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ents of Luther Trant

A Matter of Mind Reading

ANOTHER REMARKABLE
LUTHER TRANT EXPLOIT

By Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg

Illustrations by William Oberhardt


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, October 1910. Also appeared in Amazing Detective Tales, June 1930.


THE tension in the big, well-lighted, estimating room of the Tyson-Leach Construction Company should have relaxed now that the estimators had laid their final, closely figured pages on the desk of their chief. But no man among them left his high stool or lifted his eyes from his scarred and ink-stained desk. For the wholly unexpected appearance at the Tyson-Leach offices that morning of old Jim Tyson had told them that suspicion had centered at last upon one man as the means through which the great contracting firm had been, for several months, consistently and inexplicably underbid and deprived of work. And they were loyally unwilling to appear to spy upon that man—the company's new president.

Nelson, the gray and nervous chief estimator, who seemed to have aged five years in the last few months, took from his desk these last pages he had been carefully checking, passed through the open door into the president's inner office, and laid his sheets before that officer, Fred Leach.

Leach, a vigorous and determined youngish man, arranged these sheets and rapidly but carefully went over them again, changing figures here and there, and added the footings of these pages to a column of independent totals he had noted upon another page. He totaled these sums; then on a separate and fresh sheet he added further independent items and retotaled it all.

Satisfied, Leach took from a pigeonhole the printed form of proposal, which already bore Tyson's signature, and filled in the blank left for the sum of the bid and blotted it. The young president assured himself that the certified check, already prepared as guaranty with the bid, exceeded the five per cent of its total required by law. He then added his signature to his partner's upon the proposal; folded check and proposal, put them in an envelope and sealed it. He gathered up the sheets of the estimate, put them in a drawer of his desk and locked it with a private key. Taking up the sheet upon which he had added his totals, he put it carefully into his pocket. There remained on the desk now only the sealed envelope and the blotter he had used. This blotter he turned quickly over, and saw that it retained dimly the impression of the bid he had just written—$253,800; so he tore from its surface the thin strip that bore these figures and chewed it to a wad.

No member of the office force had approached the president's desk during these operations; no one had passed behind him. It was plain both to Leach himself and to the old former president that even if a careful record had been kept of the subtotals of the sheets brought from the estimating room, it would be impossible for anyone— except by chance—to tell within several thousand dollars the revised and altered figure President Leach had just written, or to learn it accurately except from the company's president himself or from the sealed envelope before him. So, as the retired partner watched him solicitously, Fred Leach sank back in his swivel chair, his square, combative features already deeply lined by his three months' succession of constant, baffling defeats.

His pale, gray eyes traveled intently and with odd jerkiness to the picture of the huge concrete dam of the Barbaluca Water Power Company, one of the biggest jobs ever carried out by Tyson-Leach; shifted to the comer of the ceiling over his partner's desk; fell to the top of the door frame into the estimating room; and rested for a final, contemplative moment on the electric light globe in the center of the wall opposite. Then he glanced at the clock, which now marked the half hour after eleven, and hastily put the sealed envelope into his pocket.

As though the act had been a signal, a wave of relief spread over the estimating room. Even Nelson, who had been staring intently through the open door at his superior, slipped on his overcoat to go out. But in the inner office the tension was greater than before. Old Tyson, his face drawn with the pain of his rheumatism, put his hand upon his young partner's arm.

"You are going to take that to the City Hall yourself, Fred?" he asked.

"Yes; they open the bids at noon. "

"That's hardly a half hour now. And you won't see her," the older man asked, half solicitously, half warningly, "till afterwards?"

The younger man, seeing the expression of concern upon his partner's face, pressed his lips tightly.

"Not this time, since you ask it, Jim," he replied, shortly; and as Tyson sank back into his chair, Leach buttoned his proposal under his coat, caught up his hat, and went swiftly out with his head erect.

Forty minutes later he reëntered the office with head still erect, but his face pale and his eyes haggard—baffled, outdone again, beaten in the same inscrutable, inexplicable way.

"So Rintzelman's done it again!" Tyson challenged bitterly. "By less than five hundred dollars as usual, Nelson tells me?"

"Yes," the other replied, unflinching. "Of ten bidders we were lower than anyone else; the three low ones were Acme Construction Company, bid $268,400; we bid $253,800, but Rintzelman bid $253,320.

The older man stared into his eyes silently for a moment, his features moved by a strange, half formed, almost superstitious fear.

"You understand, I assured myself that no one but you knew that figure, Fred. But Rintzelman must have got it. His bid shows that! And he could only have got it through you—and her! For, in spite of what I asked you, Nelson tells me you saw Mrs. Leyman on your way to the City Hall!"

"Yes; she was waiting for the elevator in the hall below when I went down. I stopped to say good moming; nothing more!" He leaped to his feet. "You didn't want me to cut her, did you? We didn't even mention this viaduct contract!"

"Then it's plain, isn't it, that she didn't even have to mention it to get our figure out of you?" The old man's awe had strengthened with his growing agitation. "Fred, can this go on?"

"You mean——? All right!" Leach, in answer, bent to his desk telephone. "Call Luther Trant for me!" he commanded the telephone girl sharply. Then: "Is this Mr. Trant, the psychologist? ... This is Leach—Fred Leach, of Tyson-Leach Construction Company. Mr. Tyson and I wish to consult you. Will you take lunch with us in fifteen minutes from now? ... All right; meet me at twelve thirty at Rector's entrance."

Ten minutes later the two had joined, among the palms of the restaurant entrance, the psychologist whose new but widespread reputation for solving mysteries t...

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