“A bit thick, I call it,” Pollard looked round the group; “here’s Mellen been dead six weeks now, and the mystery of his taking-off still unsolved.”
“And always will be,” Doctor Davenport nodded. “Mighty few murders are brought home to the villains who commit them.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” drawled Phil Barry, an artist, whose dress and demeanor coincided with the popular idea of his class. “I’ve no head for statistics,” he went on, idly drawing caricatures on the margin of his evening paper as he talked, “but I think they say that only one-tenth of one per cent, of the murderers in this great and glorious country of ours are ever discovered.”
“Your head for statistics is defective, as you admit,” Doctor Davenport said, his tone scornful; “but percentages mean little in these matters. The greater part of the murders committed are not brought prominently before public notice. It’s only when the victim is rich or influential, or the circumstances of some especial interest that a murder occupies the front pages of the newspapers.”
“Old Mellen’s been on those same front pages for several weeks—off and on, that is,” Pollard insisted; “of course, he was a well-known man and his exit was dramatic. But all the same, they ought to have caught his murderer—or slayer, as the papers call him.”
“Him?” asked Barry, remembering the details of the case.
“Impersonal pronoun,” Pollard returned, “and probably a man anyway. ‘Cherchez la femme,’ is the trite advice, and always sounds well, but really, a woman seldom has nerve enough for the fatal deed.”
“That’s right,” Davenport agreed. “I know lots of women who have all the intent of murder in their hearts, but who never could pull it off.”
“A good thing, too,” Barry observed. “I’d hate to think any woman I know capable of murder! Ugh!” His long, delicate white hand waved away the distasteful idea with a gesture that seemed to dismiss it entirely.
There were not many in the Club lounge, the group of men had it mostly to themselves, and as the afternoon dusk grew deeper and the lights were turned on, several more went away, and finally Fred Lane rose to go.
“Frightfully interesting, you fellows,” he said, “but it’s after five, and I’ve a date. Anybody I can drop anywhere?”
“Me, please,” accepted Dean Monroe. “That is, if you’re going my way. I want to go downtown.”
“Was going up,” returned Lane, “but delighted to change my route. Come along, Monroe.”
But Monroe had heard a chance word from Doctor Davenport that arrested his attention, and he sat still.
“Guess I won’t go quite yet—thanks all the same,” he nodded at Lane, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Dean Monroe was a younger man than the others, an artist, but not yet in the class with Barry. His square, firm-set jaw, and his Wedgwood blue eyes gave his face a look of power and determination quite in contrast with Philip Barry’s pale, sensitive countenance. Yet the two were friends—chums, almost, and though differing in their views on art, each respected the other’s opinions.
“Have it your own way,” Lane returned, indifferently, and went off.
“Crime detection is not the simple process many suppose,” Davenport was saying, and Monroe gave his whole attention. “So much depends on chance.”
“Now, Doctor,” Monroe objected, “I hold it’s one of the most exact sciences, and——”
Davenport looked at him, as an old dog might look at an impertinent kitten.
“Being an exact science doesn’t interfere with dependence on chance,” he growled; “also, young man, are you sure you know what an exact science is?”
“Yeppy,” Monroe defended himself, as the others smiled a little. “It’s—why, it’s a science that’s exact—isn’t it?”
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