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Title: Jimmie Dale And The Missing Hour Author: Frank Lucius Packard * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1901241h.html Language: English Date first posted: December 2019 Most recent update: December 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Prologue - In The Years Before
Chapter 1. - The Rain Check
Chapter 2. - The Missing Hour
Chapter 3. - Into The Shadows Again
Chapter 4. - Whispers Of The Underworld
Chapter 5. - The Dragnet
Chapter 6. - At Two In The Morning
Chapter 7. - Guarded Voices
Chapter 8. - By Special Messenger
Chapter 9. - Fragments
Chapter 10. - The Tocsin’s Story
Chapter 11. - The House Next Door
Chapter 12. - The Last Card
Chapter 13. - What The Morning Brought
Chapter 14. - “X” Marks The Spot
Chapter 15. - The Fourth Night
Chapter 16. - The Showdown
Chapter 17. - The Kernel Of The Case
JIMMIE DALE drew suddenly back into the shadows, and the next instant was crouched, beneath the front door steps, at the basement entrance to one of a row of rather pretentious brownstone houses. It was late. The street was deserted—save for that solitary figure who had just turned the corner half a block away and was coming in this direction.
This house here was his, Jimmie Dale’s, immediate objective, and he had not a moment to lose—but now he waited. Much less than half an hour ago, for he had made all speed uptown, someone in the press around him on the Bowery had thrust that envelope into his hand. Who? He did not know. The Tocsin herself this time? He did not even know who the Tocsin was—he knew only that it was another “call to arms” from her to the Gray Seal. And this one tonight, it would seem, so far as the element of time was concerned, was more urgent than any he had ever received before. He had not dared risk the quarter of an hour at least that it would have taken him to go to the Sanctuary, remove his make-up, and change from the disreputable attire of Larry the Bat to the well-cut tweeds of Jimmie Dale—which latter would have been infinitely more in keeping with his visit to this decidedly exclusive residential neighborhood!
But still Jimmie Dale waited—silent and motionless. Larry the Bat, well known as a denizen of the underworld, would be hard put to it, if seen, to explain his presence in this locality so foreign to his usual haunts, even if he were not caught in any untoward act! He fretted impatiently. The snail-like way in which that cop out there was approaching, sauntering in leisurely fashion along his beat, was maddening.
The footsteps drew nearer, louder, rang on the pavement a few feet away from Jimmie Dale’s crouched form, passed by, and continued on along the street, gradually growing fainter in the distance.
And then Jimmie Dale, millionaire clubman, alias the Gray Seal, alias Larry the Bat, peer of the inglorious realm of Gangland, was in action.
From beneath his tattered vest, from that curious leather girdle around his waist, whose numerous stout-sewn upright pockets contained a finely tempered, compact, powerful burglar’s kit, he drew out a slender, blued-steel little instrument. And now, as he pressed close against the basement door, the little instrument slipped into the keyhole, and his slim, tapering fingers, whose tips were as a sixth sense to Jimmie Dale, and none the less sensitive now as the grimy digits of Larry the Bat, were at work.
Came then a faint rasp of metal. The door opened silently, closed as silently—and Jimmie Dale stood in pitch blackness within the house.
For a moment he remained motionless, listening. There was no sound. Then from the girdle came a small flashlight. Its ray winked through the black. Yes, there ahead of him were the stairs. He moved swiftly forward and began to mount them.
Was he in time? If so, how much time had he to spare? “The wall safe,” the Tocsin had written, “in the library behind the big Corot. First floor-right-rear.” It took time for even the Gray Seal to open a wall safe, or any other kind of a safe!
He made no sound. Why should he? Jimmie Dale’s lips parted in a smile that was almost one of apology—to the carpeted stairs. These were not the bare rickety treads of the Sanctuary where, more than once in the years gone by, it had literally meant the difference between life and death to him that there should emanate no single telltale creak out of the ambushed chorus that lay in wait to give blatant tongue in unison at little more provocation than the footfall of a cat!
It was as though a shadow scarcely darker than the surrounding darkness flitted up the stairs and along the hallway above. A minute more and Jimmie Dale had opened the library door and stepped into the room. Here, with the door left open behind him, he listened again. Nothing! Certainly no one of the household appeared to have been disturbed. The first few words of the Tocsin’s letter formulated themselves in his mind once more. The letter had begun as every letter she had ever written to him had begun:
“Dear Philanthropic Crook:
“It may already be too late, in which case . . .
His mental rehearsal of the letter ended as abruptly as though the letter itself had ended in the same way. His flashlight, playing inquisitively around the library, had become suddenly arrested, its white ray focused on the wall opposite the door and near the lower end of the room.
It was too late. A large painting had been taken down and now stood on the floor propped against the wall; and, where the picture had hung, the door of a wall safe was swung out wide open.
Jimmie Dale’s lips firmed into a straight line. Not so good! There rang suddenly, premonitorily, in his ears the slogan of the police and the underworld alike: “Death to the Gray Seal!” With that safe already opened, there was perilous work ahead of him—before daylight came. And if he lost the throw of the dice? Whether trapped by the police or the underworld, and the identity of the Gray Seal was thereby disclosed, the end would be the same—only perhaps the chair up the river there at Sing Sing would be the more merciful death. He shrugged his shoulders. Great as its commercial value might be, he had not come here to save a necklace of first-water diamonds—he had come here to save, if possible, a man’s life.
Well, then, the note! The Tocsin had said that if the necklace were gone the note would be here.
He stepped across the room, and his flashlight bored into the interior of the wall safe. The safe contained what appeared to be a number of documents such as insurance policies and the like, nothing else—except an embossed monogrammed correspondence card that had ostentatiously been placed in full view just inside the door of the safe.
Jimmie Dale picked up the card—obviously one of Mrs. Braemer’s own—and, utilizing the ray of his flashlight, began to read the closely written lines that were penned upon it:
“I’ve taken the necklace. Better call it a day. I won’t bother you any more. There’s no love lost between us anyway. You know I’m a bit of a rotter, but you don’t know how much of a rotter I am. I wouldn’t advise you to try to find out—it would only bring scandal to the holy Braemer name!
“You’ve been pretty tight with money”—Jimmie Dale turned over the card—“and I’m in a jam. This is the way out—and a cheap way out for you. After all, I’m entitled to something by way of patrimony. I’ll call this quits. I don’t exist any more. You can tell any story you like to account for my disappearance—no one will be able to contradict you, as neither you nor anyone else, particularly the police, will ever hear from me again. I hope you won’t shed too many tears—for the necklace—I know you won’t shed any for me.
Jimmie Dale lost not an instant—there was not an instant to lose. There would be ample time for his mind to run riot on the way downtown. He thrust the card into his pocket, and, leaving the door of the wall safe wide open as he had found it, left the house, as he had come—like a swift-moving shadow.
And five minutes later Larry the Bat was staring out through the window of a subway express at the black walls that rushed past him.
He gave free rein to his thoughts now.
He knew something—as a matter of fact, a great deal—about the Braemers. The Braemer family had, to some extent, moved in his own social orbit. Thomas Braemer, the husband and father, had died some ten years ago, leaving his entire estate, which involved a very considerable sum of money, to his widow. The son, Thomas, the “Tom” of the correspondence card, now in his early twenties, had from boyhood shown vicious tendencies, and Mrs. Braemer, a woman of sterling qualities, aware of these tendencies, had kept what check she could upon the lad from the time of her husband’s death. But Mrs. Braemer did not know the half of it, as the note on the correspondence card had intimated. The boy had pretty well gone the limit. The underworld had a far more intimate conception of the depths to which the boy had fallen than the boy’s mother had. Larry the Bat, for instance, knew Tom Braemer for what Tom Braemer really was—Jimmie Dale knew Tom Braemer only from the standpoint of what might be called Tom Braemer’s social status. A tough break for Mrs. Braemer and the boy! Tom Braemer had become what Larry the Bat was credited with being: a dope fiend, a frequenter of the lowest and cheapest—since his mother, with justification, kept him short of money—pipe joints below the Dead Line. Larry the Bat had time and again seen Tom Braemer in one or another of these dives.
Jimmie Dale’s dark eyes grew hard. He spoke suddenly, bitterly under his breath:
“Food for the wolves!”
His thoughts swerved abruptly. That letter of the Tocsin—that he had torn into tiny shreds and cast away after having memorized it, just as he had precautiously torn up and cast away all of her former letters.
“Spike Dorlan,” she had said.
He knew Spike Dorlan. Who in the Bad Lands did not? Spike, czar and autocrat of the so-called Vulture Gang to which he had given birth, and which paid him unswerving allegiance, both by reason of each member’s individual fears, since death was the penalty for disloyalty, and likewise because of the goodly dividends that were paid out under Spike’s unholy leadership, was a killer of the worst type. To Spike, a human life blotted out, if that should chance to advance his interests in any degree, was merely a commonplace detail. He took that life—or his gang did it for him—casually. Spike’s activities were not wholly unsuspected by the police, but Spike was eminently resourceful in a vicious way; and the low cunning, in which art he was a past master, with which he staged his coups had so far enabled him to thumb his nose at the law—which was still another reason why his followers swore by him to a man.
“Death to the Gray Seal!” That ugly slogan was jangling through Jimmie Dale’s mind again. Death at the hands of the police for the “crimes,” even of murder, that he had taken upon himself to save the innocent; death at the hands of the underworld because the Gray Seal, still mysterious and unknown, but once the idol of those who shunned the daylight and lived outside the law, had squealed and sent the rats who justly deserved it to their doom at the hands of the authorities!
And now tonight! There was no more treacherous hive in gangland than the tenement where Spike Dorlan had his headquarters and abode. The pitcher that went to the well! Would it go once too often—before the identity of the Tocsin, the woman, always in danger herself, and whom he had come to love more than life itself, still remained a mystery to him?
His mind probed suddenly back into the years that were gone. That night in Maiden Lane when he had been obliged to carry away with him that string of pearls (afterwards returned, of course) in his sudden dash to escape from Marx’s, the big jewelry store, whose safe he had opened! It had all begun out of a spirit of pure adventure, suggested doubtless through his connection with his father’s business—the business of manufacturing safes—his gray-seal device employed as a guarantee that no innocent bystander of the underworld should be accused of, or suffer for, the series of apparent crimes that were being committed to the dismay and mystification of the police.
How had she known about that string of pearls, and, above all, who he was?
Larry the Bat, gathering his smudgy, unwashed forehead into heavy puckers, shook his head. He did not know. The only intimate thing he knew about her, if even this could be termed intimate, was that just recently, about a month ago, he had found her gold signet ring in the finger of her glove, which latter she had dropped on the floor of his parked car while he was dining one night at Marlianne’s. She had not meant to drop her glove there, much less her ring—he was well enough aware of that—but she had dropped them just the same in her hurry to escape from him unseen as he had emerged from the restaurant.
Sonnez le Tocsin was the scroll that he had read beneath the crest on the ring—the crest itself a bell surmounted by a bishop’s miter. French! Was that in any way significant—an indication of her nationality? A twisted smile pulled down the corners of his mouth. The scroll on even the British coat of arms was in French!
Sonnez le Tocsin! Ring the Tocsin! Sound the alarm! He had called her the Tocsin since then. It seemed so immeasurably apt. Never since that first letter in which she had told him she knew of his escapade at Marx’s in Maiden Lane, and had written—the words lived always in his memory—that “the cleverness, the originality of the Gray Seal as a crook lacked but one thing, and that one thing was that his crookedness required a leading string to guide it into channels that were worthy of his genius,” had any communication received from her been but another call to arms and to sound again the alarm.
He had perforce accepted her ultimatum that in future “she would plan the coups, and he would act at her dictation and execute them; or else, how did twenty years in Sing Sing for that little Maiden Lane affair appeal to him?”—and he had answered “Yes” in the personal column of the next morning’s News-Argus, as she had instructed. His acceptance, however, needless to say, had been accompanied by a mental reservation that he could, and always would, queer any shady work whereby she might attempt to exploit him.
But there had been no shady work for the Gray Seal to do—only some poor devil pulled out of a jam; some man, falsely accused, proved innocent, and the guilty brought to book; some solitary human to bless, while New York’s millions cursed, the name of the Gray Seal. How had she found him out that night in Maiden Lane? The question would never down. How did she come by all this inside knowledge that inspired her notes? He did not know.
Would he ever know?
Larry the Bat emerged from the subway and slunk deep into the East Side. He halted finally in front of a down-at-the-heels, three-story tenement on an ill-lighted cross street. This was Spike Dorlan’s lair—in the top flat.
He glanced sharply up and down the street. In view of what he proposed to do, it would be practically equivalent to his death warrant were Larry the Bat recognized or known to have been here at this hour tonight. There was no one in sight.
The front door was unlocked—the tenants of this hovel-like place did not carry pass-keys! Jimmie Dale stepped inside and began a silent progress up the stairs that, unlike those of the Braemer mansion of a little while before, were as potentially a bedlam of outcries as were those of the Sanctuary itself.
He gained the hallway above. It was utterly dark—except that, here and there, from warped, ill-fitting doorsills, there showed a faint and irregular thread of light. There were sounds—voices muffled behind closed doors; an occasional cough; the clink of a glass. Daylight here was the accepted time for sleep! There were smells—garlic predominated. The place was airless, musty.
Jimmie Dale stole along the hallway of the second floor and began his ascent to the top landing. Reaching this, he halted and nodded in grim satisfaction to himself. He had never been honored with an entrée to Spike Dorlan’s hangout, but the Toscin had never failed in even the most minute of details—those details that had so often bridged the narrow margin between life and death. Directly facing the head of the stairs was the gang leader’s bedroom. No light, either from keyhole or sill, showed from it. The adjoining room to the left was Spike Dorlan’s antechamber where he gave audience, when the spirit moved him, to those who, under his despotic leadership, had risen to the rank, if it could be called a rank, of satraps of the underworld—and from beneath the sill of this door there seeped one of those faint, irregular threads of light that he had noted, from under other sills, on his way up from the ground floor.
Again Jimmie Dale nodded sharply to himself. It was still in the early hours of the morning; and, though he had arrived too late at the Braemer mansion, it would seem now that he could not have been very far outstripped in his race to forestall Spike Dorlan’s successfully vicarious raid on Mrs. Braemer’s wall safe—vicarious because certainly Spike Dorlan, who modestly avoided the footlights, would have delegated the job to an expert emissary. Spike Dorian was still up—and, no doubt, was gloating, at the present moment, over the wretched plunder that his aforesaid emissary had brought him.
Perhaps even the emissary himself was still here.
Jimmie Dale moved across the hall. His ears nestled against the panel of the door. There were no voices from within; but there was the sound of presence . . . faint, almost indefinable . . . little noises . . . movement as of one shifting one’s position in a chair . . . breathing—Spike Dorlan, past middle age and corpulent, was inclined to be a trifle stertorous.
A minute passed, and yet another—and then Jimmie Dale moved. Spike Dorlan was alone in there.
From one of the pockets in the girdle beneath his vest Jimmie Dale took out a black silk mask and slipped it over his face—as his eyes searched through the darkness of the hallway in both directions. There was no sign of light anywhere, save only this meager glow that escaped from under the sill of Spike Dorlan’s door.
And now Jimmie Dale knelt down at the threshold, and from a pocket in the girdle there came, this time, a thin metal case, like a cigarette case. The light, pitiful as it was, was adequate—for Jimmie Dale was working now by almost the sense of touch alone. From the case, with a pair of tiny tweezers that reposed inside the cover, he lifted out one of the diamond-shaped gray seals, adhesive on its under side, that lay within between protecting sheets of oil paper—the insignia of the Gray Seal that had been so many times microscopically searched in vain by the police for fingerprints! He took a none too clean piece of cotton, which did duty for Larry the Bat’s handkerchief, from his jacket pocket, laid the gray seal upon it, and carefully folding the handkerchief, put it back again in his pocket.
Then he stood up. Was the door locked? He tested it noiselessly—and an ironic little smile twisted at the corners of his mouth for a fleeting instant. Spike Dorlan, once ensconced therein, appeared to be imbued with a sublime optimism anent the security afforded him by his own domain! Or perhaps there was another reason why the door was unlocked. Not that it mattered either way—save for the extra moment or so that it would take to open it!
Jimmie Dale’s face was safe from recognition behind the black silk mask, but there remained the chance that the tattered attire of Larry the Bat, if seen, might possibly be identified, and if so—. His lips were suddenly a straight line. Oh, yes, he could hear the howls of the underworld like a pack of ravening wolves at his heels! But “chance” had no place in the Gray Seal’s vocabulary. Spike Dorlan would be favored with no such clue.
“The wall switch,” she had written, “the type that pushes in and out, is just inside the jamb of the door on the left-hand side, shoulder high from the floor.”
Jimmie Dale’s hands sought his pockets again—for the small flashlight and his automatic. For the fraction of a second he stood there poised—and then his movements were lightning like in their rapidity.
In his left hand he held the flashlight, but with two free fingers he turned the door knob, pushed the door just far enough open to allow the back of his hand to sweep up and down the wall beside the door jamb—and the light in the room went out. But instantly in its place the ray of the flashlight, held a little nearer to his body in order to disclose the outflung automatic in his right hand, stabbed through the blackness.
Jimmie Dale was in the room. His shoulders closed the door softly behind him.
There had come a startled oath. Spike Dorlan had half risen from the chair where he had been sitting at a table near the center of the room—he had had no time to do more than that—and his fingers, curled like claws, were still reached out as though to snatch up a string of diamonds from the table that glistened now in the flashlight’s gleam.
“Leave that alone!” It was not Larry the Bat who spoke in the vernacular out of the corner of his mouth; it was Jimmie Dale’s crisp, cultured voice. “I might like to examine it myself!”
Spike Dorlan hastily withdrew his hands. Jimmie Dale advanced to the table.
“Put your hands above your head and turn around with your back to me!” he ordered.
The man in a dazed way hesitated, but the prod of Jimmie Dale’s automatic brought obedience.
Jimmie Dale laid the flashlight on the table—and his deft fingers searched the other’s person. He extracted a gat from Spike Dorlan’s hip pocket and transferred it to his own.
“Now sit down!” he instructed curtly, as he picked up the flashlight from the table.
Once more Spike Dorlan obeyed; but, finding his voice in some measure, gave vent to a guttural curse this time.
Jimmie Dale surveyed the other unhappily. Spike Dorlan, like most of his ilk, was yellow at heart. To kill unconcernedly while he sneered was one thing; to face death himself with any degree of unconcern was another. The pendulous jowls, none too cleanly shaven, quivered; in the beady black eyes, much too small for the flabby face, was unmistakable fear.
But, lacking personal courage, Spike Dorlan did not lack wits—Spike Dorlan’s gang had many a time had evidence of that. He snarled now.
“What t’hell does this mean?” he blustered. “And who t’hell tipped you off?”
Jimmie Dale shook his head.
“I don’t know who tipped me off. I wish I did,” he murmured wistfully; and then his voice hardened: “But as for what it means, I’ll tell you.” Again he laid his flashlight down—but propped it now against a cigar box on the table so that the ray fell full on Spike Dorlan’s face. “First this”—he picked up the diamond necklace and thrust it into his pocket. “And next”—he laid the correspondence card on the table—“this!”
He tilted the flashlight so that Spike Dorlan might see clearly, then tilted it back so that it played on the other’s face once more.
Spike Dorlan’s tongue was circling his lips. “Who are you?” he demanded hoarsely. “Damn you, who are you, anyway?”
“I’ll tell you that, too—though you could hardly have expected an answer,” Jimmie Dale replied as he took his handkerchief from his pocket, lifted it to his lips, then pressed it down upon the table—and drew the handkerchief away. Under the flashlight, its ray conveniently tilted again, the moistened adhesive side adhering firmly to the table, the diamond-shaped gray seal was exposed to Spike Dorlan’s staring eyes. “I apologize for this on two counts,” confessed Jimmie Dale contritely. “In the first place because I have been wantonly plagiarizing myself, having done this exact thing several times before; in the second place because I realize that it is unpardonably melodramatic—but my excuse is that on former occasions, as well as the present one, necessity has compelled.”
Spike Dorlan did not appear to have heard. His face was sallow.
“The Gray Seal!” His voice was a shaken whisper. “Almighty Gawd!”
“You flatter me!” returned Jimmie softly, as with the forefinger of his free hand he edged the correspondence card a little nearer to the other. “A clever bit of forgery, Spike. I doubt if, in the ordinary course of events, it would ever have been questioned. Jake Winler”—a deadly menace had come creeping into Jimmie Dale’s quiet voice—“got out of Sing Sing a month ago. One of the slickest penmen in the country—and one of your mob!”
Spike Dorlan was obviously striving to get a grip on himself. One pudgy hand passed through his hair. He stopped licking his lips.
“Well, what about it?” he inquired ingratiatingly.
Jimmie Dale leaned suddenly across the table—the muzzle of his automatic thrust within almost an inch of the other’s eyes.
“Don’t try to stall!” he warned in an ugly monotone. “You’re playing against a royal flush. Is Tom Braemer, that kid you’ve framed, still alive?”
Spike Dorlan drew hastily back in his chair. Fear was in his eyes again.
“Yes—sure!” he gulped. “Sure, he is! Honest to Gawd, that’s straight. You can see for yourself that there’d be no use bumping him off unless we’d got the sparklers—and I never got them until a few minutes ago. You can see that for yourself, can’t you?”
“That was what I was banking on,” stated Jimmie Dale in the same uncompromising tone. “I hope you’re telling the truth—for his sake, and yours.”
“I’m handing you the straight goods,” asserted Spike Dorlan earnestly.
“I hope so!” Jimmie Dale’s voice was icy. “If you are, and the kid is returned safely to his home, all you lose are these few thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds—and without the police nosing in. I’ll promise you that much to make it worth your while—to save his life. On the other hand, if anything has already happened to him, or happens, I’ll see that the police are wised up, and that you go to the chair for it. You remember what happened to Stangeist, the Mope, Australian Ike, and Clarie Dean, don’t you?”
Spike Dorlan’s fear seemed suddenly to be engulfed in a wave of passion. He struck his clenched hand down on the table.
“Yes!” he snarled. “You squealed on them. You sent them, and others too, to the hot seat to burn. That’s all you are—a dirty, double-crossing squealer! But your number’s up, and some day we’ll get you! Don’t fool yourself there! You can come here and grab that necklace after I’ve done all the work, and then tell me where I get off. You’re the worst thief of the lot of us, and you’ve bumped off quite a few guys yourself. You’ve got a hell of a nerve! To hear you spiel you’d think you’re the only one had the right to cannon a bird, or —”
An ungentle thrust in the chest from the muzzle of Jimmie Dale’s automatic put an abrupt end to Spike Dorlan’s outburst.
“Quite a tirade!” commented Jimmie Dale dispassionately. “But I see that you have grasped the point. Where I have sent others, I can send you. Ever seen that room up the river? Take a salutary look at it some day—before you are the guest of honor! If Tom Braemer dies, you die—while the state’s witnesses look on!”
Spike Dorlan’s tongue was once more circling his lips.
Jimmie Dale regarded the gangster for an instant in silence, then he spoke again, as he pocketed the correspondence card.
“You are a cur,” he rasped scathingly, “a despicable cur! Young Tom Braemer was your meat. According to your frame-up, he steals the necklace from his mother, leaves a signed confession behind, disappears—and is never heard of again. How could he ever be heard of again if his disappearance is based on the hoary premise that dead men tell no tales? In the investigation that would follow, the depths to which he has fallen would be unearthed by the police, his theft and disappearance under such circumstances would be logical to a degree, no suspicion would be aroused that things were not as they seemed, the affair would be hushed up for the sake of his mother and the family name, you would be left in possession of your miserable loot without fear of exposure—and all it would cost you would be a man’s life! But Tom Braemer did not steal that necklace. You stole it. And you—”
The flashlight, in Jimmie Dale’s left hand again, was searching Spike Dorlan’s face. Into the gangster’s eyes had come—and vanished—a momentary gleam of cunning. But Jimmie Dale had heard it, too—the creak of the decrepit staircase, the heavy tread of men’s mounting footsteps. He counted. Three of them, at least—more likely four.
And then, in no more than the space of time it would take a watch to tick, Jimmie Dale circled the table to Spike Dorlan’s side.
“Some of your crowd, eh?” he shot out in a whisper. “Coming here for last-minute orders as to whether Tom Braemer is ‘for it,’ or not?” The muzzle of his automatic prodded viciously at the pit of the other’s stomach. “Answer!”
“Yes,” mumbled Spike Dorlan.
“Stand up!” ordered Jimmie Dale peremptorily. “And, if you make a sound, you go out first! Understand?”
Spike Dorlan rose to his feet. Jimmie Dale’s flashlight pointed the way—through the open connecting door into the bedroom.
The insistent prodding of the automatic’s muzzle indicated the further direction that was to be taken. The two men halted at the bedroom door that opened on the hall. Jimmie Dale unlocked it silently.
The footsteps were clattering now on the hallway without—moving toward the sitting-room door, Spike Dorlan’s “audience chamber.” The chances were perhaps an even break—perhaps only one in ten. But there was no other way.
Spike Dorlan’s myrmidons seemed to be clustered around the sitting-room door now—they were knocking upon it.
“Remember!” Jimmie Dale’s lips were pressed against the gangster’s ear. “Tom Braemer at home, and alive, by daylight—or you smoke!”
Spike Dorlan was given no chance to reply. With every ounce of his strength behind the blow, Jimmie Dale’s fist crashed to the other’s chin, and the man, hurtling backward into the room, went down under the blow.
Jimmie Dale tore the door open and darted out into the hall. A dark shape, a straggler from his fellow gangsters obviously, loafed in the way; but before Jimmie Dale’s headlong rush the man toppled over with a startled yelp.
Jimmie Dale, in the darkness now, took the stairs two and three at a time. But, when no more than halfway down the upper flight, came Spike Dorlan’s screaming voice, punctuated with hysterical and frantic oaths:
“The Gray Seal! Get him! Get the—! It’s the Gray Seal! Give him the works!”
Came then a chorus of blasphemous yells, the tongue flames of revolver shots lancing through the blackness down the stairway from above—the thud of feet in pursuit.
Jimmie Dale gained the hallway of the second floor. Doors, in this tenement of sleepless night, flew open avidly because of the commotion—and closed hastily as Jimmie Dale’s automatic barked a passage for himself along the hall.
He reached the head of the stairway leading to the ground floor, leaped downward, and, near the bottom, tripped—to plunge head foremost the rest of the way as something, a chair, he thought subconsciously, was hurled down in front of him from over the banister above.
He picked himself up, fighting desperately against giddiness and nausea. There was not only his own life at stake, but another’s. If they got him now, and he went out like a snuffed candle as he surely would, they would get back the necklace, Spike Dorlan would be “sitting pretty,” and Tom Braemer would never be heard of again.
His left arm hung limpless. He thrust his automatic into his pocket, tore the mask from his face, jumped for the front door, wrenched it open, and dashed out into the street.
Coming down the stairs, though a flight behind him, Spike Dorlan’s gangsters had been in full cry. He had at least that much start, that much lead. Nerve force alone sustaining him, he swerved into an alleyway as they now came pouring out of the tenement, and their yells echoed from the street.
On he ran—another alleyway—then a cross street—another alleyway again. None knew the East Side with its intricate ramifications as Jimmie Dale knew it. On he forced himself to run until all sound of pursuit had died away. He had thrown them off the trail—but none too soon, for despite his every effort now his pace had begun to slacken woefully.
He slumped down finally on a doorstep. He was hurt—and badly hurt. The last vestige of his strength seemed to have ebbed away. His left arm was useless. His head ached and throbbed mercilessly. The street swam before his eyes. He wasn’t going to faint, was he?
He lashed himself mentally. Above all and everything else he must retain his senses. Larry the Bat must not be found here with that telltale necklace in his pocket—whether by the police, Spike Dorlan’s mob, or by anyone else. He must get somewhere—to cover and safety. It was too far to the Sanctuary—he had not strength enough for that.
And then suddenly uplift surged upon him. Luck that he should have come this way! He knew where he was; for, notwithstanding his twistings and turnings, he had never lost his bearings from the moment he had fled from Spike Dorlan’s tenement. Down that alleyway almost directly across the street was one of the entrances to Lan Chi’s pipe joint—where Larry the Bat, supposed dope fiend, was always a welcome guest.
Jimmie Dale staggered to his feet. Thank God for the hour and the empty street! A bunk where he could rest and get his strength back; a pipe—that he would not smoke! He could even drift off into unconsciousness there with impunity if a fainting spell actually overtook him. His condition would be attributed to his bout with opium.
He made his way unsteadily across the street, disappeared in the mouth of the alleyway—and a minute or so later was standing in one of the half-dozen small cubicle-like enclosures that were thinly partitioned off from one another in Lan Chi’s subcellar.
Larry the Bat was an honored client. Lan Chi himself was in attendance; but Lan Chi, who had long since graduated from pidgin English, was apologetic.
“Full house tonight,” he explained obsequiously. “Have to make double. I go get you pipe.”
“All right,” responded Larry the Bat mechanically as Lan Chi shuffled away.
A lamp suspended from the ceiling gave a modicum of light. There were two bunks here, and, as Lan Chi had intimated, one was already occupied. Not so good! But he had no choice in the matter. He was in no condition to go elsewhere. He felt weak, and his head was going around, but he must see who was in that bunk there. He stepped over to it and peered down.
The occupant waved his long-stemmed pipe dreamily.
“Hello, Larry!” he said.
“Oh, it’s youse, eh? Hello, Sonny!” responded Larry the Bat cordially, as he retreated to his own bunk and threw himself down upon it.
Lan Chi reappeared, bringing an offering to the god of poppy and vanished.
Larry the Bat, reputedly confirmed dope fiend, had never taken a whiff of opium in his life; and now, more through force of habit than anything else, he toyed with his pipe in pretense—with the artistry of long practice. His mind was ragged. It seemed to work in snatches. He was all in for the moment, but he’d be fit enough again after a few hours’ rest. His arm wasn’t broken—he was sure of that. That was Sonny Gartz over there in that bunk. He, Jimmie Dale, had hoped to be alone in here. Nothing to fear from Sonny, though. Young Sonny Gartz was still one of the lesser breed in the underworld; not a specialist in any particular line of criminal activity as yet, but with the promise of big things ahead—if a bullet or the police did not get him on the way up! And meanwhile Sonny was known everywhere throughout the purlieus of the Bad Lands as being a square guy and on the level. He, Jimmie Dale, could even fall into a coma here, and that necklace in his pocket would still be safe so far as Sonny Gartz was concerned.
A coma? What was the matter with him? Perhaps it wasn’t only that smash on his head and the hurt of his injured arm. The entire cellar here reeked with the sweet, sickish fumes of opium. Perhaps that had a lot to do with it now. It was coming over him again—that same premonitive sensation he had experienced out there on the street, only intensified—as though he were slipping over the edge of an abyss and falling, slowly at first, then faster and faster, with a swift whirling motion—down into nothingness.
When Jimmie Dale opened his eyes again it was with the vague consciousness that he was being shaken roughly, and that a voice was screaming in his ear.
“Come on, Larry!” the voice seemed to scream. “For Gawd’s sake, come on! Youse have got to beat it—quick!”
Jimmie Dale struggled weakly upon his elbow —and fell back on the bunk again. His limbs were without vigor; and, apart from his whirling head, his lungs seemed to be strangely choked, and he gasped for breath. That was Sonny Gartz screaming at him, wasn’t it? He stared at the form that bent over him. Yes, that was Sonny, all right, but Sonny appeared to be idiotically enveloped in a cloud of some sort of smoke—like one of those pictured jinns of schoolboy days emerging from the neck of a bottle!
“Wot’s the matter, Sonny?” he muttered.
Again he felt himself being shaken, but this time more violently and insistently than before.
“Jeese, Larry, snap out of it!” Sonny’s scream was frantic now, rising in its pitch. “De dump’s on fire. It’ll be a bloody furnace in a minute. Get up out of dat! Damn youse, get up out of dat, or de two of us is gone!”
For a moment the stupor cleared partially away from Jimmie Dale’s brain. The subcellar was on fire . . . Those yellow waves were flames . . . The thin partition . . . Those clouds were smoke from the blazing woodwork . . . It was death, of course, to be trapped in here. He half wrenched, half threw himself from the bunk and gained his feet. Perhaps it was too late already . . . He heard cries and shrieks of terror . . . Sonny was a fool not to run for it when every second counted . . . What was Sonny waiting for . . .?
Jimmie Dale groped out with his hands, took a step forward—and pitched to the floor.
But he still clung desperately to a thread of consciousness. He heard Sonny Gartz curse in hysterical, insane desperation. He realized that he was being carried in Sonny’s arms. Then scorching heat . . . Always screams and hideous cries . . . A falling timber, blazing, that struck them both, blocking the way . . . On again, stumbling, swaying . . . Sonny retching as he breathed . . Smoke, curtains of it, acrid, suffocating . . .
And then a lapse into unconsciousness again—and then the realization of open space, of cool, fresh, life-giving air.
His senses revived. He lifted his head and looked around him. It was half light. He was lying on the ground close up against a board fence; Sonny Gartz sat beside him. From the distance, muffled, came the clang of a bell, shouts, the separately indeterminate sounds as of an excited, milling throng.
“Feelin’ better, eh?” inquired Sonny Gartz solicitously.
“Yes,” said Larry the Bat. “Where are we?”
“Around de corner in Ike Cohen’s junk yard. Listen to de crowd! Dere’s about half a dozen tenements fer a bonfire, an’ half de fire brigade, an’ a million cops down dere. I got out by a way youse would’ve known yerself if youse hadn’t had a coupla pipes too many, an’ I was afraid of a pinch, but I couldn’t get youse any furder dan dis. I guess youse got a bad arm from dat hunk of rafter dat fell on us, but youse’ll be all okay when de dope wears off—an’ I’ll get youse over to yer own dump as soon as youse can stagger around enough to make a getaway an’ grab a taxi or something.”
Jimmie Dale stared at the other for a long minute. He was miserably weak and sick, but his mind was functioning again. At mention of the police he had mechanically thrust his hand into his pocket, not through mistrust of Sonny Gartz, but at the thought of what a “pinch” by the police would have meant with that necklace found in his possession—and also the sudden fear that it might have dropped out of his pocket as Sonny had carried him to safety. But it was quite safe. His fingers, in his pocket, were still clutched around it.
Jimmie Dale’s thoughts swerved. What, after all, did the necklace matter compared with what this man had done? In the most literal sense his life had been saved by Sonny Gartz; and in the most literal sense Sonny Gartz had not hesitated to risk his own life in so doing. His eyes roved over the other. Sonny Gartz’s face was blistered and scorched, his hands were bleeding, his clothes torn.
“Youse did a swell thing for me, kid,” said Larry the Bat—and Larry the Bat’s voice was husky with emotion.
“Aw, ferget it!” growled Sonny Gartz awkwardly.
By sheer force of will, for the second time that night, Jimmie Dale rose to his feet.
“Nix!” said Larry the Bat, as he reached out his hand. “It ain’t one of dose things dat I fergits. Maybe some day I can do something fer youse.”
Sonny Gartz laughed to hide embarrassment.
“Maybe youse can—youse never knows,” he said. “Well, den, make it a rain check, Larry.”
“It’ll be good any time, Sonny—an’ dat goes all de way,” said Larry the Bat simply.
“All right,” said Sonny Gartz. “Youse’re on yer feet again—let’s go!” . . .
But that was in the years before. . . .
IT WAS late evening. His dinner clothes replaced by a comfortable dressing gown, Jimmie Dale sat at his flat-topped rosewood desk in his home on Riverside Drive. There were letters to write, and one, half finished, lay before him—but he was no longer writing.
He had permitted himself quite shamelessly, but not wholly without justification, to fall into a reverie. His life of the yesterdays and his life of the tomorrows had come at last now to a final parting of the ways. He nodded his head impatiently. Yes, of course, he knew quite well that he had told himself this same thing before on other occasions, only to find himself at almost the next instant pitted against the underworld again—but this time, certainly, all that was definitely at an end!
His eyes roved over the luxurious but rather curiously appointed room that he called his den, and which ran the entire depth of the house on the second floor—the matched panels; the cozy fireplace; the rich velvet rug; the easel with one of his own completed canvases upon it; that queer little curtained alcove occupied by the squat, barrel-shaped safe with its complicated mechanism of inner and outer doors, that he had designed himself in the days when he had been associated with his father’s business.
He loved the room. It was full of memories. Strange things had happened here. But, too, he had come to know that it possessed an underlying sense of loneliness—as did, indeed, everything connected with this little-less-than mansion that was his home. Even faithful old Jason, who had been butler to his, Jimmie Dale’s, father before him could not dispel that feeling. It had been lonely here since his parents had died.
But that was over now—a thing of the past. In a few more days she would be mistress here—his wife. Her identity, the identity of the Tocsin, had long since ceased to be a mystery. Marie LaSalle—Marie! But she would always be the Tocsin! The days when, following the murder of her father and her uncle at the hands of the old Crime Club, she had fought in the disguise of Silver Mag, and then as Mother Margot, for her life and fortune were gone forever; for, with the Crime Club finally destroyed, she had been able to resume her normal life—and they were to have been married then. Only the war had intervened, and they had both volunteered, agreeing to postpone their marriage until after the war. She had gone as a nurse.
Well, the war was over now—had been for more than a year. And during the last few months she had been in Paris purchasing her trousseau. His face hardened suddenly. She was even supposed to be there now; but of late, instead, she had been here in New York—as Mother Margot —coming back hurriedly and secretively because of what had become known to the public as the Blue Envelope Murder, in which Ray Thorne, who was to have been “best man” at their wedding, had been the victim.
Jimmie Dale cupped his chin in his hands for a moment. It had seemed a cruelly ironic trick of fate that it should have been Ray’s murder that had thrown them both, the Tocsin as Mother Margot, and himself both as Smarlinghue and Larry the Bat, into the fray again, when they had both been so sure that their contact with the underworld had been definitely severed for all time.
But that was the past—he lifted his head suddenly, a quiet smile on his lips—and the past belonged to the past. Whereas now, beyond any peradventure of doubt, the shadows that had kept Marie and himself for so long apart were behind them for always; for last night had seen Daddy Ratzler and his son Beaton, Ray Thorne’s murderers, trapped—and there would never be again a “call to arms” to the Gray Seal from her, inspired by the inside knowledge that had so often come into her possession while living the life of Silver Mag or Mother Margot.
With a mental jerk Jimmie Dale brought himself back to his immediate surroundings. He drew the half-written letter toward him and picked up his pen—but once more his thoughts strayed as his eyes caught again the scareheads of the paper that he had previously brushed aside and which now lay at one end of the desk. It was an evening sheet, but the scareheads, flung in massive type across the front page from one side to the other, were even more lurid than those carried by the special and late editions of the morning papers. News of this sort was not ephemeral—everything else had been “killed” to give place to it. Automatically he read the scareheads over again:
MURDERERS OF RAY THORNE ARRESTED
THE GRAY SEAL, ALIAS LARRY THE BAT, WHO WAS ACCUSED OF THE CRIME, BRINGS GUILTY MEN TO JUSTICE
And then, in smaller type:
Herman Carruthers, Managing Editor of the “Morning News-Argus,” Plays Momentous Part in Capture.
Jimmie Dale laughed softly to himself as the scene of last night in Daddy Ratzler’s secret sub-cellar visualized itself before him—Carruthers—Larry the Bat—the handcuffed Beaton! Carruthers’s rise from reporter to managing editor had been meteoric, for he was still a young man of no more than his, Jimmie Dale’s, own age; but from the beginning it had been Carruthers’s one obsession to lay the Gray Seal by the heels.
“Good old Carruthers!” chuckled Jimmie Dale. “I wonder what he’d have said, or done, last night if he’d found out that Larry the Bat was his bosom pal—Jimmie Dale! I wonder what—”
Someone was knocking on the door.
“Come in!” Jimmie Dale called.
It was old Jason, the butler.
“Begging your pardon, Master Jim, sir,” he announced, “Mr. Carruthers has called and would like to see you.”
“Speak of the devil,” grinned Jimmie Dale under his breath, “and—”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Jason interposed respectfully “but I didn’t quite catch what you said, Master Jim.”
“I said show him up by all means, Jason.”
“Yes, sir; thank you, sir,” returned the old man quietly, as he closed the door behind him.
Jimmie Dale was lounging back in his desk chair as Carruthers entered the room a minute or so later.
“Oh, hello, my hero of the hour!” Jimmie Dale exclaimed capriciously. “I see that your fellow editors are continuing to play you up most generously—very nice of them, considering that you chaps are generally always clawing at each other’s throats! And that was some scoop with that roaring special of yours this morning! It strikes me you owe the Gray Seal a deep debt of gratitude after last night. I hope that at last your attitude toward him has become one of at least decent restraint.”
Carruthers dropped into a chair and produced his cigarette case.
“What do you mean—decent restraint?” he demanded.
“Well,” prodded Jimmie Dale slyly, “in the pre-war days when he first broke into print you began by calling him the most puzzling, bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime, and you had the newspaper itch to get him, though you said you’d actually be sorry if you did, for you had come to love the fellow—that it was the game, really, that you wanted to beat. Then you began to revile him and became a bloodhound on the trail ready to tear him limb from limb if you ever caught up with him, and—”
“That was when he began to commit his filthy murders,” Carruthers interrupted sharply. “My attitude toward him since then has not changed.”
“And yet,” observed Jimmie Dale casually, “he vindicated himself last night. You and everyone else believed he had murdered Ray Thorne because one of his gray seals was found on Ray’s safe.”
“He undoubtedly vindicated himself in that particular instance,” Carruthers admitted bluntly; “but that does not absolve him from the murders that he has committed.”
“And yet,” persisted Jimmie Dale, “when you barged in here at dawn this morning to tell me what had happened, I think, if I am not mistaken, you said you had gratuitously stretched out your hand to clasp his red-stained palm.”
“I’d shake hands with any murderer who had done what he did last night,” Carruthers asserted gruffly.
“And, no doubt,” murmured Jimmie Dale, “would have handed him over to the police—if you could—at the same time you handed Beaton over.”
“No,” refuted Carruthers brusquely. “You know damned well that when he first telephoned me about Ray I gave him my word I’d play the game with him in return for his promise, as he expressed it, to make me ‘a present of Ray’s murderer with the goods on him.’ “
“Stout fellow!” applauded Jimmie Dale. “But I’m afraid I’m responsible for an unpardonable digression. Last night was an exception, of course; but what brings you here tonight at this hour, in spite of that fetish of yours of always seeing your paper put to bed?”
Carruthers was studying the tip of his cigarette. “The Gray Seal,” he stated tersely.
Jimmie Dale leaned nonchalantly forward over his desk.
“A bit of the backwash from last night, I suppose?” he suggested lightly.
“In a sense, yes,” Carruthers answered; “in a much broader sense, no. Listen, Jimmie, a rather queer thing has happened. I started out for the office this evening as usual, and at the usual time—say an hour ago. I took a taxi downtown. When I got out in front of our building the street was apparently deserted, but before I had crossed the sidewalk a man appeared from an adjacent doorway and came up to me. He had evidently checked up on me and my habits, for he called me by name and said he had been waiting to beg me to help him—that, as a matter of fact, his life was in danger. I asked him at once, of course, why, in that case, he didn’t go to the police. His answer was that he would be bumped off within the hour if he did.”
“Oh!” Jimmie Dale nodded. “Of the genus gangster, eh? Just as bad for him, I’d say, if he were found talking to a newspaper man! But how were you to save this precious life of his?”
“By putting him in touch with Larry the Bat—to wit, the Gray Seal,” Carruthers replied briefly. Jimmie Dale’s brows drew slightly together.
“Look here, Carruthers, old chap,” he complained,” you’re really most confusing, you know. I don’t get this at all.”
“I’ll try to make it clear,” Carruthers returned quietly. “He said he had read in the papers that I had been with Larry the Bat last night, hence I was the only chance he had of making contact with Larry the Bat; that Larry the Bat was his one hope—and, failing that, that he was a goner.”
Jimmie Dale’s brows drew still a little closer together.
“What is this, Carruthers?” he inquired whimsically. “A frame—up to snaffle the jolly old Gray Seal, a sort of come-into-my-parlor stunt and all that kind of thing? Frankly, I must say it wouldn’t be at all nice of you after that promise of yours, old dear.”
“It’s no frame-up so far as I am concerned,” Carruthers affirmed somewhat tartly; “nor, I am convinced, on the part of this man we are talking about, either. He was too genuinely anxious and worried to leave any doubt in my mind as to his sincerity.”
“Well?” prompted Jimmie Dale.
“Well,” conceded Carruthers, “I had been taken aback, naturally, from the start. I didn’t know what to say. Finally I told him to telephone me in the morning, and that in the meantime I’d think it over and see what I could do. He went off along the street then; and I decided that, instead of going into our building and upstairs to my office, I’d take a subway uptown to save time, and talk it over with you. So that is what I did—and here I am.
“So I perceive,” said Jimmie Dale dryly. “But, for God’s sake, my dear old chap, would you mind telling me just why I am so honored? And also what on earth you imagine I have to do with this?”
“I don’t imagine you have anything to do with it,” said Carruthers decisively; “but we have worked together before on cases where the Gray Seal was involved, and you know as much of his methods as I do. I think that this contact should be made if possible, and I want your advice as to how best to make it.”
“On the basis that, having trusted you afore-times, the Gray Seal will trust you again?”
“And you? Once in your power, the temptation to let him—er—stub his toe? What about that?” Carruthers bridled.
“Damn it!” he whipped out. “What do you think I am?”
Jimmie Dale smiled disarmingly.
“Please, Carruthers,” he murmured, “please don’t ask me to indulge in personalities. We will grant at once, however, that he will be safe in your protecting arms; but, incident to such circumstances, it may not perhaps have occurred to you that you would not come far short of compounding a felony if, being in a position to do so, you did not turn him over to the authorities.”
“I’d be compounding a worse felony if I sat tight and did nothing,” Carruthers declared earnestly. “I’m sure of that. I’m sure that man told the literal truth when he said his life depended on making contact with Larry the Bat. I don’t know why. But I wouldn’t care to hear that he had been murdered, and feel that I possibly might have done something to prevent it.”
Jimmie Dale grinned pleasantly.
“Yes; quite so!” he said. “Very commendable of you, Carruthers, old chap, since you feel that way about it. But, after all, what do you know about this fellow? What did he tell you about himself? Who is he? What does he look like?”
“It was rather dark there on the sidewalk,” Carruthers explained; “and, besides, he had a slouch hat pulled pretty well down over his eyes. I am afraid the only description of him that I could give would be that he was a well-built, broad-shouldered man of about my height, a little younger than we are, I should say, and that he was quite well dressed. He didn’t tell me anything about himself except that his name was Sonny Gartz. He said that was all Larry the Bat would need to know.”
Jimmie Dale leaned comfortably back in his chair. His eyes held placidly, unemotionally on Carruthers’s face; but his mind was far away: Back to the days before the war; back to the days of the old Sanctuary and Larry the Bat; back to the days when the Tocsin was still a mystery to him; back to a certain night when Lan Chi’s dive had been a hell of fire and smoke and torment. Sonny Gartz! Sonny Gartz had saved Larry the Bat’s life that night, made light of his own heroism, and, embarrassed by his, Jimmie Dale’s gratitude, had said he would take a “rain check” on Larry the Bat’s offer to do something for him in return, if the need ever came. Here was the rain check. There was no question but that it would be honored. Far better than Carruthers now he knew that Sonny Gartz was in desperate need. His mind veered from the old days to the present. Only a little while ago he had assured himself that the Gray Seal had been swallowed up in the pot forever; but, after all, anything he might now be able to do for Sonny Gartz did not at all necessarily mean anything but a momentary return, if even that, to the old life. There was a hiatus of a few days anyway ahead of him. Marie, though actually now in New York, was not supposed to return from Europe for, say, still another week. And, owing to Ray’s murder, the stage was set—the new Sanctuary at his disposal, and the roles of either Larry the Bat or Smarlinghue, if need be, could be instantly and readily assumed. Sonny Gartz! His mind was back again to that night in Lan Chi’s dive. Sonny Gartz had risked his life to save Larry the Bat. It was Larry the Bat’s turn now—not a return to be made grudgingly, but one to be given gladly no matter what the cost, and—
“Well,” Carruthers jerked out impatiently, “what’s all the deep thought about?”
“I was thinking,” lied Jimmie Dale smoothly, “that your pernicious habit of everlastingly gum-shoeing after the Gray Seal may very possibly land you in a heap of trouble yourself one of these days. As a matter of fact, I have a ghastly suspicion that is what’s at the back of your mind in the present instance, rather than an overwhelming sense of anxiety anent the welfare of one Sonny Gartz.”
“Oh, shut up, Jimmie!” he growled. “This isn’t getting me anywhere. You can label my motive any way you like, but I’m going through with this if I can. I am frankly at a loss as to how to get in touch with the Gray Seal, or Larry the Bat, whichever you want to call him, and I came here on the chance of getting a helpful suggestion from you. If you haven’t got one to offer, I might as well chase along and see what I can do on my own.”
“Oh, well,” sighed Jimmie Dale resignedly, “if you feel that way, I’ll take a shot at it. Wait a jiffy till I get the old intellect at work.” He stared thoughtfully at Carruthers for a full minute—his furrowed brow hiding a mental chuckle. And then his face cleared, and he leaned across the desk toward Carruthers. “I’ve got it!” he announced impressively. “Simplest thing in the world!”
“I’m listening,” invited Carruthers.
“He’s telephoned you several times of his own accord during his scandalous and bloodthirsty career, hasn’t he?”
“Then there’s no reason why he should hesitate to do so again?”
“Exactly! That’s the point!” expounded Jimmie Dale with mounting enthusiasm. “So you stick an item in the personal column of the News-Argus, asking him to telephone you. Say that his confidence and all that sort of thing will be strictly observed—or use any other old motto you like. And sign your name.”
“H’m!” Carruthers pulled at his lower lip. “And suppose he never reads the News-Argus—suppose he never sees it?”
“Then we’ll have to do something else.”
“I haven’t the faintest!” acknowledged Jimmie Dale brightly. “I’ll admit my idea doesn’t scintillate with genius, but it’s the best I can do for you. After all, having chummed up with him last night, your rag is the one he’s bound to read to see what you’ve got to say about it all.”
Carruthers got up from his chair.
“Well, I’ll try it, of course,” he said, “along with anything else I can think up; but it looks to me like a dashed long shot, and I haven’t got much faith in it—besides, there’s the time element involved. It might be a lot too late even if he did see it.”
“Carruthers,” remonstrated Jimmie Dale, “you are flicking on the raw. Most ungenerous of you! I have already admitted that the old bean has not been brilliant, but it’s done its best. I haven’t another earthly idea to suggest.”
“Oh, good Lord,” protested Carruthers, “I’m not blaming you! I don’t know of anything else to do myself.” He moved toward the door. “Don’t come down. Jason will see that I don’t pinch your best hat; and he needn’t call a taxi, because I’m going back the way I came—by subway.”
Jimmie Dale stood up.
“Right!” he said. “And of course you’ll keep me posted on anything that breaks loose.”
“Naturally!” Carruthers’s hand was on the door knob.
“But, please,” pleaded Jimmie Dale facetiously, “at a reasonable hour. You know, you’ve got a beastly habit of yanking a chap out of a sound sleep at three or four o’clock in the morning with the dulcet tinkling of the telephone bell. Postpone anything of that sort hereafter, will you, like a good fellow, until the first matutinal cigarette?”
“Oh, go to the devil!” retorted Carruthers politely, as he grimaced himself out of the room.
Jimmie Dale slumped down in his chair. Bodily inactive, his mind was instantly virile and at work. A time limit! That had been in his thoughts from the first. If Sonny Gartz was in the kind of jam that had caused him to make a last, desperate, back-to-the-wall appeal for help through Carruthers, with the chances apparently a thousand to one against him of any contact with Larry the Bat ever being established in that way, it became a question, not of days, but far more likely of hours, or even minutes, in which any help that reached him would be of any avail.
But where and how could he reach Sonny Gartz? He had not heard of Sonny Gartz since before the war, and even at that time Sonny Gartz had not been allied with any particular gang. And since that time the old type of gang leader had given place to the boiled-shirt Park Avenue big shot, the bootlegger, and the new phase of racketeer from whose “squeeze” nothing was immune. The Bowery had disappeared; its glamour and color replaced by drab shock joints and flop houses. True, some of the old undercover dives and dens remained—and always would, of course —but the picture on the whole was entirely changed.
How reach Sonny Gartz? Where?
At any price and at any hazard that rain check would be honored if it were humanly possible for him to honor it.
For half an hour, three quarters of an hour, Jimmie Dale sat there motionless; then he got up from his chair, crossed the room, opened the door, crossed the hall, entered his bedroom, and passed on into the adjoining dressing room. It was a slim chance—but there seemed to be no other way, no other choice. It was not yet midnight. The new Sanctuary—the clothes and make-up for the role of Smarlinghue hidden there behind the baseboard—a round of the still existent dens and dives —Smarlinghue had the entree everywhere—perhaps he might strike the trail of Sonny Gartz. It would be luck, of course—but there was no other way, no other move that he could see to make against that time limit.
He threw off his dressing gown—and, in the act of reaching for a suit of clothes in his wardrobe, paused. The telephone on the stand beside his bed was ringing. He went back into the bedroom and picked up the receiver.
Carruthers’s voice reached him:
“That you, Jimmie?”
“Oh, hello, Carruthers,” drawled Jimmie Dale. “Thanks for your consideration, old top. I hadn’t quite turned in.”
“Well, you can”—there was a rasp in Carruthers’s voice—“so far as Sonny Gartz is concerned. There won’t be any ‘personal’ in the paper. He’s dead.”
Jimmie Dale stiffened.
“Dead?” he repeated bleakly.
“Yes,” said Carruthers. “Over on a slab in the morgue. Identified by the police. Riddled by a submachine gun. Must have been shot down within a couple of blocks after he left me—almost immediately after I started for your place—the fellows in the office heard the shots.”
Jimmie Dale made no answer.
“Thought I’d let you know,” said Carruthers. “Rotten business! Good-night!”
“Good-night,” said Jimmie Dale mechanically —but Jimmie Dale’s face was lined and sober as he replaced the receiver on the hook.
He had owed his life to Sonny Gartz.
JIMMIE DALE had not slept well following Carruthers’s telephone message, and he awoke in the morning unrefreshed. After breakfast he had attempted to reach Marie on the phone at her so-called hotel on the East Side, where no questions were ever asked if the rent was paid in advance, and where she was still living, pending now her “arrival” in New York; but the answer had come back that Agnes Watkins was not in.
This had depressed him more than ever. He had sorely felt the need of her companionship this morning—somewhere, of course, where she would be safe from recognition, for, naturally, being supposed to be in Europe while actually forced to return and reassume at times the role of Mother Margot in the running down of the murderers of Ray Thorne, she had been obliged to live incognito amid such questionable surroundings as would enable her to issue forth unsuspected and at will, whether as Agnes Watkins or in the guise of Mother Margot.
He had essayed a philosophic attitude of mind, telling himself that this sort of thing would not endure much longer, since she was now expected back in New York shortly, at which time her “arrival” on the pier would be adequately staged for the benefit of her friends, and that all would then be well; but, nevertheless, his disappointment at failing to make contact with her this morning had been none the less acute.
At loose ends then, restlessly, he had taken his light touring car and had spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon in motoring aimlessly alone on Long Island.
It was four o’clock now as, returning to New York, he parked his car and entered the St. James Club. He was still restless. He picked up a newspaper haphazardly from the rack and went into the lounge. The lounge was deserted. Too early in the afternoon for any activity, of course. He selected a window seat and searched rapidly through the paper. There was one possible item of news, and one only, that would interest him. Yes; here it was. But there were no details other than those that he had read at breakfast time. Fewer, in fact. Gang killings were becoming commonplace. Sonny Gartz’s obituary had already been relegated to no more than a matter of a few sticks. He laid the paper aside and stared out of the window.
The murder of Sonny Gartz had struck deep under his skin. He had been depressed all day. He owed his life to Sonny Gartz. But what could he do? Last night, in response to Sonny Gartz’s appeal for help, there had been no hesitancy on his part—and Larry the Bat could have lived again if, by so doing, it would have aided Sonny Gartz in any way. But Sonny Gartz was dead now. He could not restore Sonny Gartz to life. To go back as a creature of the underworld would avail nothing for the moment, though inherent in him, of course, was the urge to see the killer or killers brought to justice. But the police were not sitting idly by and twiddling their thumbs. It was a gang feud undoubtedly. If eventually the police failed, and he, as Smarlinghue or Larry the Bat, could, through the underworld, pick up the broken threads, he would most certainly do so; but the police had not yet failed, and between Jimmie Dale and the old double life there lay a gulf now that, both for Marie’s sake and his own, he did not wish to bridge again unless it were imperative that he should do so. But, meanwhile, to honor that rain check merely with an anonymous wreath —a floral tribute!
His lips were tight—compressed into a straight line. No; that was unthinkable—surely he could do more than that! he had heard nothing of Sonny Gartz since those years before the war; but Sonny Gartz might well have a wife—children—who might now, with Sonny Gartz’s passing, be in need. Carruthers, pitchforked headlong into the case, would acquire all those details, and quite innocently would pass them on to Jimmie Dale—and, well, who would know where the money came from?
Jimmie Dale nodded his head now emphatically. Yes; he would get after Carruthers on that score. He had had no word from Carruthers since that telephone message last night—which was quite natural. Carruthers, always late from the office, slept through the morning—and he, Jimmie Dale, had been away all day. He glanced at his wrist watch. It was well after four o’clock. Not a bad idea perhaps to call up Carruthers now at his bachelor apartment.
He half rose from his chair, but sat down again as a club attendant approached and tendered a newspaper.
“I beg pardon, Mr. Dale,” said the man, “but this is an extra edition just on the street, and the hall porter, knowing you were in the club, sir, and that the gentleman mentioned is a personal friend of yours, thought you would want to see the paper, and sent me up with it.”
“The gentleman mentioned?” repeated Jimmie Dale mechanically.
“Yes, sir,” replied the man, pointing to the newspaper; “Mr. —”
But Jimmie Dale’s eyes had already caught the front page headlines:
MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF WELL-KNOWN PUBLISHER
HERMAN CARRUTHERS MISSING
FOUL PLAY FEARED
Connection with Last Night’s Gang Murder Indicated
“Thank you,” said Jimmie Dale in quiet dismissal to the man at his elbow.
And then, as the other withdrew, Jimmie Dale read the story itself swiftly, intently, anxiety and fear tugging at his heart. There were two columns of it, but the salient facts were few. He enumerated these in his mind as he sat there then, staring unseeingly now at the newspaper on his lap.
Carruthers had not returned home as was his invariable custom during the early hours of the morning, and when by lunch time, one o’clock, he had still not put in an appearance, and no word had been received from him, Harlow, his man, had become disturbed and had telephoned Carruthers’s office. The information gathered from that source had been far from reassuring. Carruthers had arrived at his office the previous evening an hour later than was his habit, and on his arrival had been informed that there had been a submachine-gun killing almost within a block of the office an hour before. Carruthers had appeared to take an unusual interest in the case. The victim had not then been identified, and Carruthers had left the office saying that he was going over to the morgue. He had not returned to the office; and the office, until Harlow’s inquiry was received, had taken it for granted that Carruthers, after leaving the morgue, had simply gone home. Harlow, decidedly worried by this time, had communicated with the police. From then on the story was extremely vague. The police, though admitting that Carruthers had gone to the morgue, had not otherwise been informative. In a word, the last that had been seen of Carruthers was when he had left the morgue.
Jimmie Dale’s dark eyes were narrowed. He could fit some of the missing pieces together out of his own knowledge—but not all. He had presumed, when Carruthers had telephoned saying that Sonny Gartz had been put on the spot and had been identified by the police, that Carruthers had been speaking from his office. This now was obviously not so. Carruthers had telephoned either from the morgue or after leaving the morgue. The fact that Carruthers had made no mention of any part he might have had in the identification of Sonny Gartz meant nothing. Before Carruthers had reached the morgue, the police by then had quite probably identified Sonny Gartz without Carruthers’s office knowing anything about it. Carruthers had not been loquacious; he had been too upset and shocked to dwell on details. His voice had rasped and sounded a bit unstrung over the telephone. But what, though, had Carruthers said to the authorities to account for his visit to the morgue? That he was there merely as a newspaper man? The managing editor of a big daily like the Morning News-Argus did not usually usurp the functions of a police reporter! Another thing: That hour in which Carruthers was late in arriving at his office last night was, of course, the hour that Carruthers had spent in coming back uptown to his, Jimmie Dale’s, home on Riverside Drive. And Sonny Gartz had been murdered apparently within a few minutes after having talked to Carruthers.
Jimmie Dale’s brows drew together in heavy furrows. He remembered he had told Carruthers that to be seen talking to a newspaper man would be about as bad for Sonny Gartz as though the man were seen talking to the police. He remembered, too, the half-jocular, half-serious prediction he had made to Carruthers last night to the effect that the other’s “pernicious habit of everlastingly gumshoeing after the Gray Seal” would very possibly end up by landing Carruthers himself in a heap of trouble.
Well, the prediction had come true—and only too swiftly on the heels of its making!
Jimmie Dale’s conscience rose suddenly against him. There was no doubt in his mind but that whatever had happened to Carruthers was due to Carruthers’s contact with Sonny Gartz last night; but, in turn, there would never have been any such contact if in the past there had not been contact between Sonny Gartz and Larry the Bat, alias the Gray Seal. Hence Jimmie Dale did not shirk the issue. He was the Gray Seal, he was Larry the Bat. If there had never been any Gray Seal, if there had never been any Larry the Bat, Carruthers would be safe and sound at this moment. That Carruthers had always been obsessed with the idea of “getting” the Gray Seal had no bearing on the present situation. As a matter of fact, he, Jimmie Dale, had deliberately egged Carruthers on in this respect on more than one occasion. Like it or not, he, Jimmie Dale, was, not indirectly but directly, responsible for whatever might now have befallen Carruthers—and Carruthers was his lifelong friend. Both the moral and personal obligations were clear-cut, unescapable. The Gray Seal, as Smarlinghue or as Larry the Bat, would be at work again before the night was out.
Was Carruthers alive?
Dead men tell no tales. Obviously, the gang that had murdered Sonny Gartz did not know that Sonny Gartz had disclosed nothing to Carruthers relative to the gang’s activities or personnel, else, quite likely, unless there were something else behind it all, Carruthers would have been left alone; but, obviously also, through fear of what Carruthers might know, or for whatever other reason, they had struck at Carruthers because of his contact with Sonny Gartz.
It was true—Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders impatiently—that there was a lapse of possibly close to two hours, one hour at least of which he could himself account for, between the killing of Sonny Gartz and Carruthers’s disappearance after leaving the morgue, during which time, as the killers must know, Carruthers might already have “talked”; but the trite old adage of many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip applied here as well as anywhere else, and this apparent delay on their part could almost certainly be credited to the force of intervening circumstances. This hiatus in time could not be allowed to destroy the general background of the picture.
What had Carruthers said at the morgue? Was it known that Carruthers had paid a visit to Riverside Drive immediately following his conversation with Sonny Gartz? This was of decidedly vital moment to—Jimmie Dale. Especially so if, besides the police, this were also known to the killers, since, in such case, one Jimmie Dale would not illogically have been at once marked down as the next victim!
Well, the issue was joined and the first step was plainly indicated. He must talk to Harlow at once—and not by telephone. He folded and tucked the newspaper into the side pocket of his jacket, and, conscious of a sympathetic glance from the hall porter as he left the club, stepped into his car.
A run of less than ten minutes farther uptown brought him to the entrance of the apartment house where Carruthers made his home, and a moment or so later he was ringing at Carruthers’s door on the ground floor.
Harlow, who always reminded Jimmie Dale somewhat of his own faithful old Jason, opened the door, and Jimmie Dale, who had never stood on ceremony here, stepped instantly forward—only to find that Harlow barred his way.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Dale,” Harlow mumbled nervously. “Please wait a moment, sir.”
Jimmie Dale stood back, staring in perplexed amazement at the door which, for the first time in more years than he could remember, had been closed in his face. What was the matter with Harlow? Decidedly more than strange! Had the worry and anxiety over his master’s disappearance unbalanced the man? Harlow was getting well along in years of course, but even so—
The door was opened again, and this time Harlow held it wide open.
“Please come in, Mr. Dale,” he said formally; and then, in a whisper, as Jimmie Dale stepped across the threshold: “I apologize, sir. Orders, sir. I couldn’t help it.”
Jimmie Dale nodded automatically as he stepped across the threshold; but his muscles tensed suddenly as a voice that he recognized called out to him from what he knew to be the direction of the living room:
“Come along in here, Mr. Dale. Too bad to have kept you waiting.”
Jimmie Dale traversed the small reception hall and, an instant later, with a sudden, ugly pull at his heart, shook hands with Detective Sergeant Waud of the Homicide Bureau. Sergeant Waud, it was true, was a personal friend of Carruthers, and Sergeant Waud had been in charge of the Thorne case; but the Homicide Bureau did not deal with disappearances—it dealt only with death.
“You here!” Jimmie Dale’s voice was rarely, seldom ever, out of control—but it was husky now. “You’ve found Carruthers, then? He’s dead!”
Detective Sergeant Waud waved his hand reassuringly toward a chair, and both sat down.
“I get you,” he said; “but it’s not as bad as that. We haven’t found the slightest trace of Carruthers; but I’m on the Sonny Gartz case, and it’s a cinch there’s a tie-up between the two. That’s why I’m here.”
“Well, thank God for that!” Jimmie Dale breathed in relief.
“Yes,” acceded Sergeant Waud; “I kind of like Carruthers myself. I’ve been taking a look around in here, and I told Carruthers’s man not to admit anyone while I was in the apartment without reporting to me. I’m glad you’ve come. I tried to get you by telephone, after Carruthers was reported missing, in the hope that you, being his closest friend, might be able to throw some light on the affair. But no one at your house knew where you were, and I was beginning to wonder if you hadn’t been swamped in the same boat with Carruthers.”
Jimmie Dale shook his head.
“I’ve been out on Long Island idling around most of the day in my car. I didn’t know that anything had happened to Carruthers until just a little while ago when this”—he motioned toward the newspaper in his pocket—“was handed to me in the club. I came over here at once to ask Harlow if there were any further developments.” And then, mentally wary, Jimmie Dale reached for a cigarette to gain a second’s time. Was the ice thin—or would it bear his weight? What had Carruthers said at the morgue? If the police already knew that Carruthers had gone at once to Riverside Drive after his meeting with Sonny Gartz, there was nothing to it but to volunteer, apparently, that information; if, on the other hand, the police did not know—well, then, that was quite another matter. “The newspaper account,” Jimmie Dale went on as he lighted his cigarette, “is hopelessly vague and unsatisfactory, and I’m glad you’re here to talk to rather than Harlow. A moment ago you referred to me as Carruthers’s closest friend. On that basis may I have the inside story —as it is known to the police?”
“Sure!” Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice was gruff but hearty. “Carruthers came over to the morgue last night. He said he had heard there had been a killing quite close to his office and asked to see the body. He was shown the body. The victim had just been identified as a gangster by the name of Sonny Gartz. Carruthers also identified the dead man. He said that Sonny Gartz had accosted him as he, Carruthers, had reached his office, and knowing that Carruthers had been in contact with His Majesty the Gray Seal”—Sergeant Waud laughed shortly without mirth—“the previous night on the Thorne case, for the papers had been full of it, he pleaded with Carruthers to put him in touch with the Gray Seal—as if Carruthers could!—stating that his, Sonny Gartz’s, life was in danger, implied that the Gray Seal owed him something or other out of the past, and said that the Gray Seal was the only one who could now help him. Carruthers was impressed with the man’s sincerity and promised to do what he could. Then, after Carruthers reached his private office, he was informed that there had been a killing up the street; and, fearing that it might be the same man, came over to the morgue to see for himself. And it was the same man.”
Jimmie Dale, through the blue spiral of smoke curling from the tip of his cigarette, was unostentatiously studying the face of the man from the Homicide Bureau.
“Is that all?” he asked.
Sergeant Detective Waud’s square, aggressive chin was suddenly outthrust.
“No; it’s not all!” he rasped. “There’s a missing hour!”
Jimmie Dale’s face registered only perplexity.
“A missing hour?” he repeated interrogatively.
“Yes!” snapped Sergeant Waud. “That’s what I said. A missing hour. It was a good hour after Sonny Gartz was killed before Carruthers showed up with his story at the morgue. Where was Carruthers during that hour?”
“Well, why didn’t you ask him?” inquired Jimmie Dale ingenuously.
“Ask him!” wailed Detective Sergeant Waud. “Damn it, Carruthers hadn’t disappeared then, and we didn’t know then what we know now. We had no reason for asking him, since we already knew when Sonny Gartz had been killed, and we naturally assumed, if we thought of it at all, that Carruthers had been detained in his office and had come on as soon as he could. But what we know now puts an entirely different complexion on the whole affair. The check-up following Carruthers’s disappearance shows that he was an hour past his usual time of arrival at his office. So, in view of the fact that we know to within a few minutes the actual time of the murder, Carruthers must have talked to Sonny Gartz in front of his own office building shortly before Sonny Gartz was killed. Therefore, Carruthers did not go to his office until at least an hour after talking to Sonny Gartz. I’m telling you there’s a missing hour. Where did Carruthers go, what did he do during that time? If we knew that, it might help to clear up a lot. All we know is that he came into the morgue, told his story, and walked straight out again with a brief, sort of upset good-night to us all—and that’s the last that has been seen of him.”
Jimmie Dale drew deeply on his cigarette. It wouldn’t clear up anything. It wouldn’t help the police any to know that hour had been spent with Jimmie Dale; but it would do Jimmie Dale an incalculable amount of harm if it leaked out through the police, or anyone else, and so reached the ears of those who had finally, or temporarily, put Carruthers out of the way, that Carruthers had first told his story to Jimmie Dale. As he had confided to himself in the club, it would be practically equivalent to finding himself marked down as the next victim. But the physical danger to which he would then be subjected was far from being the prime consideration; the prime consideration was that if the story of Carruthers’s visit to him leaked out, it would hamper, more than he cared to contemplate, whatever move he might now make on Carruthers’s behalf.
Quite so! But first, what about Detective Sergeant Waud here? Sergeant Waud was not the sort of man to wear his heart on his sleeve. Was he holding back anything? Did he really know where Carruthers had been? Not likely—but it would be a bit disastrous if Jimmie Dale fell into a trap.
He, Jimmie Dale, could take no chances of even a misunderstanding with the police; he must be sure. Carruthers had come uptown and had likewise returned, according to his own statements, by subway—his movements therefore almost certainly untraceable. The servants had been out last evening, all except Jason, and would know nothing of Carruthers’s visit unless Jason told them—which Jason wouldn’t do; but Jason, for instance, had he been questioned when Sergeant Waud had phoned, would naturally have said that Carruthers had been at the house last night. On the other hand, it might have been before the check-up was made when Sergeant Waud phoned, so that the “missing hour” was not then in evidence—or, of course, and what was much more probable, Sergeant Waud might merely have attempted to get into touch with——Mr. Dale.” But that other phone call—from Carruthers to Jimmie Dale, stating that Sonny Gartz was dead. Had Carruthers telephoned from the morgue? In which case, was that up Detective Sergeant Waud’s sleeve? No! Detective Sergeant Waud’s description, so obviously free from dissimulation, of Carruthers’s visit to the morgue was assurance enough that the call had not been made from there.
“H’m!” commented Jimmie Dale pensively.
“But you don’t by any chance mean to imply, do you, that Carruthers was trying to camouflage that hour?”
“Hell, no!” declared Detective Sergeant Waud fervently. “Nothing like that! He was too shaken and nervous to have it even enter his head—and I’ve already told you our side of it.”
Quite satisfied, Jimmie Dale nodded his head understandingly at the Homicide Bureau man—it only remained to warn Jason to say nothing of Carruthers’s visit.
“I see!” said Jimmie Dale. “But, leaving that apart, what else is there? You’ve committed yourself to the inside story, you know.”
“Sure!” reiterated Sergeant Waud. “That’s all right. But there’s not much else to date. As I said before, it’s a cinch that Sonny Gartz was bumped off by the same crowd that’s responsible for Carruthers’s disappearance. Whether Carruthers was actually seen with Sonny Gartz or not, or whether Carruthers’s story at the morgue leaked out, we don’t know; but it is certain, of course, one way or the other, that the gang knew Sonny Gartz had talked to Carruthers. The question is, did Sonny Gartz know too much on his own about something on the outside, or was he bumped off for double-crossing the mob he was traveling with because he was thought to have spilled that particular plate of beans? In either event—you see what I mean? —Sonny Gartz having confided in Carruthers, it would mean wholesale publicity.”
“What mob was Sonny Gartz traveling with?”
Detective Sergeant Waud shrugged his shoulders.
“We don’t know for a fact that he was traveling with any mob. That’s one of our troubles. Over a period that extends back to before the war and up to, say, a year and a half ago, Sonny Gartz was held on several occasions, once for manslaughter, though we were never able to pin the goods on him for that job, and on all occasions he got off with no more damage to himself than being mugged and fingerprinted. The records show that he was never tied up with any particular gang, but mostly played a lone hand; though we knew, of course, that he was a slick safe-worker, and also that he used to hit the pipe and play around a bit with the Chinese.”
“Up to about a year and a half ago, you said,” prompted Jimmie Dale. “What’s happened since then?”
“Nothing!” returned Sergeant Waud tersely. “Since then we haven’t run foul of him, or he hasn’t run foul of us—whichever way you like. For all we know, he may not have been in New York at all during that time—until last night.”
“Was he married?” queried Jimmie Dale. “Did he have any family or relations? He must at least have had relations.”
“He wasn’t married so far as we know,” replied Sergeant Waud. “As for relations, he was brought up in the gutter.”
“Tough!” murmured Jimmie Dale. “Anything else, Sergeant?”
Detective Sergeant Waud smiled ruefully. “No,” he said. “That’s all.”
Jimmie Dale’s forehead was puckered in well-simulated distress.
“Looks like a bit of a blank wall, then,” he remarked unhappily.
“Yes,” admitted Sergeant Waud. “So far. But—”
“Yes, I know,” Jimmie Dale broke in drearily. “You’ve scarcely had time to turn around yet, but the minutes are counting against Carruthers just the same—if he is still alive.”
“Damn it”—there was a sudden rasp in Sergeant Waud’s voice—“I know that as well as you do! But we’re turning the city inside out right now. Every available man is on the job. We’re doing all we can.”
“I’m sorry, Sergeant,” Jimmie Dale apologized. “I didn’t mean to flick on the raw. I’m anxious, that’s all.” He rose from his chair. “Well, I’ll move along. Can I give you a lift anywhere?”
Sergeant Waud swept an explanatory hand around the room.
“Much obliged to you just the same,” he refused cordially, “but I’m not through poking around in here yet.”
“Well, then, thanks a lot for your confidence, Sergeant. You’ll keep me posted, won’t you? And if there’s anything I can do, you’ll let me know?”
“Sure!” Sergeant Waud promised heartily.
Jimmie Dale stepped toward the door; but, when halfway across the room, the other’s voice halted him.
“Here’s hoping, Mr. Dale,” said Detective Sergeant Waud earnestly, “that you won’t be the next one.”
Jimmie Dale wheeled around and stared blankly at Sergeant Waud.
“What do you mean by that?” he demanded, in a purposely startled tone.
“Well,” said Sergeant Waud, “the three of you were as thick as peas. Thorne’s dead, and now Carruthers is gone—and the Gray Seal was mixed up with the three of you in the Thorne case. And now here he is in the picture again.”
“Good Lord!” ejaculated Jimmie Dale heavily —and then he grinned. “Thanks awfully for the thought, Sarge, but I’m afraid I don’t see it. The Gray Seal certainly did not kill Thorne, and he certainly did not carry Carruthers off.”
“No,” conceded Sergeant Waud, with a slightly embarrassed look, “I guess that was a bum crack I made. It just crossed my mind, that’s all, and I guess it was just damn fool superstition. Hope it won’t upset you.”
Jimmie Dale laughed pleasantly.
“Not in the least,” he assured the other. “But to relieve both our minds, let me remind you that, so far as the Gray Seal is concerned, I did not have the honor of meeting him in person the way Carruthers did. So I’m a little offstage, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s right!” concurred Sergeant Waud. He stared thoughtfully at the floor for a moment; and then, gruffly: “Speaking of the Gray Seal, he’s a thief and a murderer a dozen times over, and I’d send him to the chair if I got half a chance, but he did a nice piece of work for us the night before last when he cleaned up the Thorne case, and I don’t mind saying that it won’t hurt my feelings any if he horns in on this case, too.”
Jimmie Dale appeared to be momentarily puzzled.
“Why should he horn in on this case?” he asked; and then, quickly: “Oh, yes, I see! You mean because it looks as though Sonny Gartz had been a friend of his. There’s something in that. Maybe he will. He’ll know of course that Sonny Gartz was bumped off. Everybody knows it.”
“Yes,” said Sergeant Waud with a tight smile; “maybe he will. I’ve got a hunch that way. And if he does I only hope to God he makes as clean a job of this case as he did of the other!”
Jimmie Dale moved once more toward the door. “So do I, Sergeant!” he agreed warmly as he went out.
JIMMIE DALE, at the wheel of his touring car, was troubled and serious as he drove from Carruthers’s apartment to his own residence on Riverside Drive. He did not like this “missing hour” business a little bit. Not that it would have helped the police one iota if they had known where Carruthers had been, but his own lack of frankness, to put it mildly, with Sergeant Waud worried him. And it bothered him, too, that he must make old Jason a party to—well, call it deception, not to use a harsher word. But logic, backed by a sense of intuition that grew ever stronger, upheld him in the course that he had taken. It was not merely a question of trusting Sergeant Waud alone—for what Sergeant Waud knew, headquarters, dozens of men in various police departments, must automatically come to know as well. He, Jimmie Dale, would be back again in the underworld tonight. A “leak” would spell disaster to his efforts—with the odds a thousand to one that in the most literal sense it would also be fatal to himself. And Carruthers’s life was at stake—if Carruthers was still alive. Yes; that was it! If Carruthers was still alive!
His jaws were clamped as he drew up in front of his home, but his face was impassive as he mounted the steps and Jason opened the door for him. He glanced at Jason. The old man’s eyes were bleak.
“I see you have heard the news, Jason,” he observed.
“Yes, Master Jim, sir”—there was anxiety in Jason’s voice—“a boy was crying an extra a while ago, and hearing Mr. Carruthers’s name mentioned, I purchased a copy. But I must tell you, Master Jim, that quite a bit earlier than that, though I did not connect the two at the time, and perhaps I shouldn’t now, for he said nothing about Mr. Carruthers’s disappearance, Sergeant Waud rang up on the phone.”
Jimmie Dale’s eyes traversed the length of the hall.
“Where are the servants, Jason?” he asked abruptly.
“They’re all downstairs at their tea, sir. It’s after six o’clock, Master Jim.”
“Yes, of course!” nodded Jimmie Dale—but nevertheless lowered his voice. “What exactly, then, did Sergeant Waud say?”
“He asked for you, sir. I told him that you had gone out somewhere with your car shortly after breakfast but had not yet returned, and that I did not know where to communicate with you.”
“No mention was made of Mr. Carruthers’s visit here last evening?”
“No, sir. Sergeant Waud hung up, saying he would call again. That was all.”
“And the servants,” Jimmie Dale probed swiftly, “do they know that Mr. Carruthers was here then?”
“No; certainly not, sir.” There was as near to a hint of reproval as old Jason had ever injected into his voice when addressing his master. “No; certainly not. The servants were all out last evening; and, if I may say so, Master Jim, it is not my habit to indulge in—in—” He stumbled for a word.
“Gossip,” supplied Jimmie Dale with a friendly smile. “No; certainly not—to borrow your own expression. I was quite sure of it. I am merely checking up.” And then the smile faded from his lips, and he laid his hand affectionately on the old man’s shoulder. “Listen, Jason,” he said in low-toned earnestness, “I don’t like to implicate you in this, but it is rather essential that no one should be informed that Mr. Carruthers was here last night. Otherwise—I can’t go into explanations—the consequences might be, well, a bit serious.”
“For you, Master Jim?” asked Jason quickly.
“For Mr. Carruthers’s chances,” Jimmie Dale parried quietly.
But Jason was not disarmed. For a moment he twisted his hands nervously together, and in the dim old eyes that searched Jimmie Dale’s face a mist seemed suddenly to have gathered. When he spoke there was a quaver in his voice.
“Master Jim, sir,” said the privileged old man, “it’s not for me to ask the meaning of things, but for more than the last week I’ve been afraid for you, sir. It’s been like the old days when you were always in danger, and when once long ago, sir, you’ll remember you came home wounded and dropped right here in this hall, Master Jim; and then the time, too, when the house wires were tapped, and Benson and I—”
“Jason,” Jimmie Dale interrupted with well-counterfeited severity, “it is only within the last few days that I told you all that sort of thing belonged to the past—before the war. You are only tormenting yourself needlessly by conjuring up visions of the Lord knows what dire perils that, like nightmares, have no substance in fact. Now stop it, Jason!”
“Yes, sir; certainly, sir,” Jason acquiesced mechanically through force of habit; then he cleared his throat. “Only, I mean, I can’t, Master Jim. I can’t forget that lately there have been those strange letters again, and you away so much, sir, days and nights, and then Mr. Thorne’s murder, and now something has happened to Mr. Carruthers. That’s why I am afraid. But coming back to the request you made, sir, if I may take the liberty of saying so, as I’ve been proud to say many times before, I dandled you on my knee when you were a baby, Master Jim, and there isn’t anything in the world I wouldn’t do for you, sir, let alone the small matter of saying nothing of Mr. Carruthers having been here last night. I need hardly tell you, Master Jim, that no mention will be made of it.”
“Thank you, Jason,” said Jimmie Dale soberly. “But remember—no more worries about me. And now, were there any other telephones or messages?”
“All right,” said Jimmie Dale as he moved toward the staircase. “Please let Benson know at once that I shall want him to drive me. The touring car out there will do. I’ll be down in five minutes.”
Jason’s eyes were eloquent—with misgiving. But he merely said:
“Very good, Master Jim.”
Jimmie Dale ran up the stairs and entered his den on the first landing. Here he stepped over to the barrel-shaped safe in the alcove, opened it, and from a pile of banknotes helped himself to a generous amount. One never knew just how much might be needed; or, particularly, how long it might be before he would be able to replenish shrunken funds. He remembered an occasion once when, as Larry the Bat and down to practically his last nickel, he had been obliged to burglarize his own house here, and—He smiled quizzically. What was the use of that?—harking back—stealing Jason’s thunder!
He pocketed the money, locked the safe, and, crossing the room, took an automatic from the drawer of his desk, at the same time supplying himself with an extra clip of cartridges. These he thrust into his pocket, and stood then staring meditatively at the desk telephone for a moment.
It was queer that Marie—the Tocsin—hadn’t telephoned, for she would naturally be at fever heat with anxiety over Carruthers’s disappearance.
And it wasn’t because she was afraid that Jason would recognize the voice of his future mistress when at the moment she was supposed to be in Europe, for it was only a few days ago that she had telephoned, employing the vernacular of Mother Margot, and—the flicker of a smile crossed Jimmie Dale’s lips—Jason’s ears had been outraged by, as he had described her, a woman who had a very coarse voice and whose English was rather low. The only logical explanation was that she did not know what had happened. But it was queer that she should not know when all New York by this time knew.
Jimmie Dale still stared at the telephone, his eyes slightly narrowed now. He was going back into the underworld tonight—but that was the last thing in the world that he wanted her to know, for, if aware of his intentions, she would most certainly insist at once on doing the same thing herself. And he had very definitely made up his mind that she would never again play a part on the sordid stage of Crimeland if by any possible means he could prevent it—and he meant to prevent it specifically now in the case of Carruthers’s disappearance. Better call her up, then, adopt an optimistic and reassuring attitude anent Carruthers, and at the same time set her mind at rest concerning himself.
He picked up the telephone receiver, gave the number, and got his connection—and presently the same answer that had been made that morning came back to him: Agnes Watkins was not in.
He frowned as he replaced the receiver, then he shrugged his shoulders philosophically. Well, that was that! A little unusual, perhaps, but nothing to worry about. There was no reason why she should remain cooped up in that dingy room of hers all day. Anyway, there was nothing more he could do about it at the moment. He would call her again in the morning—early—to make sure of getting her before she went out.
Jimmie Dale’s eyes strayed around the room and came to rest on the window nearest the desk. It was still quite light, still too early for any effective prowling through the underworld, still too early for any of the denizens of the haunts and dives he meant to visit to be astir. Yes, he was quite well aware of that, but to sit here passively for an hour or two would be intolerable, and was something that he had no intention of doing. There were fringes, so to speak, of the underworld always open to him pending nightfall. True, little, if anything, was likely to develop therefrom, but there was always a chance he might stumble in that way upon a lead, whereas to remain here was, on the face of it, an utterly hopeless waste of time. He had already made this decision, fretting at the thought of even momentary inaction, on his way home from his interview with Sergeant Waud, and—well, Benson would be waiting out there in the car now.
He left the room and went briskly downstairs. Jason was still standing in the hall.
“Jason,” said Jimmie Dale casually, “if anyone telephones—I’m dining out. I didn’t say where.” Jason’s eyes were averted.
“Yes, Master Jim. Very good, sir.”
“And, Jason, I shall probably be out late, possibly very late, but let me once more remind you that I have a key. I hope I shall not have to complain again about a—er—certain habit of yours.” Jimmie Dale pointed to one of the rather stately, high-backed chairs that adorned the reception hall. “That’s not a very comfortable bed, you know, Jason. Don’t use it as such tonight.”
Jason was a loyal and gallant liar—by daylight, if his beloved master had not returned, Jason would still be sitting up.
“No, sir; quite so, sir,” he said meekly, as he handed Jimmie Dale his hat and opened the door.
Jimmie Dale without further word went down the front steps, but the dejected slope of the old man’s shoulders had not escaped him. Thank God for men like Jason—yes, and like Benson, too, standing there by the car. Benson was a younger edition of Jason.
Benson touched his chauffeur’s cap smartly, opened the door of the car as Jimmie Dale crossed the sidewalk, hesitated diffidently, and then spoke.
“I hope you won’t mind my asking, sir,” he said anxiously, “if there’s any further news about Mr. Carruthers?”
“None, Benson, I’m sorry to say.”
“It’s a terrible business, sir!” Benson blurted out. “First it’s Mr. Thorne, and then it’s Mr. Carruthers, and, you three being such close friends, I can’t help saying it makes one a bit uneasy now about you, sir.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Jimmie Dale lightly as he stepped into the car. “You’re as bad as Jason! Just dismiss any such idea from your mind—no reason for it whatever. Marlianne’s, Benson.”
“Yes, sir,” said Benson promptly—but his eyes were still dubious as the car pulled away from the curb.
Jimmie Dale settled back in his seat. This was the third time within an hour that the same implication had been made. He wondered a little grimly if Sergeant Waud and Jason and Benson here were not all three much closer to the truth than any one of them really imagined? It might well be so. He was literally gambling with death—or life—whichever way one preferred to put it. He was going back into the underworld tonight—but not like a blind fool blithely unconscious of the pitfalls in his path, where a false step or a bit of ill fortune meant the end. He knew all too well the risks he faced; but, as if to impress themselves on him now the more, suddenly out of the past, as he sat here in the speeding car, there came ringing in his ears once more that vicious slogan of police and underworld alike: Death to the Gray Seal! It was the one bond, the one link they had in common. The underworld like wolves would tear him to pieces in vengeance for those of their pack, many of them, that he had delivered over to the law for well-merited punishment; and the police would exterminate him with equal remorselessness, though with perhaps more formality, for the crimes and murders of which they held him guilty. And the police embraced Detective Sergeant Waud—of course!
Jimmie Dale grimaced inwardly—ironically. Sergeant Waud had admitted that he had been very glad of the Gray Seal’s assistance the night before last, and hoped the same sort of thing would be repeated in the present case; but Sergeant Waud at the same time had made no bones about saying that he would send the Gray Seal to the chair if he got half a chance. Exactly!
Lost to his immediate surroundings for the last little while, Jimmie Dale abruptly roused himself. Why go over all this? He knew all about the risks he ran, didn’t he? He wasn’t telling himself anything new! Well, then, what about it? Nothing! His train of thought had been set in motion by Benson’s obvious trepidation. And the answer? The answer, of course, was that the stake he played for now, just as it always had been in the past, was worth any attendant personal risk a hundred times over—that was all.
The car sped on and finally came to a halt on a lower East Side cross street before a three-story dwelling, one of a row, which had once been a family residence of some pretension, but which had been metamorphosed many years ago into what it still remained—a so-called Bohemian restaurant. A large, though somewhat weatherbeaten, sign over the front door proclaimed it to be: “Marlianne’s.”
“I shall not want you any more tonight, Benson,” Jimmie Dale said pleasantly as he got out of the car; “or, if I do,” he amended, “I’ll phone. Good-night, Benson.”
“Good-night, sir,” Benson replied with a sort of curious hesitancy as he drove away.
Jimmie Dale entered the restaurant. He had dined here many times—as Jimmie Dale—as Smarlinghue—and, before Smarlinghue had come into being, as Larry the Bat. Marlianne’s drew no social lines. Here respectability was wont to mingle innocently with those who, if one were in the know, were distinctly, though in varying degrees, quite outside the pale. He strolled leisurely from room to room, and then returned unobtrusively to the front door. The two-piece string orchestra and tinny piano were in full blast; there were a goodly number of Italians, some with their entire families, at the tables, a fair sprinkling of obvious slummers, and so on—but, so far as he was concerned, Marlianne’s was potentially deserted this evening. There were present neither headliners nor any of the lesser breed from the Bad Lands that he recognized; there was no promise that from an adjacent table, say, he might pick up snatches of interesting conversation. Oh, well, he had not hoped for overmuch. And anyway there were other places of the same ilk as Marlianne’s in the neighborhood. He might have better luck elsewhere.
Out on the street again, Jimmie Dale began a round of those other places—but the better luck did not eventuate. And when perforce he had at last dined, with no other result than physically to appease his hunger, it had grown dark. This was the hour he had been waiting for. That he had accomplished nothing, gone unrewarded so far, was of minor consequence. The actual night’s work lay ahead.
Leaving Castro’s, where at dinner the vin ordinaire, served out of teacups in loyal homage to prohibition, had been particularly atrocious, Jimmie Dale walked rapidly for half a dozen blocks until, as he turned into a shabby cross street not far from the Bowery, his stride became more circumspect.
The street was dark, ill lighted, deserted, save that here and there were the murky outlines of a few scattered pedestrians. He came abreast of a cheap, uninviting-looking tenement that was flanked by a narrow black lane, glanced sharply about him to assure himself that no one was in his immediate vicinity—and in the space of time it would take a watch to tick was gone from the street and lost in the blackness of the lane.
It was the Gray Seal in action now. He moved swiftly, with almost incredible silence. A board fence, now in a state of almost complete disintegration, bordered the lane and enclosed a rubbish-strewn courtyard at the rear of the tenement. An instant more and he was through a hole in the fence and kneeling before the little French window that opened on the courtyard from the back room of the tenement. His fingers felt in under the sill, released the hidden catch—an innovation of recent days that had proved invaluable—and the French window on well-oiled hinges opened noiselessly.
He stepped inside and, closing the French window behind him, fastened it securely. It was dark, he could see nothing, but the sense of touch assured him that the roller shade on the French window was pulled down. And now a match crackled in his hand, and the wheezy, air-choked gas jet sputtered into a thin blue flame.
Jimmie Dale’s eyes searched critically around the room, sweeping over the cheap cot bed in one corner, the rickety washstand in another, the deal table in the center littered with paint tubes and dirty dishes, the frayed, disreputable thread of carpet on the floor, the battered easel over against the wall, and a canvas or two of which, as they were meant to be, only a dope fiend could have been adjudged guilty. Nothing, he was satisfied, had been touched, and no one had been here since he had left the room the night before last.
The new Sanctuary! He had never expected to come back here again. Memories for a moment crowded in upon him. The new Sanctuary—replacing the old that had been burned down when Larry the Bat had been identified as the Gray Seal and who was supposed at the time to have perished in the flames, though later of course it had become known that Larry the Bat was still alive. The new Sanctuary—with Smarlinghue, the drug-ridden, down-at-the-heels artist, dissolute frequenter of the lowest dives, both known and trusted throughout all Crimeland, created in lieu of Larry the Bat.
He raised his shoulders whimsically. Well, he was back here again—and in a few more minutes now Smarlinghue would be here, too!
He crossed the room and mechanically tried the door. It was locked, of course, as he had expected it would be. He had locked it himself on the inside when last he had left the Sanctuary in the person of Jimmie Dale via the French window. Again his shoulders lifted whimsically. Jimmie Dale could neither leave nor enter by that door, could he? That was Smarlinghue’s prerogative; this was Smarlinghue’s abode.
Jimmie Dale moved now to the corner near the door, knelt down on the floor, and in scarcely more than a second had lifted aside the ingeniously fitted section of the baseboard that had so faithfully guarded the Sanctuary’s secrets since the time of its inception. From the opening he removed a number of articles: a bundle that comprised Smarlinghue’s ragged attire; the leather girdle in whose stout-sewn, upright pockets there nestled that compact powerful burglar’s kit of blued-steel, finely tempered tools; a make-up box; a hypodermic syringe, its one-time silver plating now worn to a mottled brass, an inseparable adjunct to the character of Smarlinghue; and finally the door key. Larry the Bat’s wardrobe was in there, too, but tonight—Jimmie Dale’s fleeting smile was somber—he was hobnobbing with the underworld, not gratuitously inviting it to howl and snap murderously at his heels.
He stood up then, quickly removed his clothing, donned the leather girdle, and put on Smarlinghue’s threadbare and ill-fitting garments. But in spite of the blatantly patched boots, the faded, grease-and-paint-spotted coat, a size too small, and from the short sleeves of which protruded the soiled and frayed wristbands of his shirt, he was still Jimmie Dale.
He picked up the make-up box, carried it with him across the room, and sat down before the cracked mirror on the washstand. Thereafter for a few minutes he worked rapidly with masterly precision—inserting the little pieces of wax that extended lips and nostrils and characteristically distorted ears and cheeks—applying deftly the facial solution that brought into existence Smarlinghue’s gaunt, haunting, unhealthy pallor—then his wrists and neck became grimy, his hands unclean, uncared-for.
He surveyed himself in the mirror as he at last rose from his chair. Smarlinghue!—save for the final details of tousled hair and old felt hat—not a prepossessing-looking creature! Oh, yes, he would pass muster anywhere; but—for a moment Jimmie Dale faltered mentally—where precisely was he going? Had he any concrete plans? What was he going to do?
And then something implacable came into Jimmie Dale’s dark eyes. Somewhere out there in the underworld lay the answer. Somewhere out there in the hideaways, or in contact and intercourse with those who lived outside the law, he must pick up the broken threads of Sonny Gartz’s past life and knit them together into the trail that had ended with Sonny Gartz’s murder last night—the trail that it was certain would lead inevitably to Carruthers. That was the answer. And he would find it, come what might—whether Carruthers was still alive or dead!
He returned the make-up box to its hiding place behind the baseboard and, minus a small portion of his money and the automatic which were transferred, together with the hypodermic syringe, to Smarlinghue’s pockets, placed his own clothes, carefully folded, in the same receptacle. He replaced the section of the baseboard, looked intensively around the room, pulled the old felt hat down over his eyes, then, extinguishing the light, he unlocked the door, stepped out into the hallway, and locked the door again.
A minute more, and Smarlinghue, coke-shattered intimate of the lawless, had slouched out of the tenement and into the night.
WHISPERS. Whispers here. Whispers there. The underworld was full of whispers tonight.
Ordinarily, the bumping-off of one such as Sonny Gartz would have caused but little stir. It would have been accepted as a matter of routine and all in the day’s work—but not so tonight. Tonight the underworld was ill at ease, apprehensive. Eyes questioned furtively, lips discussed in undertones the passing of Sonny Gartz.
Perhaps it was because the murder of Sonny Gartz was coupled with the disappearance of Carruthers, a big shot in the newspaper world—which was bad medicine; perhaps it was because the police were unusually active, paying unexpected and decidedly unwelcome visits, profaning the shrines that were sacred to Gangland alone, where there was always the existent danger that there might be gathered into the net those who, though they might have no possible connection with either Sonny Gartz or Carruthers, would still not be thrown back into the sea! It had been no idle boast of Detective Sergeant Waud that every available man was being mobilized for the fray!
Jimmie Dale, in the guise of the disreputable Smarlinghue, shuffled along a street in an unsalubrious quarter of the East Side. The whispers, in this den and that, had not escaped his ears. The day before yesterday Lundy Sykes had been released from Sing Sing, terminating a four-years’ sentence, less a credit balance for good behavior. Yesterday, Sonny Gartz, who, for a year or more, it would seem, had, as it were, shaken the dust of New York from his feet, had suddenly reappeared —and yesterday, in this den and that, had hobnobbed with Lundy Sykes. Why? Was Lundy Sykes’s release from Sing Sing the reason for Sonny Gartz’s return to New York? It looked like it, for these two had been bosom pals prior to Lundy Sykes’s incarceration. Was this the connecting link that he, Jimmie Dale, had been seeking? It looked like it. In any case, there had been close intimacy again between Lundy Sykes and Sonny Gartz just before the latter’s death. Lundy Sykes, if he would, could undoubtedly be extremely helpful. Smarlinghue knew Lundy Sykes —Lundy Sykes knew Smarlinghue. But where was Lundy Sykes? And then those whispers again —which had been productive.
Jimmie Dale paused in the murk midway between two woefully inadequate street lamps whose rays, meant to be converging, never met, and stared across the street at a three-story frame house with a peaked roof that was blatantly in need of paint and general repairs.
Not exactly a hideaway, but patronized by those who shunned rather than invited the glare of publicity. The social editors, for instance, never recorded the fact, say, that Lefty the Mug, the prominent Western gangster, was honoring New York with his presence, and during his visit was occupying a suite at Angel Annie’s! Quite so! But Angel Annie, having reached the age of sixty, had learned her way about, and was safe—providing none of her guests absent-mindedly slipped away with the room rent unpaid and left her to hold the bag. She had been known in the years gone by to be embarrassingly vindictive on several occasions over even such trifling matters. So much so, in fact, that it was seldom thereafter anyone had ever held out on Angel Annie.
The front windows of the house were dark—all save one. A light shone high up under the slanting roof from a small window, a very small window—so small that it was as though no more than an indispensable breathing hole had been punched, as parsimoniously as possible, through the wall. It gave one a sort of grotesquely eerie impression of a single-eyed sentinel, formless in the shadows, staring unblinkingly out into the night.
Jimmie Dale, as Smarlinghue, crossed the street. The whispers patiently and laboriously absorbed during the past few hours—it was near midnight now—were proving their worth. Lundy Sykes was occupying Angel Annie’s garret, and, unless that light was illogically misleading, Lundy Sykes was there now.
Angel Annie’s guests came and went at all hours unquestioned, even secretively. There were stout bolts on the inside of each individual room, as might be implied, and keys thereto supplied if they were demanded by the more timorously or, perhaps, more cautiously minded of those who took refuge under her roof. But the street door was never locked.
Jimmie Dale opened the door, stepped inside, closed the door behind him—and listened. Silence. Not a sound. He smiled vaguely. Angel Annie’s was running true to form. This was not the hour that her clientele wasted with their heads upon their pillows. Business came first! Even Angel Annie herself was not averse to a little fling here and there where her drab life might be enlivened by a “spot” or two coupled with the green baize covering of a gaming table. But that single light in the garret would seem to indicate that Lundy Sykes was of a different mind than his fellow guests, and, for tonight at least, was keeping under cover.
Jimmie Dale began to ascend the stairs silently in the utter darkness.
His brain was restlessly active. The possibility that Lundy Sykes had traitorously had a hand in putting Sonny Gartz on the spot had long since been dismissed from his mind. Such a theory was not tenable when analyzed. The two men had always been fast friends. The murder of Sonny Gartz and, incident thereto, the disappearance of Carruthers was not a one-man job, and Lundy Sykes, who had been in stir for years, had no mob behind him. That there had been collusion between the two—yes. That this collusion had resulted in Sonny Gartz’s murder—yes. But not through any double-crossing on the part of Lundy Sykes. What did Lundy Sykes know? How much, if anything, would Lundy Sykes tell? As Smarlinghue, a friend of Sonny Gartz grievously dismayed over the latter’s untimely end, he, Jimmie Dale, could question Lundy Sykes without arousing any suspicion. If he drew a blank, if Lundy Sykes’s mouth was doggedly closed, only one recourse remained—to watch the comings and goings of Lundy Sykes. It would seem to be almost a certainty that, if Lundy Sykes did not know who had actually taken Sonny Gartz for a ride, he knew the why and wherefore of it all. And, knowing that, Lundy Sykes was the key that would unlock—
Jimmie Dale had reached the second floor. Still darkness, still silence everywhere. It was like a house deserted. Apparently its inmates, or most of them at least, were already abroad intent upon their nightly affairs—as he had rather expected they would be. Well, so much the better. He had no desire to have it bruited about that Smarlinghue had paid a midnight visit to Lundy Sykes if it could possibly be avoided.
He mounted to the third floor—and suddenly paused. For the first time he heard a sound. He could not place the direction from which it had come—nor identify the sound itself. It might have been anything—something perhaps dropped on the floor—a faint concussion.
Jimmie Dale peered through the darkness. He could see practically nothing; but here, from the head of the stairs, he knew that, as on the floor below, the hallway must run from the rear to the front of the house. And at one end of the hall there must be steps of some kind leading to the garret. The light from the garret window that he had seen from the street was, of course, at the front of the house, but that did not necessarily mean that the entrance to the garret was —
And then Jimmie Dale moved swiftly—as silently as a shadow that, blending itself into the blackness at the front end of the hall, became invisible. A light was suddenly showing, ceiling high as it were, from the rear of the hall. The door of a lighted room was opening. The light disclosed a short, steep flight of steps leading upward—obviously to the garret. Lundy Sykes’s door, of course!
A second more, and the figure of a man stood framed in the doorway. The light, flooding out, was on his face—a well-known face in the underworld—a face known as well to Smarlinghue as Smarlinghue’s face would, if seen, be known to the other. The Cricket!
The door closed. Blackness fell again. Jimmie Dale heard the Cricket come down the steps from the garret softly, though obviously feeling his way; then, still softly, still feeling his way, reach the landing, and, still softly, begin to descend the stairs.
But Jimmie Dale did not move—he listened. A minute passed—another. The Cricket was on the ground floor now. Jimmie Dale’s sense of hearing, to which on more than one occasion he had owed his life, was acute. The sound was scarcely audible —the front door had closed.
Jimmie Dale stole forward then along the hall, making for the garret stairs. The Cricket! What was there between Lundy Sykes and the Cricket? He did not know. How could he? Something—of course. But, whatever it was, he was suddenly conscious now that it shattered somewhat his confidence in the belief that the possibility of Lundy Sykes having had a hand in the murder of Sonny Gartz was a wholly untenable theory. The Cricket had a well-established, not to say lurid, reputation throughout the length and breadth of Gangland, the which, in view of what had transpired last night, now took on a particularly vivid hue.
Jimmie Dale reached the garret door and pressed his ear against one of the panels. There was no sound from within; but for the moment he neither disclosed his presence nor attempted to enter. If he knocked at once, it must occur to Lundy Sykes that he, Smarlinghue, coming up the stairs, must have met the Cricket going down. True, with perfect justification, he might say that he had passed someone on the stairs, but in the darkness had no idea who it was. But Lundy Sykes would know it was the Cricket—and in due course the Cricket, through Lundy Sykes, would know what Smarlinghue had said, and know that he had not encountered Smarlinghue or anyone else on the stairs. Where, then, had Smarlinghue, a self-convicted but certainly not a purposeless liar, been during the conference—unquestionably a surreptitious one, as evidenced by the mode of the Cricket’s departure—between the Cricket and Lundy Sykes? Smarlinghue had his own fences to look after. The Cricket was no man to invite into the ring. The Cricket was devilishly well known to take no chances, to act first and question afterwards—when the questioning brought no answer from lips that were sealed forever. Jimmie Dale smiled thinly. A very unwise proceeding to couple Smarlinghue with the Cricket’s visit here!
The minutes dragged by—perhaps five of them. Then Jimmie Dale knocked quietly upon the door. Ample time would have elapsed now in even Lundy Sykes’s mind to account for the Cricket being blocks away before Smarlinghue would even have entered the house. There was no response.
He knocked again—a trifle more insistently. Still no response.
A furrow gathered on Jimmie Dale’s forehead.
Rather strange! Had the Cricket, too, found Lundy Sykes not at home? But why, then, the light? It must be a good ten minutes since from the street he, Jimmie Dale, had first seen that light in the garret window. If the Cricket had entered the garret and turned on the light only to find the place untenanted, why had he not turned off the light when he left? It didn’t quite make sense, did it?
Again Jimmie Dale knocked; and then, again receiving no reply, he tried the door. It was unlocked. He opened it, stepped across the threshold —and for a tense instant stood there motionless.
The low cry that rose to his lips he suppressed. He gave no sign of emotion, save that into his eyes there came creeping a grim, smoldering light. Lundy Sykes was only too certainly at home. The man lay crumpled up on the bed over there, his shirt, where it showed through an unbuttoned coat, drenched with blood. Lundy Sykes was indubitably dead.
It wasn’t Smarlinghue who shuffled across the garret floor now, it was Jimmie Dale who stepped swiftly to the bedside. He stooped over the body in an examination that missed no essential detail; then he rose and stared at the murdered man in an almost unnaturally detached way.
He was not callous in the presence of death, even the death of a professional crook such as Lundy Sykes who had lived by the sword, so to speak, and had died thereby; but his mind was delving, searching now, centered on what had once been Lundy Sykes only as a purely focal point.
That faint concussion . . . a silencer. . . . The body was warm . . . of course! . . . It could scarcely have been much more than five minutes ago that the Cricket had shot Lundy Sykes through the heart. . . . Last night Sonny Gartz—now Lundy Sykes. . . . And Carruthers? . . . His heart sank. . . . There was something horribly ruthless about all this . . . Carruthers’s chances were slim indeed. . . .
He turned away. He, too, could be ruthless. Lundy Sykes could never tell now what he had known—but he had left an indelible trail behind him. That blotch on God’s earth, the Cricket, who so many times now had killed without qualm, professionally—for his living!
Jimmie Dale retreated to the door, closed it softly as he left the garret, and in the darkness went down the stairs.
AGAIN Smarlinghue shuffled along a street in a questionable quarter of the East Side. Again he halted to stare across the street, this time at a gaudy electric-light sign that, flashing on and off in variegated colors, proclaimed the fact that the Silver Fountain was in full swing. But this time, rather than halting in the shadows, he had halted under the full glare of a street lamp.
He dug his hand into his pocket, produced a few coppers and a stray nickel which he counted disconsolately on his open palm; and then, with a resigned shrug of his shoulders—the price of a dance ticket, which was beyond such slender means as these, being the only open sesame to the Silver Fountain’s bounteous free lunch table—slouched on down the street again.
As he was perfectly well aware, two men, counting themselves unseen in a doorway behind him, had watched his proceedings. A faint grimace twisted Smarlinghue’s features for a fleeting second. Exactly! His little byplay had been enacted entirely for their benefit.
One of them was Martin from headquarters unless he was greatly mistaken—which he wasn’t! Plainclothesmen. The police dragnet, as he had already discovered hours earlier, was out tonight. And Cockney Joe’s Silver Fountain would now appear to be the next number up! It would be a rather ghastly ending to Smarlinghue’s career if he were made prisoner in a raid! Detention by the police, even if the period were not over-prolonged, would play havoc with Smarlinghue’s facial stain—and Jimmie Dale would be revealed. He could see in his mind’s eye the resultant yellow, screaming headlines:
JIMMIE DALE, MILLIONAIRE CLUBMAN, DRAMATICALLY UNMASKED
Known As “Smarlinghue” In The Underworld
For Years Played Role of Dissolute Artist
And then, during the ensuing hours, the Sanctuary torn to pieces in a police search—the discovery of Larry the Bat’s disguise—and in the following editions, flung wide across the front page:
THE GRAY SEAL TRAPPED AT LAST
Wanted For A Score Of Murders And Innumerable Lesser Crimes
Jimmie Dale, Larry the Bat, and Smarlinghue Identified as One Man
Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders again. Yes —but not yet!—in spite of the fact that entrance into Cockney Joe’s was of vital importance to him at the moment. Forewarned now that the Silver Fountain was under surveillance, he would take good care that at least the police would not see him enter there.
Ostensibly, Cockney Joe ran a dance hall—admittedly of very low degree. It was also a hangout for many well-authenticated gangsters with whom the Silver Fountain’s private rooms and bar on the ground floor below the dance hall were popular; combining, as they did, the assurance of a copious supply of illicit liquor and council chambers that were well guarded against eavesdroppers. In other words, a crooks’ rendezvous, and therefore potentially a good hunting ground for the police tonight, or at any other time. All this the police knew—but the police had never uncovered the kernel embedded in the shell.
The main entrance under the gaudy sign, plus the more unostentatious door on the side street—the Silver Fountain was on a corner—were not the only means of entry into, or exit from, Cockney Joe’s. There was another way. Few, probably, if any, of the habitués, even including the gangsters, knew of its existence. It would never be used except in a case of extreme emergency—certainly never for a dragnet raid. Once Larry the Bat had done Cockney Joe a lasting favor, not for love of Cockney Joe, but because of an exigency paramount at the time; and, by reason of the close relationship thus established, Larry the Bat had acquired certain intimate details anent Cockney Joe and his activities—the which were quite unsuspected by Cockney Joe. And what Larry the Bat had once stored away in his mind was now stored away in the mind of Smarlinghue!
The two-story building next door was occupied by a grocery store, with the groceryman’s living quarters above. It was a very modest and unpretentious store, as befitted one catering to the squalid neighborhood in which it had been established. It was run by a tool of Cockney Joe whose name was Heinschmidt. Merchandise as innocent, for instance, as a case of canned tomatoes was received in the ordinary course of business; but, though never sold over the counter, at no time ever cluttered up Heinschmidt’s flyblown shelves. Cockney Joe was one of the biggest dope distributors in the Eastern states.
Smarlinghue was hurrying now, and despite his shuffling gait was covering the ground with amazing speed. Time was a factor—the factor now. How long would it be before that projected raid was in actual progress?
He had come here directly from Angel Annie’s, and he believed that the Cricket, say ten minutes ahead of him, was at the present moment in the Silver Fountain. He could not be sure, of course, but the odds very strongly favored that presumption. The Silver Fountain, he knew, was a confirmed habit with the Cricket, an almost nightly haunt wherein the Cricket devoted himself to heavy drinking in one of those downstairs rooms. And, furthermore, in view of the murder he had just committed, the Cricket might foresightedly deem it wise to have an alibi up his sleeve—which the Silver Fountain would readily provide. Kindred spirits would be prepared, on request, to perjure themselves glibly and swear that the Cricket had been there for, well, whatever span of time would hold the Cricket guiltless in a jury’s eyes. True, the Cricket might be anywhere other than in the Silver Fountain now, but it was the logical hangout he would make for, and—
As he hurried along, Jimmie Dale’s mind kept racing on ahead. Smarlinghue obviously could not expose the Cricket to the police for the murder of Lundy Sykes. But even if he could, and did, the Cricket would never talk—to the police. And that would not help Carruthers any!
He, Jimmie Dale, as Smarlinghue, had intended only to renew his acquaintance with the Cricket tonight as a prelude to worming his way thereafter into the other’s good graces, thus camouflaging the fact that he was watching his quarry’s every movement and so lull any suspicion that might arise in the Cricket’s mind. But now, if a raid was in prospect and the Cricket was actually present in Cockney Joe’s, it was more imperative than ever that he make immediate contact with the man. He did not want the Cricket’s liberty for the time being in any way curtailed; and, besides, here was a ready-made means of ingratiating himself with the Cricket. He could warn the Cricket and save him from the meshes of the dragnet—if there was still time!
And the risk—the risk of Smarlinghue himself being caught in the raid and the consequent fatal aftermath? Had he forgotten that? No, he told himself—far from it. But, after all, the risk was not so great. Where there was a secret way in, there was the same way out. In any case, he could not afford to throw what looked like a major trump into the discard.
Jimmie Dale crossed the street and swerved into an areaway. The areaway ended in a backyard fence. He was over the fence with the agility and noiselessness of a cat—another fence, still other fences, as he worked his way through a series of backyards toward the Silver Fountain.
He crouched finally at the cellar door of the grocery store that adjoined Cockney Joe’s. The door, as he well knew, was equipped with no cheap lock. From a pocket in the leather girdle he drew out a delicate steel instrument. In the darkness, which shrouded himself as well, the keyhole was invisible. He felt for it, found it—and then his fingers were at work with patient skill. At the end of perhaps a minute he was rewarded by a faint snipping sound. The door was open.
Ladderlike steps known of old led downward directly to the cellar. There was no sound save a sort of deadened blare from the orchestra in the dance hall next door. He moved forward, feeling out with his foot for the first step; then he closed, but did not lock, the door behind him. One never knew! A locked door was no ally in a forced retreat where the margin of safety might easily be measured by no more than scant seconds!
And now from the girdle came a powerful though diminutive flashlight, its barrel scarcely larger than the diameter of an ordinary pencil. The white ray danced down the steps as he followed it.
He gained the cellar, and his flashlight searched his surroundings swiftly. The floor was untidy with empty and broken packing boxes; but the walls were lined with shelves which were stacked with canned and bottled goods, together with a heterogeneous assortment of commodities peculiar to the grocery trade—at a glance, the reserve stock of the store upstairs.
A smile of grim humor flickered around the corners of Jimmie Dale’s mouth. The cellar next door, too, was lined with shelves laden with the reserve supplies of the Silver Fountain. Quite in order. Quite what was to be expected, of course. Nothing to excite comment or be worthy of a second thought. Quite so! Except that an opening had been cut through the wall, and that corresponding sections of the shelves in the two cellars were movable! If those canned tomatoes, say, that the grocery store received were other than they seemed, they could be transferred with ease into the unsuspected keeping of Cockney Joe, and thereafter—
Jimmie Dale stepped quickly across the cellar and began to test the shelves. He was not sure which one it was that was movable; he knew only that it was approximately halfway along the wall. Once, in the days of Larry the Bat’s intimacy with Cockney Joe, he had watched, unseen, from the cellar steps while Heinschmidt had set the section in motion by merely pulling it out from the wall, and—Ah, here it was!
The section moved outward without sound, and so smoothly that the goods piled upon its several shelves were not disturbed. The opening disclosed was generously large—the height and width of an average man’s shoulders. Also the flashlight disclosed the boarded backing of the section in Cockney Joe’s cellar just the thickness of the two walls away.
There was barely room enough to squeeze in between the two sections; and, with the section he had opened now closed behind him, he stood in the confined space listening. The boarding on the back of the shelves was too thin to deaden sound. There was no one in Cockney Joe’s cellar.
It was taking time—more time that he would have wished; though perhaps not so much after all. It could hardly have been more than four or five minutes since he had left the street. And the raid, if staged at all, might not be staged for another hour yet—yes; but if not already in progress, it might be staged within the next minute!
He pushed open the section of shelves in front of him and stepped out into the blackness of Cockney Joe’s cellar. Then his flashlight flared once more, marking well the exact position of the section as he closed it again.
Across the cellar the stairs led upward; but here, instead of leading to a backyard, they gave on a landing beneath the back stairs on the ground floor at the extreme rear of the Silver Fountain. He climbed the stairs rapidly and in silence, and at the top was confronted, as he knew he would be, by a closed door. It was locked, as it always was, of course—with the key, as it always was, in Cockney Joe’s personal possession.
Again the little steel instrument came into action; and then he began to open the door cautiously inch by inch. It was almost black here under the back staircase—just a faint glow that crept timidly in from the main hallway. From the hall above came the muffled trend of dancing feet, the crooning of a song to the accompaniment of the orchestra. While from along the hallway here on the ground floor came the occasional sound of voices—but not from near by.
Jimmie Dale was still burning no bridges behind him. He did not lock the door as he shut it softly and slipped out from under the stairs into the hall that was narrowed here by reason of the staircase.
He stole guardedly along until he reached the foot of the stairs where they joined the main hallway, and then slouched boldly forward. For the moment the hallway itself, not too brilliantly lighted, was empty. But it would not matter now if he were seen. Smarlinghue was persona grata here in this thugs’ hangout, and would have needed no dance ticket to gain admission, in spite of the pantomime he had performed for the edification of Martin of headquarters and his companion out there across the street. If seen now it would naturally be assumed that he had originally entered by either the front or side door—since there were no others!
The hallway here was wide; it ran through the center of the building, but terminated near the front of the establishment in closed double doors. On the other side of these doors was a sort of vestibule facing the street entrance through which the dancers passed on their way upstairs. Dance tickets did not admit to this floor! There were rooms here on either side—most of them with their doors now shut. The bar on the right-hand side halfway up the hall, the door wide open, was noisy. At the left, a narrow passageway leading to the side entrance cut into the main hall. The door of the only room between this passageway and the foot of the stairs was partially open, and a light showed from within.
Mentally, Jimmie Dale nodded to himself. There was obviously quite a crowd in the bar. He would try the bar first and see if the Cricket was there. But as he passed the partially opened door on his left he glanced in and came to a sudden stop. No need to try the bar. The Cricket was sitting alone in this room here at a table with a glass and a bottle in front of him.
Jimmie Dale knew a sudden uplift. His supposition based on his knowledge of the Cricket’s habits had borne fruit. The Cricket was here, and —the luck of it!—not only here, but alone. But the latter fact puzzled him a little. It was not one of the Cricket’s habits to drink here in solitude when there were fraternal spirits to drink with, and the bar was certainly well patronized tonight. However, that was merely a passing thought, wasn’t it, inconsequential, flashing through his mind?
He sidled up to the door and across the threshold.
“Hello, Cricket!” he jerked out, his voice tense with well-assumed excitement. “Say, can I talk to you for a minute?”
The Cricket looked up with a start. With his sallow skin, his small black eyes, his thin lips and sullen mouth, he was not prepossessing in appearance.
“What t’hell!” he ejaculated with a scowl. “You, eh, Smarly? No, you can’t talk to me! I ain’t got no time. I got a date here. Scram!”
“That’s what I want to talk about,” returned Smarlinghue earnestly. “That’s what I want to tell you to do—scram! It’s a cinch this dump’s going to be pinched tonight.”
“Pinched?” The Cricket showed sudden interest —perhaps his mind had flown instinctively to the scene of a man’s murder in Angel Annie’s garret not so many minutes gone! “What for?”
“For a line-up on account of that newspaper guy, Carruthers, doing the vanishing stunt right after Sonny Gartz got bumped off last night,” explained Smarlinghue hurriedly. “They’re raiding about every joint in town one after the other. I’m telling you now, Cricket, to do a bust.”
The Cricket was palpably uneasy.
“I ain’t got nothing to do with the newspaper guy or Sonny Gartz neither,” he asserted with a snarl.
“Sure you ain’t,” assented Smarlinghue heartily; “but you don’t want to get a dose of headquarters, do you? They ain’t handing out any drinks down there!”
“Drinks!” The Cricket glowered over memories that were evidently painful as he swallowed at a single gulp the half glassful of liquor in front of him. “I been there—damn ’em!” Then sharply: “How d’you know they’re going to make a pinch here?”
“Because”—Smarlinghue circled his lips with the tip of his tongue in an agitated way—“a few minutes ago I spotted Martin and another fly cop in a doorway out there in front across the street, and I figured they was lamping the place waiting for the squad to get through somewhere else and come along.”
“Is that so?” There was a sudden hint of suspicion in the Cricket’s voice. “And if you was so sure there was going to be a pinch, what did you come in for? So’s you’d get a free ride in the wagon yourself?”
“Aw, for Gawd’s sake, listen!” pleaded Smarlinghue. “I had to take a chance, didn’t I? I might have lots of time, or I might have only a few minutes, but I didn’t want to see any of the guys I knew run in without trying to give ’em the high sign. So I did a sneak around the block and came in by the side door without them birds spotting me. You’re the first one I saw in here, and I—”
Jimmie Dale’s words were cut off as though severed with a knife. The orchestra had ceased abruptly. From overhead came the sound of stampeding feet; there was a crash upon the vestibule doors along the hall; an ugly chorused yell from the gangsters congregated in the bar, then a shout of warning from the doorkeeper at the side door, followed by a violent smash upon the door itself. And then a shot—fired undoubtedly by some coke-steamed fool. But it set pandemonium in motion. It was echoed by other shots—the scum of the underworld had been in that bar, and, once started now, would wage a bitter fight.
Fifteen seconds gone—no more.
And then—the switch pulled in panic perhaps by one of Cockney Joe’s myrmidons—the lights went out.
“Come on, Cricket!” Smarlinghue rapped out hoarsely. “Come on—quick! I know a way out!”
The Cricket was cursing viciously as he came stumbling in the darkness across the room.
“Quick—or we ain’t got a chance!” Smarlinghue prodded, as he caught the Cricket’s arm and lunged with the other through the doorway.
Shouts, yells, imprecations, oaths, commands—a bedlam punctuated by shots! A melee of swaying, weaving, struggling shadows, a mass of them—everything was indistinct to Jimmie Dale save the tongue flames of the gun shots that stabbed through the black. But here near the foot of the back stairs, the stairs themselves no source of potential menace as there was no egress to them from the dance hall, the way for the moment was clear—as he had counted upon it being, since the fight had begun at the front end of the hall and those of the police who had smashed their way in through the side door would automatically turn, as they obviously had, in that direction to join in the fray.
A bullet sung past his ear. There were not many steps to go to gain the narrow portion of the hall that flanked the back staircase, but until that protection was reached they were still, even though undiscovered, far from safe. Jimmie Dale gritted his teeth. Madmen shooting in the dark!
“Hurry!” he urged sharply—there was no need to whisper, for a shout could scarcely have been heard above the din around them. “Hurry!” he repeated, for the Cricket’s stride seemed to have slowed strangely. “D’you hear, Cricket? You got to run!”
And then he felt the Cricket lurch against him. “I—I’m hit, Smarly,” choked the other.
The man was staggering weakly; but now, due to Jimmie Dale’s support, they were almost at the cellar door.
“Buck up, Cricket!” encouraged Jimmie Dale. “Buck up! We’ll be out of this in a second and get you fixed up. Here we are!” Jimmie Dale opened the cellar door. “Now watch yourself! There are stairs here. I’ll give you a hand.”
But the Cricket’s only answer was to sag heavily in Jimmie Dale’s arms.
Jimmie Dale’s face was hard and strained as he lifted the man, and, placing the other on the top step, turned and locked the cellar door. Then he picked the Cricket up in his arms, and in the pitch blackness, feeling for his foothold on each tread, went down the stairs. How badly was the man hurt? The Cricket was mumbling—evidently no more than semiconscious.
At the bottom of the stairs Jimmie Dale laid the Cricket down on the cellar floor and focused his flashlight on the other. The man’s face was of a ghastly pallor—or was it partly due to the white, artificial ray of the flashlight? The Cricket was still mumbling.
It wasn’t safe in here. Sooner or later the police would come upon the cellar door—and they would not leave it untouched!
Jimmie Dale worked swiftly now. Guided by his flashlight, he swung wide the sections of the shelves on both sides of the wall; then, picking the Cricket up again, carried the other through the opening, and as before laid him down upon the floor. A moment more and both sections of the shelves were back in place, and he was kneeling beside the wounded man.
Safe enough now. The police on the other side of the wall would find only an empty cellar; and even if Heinschmidt by any chance came down here, Heinschmidt would dare do nothing but keep his mouth shut for his own sake. And besides —the ray of the flashlight was playing again, but more critically now, over the wounded man—there was nothing to do in any case but stay here. The Cricket’s shirt, like the shirt of Lundy Sykes, was blood—drenched, and there was something in the ashen face that was unmistakable even to a layman’s eyes. The Cricket was a dying man.
The closed eyes fluttered open. The lips moved. “That you, Smarly?”
“Yes,” said Jimmie Dale.
“Listen, Smarly, you—you’re a swell guy. I—I was waiting for someone—in there. I guess I—I’ve got mine. Got to give message—tonight. You got to give it now, Smarly—you’re—you’re no squealer. You know Casson’s—Casson’s Hotel?”
Jimmie Dale bit his lip. Though he had set out to ingratiate himself with the Cricket, he did not like this. A dying man! But the thought of Carruthers made him implacable. He had never heard of Casson’s Hotel, but it could be located some way or another, and the Cricket was sinking too fast to risk any interruption.
“Yes,” he lied softly.
“House—next door”—the Cricket’s voice was growing feebler, and Jimmie Dale leaned closer to catch the words. “Go there—ask for—Number One. Say Lundy—came across—on account of what—what happened to—Sonny Gartz. Map on page—old notebook—in sealed package—Moses Kleuger’s safe. You—you got that—straight? The map—”
“What map?” Jimmie Dale probed gently as the other’s voice died away.
There was no answer.
Jimmie Dale rose to his feet.
The Cricket was dead.
THERE was no sound; no light other than the prying ray of the flashlight that lanced the blackness as it traveled slowly around the room.
The ray fell upon the face of a safe and hesitated an instant as though engaged in deciphering the painted lettering, scratched and faded, disclosed thereon:
The ray resumed its circuitous motion. It exposed a shabby old desk in front of a small, unwashed, rear window—and then a door opposite the safe.
Jimmie Dale nodded to himself. That was the door through which he had entered. This was Moses Kleuger’s unholy sanctum. It was years since he had been here, but the scurrilous old rat was not likely to have made many changes—still it was just as well to refresh one’s memory. That other door, for instance, at the front end of the room opening into the pawnshop beyond?
Yes, it was just as it had always been—with its little sliding shutter in the center panel through which Moses Kleuger, trusting no one, could not only keep an eye at will upon his assistant in the pawnshop; but, and perhaps much more to the point when occasion demanded, could obtain a surreptitious preview, so to speak, of those who, on whatever business pretext, entered from the street.
Again Jimmie Dale nodded in understanding to himself. It was perhaps not altogether an exaggerated precaution on the part of the said Moses Kleuger, at any rate in so far as his customers were concerned, for a goodly proportion of his clientele, to say the least of it, would well bear watching. For nearly forty years the rapacious old scoundrel had done a more or less legitimate business out there in the pawnshop—and a wholly illegitimate, but more lucrative one, here in this musty and evil-smelling back room. For nigh on two generations Moses Kleuger, despite his distinctly Shylockian propensities, had been known to every crook in gangland as a fence of high degree.
And now Jimmie Dale, as he habitually did, was making a mental note of details. The door was hung to swing back into the pawnshop, not into this room here; the shutter was wide open, a black oblong against the background of the unlighted interior of the pawnshop; and the key to the door was in the lock. And—what he had particularly been looking for—there was the electric-light switch, or, rather, two of them. A point not to be ignored in case of need, though he anticipated no interruption in the work that lay before him. It was close to two o’clock in the morning now, and, as he had already satisfied himself, Moses Kleuger, who lived in miserly fashion alone in the house, was in bed. The two switches were side by side near the jamb of the door leading into the pawnshop—one certainly for the light here in this room, and the other undoubtedly for the light, or lights, in the pawnshop itself.
The flashlight’s ray continued its circuit of the room and came finally to rest again on the face of the safe. Jimmie Dale moved toward the safe silently, his subconscious mind errant for the moment from his immediate surroundings as it passed in judgment, as it were, upon his acts during the last half-hour. He had left the Cricket in Heinschmidt’s cellar—there had been no alternative, nothing else to do. To search for Casson’s Hotel and “the house next door” would have been a criminal waste of precious time tonight—that would come later. And obviously the Cricket’s message, unless one wanted to play insanely into the enemy’s hand, would never be delivered. The vital thing tonight, now, was the sealed package containing the map on the page of an old notebook that, according to the Cricket, was in this safe here.
Jimmie Dale studied the face of the safe intently now for a moment as he stood before it; then he switched off the flashlight and dropped to his knees on the floor. It was a type he knew well. It was not ultra-modern, far from it; not the intricate piece of mechanism doubly guarded by an inner door that would have been a worthy product of his father’s plant even in the years long before the business had been sold out to a combine; but, at that, it was no toy, no helpless and ancient monstrosity at the mercy of even a tyro in the art of safecracking.
“Not as tough as poor old Ray’s was the other night,” Jimmie Dale muttered grimly; “but I fancy it will give me a run for that map, all right!”
And then Jimmie Dale was at work—his slim, tapering fingers, the tips endowed with their magical sixth sense, were on the dial’s knob; his ear was snuggled against the steel front of the safe to catch the tumblers’ fall.
At moments utter silence that, as it endured, seemed at last to throb and palpitate with sound itself; at others the faint musical whir of the moving dial; and again, at others, the deep-drawn breaths as of a man laboring under extreme exertion.
Again and again Jimmie Dale flirted the sweat beads from his forehead with the back of his hand; again and again, to increase their sensitiveness, he rubbed his fingers upon the threadbare carpet until the tips were almost raw.
Still time passed—it might have been half an hour—then came a soft metallic resonance as the bolts slid back in their grooves, and a slight creaking of the unoiled hinges as Jimmie Dale swung open the heavy door.
The flashlight illuminated the interior of the safe. On the left-hand side, high up, were two small wooden drawers. Beneath these drawers, and likewise occupying the space to the right, there was a solid, untidy front from top to bottom composed of account books, files, letters, documents, and objects of like nature—an accumulation apparently of the years.
The drawers obviously invited the first attack.
He tested them. They were locked, of course, but their locks were puny, and their resistance was hardly likely to prove very formidable.
His hand went swiftly to the leather girdle, and as his fingers, feeling for the tool he sought, inadvertently touched the thin metal case wherein, nestling between sheets of oil paper, lay the store of diamond-shaped, gray-paper seals, a half-grim, half-humorous temptation assailed him for an instant. It would give Detective Sergeant Waud a tremendous thrill to find the insignia of the Gray Seal adhering to the face of Moses Kleuger’s safe! Sergeant Waud had been so sure of the imminent reappearance of the Gray Seal. He, Jimmie Dale, would give a good deal to listen to the sergeant’s comments on the speedy fulfillment of his prediction!
But Jimmie Dale put the temptation from him almost as soon as it was formulated. He had no intention, if he could avoid it, of inviting the attention of the police to Moses Kleuger’s safe, and much less to supply a clue gratuitously to those who had killed so callously in an effort to obtain this very information! On the contrary he was even hopeful that for perhaps days to come Moses Kleuger himself would not stumble upon the fact that the map was gone—for what would there be to indicate that the safe had ever been opened at any time except by its owner, or that its contents, which would be carefully replaced, had ever been disturbed?
The blued-steel, delicate little instrument performed its work quickly and efficiently. The first drawer was crammed to repletion with what was patently a miserly hoard of banknotes of large denominations. The second drawer contained a collection of plush jewel cases—loot probably on its sinuous way through the old fence’s hands. Jimmie Dale did not take the time to open any of these cases. The police, no doubt, might be deeply interested in their contents—but he was not.
The sealed package was in neither one drawer nor the other. He locked both drawers again.
But now Jimmie Dale frowned as he eyed the forbidding wall of account books, papers, and documents that confronted him. The search was likely to prove both lengthy and laborious.
He began to pile the contents of the safe in methodical order on the floor beside him so that he would have no difficulty in eventually replacing everything in exactly its original position. He examined every sizable envelope, every elastic-banded bundle of paper critically as he handled them. Unless Lundy Sykes had, even in death, outwitted the Cricket, that sealed package must be hidden somewhere here amongst this hodgepodge of books and documents.
Yet the minutes passed, many of them, with his search unrewarded—and then abruptly a triumphant exclamation, though smothered in its inception, rose to Jimmie Dale’s lips. This miscellany of books, files, and papers did not occupy the full depth of the safe on the right-hand side. He could see through the sort of excavation he had made to the back of the safe. There were more wooden drawers there—a row of them.
He smiled queerly. He might have jumped too hastily to conclusions at the sight of those first two drawers, but there was no use now in wasting further time. It was a thousand to one that the sealed package was in one of these drawers here. Not easily come by, these drawers; not often used —well, so much the better! All the less likelihood of an untimely discovery that the map had disappeared!
A minute more and the row of drawers was fully exposed—five of them. Jimmie Dale opened the first one. More money. He wondered inconsequently how much the old reprobate’s ill-gotten gains, extending over so many perverted years, had totaled?
He opened the next drawer—and suddenly, every muscle in his body tense, knelt there motionless, listening. The pervading silence had been sharply broken. The door bell of the house entrance, as distinct from the street entrance to the pawnshop, was ringing. In reality Jimmie Dale knew that it did not make much noise; but, crashing now through what had been a prolonged stillness, it seemed to give tongue to a clamor that would be heard throughout the city’s length and breadth.
The sound died away, and as the silence fell once more Jimmie Dale was at work again, but now with almost desperate haste. There was danger here—the chance, the more than chance, that in a minute or two Moses Kleuger, who would certainly be awakened, might bring his visitor back here into this room long dedicated to business of a confidential nature, and at this hour of the morning a visitor’s business was not likely to fall into any other category!
The sealed package was not in the second drawer.
Jimmie Dale attacked the third drawer—both mind and fingers racing. Moses Kleuger, when he had purchased the house, had divided the ground floor into two parts by means of a substantial partition. On one side was the pawnshop and, in its rear, this private office; on the other side was the stairway from the living quarters on the floor above, and a narrow hall leading back here to this room. Each of these divisions had it own street door.
Jimmie Dale’s lips were tight. He had come in through the house entrance, electing to pick the less complicated lock on that door than battle with the bars and bolts and locks that he knew guarded the entrance to the pawnshop proper, and his escape now by the way he had come was cut off—if escape became necessary. Yes, and that small window here in the room was valueless to him, for memory recalled that it was separated by only a few inches from the brick wall of a storage building opposite.
The lock of the third drawer was proving refractory. The door bell pealed again. And now, Jimmie Dale’s ears attuned, he heard Moses Kleuger coming down the stairs, the front door open, then a startled cry from the old pawnbroker that was instantly silenced by what seemed like a threatening command uttered by a harsh voice.
The sealed package was not in the third drawer.
They were coming now along the hall. He could hear snarling tones mingling with a flood of sniveling protests from Moses Kleuger. Jimmie Dale flung craftsmanship to the winds. His original intention to replace everything in the safe as he had found it, to leave no sign or trace that it had ever been violated, mocked him. But there was no chance for that now. All that counted any longer was the sealed package—with no more than a minute left at most and two drawers still unopened. He broke both locks with a small jimmy snatched from the leather girdle, and wrenched the two drawers open. He had not been wholly silent, he knew—but he could not help that, either.
The flashlight gleamed. In one of the drawers was a small, brown-paper package sealed with red wax. He ripped one end of it open—he had no time to do more. Within was an old notebook. He thrust the package into his pocket; wiped the handle of the safe, the dial, and its knob with the sleeve of his coat to efface any possible trace of fingerprints—and, on his feet now, the flashlight still in play, ran silently across the room to the door that opened into the pawnshop.
And here he hesitated for the barest fraction of a second. The mind works with incredible speed. The key was in the lock, as he had previously noted. Should he remove it and lock the door on the other side?—it could not be locked with any tool if the key remained in the wards.
No! There was a better way—a risk, of course. But any move he made now was a risk. The chances were well worth playing. The two men would naturally give almost immediate attention to this connecting door, since it obviously suggested a way of escape through the pawnshop. But why tell them that he had gone that way, and might even still be in the pawnshop itself? Moses Kleuger would not fail to note that the key was missing. There was no time to tackle those intricate fastenings and locks on the front door of the pawnshop—it would take many minutes where none remained—and meanwhile Moses Kleuger and his visitor had only to run back the way they had come and stand outside there on the street at the pawnshop door waiting for him as he emerged on the sidewalk.
The key had not been turned in the lock. Jimmie Dale left it there. The door swung noiselessly back into the pawnshop. He stepped through, closed the door—and almost at the same moment heard the door between the passage and the office open. And then distinctly, through the open shutter of the door behind which he now stood, came an old man’s whine that was drowned out the next instant by a deep, guttural menacing voice:
“Can that yowling, and cut out your lies, you slimy old bloodsucker! You’ve got that map, and I know it. And you’ll come across with it or get your block blown off. You can take your choice! Where’s the light? Turn it on!”
The map! Jimmie Dale felt his pulse suddenly quicken. He would have expected anything but this. A sort of strange confusion surged in his mind. With the Cricket dead, how could— But that was for the afterwards.
Jimmie Dale drew back slightly, his eyes riveted on the opening in the door. He heard Moses Kleuger shuffling across the office floor. Then the office light went on—and coincidently Moses Kleuger screamed.
“I’m robbed! I’m robbed!” shrieked the old man.
Jimmie Dale’s jaws clamped. The figure of Moses Kleuger, with thin, pinched, whiskered face, his feet encased in carpet slippers, his skinny legs showing almost to the knees below the shrunken nightgown, was in the line of vision. Who was the other man in the room?—the man who, like himself, Jimmie Dale, had come here for the map that was at the bottom of the killing of Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes, and the disappearance of Carruthers.
Moses Kleuger shifted his position. The other man came into view. He had a revolver in his hand, and wore an old felt hat and a cheap, ill-fitting suit of clothes. He had red hair—not natural hair—a wig; and his eyes were hidden by dark amber spectacles. Jimmie Dale swore savagely under his breath. He was no further advanced than before. The man’s disguise served its purpose amply!
Moses Kleuger was wringing his hands.
“My God! My God! My God!” he wailed. “I’m robbed! I’m—”
“Hold your cursed tongue!” ordered the man in the red wig furiously, but in the same deep guttural voice that, to Jimmie Dale, was as obviously unnatural as the wig itself. “Any fool can see that! I don’t want the whole street in here. Understand? Where’s that door”—pointing toward the pawnshop—“lead to?”
“The pawnshop,” whimpered Moses Kleuger.
“Well, then, maybe he’s not so far away. I thought I heard a little noise a couple of minutes ago; maybe it was when those drawers were smashed. Maybe he’s still in there. We’ll take a look. Go ahead and turn the lights on! You know where they are.”
“There—there’s a switch for them in—in this room,” choked Moses Kleuger.
“Then”—peremptorily—“switch ’em on!”
Jimmie Dale drew instantly to one side of the open shutter in the door.
The pawnshop was alight. On one side a long counter, caged in like a bank’s defenses, took form out of the darkness; on the other side, fronting the entire length of the counter, was the space reserved for customers, and on which the street door opened.
“Go ahead! Lead the way!” snapped the guttural voice.
“No!” protested Moses Kleuger piteously. “No —if he’s in there—I—I’m afraid.”
“So am I—that you might get hit first!” The guttural voice was venomous. “Go on, I tell you!”
There was the sound of a scuffle. Jimmie Dale retreated behind the door that was now opening, but he could still see, though at an angle, through the shutter. The man with the red wig was thrusting Moses Kleuger forward and over the threshold by the scruff of the neck.
They were a yard inside the pawnshop now—at Jimmie Dale’s mercy. He could have held them up at the point of his automatic. It would have been so simple—and it would have meant so much to tear that wig from the man’s head and those spectacles from the man’s eyes, and get a look at, yes, and perhaps identify, the real man himself. But it would have been at a bitter cost—a cost too great even to contemplate. The lights were on. Smarlinghue would equally be disclosed. Moses Kleuger would recognize Smarlinghue. And like wildfire through the underworld would sweep the news that Smarlinghue had robbed Moses Kleuger’s safe. Not that that in itself mattered so much. Smarlinghue was not supposed to be beyond reproach, and Moses Kleuger might be looked upon as fair game. But it would matter a great deal if this man here, and whoever else might be concerned in an effort to obtain the map at any cost, knew that Smarlinghue had taken it! Nor was that all—nor even the worst of it. Following Moses Kleuger’s denunciation, the police would instantly enter the field—and the role of Smarlinghue, more vital now for Carruthers’s sake than perhaps it had ever been before, would have to be at once and forever abandoned.
Moses Kleuger and the man with the red wig had gone forward another yard—their backs still turned.
And then Jimmie Dale, swift as a flash of lightning and as silently as he had ever moved in his life before, slipped around the edge of the door, pulled the door with him behind their backs—and, contemptuous now of silence, slammed it shut and locked it. Then, crouched out of sight well below the level of the shutter, his fingers darting upward to the two switches, he plunged both the pawnshop and the office in darkness and raced out into the passage.
Another moment and he was on the street. Yet another and he had disappeared around an adjacent corner.
It would take them, even if the keys to the street door of the pawnshop were at hand, three or four minutes at the very least to free themselves. The margin of safety was generous—far more than he required. His thoughts were already elsewhere.
That notebook in his pocket—the map.
The Sanctuary now!
JIMMIE DALE, a quarter of an hour later, did not enter the Sanctuary by way of the lane and the French window that opened on the rubbish—strewn courtyard. Why should he? As Smarlinghue, a tenant, secrecy in his comings and goings here at any hour was rather to be avoided than encouraged.
He entered the tenement through the street door, shuffled along the unlighted hall that reeked with the smell of garlic and halted at the door of his room. He reached out with his key toward the lock —and paused abruptly in the act.
What was that? It seemed to him that he had caught a slight sound from within. He leaned forward and listened at the panel. Someone was in there—moving across the floor. Had he been heard shuffling along the hall? He tried the door cautiously. He had left it locked. It was locked now.
His face hardened. Someone, then, in possession of a key, had entered and locked the door again from the inside; or else the secret fastening of the French window was a secret no longer—or else, again, the French window had been forced. Well, he could at least make sure whether the French window had been tampered with or not without being discovered himself.
It had been a matter of no more than seconds since he had reached the door here. He drew back now. The lane after all! And after that? His hand that held the key clenched. Smarlinghue on the wing perhaps. Or perhaps—
A voice came in guarded tones through the panels:
“Is dat youse, Smarly?”
Jimmie Dale relaxed. It was the hoarse, croaking voice of Mother Margot. Relief, mingled with a sort of amazed dismay, swept over him. The Tocsin! Marie! How had she come to be here tonight? He had promised himself since the moment that the news of Carruthers’s disappearance had reached him, hadn’t he, that never again should she enter the shadows—
“Smarly, d’youse hear?” There was a note of trepidation now in the croaking voice. “Is dat youse?”
“Yes,” Jimmie Dale answered reassuringly, as he unlocked the door quickly, and, entering, locked it again behind him.
A form loomed indistinctly out of the blackness in front of him. He could not see; but he had no need to see in order to know that she had assumed not only the voice but also the garb of Mother Margot, for his hand, stretched out, came in contact with the shawl that, an inseparable adjunct of her impersonation, she always wore pulled hoodlike over her head.
“Marie!” he exclaimed in a shaken undertone. “You here! How did you know? I did not want you to know. Why did you come, dearest? It’s the last thing in the world that you should have done.”
She did not answer for a moment—nor for a moment did he expect an answer. His arms were around her tenderly. His lips found hers. All the years of his love for her, the remembrance of all the years of her devotion, her courage and self-sacrifice, seemed to crystallize now into a longing that, permeating every fiber of his being, was greater than he had ever known before—and into a stab of sudden fear. Mother Margot! She was never to have been Mother Margot again. He held her closer, tighter to him, as though he would never let her go.
She released herself gently.
“Jimmie,” she chided breathlessly, “must you always be reminded that even the best of make-ups are extremely vulnerable? But anyway, now that you are here at last, you’d better light the gas, hadn’t you? If by any chance our voices are heard, it would be better that they came from a lighted room than secretively out of the darkness—since, even at the worst, it would then cause no surprise if Mother Margot, who has been here so often before, were found here again with you.”
Jimmie Dale was not thinking of the light, but he obeyed her mechanically. The air-choked gas jet wheezed from forked blue spirals into a dull yellow apology for illumination that still left the corners of the room in deep shadows.
Then he turned and looked at her.
She was smiling at him—not a smile in keeping with the character of the old hag who stood there in threadbare garments with wisps of gray hair straggling over her eyes from under the hooded shawl, and who peered at him from behind heavy-lensed spectacles, and whose face and hands, like his own, repudiated any suggestion of cleanliness —but a smile that was at one and the same time wistful and naive.
“Yes,” she said in the same subdued tones they had both been guardedly using, “I know. I know what you are thinking about. Mother Margot is once more in the cast. That’s it, isn’t it, Jimmie?”
And then she laughed softly. “I’ve often wondered about it, and I wonder if you ever have.”
“Wondered about what?” demanded Jimmie Dale as he crossed the room to her side.
“What the reaction of an outsider would be if he witnessed, well, on the stage, say, a passionate love scene such as has just transpired between Smarlinghue the wretched dope fiend and Mother Margot the gutter hag? Would his heart beat faster—or would he choke? You’re equally as unprepossessing a scarecrow as I am, you know, Jimmie.”
“That won’t do, Marie!” Jimmie Dale infused, or, rather, attempted to infuse, a note of stern disapproval into his whispering voice—but his arm was around her shoulders as he led her to the rickety chair beside the table. “You can’t sidetrack the issue like that! Where have you been all day? I telephoned to you twice. You shouldn’t have come here. You know that. Why did you? You couldn’t have known what I intended to do, and I did not propose that you should, yet I find you waiting here in the darkness for me, and—”
“Much safer in the darkness while you were not here,” she interrupted archly; “for I could always have slipped away unnoticed should it have been necessary. If anyone, attracted by the light seeping out under that door with its warped old sill, became inquisitive or decided to pay Smarlinghue a friendly little visit, how could I explain a locked door that I couldn’t open, though through which it must be supposed that I had entered?”
“Marie,” reproved Jimmie Dale tersely, “you know perfectly well all that is quite obvious. You—you’re stalling! What prompted you to come here? How did you know what I had done? What brought you here?”
“So many questions! And”—she smiled disarmingly—“you’re really cross, aren’t you, Jimmie? Well, to begin with, I’ve been in Philadelphia all day.”
“Yes—shopping. You haven’t forgotten, have you, Jimmie, that I am going to be married? Or that I left Paris too hurriedly to complete my trousseau there? Today was really the first chance I’ve had since”—her voice was suddenly grave and troubled—“since Ray’s death. Marie LaSalle isn’t supposed to have reached this side of the water yet. I did not want to risk being seen in the New York stores by friends or anyone who might recognize me. Philadelphia naturally suggested itself. It isn’t far away, and I could do what there remained to do quite as well there as in New York.”
“Good idea,” agreed Jimmie Dale. “But why didn’t you tell me? I’d have gone along with you.”
“I knew you would. That’s why I didn’t tell you. I’m too fond of you for that. I couldn’t picture you putting in a day with dressmakers and department stores.”
“Thanks a lot!” Jimmie Dale grinned in spite of himself. “I hope you’ll remember that all through your married life! Well—then what?”
“About six o’clock in the evening I bought a paper and went into a restaurant. That was the first I knew about—about Herman Carruthers. I took the first train back, and as soon as I reached New York I telephoned Jason. He of course recognized at once the uncultured voice that has lately at times offended his sense of the strict proprieties, and he was not effusive, though he did inform me that you were dining out; but, as he put it, you hadn’t said where, and he had no idea when you would return.”
“Yes, I told him to say that in case you—I mean anybody—telephoned.”
“So I imagined”—she was speaking hurriedly now—“but I couldn’t believe that you were socially engaged when the life of your best friend was in the balance.”
“I tried to get you on the phone myself to—”
“To tell me rosy-hued fibs which I wouldn’t have believed either,” she interpolated quickly. “I knew what you had done.”
“Well, granted—since you’ve proved yourself right,” Jimmie Dale acquiesced reluctantly. “But I might have gone to work in my own proper person, whereas I find you waiting here for—Smarlinghue.”
“Or perhaps even for Larry the Bat,” she amplified quietly. “But all that was quite easily settled. I went to—shall we call it my sanctuary? —and became Mother Margot. Then I came over here and entered by the French window. In there behind the baseboard were the clothes of Jimmie Dale, but the clothes of Smarlinghue were gone.”
“I see,” said Jimmie Dale a little numbly. “I suppose I should have realized that, no matter what I did to prevent it, you would have done something like this.”
“Yes, Jimmie—no matter what you did. And now it’s your turn. I’m terribly anxious to know if there is any news of Herman Carruthers, and to hear the story of everything you have done tonight. Have you found a clue, anything, that will give us a lead which we can use?”
“We?” Jimmie Dale shook his head. “There is no definite news regarding Carruthers. And there is no story of my doings—for you. You do not seem to understand, Marie, that though you have come this far you are going no farther. I’m not going to have you mixed up in this sort of thing any longer. You’re going home now—and slough off Mother Margot for good and all. You’re going to keep out of this!”
“But, Jimmie—dear—I’m already in. I’m here.”
“No!” Jimmie Dale’s tone, despite his carefully lowered voice, was forceful. “I’m not going to abet you in living in filth and squalor any longer; I’m not going to abet you in living any longer with your life in peril every minute. This is the end of it!”
“You are serious, Jimmie? You mean that literally?”
“Very well, Jimmie,” she murmured demurely. “In that case, though I cannot hope to be nearly so successful on my own, I can at least try my best. You seem to forget, dear, that I, as Silver Mag, lived in, and was part of, the underworld before you ever knew it!”
He stared at her, bit his lip, and swallowed hard. She meant that too—literally. How could he keep her away from this? The recollection of the hours just past surged over him like a cyclone of horror.
“Damn it, Marie!” he whispered hoarsely—then in apology bent and kissed her. “I’m sorry, dearest, but, damn it just the same, you don’t know what this means. This is a beastly affair. There have been two killings tonight in connection with it. I can’t—my God, I can’t let you have any part in it!”
“Jimmie”—her voice was very low—“I cared for Herman Carruthers, too, as a friend, both for his own sake and because he was so close and meant so much to you. If I thought that I could be of any aid, and I feel now that I could, even my love for you, Jimmie, and you know how much I love you, dearest boy, could not hold me back—for then I should be ashamed. Jimmie, in all these years that we have fought the underworld together we have never failed. Shall we fail now—because we are a house divided? No, that is unjust to you! You would almost certainly succeed without any help from me, but I—I do not want to work alone. And I must go on, Jimmie”—her hand closed over his —“so don’t leave me to grope my way. Tell me everything that has happened tonight. Let us go through with this together.”
Jimmie Dale groaned inwardly. He was beaten. In a material sense he was conscious that, as between the Tocsin and the massed police force of New York, he would rather have the Tocsin at his back—but the scales did not balance. His fear and dread that ill might come to her outweighed any other consideration. But he was beaten. Better this, then, than to let her go her own way, which was the only alternative. Working together, knowing where she was, directing her work into the less perilous channels, he could in a large measure safeguard and protect her—there was at least a little balm in that.
He walked across the room, mechanically pulled aside the edge of the roller shade on the French window, and for a moment stared outside. He was scarcely conscious that it was still dark.
There was no other way out, was there?
Then he recrossed the room, placed the only remaining chair, as rickety as hers, beside her, and sat down.
“Marie,” he said soberly, “I am heart and soul opposed to this; but, knowing you for the willful little autocrat that you are, it seems to me that it comes down to the trite old saying of choosing the lesser of two evils. With our heads together I can keep an eye on you at least to a certain extent; with our heads apart I can’t. If I had you tearing my mind with anxiety every minute, I might as well throw up the sponge. So, with the distinct understanding that you are under orders, and, within reason, will keep me posted on your every movement, I’ll agree that we work together.”
“You’re a dear, Jimmie,” she said simply. “I wouldn’t have liked to—”
“You’ve already made me understand that,” Jimmie Dale cut in with a wry smile. “That’s why I’m coming across. The ban is lifted. Here’s all I know. Listen—”
Rapidly he recounted his every act from the moment that Carruthers had come to him the previous evening with the story of being accosted by Sonny Gartz. It took time, far longer than he had expected, for though he had been as concise as possible, there was more to tell than he had realized. At the end he waited for her reaction.
Her hands were tightly clasped together in her lap.
“It’s horrible!” she exclaimed tremulously. “But what does it all mean? What is it all about?”
“I don’t know.” There was a sudden weariness in Jimmie Dale’s voice. “I wish to God I did for Carruthers’s sake!”
“Let’s go over some parts of your story again,” she suggested. “There are points that I do not understand. What, for instance, do you make of the murder of Lundy Sykes? It seems so fiendishly uncalled for after the Cricket had got what he wanted.”
“Fiendish—yes,” nodded Jimmie Dale. “But, to me, the reason for it is the one obvious thing out of the whole night. Sonny Gartz, I believe, was questioned about the map, and, refusing to talk, was, I am reasonably certain, told to go away and think it over! But there was no intention of giving him any such chance. He was killed on the street as an object lesson for the benefit of Lundy Sykes. Lundy Sykes fell for it at the point of the Cricket’s gun and opened up for all he knew—and the Cricket promptly and callously killed him, both to cover his own tracks, and so that Lundy Sykes would never confide to anyone else what he had confided to the Cricket.”
The Tocsin nodded her head thoughtfully.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I’m sure there’s no flaw there. Well, then, the man in the red wig? Shall we find him as a well-dressed, black-haired, esthetic-looking individual in the house next door to Casson’s Hotel?”
“No,” declared Jimmie Dale decidedly—and then he looked at her and grinned whimsically. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you, dear? You know better than that.”
“I only want to get what’s really germinating in that gray matter of yours, Jimmie,” she answered ingenuously.
“All right,” said Jimmie Dale. “I thought so. But I’m spreading all the cards on the table, anyway. The man in the red wig is not one of the Cricket’s crowd. That is positive. He’s a chiseler. There are two factions in this. And the proof of that is that the Cricket, who killed Lundy Sykes after finding out where the map was, never passed on that information to anyone but me, so that ‘the house next door’ is still minus that information—and therefore never knew that the map was in Moses Kleuger’s safe. But the chiseler, whoever he represents, or however he knew, was already in possession of that information.”
“A red wig and dark amber glasses,” she commented half to herself. “A mask would have been so much more simple.”
“Marie, sweetheart, wake up! A man couldn’t walk around town with freedom in a mask, could he?”
“Oh, I see!” she ejaculated contritely. “I am stupid, aren’t I? Well, next then, the map. You haven’t seen it yet yourself. Let’s see what it looks like.”
Jimmie Dale produced the torn wrapper from his pocket, extracted the notebook, and laid it on the table. It had a cheap, flexible, imitation-leather cover and was of convenient pocket size.
The Tocsin rose from her chair and looked eagerly over Jimmie Dale’s shoulder.
Jimmie Dale pursed his lips. A number of the front pages, that no doubt had contained entries which, for whatever reason, were best thought destroyed, had been torn out. On the first remaining page was a rude sketch. Jimmie Dale turned over the following pages rapidly. They were all blank. He reverted to the first page.
They both studied it.
“What does it convey to you?” the Tocsin asked after a long silence.
“ ‘X marks the spot,’ ” Jimmie Dale quoted grimly.
“If we knew that,” Jimmie Dale replied glumly, “we’d already be a long way on the road.”
“It would seem to indicate the out-of-doors. But where? There is not the slightest hint of localization. It might be anywhere—anywhere in the world!”
“I think it’s near New York,” amended Jimmie Dale. “All of them—Sonny Gartz, Lundy Sykes, the Cricket, the ‘house next door,’ that chiseler, and last, but by no means least, Moses Kleuger are, or were, all concentrated here.”
“Jimmie!” she breathed excitedly. “Moses Kleuger! He is the keynote, isn’t he? Else why did he hide this map in his safe?”
“Not so fast, Marie,” cautioned Jimmie Dale. “He knows something, of course, perhaps a great deal—but not all. This map is obviously valuable —killings always have an incentive behind them. Moses Kleuger may not even have known what was in the sealed package, though admittedly he must know how it came into his possession. But if he knew everything about it, judging from his reputation, he would have helped himself instanter to anything that the map had to offer. We’ll list him as a material witness—and watch him. In fact, he inspires me with a great deal of hope.”
She pondered this for an instant.
“You are right, of course,” she assented. “And now, Jimmie, one more question, though I”—there was a sudden catch in her voice—“I dread your answer. You have told me why you believe Herman Carruthers was made a victim of all this. Tell me now if you think he is—is still alive? I—I’m afraid.”
It was a full minute before Jimmie Dale answered.
“So am I,” he confessed gravely. “And I don’t like to face the logic of it. They didn’t hesitate with Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes. Frankly, I am desperately afraid that even if they were satisfied that Carruthers was no more than an innocent bystander, as he most certainly was, they would never, for fear of their own hides, for fear that he might identify them, let him out of their hands alive. He would be too great a menace to them—what he knew—what he could tell.” And then through shut teeth: “But if he’s gone, though this may be but sorry solace, there will be a day of reckoning!”
The Tocsin had recovered her poise. She stood erect, her shoulders back.
“I’m not going to let myself think of that,’’ she said bravely. “I am going to believe that we will find him alive and well.”
“Amen!” responded Jimmie Dale fervently. “Is there anything else, Marie?”
“Yes—orders, Jimmie,” she said briskly now.
“You said I was under orders. What are they?”
“I was coming to that. Do you think you could find that house next door to Casson’s Hotel?”
“That’s your assignment, then—though remember you are to take no unnecessary risks. But first you are to go home and get a few hours’ sleep. It’s near daylight now.”
“It depends, of course, on what breaks. But you know how to communicate with me. I know how to get in touch with you, and—”
“I may not use it much,” she broke in to remind him, “but don’t forget that old lodging of Silver Mag that I rented for emergency’s sake when I came back from Paris.”
“Right!” he answered—and, her hand in his, led her to the door. “A bit of sleep now, sweetheart, and”—he folded her close in his arms—“for God’s sake be careful We’re up against cross currents where life doesn’t mean a thing. You promise, dear?”
“Yes, Jimmie, I promise,” she whispered back; and then, as he unlocked the door and she stepped out into the hall: “T’anks, Smarly, for de loan. Youse’re white, youse are. Gawd bless youse! ’Night, Smarly, and de blessin’ of Gawd on youse again.”
“Good-night,” returned Jimmie Dale offhandedly as he closed the door upon her.
But his hands, as he stood there listening to her receding footsteps, were fiercely clenched, his knuckles standing out like white knobs under the tight-drawn skin.
FOR a space of time unmeasured by Jimmie Dale after the Tocsin had gone, he stood there in the Sanctuary staring unseeingly at the door, his hands still clenched, his face set and hard.
Then the awareness that he was both physically and mentally weary fell suddenly upon him. It had been a long night, full of very ugly things, and the advice he had just given the Tocsin anent a few hours’ sleep, he now realized, applied equally to himself.
His hands unclenched, and he drew one of them in a tired way across his eyes.
Yes, that was true; but there was an extremely vital decision that must first be made. What of the coming day? Who was to be “onstage”—Jimmie Dale or Smarlinghue? It must be near daylight now, and if it was to be the former, since the risk of leaving here as Jimmie Dale while it was still fairly dark was practically negligible, he should change and go at once.
He stood hesitantly for a moment weighing the pros and cons.
There was Moses Kleuger, for instance—a contact to be made there if possible, whether it led to anything or not, that only Smarlinghue could make. Also Smarlinghue was indubitably indicated if Marie needed assistance in locating Casson’s Hotel and that “house next door.” On the other hand, there was Detective Sergeant Waud to be considered. He could ill afford to be out of touch with Sergeant Waud, not only from the standpoint of obtaining any information that the Homicide Bureau man might be willing to pass along relative to the police angle of the case, but also because it would be foolhardy to invite Sergeant Waud’s attention to what might appear to be the sudden and unaccountable absence of one Jimmie Dale from his home.
But contact in the case of Detective Sergeant Waud need not necessarily be a purely physical one; it could be made by phone—from anywhere. And as for whatever new developments the day itself might bring, they could obviously only be faced as they arose. The unknown was irrelevant to his immediate decision.
The argument was preponderatingly in favor of Smarlinghue.
Jimmie Dale crossed the room, extinguished the asthmatic gas flame, flung himself down on the cot bed, and pulled its ragged blanket over him.
* * * * * * * *
When he awoke it was broad daylight; too broad, perhaps, judging from the streaks of bright sunlight that forced their way in along the edges of the roller shade on the French window. A twinge of conscience assailed him. Jason, who had almost certainly kept his self-appointed vigil all night in that stiff-backed chair, would be worrying his heart out with anxiety.
There were no morning ablutions for Smarlinghue, no shave, no bath. With a rueful grimace inspired by the absence of these accustomed rites, Jimmie Dale tossed the blanket aside, stood up, and with hurried, shuffling tread left the Sanctuary.
Five minutes later in the public telephone booth of a drugstore two blocks away, he called Jason on the phone.
“Jason,” he said as the old butler answered, “I—”
“Oh, thank God, sir!” Jason broke in almost hysterically. “Thank God, that’s you, Master Jim. I—I was afraid after yesterday, and you not coming home, Master Jim, that—”
“Steady on, Jason!” reproved Jimmie Dale calmly as he interrupted in turn. “You know you’ve been told that there is nothing to worry about—nor will there be—so keep your mind at rest. I’m sorry you didn’t have any sleep last night, but I’ve spoken to you so often about that habit of—No, don’t tell me you slept like a babe! Anyway, I’m afraid your blood is on your own head for the sleep you’ve just lost. I’m putting you on twenty-four-hour duty now. No one is to answer the phone except yourself until further orders.”
“I need hardly say, Master Jim, that you may depend upon me for that.”
“Good! Any phones or callers since I left home?”
“Only one telephone call last evening, sir. It was from—”
“Only one? All right! I know about that. Now listen! To any inquiries, by phone or otherwise, I am merely not ‘in’ at the moment. You understand the difference, Jason? I am not away from home.”
“Perfectly, sir. I quite understand. But”—the old man’s voice faltered slightly—“oh, Master Jim—”
“It’s the trite old story of there being no ‘buts,’ ” Jimmie Dale cut in briskly. “I can’t say whether I’ll be home today or not—or even tonight. But I’ll keep frequently in touch with you. Just stand by, Jason. That’s all for now. Good-bye.”
It was five minutes after nine by the drugstore clock, Jimmie Dale noted, as he stepped out to the street—not as late as he had thought.
The morning newspapers now. What had they to say of the events of last night? How much was known—how little? He bought a sheaf of them at the corner, stopped for a cup of questionable coffee and a distinctly unpalatable roll at the lunchroom that Smarlinghue was wont perforce at times to frequent, and returned to the Sanctuary.
He locked the door and sat down with his papers. They were an essential prelude, he told himself, to what lay ahead of him today. Mentors perhaps, sources of information, warnings showing the “red” against him, or perhaps holding nothing of significance and therefore wholly valueless—but the potential possibilities were in no case to be ignored.
His reward was greater than, though in a way far different from, anything he had anticipated. He found himself staring in a startled way at the front page of the first paper he picked up from the sheaf. Sonny Gartz, or, rather, vicariously so, was again in the headlines:
WIDOW OF SLAIN GANGSTER REACHES NEW YORK
Mother And Infant Son In Destitute Circumstances
Mrs. Sonny Gartz Finds Shelter with Police
This was the first actual intimation he had had that Sonny Gartz had kith or kin, though the possibility that there might be needy dependents had been in his mind since yesterday. He had even spoken to Detective Sergeant Waud about it—and Sergeant Waud had expressed the belief that Sonny Gartz had been alone in the world.
He read on. There were several columns—overflowing into succeeding pages. He reread it all. And then he summarized it in his mind.
It was not a happy story; but the reporter who had written it had, at least, been sympathetic. A year ago Sonny Gartz had married in Chicago. A few months thereafter he had fallen upon evil days—his undoing wholly of his own making, for Sonny Gartz was inherently a crook, to say nothing of having attained the eminence of being one of the slickest safe-workers in the country. He had, however, on this occasion been arrested, charged, and convicted for no more than a minor offense. A jail sentence of six months had resulted. By the time he was free again and the baby was born he was practically stranded. Then had come a letter from his old pal, Lundy Sykes, written from Sing Sing. Lundy Sykes had asked Sonny Gartz, for old friendship’s sake, to meet him without fail in New York on the day of his, Lundy Sykes’s, release from prison. Questioned by the police, the young wife had stated that she had no idea what the ulterior motive of the letter was, and was sure that at the time Sonny Gartz left Chicago to keep the appointment in New York he was equally ignorant of the reason that had prompted Lundy Sykes’s appeal.
Jimmie Dale nodded his head contemplatively. The story of Mrs. Sonny Gartz rang true. Prison letters were censored. Obviously a letter would not be passed out of Sing Sing with the details of a projected crime baldly inscribed upon its pages. But a word to the wise was sufficient! Sonny Gartz knew Lundy Sykes well enough to read between the lines and know that there was “something doing.” But not what!
Later, when the news of Sonny Gartz’s murder reached his wife, she did not have enough money for the railway fare to New York. Her neighbors had contributed. She had then left Chicago at once with the baby that she could not leave behind, and immediately on her arrival last night, distraught and destitute, had reported herself and her condition to the police. And the police, with the humanity that was too seldom accredited to them, had looked after her and housed her.
Jimmie Dale searched assiduously through the balance of the paper—through the other papers.
The murder of Lundy Sykes was prominent in each one of them—a mass of sordid details that did not fail to include a minute description of Angel Annie’s garret where the crime had been committed—a sketch of Lundy Sykes’s inglorious career—the murder, owing to Mrs. Gartz’s story, linked now in every instance wth the disappearance of Carruthers and with the killing of Sonny Gartz. But, as had been the case with both Carruthers and Sonny Gartz, the authorship of the crime and the motive actuating it remained no more than a question mark.
The Cricket, too, had his obituary notices, but they lacked almost wholly any of the pomp and circumstance that had been accorded to Lundy Sykes. Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders ironically. Oh, yes, it was quite understandable from the newspaper viewpoint—since the newspapers had no inkling of the truth! Why should the Cricket be of any particular interest to the reading public? The Cricket, unlike Lundy Sykes, did not have, as a drawing card, the doubtful honor of being connected in any way with the mysterious disappearance of one of New York’s leading publishers—or with the murder of Sonny Gartz—or with the murder of Lundy Sykes! Why, then, waste space on the killing of a predatory gunman whose death probably had been only too richly deserved?
Exactly! But it was interesting to Jimmie Dale to read that the Cricket’s body had been found in a backyard near a dance hall of somewhat unsavory reputation, known as the Silver Fountain, that the police had raided but a short time before. The vestige of a grimly humorous smile played around the corners of Jimmie Dale’s mouth as he acquired this information. Either Cockney Joe or Heinschmidt must have discovered the Cricket’s body in the cellar and had removed the dead man therefrom. But neither of them would be feeling very comfortable this morning, since both must know that the connecting passage had been discovered—and be none too sure that its secret had been known to the dead man alone!
Jimmie Dale began to turn over the pages of his newspapers again. Rather queer! The accounts concerning Lundy Sykes and the Cricket were of no help—and he had run across no reference to the robbery at Moses Kleuger’s pawnshop involving the man in the red wig, the map, the violated safe, or the escape of the stranger (who was himself)! He hunted diligently. There was no mention of anything connected with Moses Kleuger. Strange—unless, of course, it had been past the deadline hour for the early editions. Well, anyway—he pushed the papers away from him—Smarlinghue would have a little chat with Moses Kleuger before the morning was much farther advanced!
His mind reverted to Sonny Gartz’s wife and baby. He recalled his thoughts of yesterday afternoon while sitting in the club: The night that Sonny Gartz had saved his life in Lan Chi’s joint. . . . The years between. . . . The rain check that Sonny Gartz had never presented until too late to have it honored other than by a floral tribute, unless—Yes, that was it—“unless.”
He became suddenly aware that his eyes had unconsciously been riveted on the movable section of the baseboard over there near the door. Hidden in there, together with his carefully folded tweed suit and the tattered rags of Larry the Bat, was the money, save for the small portion now on his person, that he had brought with him from home in case of need last evening.
Yes, of course! It would have to be sent in care of the police, since there was no other address.
But how get it to her, not only speedily, but, above all else, without involving Smarlinghue in contact with anyone, since essentially the money was not to be an anonymous gift, but one that primarily he intended her to know had come from the Gray Seal?
He thought for a moment. Even if sent that way, the mail was too slow to suit his purpose—she might not receive the money until tomorrow. By special messenger was so obviously suicidal that—
Was it? A sudden glint, capricious, whimsical, lighted up Jimmie Dale’s eyes.
He rose abruptly from his chair, crossed the room, and, from behind the movable section of the baseboard, possessed himself first of his surplus funds, and then of a small piece of brown paper which he took from the wrapper of the bundle that contained the attire of Larry the Bat, and also a bit of the string with which the bundle was tied. This done, he replaced the baseboard and stepped over to the table.
He tore off a narrow strip of the wrapping paper on which, with a pencil rummaged out from amongst the paint tubes and brushes that, authenticating the artist Smarlinghue, littered the table top, he wrote in a scrawly hand: “For Mrs. Sonny Gartz.”
This he placed on the top of the banknotes and made a small, flat package of the whole. He did not count the money. There were several hundred dollars there, he knew. Not a fortune, but enough at any rate for immediate necessities.
He addressed the package in the same scrawling hand to: “Detective Sergeant Waud—Homicide Bureau.”
Then from the thin metal case in his girdle he took out one of the diamond-shaped, gray-paper adhesive seals, and, in lieu of stamp, affixed it to the top right-hand corner of the package.
He snuggled the little package under his right armpit, made sure in the cracked mirror that, though outside of his coat, his sleeve rendered the package invisible—and for the second time that morning left the Sanctuary.
He shuffled along then in an apparently aimless fashion, turning from one street into another, until at the expiration of some ten minutes he came upon the object of his search. A little way ahead was a parked taxicab, the driver of which for the moment was absent from his car.
The street was by no means deserted. A deserted street where a lonely figure, and especially such a figure as that of the unkempt Smarlinghue, could not hope to escape notice, would have been a faux pas unforgivable.
As he approached the taxicab he made a precautionary mental note of the license number.
Was there anyone immediately behind him? Yes—a woman—and a peddler with his tray of wares suspended from around his neck. Jimmie Dale halted and gaped across the street at the unloading of a piano from a truck. The woman and the peddler passed him.
He moved on again—close now to the curb. His right shoulder seemed to irritate him. He rubbed it naturally enough with his left hand. But, as he sidled past the taxicab, his left hand slipped away from his shoulder—and, thumb and forefinger inserted under his right armpit, he flicked the package through the open front window onto the driver’s seat.
JIMMIE DALE did not loiter at the nearest corner to see what would happen. There was no reason why he should. He knew what would happen. A package addressed to the police and “franked” by the Gray Seal gave the taxicab driver no choice, did it?
What could the man do but deliver it? He might go pop-eyed; but, even if he were inclined to pilfer, he would not be misguided enough to imagine that the license number of his cab had not been checked, and that if he “fell by the wayside” there would then, apart from the police, be the Gray Seal, exploited for years by the press as a ruthless killer, with whom he would have to reckon—unpleasantly! His destination, as fast as he could get there, would be the Homicide Bureau—even if the possibility occurred to him that it might all be only a hoax. But he could take no chances on it being a hoax. It would mean a fare-less trip for him, of course; but he would be amply repaid later by the story he would be able to retail to all and sundry, and, quite likely, when the reporters had had their innings, would, to cap it all, leap into the limelight of publicity with his picture in the papers!
Half an hour later Jimmie Dale entered a telephone booth in the Pennsylvania Station. It was some distance to have come for the purpose; but the single booth in a cigar store or drugstore, for instance, where one’s description might be remembered if the call were traced, was taking far too long a chance when carrying on a conversation with—the police!
He called up the Homicide Bureau, and, in the coarse vernacular of Larry the Bat, asked for Detective Sergeant Waud.
There was a moment’s wait, and then a crisp, official voice came over the wire:
“Detective Sergeant Waud speaking.”
“Pleased to know youse, Sarge,” said Jimmie Dale amicably. “Dis is Larry de Bat, de Gray Seal.”
“Oh, yeah?” Meant to be ironically skeptical, there was nevertheless a startled jerk in Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice. “In that case, then, it’s too bad we haven’t got television.”
Jimmie Dale grinned. The official calm had at least been disturbed even if by no more than a mere ripple.
“I was thinkin’ of dat meself,” he conceded. “Say, listen! I sent me shuffer to youse wid a few simoleans fer Sonny Gartz’s wife an’ kid.”
“That’s good enough!” Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice was suddenly a trifle more cordial. “I guess you’re who you say you are. The money came in here ten minutes ago.”
“Dat’s wot I wanted to know. Say, listen again! Youse was on de Thorne job, an’ de white elephant up in de zoo slipped it to me dat youse was a square guy an’ on de level.”
“Thanks!” acknowledged Detective Sergeant Waud laconically.
“Aw, dat’s all right,” Jimmie Dale assured the other graciously. “Say, I read in de papers dis mornin’ dat de wife an’ kid was on dere uppers, but dere wasn’t no address except de police, so I sent de kale to youse. Wot I’m bankin’ on is dat youse’ll see dat dey gets it, an’ gets it on de jump.”
“They’ll get it.” Detective Sergeant Waud’s tone was increasingly cordial.
“Dat’s de way I figured it,” returned Jimmie Dale brightly. “An’ dere’ll be more when dey needs it. See? Sonny Gartz was a friend of mine.”
“So I understand!” Crispness was abruptly back in Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice again. “That’s why Mr. Carruthers got into trouble. You spoke of the Thorne job. That’s where Mr. Carruthers got lined up with you. How about Mr. Carruthers now?”
A home thrust! Jimmie Dale bit his lip.
“Aw, have a heart!” he complained. “Dat wasn’t my fault, was it? But I’ll say dat Mr. Carruthers was a swell guy, an’ I ain’t forgot. I’ll slip youse something.”
“Shoot!” Detective Sergeant Waud’s intonation was almost one of eagerness now.
“I’m on de job,” confided Jimmie Dale tersely.
“Well”—brusquely—what’s the dope? What do you know?”
Jimmie Dale’s mind was almost instant in response to his demands upon it. There was no perceptible pause before he replied. True, he had several leads. But there was nothing definite. Nothing he could give the police for the moment but what would almost certainly conflict unfruitfully with his own efforts.
“Maybe youse’d like to talk it over wid me?” he countered swiftly.
Jimmie Dale laughed derisively.
“Wid me handcuffs on!” he jeered. “So youse ain’t got nowhere, eh? Well, me neither—not yet.”
“Look here,” began Detective Sergeant Waud, “I—”
The wire had been held long enough. Jimmie Dale was not unmindful of the fact that there would be other telephones at the Homicide Bureau, any one of which could be utilized, say, in sending out an S 0 S to central. Where was the call coming from that Sergeant Waud was now answering? The Pennsylvania Station. There were police at the Pennsylvania Station. A call through to the police here—hold every occupant of a telephone booth. Quite so! One had to be careful when, as a very much wanted man with a price on his head, one talked to the police! And hadn’t Detective Sergeant Waud as much as said that the height of his ambition would be to send the Gray Seal to the chair?
“I said I was on de job, didn’t I?” interposed Jimmie Dale curtly. “Well, dat goes! So long, Sarge—an’ be good to dat dame an’ de kid.”
Jimmie Dale hung up the receiver with impolite abruptness.
As he stepped out on Seventh Avenue he cast a longing eye at the multitude of cruising taxis—but a taxi was not for such as Smarlinghue. He took a street car downtown.
A queer, fragmentary sort of a day so far! Mostly telephones—and there would be more telephones! They were unescapable under the existing conditions.
But Moses Kleuger now! The old usurer was a vital factor in the problem. Moses Kleuger could unquestionably divulge a lot if he could be made to talk—or a bit of information could be craftily wormed out of him. How had Moses Kleuger first got possession of that map? Where had it come from? Intrinsically, so far as he, Jimmie Dale, was concerned, even if the map embosomed the secret to a store of wealth fabulous enough to excite the envy of a Croesus, it left him cold, uninterested; but the tie-up with those connected with its origin was a vastly different matter, for the aftermath now involved Carruthers’s life—or death. Lundy Sykes . . . The Cricket . . . The “house next door” . . . The man in the red wig . . .
Jimmie Dale was worried, anxious. He strove to be optimistic, but was conscious that his attempt at optimism was based at best on meager hope. They had not hesitated to exterminate Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes with as little compunction as they would have squashed flies on a windowpane. Why should Carruthers have survived? And again it occurred to him that it was strange, even disturbing, that there had been no reference in the papers to the robbery at the pawnshop last night. But he had not deemed it wise to ask Detective Sergeant Waud about it.
Leaving the street car in due course, he walked over to the East Side. He went past the pawnshop, glancing in through the display window as he did so. There was no indication that anything was amiss—or ever had been. As a matter of fact the pawnshop was devoid of customers for the moment, and the most pressing engagement of Moses Kleuger’s assistant, an uncleanly-looking young person, appeared to consist in lounging negligently on the counter with a cigarette dangling from his lip.
Jimmie Dale retraced his steps, entered the pawnshop, and slouched up to the young man on the other side of the counter—but a glance had shown him that the door to Moses Kleuger’s private sanctum was open, the safe in view, and everything in order, though Moses Kleuger himself was not in evidence. Jimmie Dale had a ready-made excuse for a strictly private interview with Moses Kleuger—an inside tip on some Fifth Avenue jewels that could be lifted by a pal he knew if Moses Kleuger was willing to do his part by disposing of them on a split that would make the job worth while!
“I want to see Moses,” he stated briefly.
The young man shook his head.
“He ain’t in,” he said with an oily smile. “What can I do for you?”
Jimmie Dale, though he had never seen the other before except through the window a minute ago, had already sized up the man who confronted him across the counter. The fellow was of the type that alone would measure up to the qualifications Moses Kleuger would demand of an assistant—an ingratiating, palm-wringing parasite who was at the same time shrewd, efficient, and canny.
“You can’t do anything,” Jimmie Dale answered bluntly. “I want to whisper something into Moses’s pearly ear. Get me?”
“But he ain’t in, I tell you.”
“When’ll he be back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is he, then?”
“I don’t know that, either.”
Was this weak-chinned youth telling the truth, or, acting upon the old pawnbroker’s instructions, instructions that might well be prompted by the occurrences of last night, merely stalling?
Jimmie Dale leaned impressively over the counter.
“Don’t you think you’d better chase upstairs and tell him I’m here?” he inquired in a hard monotone. “This is important.”
“But he’s not upstairs,” protested the other. “I tell you he’s not in. He’s gone away.”
“Oh, he’s gone away, has he? Opening up a bit, are you?” Jimmie Dale thrust Smarlinghue’s scowling face closer to the other’s—the truth was more essential than ever now. “Well, why didn’t you say so before? When did he go?”
“I don’t know.” The young man was sucking nervously at his cigarette, which had gone out.
“And you don’t know where?”
“No—I don’t. Honest, I don’t.”
“You don’t know much, do you?” There was an ominous snarl in Jimmie Dale’s voice now. “If you’re stringing me, I’m handing it to you straight that it will be the worst little crack you’ve ever pulled, and Moses will be the first to make you drip sweat for it. Laugh that off! And when Moses gets through with you, I’ll—”
“Listen”—there was eagerness, fear-impelled, in the other’s tones—“I’m telling you all I know. Mr. Kleuger was here last night when I closed up, but when I opened the shop this morning he was gone. He left a note on the counter here for me, and that’s all I know about it. Here”—he produced a rather dirty piece of folded paper from his pocket——you can see for yourself.”
Jimmie Dale read the few lines of crabbed writing. The note was to the effect that Moses Kleuger had left town on business, and that during his absence, the duration of which was not specified, the assistant was to carry on as usual.
“And left his door open,” observed Jimmie Dale casually, with a glance in the direction of the sanctum.
“It always is when he’s out and I’m alone. He’s got a kink that it’s a sort of protection because you can see the safe from the street through the window. Anyway, that’s the way it was when I came in this morning.”
Jimmie Dale tossed back the note.
“Well, I guess this lets you out,” he grunted as he started for the door. “I’ll blow in again and see him when he gets back.”
Jimmie Dale was thinking fast as he went out to the street—and his thoughts were neither pleasant nor reassuring. He had counted more heavily than he had realized until this moment on Moses Kleuger—on keeping a watch on Moses Kleuger’s movements. That sallow-faced youth in there knew nothing—was not lying. The old pawnbroker had got the wind up, probably, was badly frightened. And if that were so, he, Jimmie Dale, could quite understand why Moses Kleuger had reported nothing to the police; but, instead, had logically restored order to the rifled safe before hunting cover. Or had the man in the red wig had a hand, perhaps a literally physical one, in staging Moses Kleuger’s vanishing act?
There were so many different angles and divergent trails, so many individuals who appeared to be involved in the murders of Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes and the disappearance of Carruthers! And yet while all these, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, must beyond question make a whole, no two pieces so far would fit together. Gunmen, thugs, mobsters! A thought flashed through Jimmie Dale’s mind. Some one of these, if the incentive were great enough, might prove vulnerable. Yes, decidedly, he would speak to Detective Sergeant Waud about that.
But first—that “house next door.” Perhaps in the last hour or so there had been news from Marie.
Again a telephone booth—and Jason again on the wire.
“Well, Jason? Anything?”
“Yes, sir. That woman—begging your pardon, Master Jim, for not referring to her as a lady—called up.”
“Don’t be too severe, Jason,” chided Jimmie Dale. “She may not have had the early advantages with which some of us have been blessed, and she probably means well. What did she say?”
“She said, sir, that she had found what she was looking for, but wouldn’t pay you a visit until around six o’clock this evening.”
A ray of sunshine! The first real break today! A stimulant! Thank God for the Tocsin!
“And your reply, Jason?”
“I took the liberty of informing her, Master Jim, that even if you were at home at that hour it was not within my province to say whether or not you would be willing to receive her.”
Jimmie Dale chuckled inwardly. An appointment at the Sanctuary at six was far outside Jason’s ken.
“And then, Jason?”
“And then”—from the tone of the old butler’s voice his dignity had been severely ruffled—“she burst into laughter, raucously as I would express it, sir, though I could see no cause for mirth. Then she—er—vulgarly suggested that I go jump in the lake, but before doing so to make sure I gave you her message.”
Jason could not see his master’s grin.
“Decidedly vulgar!” Jimmie Dale agreed consolingly. “I’ll speak to her about it—if I ever meet her. But I hardly expect to be home in any case tonight. Anything more? Sergeant Waud, for instance?”
“No, Master Jim—nothing else, sir.”
“All right, Jason. I’ll continue to keep in touch with you.”
Jimmie Dale hung up—but did not leave the booth. Instead, he called Detective Sergeant Waud.
“Dale speaking, Sergeant,” he said quietly when the connection had been made. “Any good news for me?”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Dale! No; I’m sorry to say I haven’t. The case hasn’t broken anywhere. There’s nothing that you will not already have read in the papers—well, except one thing.”
“What’s that?” asked Jimmie Dale eagerly.
“I had a telephone call from the Gray Seal a little while ago”—Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice was not wholly nonchalant.
Jimmie Dale whistled.
“The devil you did!” he exclaimed. “You were right, then. You said he’d come in on the case. Tell me about it.”
“He pulled a come-on stunt on a taxicab driver—details when I see you—and sent a wad of over three hundred dollars to me for Mrs. Sonny Gartz and her kid.”
“Stout lad!” applauded Jimmie Dale generously.
“And then,” continued Sergeant Waud, “he telephoned me in order to check up on the delivery of the money. He didn’t waste much time on the phone. He wasn’t very communicative. He said he was on the job, meaning the Carruthers case—and slammed the receiver back on the hook.”
Jimmie Dale’s reply was considered and earnest.
“That’s fine—so far as it goes,” he said thoughtfully. “And, judging from the Thorne case, it may mean a lot. But even the Gray Seal is not infallible—and the time is desperately short. The idea has occurred to me that if a reward were offered that was big enough, someone might squeal. What do you say, Sergeant? I’ll make it twenty-five thousand.”
“For the return of Mr. Carruthers dead or alive, I suppose you mean?”
“No,” stated Jimmie Dale decisively. “Alive! I don’t like to think of it in any other way; and, besides, to offer a reward for a dead man might have just the opposite effect. Men have been bumped off for a lot less than that amount, and it might suggest an easy and lucrative way out to the swine that snared Carruthers.”
“That’s right, too,” agreed Detective Sergeant Waud after an instant’s silence. “Alive, it is, then. It’s a lot of money, and tempting enough. It looks all right to me, and I’m for it; but I have no authority to say yes without consulting the powers around here. I’ll put it up to them.”
“Soon!” urged Jimmie Dale. “The minutes are counting if the reward is to bring any result at all. If you can get the official sanction, publish the offer at once without taking the time to refer it back to me. But I would prefer, of course, that you did not publish my name in connection with it.”
“No reason why we should—and we won’t. And as for the reward,” Detective Sergeant Waud promised soberly, “I’ll do my best to put it across, and I think it will be okay. Mr. Carruthers was a friend of mine, too, you know.”
Jimmie Dale left the booth.
The Tocsin had found the “house next door.” But she had designated six o’clock as the hour she would be at the Sanctuary. He did not question this hiatus in time—she would have a good reason for it. But where now—for these intervening hours?
His lips tightened. Was there any need to ask? There were frayed threads to be gathered, many of them—if they could be found. The whereabouts of Moses Kleuger—sidelights on the former life of Lundy Sykes—a trace of the man with the red wig.
A self-assignment that was no sinecure!
It was nearly six o’clock when Jimmie Dale returned to the Sanctuary. He had accomplished—nothing.
A few minutes later Mother Margot entered. Mother Margot! The Tocsin! Marie! He hated those rags that covered her, the grime that disfigured her perfect features—and above all he rebelled against the danger that she ran. How long must this endure!
“Look!” she said—and took from under her shawl the evening edition of a newspaper.
Splashed in inch-high, red type across the front page, he read:
$25,000 REWARD OFFERED IN THE HERMAN CARRUTHERS CASE
THE Tocsin had closed and locked the Sanctuary door behind her as she had entered. She came across the room now and appropriated one of the rickety chairs beside the table.
“What does this mean?” she asked, pointing to the lurid headlines. “It’s an edition that’s just on the street. I bought it on the corner two or three minutes ago, and read it while on my way here along the block. It doesn’t say who offered the reward. I eliminate the police because it’s too munificent, and — Jimmie! Will you never remember my war paint?”
Jimmie Dale, disregarding protests for the moment, finally perched himself unrepentantly on the edge of the table close to her.
Her heavy-lensed spectacles were already awry. She took them off and stared at him with a poor attempt at severity out of her clear, brown eyes.
“Well?” she demanded.
“I offered the reward. Telephoned Sergeant Waud, you know.”
“You!” She shook her head in a baffled way. “What is this, then? A trap—a trick—or what?”
“Neither one nor the other.” His voice was suddenly concerned. “It’s just a chance—and I’m afraid only a long one at best. I took it because, as things stand now, I’d take any chance. Tonight will be the third night since Carruthers disappeared, and, while I won’t say by any means that nothing has been accomplished, still we are no nearer Carruthers than we ever were. Bluntly, it’s the time limit I am afraid of—if it has not already expired. As I told you last night, there are apparently two opposing factions at work, each with the map, which is the center of this filthy web, as the objective—the ‘Number One’ of the ‘house next door,’ with undoubtedly an organized gang at his back; and the man with the red wig, with or without a mob behind him. My hope in offering the reward and making it as large as I did was that somewhere along the line an underling, say, might squeal; or that the higher-ups even, providing they could do so without putting a rope around their own necks by reason of what Carruthers would be able to tell, might think it worth while at that price to let him go free—if—well, if he is still —”
“I know,” she interposed in a low tone. “Don’t say it, Jimmie!”
“Right!” he agreed tersely. “No good in that! Well, we can only wait and see if the reward offered brings any response. You’ve found the ‘house next door’—that’s what I’m counting most on now. Where is it?”
“That can wait for the moment, Jimmie,” she answered seriously. “I do not think it would be of any use to go there before dark anyway, and there is still plenty of time until then. Tell me your story first. Tell me everything that has happened.”
“As you like,” he acceded readily; “only I wish I had more to tell.” Then, forcing a lighter note into his voice as he smiled at her quizzically: “But first of all, Marie, don’t you think you ought to stop ragging Jason so unmercifully?”
“The dear old soul!” she murmured softly. “If he only knew how much I loved him! But I’ll make it all up to him some day. Go on, Jimmie.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” he threatened. And then, sober-voiced again, he outlined his day for her rapidly, sketching in the details with concise precision.
“So Kleuger’s gone!” she commented through pursed lips at the end.
“Yes, that’s the high spot—and not a very helpful one for us. You said last night that you thought he was the keynote, and I must admit I banked a lot on him myself; but, as I’ve told you, I haven’t been able to find any trace of him. In fact, I’m not at all happy over my day. I’m back here empty-handed with nothing to show for it.”
“You forget Mrs. Sonny Gartz, Jimmie,” she said quietly. “Think what that money must have meant to her.”
“Yes, of course,” he assented with a cheery grin, “that worked out all right for the time being, didn’t it? We must see what we can do for her, Marie. But”—the grin faded—“what I was referring to was my failure to pick up a single additional clue of any value pertaining to Carruthers. To tell the truth, the only thing that has buoyed me up all day was the knowledge that you had found that ‘house next door.’ I hope to heaven that isn’t a washout, too! Is it?”
The Tocsin’s brow, half hidden by Mother Margot’s straggling wisps of gray hair, was suddenly wrinkled.
“I don’t know, Jimmie,” she replied gravely. “That’s for you to decide.”
“Well, let’s have it,” he urged. “You’ve heard all I have to tell.”
“I think it’s empty,” she said.
“Empty!” Jimmie Dale’s face clouded as he stared at her.
“Yes; but, of course, I’m not sure. You must have wondered why, since I had found the house this morning, I said I would not be here until evening.”
“I wondered—naturally,” he admitted. “Wondered a lot. But I knew you must have had some reason for it.”
“I had,” she said. “But, with at least an hour or so on our hands now, perhaps I’d better begin at the beginning.”
“I’m listening, dear,” invited Jimmie Dale earnestly.
“I didn’t sleep very long after I left here, Jimmie—I must confess that,” she said a little hurriedly. “I started out early—as Mother Margot, of course. I began with the assumption that a hotel which had any ‘house next door’ to it in which the Cricket would be involved was almost to a certainty likely to prove far from being one of New York’s leading caravansaries. So—”
Jimmie Dale’s mind leaped ahead of her story.
“Good work, Marie!” he interrupted in commendation. “I suppose that’s why the Cricket might naturally expect Smarlinghue to know something, at least by hearsay, about Casson’s Hotel.”
“Yes. But, just the same, there isn’t any such hotel, so far as I know—though that’s what it has been called for years in wharf-rat circles, in spite of the fact that neither you nor I ever happened to hear of it. It is patronized almost exclusively by that kind of gentry, and is a sort of cross between a hangout and a boarding house. A man called Casson instituted it, hence the name—and the name has endured to keep green the memory of, I should judge from what I have heard about him, as bestial a character as one would meet anywhere. Casson was killed in a brawl there a long time ago, and one of Casson’s ilk named Tengell took it over and, for that matter, still runs it.
“I had no trouble in getting on the track of it. In fact, the first trial balloon I sent up was a success. I went into old Hetty Hagan’s dump. Hetty, as you doubtless know, is a veritable encyclopedia of the Bad Lands’ comings and goings for the past fifty years, and age had made her garrulous. Hetty was alone in there, still cleaning up the mess left by her own none too righteous clientele. Mother Margot, I hardly need to tell you, was in dire need of an early-morning gin—and old Hetty was not averse to one herself.
“That paved the way. Over our glasses I mentioned casually that I had overheard a couple of lags talking about a joint called Casson’s Hotel, but that it was a new one on me that I had never heard of before. ‘You ain’t?’ she said. ‘Well, I’ll tell you about it. It’s a proper stinkhole, that’s what it is!’ She told me a lot more, as you will have appreciated from what I have already said. And, of course, she told me where it was.”
“Somewhere along the waterfront, I imagine, from your allusion to wharf rats?”
The Tocsin nodded.
“Jimmie,” she said intensively, “think back to before the war—a member, and one of the vilest, of the old Crime Club. He had a place over on the East River where a business in ships’ junk and stores was supposed to be transacted, but which actually served only to screen a complicity of waterfront iniquities. Do you remember Hunchback Joe?”
“Alias Clarke, alias Wizard Marre,” appended Jimmie Dale grimly. “He drank to us—with poison—and died there the night that we escaped. Well?”
“Casson’s Hotel isn’t more than a few hundred yards away from Hunchback Joe’s old place. That will identify the locality for you. I went over there after I left Hetty Hagan. You know the surroundings; down at the heels, not many passers-by, storage yards, and all that sort of thing. I couldn’t prowl around and ask questions without making myself conspicuous. But there was no difficulty in recognizing the ‘house next door,’ for on the other side of Casson’s Hotel there was quite a space of unoccupied land. Also, I noticed that across the road, and almost opposite to the ‘house next door,’ there was an unfenced storage yard belonging to some near-by factory, I suppose, that was strewn with what looked like the refuse of ages.
“As I said, I couldn’t loiter around there asking questions, but I had discovered that I could watch from a most excellent vantage post. So that was the reason why I made this belated appointment with you over the phone. There would be no sense or justification whatever in bringing you over there and so interfering with your day, unless something broke our way; and, if that happened, I knew you would be frequently in touch with Jason and I could then telephone again and make any changes in our plans that were necessary.
“I left the neighborhood long enough to put that call through to Jason from a safe distance away. Then I returned; but I went, this time, by a back street that enabled me to slip into that storage yard without any possibility of being seen from across the road by anyone either in Casson’s Hotel or the ‘house next door.’
“And so I watched, Jimmie. I crawled in between a pile of old bricks and a huge, rusty boiler that lay flat on the ground. By rearranging a few of the bricks I could even see quite a distance up and down the road itself. I wasn’t at all likely to be discovered; and, at the worst, even if someone came into the yard and found me there, it would only be to find an old hag sleeping off a drunk. So there was nothing to worry about on that score, you see.”
“My word!” Jimmie Dale leaned forward and laid his hand with an affectionate little squeeze upon her shoulder. “And you were there all day, I take it. You poor kid!”
“Poor kid—nothing!” she returned laughingly. “Yes, I was there all day, but the only suffering I underwent was purely mental, for I wasn’t getting anywhere. The blinds were all pulled down in that house; not a soul came out, and not a soul went near it. As a matter of fact, there was very little activity anywhere in the vicinity. There were a few men who, from time to time, either went in or out of Casson’s Hotel; and, now and then, a truck, and sometimes a van, drove up to Hunchback Joe’s old place and drove away again. And, incidentally, a man by the name of Mitzler seems to be the occupant there now, judging from a large sign displayed on the front of the shed-like building; and that his name, I could see as they passed by on the street, was also on both the truck and the van. ‘TRUCKING—STORAGE—LAUNCHES,’ the sign read. Living where he does, he might be a mine of information, Jimmie.”
“Or be tarred with the same brush as his neighbors,” observed Jimmie Dale with a sudden puckering of his forehead. “Any successor to Hunchback Joe, though that may be unfair to our friend in question, gives one pause for thought. Launches are very handy things along the waterfront—and so are trucks and vans for the shore end. Mitzler—Mitzler—there’s a familiar ring to the name of—Mitzler. Yes, that’s it! The man I’m thinking of has a harelip. Lippy Mitzler. We never bumped heads together, but I’ve seen him on several occasions playing around in various hangouts with a pretty tough crowd.”
“I didn’t see him, of course,” she said.
“No. And there’s more than one Mitzler in the world. This may not be the same man at all; and, even if he is, it’s no proof that he has anything to do with the crowd we’re after. But no matter about Mitzler for the present. What is the house itself like?”
“It’s a cheaply built, but rather large two-story frame house bordering on the river,” she answered succinctly. “It is set back somewhat from the road, and so is therefore very close to the water. It is separated from Casson’s Hotel, which is another building of the same type though very much larger, by only a few yards. There are no fences. And, as I said at the beginning, I think the house is empty.”
“It looks like it,” assented Jimmie Dale unhappily. “But it’s extremely queer that it should be so in view of what the Cricket struggled to say with even his last breath. Anyway, we’ll take a look inside—or, at least,” he amended hurriedly, “I will.”
“Now Jimmie,” she protested appealingly, “surely we are not going to start that all over again! Finders are keepers, you know. And I found the house.”
“Fair enough!” he acknowledged. “You’ll come along, all right; but you’ll stay outside—on guard.”
“Well, needs must, I suppose, when the devil drives,” she compromised with a disappointed moue that she did not attempt to hide. “But I hope you’ll reform when we’re married. It’s to be fifty-fifty then, Jimmie, all the way, or there’ll be a divorce.”
“We’ve been divorced too long already,” grumbled Jimmie Dale. “Well, come along! By the time we have had something to eat, it will be dark enough—which was your suggestion—to make the pilgrimage. You look disreputable, and so I’m afraid I can’t invite you to any palace where we could dine from gold service; but Marlianne’s would welcome us, or else there’s Fragetti’s, or—”
“We’ll go to Fragetti’s.” Her laugh rippled. “I’d love to see Smarlinghue juggling with a plate of spaghetti!”
IT WAS near to nine o’clock—and dark. The Tocsin, not with whole-hearted complacency, had accepted the security afforded by the pile of discarded bricks and the old boiler in the storage yard.
Jimmie Dale moved warily.
On his right a few meagerly lighted windows showed from Casson’s Hotel; on his left, from the house next door, there was no light in evidence, no sign of life; ahead, through the narrow open space between the two buildings, the river, like a black mirror, reflected the lights of a passing craft.
Keeping close against the side of the house in the deep shadows, he reached the rear and found himself within a few yards of the river bank. Here he halted to listen and peer around him through the darkness.
Someone in Casson’s Hotel was bawling out a ribald song in a drunken voice—there was no other sound. Indistinctly he could follow the outlines of a wharf that seemed to stretch for a considerable distance out into the water—there was nothing else to be seen, save his objective, the back door.
Strange that this house should be empty and deserted—more than strange! But was it? He was not so sure. A dying man sent no one on a wild-goose chase. Instinctively his hand, as he stepped silently to the door, stole into his pocket seeking the reassuring touch of his automatic.
And, if the house were deserted, what then did he expect to find? He jeered at himself mentally. If he knew that, there would be no object in being here, would there?
He was uneasy. He admitted that to himself quite frankly. Almost everything that had developed since Carruthers’s disappearance seemed to be utterly devoid of all logical sequence. And now this door here—was not locked!
He opened it inch by inch. It did not creak; it opened far too smoothly for an ordinary back door. His fingertips sought the hinges inquisitively. It was not intended that the door should creak. The hinges had been well oiled. And not so long ago either. Within a day or two, anyway. Overdone, in fact! The oil still almost dripped from the hinges.
He stepped inside and closed the door.
For a minute—two—three—he stood motionless. Mercifully muffled now, came that drunken yowl from the wharf rats’ nest. Nothing else.
From his girdle he produced his pencil-sized flashlight and switched it on. Obviously, since he discovered that he was now standing in the kitchen, the back door opened directly thereon. There were unwashed dishes strewn about. He opened the refrigerator. It was generously stocked. Recent occupancy at any rate!
Then the sweep of the flashlight caused Jimmie Dale to bend down quickly to the floor. There was a curious little stain there—as though a drop of some dark liquid had splashed on the light-colored oilcloth that covered the kitchen floor. And there were others of the same nature. The flashlight traced out a series of them that crossed the floor at irregular intervals from the back door to an open, and presumably connecting, doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. They were not old stains—at least, not pronouncedly so; for, though they had dried in most cases, there was, Jimmie Dale found as he examined them, a slight trace of moisture still remaining in one or two instances. It did not require any chemical analysis to determine what they were. They were too significant in themselves. Blood drops beyond a doubt.
Jimmie Dale followed them through the open doorway that led, as he had conjectured, into the dining room. But here he lost them in the multiplicity of other spots with which the carpet had been already soiled. Well, did it matter?
From the dining room he stepped noiselessly into what proved to be the front hall. Here stairs led upward to the floor above. On the opposite side of the hall, the doors wide open, were two rooms.
Still a tomblike silence from everywhere within. There did not seem to be much doubt but that the house had been left to look after itself. That trail of bloodstains might just as logically have led to the back door as vice versa. But why was the back door unlocked?
The flashlight investigated the two rooms on the other side of the hall. Lounging rooms. Newspapers had been thrown indifferently about—they were dated the day before yesterday. Someone had been playing solitaire on a card table. The odor of stale tobacco—cigar ashes on the floors. There was no luxury, but comfort had not been overlooked. The occupants of the house had done themselves not too badly at all—easy chairs, Chesterfields, and the like.
He returned to the foot of the stairs—and suddenly stood rigid, every muscle in his body tense. Not only was there a sound at last, but one that seemed to throb through the darkness and the erstwhile pervading silence with a peculiarly ugly premonition. It came again—and was repeated.
Someone upstairs there had begun to moan.
Carruthers! Hope came, mingled with dread and fear. Those bloodstains! A man did not moan for nothing. But at least one could not moan unless one were still alive. Was it Carruthers? Was this where they had brought him?
As a phantom might move, so Jimmie Dale mounted the stairs—soundlessly. The moans were coming from a room directly facing the head of the stairs, and were so distinct that the door must certainly be open.
Shifting his flashlight to his left hand, and with his automatic slightly outflung in his right, he stepped across the threshold. With his elbow he closed the door softly behind him. Why invite a stab in the back from possible occupants of other rooms up here on the second floor?
A startled cry answered the ray of the flashlight as it lanced through the blackness.
“Who’s that? Who’s there? That you, Cricket?”
It wasn’t Carruthers.
A man was lying on the bed, his face unshaven. A man whom Jimmie Dale had never seen before—but one with whom it now appeared he had a mutual acquaintance in the person of the Cricket!
“That goes double!” gritted Jimmie Dale in an undertone. “Who are you? And, what matters equally, is there anyone else up here?”
“No! There’s no one.” The moans had ceased abruptly. The man had propped himself up on his elbow as he stared blindly into the white ray that was focused on his face. “My God, if there were, I wouldn’t be here!”
“I don’t quite get that,” returned Jimmie Dale coolly. “But, first of all, what’s the matter with you?”
The man’s face was flushed; the black eyes, straining into the light, were fever bright.
“I ain’t answering any questions till I know who you are. But I know now you ain’t the Cricket. Shoot that cursed light on your own mug, and let me get a look at you.”
“Sorry,” apologized Jimmie Dale; “but I’m afraid not. It wouldn’t do you any good, and it might do me a lot of harm. You’ve mentioned the Cricket twice, I think. Who’s he? A friend of yours?”
“Damn it,” the man flung out frantically, “who are you? How did you get in here?”
“I found the back door unlocked and walked in,” stated Jimmie Dale calmly. “A lot of swell grub in that refrigerator! Then I heard someone putting on a strafe up here, and I came up to lamp what it was all about.” The flashlight had shifted focus. The man was in his underclothes. A towel, folded into a pad and blood-sodden, was held in place against his side a little above the thigh by some pieces of string, knotted together, that were wound around his body. “I see you’ve been wounded. Knife or gun?”
“For God’s sake”—the man’s voice was almost hysterical—“who are you? A fly cop?”
“No,” said Jimmie Dale tersely, “I’m not! I couldn’t pass the examinations. And—look here—you seem to be in a nice mess. Don’t you think you’d better come across? What’s your name?”
“Smith,” said the other defiantly, “and to hell with you!”
“Mine’s Yankee Doodle,” retorted Jimmie Dale in kind, “and to—no, we’ll let that go and call it quits.” He studied the other for a moment. The man was in bad shape unquestionably, but certainly far from the point of death. “Smith,” as evidenced not only by his presence here, but by his reference to the Cricket, was one of the gang at whose door lay not only the murders of Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes, but that was also answerable for the disappearance of Carruthers. How much did the man know? How much could he be made to tell? “Well, shoot the works!” he prodded. “You size up like a hospital case. What do you want me to do? Go out and whisper over a phone somewhere for an ambulance?”
“No!” The man’s defiant tone had suddenly subsided into what was little more than a frightened whimper. “I’ve got a slug in me. The hospital would report it to the police—then the police out here—my pals would slit my throat, and—” “Smith’s” voice drifted away.
Jimmie Dale waited. The man was breaking. “Smith” clapped a hand to his side and sucked in his breath, suppressing a moan.
“You mean I’ve got to talk?” he mumbled.
“The whole layout looks phoney,” declared Jimmie Dale bluntly. “But there aren’t any police photographs in my family album either, and I’m not for sticking my own neck into a noose. That’s fair, isn’t it? I may be tender-hearted with those in suffering and distress on a bed of pain—but I’m telling you straight I’m not holding any bag!”
“Well,” said the other hesitantly, “I had to meet a friend last night in a dump; but just as I got in there, and before I could find the guy I’m talking about, the bulls pulled a raid and there was a gun battle. I got in the road of somebody’s slug, see? And I suppose you’ll want to know now who the guy was, and what dump it was?”
His face hidden, Jimmie Dale indulged in a grim smile. The raid at the Silver Fountain—this was the man for whom the Cricket had been waiting.
“Skip it!” he ceded with apparent magnanimity. “I’m not trying to be nosy, and that listens okay with me.”
“Say”—there was a sudden spontaneity in the other’s response—“I guess maybe you’re the straight goods.”
“That’s all right,” returned Jimmie Dale modestly. “I’m only looking out for my own skin. But how did you get over here if you got plugged in a dump, no matter what dump it was?”
“The wound wasn’t so bad at first,” the other explained. “I didn’t think it was bad at all, and I made my getaway while the scrap was on, so I didn’t get pinched. I took a taxi to as near here as I figured I could come that way without spilling any beans. Then I walked the rest of the way. But I was getting weak-bleeding like a hydrant. I had a key to the back door. I guess I was feeling too rocky to think of locking it again. I had to crawl up the stairs here.”
Jimmie Dale’s attention was suddenly divided. He could not be sure—that back door having been so generously oiled—but he thought he had heard a cautious step entering the kitchen.
“I see!” he said. “So that’s why the door was unlocked. I wondered about that. Well, go on. What happened then?”
“Nothing. There wasn’t anyone here. There hasn’t been anyone here since I came in last night. There ought to have been. There always is. I can’t figure that out myself. All I’ve been able to do was drag myself around the house when I had to.”
Someone was moving around below.
“And you couldn’t stick your head out of the window and yell for help without giving this show here, whatever it is, away,” supplied Jimmie Dale sympathetically. “I get you. But what was the big idea of these pals of yours flying the coop?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve got to get to them. They’ll fix me up.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“There’s a man named Mitzler right near here—he’s got a big sign on his place, so you can’t miss it. I’m pretty sure he is going up with his truck tonight to where they are. Tell him to bring his truck over and take me along. And, whether he was going to make the trip or not, to come over here anyway.”
The flashlight played on “Smith’s” face; the automatic dangled carelessly in Jimmie Dale’s right hand. Those footsteps, now definitely on the stairs, were obviously attempting a silent approach—but the attempt was not one hundred per cent. masterly. Jimmie Dale shifted his position slightly. His back was to the door, and apparently he did not turn his head. The door was opening stealthily, gradually.
“A truck!” Jimmie Dale shook his head judicially. “You’re not fit to ride in a truck for any distance. How far have you got to go? You seem to know where your pals are, anyway.”
“Sure, I do.” “Smith” forced a grin. “We’ve got a little summer resort up the Hudson.”
“At Sing Sing, maybe?” Jimmie Dale grinned back.
“No! No kidding, I—”
Swift as a streak of lightning Jimmie Dale swung around, his flashlight leveled on the doorway, now three quarters open—and from his automatic, as it barked, there sped a vicious spit of flame. But Jimmie Dale had not shot to kill. The shot was aimed at the floor—to startle and disconcert the figure that the flashlight had disclosed.
And then Jimmie Dale leaped for the door. A split second ago the man with the red wig and amber spectacles had been standing in the doorway.
The door was slammed in Jimmie Dale’s face. He wrenched it open. A form was plunging down the stairs.
Jimmie Dale sprung, hurtling his body through the air to emulate a flying tackle of old football days—missed by a scant few inches—and crashed head downward at the foot of the stairs.
He pulled himself up—dazed—and shaken. Too late. The back door closed with a conclusive bang.
A moment later he was outside.
The abysmal darkness! He could see no one. There was no sound of fleeing footsteps.
The man with the red wig had vanished.
FIVE minutes later Jimmie Dale joined the Tocsin in the storage yard.
“Did you see anyone come out on the road?” he asked tensely.
“No,” she said. “Not a soul. But then, of course, it’s pretty dark around here. What has happened?”
He told her.
“The man with the red wig!” she exclaimed excitedly.
“Yes. The chiseler. And I suppose now that it’s a case of the old adage of the needle in the haystack again,” growled Jimmie Dale ruefully. “I’d have given a lot to have got my hands on him. He’s the link between that map and the mob that killed Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes, and apparently has a bit of the inside track on the other crowd, since he is certainly not one of them yet knows about this house out here.” He laughed shortly. “I wouldn’t have killed him as the Cricket did Lundy Sykes, but I think I could have forced out of him at least a glimmer of what is at the bottom of this sinkhole of murder.”
“It’s poisonous luck, Jimmie!” Her hand found and closed over his in affectionate understanding. “But I agree with you that there isn’t a chance now of finding him. I was watching all the time, but I didn’t see anyone or anything, except that big, covered van belonging to Mitzler that passed by a few minutes ago and stopped at Mitzler’s place. It’s there now.”
“Oh! The van!” Jimmie Dale ejaculated in a disappointed tone. “I think we’re a lot more interested in the truck now, aren’t we? By the way, what kind of a truck is it—closed body, or open?”
“Closed—with doors behind.”
“Well, that’s a break, anyway,” muttered Jimmie Dale thankfully.
She caught his hand again.
“Jimmie, what do you mean? What do you intend to do?”
“Be a passenger, of course, in some way or other—instead of ‘Smith,’ ” he said quietly. “What else is there to do?”
“I don’t like this,” she demurred. “It would be very dangerous. And, besides, what about ‘Smith’ alone in that house and wounded? You said instead of ‘Smith.’ ”
“Yes; and I can’t see any other way. But let’s slip down the road to where we can keep an eye on Mitzler’s place—I wouldn’t like to miss him. We can find some place there to talk where, at the same time, we can keep a check on his doings.”
“Very well, Jimmie,” she acquiesced, as they made their way out from the storage yard to the dark and deserted road. “But I still don’t like it.”
There were scarcely any street lights—and these were so far apart that their existence was but little less than mockery. And, furthermore, since there were no habitations in the immediate vicinity, save only Casson’s Hotel and the “house next door,” they saw no one as they traversed rapidly the few hundred yards that brought them abreast of Hunchback Joe’s old lair.
Here they halted for an instant to take note of their surroundings—though each had good reason to know only too well both the entourage and details of this one-time “warehouse” that extended far out on the wharf behind. No light showed from the building anywhere. But in front, in the open space well back from the road, there loomed up, distorted in the blackness, the shape of a large van.
Jimmie Dale led the way forward again.
“Stay here, Marie,” he whispered as they reached the van. “There’s cover here, on one side or the other, if you hear anyone coming—I’ll take a look around.”
Without waiting for a reply Jimmie Dale was away. The wharf, he remembered, overlapped the left-hand side of the rear of the building by some four or five feet, making, as it were, a sort of level gangway flanking that portion of what was, in reality, no more than a low, rangy shed, though in Hunchback Joe’s day there had been, and probably was now, provision made for living quarters above. He headed in that direction, choosing it as the one offering the most promise, turned the corner of the shed—and then silently made his way forward. At the far end of the building there showed a window light. He gained the window—it was wide open—and, at an angle from which he could not be seen, looked in.
Jimmie Dale lingered there only a minute or two, then he returned to the Tocsin.
“It’s the same old Lippy Mitzler, all right,” he announced with a guarded laugh; “but it’s hard to picture him at the job he’s struggling with at the present moment.”
“What job is that?” she asked.
“Accounts!” There was a chuckle in Jimmie Dale’s lowered voice. “And he’s making heavy weather of it. He’s sitting in there at an old desk, scowling and chewing the end of his pen for the most part—probably faking his books against any income-tax invasion! I don’t know. But Lippy and business are not old acquaintances! Anyway”—his voice sobered—“except that some of the partitions are down, the interior looks much the same as it did when we saw it on that last memorable occasion—an untidy and heterogeneous accumulation of ships’ stores and junk, probably stolen as of yore, scattered all over the floor. But the main thing is that Mitzler is in evidence, even if the truck doesn’t appear to be so as yet.”
“And I hope it won’t appear at all!” she exclaimed bluntly. “Jimmie, you have taken risks before, but this one you are proposing to take now is—”
“Marie,” he interrupted reassuringly, “you’re exaggerating, dear. Why, scores of times, you yourself have taken far greater chances, and—”
“Somewhere up the Hudson—alone with that gang”—even in the darkness he could see her shake her head dubiously—“granting that, in the meantime, you’re not caught in the truck itself . . . Is it worth it?”
“That’s the answer,” he told her earnestly. “Of course it’s worth it! Marie, you’re fretting about me tonight. Don’t, dear! It’s all right. Listen! I’ll show you how necessary it is, though I think you already realize it yourself.
“We’ll begin with ‘Smith.’ ‘Smith’ was the man who was to have met the Cricket and have brought the Cricket’s message back to the ‘house next door.’ Why it was not intended that the Cricket should come out here and deliver the message himself, I don’t know, of course; though I presume that, following immediately on the heels of a murder, the proverbial red herring drawn across the trail was to the fore again—to safeguard the ‘house next door’ from any suspicion of complicity in the killing.
“Anyway, ‘Smith’ never met the Cricket, and doesn’t know even yet that the Cricket is dead. That ‘Smith’ was delegated to bring the Cricket’s message back here last night is proof positive that the original plan did not contemplate his return to an empty house. But it was empty—and, with the exception of ‘Smith’ himself, has been ever since. Therefore ‘Number One’ and such of his followers as lived out here must have suddenly, and no doubt hastily, vacated the premises. Why? I don’t know. All I know is that, according to ‘Smith,’ they have migrated to what, I suppose, is another hangout of theirs that is somewhere up the Hudson.”
Jimmie Dale paused to listen. A car was approaching along the road. It passed by.
“I thought it might be the truck,” he said. “But to go on: This is the gang that killed Sonny Gartz and therefore the gang that trapped Carruthers. If they did not do away with Carruthers at once, they might have brought him out here to the ‘house next door’; but he’s not there now. So, if they are still holding him anywhere, it is almost a certainty that it’s at this ‘summer resort,’ as ‘Smith’ calls it, up the Hudson. I don’t know where that is, and”—grimly—“I can’t ask anyone for the address. And even if a car were at my disposal for that purpose, I could not hope, without being spotted, to trail through and out of New York a truck, bent on crooked business, whose driver would naturally be alert and on his guard against anything of that sort. I see but one way to get there, but one way to nose out this unholy nest, and that is to let them take me there themselves—without knowing it. It looks like Carruthers’s only chance now, doesn’t it, Marie?”
They were close together, his arm around her—so close that in the almost blackness he could see her nod her head somberly.
“Y—yes, Jimmie,” she admitted reluctantly, “I’m afraid you’re right.”
“The Tocsin of old again! I knew it!” he applauded cheerily. “And now about ‘Smith.’ ” His voice hardened suddenly. “I’m not callous, but he will have to stay where he is and make the best of it for the time being. He’s not happy, but he can, as he says, at least drag himself around, and there is plenty of food in the house. I’m sorry for him, but I’m not sorry enough to help him at the risk of jeopardizing any chances, however slim, that Carruthers may still have. It may sound brutal, but ‘Smith’ is one of the murder gang himself. He has brought this on his own head; and now he’ll have to pay for it. If I sent for an ambulance, as I suggested to him in order to get his reaction, though I had no intention of doing anything of the sort, the police, owing to the hospital report, as he pointed out himself, would rush out here. The result would be that the gang would unquestionably get wind of it and very probably be on the wing again. And the same thing applies in an even greater degree should Mitzler motor ‘Smith’ up to his pals, for then ‘Smith’ would tell Number One et al that the house had not only been visited by a stranger, but that their hideout had been discovered by the man in the red wig as well. With a fair prospect now of running them to earth, we cannot afford to do anything that would alarm or stampede them into making still another move. That’s ‘Smith’s’ case in a nutshell. We naturally won’t leave him there alone any longer than is necessary, but just now it’s Carruthers first. That’s all.”
“These murders! The whole thing is just horrible!” she exclaimed in a half-whisper. “But I see what you mean, Jimmie—there isn’t any choice.”
“No,” Jimmie Dale answered gravely, “there isn’t any choice. I have a feeling that we are playing our last card. Pray God it’s the ace of trumps!”
There was silence between them for a moment, then she spoke again:
“And if Mitzler doesn’t make this trip tonight—what then? ‘Smith’ only thought he would.”
“I think he will, too,” replied Jimmie Dale optimistically. “ ‘Smith’ must have had some good reason for what he said. In any case, this trip would seem to be a habit with Mitzler, and if he doesn’t go tonight there’s nothing for me to do but stand by until he does go—and then, it’s bound to be managed somehow, smuggle myself in along with him.”
“And what is my part? Where do I appear on the stage?” she questioned pertinently.
“You’re going to stand by, too,” he said. “I hate to see you do it, but I think you would better go back now to where you can get a street car, then go to your room in that pseudo hotel of yours, become Agnes Watkins again, and not budge until you get a telephone communication from me. I may need to make contact from—well, God knows where! And I think you would better go at once, dear. You agree?”
“Not wholly,” she remonstrated. “You don’t know anything about where or what this ‘summer resort’ up the Hudson is. It might be utterly impossible for you to make contact with anybody. I’m willing to submit to the ‘obey’ in the marriage ceremony, but that time hasn’t come yet. I shall not leave here tonight until, at least, I know that you are safely on your way.”
“What a married life this is going to be!” sighed Jimmie Dale teasingly. “Shall I be permitted to go to the club of evenings—occasionally?”
“Or a floor show,” she added. And then, with a half-sob: “Oh, Jimmie, we’re playing with life and death tonight!”
He wrapped her in his arms.
“But as we have always tried to play it, haven’t we, dear—with our chins up?”
She lifted her face to his.
“Yes, Jimmie. I’m sorry. Somehow I seem to have lost my grip a bit.”
“You have never lost your grip in all your life, Marie,” he told her, with his lips pressed against hers, “and you never will!”
AN HOUR—two hours—dragged by. Midnight came and went.
At intervals Jimmie Dale made silent excursions along the “gangway” to the open window. Lippy Mitzler was always there; but, as time went on, he sat for the most part dozing in his chair.
The man was obviously waiting for someone, and that fact reconciled Jimmie Dale to patience, though there was still no truck in evidence; but it did not reconcile him to Marie’s discomfort. Again and again he had urged her to go back to her room, but on that score she was obdurate.
Near one o’clock now. Jimmie Dale peered in again through the open window. Lippy Mitzler was sound asleep this time, his head down on his arms that were outflung across the desk.
It was getting late! Jimmie Dale frowned unhappily as he started to retrace his steps. Then suddenly he halted. The Tocsin, her approach along the “gangway” almost as silent as any that he had made, was standing beside him.
“There is someone coming, Jimmie!” she said under her breath. “A man, walking—I could just make out his figure—he turned in from the road a second or so ago.”
“Right!” Jimmie Dale returned sotto voce, as he drew her back to where, hidden in the dark themselves, the window afforded them a side view, though still an adequate one, of the interior. “Well, it’s about time!”
The sound of footsteps was now plainly audible. Came then a rapping on the front door.
Lippy Mitzler raised his head, listened, then got up from his chair and, obviously making for the front door, disappeared from view—only to reappear a moment later followed by a youngish man, not overcleanly in appearance, and under whose slouch hat, the brim pulled well down over his forehead, small, black, untrustworthy eyes roved unpleasantly in all directions. He looked like a typical punk, Jimmie Dale thought—that unhealthy pallor in his face—probably steamed up half the time!
“Know him?” Jimmie Dale breathed in the Tocsin’s ear. “I don’t.”
“No.” She shook her head. “But, as a possibility, since he has been around here tonight, why not the man in the red wig—without the wig?”
“They don’t belong to the same lodge,” Jimmie Dale answered grimly. “Listen!”
Lippy Mitzler was speaking.
“So they sent you, Bunny, did they?” he growled. “Well, you’re damned late!”
The man that Mitzler had named as Bunny sprawled to a seat on a coil of second-hand hawser conveniently near the desk, while Mitzler returned to his chair.
“I’ll say I am,” he jerked out sullenly; “but you’ve nothing to moan about. All you had to do was sit down and rest yourself and wait. And you won’t have to make the trip again for another two or three nights, anyhow.”
“Well, get the agony off your chest!” advised Lippy Mitzler ungraciously. “What about it?”
“Mansion!” snorted Bunny in disgust. “What a mansion! A mile and a half from the nearest neighbor! ‘Secluded residential estate,’ the blasted ads say. Only it ain’t secluded—it’s buried. Haunted? Why wouldn’t it be haunted? The frogs are all you hear, and they get your goat—croak—croak—croak! If I had money enough to buy a place like that—I wouldn’t! I could have a lot better time with the dough somewhere else than in a graveyard—believe me!”
“Aw, get down to cases!” snapped Lippy Mitzler. “You give me an earache! What’s what? What made you so late?”
Bunny dug into his pocket for a cigarette and lighted it.
“The chief was sulky, and it wasn’t until late that he sent me on my way. It’s a long hike down that God-forsaken road and another long one, as you damn well know, to the town and the railway station. I missed everything but the last train. Then I had to go to Oppie’s store to get him busy packing up the grub order so’s it would be ready when we called for it—and I couldn’t take a taxi out here, could I? Everything broke wrong, that’s all.”
“Broke is right!” grumbled Lippy Mitzler. “That’s what happened to the truck—it’s broke. It’s a hell of an hour now and there’s nothing but the big van.”
“Well,” observed Bunny airily, “the wheels go around just the same as on the truck, don’t they?” Lippy Mitzler scowled.
“Maybe you’ll crack another loud one when I tell you that the van is half full of big packing cases. Crockery for delivery in the morning—I got to do some legitimate business. I didn’t know about the truck when I loaded up. The cases are too big for me to handle alone, so, if the trip had to be made tonight, I was waiting for whoever came along to give me a hand in unloading them. They’re heavy, Bunny, but you’re a strong man. How about it? It won’t take more than an hour or so, and if they break your back it will be just too bad!”
“Nix!” sniffed Bunny definitely. “Not for mine! You’re in the wrong pew. I’ve lost my union card! A little extra fresh air won’t do the crockery any harm. It’ll stay there for all of me. I’d hate to drop one of those cases and see it smashed!”
Lippy Mitzler grinned suddenly.
“Well, you swallowed that one, all right,” he gibed; “and maybe you won’t be so fresh next time. I’m not for doing any horse work either, but what I’m kicking about is the hour you’ve landed up here. The van, loaded or unloaded, is a lot slower than the truck.”
“Forget it!” The cigarette dangling from Bunny’s lip bobbed jerkily up and down as he spoke. “There’s still plenty of time. You’ll be on your way back by daylight, and that’s all that counts. You can’t go there in the daytime, and you can’t wait until tomorrow night—unless you want to spill your sob story to the chief. And you’ll lay off that, if you take a tip from me. I told you he was sulky. We got the morning papers late this afternoon. He went up in the air a million miles when he read about the Cricket. And he’s biting his nails now waiting to know whether Ratzy ever met the Cricket; and, if he did, what the Cricket screwed out of Lundy Sykes before bumping Lundy off. I hope to God that Ratzy’s showed up!”
“Well, he ain’t.”
“That don’t look so good!”
“Oh, I don’t know. The way I figure it is that Ratzy got pinched in that raid.”
“That sounds reasonable,” agreed Bunny sententiously. “And what about the house out here?”
“I’ve kept my eye peeled, and nobody’s gone near it.”
“Fine! That’s all to the merry, anyhow.”
Lippy Mitzler fidgeted in his chair.
“It don’t seem like you guys had got very far out there,” he offered.
“No!” Bunny swore with fervor. “The inside looks like a cyclone had struck it. Pickaxes, shovels, crowbars—my hands are still bleeding. But, you heard me, it’s supposed to be haunted—nobody comes near it, and it ain’t been rented for years. Blood! It’s painted with it!”
Lippy Mitzler wagged his head appreciatively.
“You said something about the morning papers. Maybe you haven’t seen the evening ones?”
“No. What about ’em?”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars offered for Carruthers.”
The cigarette lost its precarious balance and dropped to the floor as Bunny’s mouth gaped open.
“Hell!” he exclaimed. “That’s a nasty one! I had a hunch from the start that it was a bum play to monkey with a newspaper big shot like him. We were just asking for all the works from the police and everybody else!”
“You’d better not let the cripple hear you say that,” warned Lippy Mitzler.
“And you’d better not let him hear you call him the cripple!” retorted Bunny. “Well?”
“Well, we’re going, aren’t we?” Bunny circled his lips suggestively with his tongue. “But it’s a long ride up there. How about a little snort—a quick one—to see us on our way?”
“All right,” agreed Lippy Mitzler as he produced a bottle from the drawer of the desk.
But Jimmie Dale was no longer listening. With the Tocsin beside him, he was making his way back to the front of the shed.
As they reached the van, he spoke rapidly—in whispers:
“Luck, Marie! . . . A half-loaded van! . . . Better by long odds than a truck. . . . Sure to be able to move one of these packing cases enough so as to squeeze in behind it . . . We’ve never had any doubt about it, but we know definitely now that these rats are the ones that are answerable for whatever has been done to Carruthers. . . . And Ratzy of course is ‘Smith.’ . . . You know what to do—your room—Agnes Watkins—and wait for a message from me. . . . I hate to leave you out here, dear, but —”
“Why should you, Jimmie?” she interposed naïvely. “Don’t you think you could move whatever packing case you are going to move just a tiny bit more in order to make room for two, so that I could at least get back to civilization?”
“Good idea!” assented Jimmie Dale instantly. “No reason why not. Stupid of me not to have thought of it. You can hop off in due course on some cross street without being seen at this hour of night. Wait! I’ll fix it. Warn me if their drink is literally a quick one.”
He swung himself agilely over the tailboard.
The rear portion of the van was empty. He could see practically nothing, but the sense of touch sufficed. The front end was piled with boxes and cases, and rearmost of all these was a packing case of large dimensions. It was heavy, bulky, and unwieldy; but, though it took him a few minutes to do so, he finally edged it farther toward the rear, creating a space of some three feet behind it. It would serve admirably as a screen, and the space thus provided at least gave promise of security, even if uninviting from the standpoint of comfort.
“All right, Marie,” he called softly.
“They’re coming now, I think,” she said, as he helped her into the van and she cuddled down beside him behind the packing case. “Yes, here they are!”
The two men climbed to the front seat, and the van rumbled into motion.
After a while the van stopped, and the provisions to which Bunny had alluded, a generous assortment of boxes and baskets, were loaded in at the rear.
The van started on again. It traversed a dimly lighted street.
“Now’s your chance, Marie,” prompted Jimmie Dale, the clatter and rumbling of the van making his voice, unless he should indulge in a shout, inaudible to the occupants of the front seat. “Good luck, dear!”
But the Tocsin made no move—other than to settle herself more comfortably on Jimmie Dale’s shoulder behind the packing case.
“I’m not going to get off, Jimmie,” she announced placidly.
“Now listen to me!” Her fingers had found Jimmie Dale’s lips and were pressed imperiously over them. “It’s just what I was afraid of. This place we’re going to is out in the country somewhere—and a long way even from any other house. It’s too dark to locate its situation on the way up. So even when you get there you wouldn’t know where you were. And after it gets light you couldn’t go around the countryside as Smarlinghue without attracting disastrous attention. So how could you communicate with me—or anyone else? Oh, I know, you’d say you’d manage somehow, and perhaps you would—but I don’t like it. On the way back, according to Bunny, it will be getting daylight, and I’ll be able to identify the surroundings. I’ve thought it all out. I’ll go back to New York, get a car, return, and keep a rendezvous with you somewhere where we won’t be seen—and you won’t be left at the disadvantage of having to play an absolutely lone hand. And you needn’t be cross, Jimmie. It won’t do you any good. For, anyway, that’s what I am going to do! And you know I’m right.”
“Damn!” exploded Jimmie Dale heartily.
“Thanks, Jimmie, you’re a dear,” she murmured demurely—and snuggled still closer to him.
Jimmie Dale said nothing for a long time. What was there to say? He knew the Tocsin—her courage—her resourcefulness—her determination. Short of him throwing her bodily out of the van, she would see it through. Courage! She who, not so long ago, had faltered and been afraid—for him. It was the inevitable. There was nothing to do but accept the inevitable. And, after all, in a sense she was right, and in the actual trip itself she ought not to incur any undue risk.
“I’m not cross,” he said at last. “You merely win—as usual. But, having won, we’ll revamp the staff work a little. When you get back to New York go to the Sanctuary, as Mother Margot of course, and get Larry the Bat’s togs, the make-up box, and, yes, that tweed suit of mine as well. I don’t know what will break; but, in any case, it will perhaps be as well if Smarlinghue is not center stage. Take these things over to your room; and then, as Agnes Watkins, hire a ‘drive yourself’ car, pick up the bundle, and motor back—and, incidentally, a little extra dust and dirt on the license plates wouldn’t come amiss. We’ll designate the rendezvous when we know more about where we’re going than we do at the present moment.”
“And besides the bundle,” she added contentedly, “a thermos of coffee and a few sandwiches. I can’t bear to think of you wandering around the wastes nibbling grass. Jimmie, I’m spoiling you—but you are a dear!”
It was not a pleasant trip. And it was a long trip. They passed through towns and villages that were unrecognizable in the night. The bare floor! The jolting of the van was merciless.
Streaks of dawn were showing as they turned off from the main highway. The jolting increased—obviously a side road with myriad ruts that were left to take care of themselves. A long hike, Bunny had said. The entire mileage from New York seemed by comparison insignificant.
The van swung into what, in the faint light, seemed to be an avenue flanked by trees. It turned around and backed up to what was apparently the rear door of a large country residence. The door opened. Lanterns lighted up the interior. In the background several figures; in the forefront a bent-over form leaning on his crutches, whose voice began to snarl out orders anent the unloading of the supplies.
The Tocsin clutched Jimmie Dale’s arm.
“There’s the cripple—there’s Number One!” she whispered. “Jimmie, do you recognize him?”
“Steenie Klotz!” said Jimmie Dale. “The man who led the gang that put the Phantom on the spot in Blind Peter’s.
“And would have done the same to Mother Margot,” she supplemented, with a little catch in her voice, “if it had not been for you. But I heard he had been killed in a railroad wreck somewhere out West.”
“He was certainly in a wreck! A nice crowd!” Jimmie Dale’s voice rasped in spite of the fact that it was scarcely above a whisper. “Well, we know now what to expect!”
With the provisions unloaded, the van pulled away again.
The Tocsin spoke hurriedly:
“I can find this place again—easily. It’s light enough now, or will be shortly. It’s only a question of identifying the first town or village on the way back after this side road joins the highway. There may be several side roads, but that doesn’t matter. I can sit out on the rear of the van from now on if it is necessary and note the landmarks. There is no danger whatever. Even if I am seen, it would amount to practically the same thing as having been found in that storage yard—the only difference being that there it would have been an old hag sleeping off a drunk and here an old hag stealing a ride. I may leave the van and take a train to town. I don’t know. It all depends on circumstances. But I’ll be back sometime during the forenoon. We’ll have no trouble in finding each other. I’ll be on the lookout for you; and you look for the nearest place to here in the direction of the highway where I could have driven the car off the side road and concealed it, say, in some wooded land. Anyway, I won’t be far away. Is that all right?”
“Yes,” he answered. “It’s more than all right; it’s perfect—I’ll find you. But it’s frightfully hard on you, dear.”
She clung to him suddenly, passionately for a moment.
“Be—be careful, won’t you, Jimmie?” she pleaded—and then she pushed him emotionally away from her. “Go now! I—I don’t want to cry, for tears are even more destructive than you are where make-up is involved!”
He dropped off from the rear of the van, which was already on the side road, and made his way back to the house from which Lippy Mitzler had driven away. Dawn was breaking rapidly. The house, he saw, nestled in a grove of trees. He moved cautiously. Every window in the house was boarded up. No light from anywhere. Apparently in disuse—unoccupied. But it was not unoccupied. Nothing to be gained by being foolhardy! The occupants were now up and exceedingly on the alert. But they would probably sleep throughout the greater part of the day. Shelter somewhere, therefore, for the moment.
He made his way secretively through the trees. A comparatively open space showed beyond. A tumble-down structure of some kind, many hundred yards away, that was just barely discernible in the first gray of early morning, invited him.
He entered it. It was a shed in hopeless disrepair. What it had ever been used for he did not know. But it had long since been abandoned. The floor boards were rotting.
Jimmie Dale took off his coat, rolled it up for a pillow, and lay down—and the act of doing so shamed him. It was unfair, little less than criminal. The Tocsin would get no rest!
But he slept.
When he awoke, the sun was up.
He stepped to the door and looked around him. Then he rubbed his eyes.
From the doorway he could see a creek on whose bank a large, flat rock was well defined; and, in the distance beyond an extensive growth of low bushes, the view disclosed a cone-shaped hill; while in another direction, spidery in form because it was a long way off, there was visible a steeple.
Jimmie Dale had no surveying instruments with which to aid him. And from the crude appearance of the map itself, it was fairly in evidence, he was convinced, that whoever had drawn it had been equally devoid of any such assistance.
Nor, he felt assured, were any such accessories essential.
So, hidden from the house, both by reason of the distance—it was at least a quarter of a mile away—and the grove of trees that surrounded it both front and rear, and also because the low bushes that were everywhere here around him were an effective screen in themselves, he stepped out from the door of the old shack. He walked straight in the direction of the steeple until he came to a point where, as closely as he could judge, his line of march would intersect a line drawn between the flat rock and the cone-shaped hill, both of which latter he could see distinctly.
Here he snapped off a small branch from a near-by bush and stuck it into the earth. “X” marks the spot! Of what?—Marie had already asked him that. He did not know. He might not be, and probably was not, pin-point accurate in thus tagging the “X.” The “spot” might easily be feet or even yards away. It was simply a question of dig. But he had nothing with which to dig.
And then he recalled Bunny’s words to Lippy Mitzler in reference to this secluded residence out here—“pickaxes, shovels, crowbars—my hands are still bleeding.” What were they doing in there? A faint glimmer of what might be the truth came to him—looking for something in there that, failing the map to guide them, was not in there but out here!
He made his way cautiously through the bushes and gained the outskirts of the thick grove of trees that surrounded the house. He approached closer. In the semidarkness when he had arrived he had been unable to see practically anything. It wasn’t a mere house, he saw now; it was literally as Bunny had described it—a mansion. It was built of stone, massive, extensive, covering a large area of ground—one of the many castle-like edifices along the Hudson inspired doubtless by those on the storied Rhine!
The windows and doors, however, he had noted, at least those of them that he had seen, as having all been boarded up—and so were they now, he observed, as, well back amongst the trees, he made a circumspect tour of the building. Quite true! But, though the domain might have been closed and forsaken for many a year, as its present eloquent appearance of desertion and disrepair would imply, there were tenants—even if they were almost certainly surreptitious ones—in actual possession here now. Therefore, without question, there must be some customary means of ingress and egress.
But it would be hazardous in the extreme for Smarlinghue, who might be instantly recognized if he were seen, to take any chances that could be avoided. And daylight did not lend itself to concealment. Asleep in there? Perhaps yes, if they worked at night, as the hour of Lippy Mitzler’s arrival would indicate; but not everybody—if he knew the man on crutches—Steenie Klotz! Steenie Klotz, one of the lesser breed in the old days, had apparently climbed to the higher rungs. Steenie Klotz was not therefore to be despised in a game of hide-and-seek!
Jimmie Dale was lurking now behind the trees opposite the rear door where the van had discharged its load. The door tempted him. It had been opened last night. He could most assuredly open it now. They came and went that way. Boarded-up doors and windows were difficult to negotiate—noiselessly. And inside there, according to Bunny’s unwittingly supplied information, was a choice assortment of the implements he required.
A shovel, say—no, preferably a spade. But what was a spade worth? Nothing—if, through the premature discovery of his presence, it involved the risk of disaster and the ruin of the very purpose that had brought him here. Was Carruthers held a prisoner in there? This was no time to attempt an answer to that question. Nightfall! If Carruthers was in there now, with his life preserved thus far, he would still be there tonight. To be caught in there now would mean that he, Jimmie Dale, would have thrown any chance of aiding Carruthers to the winds!
But about that spade. Marie, when she eventually arrived, could go back somewhere with her car and purchase whatever was necessary. He thought this over for a moment, and then he shook his head decisively. No! He did not know what might happen, what might eventuate, but intuition warned him that in such a move lay the possibility of a fatal misplay.
Then he remembered that in the old shed where he had taken shelter he had noticed casually a heap of debris piled, or, rather, thrown into one corner—bits of iron and so forth—a small junk pile of odds and ends. Perhaps out of what he might find there he could improvise something that would, even if inadequately, serve his purpose.
He returned to the shed, quite satisfied in his own mind now that he was making no mistake. This was the safe thing to do—for the sake of Carruthers. The map and its secret was, after all, but a secondary consideration; and even if this rusty old pile yielded nothing, he was still content to accept that as the answer for the time being. Still, if—
He began to paw over the miscellany of broken pieces of this and that. The pile had been there for years, obviously. A catch-all for everything. Probably the shed had been an integral part of the estate in the days when the estate was in its prime. There were some hopelessly battered toys, the remains of what had once been the cane seat of a chair, and a conglomeration of rubbish that mostly consisted of what was apparently the residue of lawn and barnyard casualties.
He dug out two or three pieces of flattened iron.
They looked as though they might once have been parts of—what? He had no idea. He laid no claim to wizardry. But they might serve admirably as scrapers. His prize was what had once been a pitchfork. The handle was broken, leaving only a foot or so of splintered wood, and only one prong remained. He grinned at this derisively because it seemed to grin derisively at him—then suddenly he laid it aside. Why not? The one remaining prong was rusted, but it was long, pointed, and sharp. Not to be despised as a “divining rod”—if what was sought were not too deeply buried! But the morning was growing old. Marie! This would have to wait.
He left the shed, circuited the rear of the house again, and edged in toward the roadside. The actual grove of trees around the house might have been artificially planted, but wooded land, he at once discovered, abounded everywhere. He did not step out on the road; he kept a protecting fringe of trees between it and himself as he made his way along in the direction of where he knew the Hudson River, though a number of miles away, must be.
But he did not have to walk far—perhaps not more than half a mile. Marie had more than kept her word, and she had made excellent time. “Look for me,” she had said in effect, “somewhere near at hand where I could have driven the car off the road and concealed it amongst the trees.” She had already arrived. There was the car a little way ahead of him, parked where it could not possibly have been seen from the road. He reached it—but there was no Marie.
“Marie!” he called softly.
She answered him instantly from a little way off, and then came running toward him.
“I was watching the road in case you came that way and so that we wouldn’t miss each other,” she explained. Then, breathlessly: “Anything new, Jimmie?”
She was no longer Mother Margot, the hag. It was Marie herself, fresh, virile, the glow of youth in her cheeks, her eyes dancing with excitement.
“You’re glorious, Marie!” he said spontaneously as he swept her into his arms.
“I’m Agnes Watkins at the moment,” she reminded him when she got a chance, not too desperately achieved, to speak. “Jimmie, I asked you a question.”
“Oh, yes That map! You remember? I’ve found the flat rock, the hill, the old shack, and the steeple. Sounds like a treasure hunt, doesn’t it? But listen, dear, I’m peckish. I haven’t had a morsel since we left Fragetti’s last night. I hope that you’ve kept your promise, and—”
“More, Jimmie!” she interposed monarchically. “Tell me everything, or you do not get a bite!”
“That’s a woman for you!” Jimmie Dale sighed resignedly. “Oh, well, here goes!”
She sat down on the running board and listened, her eyes wide, staring at him, her chin cupped on her hands.
“The map!” she exclaimed at the end. “And nothing to dig with! But that’s very simple! I’m surprised at you, Jimmie. This road here even in daylight seems to be absolutely deserted, so I’m sure the car would never be noticed. I can drive back to some town and buy a supply of, well, let’s say, garden tools from any hardware store.”
“Can you?” inquired Jimmie Dale sweetly. “Well—you won’t, beloved! Even I thought of that!” Then seriously: “I don’t know what’s under the ground. It may be front-page stuff. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few hours. The Gray Seal may come into the merciless glare of the limelight. It might be remembered by some hardware clerk, who was taking a detective correspondence course, that a lady, a strange lady, unknown locally, but described by formula, had purchased garden tools on or about the time that the Gray Seal pulls the scoop out here. Nothing doing! I hope in the very near future, God willing, to make you Mrs. Jimmie Dale. Have you never heard of the perfect crime—in juxtaposition to the inadvertently dropped bobby pin that led to the electric chair?”
She laughed a little.
“I think you’re overcautious,” she protested.
“Never could be,” declared Jimmie Dale positively, “where you are concerned.”
“Very well, Jimmie”—she pursed her lips at him. “It’s possible you may be right—sometimes you are!”
“Ever so many thanks!” murmured Jimmie Dale humbly. “But, also, you see that even if we fail to unearth the secret of the jolly old map, it would not affect the main issue—Carruthers. It’s for Carruthers’s sake, and his alone, that we are here. I’m curious, too; but if our excavations, with the means at our command, get us nowhere this afternoon, why, then, when the propitious moment arrives, Larry the Bat can phone a tip to Detective Sergeant Waud—and let Detective Sergeant Waud with that husky Homicide Squad of his do the digging! Yes?”
“Jimmie,” she murmured naively, “you’re always right.”
“Angel! Butter that melted in the mouth!” he retorted. “But now, how about Larry the Bat’s outfit, and my tweeds—and, paramount at the moment, a bit of lunch?”
“I packed your clothes and Larry’s rags in that suitcase there, Jimmie,” she told him. “And here, gourmand, in this package are two thermos bottles of hot coffee, a brace of gorgeously roasted chickens, some scrumptious rolls, and the most alluring pie you ever saw in your life. Enough for several meals, as I thought perhaps more than one might be indicated—and all of which I bought in Yonkers, because I left New York before any of the delicatessen stores were open, and—”
“Produce them!” commanded Jimmie Dale peremptorily. “I haven’t had a morsel, as I told you, since we left Fragetti’s last night.”
“Dear boy,” she mocked, “you did have a discomfiting time with that spaghetti, didn’t you!” And then, in a suddenly choked voice, persiflage abandoned: “Oh, Jimmie, I’m so anxious!”
Jimmie Dale made no answer except for a curt nod of his head.
They lunched beside the car.
“We’ve only a walk of seven or eight minutes from here to the shack,” he said, as they finished their repast. “Come on! Let’s go and see if that one-pronged pitchfork will do us any good. We’ll leave everything locked up in the car—except that thermos we’ve just emptied.”
“The thermos!” Her brows drew together. “Why the thermos?”
“Water,” he said. “Fill it at the creek.”
“But there’s still another one full of coffee. Why water?”
“Tut-tut!” he chided. “My accustomed foresight. It may be needed.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Jimmie,” she complained, “there are times when you are hopelessly impossible.”
“Do you realize,” he grinned at her, “that you are speaking to your future lord and master? Come on, dear—there’s no time to waste. We can put in the daylight hours with at least the hope that they will prove fruitful. But I imagine we’ll need every one of them.”
“I’m ready, Jimmie; and, as you say—let’s go.”
The following hours went by arduously for Jimmie Dale—and also without reward. For the most part the Tocsin kept watch, though there was little chance that they could be observed. The spot that Jimmie Dale had marked was certainly not accurate—it served merely to approximate the location of the “X” on the map. The single prong of what had once been a pitchfork was no longer covered with rust—from constant plunging and probing in the earth it had reverted to a prong of polished steel. Discouraging, these hours! And more and more, seemingly, a hopeless undertaking. Bushes everywhere—new bushes, new growth—roots that were well-nigh impenetrable at a depth of no more than a few inches under the surface.
It was near twilight when Jimmie Dale at last gave vent to a half-optimistic, half-doubtful exclamation:
“There’s something here, Marie! But it may be only a bit of rock. We’ll use those scrapers now, anyway.”
Half an hour’s work unearthed a metal dispatch box. It was quite large, roughly three feet long by twelve inches in both depth and breadth.
Jimmie Dale examined it, a frown gathering on his forehead. It was padlocked, but not heavy.
A name had been stenciled on one end. He made out the letters, now almost obliterated, with difficulty: “Theodore P. Weston.”
“Weston!” he ejaculated reminiscently. “Does that mean anything to you, Marie?”
She shook her head.
“No,” she said. “Not a thing! Does it mean anything to you?”
“Yes,” he said; “but the details are vague. I remember that some ten years ago there was a rather famous case of a bank president by that name who lived in style up here on the Hudson—and who defaulted! This must be the place—the one-time Weston estate.”
“Open the box, Jimmie!”
A blued-steel instrument from the girdle under Smarlinghue’s vest came into play. Jimmie Dale threw back the cover.
They both stared at the contents. The dispatch box was crammed to repletion with banknotes—and those on top were of large denominations.
“Jimmie, how much do you think is in there?” she gasped.
“It lingers in my memory,” said Jimmie Dale with a hard smile, “that the defalcation was somewhere between a hundred and fifty and two hundred thousand dollars. And, making a guess, I’d say all of it was here!”
She was always teasing, a gracious charm, striving to lighten the grim and foreboding.
“How about pinching it, Jimmie?” she suggested, her hand laid appealingly on his. “You know what I said to you about finders being keepers. Jason, I understand, with his inimitable diplomacy, has recently taken the liberty of intimating that, prior to the bride’s arrival, the entire house should be ‘done over’—including even rugs and all that sort of thing.”
He answered her sternly, but a smile that broke through in spite of himself marred his severity.
“Ingrained!” he accused. “That fear has always been in my heart—your years of association with the underworld! But, for the moment, we will take this back and lock it up in the car.”
IN THE car, while it was still just light enough to render the vision mirror of service, and while the Tocsin stood outside on guard, the metamorphosis was completed—Smarlinghue had become Larry the Bat.
They, Smarlinghue and Larry the Bat, were the obvious dregs of the underworld; but, utterly different in appearance one from the other, each preserved his own individuality. The masterly rearrangement of those distorting pieces of wax worked wonders in remodeling the contours of the face!
And who was it who had said that clothes do not make the man? Who, but Larry the Bat, ever wore these old shoes with broken laces, these mismated socks, these patched trousers frayed at the bottoms, this disreputable, collarless flannel shirt, this torn and filthy coat?—all of which would be instantly recognized anywhere within the confines of Gangland as identifying the Gray Seal, who, once supposed dead, had come to life again on more than one occasion to the discomfiture of those who owed many a grievous debt to society. He slipped out of the car.
“Larry the Bat!” she said a little tremulously. “The risk—the danger! ‘Death to the Gray Seal!’ Oh, Jimmie, is this necessary?”
“Absolutely!” he answered with a cheery grin to allay her fears. “We can’t risk Smarlinghue, you know. And Steenie Klotz knows who Larry the Bat is: and—I’m banking a lot on my murderous reputation—he’ll think twice before he attempts to play ducks and drakes with the Gray Seal.”
“But the police,” she insisted. “They could be tipped off. Surround the place, and—”
“Marie”—he smoothed her hair fondly back from her forehead—“must I tell you all over again, dear, that you’re so infinitely worth while living for that I have the greatest incentive any man ever had to take care of himself? If Carruthers is in there, I’ll find him; but if I can’t get him out alone, then it will be time enough for Detective Sergeant Waud and his army to take the field. Meanwhile, I don’t want to run the slightest chance of putting these curs on the qui vive by reason of even a distant glimpse of the majesty of the law. They would then scatter, if they could, and some of them would more than possibly make their escape. I want them all. And, on top of that, if Carruthers is in there, I do not like to think of still another possibility.”
“What?” she asked.
“They are warped in mind and soul. With the game up, they would only be running true to form if they took last-minute vengeance on Carruthers. Perhaps yes; perhaps no—but it’s a hazard that we cannot afford to invite.”
“And if he’s not there?”
“If he’s not there,” said Jimmie Dale quietly, “then, somehow, Steenie Klotz and the Gray Seal will have a little confidential chat. And Steenie Klotz will tell what he knows—about Carruthers. That’s where Larry the Bat is on a plane incomparably higher than that of Smarlinghue. There is a vast gulf between the two so far as Steenie Klotz is concerned, and that gulf is—fear. Smarlinghue, the worm, is but a sorry creature and of very little moment, but the Gray Seal is credited with having killed too often and too unhesitatingly to be held in any such contempt. This is the fourth night of Carruthers’s disappearance—and the fourth too many! But I’m sure of one thing now, and that is that, some way or other, before tonight is over, we’ll know the truth about Carruthers.”
“I think I’ll go over there with you and be near at hand. There are plenty of trees there to hide one.”
“No, you won’t, girl of my heart!” he told her emphatically. “There are too many trees! I might not be able to find you in an emergency—but I can find this car again; so I’m going to be sure I’ll know exactly where you are all the time. And, besides, there’s another thing: I wouldn’t like to have you on my mind as being so close to the place that any one doing sentry-go, say, might stumble upon you.”
She made no further protest.
They sat on the running board while the twilight deepened, silent for the most part now. There was nothing more to be said. It was merely a question of waiting for the zero hour, with the prayer in both their hearts that their efforts had not been, and would not be, in vain.
It grew dark.
Jimmie Dale rose to his feet.
“Time to be off,” he said briskly. “And here’s hoping!”
Her voice was low, but cool and without a tremor.
“All the best, Jimmie!” she said.
The moon was not up yet. Jimmie Dale nodded his head in appreciation of that fact as he made his way back through the trees to the Weston mansion. No shadows cast! Just darkness!
From a cautious distance he made a silent but complete round of the building. Was there an outside guard stationed anywhere about? He did not think so. Anyway, he had discovered no evidence of one. That road out there that was so rarely used, as Marie had pointed out, made such a precaution almost unnecessary, of course. Scarcely any passers-by; and who, anyway, impelled by mere curiosity, which could be the only logical motive for such a proceeding, would pay a visit to a long-deserted house—especially after nightfall?
Again he made a circuit of the building, but this time close against the walls. And this time he came to a halt outside the door that had tempted him that morning. But after a swift inspection by the sense of touch it tempted him no longer. True, it had been opened last night, but it had been opened from the inside—and was now probably fastened by a bolt. On the outside, any keyhole or lock that there might have been was now firmly boarded over. It would take a long while to work through such obstructions; and, besides, even when his efforts were crowned by success, ineffaceable traces that the door had been tampered with would be blatantly evident. This, if he could foresee in detail what the night would bring, might perhaps not matter so much—but what the next hour, or the next minute, held in store he could not tell.
Better, then, to find another and a safer way of entry. There must be another way.
Once more he began a tour of the building, but more slowly and still more critically now. From within, at times, there was utter silence; at others, his ears caught what seemed like the dulled sounds of hammering and the rending of protesting woodwork.
And then suddenly Jimmie Dale came to an abrupt halt. His hands, searching out through the darkness over the boarded windows, had found a boarding here at the back of the house that was loose. He stood motionless for a moment. It was strangely loose. It was no more than four feet from the level of the ground, and all one had to do was to lift it aside. His fingers groped under the edge. The window behind was open. Used by the gang for their secret comings and goings? Possibly. But why? There was the rear door that they had used last night. And Steenie Klotz with his crutches could not get in or out of this window. Had someone else, like himself at the present moment, sought a secretive way of entering the house unknown to Steenie Klotz and his gang? And if so—why? And when? Two or three nights ago? Last night? Or within the last half-hour?
Jimmie Dale’s lips were compressed. He did not quite like this. It might portend—anything—or nothing! But it could not be ignored.
Then he shrugged his shoulders, removed the wooden barricade, and climbed without a sound in through the window. One more reason why a false move on his part might result in disastrous consequences—that was all.
Inside now, formless himself in the engulfing blackness, he stood still and listened. He could hear the banging, the hammering, the rending of wood, not only plainly now, but as sounds that crashed and reverberated through the halls and corridors and rooms which, otherwise, had doubtless long since been buried in a deathlike silence. But these sounds, though on this floor, did not come from anywhere near at hand.
Satisfied finally that there was no one in his immediate vicinity, Jimmie Dale’s flashlight made an inquisitive examination of his surroundings. A queer sort of room! A replica of one, no doubt, whose origin was to be found somewhere on the much-copied Rhine. The floor, for instance, was of unusually wide, thick, heavy planking—the sort of thing that in medieval times the scullery maids would have to scrub from dawn to dark! But there had been no scrubbing here for many a day. The floor was thick with dust and dirt. Also vandalism and destruction were everywhere in evidence. The side walls had been gouged out and burrowed into until all that remained to in any way identify the original purpose for which the room had been designed was a long, broken table, and the tangled wreckage of what looked like a number of large sinks that had been torn from their fastenings and flung upon the floor. Not much in the way of identification! No! But, after all, what difference did that make? It certainly had not been a part of the living quarters of the mansion.
His flashlight disclosed a trapdoor near the center of the room. He stepped over and examined it. It possessed a heavy iron ring and a heavy bolt, both foreign in appearance, and both fitting into grooves at the floor level.
What was down there? He was looking for Carruthers—and his search would at least be thorough.
He tried the bolt. It certainly had been in use of late, for it slid back easily, whereas otherwise it might have been expected that rust and time would have rendered it practically immovable. And the trapdoor itself, which he now lifted cautiously, came up quite readily and with scarcely any exertion on his part in spite of the thick planking, similar to the floor, of which it was constructed.
Steps led downward, and he descended them. He found himself in a walled-in space, without any opening, of approximately the area of the room above. It was cool down here, he noted. There were a few remaining shelves attached to the walls, and a few old preserving jars still in evidence. Nothing else.
Puzzled at first, enlightenment came to him in a moment. Of course! The thought of scullery maids that had passed through his mind a few moments ago had been more apt than he had imagined. This cellar had been built to serve as a sort of natural cold storage for vegetables, preserves, and other supplies of like nature. And, obviously now, the room above had been the onetime scullery. It would have served to perfection as a “dungeon deep” for Carruthers, he thought grimly, from which there would be no possible chance of escape. But Carruthers was not here.
He returned to the scullery and lowered the trapdoor back into place. And now he moved with even more caution, if that were possible, than before—using his flashlight only at intervals, and only when the sounds of commotion that continuously racketed through the house made it reasonably certain that no one was in his near neighborhood.
An hour had gone by—but still with no indication that Carruthers was, or ever had been, here. He, Jimmie Dale, had begun by creeping along the lower hall in the direction of the sounds to check up just where the gangsters were at work and how many of them there were. And in this particular he had been successful. There were three of them: Bunny, and two others whom he did not recognize, each at work by lantern light in a separate room. He had watched them through the open doorways from the darkness of the halls as they ripped and tore at the wainscotings and wrecked the walls, creating devastation and ruin everywhere in what he now knew to be a frantic search for something they would never find. Three of them, apart from Steenie Klotz, the cripple, who constantly went from one of the rooms to another to oversee the work; but Steenie Klotz had been easy to avoid, even though through physical disability he carried no light, for the tap tap of his crutches on the bare floors always gave warning of his movements. And then of course there had been many other rooms on the lower floor, for the establishment had been elaborately planned—but these had yielded him nothing.
He was upstairs now—still searching. . . . Room after room. . . . Locked doors to open. His optimism, he realized, was fading rapidly. It began to look as though they had never brought Carruthers here. And if not, what had they done with him? He did not want to contemplate that. Steenie Klotz would answer the question—and answer it tonight! And it seemed that the time had about arrived at the present moment to apply the screws to Steenie Klotz—as a last resort.
His mind began to work along that line. What ruse or means would be most effective in inveigling Steenie Klotz away from the others? It should not be very difficult. And, since Steenie Klotz spent his time in no one room alone, he would not be missed at least for a long while, since each of the three gangsters would naturally assume the cripple was with one or other of their companions. Not nice to attack a cripple! No! But there was not likely to be much in the way of an attack. Steenie Klotz, like most of his kind, was deeply streaked with yellow. Not the kind that could look into the muzzle of an automatic with calm disregard for the consequences, but the kind that would squeal, like the murderous rat he was, if—
Jimmie Dale stood rigid. From below there came a sudden yell, then what sounded like a scuffle, and then the pound of racing feet. He was standing near the head of a flight of back stairs, at the foot of which was the door opening off a narrow corridor into the scullery, and he ran now to the stairhead to peer down into the dark. The sounds, steadily increasing in volume, were certainly approaching the scullery. Why the scullery? Oh, yes, he could hazard a guess. The “someone” who had entered through the window there at some time prior to his, Jimmie Dale’s, own entrance, had been discovered and was trying to make his escape by the same means—and those vicious oaths, still louder now, came from the pack giving tongue in pursuit. Was he right?
Yes Two lantern lights showed from along the corridor—coming nearer. And now he could make out that in front of the lanterns two men were running; one close behind the other—and the two men carrying the lanterns were fast closing in. As the first man reached the scullery door the second man leaped upon the other. And now the lanterns had made it light enough to see. It was Bunny who had leaped at the quarry. And the quarry, fighting desperately as the others flung themselves upon him and the struggling mass surged through the doorway into the scullery, was the man with the red wig.
It was black once more at the foot of the stairs—the lanterns from within the room did not throw their rays that far. But from the scullery came now the ugly snarls as of beasts worrying their prey.
Jimmie Dale began to descend the stairs.
“What for?” an inner voice snapped at him warningly. “The man brought this on his own head. It’s dog eat dog. You yourself called him a chiseler. What could you do without being discovered yourself? And then what? What did you come out here for? To wreck your last hope by playing the quixotic fool?”
Jimmie Dale was still going down the stairs.
They would murder the man, of course. That was obvious. It was a beastly thing to see a man murdered, no matter who or what he was, if in any way it could be prevented.
And then Jimmie Dale paused on the stairway. There was Steenie Klotz coming along the corridor now. He had not made as fast time as the others, but from their frantic thumping it was as though even the crutches themselves were breathless with the haste they sought to make.
Jimmie Dale could not see the other, but he heard the crutches thump into the scullery. Came, then, the next instant a scream of maniacal fury in what could be no other than Steenie Klotz’s voice.
“You!” There followed a string of foul epithets. “So it’s you, is it? You—”
Steenie Klotz was still screaming in rage, as Jimmie Dale reached the foot of the stairs and out of the blackness of the corridor looked into the room. And suddenly his face was as hard as chiseled marble. This was quite another matter!
The quarry was no longer the man in the red wig—the red wig and amber spectacles were on the floor. It was Herman Carruthers.
JIMMIE DALE knew neither surprise, amazement, nor incredulity. The situation was too crucial, too desperate, for the play of emotions.
The two men he had seen at work a while ago had set their lanterns aside, had probably placed them on the long table, and were holding Carruthers’s arms so cruelly twisted behind his back that he could not move without agony. Bunny was standing a few feet away sneering menacingly, a revolver in his hand. Steenie Klotz was prancing rabidly up and down on his crutches.
And now, as Jimmie Dale looked, Steenie raised one crutch and swung the leg in a vicious blow across Carruthers’s white, set face.
“Take that!” he snarled. “And there’ll be worse to come if you don’t loosen up! So we were right in the beginning, eh? I’ll ask you again what Sonny Gartz spilled to you?”
Carruthers was taking it well.
“My answer is the same,” he replied coldly. “He told me that he wanted to get help from Larry the Bat, the Gray Seal, for some reason that he did not divulge. That is all he said.”
“You’re a liar!” Steenie Klotz shouted furiously. “That’s a cinch now, or you wouldn’t be out here. Where’s the map?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t, eh? You only know where the cash is hidden—is that the dope?”
“Well, then, maybe you’ll tell us why you’re here?”
There was no answer.
The crutch leg swung again across Carruthers’s face.
Jimmie Dale’s jaws were clamped. His automatic was in his hand. They were grouped quite close to the doorway—not more than a few feet inside. Steenie Klotz stood on the far side of Carruthers. The others had their backs half turned to the door. Was there more than one way? Any better chance?
“Then I’ll tell you, you—” Steenie Klotz’s voice had suddenly dropped to an ugly purr, though he still dropped no oaths. “It’s a lot of dough even for a big newspaper guy, ain’t it? You know the coin is out here, and you know where it is out here. And you came out to pinch it for yourself, only you didn’t expect to find us here. That’s why you came. And now you’re going to come through. See?”
“That’s why I didn’t shoot when I was chasing him,” Bunny chimed in with a leer. “I thought it might be somebody who could do a little talking.”
“Well, you can shoot in a minute if he doesn’t open his yap,” Steenie Klotz promised malevolently. “You can take a crack at his toes for a starter, and, if that don’t do any good, try a few other little spots until you find the right one. Now”—to Carruthers—“are you going to come across?”
Jimmie Dale was slightly nearer the doorway, crouched there now, but still enveloped by shadows. It was a hideous threat. The hideous sort of thing that would find birth in Steenie Klotz’s perverted mind. The hideous sort of thing that Bunny would perform gloatingly—and even now there was something horribly avid in his actions, as, moving almost to Carruthers’s side, he pointed his revolver downward at the toe of Carruthers’s boot. Carruthers’s face seemed to have grown a little whiter; but he made a brave man’s answer—none.
“I’ll give him till I count three to change his mind,” rasped Steenie Klotz, “and then you can let him have it, Bunny! One—”
Jimmie Dale had marked well the distance and his objectives; all else depended on surprise and the speed with which he worked. He sprang now, swift as a panther, into the room—and the butt of his revolver smashed down with all his strength, shattering Bunny’s wrist. But even as Bunny screamed with pain and his revolver clattered to the floor, Jimmie Dale swung and struck again—this time a blow with the same weapon that crashed on the skull of the nearer of the two men who held Carruthers. It took effect. He had meant it to. He could take no chance on that score, and he had taken none. The man’s knees doubled up under him, and he slid to the floor.
It had been a matter of seconds—so few that neither Steenie Klotz nor the second man, though he had let go of Carruthers’s arm in a startled way, seemed even yet to have realized what had happened. Jimmie Dale pushed the man over beside Steenie Klotz and covered them both with his automatic.
It was Larry the Bat who spoke:
“Pick up dat gun on de floor, Mr. Carruthers, will youse? An’ youse two, if youse makes a move youse won’t make any more! An’ youse, Bunny, get into de line-up here, an’ can dem yowls!”
“My God—Larry the Bat!” Carruthers gasped as he retrieved the revolver from the floor.
“Sure! Dat’s me,” admitted Larry the Bat pleasantly; then, with a snarl at Steenie Klotz: “Ain’t youse an’ me met somewhere before, too—Steenie?”
Steenie Klotz circled his lips with the tip of his tongue.
“The Gray Seal!” he choked.
“Pleased to meet youse again,” Larry the Bat assured the other with grim irony; then, briskly, to Carruthers: “Now den, Mr. Carruthers, stick yer hands in dese birds’ pockets an’ see how many gats dey’ve got. But, say, walk around behind dem while youse’re doin’ it, so’s if I have to do any target practice youse won’t be in front of de butts. See? An’ when youse’re through wid dese gents, do de same to dat guy on de floor.”
Carruthers obeyed promptly. There was no resistance. They were a cowed lot. The Gray Seal had never been known to bluff.
Larry the Bat smiled pensively as Carruthers deposited the weapons in his various pockets for safe keeping, though retaining one in hand for his own use in case of need. But Larry the Bat was not smiling at Carruthers’s actions. He was thinking that the scullery lent itself most appropriately to the present occasion.
“Sorry to bother youse again, Mr. Carruthers,” he apologized, “but dere’s a trapdoor over dere dat I’d like to see opened.”
Carruthers opened it.
“You go first, Bunny,” Larry the Bat instructed curtly.
Bunny hung back.
“I don’t want to go down there,” he protested.
“Dat’s all right,” said Larry the Bat evenly. “Youse can take yer choice. It’s dat or dis”—he tapped the barrel of his automatic with his left hand—“but if it’s dis, it won’t be in de toe! An’ den youse’d go anyway.”
The man on the floor was recovering his senses, struggling dazedly to his feet.
Larry the Bat jerked his head imperatively at the man standing beside Steenie Klotz.
“Youse’re next! Go and help yer pal get down dere!” he ordered tersely.
No protest this time; instead a frightened acquiescence, though the descent was not made without difficulty.
Larry the Bat turned then to Steenie Klotz.
“Go on, youse!” he flung out savagely. “Youse’re keepin’ dem waitin’!”
Steenie Klotz shrank back, his face greenish in its pallor.
“No!” he whined. “No! I—I couldn’t, anyway. I’m a cripple. I couldn’t get down there on my crutches.”
Larry the Bat’s eyes were smoldering. He was thinking of that night in Lan Chi’s with Sonny Gartz.
“Try it!” There was a deadly menace in Larry the Bat’s voice now. “If youse can’t get down, I’ll help youse—in a way youse won’t like! Youse bumped off a pal of mine. Youse bumped off Sonny Gartz. Get down there!”
And Steenie Klotz, like his fellows—went.
Larry the Bat closed the trapdoor and bolted it; then, joining Carruthers, he surveyed the other critically. There were weals across Carruthers’s face, and his clothes were torn, but otherwise he appeared to be fit enough.
“I hope youse ain’t hurt any worse’n youse looks,” Larry the Bat offered solicitously.
“No; I’m not, thanks to you,” returned Carruthers warmly; “but I feel like a man coming out of a daze. I don’t quite seem to have got my bearings yet. But I know I owe my life to you, and I want—”
“Aw, say, can dat!” pleaded Larry the Bat in confused embarrassment. “Dat was a pleasure. An’, say, listen!” A thought had come to him—a thought that brought an inward chuckle. “Youse stay here, an’ I’ll be back in mebbe fifteen or twenty minutes. See? Dose mongrels down dere can’t get out.”
“All right,” he agreed. “But what is down there, anyway?”
“Dat’s de pre-execution cell,” grinned Larry the Bat as he walked over to the window; “only once it was a cellar for keepin’ de vegetables cool, so it’s all walled in. See youse again in a few minutes.”
He swung himself through the window and made his way rapidly to the car.
The Tocsin spoke breathlessly, as he joined her:
“Yes, dear. It’s what you wished me—all the best.”
“Carruthers? Alive and well?”
“Oh, I’m so glad, so glad!” she exclaimed happily. “But why, then, didn’t you bring him with you?”
“Marie! Oh, Marie!” he expostulated laughingly. “I never could have believed it of you! You are supposed to be still in Europe. And, in any case, how would you, who are about to become the blushing bride of Jimmie Dale, account for the fact that at the same time you and Larry the Bat, to say the least of it, had much in common?”
“I am ashamed,” she admitted penitently. “But I wasn’t trying to think anything out then, Jimmie—it was all just relief and happiness. So, if I’m forgiven, tell me everything about—”
“We’ll be on our way to town in another half-hour or so,” he interrupted as he possessed himself of the dispatch box and the map, which latter he had left in one of Smarlinghue’s pockets. “Meanwhile, I’m going back with these—and, if there’s any grub left, I’ll take that, too.”
“There’s a little. It’s in that package there. Who said a woman couldn’t curb her curiosity? But, oh, Jimmie, don’t be long!” she entreated.
“I won’t,” he promised as he started away.
In due course he climbed in through the scullery window again.
“I brought youse something dat I thought youse might like,” he informed Carruthers, who was pacing restlessly up and down the room.
“What?” inquired Carruthers.
Larry the Bat placed the dispatch box, map, and package on the long, broken table under the lantern light, as Carruthers crossed the room to his side.
“Well,” said Larry the Bat casually, “youse have got dem guys all tucked away nice an’ comfortable, an’ I thought youse might as well have de whole works—fer one of dem newspaper scoops of yers. Dis is de buried treasure an’ de map.”
“The map!” Carruthers cried out sharply. “Then it was you who were in Moses Kleuger’s place the night before last!”
“Youse’ve said a mouthful,” smiled Larry the Bat.
“My God!” ejaculated Carruthers. “Let’s see it!”
Larry the Bat took from his pocket the soiled rag that did duty for his handkerchief; then, folding it around the notebook, rubbed the covers vigorously. This done, he dropped the notebook on the table.
“Dat’s just so’s yer friend Sergeant Waud won’t get gay wid de fingerprint factory,” he explained with a grin—and then, in turn, began to rub the dispatch box with the rag. “Youse see, I had to carry dese, an’ I didn’t have no chance to do dis before.”
“I see,” said Carruthers with a faint smile. “But I’m not the Gray Seal, and my fingerprints don’t count, of course.” He picked up the notebook and opened it. “Where is this creek, and so forth?” he asked.
“Out behind de house dere.”
“And this is what you found, eh?” Carruthers was examining the dispatch box. “What’s in it? Do you know?”
“Sure! Kale! Mebbe a hundred an’ fifty or two hundred grand.”
Carruthers drew in his breath.
“You couldn’t know that unless you had opened it. So perhaps you’ll open it again?”
Larry the Bat had no intention of giving an exhibition of his ability with a picklock, even for Carruthers’s benefit—and it had not occurred to him to unlock the box before leaving the car. It wouldn’t do Carruthers any good, anyhow. Carruthers would see the contents soon enough when he handed the box over to the police.
“Wot fer?” he countered. “It ain’t easy to open. An’, besides, I just rubbed it off, ain’t I?”
“That’s true—what for?” conceded Carruthers. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“T’anks!” acknowledged Larry the Bat graciously. “An’ dat goes fer youse, too, ‘cause I’ll be readin’ wot youse’ll print in yer newspaper an’ be takin’ yer word fer de whole story. An’ now, say, listen. Dese guys have got something to eat somewhere in de house, but to save youse de trouble of lookin’ fer it, an’ so’s you won’t have to leave dis room, dere’s some grub fer youse in dat package. I got to beat it.”
Carruthers frowned heavily.
“Why should I stay here in this room? You said those men couldn’t get out.”
“Dey won’t even try to monkey wid dat trapdoor if dey knows someone is here,” returned Larry the Bat significantly. “All youse’ve got to do is walk around once in a while so’s dey’ll hear youse.”
“And what then?”
“Well, den, I’ll tip de police off fer youse de way I did de other night at Daddy Ratzler’s. Only dis place is a long ways from nowhere, an’ youse’ll have to wait longer.”
Larry the Bat lighted a cigarette thoughtfully. It would be too dangerous to communicate with any of the local police en route, or to put a long-distance call through to New York. It would cost Carruthers a few hours of extra discomfort, but for absolute safety’s sake the Grand Central Station was plainly indicated.
“Dey ought to be here by daylight,” he ventured.
Carruthers’s expression was unhappy but resigned.
“Pleasant prospect!” he said. “But I suppose there’s no choice. And no good either in asking a few intimate questions that I—”
“Dat’s de second time tonight dat youse have said a mouthful,” applauded Larry the Bat—and, forestalling any reply, disappeared through the window.
Marie was waiting anxiously for him.
“On your way!” he commanded cheerfully. “But drive slowly until we get to the highway to give me a chance to get these rags off. It would hardly do for a lady to be seen driving with Larry the Bat, to say nothing of what might befall the said Larry if suspicion were aroused. I’ll change in the back seat.”
“I won’t look!” she promised archly.
“Inimitable woman! Where’s that thermos of water? You see what I want it for now—to get the grime and stain off my face and hands. Inadequate, but it will do.”
“It’s beside the suitcase there in the back.”
“Well, then, let’s go!”
The car dodged its way through the trees to the road.
“Now tell me, Jimmie!” she urged over her shoulder. “Tell me every last little thing!”
He held back nothing, talking as he worked, and it was not until they were nearly at the highway that he had both donned his tailored tweeds and ended his recital.
Then he climbed over into the front seat beside her.
“It’s incredible, Jimmie!” she burst out. “I don’t understand it at all. Carruthers the man with the red wig! How? Why? It’s all ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ except your end of it.”
“No answer here,” he returned calmly. “I’ve told you everything I know. But why worry about it? I deliberately refrained from asking him any questions for two reasons. In the first place, there was the matter of the time that long-drawn-out explanations, which they were sure to be, would take. I’m sure you didn’t have a wink of sleep last night, and not more than two hours the night before, and once the decks were clear, I wanted to get you back to New York as soon as I could. In the second place, I knew that it was only a matter of hours before Carruthers would be recounting to Jimmie Dale, his alter ego, in minutest detail even his inmost thoughts.” He chuckled suddenly. “It’s too bad, though, that you’ll miss that session, angel—since you’re in Paris!”
“Brute!” she hissed.
He laughed—then became serious again.
“Let’s look to our own fences,” he suggested. “I’ve put Smarlinghue’s and Larry the Bat’s things in the suitcase. It would be a bit strenuous on top of everything else to have to duck in and out of the Sanctuary tonight—or, rather, in the morning, as it will be by the time we reach New York—in order to get them hidden away. And I don’t think it is necessary. My safe is large enough to hold several suitcases. What I propose is this: You drop me at the Grand Central Station. I’ll take the suitcase with me, telephone Sergeant Waud from there, and then go home in a taxi. Meanwhile, you can take this car back to whomever you hired it from, and then go to bed yourself. Anything better to offer?”
“No, Jimmie, I don’t think we can improve on that.”
“All right then, dear—step on it!”
* * * * * * * * *
It was Jimmie Dale who stood in a telephone booth in the Grand Central Station at two o’clock in the morning and called Detective Sergeant Waud out of bed—but it was Larry the Bat who spoke:
“Dis is Larry de Bat, Sarge.”
“I recognize the voice,” grumbled Sergeant Waud. “Nice hour!”
“Sure, I know!” sympathized Larry the Bat as he thought of his own oft-repeated complaints to Carruthers on the same score. “Dat’s wot used to happen to me in me palmy days when I had a phone meself. But youse might as well get yer face an’ hands washed now ’cause youse ain’t goin’ back to bed again.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, Sarge. D’youse remember de Weston case—de guy dat pinched everything in his bank except de doormats—about ten years ago?”
“Yes.” A hint of eagerness was creeping into Detective Sergeant Waud’s voice.
“D’youse know where de house is up de Hudson dat he used to live in?”
“Well, youse could find it, couldn’t youse?”
“Yes, if I had to.”
“Well,” complained Larry the Bat, “dat’s wot I’m tryin’ to tell youse. Dat’s wot youse have got to do, an’ do it quick. An’ when youse finds it, youse’ll find Mr. Carruthers. He’s got de gang dat bumped off Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes locked in a cellar up dere.”
“What!” fairly shouted Sergeant Waud.
“Youse heard me!” said Larry the Bat coolly. “It’s Steenie Klotz’s gang, an’ dere’s three of dem in de cellar keepin’ Steenie company. An’, say, listen again, Sarge, an’ den get yer wagons out. Youse knows dat dump on de East River waterfront dat dey calls Casson’s Hotel? Youse does, eh? Well, dere’s another of de gang in de house next door—only he’ll need an ambulance. Youse got all dis?”
“By God, I’ll say I have!” exulted Detective Sergeant Waud.
“Den hop to it!” exhorted Larry the Bat laconically, and hung up the receiver.
IT WAS the next evening after dinner that Carruthers, keeping the appointment he had made earlier in the day, was ushered by Jason into the den in Jimmie Dale’s residence on Riverside Drive.
Jimmie Dale shook hands heartily as Jason withdrew.
“Well, you have given us a scare, old man!” he exclaimed; and then, with a glance at Carruthers’s bruised features: “My word, you look as though you had been in the wars, all right!”
“It might have been worse,” returned Carruthers with a tight smile, as he possessed himself of an easy chair near the big rosewood desk from which Jimmie Dale had risen.
“So I should imagine from what little I could gather from the afternoon and evening papers,” nodded Jimmie Dale. “They are full of the arrest of Steenie Klotz and his gang, with the Gray Seal sneaking around in the background, and your safe return to the welcoming arms of your friends, and all that sort of thing, but they somehow gave me the impression that they were lunging in the dark so far as what I should take to be the crucial details were concerned.”
“I have reserved some of the details,” confessed Carruthers blandly. “We’re a morning paper, you know. I’ve been working on the story until just a little while ago. That’s why I couldn’t come over and give it to you at first hand until this evening. But it’s gone down to the office now, and I’m taking the rest of the evening off.”
“You are a confirmed reprobate!” laughed Jimmie Dale. “The scoop after all, eh? The newspaperman’s meat and drink! And speaking of drink, there’s the decanter over there on the table. Help yourself.”
Carruthers helped himself. So did Jimmie Dale. Carruthers returned to his seat, and Jimmie Dale settled himself comfortably in his desk chair.
“It seems rather queer, doesn’t it, Jimmie,” ruminated Carruthers thoughtfully, “that it should all have begun here in this room when I came to tell you about my meeting with Sonny Gartz, and that—well, that the curtain falls on the same scene? I certainly never dreamed that the consequences of that meeting with Sonny Gartz, that had its genesis in the Gray Seal, would be what they were. But I propose now that we drink to the health of the Gray Seal.”
“I beg your pardon?” inquired Jimmie Dale politely. “In the years gone by, if my memory serves me right, your favorite pastime, not to say your obsession in life, was to malign—”
“Never mind about that,” broke in Carruthers a little sourly. “He saved my life last night.”
“Oh! So the papers, that at least have beaten you to press, had that much straight anyway?”
“Yes. But not all of even that. Wait till you hear my story. I said we’d drink to the Gray Seal.”
“With pleasure,” agreed Jimmie Dale cordially—and raised his glass. And then, as he set it down again, he leaned across the desk. “Look here, old dear,” he said, “before you begin your story there’s a question I’d like to ask. The day after you disappeared, Detective Sergeant Waud told me that he had discovered what he called a missing hour. That was the hour you were up here, of course; but, when you went to the morgue, you said nothing about your visit to me. When I learned that, I said nothing about it, either. The sergeant thought—”
“I know all about what Sergeant Waud thought,” Carruthers cut in with a half-smile, “because I talked to him this morning and he asked me about it. And I know, too, what you are driving at—but I’ll tell you now that you are out of the picture. When I learned from Sergeant Waud that you, like myself, had said nothing about my visit to you, I explained the missing hour by saying it was a private matter that, having no bearing whatever on the case, I did not care to discuss. As a matter of fact, I deliberately said nothing about my visit to you here when I was at the morgue because it was really of no consequence, and I could see no sense in subjecting you to possible unwelcome publicity and annoyance—reporters, corroborative evidence at the inquest—all that sort of jiggeree. But, now that it’s all over, I don’t mind saying that I’d like to know why you didn’t say anything. It would have been natural enough for you to broadcast the fact that I had been here.”
Jimmie Dale twirled his glass in his fingers, as his eyes rested on Carruthers’s contused face. It was because of that missing hour that, unsuspected by Steenie Klotz’s gang, Jimmie Dale’s freedom of action had been unrestricted. It was because of that hour, unaccounted for, that Carruthers was alive and sitting in that chair there at the present moment. Detective Sergeant Waud had well named it—the missing hour.
“Well, if you want the ugly truth,” he said shamefacedly, “it was to save my own miserable hide. I figured that if you had been nabbed because you had talked to Sonny Gartz, and it were known that immediately afterwards you had come directly here, I would be the next in line. But thanks anyway for not making me fly the white feather in front of Sergeant Waud.”
“Rot!” snorted Carruthers. “It’s a good thing for you it wasn’t known, as things turned out. I’d have done the same—at least I hope I’d have had sense enough to do it.”
“Nice of you to say so,” acknowledged Jimmie Dale gratefully. “And now let’s have that story, Carruthers, old man.”
“All right! When I left the morgue I started to walk back to the office, but on the way I stopped at a small drugstore to telephone to you. The booth was quite close to the door, and the one clerk in the store was busy with a customer. He may not even have noticed me; but, in any case, he did not pay any attention to me. I mention this because I understand from Sergeant Waud that from the moment I left the morgue all trace of me was lost.”
“Yes,” confided Jimmie Dale to himself, “I wondered somewhat about that telephone call.”
There had been no interruption. Carruthers was still speaking:
“When I was about a block away from the drugstore, and, mind you, I had seen no one on the street around me at the time, though I was aware that there was a truck coming up behind me, I was suddenly knocked unconscious from a blow on the head. Whether I was pounced upon from a doorway and then taken away in the truck, I can’t say, but I fancy that is what happened. When I regained consciousness I was in a room with four or five men around me. To anticipate, it was the gang that was captured last night, or, rather, this morning.
“I can’t say whether or not I was actually seen talking to Sonny Gartz, but it is certain that by the grapevine route, I presume, they knew what I had said in the morgue. They questioned me off and on through that night and the following day, using some third-degree methods at times; but nothing would make them believe that Sonny Gartz in coming to me in an effort to make contact with the Gray Seal hadn’t told me a lot more than I had said he had. They were sure, in fact, that he had told me the whole story of the map—the which I will come to in a minute—in order that I would pass it along as an incentive to the Gray Seal to come into the picture and pit his wits against theirs as an ally of Sonny Gartz; and that the reason I had said nothing of this at the morgue was due either to a pledge of secrecy that I had given Sonny Gartz, or—damn them!—Sonny Gartz being then dead, for my own ends. They did not realize that Sonny Gartz knew, as I am positively aware now, that they were playing the cat-and-mouse game with him, and that he was ‘for it’—and in desperation was appealing as a last hope to the Gray Seal for help. But, look here” —Carruthers sipped at his glass—“I’m afraid I’m somewhat confusing—putting the hindmost first a bit, as it were—the map, and what I now know about Sonny Gartz, and all the rest of it. I think, perhaps, I’d better change my style of narrative.”
Jimmie Dale knew a bit about the map and Sonny Gartz himself, but he merely agreed gravely.
“Tell it any way you like, Carruthers,” he urged. “Both ears are wide open.”
“All right,” said Carruthers, “I’ll tell it, then, just as though it had all been as plain as a pikestaff from the beginning. But you must understand that what I am going to say was all put together piecemeal during that night and day from bits of conversation that I overheard—the walls and partitions of the house where I was confined were rather flimsy—and to a still greater extent through their own questionings, which gradually became more and more wide open in their effort to extort what they thought was the truth from me.”
“Fire ahead!” encouraged Jimmie Dale.
“The whole affair,” continued Carruthers, “hinged around the Weston case—the president who looted his bank about ten years ago of something like two hundred thousand dollars. This money was never recovered, and the map to which I referred was the key to its hiding place. But the incredible part of it all is that, when I had pieced things together this far, I knew where the map was that they were all murdering one another to find.”
“That’s a tall one!” ejaculated Jimmie Dale, in genuine astonishment this time. “I don’t get that, old chap.”
“And yet it’s true,” asserted Carruthers soberly. “You see, I covered the Weston case and its sequence as a reporter. And when I overheard the name of Gus Balmer—Gus for Augustus—Augustus leaving nothing to be desired in the best of circles where a butler was concerned—the years rolled back, and memory leaped to the fore.”
“Well put, old dear!” cheered Jimmie Dale. “Excellently well put, I must say.”
“Oh, shut up, you ass!” retorted Carruthers, as he refilled his glass. “Or else I’ll leave.”
“I’m silent,” whispered Jimmie Dale.
“The goods were finally pinned on Weston,” Carruthers went on as he resumed his seat; “but, the bank stating that it would not prosecute if he would return the money, Weston agreed to restore the stolen funds. He went to retrieve the money from some secret recess in the walls or wainscoting of his palatial home up the Hudson—but the money was gone. Thereupon he blew his brains out. And, incidentally, that mansion has never since been occupied, and countryside superstition has labeled it as being haunted.
“Then the sleuths got busy again. This time they pinned the second theft on Augustus Balmer, the butler, who in turn had robbed his master. It was quite definite—fingerprints on the original hiding place, and so on. But they never found the money. Balmer never opened his mouth.
“I was still covering the case. A pawnshop owner by the name of Moses Kleuger—a man of none too good repute—went bail for Balmer. The day that Balmer was let out on bail I was right behind Balmer and Kleuger in the courthouse corridor, and I heard Kleuger say to Balmer: ‘It doesn’t matter what happens, Gus, the dope is safe with me.’ I had naturally forgotten this during the intervening years, but it came back to me in a flash out there in that house, and I remembered too, because we had run a ‘stick’ about it, that Balmer, who, when he came up for trial, had been sentenced to a long term, had died two years ago in Sing Sing. Fairly obvious then, wasn’t it, from what was then going on around me”—Carruthers spoke from over the rim of his glass—“that Kleuger had the map?”
“You grow more and more interesting. I’ll say you’ve got a scoop, all right. But for God’s sake don’t keep a man on edge!” complained Jimmie Dale. “Go on, Carruthers! You’re positively entrancing tonight. Go on, Man!”
“I would, if it weren’t for your disrupting outbursts,” complained Carruthers in turn. “Well, listen then. This is what I gathered after putting the pieces together and putting two and two together as well. I may not be accurate to the last degree, but I am not far astray. You see, my knowledge of the Weston case as a background helped tremendously.
“There was a man in Sing Sing by the name of Lundy Sykes who was Balmer’s inseparable companion. Balmer had been a sick man for years, and, knowing that he would never leave the prison alive, he told Lundy Sykes that he had made a map showing where he had hidden the money, and also where the map was. Now don’t ask me how the walls of Sing Sing speak, but speak they do, that’s all I know. One of Steenie Klotz’s friends, who was in there serving a term, got wind of some of this—all, in fact, except where the map was—and passed out the tip to Steenie Klotz. And with it the belief that the money was hidden somewhere in the Weston house. Lundy Sykes got out of Sing Sing, came to New York, and got in touch with Sonny Gartz who, it appears, was an expert safe-worker. They were going to crack Moses Kleuger’s safe. But Steenie Klotz and his gang had trailed Lundy Sykes from the moment he was a free man, and—”
“Sorry to break in,” Jimmie Dale apologized. “But I don’t quite understand. You said that Moses Kleuger was a bosom pal of Balmer. Balmer would naturally make this Lundy Sykes aware of that fact, and probably in some cryptic way would have advised Kleuger that he had confided in Lundy Sykes. Why, then, should Lundy Sykes propose to crack Kleuger’s safe? Why didn’t he go to Kleuger man to man, as it were?”
“I’ll have to leap ahead to answer that,” replied Carruthers with a quiet smile. “This style of narrative has its disadvantages, too, hasn’t it? But the answer to your question is simple enough. As arranged by Balmer, it was to have been a fifty-fifty split between Lundy Sykes and Kleuger—whereas Sonny Gartz would have been content with only a few thousand as his share, as against, well, say, a hundred thousand that Lundy Sykes would have had to pay Moses Kleuger.”
“You’re amazing, Carruthers!” murmured Jimmie Dale. “How the devil did you find that out?”
“I paid Moses Kleuger a little visit the other night,” said Carruthers complacently. “But—shall we revert?”
“Most awfully intriguing, this inside stuff of yours!” Jimmie Dale planted his elbows on the desk and cupped his chin intently in his hands. “Yes; revert, or do anything else you like—but carry on!”
“All right, then. I’ll go on from where I left off. The gang had contacted Sonny Gartz and Lundy Sykes, and, while leaving them both free to move about, were putting the screws on. It’s quite possible that Sonny Gartz did not know anything about the map, and quite possible that Lundy Sykes had told him neither what safe was to be burglarized nor the reason for it. But, whether that is so or not, failing to get anything out of Sonny Gartz, the Steenie Klotz gang murdered Sonny Gartz. And then, what puzzled me later when I read it in the papers, and what still puzzles me, since the gang had certainly not got their hands on the map, they likewise murdered Lundy Sykes. It seems to me in Lundy Sykes’s case that it was like killing the goose that still might have laid the golden egg.”
Mentally Jimmie Dale said: “Sorry not to brush away the cobwebs for you, old dear, but really it’s quite out of the question.” Aloud he said: “It does seem a trifle illogical, that’s a fact. Perhaps the answer will come to light when Steenie Klotz and his mob go to trial.”
“Perhaps,” agreed Carruthers. “But I don’t suppose it matters much now, anyway. And now, after all this stage setting, I come to my own activities—of some of which, I am prepared to admit frankly now, I am not overproud. I told you I was kept a prisoner in a house somewhere for that night and the following day. During the day the gang seemed to get more and more restless and on edge. I had no idea”—Carruthers sampled his Scotch and soda again—“that I was so important. But my disappearance seemed to have stirred up the proverbial hornets’ nest. The police were on the rampage. I heard the gang talking about a place next door called Casson’s Hotel, that harbored an unsavory crowd and was more than likely to invite the attention of the police in their widespread search for me. That was getting too uncomfortably close to home to suit them. So, still clinging to the belief that they could pry something out of me, they decided to move me to some other place. A fellow named Ratzy, who acted as cook, was even more informative. ‘You’re going across the river,’ he told me when he brought me my supper, ‘to a nice comfortable dump—but it won’t be comfortable long if your lips don’t crack wider open than they have so far!’
“They took me out of the house as soon as it grew dark. I wasn’t bound, or gagged, or blindfolded, or anything like that—there was just an automatic tickling my ribs, that’s all. The house, I saw, was on the river bank. I could see the lights of Brooklyn and the lights on the Brooklyn Bridge, so I knew pretty well where I was. Two of the gang were with me, and they made me get into a launch.
“We started off. There wasn’t anything heroic in what I did. The gang had opened up so wide with me, and had given themselves so much away that, once they came definitely to the conclusion that I was useless to them as a source of information, I knew only too well that they could not afford to let me go alive, and that, like Sonny Gartz, I was ‘for it.’ I have always been, if I say it myself, a rather better than ordinary swimmer, and I took the only chance there was. A fairish way out from shore I suddenly leaped overboard. They fired at me, but missed. I swam under water as long as I could. When I came to the surface I could see the launch circling around some distance away. Of course they didn’t know whether they had hit me or not. I swam under water again, eluded them, and finally reached the shore.
“And then there came to me a determination to fry these devils in their own fat; and, as a sort of inspiration, perhaps, the way to do it. If I made it known that I had escaped, the gang would scatter and vanish; if nothing were heard of me for a day or two, they would naturally assume that their shots had taken effect, or that I had drowned, and they would then, if I may be permitted to paraphrase a bit, continue the uneven tenor of their ways—but, meanwhile, there was the chance of beating the whole crooked lot of them at their own game. You see, I could readily find the house they occupied again, for I knew definitely then that it was on the East River waterfront and was next door to what was called Casson’s Hotel. But that information was of no service to me at that moment, for I knew that the instant the launch returned and reported what had happened, the gang would at once decamp from the house and await developments, and that it would be only after their fears had apparently proved groundless that they would return.”
Carruthers paused and lifted his glass to his lips.
“I’m afraid I’m dragging the story out interminably,” he said apologetically.
“If this is the same story you’ve sent down to that disreputable sheet of yours—here’s the telephone,” Jimmie Dale advised enthusiastically as he indicated the desk instrument. “Better call ’em up and triple the edition. You’ll take New York by storm in the morning. But why stop at a breathless moment the way a serial does? What did you do when you got ashore?”
“Very nice of you, Jimmie! Thanks a lot! I took my clothes off and wrung them out. Then I made my way back to New York. My money was wet, but it was still good, and I bought a second-hand suit of clothes. Then on Sixth Avenue, in a costumer’s place, I purchased a red wig, and farther along up the avenue I got a pair of horn-rimmed amber glasses. Jimmie, I was amazed myself. Even you wouldn’t have recognized me.”
Jimmie Dale’s countenance was rarely out of control, but he grabbed now for his glass in time of need.
“I can quite believe it,” he said, as he gulped down a swallow.
“I was pretty well fagged out by this time,” resumed Carruthers, “and I spent that night in a flop house on the Bowery. But don’t you ever do it, Jimmie,” he admonished. “It’s God-awful!”
“I hope I’ll never have to,” responded Jimmie Dale prayerfully. “I’ve heard of them. But for heaven’s sake, Carruthers, don’t keep the suspense up forever. What did you do after that?”
“I forgot to say,” Carruthers went on, “that I had also bought a second-hand revolver. The next night, or, rather, well in the morning hours, I paid a visit to Moses Kleuger, but I was a little late. The Gray Seal was ahead of me, had already opened the safe, extracted the map, and, though he was still there when I arrived, put one over on both Kleuger and myself and made his getaway.”
“Just a moment,” challenged Jimmie Dale. “You’re going so fast now that I can’t keep up with you. Did you see him?”
“Then,” exclaimed Jimmie Dale, “how the deuce did you know that it was the Gray Seal?”
“He told me so last night out at the Weston place.”
“Well, I guess there’s no disputing that! And then?”
“I had a talk with Moses Kleuger—while he stared into the muzzle of my revolver. He was the worst-frightened man I ever saw, and I understand that he’s gone away somewhere into hiding until the storm blows over.”
“So that was it!” Jimmie Dale’s ejaculation was purely mental; outwardly, he simply nodded his head.
“He came across with all he knew, however,” continued Carruthers with a thin smile. “He had visited Balmer in prison shortly before Balmer died. Balmer had told him what the map was all about, but not its location, saying that he had given the latter information to a fellow convict who was a pal of his—Lundy Sykes. So, one with the map, and the other with the location, they would have to work together, and then share and share alike. But the map was gone; and so, I understand, was Moses Kleuger—the next day.
“My next move on the following night was to pay a visit to my erstwhile prison next door to Casson’s Hotel. I had no difficulty in finding it, because I knew, to begin with, that it was on the bank of the East River, and a few inquiries out that way at once put the finger on Casson’s Hotel. The house was dark and apparently deserted, just as I had expected it would be, pending developments as to the fate of one Herman Carruthers. I was rather keen to get in there for a look around, and I had no difficulty in doing so, for I found, to my astonishment, that the back door was unlocked. I went in. The house was in darkness, but I heard voices upstairs. I crept up the stairs—but, I am afraid I have to admit now, not as silently as I thought I had. At the head of the stairs I listened. I gathered enough to know that the gang was out at the Weston estate—and then a flashlight played on me suddenly through an open doorway, and I raced down the stairs again and out into the night.
“The next night, that was last night, I went out to the station nearest the Weston estate and walked the rest of the way. Everything appeared to be closed up, but I loosened one of the shutters and got inside. I heard voices and hammerings. I made my way secretly along a corridor in the direction of the sounds. I saw the gang at work. I heard the leader, who, as you may have read in the papers, is a cripple and whose name is Steenie Klotz, talking to one of them. They hadn’t got the map; but, from what their informant in Sing Sing had believed, and had led them to believe, the money was hidden somewhere in the house, and, even before Lundy Sykes had got out of prison, they had been tearing the place to pieces off and on.
“It was an eerie sort of situation. Twice I was conscious, though no sound was made, that someone, like myself, was also there in the main hallway, watching and listening. You know what I mean, the sensing of the presence of someone else. It was the Gray Seal, of course, as it proved later, and—”
“Just a minute, Jimmie, and you’ll see. I’m coming to the crux of it all. Out there in the hall misfortune befell me. One of the gang named Bunny, in passing from one room to another without a light, tripped over something in the hall and stumbled into me. And then the hue and cry was on. I ran, trying to make my escape through the window by which I had entered and . . . “
Jimmie Dale listened with a somewhat amused interest. This was Carruthers’s version of what had happened—the details of which he knew far more intimately than did Carruthers. But Carruthers’s viewpoint was extremely engaging. Carruthers, gratitude frankly to the fore, covered the Gray Seal with unstinted praise and glory.
“. . . and so he left me there, and then just about daylight Sergeant Waud and his squad arrived,” concluded Carruthers.
“H’m!” commented Jimmie Dale. “A valiant bird, this Gray Seal, apparently! Well, I can only say that I hope you’ll be a little more lenient in your printed diatribes about him in the future! It’s my opinion that it was a jolly good thing he had been a one-time pal of Sonny Gartz and so for that reason came into the picture in the nick of time so far as you are concerned. But, according to you, he does not appear to have been over-talkative regarding his own movements. A habit of his perhaps which accounts for the fact that, well, let’s say, he’s still—alive.”
“No,” lamented Carruthers; “he didn’t say much. There were a lot of questions I would have liked to ask him, but he didn’t give me much chance. There are a good many things that, from his angle, I’d still like to know.”
“But which now,” commiserated Jimmie Dale, “you probably never will! Too bad! So that’s the end of the story, is it?”
“No; it’s not.” Carruthers shook his head. “There’s an epilogue, as it were.”
“An epilogue? What is it?”
Carruthers was distressed.
“The reward, Jimmie. It was awfully decent of you, old man. Sergeant Waud may have been indiscreet, but he told me that it was you who offered it. It’s coming to the Gray Seal—the Gray Seal is entitled to it. You know my financial status. I can’t pay it in toto, but I want to pay, in fact insist on paying, all I can of the amount.”
Jimmie Dale got up from his chair, walked to the window—and with his back turned to Carruthers grinned out into the night.
“All my fault, Carruthers,” he said over his shoulder, his grin still hidden. “I realize now that I offered an exorbitant price for you—but all of us make mistakes at times. Nevertheless I’ll have you know that I’m no piker. All the Gray Seal has to do is to claim the reward, and it will be paid—with no questions asked.”
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