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Authors: Otis Adelbert Kline

The Malignant Entity

BOOK: The Malignant Entity
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The Malignant Entity
Otis Adelbert Kline
Amazing Stories June 1926
ePUB Edition 2012
Amontoth/Genesis

I TELL you, Evans,” said Dr. Dorp, banging his fist on the arm of his chair for emphasis, “the science of psychology is in much the same stage of development today as were the material sciences in the dark ages.”

“But surely,” I objected, “the two centuries of investigation just past have yielded some fruit. It cannot be that the eminent men who have devoted the greater part of their lives’ to this fascinating subject have labored in vain.”

The doctor stroked his iron-gray Van Dyke meditatively.

“With a few—a very few exceptions, I’m afraid they have,” he replied, “at least so far as their own deductions from observed phenomena are concerned.”

“Take Sir Oliver Lodge, for example—” I began. “The conclusions of Sir Oliver will serve as an excellent example for my analogy,” said the doctor. “No doubt you are familiar with the results of his years of painstaking psychical research as expounded in his books.”

“I believe he has become a convert to spiritism,” I replied.

“With all due respect to Sir Oliver,” said the doctor, “I should say that he has rather singled out such facts as suited his purpose and assembled them as evidence to support the spiritistic theory. It may seem paradoxical to add that I believe he has always been thoroughly conscientious in his investigation and sincere in his deductions.”

“I’m afraid I do not quite follow you.”

“There are times in the life of every man,” continued the doctor, “when emotion dethrones reason. At such crisis the most keen-witted of scientists may be blinded to truth by the overpowering influence of his own desires. Sir Oliver lost a beloved son. Only those who have suffered similar losses can appreciate the keen anguish that followed his bereavement, or sympathize with his intense longing , to communicate with Raymond. Most men are creatures of their desires.

They believe what they want to believe. Under the circumstance it was not difficult for a clever psychic to read the mind of the scientist and tell him the things he wanted to hear.”

“But what of the many investigators who have not been similarly influenced?” I inquired. “Surely they must have found some basis—”

I was interrupted by the entrance of the doctor’s housekeeper who announced—

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, a gentleman to see you, sir.”

“Show him in,” Dr. Dorp said rather petulantly. His frown of annoyance changed to a welcoming smile of recognition at sight of the tall, bulky individual who strode through the doorway.

“How are you, Doc,” roared the big man as they shook hands cordially. “Haven’t bothered you for a long time, have I ? Got a case for you now that will make you put on your thinking cap all right.”

“Sounds interesting,” replied the doctor. “Let me present an old friend of mine, Mr. Evans, who writes a story every now and then when the spirit moves him. Mr. Evans, Chief McGraw of the detective bureau. We were just discussing our mutual hobby, psychic phenomena, when you came in,” he continued after we had acknowledged the introduction.

“No doubt Chief McGraw’s communication is of a confidential nature—” I began, with the purpose of taking leave of my host.

“Nothing secret about it so far as Dr. Dorp and his friends are concerned,” interrupted the chief. “It may be that if you are a psychologist you can offer some solution of the mystery. Of course, I don’t exactly know whether it’s a case for a psychologist or not. Damned curious thing, and ghastly too.”

“Stay and listen if you are interested,” said the doctor.

“If it has any smattering of psychology or the occult, you know my failing,” I responded.

“Can’t say as to that,” said the chief. “It’s queer enough, though-and horrible. You gentlemen have heard of Professor Townsend, I presume.”

“You mean Albert Townsend, the chemist and inventor?” asked the doctor. “Assuredly. Who hasn’t heard of him and his queer theories about creating life from inert matter? What has he done now?”

“I don’t know whether it’s something he did or something that was done to him, but anyway he’s dead.”

“Murdered?”

“That’s the point I want you to help me clear up. I don’t know. His daughter ’phoned the office this morning and asked for me. When I got on the wire I could hardly understand her, she was so hysterical.

Sobbed out something about her father being gone and a human skeleton lying on the floor of his laboratory. I jumped in the car and took Hirsch, the finger-print expert out there with me. We found the frightened girl weeping in the arms of a motherly neighbor, who informed us that the laboratory was on the second floor.

“The whitened skeleton of Professor Townsend, fully clothed in garments that hung like rags on a scarecrow, lay on the floor of the laboratory,”

“You made sure, of course, that it really was the skeleton of the Professor.”

“Beyond the least shadow of doubt. In the first place it was clothed in the professor’s garments. His watch with his name in the back was ticking in the vest pocket. His monogrammed ring, a present from his daughter, circled a bony finger. On the bones of his right forearm were the marks of a fracture that had healed and the skull was slightly indented above the right temple. These marks resuited from an automobile accident in which the professor was injured two years ago. To make assurance doubly sure, we called in his dentist who readily identified his own work on the teeth.”

“When was the professor last seen alive?”

“That is the feature that makes the affair so uncanny. He was alive, and apparently normal mentally and physically, at dinner last evening.” “Most amazing!” exclaimed Dr. Dorp. “Suppose we go out—”

“Just what I was going to suggest.” replied the chief. “My car is waiting outside. Would you care to accompany us, Mr. Evans?”

“He would perish from curiosity if he couldn’t see the thing through now,” said the doctor when I hesitated. “Come along with us, old man. If two minds are better than one, then surely three minds are superior to two.”

We piled into the chief’s roomy roadster and were soon speeding toward the house of mystery.

Two Mysterious Deaths

PRESENTLY the car stopped before a two-story brick house. Its upper windows, with shades half drawn, appeared to stare down at us with a look of sly cunning as if endeavoring to conceal some fearful secret.

A short chunky individual, smooth-faced and with a decidedly florid complexion, met us at the door. Chief McGraw introduced him as Hirsch, the fingerprint expert.

“All alone, Hirsch?” asked the chief, looking iabout as we entered the spacious living room.

“Might as well be,” replied Hirsch. “Miss Townsend is in her room with a neighbor. The cook and housemaid are out in the kitchen, scared green.” “Coroner been here?”

“No. He called me up about twenty minutes ago and said he had an inquest to attend to on the south side. Told me he didn’t know how soon he could get here, but it would be several hours, at least.” “How about the prints ?”

“All the finger prints in the laboratory seem to have been made by the same person, evidently the professor.'”

“Hum. Better ’phone headquarters right away and have them send Rooney out. He might come in handy to guard the death room in case the coroner is late.”

“All right sir. I’ll call up right away.”

“Now gentlemen,” said the chief, turning to the doctor and me, “let us go upstairs.”

We followed him up the thickly carpeted stairway and along A broad corridor at the end of which he opened a door.

I started involuntarily at sight of the grinning, ghastly thing that lay on the floor. Not so Dr. Dorp. He knelt beside it and examined it minutely, his keen gray eyes alert for every detail. He even touched his fingers to the white forehead and prodded the shadowy depths of the empty eye sockets.

At length he rose and washed his hands at the porcelain lavatory.

“It seems incredible,” he said, “that this man could have been alive yesterday.”

“Just what I was thinking,” responded the chief. “Those bones could not have been drier or whiter if they had bleached in the sunlight for the last ten years.”

The doctor now turned his attention to the contents of the laboratory. He examined the collection of retorts, test tubes, breakers, jars, dishes and other paraphernalia spread on a porcelain-topped table set against the wall and reaching half the length of the room. The walls were shelved clear to the ceiling, and every shelf was crowded to its utmost capacity with bottles, jars and cans containing a multitude of chemicals. To these he gave but scant attention.

In the center of the immaculate white tile floor stood an open, glass-lined vat. From its height and diameter I estimated its capacity at about sixty gallons. This vat was more than a third full of a colorless, viscous liquid that gave off a queer, musty odor.

“What do you suppose that stuff is?” I asked Dr. Dorp.

“Looks like a heavy albuminous or gelatinous solution,” he said. “Possibly it is some special compound the professor employed in his experiments. Mediums of this nature are often used in the cultivation of colonies of bacteria and it is possible that he intended to use it as a carrier and food for the organisms it was his ambition to create synthetically.”

“Any idea what caused the death of the professor?” asked the chief.

“I have a theory,” replied Dr. Dorp, “but it seems so illogical, so wildly impossible, so—er, contrary to the teachings of science that I prefer to keep it to myself for the present, at least.”

A heavy tread sounded in the hallway and a moment later a blue-uniformed officer entered.

“Hello, Rooney,” greeted Chief McGraw. “I want you to see that no one disturbs this room or its contents until the coroner arrives. We are going downstairs now. Keep a weather eye on things and I’ll send a man to relieve you soon. If either of these gentlemen wants to come in at any time you may admit him.

“Yes, sir. I’ll remember them.”

We trooped down stairs. Two women were seated in the living room. Chief McGraw presented us to the younger, who proved to be the professor’s daughter, Dorothy Townsend. She was a slender girl about twenty years of age with pale, regular features and a wealth of gold-brown hair. Her large, expressive eyes were red with recent weeping and her lips quivered slightly as she bowed to us in turn and introduced us to the stout, middle-aged neighbor, Mrs. Harms, who had been endeavoring to comfort her.

“Hirsch and I are going to run down to headquarters for a couple of hours,” said the chief. “Would you prefer to come with us or stay here and look around?”

“I think we had better look around a bit if you don’t mind,” replied: the doctor.

“All right. I’m going to send a man to relieve Rooney at six. Will be along myself a little later. If you discover anything new call me up.”

When the two men were gone the doctor bowed before Miss Townsend.

' “May I have a few words with you in private?” he asked.

“Certainly,” she replied, rising, “in Father’s study if you wish.”

They entered the study, which was directly off the living room, and closed the door. They must have been gone about a half hour, but it seemed like two hours to me as, fidgeting inwardly, I listened to Mrs. Harms’ family history, her account of the death of her beloved husband, and minute descriptions of six operations she had undergone, each time, to use iher own expression, “standing at the entrance of death’s door.” She assured me, also, that she knew what it was to have death in the. home. The Grim Reaper had visited her family a score of times, she averred, and only three weeks before, one of her roomers had been found dead in bed.

She prattled on with scarce a pause until the door of the study opened. I was glad when she went upstairs with Miss Townsend and left Dr. Dorp and me together.

“Come into the study,” he said. “I have learned some interesting things, and it is possible that more awaits us in here.”

Professor Townsend’s study was neither large nor pretentious. It was obviously the retreat of a profound student as attested by the book-lined walls, many of the volumes of which were worn with much handling. The furniture consisted of a large, roll-top desk, a smaller typewriter desk on which stood a hooded machine, a filing cabinet, two office chairs and three comfortable overstuffed chairs, one beside the window, the other two placed conveniently under wall lights for reading.

A thick pile of typewritten manuscripts lay on the roll-top desk. The doctor divided them, handing me half and settling himself comfortably in one of the overstuffed chairs with the other half.

“Miss Townsend kindly brought these out of the files for me,” explained the doctor. “I think it possible that they may shed some light on the mysterious cause of the death of their author. We can save time dividing the work.”

“I believe I can conduct a more intelligent search if-you will give me some idea of what I am to look for,” I said.

“Quite so,” he agreed. “I had forgotten for the moment that you were not familiar with the details of my interview with Miss Townsend. Let me review it briefly.

BOOK: The Malignant Entity
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