are the goods."
It was late before Constance had a chance to do anything with the microphone. It seemed as if Worthington were staying, perversely, later than usual. At last, however, he left with a curt nod to her.
The moment the door was closed she stopped the desultory clicking of her typewriter with which she had been toying in the appearance of being busy. With Brainard she entered the board room where she had noticed Worthington and Sheppard often during the day.
It was, without exaggeration, one of the most plainly furnished rooms she had ever seen. A long mahogany table with eight large mahogany chairs, a half inch pile of velvety rug on the floor and a huge chandelier in the middle of the ceiling constituted the furniture. Not a picture, not a cabinet or filing case broke the blankness of the brown painted walls.
For a moment she stopped to consider. Brainard waited and watched her narrowly.
"There isn't a place to put this transmitter except up above that chandelier," she said at length.
He gave her his hand as she stepped on a chair and then on the table. There was a glimpse of a trim ankle. The warmth and softness of her touch caused him to hold her hand just a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. A moment later he was standing on the table beside her.
"This is the place, all right," she said, looking at the thick scum of dust on the top of the reflector.
Quickly she placed the little black disc close to the center on the top of the reflector. "Can you see that from the floor?" she asked.
"No," he answered, walking about the room, "not a sign of it."
"I'll sit here," she said in just a tremor of excitement over the adventure, "and listen while you talk in the board room."
Brainard entered. It seemed ridiculous for him to talk to himself.
"If the microphone works," he said at length, "rap on the desk twice." Then he added, half laughing to himself, "If it doesn't, rap once—Constance."
A single rap came in answer.
"If you couldn't hear," he smiled entering her office, "why did you rap once!"
"It didn't work smoothly on that last word."
He thought there was a subtle change in their relations since the microphone incident. At any rate she was not angry. Were they not partners?
"I think it will be better if I turn that microphone around," she remarked. "I placed it face downwards. Let me change it."
Again he helped her as she jumped up on the board room table. This time his hand lingered a little longer in hers and she did not withdraw it so soon. When she did there was a quick twinkle in her eyes as she straightened the microphone and offered her hand to him again.
"Jump!" he said, as if daring her.
A moment she paused. "I never could take a dare," she answered.
She leaped lightly to the floor. For just a moment she seemed about to lose her balance. Then she felt an arm steadying her. He had caught her and for an instant their eyes met.
"Well, Rodman—I scarcely thought it was as brazen as this!"
They turned in surprise.
Mrs. Brainard was standing in the doorway.
She was a petite blonde little woman of the deceptive age which the beauty parlors convey to thousands of their assiduous patrons.
For a moment she looked coldly from one to the other.
"To what am I indebted for the pleasure of this unexpected visit, Sybil?" asked Brainard with sarcastic emphasis. "I shall finish those letters to-morrow, Miss Dunlap. You need not wait for them."
He held the door to his own office open for Mrs. Brainard.
Sybil Brainard shot a quick glance at Constance. "Well, young lady," she said haughtily, "do you realize what you are doing and with whom you are?"
"It isn't necessary, Sybil, to bother about Miss Dunlap. The lights were out of order and I found Miss Dunlap standing on the table trying to fix them. You came just in time to see her jump down. By the way, Worthington seems to be another who works late. He left only a few minutes ago."
Constance passed a restless night. To have got wrong at the very start worried her. Over and over she thought of what had happened. And always she came back to one question. What had Brainard meant by that reference to Worthington?
He came in late the next day, however. Still, there was no change in his manner as he greeted her. The incident had not affected him, as it had her. Neither of them said anything about it.
A young man had been waiting to see Brainard and as he entered he asked him in.
Just then Sheppard walked casually through the reception room and into the board room.
Constance quickly closed her door. She heard the young man leave Brainard's office but she was too engrossed to pay attention to anything but the voices that were coming through the microphone. She was writing feverishly what she heard.
"Yes, Sheppard, I saw her again last night."
"She was to meet me here, but he stayed later than usual with that new secretary of his. So I cut out and met her at the street entrance."
"I told her of the new secretary. She did just what I wanted—came up here—and, say Sheppard—what do you think? They were in this room and he had his arms about her!"
"The letters are all right, are they? How much did you have to pay the Leblanc girl?"
"Twenty thousand. That's all charged up against the pool. Say, Leblanc is—well—give you my word, Sheppard—I can hardly blame Brainard after all."
"You are the last word in woman haters, Lee."
Both men laughed.
"And the letters?"
"Don't worry. They are where they'll do the most good. Sybil has them herself. Now, what have you to report? You saw the district attorney?"
"Yes. He is ready to promise us all immunity if we will go on the stand for the state. The criminal business will come later. Only, you have to play him carefully. He's on the level. A breath of what we really want and it will be all off."
"Then we'll have to hold the stock up, as though nothing was going to happen."
They had left the board room.
Constance hurried into Brainard's office. He was sunk deep in his chair reading some papers.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"She has entered a suit for divorce. That young man was a process server."
"You are named as co-respondent along with Blanche Leblanc."
"Yes. It must have been an afterthought. Everything is going—fortune, reputation—even your friendship, now, Constance—"
"Going? Not yet."
She read hastily what she had overheard.
"Devil take Worthington," ground out Brainard, gripping the arms of his chair. "For weeks I have suspected him. They have been too clever for me. Constance, while I have been going around laying myself open to discovery, Sybil has played a cool and careful game."
He was pacing the floor.
"So—that's the plan. Hold back, keep the stock up until they get started. Then let it go down until I'm forced to sell out at a loss, buy it back cheap, and control the reorganization. Well, I haven't control now, alone. I wish I did have. But neither have they. The public owns the stock now. I need it. Who'll get it first—that's the question!"
He was thinking rapidly.
"If you could do a little bear manipulation yourself," she suggested. "That might get the public scared. You could get enough to control, perhaps, then. They wouldn't dare sell—or if they did they would weaken their own control. Either way, you get them, going or coming."
"Exactly what I was thinking. Play their own game—ahead of them—accelerate it."
It was just after the lunch hour that Constance resumed her place at her desk with the receiver at her ear.
There were voices again in the board room.
"My God, Sheppard, what do you think? Someone is selling Motors—five points off and still going down."
"Who is it? What shall we do?"
"Who! Brainard, of course. Some one has peached. What are you going to do?"
"Wait. Let's call up the News Agency. Hello—yes—what? Unofficial rumor of prosecution of Motors by the government—large selling orders placed in advance. The deuce—say, we'll have to meet this or—"
"Meet nothing. It's Brainard. He's going down in a big crash. We pour our money into his pockets now and let him sell at the top and grab back control with our money? Not much. I sell, too."
Already boys were on the street with extras crying the great crash in Motors. It was only a matter of minutes before all the news reading public were thoroughly scared at the apparently bursting bubble. Shares were dug up in small lots, in huge blocks and slammed on the market for what they would bring. All day the pounding went on. Thousands of shares were poured out until Motors which had been climbing toward par in the neighborhood of 79 had declined forty points. Brainard had jumped in first and had realized the top price for his holdings.
Yet during all the wild scenes when the telephone was ringing insistently for him, Brainard, having set the machinery in motion and having been ostentatiously in the office when it started in order to avert suspicion, could not now be found.
The market had closed and Constance was reading the account of the collapse as it was interpreted in the Wall Street editions of the papers, when the door opened and Brainard entered.
"This has been a good day's work, Constance," he said, flinging himself into a chair.
"Yes, I was just reading of it in the papers. The little microphone has put an entirely new twist on affairs. And the best of it is that the financial writers all seem to think it was planned by Worthington and the rest."
"Oh, hang Worthington—hang Motors. That is what I meant."
He slapped down a packet of letters on the desk.
"You—you found them?" gasped Constance. She looked at him keenly. It was evident that a great weight had been taken off his mind.
"Yes indeed. I knew there was only one place where she would put them—in her safe with her jewels. She would think I would never suspect that she had them and, besides, she had the combination changed. I went up to the house this afternoon when she was out. I had an expert with me. He worked two hours, steady,—but he opened it. Here they are. Now for the real game."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I noticed the name of the manufacturer on your microphone. I have had one installed in the room which she uses most of all. The wires run to the next house where I've hired an apartment. I intend to 'listen in' there. I'll get this Worthington—yet!"
That night Constance and Brainard sat for hours in the empty apartment patiently waiting for word over the microphone.
At last there was a noise as of a door opening.
"Show them in here."
"Sybil," whispered Brainard as if perhaps she might even hear.
Then came more voices.
"Worthington and Drummond," he added. "They suspect nothing yet."
"Drummond knows this Dunlap woman," said Worthington.
The detective launched forth in a tirade against Constance.
"But she is clever, Drummond. You admit that."
"Clever as they make 'em."
"You will have her shadowed?"
"Every moment, Mrs. Brainard."
"What's all this about the panic in Motors, Lee?"
"Some other time, Sybil, not now. Drummond, what do people say?"
"Out with it, man."
"Well, Mr. Worthington, it is said you started it."
"The deuce I did. But I guess Sheppard and I helped it along. We'll go the limit, too. After all, it had to come. We'll load up after it reaches the bottom."
The voices trailed off.
"Good night, Mrs. Brainard."
"Good night, Mr. Drummond. That was what I wanted to know." A pause.
"Lee, how can I ever thank you?"
A sound suspiciously like a kiss came over the wire. Brainard clenched his fist.
"Good night, Sybil. I must go now—" Again the voices trailed off.
It was several minutes before Brainard spoke. Then it was that he showed his wonderful power of concentration.
"I have a conference in half an hour, Constance," he remarked, looking at his watch. "It is very important. It means getting money to support Motors on the opening to-morrow after I have gathered in again what I need. I think I can come pretty near doubling my holdings if I play it right. That's important. But so is this."
"I will listen," put in Constance. "Trust me. If anything else occurs I will tell you."
She was at the office early the next day, but not before Brainard who, bright and fresh, even though he had been up all night, was primed for the battle of his life at the opening of the market.
Brainard had swung in at the turn and had quietly accumulated the stock control which he needed. He was now bulling the market by matching orders, pyramiding stock which he owned, using every device that was known to his astute brain.
On up went Motors, recovering the forty points, gradually, and even going beyond in the reaction. Worthington and Sheppard had been squeezed out. Not for a moment did he let up.
As the clock on Trinity church struck three, the closing hour, Brainard wheeled suddenly in his chair.
"Miss Dunlap," he said quietly. "I wish that you would tell Worthington and Sheppard that I should like to see them in the board room at four."
Constance looked at her watch. There was time also to execute a little scheme of her own.
Four o'clock came. Brainard lounged casually across to the board room. Instantly Constance had the receiver of the microphone at her ear, straining to catch every word, and to make notes of the stormy scene, if necessary.
Her door opened. It was Sybil Brainard.
The two women looked at each other coldly. Constance was the first to speak.
"Mrs. Brainard," she began, "I asked you to come down here—not Mr. Worthington. More than that, I asked the office boy to direct you here instead of to his office. Do you see that machine?"
Sybil looked at it without a sign of recognition.
"It is a microphone detective. It was the installing of that machine in the board room which you interrupted the other night."
"Was it necessary that Mr. Brainard should put his arm around you for that?" inquired Mrs. Brainard with biting sarcasm.
"I had just jumped down from the table and had almost lost my balance—that was all," pursued Constance imperturbably.
"Another of these microphone eavesdroppers told me of a conversation last night in your own apartment, Mrs. Brainard."
Her face blanched. "You—have one—there?"
"Yes. Mr. Brainard heard the first conversation, when Drummond and Mr. Worthington were there. After they left he had to attend a conference himself. I alone heard what passed when Mr. Worthington returned."
"You are at liberty to—"
"Mrs. Brainard. You do not understand. I have no reason to want to make you—"
An office boy tapped on the door and entered. "Mr. Brainard wants you, Miss Dunlap."
"I cannot explain now," resumed Constance. "Won't you sit here at my desk and listen over the microphone to what happens!"
She was gone before Mrs. Brainard could reply. What did it all mean? Sybil put the black disc receiver to her ear as she had seen Constance do. Her hand trembled. "Why did she tell me that?" she murmured.
"You can't prove it," shouted a voice through the black disc at her ear. She was startled. It was the voice of Worthington.
"Miss Dunlap—have you that notebook?" came the deep tones of her husband.
Constance read from her first notes that part relating to the conspiracy to control Motors, carefully omitting the part about the Leblanc letters.
"It's a lie—a lie."
"No, it is not a lie. It is all good legal evidence, the record taken over the new microphone detective. Look up there over the chandelier, Worthington. The other end is in the top drawer of Miss Dunlap's desk."
"I'll fight that to a finish, Brainard. You are clever but there are other things besides Motors that you have to answer for."
"No. Those letters—that is what you mean—are in my possession now. You didn't know that? All the eavesdropping, if you choose to call it that, was not done here, either, by a long shot, Worthington. I had one of these machines in my wife's reception room. I have all sorts of little scraps of conversation," he boasted. "I also have an account of a visit there from two—er—scoundrels—"
"Mrs. Brainard to see you, sir," announced a boy at the door.
Constance had risen. Her face was flushed and her breast rose and fell with excitement.
"Mr. Brainard," she interrupted. "I must explain—confess. Mrs. Brainard has been sitting in my office listening to us over the microphone. I arranged it. I asked her to come down, using another name as a pretext. But I didn't think she would interrupt so soon. Before you see her—let me read this. It was a conversation I got after you had left last night and so far I have had no chance to tell you of it. Some one," she laid particular stress on the word, "came back after that first interview. Listen."
"No, Lee," Constance read rapidly from her notes, "no. Don't think I am ungrateful. You have been one friend in a thousand through all this. I shall have my decree-soon, now. Don't spoil it-"
"But Sybil, think of him. What did he ever care for you? He has made you free already."
"He is still my husband."
"Take this latest escapade with this Miss Dunlap."
"Well, what do I really know about that?"
"You saw him."
"Yes, but maybe it was as he said."
The door was flung open, interrupting Constance's reading, and Sybil Brainard entered. The artificiality of the beauty parlor was all gone. She was a woman, who had been wronged and deceived.
"Next friend—a true next friend—fiend would be better, Lee Worthington," she scorned. "How can you stand there and look me in the face, how could you tell me of your love for me, when all the time you cared no more for me or for any other woman than for that—that Leblanc! You knew that I, who was as jealous as I could be of Rodman, had heard a little—you added more. Yet when you had played on my feelings, you would have cast me off, too—I know it; I know your kind."
She paused for breath, then turned slowly to Brainard with a note of pathos in her voice.
"Our temperaments may have been different, Rodman. They were not when we were poor. Perhaps I have not developed with you, the way you want of me. But, Rodman, did you ever stop to think that perhaps, perhaps if I had ever had the chance to be taken into your confidence more often—"
"Will you—forgive me?" Brainard managed to blurt out.
"Will you forgive me?" she returned frankly.
"I—forgive? I have nothing to forgive."
"I could have understood, Rodman, if it had been Miss Dunlap. She is clever, wonderful. But that Leblanc—never!"
Sybil Brainard turned to Constance.
"Miss Dunlap—Mrs. Dunlap," she sobbed, "forgive me. You—you are a better woman than I am."