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Putting Crime Over:
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Date first posted: Mar 2015
Most recent update: Jun 2023
This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
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IT was owing to the last-minute illness of Mrs. Cornelius Marquardt that I had the good fortune to be included in this little dinner of Mme. Storey's. Her guests do not often disappoint.
Everybody in the know is aware that the best talk in New York is to be heard around her table. She picks her guests with that end in view, careless of their social position. One may meet a visiting marquis or a tramp poet—the poet more often than the marquis.
Mme. Storey herself is a better talker, in my opinion, than any of them, but one would be slow to learn that at her own table. Her object there is merely to keep the ball rolling briskly. She likes to listen better than to talk.
On this occasion the men included Ambrose G. Larned, the brilliant advertising man, who had introduced so many new ideas into his profession; John Durward, the famous English novelist; Harry Evans Colter, our own clever and popular short story writer; and Inspector Rumsey, of the New York police.
Rumsey, the dear little man, is not at all a brilliant person; but he is a perfect compendium of crime, and, since crime seems to be the most interesting of all subjects to persons of every degree nowadays, Mme. Storey finds him very useful at the dinner table. When people try to draw her out on the subject of crime, she shifts them on to Rumsey.
Foreigners regard us Americans as pre-eminent in crime; they come over here to see crime; and when we have a distinguished visitor like Mr. Durward, Rumsey is pretty sure to be included.
My mistress, as you know, is not enamoured of crime, and she managed to divert the talk to other subjects until after we had left the table. When the little company was grouped around the amusing 1850 living room upstairs, it could no longer be staved off, and she let it have its way.
I must tell you that New York was experiencing a crime wave at the moment—but indeed it always is. It is like an ocean beach, with one crime wave falling right on top of the one before.
This was the time of the bobbed-hair bandit sensation, when many of the smaller jewelers were putting in defensive arrangements of siren whistles and tear gas. These things were always going off accidentally and throwing whole neighborhoods into a panic. The Englishman was all agog as he listened.
Everybody is familiar with Mr. Durward's fine head with its silvery hair and delicately chiseled features. He supplied a chorus of "Amazing! Extraordinary! Incredible!" to all the stories that were told.
"In the middle of the day!" I remember him saying. "With crowds passing in the street, these fellows go boldly into your jewelry shops, and point their guns, and take what they please, and get away scot-free! Such a thing would be impossible in London!"
"Not impossible," Inspector Rumsey pointed out good-humoredly. "It has happened even in London. Your police are luckier than we are, that's all. For London streets are narrow and crooked, and the few main thoroughfares are always crowded. It is exceedingly difficult to make a get-away. Now, our streets are broad and straight, and only one of them is completely full of traffic during business hours. You may have noticed that our holdups never take place in the center, but always in busy neighborhoods off the center, where there is enough traffic to conceal the bandits in their get-away, but not enough to stop them."
"Well, what's to be done? Are you just going to submit to this state of affairs?"
"There is a remedy," said Inspector Rumsey quietly, "whenever the public is willing to pay for it."
"And what is that?"
"It is ridiculous and humiliating to the police to be forced to go on foot, when every bandit is provided with an automobile. All patrolmen should be mounted on motorcycles."
"Hear! Hear!" said Mme. Storey.
"Even the women are taking to banditry!" murmured Mr. Durward. "An incredible country!"
"There's a good deal of nonsense about her," said the inspector. "The newspapers have played up the bobbed-hair bandit so hard that their credulous readers see a bobbed-hair bandit everywhere they look. And I notice that the police are advertising in the subway cars," Mr. Durward went on. "Cards addressed to the bandits, warning them that they will certainly be caught in the end. Surely that is very naïve."
"Well," said the inspector, smiling and firm in the defense of his beloved department, "we must try everything."
Colter spoke up, a young man quick in his movements, with an eager, warm-colored face:
"If you're sure to get him in the end, why bother to advertise?"
"It was Mr. Larned, here, who persuaded the commissioner to use those cards," said Rumsey.
"Anything can be accomplished by intelligent publicity," said Larned.
He went on to sing the praises of the wonderful new science, of which he was one of the most brilliant professors. A handsome man in his forties, with the full, beaming eye of the enthusiast, we were all sensible of his charm. He was of that type not uncommon in our country, the artist turned business man.
They said his private life was rather scandalous, but I know nothing about that. His new wife was among the ladies present, a pretty woman, but negligible as far as conversation went.
"That's all true," said Harry Colter, when he could get an opening, "but publicity, is a two-edged sword which is apt to cut in unexpected directions."
"Take these subway cards," went on Larned. "The idea was that the bandit lives in a world of his own, supported and encouraged by those of his kind, and cut off from all others. It was thought that it would be a good thing to remind him in this unexpected fashion of the existence of the real world which would not tolerate his actions. I appeal to Mme. Storey to tell us if this is not sound psychology."
My mistress smiled in a way that told me what her opinion was, but refused to commit herself.
"Harry has something more to say on the subject," she remarked.
"It's a confession of weakness on the part of the police," said Colter energetically. "Mr. Durward, with his fresh point of view, instantly perceived that. Irrespective of the effect on an occasional bandit, it certainly lowers the morale of the whole public that rides in the subway. For the public relies on the stern and secret measures of the police in dealing with crooks, and to have them come out in the open like this and beg the bandits to be good cannot help but be demoralizing."
Inspector Rumsey agreed with Colter, though nothing could induce him to admit that the department could be in the wrong.
"It is true," he said, "the stick-up boys have the public scared. And every story of a successful holdup that the newspapers print is just that much additional publicity for the bandits."
"You can't blame the newspapers for that," said Larned.
"I don't. It's their job to purvey the news. But it's too bad they've got to feature it the way they do."
"That just proves my point," said Larned. "You've got to have a counter-publicity to deal with it."
I felt impelled to put in my oar at this point. Though I'm only a humble secretary, Mme. Storey expects me to keep my end up. There must be no dummies at her table.
"But a true counter-publicity would be directed toward boosting the public morale instead of further depressing it," I suggested.
Mr. Larned gave me a cold look, as much as to say: Who is this red-haired female? His eyes quickly passed on to my mistress.
"Perhaps Mme. Storey will tell us how she would handle the situation," he said.
My mistress held up her hands in mock dismay.
"Thank Heaven, I'm not obliged to answer that," she said laughing. "My job is quite difficult enough. Bandits are a little out of my line."
SOME days or weeks after the dinner party, when all recollection of this conversation had passed out of my mind, I was working in the outer office of our suite on Gramercy Park one morning, when a good-looking young man came in. He was a mere lad of nineteen or so, but his face wore that unnatural look of experience and assurance that suggests a childhood spent on the streets.
"Are you Mme. Storey?" he
"No; her secretary." I could see that the little wretch was only trying to flatter me.
"Well, is she in?"
"Mme. Storey can only receive visitors by appointment," I said. "Will you tell me your business?"
"Sure," he said, with an appearance of the utmost good humor, plumping himself into a chair without waiting for an invitation. His bright eyes traveled around the room, taking everything in. "You sure got a swell joint here," he remarked sociably.
I ignored this. "What can I do for you?" I asked coldly.
I could see from the beginning that he was just stringing me along; but it never occurred to me to suspect he might have a sinister motive. All kinds of people come into the office, and waste my time, particularly when we have been engaged on a big case, with all its attendant publicity.
"I just wanted to apply for a job," he answered.
"A job?" I said, surprised. "What sort of job?"
"Anything at all," he said, grinning. "I read in the papers how Mme. Storey employed a whole raft of men, operatives, private detectives like, in the Harker case."
"It is only occasionally that she is engaged on a criminal case," said I. "And then any operatives that we may require are secured temporarily from a list that we keep."
"Well, put me down on your list," he said. "John Casey, 123 East Broadway."
He was no Casey! However, as the quickest way of getting rid of him, I wrote the address on a pad.
"You got a swell job here, secretary to Mme. Storey and all," he said while I was writing. "Somepin' doin' alla time, I guess."
I made no answer.
"Don't she employ no clerk nor office boy nor nothin'?" he asked.
"No," I told him.
"There'd be the job for me," he said.
"Well, let me have a sample of your handwriting," I suggested, pushing the pad toward him. I thought I had him there.
He drew back. "I got a cramp in me hand to-day," he said without batting an eye. "Along of catching a swift one yestiddy. But say, I could make myself useful here, receivin' callers and runnin' errands and all. And when you needed an outside man I'd be on the spot."
I shook my head.
"And say, when she was out I'd be company for you," he said with a sidelong grin. The good-looking little wretch was actually trying to vamp me. I was highly amused. His sharp eyes perceived my amusement, and it encouraged him to go further.
"Say, what's your name?" he asked.
"I don't see that that matters," I said.
"Just in case I wanted to write you later to see if there was an openin'."
"I will write to you if there is an opening," I said dryly.
He affected to laugh heartily. "Gee, you're wise, all right! You're there with the comeback!"
He came close to me and smiled insinuatingly. I suppose with a certain type of girl he had found himself irresistible. "Me and you'd get along fine, eh?"
"I dare say," I said coldly. "But you will have to excuse me. I'm busy."
"Is that the door to her room?" he asked, pointing.
I did not answer. He knew that it was the door to her room, because there was no other except that by which he had entered.
"Let me take a look in," he said cajolingly. "I bet it's a swell room!"
"Certainly not!" I said, rising to forestall any move to open the door. "Mme. Storey must not be disturbed."
"Oh, I didn't know she was in there," he remarked with an innocent air. "Well, so long, kid," with a final grin over his shoulder. "You know where to find me." And went out.
It did not occur to me to be angry. Indeed, after he had gone, I sat down at my desk, smiling. Such is the power of youth and good looks. I merely put him down in my mind as another fresh kid.
Immediately afterward Mme. Storey called me in to take dictation. We were still suffering from the publicity attendant upon the famous Harker case, and there was a pile of letters six inches high on her desk.
My mistress as a matter of courtesy insists on writing once to everybody who writes to her. Of course if they continue to send in trifling letters they go into the wastebasket. Had we been less busy, I would no doubt have related the incident of my caller just for her amusement, and the whole course of subsequent events might have been changed; but as it was, I did not mention him.
I have on several former occasions described the arrangements of my mistress's beautiful room. There is nothing about it to connote the word office.
Once the front drawing-room of a great house on Gramercy Park, it is now furnished with priceless Italian antiques, and forms a fit setting for Mme. Storey, who is herself like a vivid figure out of the Renaissance—but not antique. In spite of all pressure from the outside, she preserves her individuality.
She refuses to organize her genius, nor will she work herself to death either. She accepts the few cases that most appeal to her; all the others are turned down. I constitute her entire office force; and when we feel like it we close up the office altogether, and go for a jaunt.
Mine. Storey sits at an immense oak table, black with age, her back to the row of casement windows which look out on the square. At her right hand is the door into my room; and in the same wall near the back of the long room, another door leading directly into the hall.
This door, which is closed with a spring lock, permits her to escape from anybody waiting in my room, whom she may not want to bother with. In the middle of the back wall is a door giving on what we call the middle room, which is used for the multitudinous requirements of our peculiar business—dressing-room, hiding place, temporary jail, and what not. The three rooms constitute our suite.
In taking dictation I sit at my mistress's right hand, with my back to the door from my room. We were in the middle of our work without a thought in our minds except the desire to get to the bottom of that pile of silly letters, when the buzzer sounded that announced the opening of the outer door into my room.
I finished the sentence I was putting down, and rose to my feet. I got no farther, for at that moment the door from my room burst open, and two men ran in, each grasping an ugly automatic.
One was my visitor of half an hour before; the other was a few years older.
What a moment that was! Death itself could not have been worse than what I suffered. My heart turned to water in my breast; I seemed to lose all strength, all control of my body.
How I longed to shrivel up to nothing before those guns! I dared not look at my mistress, who was alongside, and a little behind me. My eyes were glued to those hideous weapons.
"Stick 'em up!" barked the older man. My hands went over my head like a shot. They strained away from me, as if desirous of flying up under the ceiling on their own account. I heard Mme. Storey drawl:
"I'll put mine on the table if you don't mind. The other attitude is so ungraceful."
I stole a look at her. Good Heavens! What a woman! She was actually smiling. The sight of her smile did not put any heart into me, though. It gave me a dreadful pang to realize that those worthless youths, the sweepings of the streets, held the life of such a glorious woman in their hands.
"None of your tricks!" growled the leader.
"Bless your heart, I wouldn't think of it!" drawled Mme. Storey. "I have a gun in the drawer of this table, but I'm not going to try to get it out. I value my skin too highly."
"Look through those two doors," the leader said to his companion. "I'll keep the women covered."
As silently as a shadow, the younger man ran to the two doors.
"This door goes out into the hall," he said at the first; and at the other, "Nobody in this room."
"Do you mind if I smoke?" said Mme. Storey, moving her hand toward the big silver box that stood on her table.
"Keep your hands in front of you!" barked the leader.
Taking a step forward, he threw back the cover of the box. Seeing that it contained only cigarettes, he shrugged, and allowed my mistress to take one.
"Won't you join me?" she drawled mockingly.
He helped himself, tossing the cigarette up to his mouth without taking his eyes from Mme. Storey's face. She nonchalantly lighted up, and offered him the burning match. He put the cigarette to it, with his eyes fixed on hers.
What a picture! While the first one was merely a good looking boy, this one was infernally handsome. Mme. Storey's face still wore the mocking half smile; his was like a mask.
It was perfectly inhuman in its immobility; not a muscle quivered; his very eyes appeared to be glazed. It made a cold shiver run down my spine.
"Hand over your pearls," he said.
Putting down the cigarette for a moment, Mme. Storey unfastened the string about her neck.
"I'm sorry they're not my best ones," she said. "Still, they're pretty good." She tossed them over.
"Your watch, your rings," he went on, dropping the pearls in his pockets.
She unfastened her watch with calm deliberation, holding her head on one side to keep the cigarette smoke out of her eyes, and drew off her lovely emerald, and the three diamonds. They followed the pearls into his pocket.
Meanwhile the other man commanded me to hand over my pearls.
"A-ah!" snarled his leader out of the side of his mouth. "They're only fish-skin. Don't yeh know the difference?"
The young man refused my beads then, with an abashed look like a schoolboy. But I had to hand over the watch that Mme. Storey gave me, and the little diamond I bought with my own savings.
My heart burned with helpless anger. My little stone had not a fraction of the value of Mme. Storey's, but she could replace hers the next day, whereas mine represented years of self-denial. What kind of a world was it, I thought, where such wrongs were permitted?
"Your money!" said the leader harshly to my mistress.
"It's in the same drawer with my gun," she told him pleasantly.
He put a hand on the table, and leaned over, bringing his mask-like face close to hers.
"Get it out," he said curtly, "and let me see you touch the gun, that's all."
"By no means!" said Mme. Storey, smiling. "I just wanted to warn you, so you wouldn't shoot at the sight of it."
Pulling the drawer toward her, she picked up her gold mesh bag, and tossed it on the table in front of him.
"Now the gun," he added. "Pick it up by the muzzle."
She obeyed. "I'd be glad if you'd let me have my hanky out of the bag," she said. "I may need it."
"Ah, cut the comedy," he told her with his indifferent air. "Where's your safe?"
"In the outer office. There's nothing in it but business papers. My secretary will open it for you."
"You go with her," said the leader to his man.
I leave you to imagine what my feelings were when I had to turn my back on the gun, and walk out of the room with it following me. I nearly died out of sheer terror. I felt a hundred bullets tearing through my body.
But I got the safe open somehow, and satisfied the young bandit that it contained nothing of value to him.
We returned to the other room. My mistress was smiling still. The old bandit was sitting now, with his chair tipped back in a parade of indifference.
No muscle of his waxen face had changed, but there was a glint in his eyes as he watched Mme. Storey. He contemptuously permitted her to see that he approved of her as a woman.
When his man reported that there was nothing in the safe, he stood up.
"Then back out," he said, with a jerk of his head toward the door into the hall.
"Why hurry?" drawled my mistress. "Let's have in tea."
The leader stopped. An open, scornful admiration leaped up in his eyes. The insolence of it was simply indescribable.
"You're a pretty game chicken, ain't yeh?" he drawled, putting a hand on his hip in a swaggering fashion. "You look good to me."
He dropped his gun in his pocket—he knew he had her disarmed—and returned a step or two toward the table. He drew a ring off his finger and tossed it toward her.
"Wear that," he said. In a flash he was gone.
When the door closed after them I collapsed. I could hear myself bawling like a child, without any power to stop it. The next thing I knew I was pulling frantically at one of the casements, so that I might alarm the street.
Mme. Storey drew me away before I got it open.
"No good," she said. "They'll have a car waiting. You'll only start a panic among the kiddies in the park."
I could still hear myself crying and carrying on like somebody else.
"Why didn't you send for the engineer? The button is there under the edge of your table for just such an emergency."
"What!" she said, smiling at me. "And bring John in here empty-handed to get shot?"
"It's outrageous!" I cried. "Coming in here like that! And you take it so calmly. The way that man looked at you was intolerable."
Mme. Storey smilingly quoted the childish couplet, slightly amended:
"Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But looks will never hurt me."
"Such insolence!" I cried. "I cannot bear it!"
"Oh, a shot of heroin will do wonders to buck up a man's self-esteem," she said calmly.
She was sitting there smiling, and examining the fellow's ring with the eye of a connoisseur. It was a handsome carnelian in a wonderful antique setting. Heaven knows from whom it had been stolen.
The sight of her indifference drove me almost into a frenzy.
"Aren't you going to do anything?" I cried.
"Oh, surely," she said, partly arousing herself. "Do all the usual things; my Bella; telephone to the police and to the newspapers. But as for me"—she relapsed into her smiling, musing upon the ring—"I intend to have a little fun out of this."
WITH proper management this affair need never have got into the newspapers, since no whisper of an alarm had been raised. But Mme. Storey disdained to conceal it; on the contrary, she informed the press herself.
"It would make such a good story, it would be a shame to keep it from them," she said in her provoking way.
Of course, as I was to learn later, this publicity was necessary to the plan that was even then shaping itself in her mind; but I couldn't guess that in the beginning.
Well, you can imagine what a sensation was created by the news. The famous Mme. Storey held up in her own office by a pair of youthful bandits! To come as it did, right on the heels of her brilliant success in the Harker case, when her name and fame was on everybody's lips, gave point to the tale. While the newspapers were still terming her the greatest criminologist of modern times, here she was stuck up by a couple of boys and robbed of her pearls!
It is a weakness of all democracies, they say, that when a citizen is elevated above the heads of the mob, nothing pleases the said mob better than to find an excuse to turn and shy things at the hero. We had to submit to an unmerciful razzing, both public and private. What a chance it gave to the cartoonists!
Mme. Storey, I need hardly say, took it all smilingly. Borne up by her secret knowledge of the retribution she was preparing, I think she actually enjoyed it. She encouraged the razzers that her revenge might be more complete in the end.
But it was a bad time for me. I ground my teeth every time the telephone rang. My temper was in a continual state of exacerbation. Not the least of what I had to submit to were the hypocritical condolences of all the old cats in the boarding house where I live.
Inspector Rumsey suffered no less than I did. That his police had allowed Mme. Storey to be robbed right under their noses, so to speak, caused the worthy little man almost to burst with chagrin. He wanted to surround us afterward with a whole cordon of police wherever we went, but of course Mme. Storey would not hear of anything like that.
What she had termed all the usual things were done, of course, and nothing came of it. We furnished the police with exact descriptions of the bandits, which were sent broadcast. Several of the best men attached to the Central Office were put on the case.
Mme. Storey and I went down to headquarters and turned over hundreds of pages of the Rogues' Gallery, without finding the faces we were in search of. Inspector Rumsey was not surprised by it.
"Every year," he said bitterly, "we have a fresh crop of young desperadoes to deal with."
I could not but be sorry for our friend during these days. His difficulties were owing to no fault of his own. After our robbery the crime wave mounted to still greater heights. Nearly every day the police had a fresh holdup to deal with, and on some days three or four.
"The publicity attached to your case has bucked them up all down the line," Inspector Rumsey said bitterly.
Mine. Storey herself took no direct measures toward searching for the bandits.
One day when I was burning with indignation at the facetious comments of some newspaper or another, I ventured to remonstrate with her on this.
"Oh, our little holdup boys were merely pawns in the game, my Bella," she told me. "I'm after the commanding pieces."
I was relieved to learn that she was not entirely idle in the matter.
One morning, when she took off her hat I cried out in dismay upon perceiving that she had acquired a boy's haircut overnight.
I must confess that it was very becoming, revealing as it did the beautiful shape of her head and emphasizing the pure line of her profile. Still I hated to see her adopt so extreme a fashion.
She smiled at my distress.
"Wait!" she said, holding up hand, and disappeared within the middle room.
An hour later she called me to her. I stopped in the doorway, aghast. She stood in the middle of the room, striking an attitude.
I say "she," but at the first glance it seemed to me as if my mistress had vanished, leaving a horrible changeling in her stead. The closely cut hair was now silvered, and her face heavily made up, one might almost say enameled.
Around the eyes and mouth it was cunningly shadowed to suggest the hollows of growing age; in a phrase, the fashionable, hard-living woman of fifty.
She was wearing a costume cut in severe mannish lines, showing a rolling silk collar at the neck, and a Bohemian tie. A little tough hat went with it, and a malacca stick with a plain ivory knob. I'm sure you get the picture: an elderly charmer of the highest fashion, handsome, hard, and utterly reckless.
"Will it pass?" she asked in a throaty voice with a hint of huskiness.
"It is marvelous," I murmured.
"I am Kate Arkledon," she went on, with a half sneer which was fixed in her face; to smile would have ruined the effect. "Have you ever heard of her?"
I shook my head.
"A little before your time, I suppose. Ten years ago Kate Arkledon was one of the cleverest confidence women in the United States. She was famous in her way. Then suddenly she dropped out of sight of all her former associates. As a matter of fact, she is living in respectability and affluence not a dozen doors from me. Once upon a time I did her a service which she has never forgotten.
"Well, with her permission, I am staging a come-back for Kate Arkledon. There is a slight resemblance between us, which I have built upon. It will be good enough at least to deceive anybody who has not seen her for ten years."
I foresaw danger ahead, and my heart sank.
Mme. Storey broke off, to study me through narrowed eyes. "Turn around," she said.
"What do you want of me?" I faltered.
"Get a permanent wave," she said.
"But I will look like a Hottentot!" I cried.
"Of course," she said calmly. "They all do when they come out from under the curlers. You will make a very effective red-haired vamp, my Bella. I will dress you and teach you how to make up for it."
"But the make-up is only the beginning!" I gasped. "I could not possibly keep up such a part."
"Certainly you could. It will not be nearly so difficult as the character of Canada Annie, which you carried off so well. You can be a Dumb Dora this time with nothing to do but sit and look unutterable things at men. All you will have to say is 'Ain't it the truth!' when you agree, or very scornfully, 'So's yer old man!' when you disagree."
All this was uttered in the sneering, husky tones of the character she was portraying. It made me shiver.
"What are we going to do?" I asked fearfully.
"We are going to organize a little holdup gang of our own," said Kate Arkledon with a wicked grin.
A cry was forced from me. I could not imagine anybody less fitted for the part of bandit than myself.
"Not really—not really!" I faltered.
"It will be just as real as I can make it appear," she said. "I mean to pull off a stunt or two in the most spectacular style."
I groaned inwardly.
"This is how I figure it out, Bella," she said in her natural voice. "There is certainly an organization behind the crime wave; but it's operating along new lines. It's a very loose and flexible organization, with all the units working independently of each other. Well, my idea is to form a unit of my own which will function so brilliantly that the organization will be forced to make overtures to us. Inspector Rumsey is in the secret."
I tasted in advance the awful excitement that was in store, and my heart was like lead in my breast. But I would have torn my tongue out sooner than protest aloud.
BUSY days followed. It was impossible to let our other business slide, and we had to lead double lives.
By day Mme. Storey and her secretary, Bella Brickley, worked in the offices on Gramercy Park, taking care to give out an interview to the newspapers occasionally, so that our presence there was regularly established. By night Kate Arkledon and her pal, Peggy Ray, showed themselves in certain gilded resorts on the West Side.
A good many days passed before I got accustomed to the sight of my painted and bedizened self in the mirror. On the whole, though, I had an easy rôle to play. All that was required of me was to act as a foil for my mistress.
For the purpose of enabling us to change from one character to another and back again, we engaged a room in one of the nondescript warrens on West Forty-Seventh Street, where all kinds of queer little businesses are carried on by all kinds of queer characters. One could enter or leave such a building at any hour without exciting remark.
For Kate Arkledon's regular hang-out we chose a well-known West Side street, once fashionable, and now much favored of the white collar gentry. It often breaks into the news. However, I shall not name it for fear of depressing real estate values.
We rented a four room flat in a pretentious apartment house, where the tenants' references were not too closely scanned; and here we immediately began to gather our gang round us.
Mme. Storey's principal aid in this affair was the man I shall call Benny Abell, though that was not his real name, nor yet the name by which he had become famous in the underworld. If you have read my account of the Melanie Soupert case you will remember him.
His specialty had been sticking up the box offices of theaters, always working alone, and displaying a truly superhuman nerve. Since my mistress had broken up the Varick Street gang he had become reunited with his family, and had gone straight.
Mme. Storey needed him now as a sort of liaison officer with crookdom, where his exploits were still remembered. She never had any intention of using him in an actual hold-up, which would have been like a nightmare to the poor fellow who had been through so much.
Abell, when I first knew him, was a small, determined, white-faced man, of an elegant appearance. Trained to a finish by danger, he was like a sheaf of quivering nerves.
Now happiness had caused him to take on flesh, and his face to assume a serene expression. However, he worked hard to reduce for this emergency, and played his part admirably.
Next we took in George Stephens, one of our regular operatives, and the best man we had after Crider. I should have been glad to have had Crider himself at our back, but he has worked for us so long Mme. Storey feared the danger of his being recognized. She didn't want to have any more disguises than she could help. Stephens had the advantage of not having been in America long. A young fellow of aristocratic appearance, he soon acquired the soubriquet of English George.
Our remaining man was Bert Farren, a mere boy who has done good work for us on one or two occasions. Mme. Storey chose him because boy bandits seemed to be the fashion.
We still lacked a direct, present connection with the world of crooks; but mistress said we would have to wait for circumstances to furnish that.
Very early in the game the scene of our first exploit was chosen. This was the jewelry store of B. & J. Fossberg, a large and handsome establishment on Broadway not a hundred miles from One Hundredth Street. It is the finest establishment of the sort on the upper West Side.
Inspector Rumsey was acquainted with Benjamin Fossberg, one of the proprietors, and after a great deal of persuasion won his consent to the staged hold-up. His brother was told, of course, but the clerks were kept in the dark.
It was arranged that the guns which were kept in the store for protection should be removed as if for repairs on the day of the stick-up.
Night after night the five of us met in the flat on West —— Street to discuss and rehearse our plans. I had no idea that such elaborate preparations were required to stage an affair which would be all over in a minute or two.
By day our three men watched the store until they were familiar with every detail of the business routine. The Fossbergs had not fallen for any of the idiotic safeguards such as tear gas, sirens, etc. They trusted to the imposing appearance of their establishment to overawe gunmen.
It was on a corner, and occupied the space of three ordinary stores. No such big place had ever been attacked.
A detailed plan of the store was drawn out, together with a map of the neighborhood. This we all studied. Each of us was allotted his station, and many rehearsals took place.
To me fell the comparatively easy job of acting as look-out on the sidewalk. Mme. Storey was to enter, and ask to have goods shown her. George and Bert were to cover her get-away with their guns, while Abell was to drive the car, which was to be waiting in the side street.
When the business of the evening was over, it was our custom to show ourselves at one or another of the gilded resorts in the neighborhood. Gradually we settled on the Boule 'Miche' as our public hangout.
Abell, who had been making inquiries, said that it had become a favorite gathering place of the white collar gangs. It occupied the site of a famous old New York restaurant on Columbus Avenue, which had rapidly gone downhill after prohibition, and changed its name half a dozen times.
You would never have guessed the characters of its frequenters from their appearance. Everybody looks alike nowadays. In the Boule 'Miche' you found exactly the same sort of sleek, showy women, accompanied by sleek and not so showy men, that you would see in any other night club.
It was only when you possessed a key to their occupation that you began to perceive a certain wary look in the eyes of the men; a tendency to glance toward the door every time it was opened. Once in a while strange snatches of conversation would reach your ears. Of course, many perfectly respectable people must have been included among the patrons of the place.
The present proprietor was a dark-skinned gentleman, with a perpetual gleaming smile, and a hard eye that was anything but smiling. His evening clothes fitted him to a marvel. His name was Bat Bartley, and Abell knew him.
He was one of those mysterious New York characters whom everybody knows, and nobody knows anything about. It was the custom of all his patrons to fawn on him, as they always do in such places—I can't tell you why; and while he smiled he scarcely troubled to conceal his contempt of them.
When Abell introduced my mistress to him as Kate Arkledon I saw the wary eyes narrow slightly. Evidently he was familiar with that name. My mistress treated him with cool disdain, whereupon he immediately began to fawn on her! Such is human nature!
Upon our first visits to the Boule 'Miche' nobody attempted to address us, though, of course, so striking a figure as that of my mistress could not pass unnoticed. People stared at her, and whispered to each other, clearly asking who she was.
No doubt they asked the proprietor, and no doubt he told them—or at least such of them as he could trust. By degrees a tinge of respect and admiration appeared in the glances of the regular habitués. One could almost pick out those who belonged to the fraternity of crooks by the way they looked at the supposed Kate Arkledon.
And then one night we had an encounter which terrified me; I thought our whole elaborate structure was about to collapse. I needn't have been terrified. I underrated my mistress's superb aplomb.
An old boy with a red face and bulging blue eyes, who had been talking to Bat Bartley, came to our table. His tuxedo, while of good material, was of an old fashion; an air of having seen better days clung around him. Fixing his bloodshot eyes on my mistress, he asked:
"Is this Kate Arkledon?"
"The same," she said, with an air of cynical indifference she now affected.
"Well, well, well!" he said. "I never should have known you, Kate. And you, I see, have completely forgotten me."
My mistress made believe to study him. "Your face is very familiar to me," she said. "But the name—the name—"
He shook his head mournfully. "To think that you should have forgotten met; Remember the St. Louis Fair?"
Mme. Storey must have had Kate Arkledon's biography at her finger tips.
"Chad Herring!" she said instantly, and offered the old fellow her hand. "But how changed!"
"Ah, don't rub it in!" he said. "I know it! Chad Herring's on the shelf! But you, good Heaven, you're fresh as paint!"
"Paint is right!" said my mistress, with her scornful smile, touching her cheek meanwhile.
He laughed uproariously. "Just as smart as ever, I see! You're a wonder, Kate!"
"Sit down," she said.
I trembled at her temerity. Surely the least slip would be fatal. She introduced us all to him by our underworld names.
"Young blood—young blood!" he muttered, sadly shaking his head. He turned to her with a pathetic eagerness. "Kate, what do you hear of Bill Blandick and Paddy Nolan—" He named a whole string of names. "The old gang."
"All gone," she said, spreading out her hands. "That is, gone from me. I have not heard of any of them for more than ten years."
"What have you been doing, Kate?"
"Leading a godly, righteous and sober life," she replied with a bitter sneer.
"You don't look it," he said innocently.
"Ah, there's nothing like dullness to break you up!" she told him. "I'm done with a respectable life. I've come back."
"Come back?" he repeated almost with horror. "At your age! Remember, I know how old you are."
"Well, you needn't broadcast it," she said sharply.
What a wonderful piece of acting she was giving!
"Come back!" he repeated again. "Do you think you can keep your end up in this day of youth and jazz and high-powered automobiles?"
"And why not?" she demanded proudly. "My nerve is as steady as ever. Look at that hand." She held it out. "And I can teach these youngsters a thing or two. Good God, Chad—think of the opportunities nowadays! There was never anything like it in the old days!"
He looked at her with that same fear. I suppose that the fierce energy she expressed made him feel old and broken by way of contrast.
After a little desultory talk he ambled away. Presently we saw him telling Bat Bartley about it.
"That will help establish our characters," said my mistress calmly.
ON the morning of the appointed day I awoke in blessed unconsciousness and lay staring at the ceiling. Then the realization of what was before me came winging back, and the bottom seemed to drop out of my stomach. I suppose it was much the same feeling as that experienced by a murderer on the morning of his execution. The worst of it was, our stunt was not to be pulled off until four o'clock, the most crowded time on upper Broadway, and I had all those miserable hours to put in beforehand. My breakfast choked me.
Every detail having been completed the night before, there was nothing for Mme. Storey and I to do but proceed to the office in our own characters and attend to our usual business.
During the day that amazing woman, my mistress, gave out interviews, talked over the telephone, and dictated letters as if it was no different from any other day in the year. If she noticed that my hand was prone to tremble and my voice to shake, she never spoke of it. Indeed, no reference of any kind was made to what was almost immediately before us.
At three o'clock she locked the drawer of her desk and said to me casually:
"Well, Bella, let's go."
I declare, from the openness of her smile and the brightness of her eye, one might have thought it was a picnic we were bound on. She enjoyed it!
Proceeding by taxi to the room on Forty-Seventh Street, we transformed ourselves into Kate Arkledon and Peggy Ray. I noticed that my mistress, while carefully preserving the same character, toned down her make-up somewhat. For the jewelers she did not wish to emphasize the hardness, the recklessness that she flaunted in the Boule 'Miche' every night.
As it was, the perfection of her plain, smart get-up and her high manner created a figure that any jeweler would rejoice to see coming into his shop. Around her neck she clasped a short string of valuable pearls, her only ornaments.
"Decoys," she said to me with a grin.
Me you must picture with my red hair frizzed to a fare-you-well, and my face made up like the American flag, wearing a showy hat, a smartly cut caracul coat and high-heeled satin slippers. The make-up robbed my face of all character, and I looked to the life the expensive, empty-headed woman that you may find on upper Broadway in her hundreds. But I doubted my ability to run in those high-heeled slippers.
"Then kick 'em off," said Mme. Storey. "It will add a picturesque touch to the story."
We continued uptown to the flat on West —— Street, where we found our three men waiting for us, all smartly rigged out according to the custom of the modern gunman, all cool and smiling. The youngster in particular seemed to regard it as a great lark.
I could almost have hated them all for their unconcern. I wished myself anywhere but there. Mme. Storey dealt out guns to all. They were loaded with blanks. Mine went into a specially prepared pocket of my fur coat.
Inspector Rumsey came to us here for a final consultation.
"How about the Fossbergs?" asked Mme. Storey. "Do you think they will play their parts satisfactorily?"
"I haven't a doubt of it?" said the inspector dryly. "They couldn't be in a worse state of funk if they expected to be robbed in earnest. I persuaded them to stay away from the store until just before you came, so their clerks wouldn't get on to anything."
"And the guns?"
"It's the custom of the store to keep four loaded guns in different places under the counter. These were collected yesterday and sent to the makers to be cleaned and inspected."
I thought, with a shiver: How does he know but that one of the clerks may have a gun of his own? However, there was nothing to be gained by bringing that up then, and I kept my mouth shut.
"What are the police arrangements?" asked Mme. Storey.
"According to your instructions, I did not attempt to interfere with them," returned the inspector. "I have taken nobody in the department into my confidence. There is a man on fixed post on Broadway two blocks south of the store, and another stationed in the little park three blocks north. These men are far enough away not to interfere with you, but you must be careful not to drive past them, or they might shoot if they hear the alarm.
"In addition there are two patrolmen whose beats meet in the middle of the street alongside the store. You will have to watch for these. After they have met and gone back you can depend upon about twelve minutes before they return. Don't forget that there are many men on fixed post along Riverside Drive."
"We will keep off the Drive," said Mme. Storey dryly.
The final arrangements were that we were to proceed to the Fossberg store separately; Abell in the car was to wait in the side street near the corner of West End Avenue with his engine running; the rest of us were to walk up and down, keeping in sight of each other, until the two policemen had met.
Two minutes after the policemen had gone back Mme. Storey was to enter the store, and I was to take up my position at the door, glancing up and down the street as if I was waiting for somebody. Abell and Farren were then to be looking in the window. Two minutes after Mme. Storey had entered they were to follow her into the store.
"Well, good-by and good luck," said Inspector Rumsey, smiling. "I must say it seems like a mad scheme to me; but I have had too many lessons in the past to venture to oppose any plan of Mme. Storey's."
A few minutes later four of us were separately strolling up and down outside Fossberg's store. I was thankful for the rouge which covered my pale cheeks. However, we were not in the least conspicuous on the well filled sidewalk.
A policeman passed, swinging his club, without looking twice at us. In the side street, down near the end of the short block, I could see the car waiting; a touring car, with the top down in true bandit fashion. It was a "stolen" car, too, to add verisimilitude—stolen from one of Mme. Storey's friends, however.
Broadway uptown is an immensely wide street with grass plots down the middle.
Trees used to grow there; but nowadays they would have nothing to root in but the subway.
Both sides of the way are filled in with immense and expensive apartment houses with entrances in the side streets. The Broadway level is given up to shops, not large in size, but nearly all dealing in expensive luxuries.
While it is not a fashionable street, I suppose there is as much money to the mile as in any other street in the world. The people of that neighborhood have a fat, soft look that must be tempting to a bandit.
Fossberg's, as I said before, is the finest establishment in that part of town. Only a few very choice objects are displayed in the show windows. There is but the one entrance, which is cut across the corner; at that season it was closed by a revolving door.
Inside, the four walls were lined by showcases, the tops of which served as counters; and there was in addition a square inclosure in the middle of the store, surrounded by other cases to display goods. Within this inclosure was a block of low safes, in which many valuable objects were kept.
Well, the two policemen met, exchanged a word or two, and each slowly retraced his steps. The two minutes passed; then Mme. Storey with her languid, graceful carriage went through the revolving door, and I took up my station outside it.
At this moment, when I expected to have died with terror, all fear suddenly left me. Explain it how you will, my heart rebounded; all my faculties became preternaturally sharpened; the scene of that street was bitten on my brain as if with an acid; the towering apartment houses, red electric cars, smoothly moving motor cars, well dressed people drifting up and down.
Stephens and Farren were close by, looking in one of the show windows. The former was carrying an umbrella hanging from his arm. He had his eye on the chronometer exhibited in a corner of the window to inform passers-by of the correct time. When the proper interval had elapsed they followed Mme. Storey through the revolving door.
In order not to interrupt my narrative, I will describe here what happened inside while I was waiting outside, poised like an animal ready for I knew not what.
There were eight or nine customers in the store, Mme. Storey said, mostly in couples, since people generally like to have a friend along when they are choosing costly objects. There were five clerks on duty. Mr. Benjamin Fossberg ought to have been waiting to receive my mistress, but he and his brother were both too nervous to show themselves openly. They watched the preliminaries from their office at the back.
Mme. Storey went to the center inclosure. She had waited a moment or two for a clerk. In the meantime her two men entered; Stephens turning to the left, where watches were displayed, and Farren making his way toward a case of jeweled cufflinks.
Mme. Storey told the clerk who came to her that she wanted a diamond ring. She affected not to be able to decide whether she wanted three diamonds in a marquise setting, or an emerald with a diamond on each side. We knew that the most valuable rings were kept in a certain safe, and her object was to make him open it. She said her clerk was an exquisite young gentleman like a model for a clothier's advertisement, and it was a shame to frighten him so rudely.
When he had opened the safe and brought a small velvet lined tray of rings to lay before Mme. Storey, he found himself looking into the stubby barrel of her automatic. His face turned as white as the starched collar he wore; his eyes started from his head; no sound escaped him but a little throaty gasp.
"Fetch out all the trays from that safe and put them on the counter," said Mme. Storey quietly.
Like a man in a dream he started to obey, reaching blindly for the trays while he kept his terrified eyes fixed on the gun. As he put the trays on the counter, Mme. Storey, always keeping him covered, with her free hand coolly emptied the contents on the square of velvet which covered the glass counter and put the trays to one side.
So quietly was all this done that several of the trays had been brought out and emptied before anybody else in the store got on to what was happening. Then a woman customer on the other side of the center enclosure caught sight of Mme. Storey's gun. A low, terrified cry broke from her, and instantly everybody in the store took alarm.
Stephens and Farren then slipped forward with their guns out, one on one side of her, one on the other. Standing back to back, they commanded the whole store between them.
"Keep still or I shoot!" growled Stephens.
"If you move a step I'll plug you!" added the boy.
There was no other sound, they said, except the hoarse breathing of the terror-stricken men and women. Everybody was frozen where they stood.
In sheer panic the two proprietors had dropped down behind the office partition. Stephens described to me the semi-circle of still, ghastly faces that remained turned toward him.
There was one fat, overdressed woman in a near-seal coat, whose lips moved continually. But whether she thought she was gabbling a prayer or beseeching Stephens to spare her life, he never knew, because no sound escaped her.
There were only three persons on Farren's side of the store. None moved. Mme. Storey meanwhile continued to concentrate on the clerk who was serving her.
"Move sharp!" she said, raising the gun a little.
He dumped the remaining trays on the counter in a heap. Mme. Storey deliberately emptied them. There was now a glittering, sparkling mound of rings on the square of velvet.
Mme. Storey picked up the corners of the square, one after another, and, giving the sack a twirl which confined the contents in a ball, dropped it into her hand bag. She then started to back toward the door, the two men covering her retreat.
During all this I was playing my part outside. Immediately after Stephens and Farren went in a woman entered, and I made no attempt to stop her; but when, a moment or two later two more women came along, according to instructions I attempted to hold them in conversation. I asked for information about vacant apartments in the neighborhood.
It is a fruitful subject, and I detained them without difficulty until out of the corner of my eye I saw Mme. Storey backing toward the door. You must remember that all this happened in much less time than it takes to tell it.
I gave the revolving door a push to facilitate my mistress's exit. She came out, the gun already hidden. Farren followed, then Stephens.
There was no appearance of hurry. Stephens slyly dropped his umbrella in such a fashion that the revolving door jammed on it, and stuck. These doors will only turn in one direction, you know.
My last impression was of white faces inside, and fists beating on the glass; and the two foolish women that I had been talking to, vainly pushing at the door to get in. They had no idea of what had happened.
The people inside were shrieking at them, and pointing down toward the jammed umbrella. But the two women never got it; they only looked indignant.
Meanwhile we four walked rapidly, but with perfect sedateness toward our waiting car. There was never any need for me to kick off the satin slippers.
Just as we were getting into the car, the clerks broke out of the store with a roar; but in a jiffy we were around the corner and bowling down West End Avenue at thirty miles an hour. Conditions were just right; there was enough traffic in the street to conceal us, and not enough to hold us up. The pursuit never came within sight or sound of us.
We kept right on down West End Avenue past the point where it becomes plain Eleventh Avenue, and scattered at Forty-Second Street, leaving the "stolen" car to be found by the police in due course.
Such was out first holdup. I expect you will smile at me, just as my mistress did, but I felt disappointed at the outcome, it seemed so easy. After getting so tremendously wrought up as I did at the last moment I required more excitement to satisfy me.
"It will do for a beginning," said Mine. Storey cryptically. "If we appeared to get along too well without outside help, it would only be to defeat our own purpose."
YOU can imagine with what eagerness I searched the newspapers next morning. Once more I was disappointed.
It appeared that while we were turning our trick at Fossberg's, the famous Bobbed-Hair Bandit had been conducting a sensational raid on the pay-roll of a factory in Brooklyn. She got a whole column and a half whereas they only gave us a couple of short paragraphs tacked on to the end of her story.
According to this account which had been given out by one of the clerks, he and his mates had put up a bold resistance, and had succeeded in driving us off with only a trifling loss to the establishment. These lies made me good and sore.
Why, the value of the rings taken by Mme. Storey was upward of fifty thousand dollars. I experienced the psychology of a real gunman. I felt that we had been cheated of our due.
Mme. Storey was highly amused when I voiced my feelings.
"Oh, never, mind the general public," she said soothingly; "if we get credit among our professional friends at the Boule 'Miche', it will be more to the point."
That night Benny Abell was sent on ahead to the resort to act as a sort of advance agent for the company. We were to join him there after midnight.
The Boule 'Miche' calls itself a "club," of course, though it hangs out a glittering electric sign to the street. Only "members" are admitted upon presentation of their cards. It is not difficult to get one's self elected.
The entrance is ingeniously protected by a series of dressing rooms and lobbies swarming with employees. Beyond is the restaurant proper, consisting of three large rooms, all done in a florid rococo style with slashings of gilt scroll work.
In the center of each room a little fountain throws up a jet of water with colored lights playing upon it. At this time the place was enjoying a wonderful run of prosperity owing, no doubt, to the widespread connections of the genial proprietor.
Pretty soon Bat Bartley would sell out and the Boule 'Miche' blossom out under a new proprietor and a new name. For obvious reasons none of these places lasts long.
As soon as we took our seats in the principal room, it became apparent that Abell had done his work well. Those whom we had spotted as the shady habitués of the place bore themselves toward us with an increased respect.
In particular Bat Bartley was even more supple and suave than usual. He came hurrying up to ask with a meaning air if we would like a private room that night.
"I do my best to keep out the wrong sort of persons," he said, "but once in awhile they will get by." He was referring to agents of the police.
"No, thanks," said Mme. Storey with her cool smile. "I enjoy watching the crowd. Nobody is looking for us yet."
Bat Bartley laughed as if she had made an excellent joke. As a matter of fact, no descriptions of us had been published; and we had learned through Inspector Rumsey that the clerk at Fossbergs had been incapable of furnishing the police with working descriptions.
"Well, anyhow," said Bartley with a wink, "have a bottle of cider on the house."
This beverage, which was served from a plain bottle, unless I miss my guess, originated in a cellar of Reims.
Abell did not remain with us continuously, but visited his acquaintances through the rooms as occasion offered. By and by he brought one of them up to our table.
"Meet my friend, Mr. Tinker," he said, "you know, Muggsy Tinker between friends."
It was a comical figure. He had the look of a little boy who had become middle-aged without growing up.
He had a boy's curly pate now streaked with gray, and a schoolboy's sheepish smile, though his face was seamed and wrinkled.
A large, staring glass eye which matched very ill with its little twinkling mate added to the peculiarity of his appearance.
He was wearing the conventional dinner coat, but would have looked more at home in a rough jacket with a dirty handkerchief around his neck.
"Please' to meet yeh. Please' to meet yeh," he said, grinning affably all around. He sat down and accepted a glass of cider.
"I've heard of you," said Mme. Storey. "You and Buck Millings used to work together years ago."
"That's right. That's right," he said, greatly pleased. "Buck and me pulled off many a job together. He was an A-1 partner. They don't make his like nowadays: Poor Buck, he met his end under a freight train in the Joliet yards. To think of anybody remembering them days! We used to hear of you then, ma'am. Oh, yes, you was famous. Way out of our class. You for the classy kid glove work, us for the rough!"
Mine. Storey toasted him with her glass.
Mr. Tinker, without saying anything plainly, went on to let us know that he had heard of our exploit of the day before, and highly commended it.
"Say, that was pulled off in a real big style," he said. "It was just what you'd expect of Kate Arkledon."
"Just a beginning," said Mme. Storey with a casual air.
"Say, the papers gave you a rotten deal on that," he went on. "It made me sore. A brilliant piece of work like that ought to get proper credit."
My heart quite went out to the little man for his sympathy.
"Oh, well, we're not looking for publicity," said Mme. Storey.
The little man gave her a sharp look.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied. "Times have changed."
The talk drifted away to other matters. After awhile he said, apropos of nothing that had gone before:
"You ought to see Jake."
"Jake who?" asked Mme. Storey with an idle air.
"I don't know his proper name. We just call him Jake the Canvasser."
"Whom does he canvass for?"
"Oh, his organization," said Muggsy vaguely.
I pricked up my ears at that.
Mme. Storey refused to betray any interest in this Jake; but Muggsy returned to the subject of his own account. "Jake may have a proposition to put up to you. You ought to talk to him. He's an A-1 feller."
"What sort of proposition?"
"Oh, let him name it to you himself. You'll find him better than his word. We all deals with Jake. He earns his commission all right, and then some."
"I know these Jakes," said Mme. Storey scornfully. "They belong to the family of bloodsuckers. They live off us who do the work and take the risk."
Muggsy wagged his hand back and forth.
"No, no," he said, "you get this wrong. Jake ain't no common receiver. He's got a new proposition. Up-to-date."
"Oh, I guess I can run my business without him," said Mme. Storey.
An ugly look appeared in Muggsy's face.
"You'll find you gotta deal with Jake," he said. "We all do. The service that Jake supplies is for the benefit of all, and all are expected to pay their share. Nachelly, if anybody tried to profit by Jake's service without puttin' up for it, it would make the crowd sore."
"I'll hear what he has to say," said Mme. Storey, coolly.
"Times has changed, ma'am," said Muggsy meaningly. "It used to be everything was individuality, but nowadays it's organization. You can't do nothin' without organizing. Either you gotta climb aboard the band wagon, or the wheels will sure go over yeh!"
ON the following evening the redoubtable Jake turned up at the Boule 'Miche' in person. Bat Bartley brought him to our table. He was as smooth as a well-whipped mayonnaise.
In appearance he was the prosperous business man—well, not quite, for the marvelously cut blue suit, a little lighter in color than men usually wear, the pale pink shirt and tie of a darker hue gave him a sporting character. He wore an immense diamond on the middle finger of his left hand.
He was more the successful theatrical manager or baseball magnate. He had one of these smooth full faces that lent themselves naturally to an unctuous smile; his handsome, dark eyes rolled and beamed mysteriously, and gave nothing away.
His first act was to order up a bottle of "cider." I found that he was always amply supplied with funds. He was driven about town by a smart chauffeur in an elegant new car of the most expensive make. He was liberal, too, in making loans to any member of "the crowd" who was out of luck.
You are not to suppose that he sat down and came out plump and plain with his proposition. By no means. A good hour was spent in laying the foundations for a beautiful friendship.
A second bottle followed the first. He made no secret of his admiration for my mistress, and in that I think he was honest. I believe he was a little astonished by her superb style after the commonplace material he was accustomed to deal with.
He entertained us with pleasant gossip of the great world. He seemed to know everybody worth knowing, and I was greatly impressed until he gave the snap away by bringing in the name of Mme. Storey.
"Oh, Rose and I are intimate friends," he said carelessly. "She owes her success to the fact that she keeps in close touch with men like me who know all sides of life. But," he added with a confidential smile, "I don't tell her too much, you bet. I look after my friends. Anybody will tell you that, Rose don't get as much out of me as I get out of her."
I wish you could have seen my mistress's innocent expression while he was getting this off. She looked like the cat who has swallowed the canary.
By insidious degrees he approached the real business in hand. He was careful never to give the plain brutal names to things.
"The organization that I represent," he explained, "has two main objects; first to advertise the business as a whole; second, to see that the individual operator gets proper recognition. You can't rise in any profession without publicity. Look at the mean way the papers used you the other day. That couldn't happen if you were in with us.
"Providing publicity to the nervy boys and girls that live dangerously," he went on, "that's our line." The phrase "live dangerously" was continually on his lips. I wondered where he had picked it up.
"Look where they stand to-day as the result of our publicity," he went on. "The police helpless, the public terror-stricken. You have only to pull your gat anywhere for every boob in the neighborhood to freeze solid. All due to intelligent publicity; to such stunts as the Bobbed-Haired Bandit. That's our stuff. That's reached such a point that we don't even have to furnish the stories any more. The papers run it spontaneously. They hand it to us."
"So it seems," said my mistress.
"But we don't stop with one stunt," he resumed. "Always something new. It was my people who staged the holdup of Mme. Storey awhile ago. That was a wow of a stunt. Just look at the publicity we got out of it. It had a tremendous moral effect. For everybody says to themselves: 'My God! If they can get away with that what chance have we got?' And they give up without a struggle!"
Here a certain compunction appeared to attack him, and he assumed a deprecatory tone.
"Of course, I told you just now that Rose Storey was my friend, and so she is in a manner of speaking. I know her well, but she ain't a real friend, like. She only goes with me for what she thinks she can get out of me, so I don't feel under any obligations to her. I just go her one better. That's fair, ain't it?"
"Absolutely," agreed my mistress. "By the way, who pulled off that trick?"
I kept my eyes on my plate during this amazing scene. I distrusted my own powers of dissimulation.
"Two young fellows that I'm bringing out," said Jake. "Falseface Petro and Tony Lanza."
"Say, with a person of your style and your reputation," he went on, "there's no limit to what we could do! What a chance! What a chance! Why, we'd leave the Bob-Haired Bandit tied to the post!"
"All for nothing?" queried Mme. Storey dryly.
"You would agree if you were satisfied with the publicity to pay us our usual commission. Ten per cent of the proceeds. That's all."
"In goods?" she asked slyly.
His face hardened.
"In cash. All our dealings are in cash. We don't want to interfere with your arrangements for disposing of the goods."
"I see," said Mme. Storey. "Well, look here. I'll tell you what I'll do. You ask your people to furnish me with a suggestion for a sensational stunt that will break into the headlines, and if it appeals to me I'll do business with you."
"Fine!" cried Jake. "You shall have it to-morrow night!"
Shortly after this we went home, it being then about half past two. We left Jake the Canvasser circulating from table to table amongst his customers.
The Boule 'Miche' closed officially at the legal hour, but behind its darkened front the privileged guests lingered on until morning. In the midst of a gay party in the outer room I saw the face of Madge Caswell, a young woman who works for us sometimes. She has a faculty for trailing a suspect that amounts to genius.
She was there by Mme. Storey's orders, and in a fleeting glance of intelligence my mistress signified to her that Jake was her man. Madge's instructions were to spare no expense in keeping in contact with him, even if it meant hiring half a dozen assistants, but to allow him to slip at any moment sooner than risk letting him suspect he was watched.
The following night found us in our usual places at the Boule 'Miche' after midnight, surrounded by the same showy and noisy crowd with flushed faces and glassy eyes. The Boule 'Miche' represented a good time to these people, but they were not really having it. They whooped themselves up to it.
What a lot of time and money mortals waste in the constant pursuit of so-called pleasure!
We saw Jake the Canvasser from time to time with one party or another, but he was coy to-night and allowed a good while to elapse before he came to our table. Perhaps he wished to force Mme. Storey to send for him. But she was a better waiter than he was, and in the end he had to come of his own accord.
He sat down and entertained us with his anecdotes. My mistress would not deign to question him. Finally he said:
"—Er—I heard from my people."
"Yes?" said Mme. Storey, with perfect indifference.
Jake glanced questioningly at the rest of us.
"Oh, you may speak freely," she told him; "these people are in on everything I do."
"Well," said Jake, "the organization suggests that you go back to Fossberg's and turn a second trick. First-rate publicity in that. It will be the last place they'd expect you. If you make your second visit before the clerks have time to recover their nerve, it'll be a walk-away!"
"Not a bad idea," said Mme. Storey, with a subtle smile.
My heart began to beat with the same old suffocating fear of the future.
NEXT morning we plunged into our preparations again. We already had full information as to the plan and layout of the Fossberg store, and had now to concoct a new line of approach that would stand as good a chance of success as the old.
Bert Farren, who was sent up to make a preliminary reconnaissance, reported that the revolving door had been replaced with two pairs of swinging doors. These doors swung either way. Also, a carriage opener had been hired to stand outside.
It was obvious that he was a detective in disguise, and armed. This man seemed to me like a fatal obstacle in the way of our success, but Mme. Storey smiled when she heard about him.
"It will make the problem more interesting," she said.
We struck another snag when Inspector Rumsey approached Benjamin Fossberg with our proposition. He met with a flat refusal.
It was somebody else's turn to be the goat, Fossberg said; he and his brother had not recovered from the shock of the first hold-up. The inspector was finally forced to bring him down to our office, for Mme. Storey to exert her charm upon him.
She finally won a reluctant consent, with the stipulation that both brothers be allowed to absent themselves from the store when the stunt was pulled off. Mme. Storey had no objection to this, of course.
Fossberg pointed out that he had now no excuse to deprive the clerks of their guns.
"Then load them with blanks," said Mme. Storey. "They'll never know the difference. Let there be an exchange of shots. It will add drama to the affair."
In these preliminary discussions it soon developed that I was to be put forward this time as the principal performer. Mme. Storey could not be the first to enter the store without adding a disguise to her disguise, and this she could not do since it was necessary for the success of the affair that the clerks should recognize her in the end.
The realization of what they expected of me almost overwhelmed me, but not quite, for now I was borne up by the secret hope that when the actual moment came I should be able to play my part as well as any of them. In the meantime, though, I suffered all the torments of the damned.
This "living dangerously," as Jake termed it, was not all that it was cracked up to be.
We continued to frequent the Boule 'Miche' late at night, and our prestige there was growing. Through Jake and through Bat Bartley we were gradually becoming acquainted with all the "operators" or "adventurers," as they termed themselves. Most of them were incredibly young, and all distinguished by the childish vanity which seems to be inseparable from the modern crook. Among them were several of the girls who alternated in the rôle of the Bobbed-Haired Bandit.
I understood that there were at least half a dozen bobbed-hair bandits. These youngsters, recognizing a great character in Mme. Storey, instinctively deferred to her. She would have made good with them, even without the infernal halo of Kate Arkledon's reputation around her head.
One of the girls quite won my heart. They called her Brownie. She was not strictly beautiful, her mouth being too wide and her blue eyes set too far apart, but she had that indefinable something which is called charm.
Her frank gayety was irresistible. It was her finest qualities which had driven her into association with these thieves—a hatred of smugness and sham. Under happier circumstances she might have adorned the highest circles.
After it was all over we tried to find this girl, but she had disappeared. Like Mayflies they enjoy their brief dance in the sun—then oblivion.
I may say here that none of these young people suffered as a result of Mme. Storey's activities in the case. It was agreed between her and Inspector Rumsey that the police must do their own work in respect to apprehending the small fry.
My mistress's interest lay with the cold-hearted man or men who remained in safety in the background, profiting by the recklessness of the young. But of course she always meant to get Falseface Petro and Tony Lanza; that she owed to herself.
My heart gave a great jump when I first saw these two enter the Boule 'Miche'. Now for the acid test of our disguise, I thought, glancing at my mistress and at my own reflection in the mirror.
We had been playing our rôles for many days now, and they had become second nature to us; there was little likelihood that they would recognize us separately. True, for them to find us together added to the danger somewhat; but we were now in the midst of quite a large party, most of whom were known to Falseface and Tony as "safe."
The two young men had been told all about us, and that is the secret of a successful disguise—i.e., to prepare in advance the minds of those whom you wish to deceive.
Jake brought them up to our table from behind me. I could feel them coming. My heart beat thickly as at the approach of a dangerous animal. Fortunately I was playing an insignificant rôle, and they scarcely deigned to notice me.
Little Tony was hailed by the crowd as a good fellow, while Falseface was greeted with more respect. The latter, though he was not now in action, still maintained his pose of inscrutability.
He stood there with a good-humored sneer, as much as to say he would permit the ladies to admire him. And the worst of it was, you couldn't help but admire him.
Conceited and empty as he was, there was power in his unnatural self-control. In that circle of grinning faces he never smiled.
It was quite thrilling to see him and Mme. Storey together. Neither would yield an inch. Each affected to ignore the other; but it was none the less evident that for these two the others at the table simply did not exist.
Neither had much to say. Mme. Storey smoked one cigarette after another, and through the haze of tobacco fumes her expression appeared even more cynical and reckless. Falseface Petro gave himself the languid, elegant airs of a celebrated screen star.
We had made room for the newcomers at our table, and the inevitable "cider" circulated. Of course in company like that we never discussed business; the talk was just as empty and meaningless as might have been heard at any table in the place. It was merely a noise.
"Well, what's the good word, Falseface?"
"Nobody's got a good word for you, Butch."
Loud laughter greeted this sally.
"Say, you're so quick you're ahead of yourself. Wait till you catch up, fella."
"If I waited for you, I'd be there yet."
"Is 'at so?"
Somebody broke into song:
"My gal's a high-bawn lady;
She's dahk, but not too shady—"
"Where'd you dig that up, Brownie? That song was laid away when mother was a girl."
"I don't care. I like it."
"Fedders lak a peacock, just as gay;
She's not cullud, she was bawn that way."
"What yeh tryin' to do, compete wit' t' orchester?"
"T' orchester ain't in it wit' me."
"Down the line they can't outshine
This high-bawn gal of mine!"
"...Odds of sixty-four to one, and she romped home. I had a tip, too, and I wouldn't play it. I wisht somebody would kick me now."
"Hey, fellas, Tony wants somebody to kick him!"
"That's a good show down at the Booth."
"Yeah. Lee Shubert sent me a box last week."
"Yes, he did!"
"...They're gonna call it the Sans Sowcy."
"What's 'at mean?"
"Soich me! Vincent Astor and young Morgan and all the big fellas belongs."
"Well, they're nottin' in my life."
There was dancing in the middle room, and the crowd at our table was continually breaking up and reforming in different combinations. When an opportunity presented itself Mme. Storey whispered to me to pass the word to our fellows to let us go home alone this night.
It turned out in the end that Falseface Petro was not as indifferent as he seemed. When Mme. Storey rose to leave, he got up also in his lordly way and squired us out.
Tony followed after like his shadow. Falseface signaled a taxi at the curb.
"Can I drop you anywhere?" he drawled.
"I live in —— Street," said Mme. Storey.
The upshot was that Falseface and Tony accepted an invitation to come up for a last drink and a smoke. By this time we had thoroughly established our characters with them, and there was little chance of a discovery. But the sense of danger was always present; one could not relax for a moment.
How strange it seemed to be hobnobbing with those two sleek young savages!
Arrived in our own little flat, none of us needed to put a curb on our tongues.
"Jake told me about the stunt you pulled off at Fossberg's last week," said Falseface. "That was a damn neat piece of work."
"Oh, I was just getting my hand in after quite an extended rest," said my mistress carelessly.
"What you get out of it?"
"Twenty-five thousand. That was about half what the stuff was worth."
"It's better than I can do. Those fellows are bloodsuckers."
"You're no slouch at the game yourself," said Mme. Storey. "That was a nervy stunt you pulled in Mme. Storey's office. I like to see a woman like that get it. She's too big for her shoes, she is."
"If you've got the nerve they can't stop you," said Falseface, pluming himself.
"Sure. That's the principle I've always gone on."
"Me and you ought to be in on something together," he said with an elaborate show of indifference.
"Suits me," said my mistress. "We're going to pull a big stunt next week. Going back to Fossberg's to make a second cleanup. There will be good publicity in it this time."
"Well, Tony and me 's got nothing on next week," said Falseface carelessly.
"I could use a couple more men if they were the right sort," said Mme. Storey. "I take a third; I'll give you a quarter; and the rest divide what's left. There won't be but six or seven of us in it."
"We're on," said Falseface, without troubling to consult his partner.
"All right," said Mme. Storey. "Be here at nine to-morrow night to meet the crowd and talk things over. We'll go on to the Boule 'Miche' after."
THE gang was completed by a dandy chauffeur borrowed by Mme. Storey from a wealthy friend. The car "stolen" for the occasion was an elegant new limousine.
On Saturday morning at nine we met at the flat. I was in a miserable state of funk. I hope I succeeded in concealing it.
Mine. Storey served out the guns, and she herself made sure that Falseface and Tony were not carrying any additional weapons. They protested against the blank shells, but our leader stood firm.
"Our object is robbery, and not murder," she said coolly. "If you are obliged to shoot, the blanks will go off with just as much noise and have the same moral effect. And if there is any slip-up in our plans, you won't land in the death chamber."
They appeared to see the force of her argument.
We left the flat separately. It fell to my part to ride uptown in the elegant car with the dandy chauffeur.
But I was in no condition to enjoy all this grandeur. My knees trembled, my hands were clammy, my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. I wore a close hat which completely hid my red hair, and certain changes had been made in my facial decorations.
On the first occasion the clerks at Fossberg's could not have had but the briefest glimpse of me; still there was a possibility of my face having been photographed on somebody's mind, and we were not taking any chances.
Two blocks below the store I halted in order to make sure that I was not arriving too soon. Mme. Storey came to the car door as if to greet an acquaintance.
"All here," she said cheerfully. "Give us two minutes, then drive on, and go ahead with the program. Do not look about for us as you are entering the store."
"How about the two policemen on beat?" I asked.
"You can disregard them to-day."
When I drove up in front of Fossberg's in my fine car, the door opener hastened to help me out. As I stepped down I made believe to stumble, and allowed a little cry of pain to escape me.
"Oh, my ankle!"
The man caught hold, of my arm to support me.
"Will you get back in your car?" he asked.
"No, let him drive on," I said. "I will sit down in the store for a moment."
He helped me across the sidewalk. This trick was to draw him inside the store, you understand.
I was half paralyzed with fear. He must have felt how my arm was trembling; but I suppose he ascribed it to the pain I was suffering.
Inside the store, a clerk made haste to push up a chair, and I sank into it. In a glance I saw that the place was fairly well filled, and then things began to happen.
As the door opener left me to return to his post, he found himself facing Falseface, Tony, and young Farren, who had entered behind me, each with a gun in his hand. Instinctively the doorkeeper's hand went toward his pocket; but at a harsh command from Falseface, he thought better of it, and flung his hands above his head.
In a twinkling Tony had disarmed him. Behind them, in the space between the two pairs of doors, Mme. Storey was coolly bolting the outside doors, and pulling down the shades. To the glass of the door she affixed a little notice which had been prepared in readiness:
"Closed on account of death in the family."
Stephens had been sent around through the apartment house to cut off the escape of anybody who might try to get out by the rear door of the store. This door opened into the lobby of the apartment house.
For the moment I remained sitting where I was. All fear left me, and I seemed to be able to see all round my head.
Mme. Storey joined the three men, and the four of them spread out, and advanced across the store like skirmishers. When they came abreast of me, I fell into line with them.
A strange silence filled the place. Then Mme. Storey ordered everybody, clerks and customers, over to the far side out of our way, and they scurried like rats at her bidding.
The human creature is not a pretty object when he is in the grip of terror: Over in the corner they struggled insanely to get behind each other.
Never will I forget the sight. There was one big woman squeaking in terror, and struggling with all her might. In spite of her struggles, one of the men clerks who had her by the elbows, continued to hold her in front of him.
Another clerk, instead of following the crowd, silently dropped out of sight behind the counter on my left. I knew he had a gun back there, though it was loaded with blanks. I told Mme. Storey about him.
"Well, if he sticks his head over the counter, blow it off," she said harshly, loud enough for him to hear.
Nobody but me could hear the faint ring of laughter in her voice. She was enjoying herself.
A third clerk slipped out through the office at the back, but we were not concerned about him. Presently he reappeared, walking backward, stepping high, and holding his hands above his head. Stephens followed, covering him with his gun.
Mme. Storey ordered Stephens to dislodge the man behind the counter. As Stephens looked around the counter, the clerk fired.
Low, terrified cries broke from the people across the store. My own heart failed me at the sound of the explosion, though I knew it was all a comedy.
Stephens did not return his fire, but flung himself upon the clerk, and dragged him out of his hiding place. At the back of the store there was a tall safe with the door standing open. Stephens flung his man inside, and closed the door.
Meanwhile Falseface, Tony, and I had made for the safes in the center of the store. Each of us was provided with big pockets inside the skirts of our coats. I had the combination of each of these four safes, but they were not called for since all stood open.
Dropping on our knees, we began to pour the contents of the trays into our pockets. Such a cascade of glittering necklaces, pins, bracelets and rings!
While I worked, I could see Mme. Storey out of the tail of my eye, helping to cover the cowering crowd in the far corner. Without lowering her gun, she took a tiny cigar from the breast pocket of her neat jacket, and, sticking it in her mouth, lit a match with her thumb nail. I think this display of coolness intimidated our victims as much as the guns.
It took us but a minute or two to empty the safes. We did not bother with the show case stuff.
Coming out from behind the counter we made for the rear door. Mme. Storey and the other two men backed slowly toward us. Then from the midst of the crowd they were covering somebody fired, and instantly pandemonium broke loose. Whipping out their guns involuntarily, Falseface and Tony returned the fire as fast as they could shoot.
Nobody could be hurt, of course; but from the shrieks and yells which rose, you would have thought that every shot had found its mark. Somebody was shoved through a show-case with a horrifying crash.
As we backed through the office, a loud pounding was heard on the street door. We had not a moment to lose. Somehow, we found ourselves in the lobby of the apartment house, and got the door closed.
It was quiet there. The door closed with a spring lock, and opened inward toward the store. There was no means of fastening it from the outside; but Stephens had brought a long, thin bar for the purpose. When this was laid obliquely across the door, caught inside the handle, the ends projected beyond the door frame; and those inside were unable to pull the door toward them.
I say it was quiet in the lobby, and the way clear. The door from the street was locked, and Stephens, upon first entering, had bound and gagged the elevator attendant, and had thrown him in a little office alongside the entrance.
To be sure, the door of one of the rear apartments opened, and a white face showed for a moment, but we had nothing to fear from this direction. The door was quickly slammed again.
We crowded into the elevator. Stephens knew how to operate it. The last thing we saw, as we shot upward, was a crowd of people headed by a policeman turning in from the sidewalk toward the street door.
My knees weakened at the sight of the blue coat. A policeman is such an obstinate fact to face.
On the top landing a couple of people were waiting for the elevator. They fell back in affright as we poured out. We ran up the final flight of stairs to the roof.
I should explain that this apartment house was one of a pair exactly alike, which occupied the whole block fronting on Broadway. All we had to do therefore was to run across the roof, and descend into the twin house, whose entrance was in the next cross street. The door from the roof was armed with a bolt on the inside, and this we shot as we passed through.
In such a state of excitement, one's instinct was to run right down through the house; but Mme. Storey would not permit it. She feared that the noise of our descent might alarm somebody below, and result in our being cut off.
She forced us to wait on the top landing for the elevator. Oh, but it was hard to wait with one's nerves jumping!
The elevator came at last. As we were getting in, we heard running feet on the roof, and fists began to pound on the door we had bolted. The negro elevator boy looked at us terrified, and hesitated.
Mme. Storey, smiling, took out her gun, and affected to examine it. The boy's black face turned gray with terror, and he took us down in a hurry. Not a word was spoken.
We issued out of the house without any appearance of hurry. Our elegant limousine was waiting at the door with the engine running. The alarm had not yet penetrated into this street.
We could see people running down Broadway. Mme. Storey was the last of us to get in the car.
As she pulled the door after her, the people running down Broadway stopped, and a crowd came pouring around the corner from the other direction. They were headed by a policeman with a gun in his band. They were not in any too great a hurry, though.
They stopped to reconnoiter prudently. I was looking out of the rear window of the limousine. As the policeman raised his arm I dropped.
We roared away down the street. The policeman sent a couple of shots after us, while I made myself small. However, they went wide. We turned the corner on two wheels; turned another corner and slowed down.
We were safe. Away from the actual scene nobody would ever have suspected that handsome car with its dandy chauffeur of having taken part in a holdup.
When I realized that we were really safe, I suddenly dissolved in weakness. I seemed to lose all grip, all control of myself. Simultaneously perspiring and shivering in an agony of after-fear, I groaned to myself: Never again! Never again!
At Eighty-Sixth Street we turned east, and making our way through the park by the transverse road, abandoned the car in Yorkville, and scattered. As Mme. Storey and I made our way decorously down Madison Avenue, all that had happened, seemed like a dream. However, the weight of jewelry bumping against my knees reminded me that it was no vision.
My mistress went into a drug store to telephone. With a grin in my direction, she left the door of the booth open a crack, and I heard this astonishing conversation:
"Is this Fossberg's jewelry store?...This is the lady who just held you up...Held you up, I said. Can't you understand English? I just wanted to tell you, in case you had overlooked it, that one of your clerks is shut up in the big safe at the back of the store...Better let him out before he suffocates...Oh, that's all right. Don't mention it. Good-by."
BY two o'clock the first brief accounts of the affair were on the streets. The late afternoon editions carried the complete story. And it was a story!
As a feature we had no competition that day. Jake the Canvasser had certainly delivered the goods. Mme. Storey and I read the newspapers, chuckling.
It appeared that the chief source of information was a customer (!) who happened to be in the store at the time. The clerks, as before, were too flustered to give a coherent account of what had happened:
I shall not give the newspaper story in full since I have already described what happened. The best part of the story was that it was true, except for certain artistic details added by the narrator. As when he said he heard the bandits address their leader as "Duchess."
There was a clever touch! The soubriquet stuck, of course; we never appeared in the newspapers after that but Mme. Storey was termed the Duchess, or the Duchess-Bandit.
What a marvelous thing is publicity! Only start it once, and it rolls up like a snowball. Every day some new story of the Duchess's exploits appeared.
People claimed to have seen her here, there, everywhere. Moreover, the newspapers all carried indignant editorials asking what was the matter with the police that such things were allowed to go on. That was good publicity, too.
In that first story every possible detail concerning Mme. Storey was played up; her elegant appearance, her extraordinary coolness, the humorous remarks that she addressed to her trembling victims. The fact that it was our second descent on the place was not omitted.
Fantastic were the accounts of the loot we had secured. It appeared that so far as the more valuable part of the stock was concerned, Fossberg's was completely cleaned out. In point of magnitude it was the greatest jewel robbery that had ever taken place in New York.
Two policemen added their quota to the story. Officer James Crear said:
"I was on fixed post at the corner of Broadway and —— Street about ten thirty this morning, when a fellow ran over to me, and said there was something wrong in Fossberg's jewelry store on the corner. Said he heard shooting and yelling inside as he passed by. So I ran over there, and I found the store closed, and a notice on the door reading: 'Closed on account of death in the family.'
"I thought this was funny, because I had seen folks going in and out just a few minutes before. I could hear a racket inside, and I rapped on the door with my stick. Pretty soon it was opened by one of the clerks, who was so scared he couldn't tell a straight story. But I understood there had been a holdup, and the bandits were making their way out through the apartment house lobby in the rear of the store.
"I ran around outside to the door of the apartment house. It was locked. I forced it, and inside I found the elevator boy tied up and gagged. He told me the gang had gone up in the elevator. I ran up the stairs after them. They went over the roof, and down through the adjoining apartment house. They bolted the roof door after them, and I lost more time forcing it. When I got down to the street they were out of sight."
Officer William Rohrback said:
"I was patrolling the west side of Broadway at —— Street, when I heard Officer Crear rap for assistance. I was two blocks away from his post. When I got there I found a crowd milling around Fossberg's jewelry store. I was told that a holdup had taken place and that the bandits had gone upstairs in the apartment house, and with the help of Officer Regan, who had also run up, we put a watch at every exit from the house.
"The janitor came up and told me there was a way over the roof into the adjoining house, so, leaving the others on watch, I ran around into the next street. When I turned the corner, I saw a woman getting into a limousine car. It was such an elegant looking outfit I hesitated; but when it started down the street at forty miles an hour or better, I fired three shots in the air. The car failed to stop."
The "customer" in Fossberg's who supplied the real story to the reporter had this to say about the Duchess:
"She was a woman of about forty-five, but well preserved. Must have been a beauty in her youth. In figure still as slender and active as a young woman. She looked more like one of those fashionable dames than a bandit; and more like Park Avenue than Upper Broadway; the real thing. She had the hardest boiled face I ever saw on a woman. I mean by that, she meant business. A desperate character. I wouldn't have thought of opposing her.
"As she was standing squarely in front of me all the time we were herded over at the side of the store, I had plenty of time to size her up. She looked at us as if we were dirt under her feet. The most striking features about her were her eyes, the pupils of which closed up to mere slits, like a cat's eyes in daylight. It gave her a terrible look."
You see how cleverly he blended fact and fiction.
An amusing outcome of the affair was, that two days later a committee of West Side merchants waited upon Mme. Storey in her office, and did their best to persuade her to take the job of running down the Duchess. My mistress smilingly declined.
But I am getting a little ahead of my story. On the night of the hold-up we telephoned ahead to the Boule 'Miche' asking for a private room. Such detailed descriptions of all of us had been published, it was no longer prudent to appear in the general room. We entered by a side door, and were taken upstairs by a private stairway.
In the "Diamond Room," as they called it, we held a sort of reception, which lasted half the night. Everybody "in the know"—that is to say, every shady character who frequented the place, came up to congratulate us. Our fame was great in the underworld; the Duchess had thrown the Bobbed-Hair Bandit in the shade.
When Jake the Canvasser came to us that night, what an exchange of compliments took place! For once Jake lost his cagey air; enthusiasm carried him away. He held Mme. Storey's hand in both of his, and gazed in her face like a lover.
"Finest thing I ever heard of!" he said. "Finest thing I ever heard of! You're the queen of them all!"
"I had A-1 support," she said, including us all in her glance.
"Are you satisfied with the way we handled it?" asked Jake. "Of course, there'll be a lot of new stuff in the morning papers."
"More than satisfied!" said my mistress. "The man who got up that story was a genius!"
"Of course, we put our best man on it," said Jake. "I may say he is a well-known literary guy, who just does this on the side. But at that, he couldn't have done a thing if you hadn't given him the stuff to work on. Say, that notice, 'Closed on account of death in the family,' and the little cigar, and that trick of lighting a match with your thumbnail while you kept the crowd covered; that was better than anything he could invent."
"Oh, I don't know," she said, not to be outdone; "that name he hung on me, 'the Duchess,' that was a master-stroke. To a professional person a good name is more than half the battle. And that touch about the cat's eyes; it couldn't have been bettered. I hope your people are pleased with the way we pulled the thing off."
"I haven't had any communication with them yet," said Jake, "but I know they must be. In fact, the affair reflects credit on both sides. It shows that we were just waiting for each other; you feel that, don't you?"
"I'll never make a move without consulting you," she said.
Later, Jake contrived to get all outsiders out of the room, so that he could talk business with my mistress.
"Have you any notion what the stuff is worth?" he asked eagerly.
In respect to this matter, Mme. Storey intended to string Jake along as far as she could, of course.
"Not yet," she told him. "I've got good people working for me, and the stuff is all in their hands. But there's so damn much of it it'll take a while for the market to absorb it. They have paid me twenty-five thousand on account. I brought yours."
It was paid over in twenty-five crisp hundred dollar bills. I may say that this money was not marked. In dealing with men so astute as Jake and his employers, it would have been too risky. But we had the numbers of the bills, of course, and hoped to be able to trace them by that means.
Jake put away the money.
"Well, how about our next grandstand play?" he said, rubbing his hands.
"Oh, give us a chance," laughed Mme. Storey.
"Oh, there's no desire to overwork you," said Jake, in his oily way; "no, indeed! But we mustn't miss the psychological moment, either. This thing that we've started will run along for a week or ten days without any help from us. They'll all be workin' to hand us publicity. But when she begins to slack off, that's the time we've got to strike again, and strike hard in a new quarter. And we've got to be ready."
In my mistress's eyes I could read the determination: Not if I can help myself!
But Jake could not see that. For all her cool and careless airs, Mme. Storey was fully aware of the terrible risks we ran in staging these affairs, and she had no intention of attempting fate any oftener than was absolutely necessary.
"Well, it's no harm to talk over what we're going to do," she said carelessly. "I'm always open to suggestions."
With the lines we had out, we hoped to have Jake and the men who were back of him lodged behind the bars before another such affair could be made ready. But in this, as you will see, we were disappointed.
IN order to avoid repetition, I will combine the gist of several of Madge Caswell's reports into one.
For a number of years, she said, Jake the Canvasser has been a widely-known character throughout the white light district of Broadway. He passes there as Jake Golden, which is his right name. He has two brothers, prosperous manufacturers, and belongs to a widespread family connection, with which he keeps in close touch.
None of these people have any reason to suspect his association with the criminal world. Indeed, so open and aboveboard appears his whole life, that even after watching him for two weeks, I should not have succeeded in turning up anything suspicious, had it not been for the information you gave me in the beginning.
He passes on Broadway as a "sporting character," i.e., a man who makes his living by promoting and backing sporting events and theatrical enterprises. As a matter of fact, he has various small interests in these lines, but not anywhere near enough to support him in the lavish style in which he lives. He has a comfortable apartment in the —— Hotel, one of the best in town, that he leases by the year. He has hundreds of friends in every walk of life, who believe that they know him well. The only mystery about him is, where does he get all the money he spends.
In, sporting circles individuals come up and disappear with great frequency; men's memories are short, and none of Jake's present associates remember, if indeed they ever knew, that Jake Golden served a sentence in Sing Sing for swindling, some years ago. Previous to that he had been confined in the Elmira Reformatory.
I have three operatives besides myself engaged on this job. We all have a number of disguises, so there is no danger of his being struck by seeing the same face about him day after day. We have been somewhat handicapped by your instructions that we are not under any circumstances to allow him to suspect that he was being followed.
Once or twice we have had to let him slip when we seemed to be about to learn something interesting. However, it probably would not have been definite. He has his tracks too well covered. He does not yet suspect that he is being watched. It is second nature with the man to take the most elaborate precautions to keep his real business secret.
I am prepared to assert that he has not in all this time met his principal. I believe that it is the cornerstone of their whole system of defense, never to meet. Every day he drops into some pay-station or another to call up his principal. It is always another pay-station that he calls up, and every day a different one.
It is usually a call to Newark, Paterson, Hackensack, White Plains, Flushing, Jamaica, et cetera; some large town on the outskirts of New York. Once or twice, by getting the next booth, we heard his conversation over the phone, or a part of it. But as the details of the affairs that he reports are already known to you, this throws no fresh light on the matter.
Two of his talks had to do with "Kate Arkledon." He has no suspicion that she is other than she seems. He merely reports what has happened since the day before, and receives his instructions. In speaking over the phone, he never names the man he is talking to. At the end of the talk he receives the number that he is to call next day. He comes out of the booth with his lips moving, as if to commit it to memory. As he never writes it down, there is no way in which we can learn that number beforehand.
On Monday last he called up—Passaic. I sent one of my boys over there as quickly as possible. It proved to be the principal drugstore of the place. Now, as it is somewhat out of the common for a man to wait around a pay-station to be called up, one of the clerks happened to remember the incident. The call came in for "Mr. Wilkins," and a large, well-dressed, good-looking man of about forty-five stepped forward to take it, the clerk said. He had dark hair; dark eyes, he said; couldn't say if he was bald because he kept his hat on.
Clean shaven; gentlemanly manner; looked like a retired business man. I send you this description for what it is worth. It would fit about one hundred thousand men around New York, I suppose.
On Tuesday Golden called up St. George ——. This is the municipal ferry station on Staten Island. Got nothing there. On Wednesday it was another drugstore, this one in Flushing. We were there forty minutes afterwards, and a clerk remembered the call coming in.
It was for "Mr. Adams." This clerk described the man who received the call as middle-aged and "funny looking." Was unable to explain just what he meant by funny-looking. Thought his eyes were blue, and that he had a heavy mustache, but couldn't swear to it. Yet it was undoubtedly the same man. Very few learn to use their eyes.
However, this clerk added one more item to our store of knowledge. After "Mr. Adams" had finished talking he got into a fine limousine car at the door. It had a chauffeur in livery. Of course, he would have to have a car if he's going to get around from Passaic to Staten Island to Flushing day after day.
It was in sending money to his principal that Golden evinced the greatest ingenuity. Golden maintained accounts in four different banks up-town. In each place his credit was high. None of these banks were aware of his other accounts.
By splitting his business into four like this, the volume of it did not appear large enough to excite suspicion. You told me on the night of the twenty-third Golden was handed eighteen hundred dollars in cash at the Boule 'Miche' by a man known as Hutch Diver, and you asked me to trace what became of this money, if this were possible.
Well, I am able to report that he deposited the money in the —— National Bank on the following morning. He puts all cash in the bank as received, so there is no use trying to get him by marked bills. He may draw it out later.
One of his favorite stunts is to buy American Express Company checks, and mail them to his principal. These checks are being more and more widely used by automobile tourists and others who do not wish to carry cash on their travels. They have to be signed when purchased, and again when cashed; but Golden's unknown principal has no difficulty in making a passable imitation of his agent's signature when he cashes the checks.
A number of these checks have been returned paid to the head office of the Express Company, and I have traced them back, but without results. Anybody will cash such checks without question; banks, hotels, stores, et cetera. They are for moderate amounts, consequently the transactions leave no impression on the memories of the parties who cash them.
These checks have all been returned from towns near New York, the same towns, in fact, that Golden calls up on the telephone. Another method that Golden has of transmitting money to his principal is to draw checks to bearer, and have his bank certify them. Such checks are as good as cash anywhere.
Golden mails these checks to his principal by means of the mail chute in the hotel corridor outside his apartment. As it is impossible for me to keep a man on watch in the corridor, I cannot catch him in the act of mailing them, consequently there is no way in which I can recover the envelope and get a sight of the address. I know, however, that the checks are mailed in plain envelopes, and that Golden keeps a typewriter in his room for the purpose of addressing them.
FROM the foregoing report, which embodies several of the same tenor, it will be seen that we had been brought to a stand. We were between the devil and the deep sea. We could neither go forward nor back.
Consequently, when the suggestion came through from "headquarters" that we prepare to hold up the Beauvoir Hospital on the day that the pay-roll was made up, we had no choice but to agree. Alas for my vow, that I would never do it again! I could not abandon my mistress. Feeling a sickness of the heart, I had to go in with the rest.
Beauvoir Hospital! In the mere naming of it you will perceive what a stupendous task we had been given. Up to this time nobody had ever thought of holding up a hospital. And Beauvoir, the great charity hospital which spreads over several city blocks, was by far the largest and the best known of them all.
With its psychopathic cases, its accidents, its victims of murderous assaults, it is continually in the news. In fact, it receives more publicity than all the other city institutions put together. Beauvoir is an essential part of the fabric of New York life.
Imagine being asked to attack such a place. Why, it is a very hive of industry, with crowds entering and leaving at all hours; police bringing in accidents cases; police sitting at the bedsides of wounded prisoners. It seemed to me like a bad joke on the part of Jake's employers.
I wondered if perhaps they had not penetrated our disguises, and were using this ingenious means of bringing about our downfall. But Madge Caswell's reports continued to assure us that they did not suspect us; and Mme. Storey, after a study of the problem, considered that the trick might be turned, though it was appallingly difficult.
Beauvoir, as everybody knows, is on the East River front. It consists of an ancient stone building which forms a nucleus for innumerable more or less modern wings spreading in every direction. The office of the hospital, which was our mark, is in this old building, just inside the main entrance.
There are other entrances for patients and their visitors. The main entrance is used principally by officials of the hospital, and those having business with them. Unfortunately for us, the old building fronts on a courtyard, which is overlooked by literally hundreds of windows. The grand difficulty would be to get out of that courtyard with whole skins.
You may gauge the size of the institution when I tell you that the weekly pay-roll amounted to nearly seventy thousand dollars. This money was brought to the hospital every Thursday morning by armored car. In the office it was made up into pay-envelopes by a force of clerks; payment to the employees was spread over the whole week.
Our attack was timed for Thursday just before noon, when the clerks would have the money spread out in the office in the act of making up the envelopes. The force consisted of a head bookkeeper, three male clerks and two women. No additional guards were employed. I suppose nobody had ever dreamed of the possibility that a hospital might be attacked.
The first thing we had to decide was whether or not to take the hospital authorities into our confidence in respect to the proposed raid. We held several anxious consultations with Inspector Rumsey upon this matter.
It appeared that the cashier, whose name was Tabor, was in full charge of all financial matters, and the inspector volunteered to sound him out. He reported later that Mr. Tabor was a testy gentleman, whose whole life had centered in Beauvoir.
He had an overwhelming sense of the dignity and importance of the institution he served, and the inspector said it would be quite useless to put up any such scheme to him. He would certainly have a fit at the bare mention of such a thing.
"Very well," said Mme. Storey coolly; "then as far as Mr. Tabor is concerned this must be a bona fide holdup."
"Suppose he puts up a fight?" asked the inspector anxiously. "He's a determined old party. He is almost certain to be armed, and perhaps his clerks also. You have a big enough risk to run from chance shots outside, without facing a point-blank fire inside. I could not permit that under any circumstances."
"Pull the right wires," suggested Mme. Storey, "and introduce a man of your own as clerk in the office."
This was done. Inspector Rumsey's man subsequently reported that there was only one gun in the hospital office. This was an old-fashioned revolver in the drawer of Mr. Tabor's desk, which had apparently not been shot off nor cleaned in many years. It was not, however, any the less dangerous on that account.
Since Mr. Tabor made a point of being the first in the office every day and the last to leave, our agent said it was doubtful if he could secure the gun beforehand to unload it; but he guaranteed to seize it when the attack was made. We let it go at that.
It fell to my part to make the first preliminary examination of the ground. I confess I did not like it at all. Beauvoir Hospital bore too strong a resemblance to a prison.
The entrance was by a triple gateway from the street. The two narrow side gates were for visitors to the various wards, and the center gate, which was double, admitted to the courtyard and the main building.
The three gates were divided by two little buildings where guards, presumably armed, were on duty at all hours. Visitors to patients were provided with cards of admission, and it was the duty of these men to examine the cards, and set the holders on the right path.
If we took our automobile inside the courtyard, the guards had only to close the iron gates to block us. If we left our car outside, we would have to run the gantlet of the guards on foot.
I should say that the windows of the office looked out on the courtyard; the first shout from the clerks would alarm the guards. In short, it seemed to be just about as perfect a trap as could be devised. I did not like it.
There was a doorman on duty at the main entrance; but he was a doddering old fellow, incapable of putting up any serious resistance. Inside, a corridor ran right and left throughout the length of the old building. You turned to the right, and the first door on your right admitted you to the office.
It was an old-fashioned double door of solid wood; it stood open during business hours. The room was about thirty feet long, with an old-fashioned wooden counter running the length of it, topped by a brass grille some three feet high, with several wickets in it.
At one side a door made of heavy brass wire gave entrance to the clerks' inclosure. I noticed that there was no way out for them, except by this door, thence by the door into the corridor.
I had chosen a Thursday morning for this visit, and they were all busy at a long table in the middle of the room putting the money in pay-envelopes. Certainly it was tempting Providence to handle their cash practically in public like that.
When I reported to Mme. Storey the difficulty of getting out past the guards, she said:
"Well, there must be other ways out of that old warren. We'll study the floor plans."
Inspector Rumsey, who was looking up the police arrangements in the neighborhood, subsequently informed us that since First Avenue had become an important motor thoroughfare, a motorcycle policeman had been assigned to patrol it; and that he spent a good part of his time standing in front of the hospital. Verily, the difficulties surrounding the adventure seemed to be pyramiding against us!
Mme. Storey said thoughtfully:
"We have a reputation for originality to maintain. We must do something quite new this time. Let us dispense with a car altogether, and make our get-away by water."
From the New York Sphere, January —, 192—.
THE DUCHESS MAKES ANOTHER HAUL
Beauvoir Hospital the Victim; Loss $67,000
Boldest Robbery in History of City
"The Duchess," that most amazing criminal of modern times, played a return engagement this morning. It scarcely seems possible, but she actually succeeded in capping her own exploits; in exceeding her reputation. This time it was no mere jewelry store that was the object of her raid, but Beauvoir Hospital.
Everybody in town is asking: What next? In the teeth of all the orderlies, police and armed guards who are to be found around the hospital, she and her gang relieved the office force of the week's pay-roll to the tune of sixty-seven thousand dollars, and made a clean get-away.
The crime had been carefully planned. The bandits displayed a perfect familiarity with the rambling old building. They made their way out through the rear to the bulkhead adjoining the river, and were picked up by a speedy motor boat. One of their number was wounded in the retreat, but his comrades carried him off. As usual there is no clew.
Every Thursday morning an armored car brings the money for the week's pay-roll to Beauvoir Hospital. The amount averages close to seventy thousand dollars. Though the institution has doubled and quadrupled in size since those early days, the pay-envelopes are still made up in the office in sight of all and sundry, just as they were twenty-five years ago. In some manner this reached the ears of the Duchess, and the inevitable happened.
At eleven forty-five this morning Emerson Tabor, the cashier of the hospital, and his five clerks were engaged upon this regular weekly task. In another fifteen minutes the money, would have been locked in the safe for the noon hour. All six persons were working at a long table in the hospital office.
They were cut off from the public by a stout wooden counter running the length of the room, upon which is superimposed a heavy brass grill. The whole structure is about six feet high. Four of the clerks were filling the envelopes while Mr. Tabor and another checked them. There was no one else in the office at the moment except Rudolph Glassberg, of 400 West Ninety-Third Street, who had called to obtain the address of a former employee of the hospital. It was this accidental witness of the affair who was able to give the most comprehensive account of what happened.
Mr. Tabor had just told Mr. Glassberg that he had no record of the employee in question, when a tall, elegantly dressed lady entered the office. At first glance Mr. Tabor was struck by nothing unusual in her appearance, except that she was rather a fine lady to be calling at old Beauvoir. She had an envelope in her hand, which she partly extended toward him.
In a low, musical voice she asked him in what part of the building that person was to be found. As Mr. Tabor put a hand through the wicket to take the envelope, his wrist was seized in a grip of steel. The woman dropped the envelope, and from somewhere about her person whipped a pair of handcuffs.
In a trice the cashier was handcuffed to his own brass grill. He found himself looking into those baleful cat's eyes with the narrowed pupils which have been so often described.
Mr. Glassberg happened to be looking directly at the woman. He was dazed by the suddenness of her act. So was Mr. Tabor.
For a moment there was no sound. The clerks in the rear had no suspicion of anything wrong. Then Mr. Glassberg heard the woman say in her courteous, well-bred voice:
"So sorry to discommode you, but I can't let you get to your gun, you know."
The cashier gave a shout of warning, and yanked at the chain; his clerks jumped up, knocking over their chairs. At that moment the rest of the gang entered swiftly and quietly from the corridor.
Mr. Glassberg tried to leave then, but was harshly ordered to remain where he was. He frankly confessed that he squeezed into the farthest corner, not daring to make a sound, nor to stir during what followed.
It was the same gang which held up Fossberg's jewelry store last month; four good looking, well dressed lads, showing none of the obvious marks of the gunman, none of them over twenty-five years old, and one a mere boy; and the showily dressed, red-haired girl who appears to be the Duchess's first lieutenant. The four men, as if performing a well rehearsed drill, leaped on the edge of the counter, and vaulted over the brass grill.
Mr. Tabor shouted to his clerk, William Hughes, to get his gun out. Another clerk, Edward Ensor, beat him to it. Ensor had only been working at the hospital for a few days. He snatched the gun out of the drawer where it was kept and fired at the oncoming bandits.
The shot went wild. Immediately two of the bandits dived, and, tackling Ensor low, flung him to the floor. He was disarmed before he could recover himself. Of the two women clerks, Miss Mary Phillips fainted dead away at the sound of the shot, while Miss Gertie Colpas dived under the table, where she kept up a continuous screaming until all was over.
Mr. Glassberg said what with the screaming of the woman, the shouting of Mr. Tabor, and his frantic efforts to free himself, the noise in the room was deafening. The bandits coolly disregarded it. No sound escaped from any of them.
Two of the men covered the clerks, while the other two producing black silk bags from under their coats, started sweeping up the money and the pay-envelopes on the table. All moved as by clockwork.
When the gang entered, the Duchess coolly closed the door from the corridor. She and her woman aide took up their places one on each side of the door, ready for anyone who might enter. The Duchess produced the inevitable little cigar while she waited.
Mr. Glassberg said she watched what was going on within the clerks' inclosure with a half contemptuous smile, as one might look at a second rate play. There was something about the woman's unnatural coolness that froze his very blood, he said.
As on the former occasion, the Duchess's attire expressed the very acme of elegant simplicity. She was wearing a severely cut costume of brown, which set off her slender figure to perfection Inside the collar of the coat was wound a gayly colored silk scarf, and a handkerchief to match it, peeped out of her breast pocket.
Her hat was one of those smart little recent importations that closely outline the shape of the head. Her shoes were smart English brogues, and a pair of chamois gloves completed the ensemble.
Within a minute or so the money was gathered up, and the four men as one, leaped back upon the counter, and vaulted over the brass grill. The Duchess opened the door, and they all ran out into the corridor. Mr. Glassberg peeped around the door frame to see what became of them, but did not dare to follow.
At the entrance to the building was stationed John Staley, the doorkeeper; but as he was a man of sixty-nine, and unarmed, he could do nothing to stop the bandits. However, six or more of the husky orderlies for which Beauvoir is famous came tumbling down the stairs from the wards above, attracted by the noise.
Though these men were unarmed, they boldly ranged themselves in a line across the corridor to block the bandits. The latter instantly formed a flying wedge with the biggest among them, the one who resembles an Englishman, in the center, and charged, bowling the orderlies over like nine pins.
It was at this point that the bandits revealed their uncanny knowledge of the premises. Instead of turning out of the main entrance, where they would presently have run into half a dozen armed guards, they opened a door under the stairs, and charged down a concealed flight into the basement.
The basement of the old building at Beauvoir is cut up into a multitude of serving rooms: laundry, kitchen, pantries, storerooms, and the like; nevertheless, the bandits made their way out unerringly, while the orderlies who were in pursuit of them got lost. The bandits burst through the kitchen, bringing terror into the hearts of cooks and dishwashers, and ran out into the open space between the hospital and the river.
In the summer this is a pleasant grass plot. It is surrounded on three sides by tier above tier of balconies, where, in pleasant weather the patients are wheeled out to get the air.
At this season there were few patients on the balconies; but the doctors, nurses, and orderlies ran out to see what was the matter below, adding their shouts to the uproar. Several shots were fired from the balconies at the fleeing bandits, but none took effect.
They made straight across for the bulkhead alongside the river. Here they met with a check, for their boat could be seen stalled a hundred feet or so out in the stream, the mechanic working frantically to start his engine. A shout of triumph went up from the watchers on the balconies.
At this moment it was touch and go with the Duchess and her pals. Six armed guards had made their way through the hospital, and the bandits were cut off between the buildings and the river. The guards did not immediately rush them, but stood close to the building, firing as fast as they could pull the trigger.
The bandits returned their fire without effect. Finally the Englishman dropped, wounded. Heartened by the sight, the guards charged across the open space, firing as they ran.
However, by this time the motor boat had come alongside the bulkhead; the bandits leaped in pell-mell, carrying their wounded comrade, and the boat shot out into the river.
The guards continued to fire after it, but as the occupants all flung themselves into the bottom of the boat, it is not likely that any more of them were hit. In a moment they had disappeared around the end of a long pier.
The motor boat was a rakish, sharp-prowed mahogany tender of great speed. It had the look of a millionaire's plaything, and was, no doubt, stolen for the occasion, though no such loss has as yet been reported to the police. Her name had been painted out. All the observers agreed that the craft was not one which customarily frequents the East River.
Police launch A-22 is stationed in a slip immediately to the south of the hospital, and in less than five minutes she was in pursuit. But the bandit craft was already out of sight down the stream. The police launch was no match for her in speed.
They caught sight of her again off Corlear's Hook; but by that time she had been abandoned, and was already awash. When the police reached the spot she had sunk, leaving only a patch of oil on the surface. What happened to her cannot be known for certain; the police hold to the theory that she was deliberately scuttled.
Children playing in the park at Corlear's Hook told the police that they had seen the mahogany launch come alongside a waiting tug, which had presently passed on, leaving the launch to sink. The tug was too far offshore for her name to be read.
The police are questioning the captain and crew of every tug in the harbor, but it is admitted that the chance of picking up a clew by this means is a slender one. Once again the Duchess appears to have vanished into thin air.
SUCH was the first account of the affair. Later editions of the newspapers only amplified and elaborated the story. While a conventional horror of the deed was expressed, you can see by reading between the lines that the ultimate effect of these stories was to glorify the daring and successful bandit.
Such is the evil effect of too much publicity. If a man becomes famous enough, thoughtless persons do not stop to inquire into the quality of his fame.
During the days that followed our gang had to lie very close, for the police were roused to a fury of activity by this "outrage." I suspect that Inspector Rumsey had a very difficult part to play, for he was put in charge of the case. Of all the force, only he and the commissioner were in on the secret.
One problem that faced us was how to return the money to the hospital without giving the whole game away. We solved it by having the same millionaire who had loaned us his automobile on a former occasion come forward and donate to Beauvoir Hospital the sum they had lost. He got great credit for this act.
Stephens was carried to a sanatorium up in Westchester to recover from his wound, which was not a dangerous one. Falseface and Tony were sent under care of Abell to rusticate in a camp belonging to another of Mme. Storey's friends in the neighborhood of Saranac Lake.
Abell's real job, of course, was to keep them under surveillance until we were ready to order their arrest. Young Farren was sent off to amuse himself down in Florida.
Mme. Storey and I were perfectly safe working in our office every day in our own proper characters; but as she was obliged to keep in touch with Jake the Canvasser, we had to disguise our disguises for the evening. Madge Caswell's reports still held out no hope of reaching the principal through Jake, and it was necessary to take other measures.
I donned a black wig, blackened my eyebrows and lashes, made up my face dead white, and wore a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, while Mme. Storey, past mistress in the art of disguise, transformed herself into a shapeless old woman dressed in tawdry finery.
On the night following the robbery we telephoned to Bat Bartley at the Boule 'Miche', and asked him to save us a private room. It would be better, we said, if we did not receive our friends that night, however safe they were. The risk was too great. But we wanted to see Jake.
Well, Jake came to us there in due course, and was much amused by our disguises. Mme. Storey paid over his share of the loot. We hated to see that good money go, but there appeared to be no help for it.
Jake was in great form. I will pass over all his fulsome praises and compliments; for you are already familiar with his style. The Duchess would become as famous as Jesse James, he said, a national hero. The crown of courage had passed to a woman. And so on.
My mistress let him run on until he said something to the effect that all of us would have to do some hard thinking in order to cap the previous day's work; whereupon Mme. Storey held up her hand.
"Nothing doing," she declared firmly.
"Hey?" said Jake, with a falling face.
"What!" he cried. "Why, we've just started!"
"No," she said. "I've made a nice little stake out of these two jobs. I'm satisfied. As for publicity, I can scarcely better what I've got. Better quit while I'm on the crest of the wave. You may make out in your newspaper stories that I'm a superwoman, but as a matter of fact I'm just the common or garden variety like any other. And if I try to bite off more than I can chew I'll choke."
"Have you lost your nerve?" he asked with a sneer.
"Not my nerve," said my mistress coolly; "it's as steady as ever it was, and my wits are better. But my body is beginning to rebel. After all, I'm no longer young. A woman of fifty-five, even though she may have kept a passable figure, is not expected to run like a gazelle. When I got home yesterday I collapsed. I had to have a heart stimulant to bring me around."
"Well," said Jake smoothly, "we'll bear that in mind when we're planning our next stunt."
"No," affirmed Mme. Storey, "I would not take anything safe and easy, either. I wouldn't appear before the public at all unless I could better this show, and as I don't see my way clear to doing that, I think it's a good place to quit."
Jake lost his smooth air. His distress was very real.
"Wait a minute—wait a minute!" he said. "You don't have to decide anything to-night. This is just a sort of reaction, like. Just let things run along for awhile. You've earned a good rest. Then my boss may have an idea that will appeal to you. He has the most brilliant mind in America to-day—a soaring mind."
"Just so," rejoined Mme. Storey; "but if you keep on flying higher and higher, you're bound to crash in the end. Not but what I hate to give it up, too," she added pensively. "I love the game. I love to match my wits against those who have money!"
"What'll I say to the boss?" asked Jake plaintively. "He's countin' on you. You ought to hear the way he talked about you over the phone to-day. 'Jake,' he says, 'this is the best material we ever had to work with!'"
"Nice of him to say so," said Mme. Storey.
Jake did not perceive the dryness of her tone.
"Oh, the boss is never one to hold back credit from anybody," he said.
For an hour longer he continued to argue with her. By the end of that time she had convinced him that she meant what she said.
He was greatly depressed. More than anything else he was alarmed by a suggestion she let fall, that she was just going to drop out of things and travel.
He finally exacted a promise from her that she would not disappear until he had a chance to consult with the boss. When we left he asked anxiously:
"Be here to-morrow night?"
"Oh, I expect so," said my mistress indifferently. "We can't stay shut up in our rooms all the time."
On the following night Jake turned up with an entirely new line of arguments, which had no doubt been furnished him over the telephone during the day. When all these proved to be of no avail he said with an offhand air:
"How would you like a job inside the organization?"
I started inwardly. So this was where my mistress's elaborate comedy had been tending! I had not perceived her drift before.
"What sort of job?" she asked indifferently.
"To run our advisory department."
"You would investigate likely plants, and furnish the operators with full details. You would think up big spectacular stunts, plan all the details, and coach the operators."
"Yes," said Mme. Storey, "and have somebody else take all the credit!"
"Oh, I don't know," replied Jake. "We could keep the Duchess alive in the public mind, though you never appeared in person."
"What would there be in it for me?"
Jake made a magniloquent gesture.
"Oh, there wouldn't be any difficulty about that. The boss is the soul of generosity."
"Sure. But just what would it run to?"
"Well, say fifty thousand a year."
"Liberal enough," said Mme. Storey indifferently; "but it don't appeal to me much. I hate to be tied up in an organization. I like to be on my own."
Jake set himself to work to persuade her. Little by little she allowed it to appear that she was coming around. Finally we heard that which we were silently praying for. Jake said:
"The heads of the organization never meet. It's better so. We have other ways of communicating. But you and the boss would have to have one talk to settle the details."
"Plenty of time for that," said Mme. Storey carelessly. "We'd better wait until the search for me lets up a little."
"No need for that," said Jake. "Your present disguise is plenty good enough."
"Well, that's up to the boss," she said, shrugging. "If he wants to see me I'm at his service."
THREE days later Mme. Storey and I started out to keep our rendezvous with the "boss." You can imagine how my heart was beating. I could scarcely believe that we were in sight of the end of our difficult and dangerous job.
I was tormented with anxiety. So much mystery had been made of this powerful boss that he seemed to me to be invested with almost superhuman attributes. I dreaded lest he might slip through our fingers after all.
We were on our way to the Madagascar Hotel, where we were to ask for Mr. Peter Endicott. All the arrangements for the visit had been made with the greatest care.
Jake the Canvasser was not to accompany us. Jake had wished Mme. Storey to go alone, but she had declined to do so. Any offer that might be made to her must include me, she said; and Jake finally conceded the point.
From the moment when the meeting had first been proposed we had been shadowed, as we were quick to perceive; and thereafter we never came out of the characters of Kate Arkledon and Peggy Ray. Our ordinary haunts knew us not. By day we remained shut up in the little flat on West —— Street. There was a telephone in the flat, but we dared not use it; the danger was too great that the boys at the switchboard might have been tampered with.
We finally solved the problem of communicating with Inspector Rumsey by taking a leaf out of Jake's book. We wrote the inspector a letter, and posted it in the mail chute outside the door of our flat.
The inspector could not communicate with us, and before setting out, Mme. Storey had armed herself with a pair of handcuffs, intending to make the arrest herself if the police failed her.
The lobby of the Madagascar displayed its usual animated aspect. Since they cut off the front to make a row of shops on the street it is always overcrowded. I felt rather than saw that we were objects of interest to several of the prosperously dressed men who were sitting and standing about. These I supposed to be police, and my heart rose. Inspector Rumsey was not showing himself—his face is too well known—but I had no doubt that he was near.
It appeared that our journey was not to end at the Madagascar. As we made inquiry at the desk, a slender, gentlemanly young chap stepped up from behind us.
"Good morning, ladies," he said, smiling. "I was waiting for you."
"Oh, are you Mr. Endicott?" said Mme. Storey, not without surprise. She had hardly expected to be received by such a stripling.
"His secretary, at your service. I am to take you to him."
I confess I did not like this at all. Mme. Storey appeared quite unconcerned.
"Where is it?" she asked.
"Half an hour's drive. I have a car waiting."
He led the way out. I hoped that the police were behind us, but did not like to turn my head to see. We stood waiting under the glass canopy in front, and presently an inconspicuous sedan drove up. Our conductor, always smiling, opened the door for us, and we drove off. I silently prayed that the police might have a car handy also. In the press of traffic it was impossible to tell if we were being followed.
Our route lay over the Queensboro Bridge and out Queens Boulevard. The young man made agreeable small talk all the way. He had all the savoir faire of a diplomatic secretary.
On the bridge and beyond it seemed to me that there were more motorcycle policemen than usual about, and I took hope from that. Perhaps they were under Inspector Rumsey's orders.
We drove very fast. Once on the boulevard we were stopped and warned by a policeman. Later, after we had turned to the right in a busy crossroad, another passed us at great speed and came back a few minutes afterward.
We now turned to the left and lost ourselves in one of the amazing new subdivisions that have sprung up so thickly in that district. Picture to yourself rows of little new wooden houses, all alike, stretching on every side as far as you could see. All designed alike, painted alike, the same number of shingles on each roof, I could swear; built so close together there was but just room for a man to walk between; not a tree in sight, and scarcely a blade of grass.
Thousands upon thousands of the little boxes, all alike. To me it was like a nightmare. Consider the numbing effect of this sameness upon the people who lived there! Then another thought came to me: what an admirable hiding place!
We turned right and left; right and left again so many times I was dizzied. All this was unnecessary, of course; the little streets were all laid out at right angles, and we could have reached our destination with one turn.
There were street signs in the usual haphazard New York fashion, but we turned the corners so quickly, and the signs were so hard to find, I could rarely read them. And when at last we came to a stop before one of the little houses, no different from thousands of others, I didn't know what the name of the street was. The number of the house was 154.
"Is this Mr. Endicott's home?" asked Mme. Storey.
"One of them," said our conductor, smiling.
The instant we were out of the car, it whisked out of sight around a corner. We were admitted by a neat, elderly maid servant who looked as if she had seen all and told nothing.
The inside of the house was as standardized as the outside; the furnishings looked as if they had been purchased en bloc from an instalment shop. But it was comfortable enough.
The servant requested us to follow her upstairs to take off our things. She led us into the front bedroom above.
"As you have so much to discuss with Mr. Endicott," she said in her quiet, courteous voice, "and as it would be imprudent for you to leave, and come back again, he hopes that you will remain as his guests here, until everything is settled."
Mme. Storey bowed.
"Does that mean we are prisoners?" I asked when the woman had left us.
"Pooh!" said Mme. Storey. "They couldn't keep us in this match-box against our will. We could kick our way out."
The front door closed, and we saw the young man who had brought us, making his way quickly up the street. A moment later we heard a motorcycle. As silently as a shadow, Mme. Storey ran to the window, but did not succeed in attracting the rider's attention.
"He was clever to follow us so far into this maze," she said.
"But how can he pick out the house now?" I groaned.
"We'll hang out a sign," she said, fishing in her bag for a pencil. "A sheet of paper. Oh, for a sheet of paper!"
It was not forthcoming.
"Never mind," she said, "the upper part of the house is painted white."
We locked the door, and she stationed me beside it to listen for the return of the maid. She threw up one of the windows, and sitting upon the sill, leaned over and began to pencil her initials in big black letters on the white space between the two windows: R. S. In the absolute sameness of that street, it must have stuck out like a sore finger.
We had the window closed, and were standing decorously in the middle of the room, when the maid returned.
"If you are ready," she said.
"Please lead the way," said Mme. Storey. On the floor below the maid opened the door into the rear room, and stood aside to let us enter. I followed my Mistress with a fast beating heart.
It was a narrow room with a single window in the corner, looking out on a cement paved space between two kitchen extensions. It was furnished with a "dining suite" and two easy chairs, one on each side of the gas logs. A man stood with his back to us, looking out of the window.
At the sound of our entrance he turned around, and my heart gave a great jump.
I knew that face! That clever face with the full, dark, beaming eye of the enthusiast; where had I seen it before?
My brain spun around like a teetotum, and then settled down soberly. I remembered. It was Ambrose G. Larned, the publicity genius; and the last time I had seen him was at Mme. Storey's own dinner table!
I stole a glance at my mistress. Under the grease paint her expression was very bland.
"So this is the Duchess!" said our host, coming forward with outstretched hand. "And her trusty lieutenant! Sit down ladies, we have much to talk over."
WELL, there we sat, the three of us, in front of the tawdry fireplace, Mme. Storey and I in the two easy chairs, and the unsuspecting Mr. Larned between us in a straightbacked chair. My mistress was smoking one of the famous little cigars, and Mr. Larned waved a cigarette about while he talked.
Each recognizing a great spirit in the other, they mostly ignored me. I was quite content to look and listen.
"We strike in the spot of our own choosing," Mr. Larned said enthusiastically; "and with a high-powered automobile at hand, or as in your case a speedy motor boat, the danger of capture is almost non-existent—that is, if the affair has been properly planned. And no policeman can tell in advance where the next blow will fall.
"Just look at our record during the last few weeks. First, the creation of the bobbed hair bandit with the numerous exploits to her credit; then the robbery of Mme. Storey in her office; then the double holdup of Fossberg's; and finally your magnificent raid on Beauvoir last week to cap the climax. What can the police do? What could Mme. Storey do with all her boasted cleverness? Why, nothing.
"A vastly overrated woman, by the way," he went on, lighting a fresh cigarette. "I know her. There is nothing much to her. Publicity has made her. Which is a further illustration of my point. Publicity will do anything."
I heard the doorbell sound somewhere in the house. Mr. Larned's eyelids flickered, but he kept right on talking:
"Publicity is man's greatest discovery. He doesn't know what he's got yet. There are any number of professors and practitioners and promoters of publicity; but they haven't scratched the surface of their subject."
I noticed that nobody went to the door. The suspense became almost more than I could bear, sitting still.
"Rather a good scheme this of ours, don't you think?" said Mr. Larned. "One directing head, and a number of units working quite independently."
"And taking all the risk," put in Mme. Storey slyly.
"Surely," he said with the utmost coolness; "and quite right, too. It would not be fitting for the commanders to expose themselves on the firing line. The individual operators must fail sometimes, but the organization goes on—"
The front door went in with a crash. A second later Inspector Rumsey entered the room, with other men behind him. Larned swelled up like a pouter pigeon.
"How dare you?" he cried. "What do you mean by this outrage?"
"Inspector Rumsey of the police department," said our friend coolly. "You are under arrest." Then he recognized his prisoner. "Ah, Mr. Larned, so we meet again!"
Larned still essayed to bluff it out.
"You know me," he cried. "Everybody knows Ambrose G. Larned. How dare you break into my private dwelling?"
"It won't go, Larned," said the inspector smiling. "Thanks to the activities of this lady, we know all about you and your organization. Jake Golden is already under arrest."
"Who is this woman?" queried Larned.
"The Duchess," said Rumsey with relish; "alias Kate Arkledon; but in reality, Mme. Rosika Storey."
Larned collapsed like a pricked balloon. The sight was both tragic and absurd. He slunk to one side, and dropped into a chair.
Well, that ended one crime wave. If another one rolled up almost immediately afterward it was not our fault. Abell and a plainclothes man brought a chopfallen little pair of bandits back from Saranac next day. I would not have missed the scene when Mme. Storey returned Falseface's ring with a smile.
What an extraordinary psychological study Larned was. I believe he was a little mad. Mme. Storey and I visited him in jail. Even in his downfall he played the great man, and displayed no rancor toward her.
He still loved to air his theories on publicity. It was his theories which had led him into crime. He explained that having tasted all the possible successes of a regular business career, he craved a greater excitement; and finally yielded to the temptation of wielding this enormously powerful weapon in secret.<
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