The Adventures of Jimmie Dale I
By Frank L. Packard
Public Domain Books
Chapter VIII: The Man Higher Up
The Tocsin! By neither act, sign, nor word had she evidenced the slightest interest in that ring–and yet she must know, she certainly must know that it was now in his possession. Jimmie Dale was disappointed. Somehow, he had counted more than he had cared to admit on developments from that ring.
He pulled a little viciously at his cigarette, as he stared out of the St. James Club window. That was how long ago? Ten days? Yes; this would be the eleventh. Eleven days now and no word from her– eleven days since that night at old Isaac’s, since she had last called him, the Gray Seal, to arms. It was a long while–so long a while even that what had come to be his prerogative in the newspapers, the front page with three-inch type recounting some new exploit of that mysterious criminal the Gray Seal, was being usurped. The papers were howling now about what they, for the lack of a better term, were pleased to call a wave of crime that had inundated New York, and of which, for once, the Gray Seal was not the storm centre, but rather, for the moment, forgotten.
He drew back from the window, and, settling himself again in the big leather lounging chair, resumed the perusal of the evening paper. His eye fell on what was common to every edition now, a crime editorial–and the paper crackled suddenly under the long, slim, tapering fingers, so carefully nurtured, whose sensitive tips a hundred times had made mockery of the human ingenuity squandered on the intricate mechanism of safes and vaults. No; he was wrong–the Gray Seal had not been forgotten.
“We should not be surprised,” wrote the editor virulently, “to discover at the bottom of these abominable attrocities that the guiding spirit, in fact, was the Gray Seal–they are quite worthy even of his diabolical disregard for the laws of God and man.”
Jimmie Dale’s lips straightened ominously, and an angry glint crept into his dark, steady eyes. There was nothing then, nothing too vile that, in the public’s eyes, could not logically be associated with the Gray Seal–even this! A series of the most cold-blooded, callous murders and robberies, the work, on the face of it, of a well-organized band of thugs, brutal, insensate, little better than fiends, though clever enough so far to have evaded capture, clever enough, indeed, to have kept the police still staggering and gasping after a clew for one murder–while another was in the very act of being committed! The Gray Seal! What exquisite irony! And yet, after all, the papers were not wholly to blame for what they said; he had invited much of it. Seeming crimes of the Gray Seal had apparently been genuine beyond any question of doubt, as he had intended them to appear, as in the very essence of their purpose they had to be.
“Yes; he had invited much–he and she together–the Tocsin and himself. He, Jimmie Dale, millionaire, clubman, whose name for generations in New York had been the family pride, was “wanted” as the Gray Seal for so many “crimes” that he had lost track of them himself–but from any one of which, let the identity of the Gray Seal be once solved, there was and could be no escape! What exquisite irony–yet full, too, of the most deadly consequences!
Once more Jimmie Dale’s eyes sought the paper, and this time scanned the headlines of the first page:
Brutal Murder of Mill Paymaster.
THE CRIME WAVE STILL AT ITS HEIGHT.
HERMAN ROESSLE FOUND DEAD NEAR HIS CAR.
ASSASSINS ESCAPE WITH $20,000.
Jimmie Dale read on–and as he read there came again that angry set to his lips. The details were not pleasant. Herman Roessle, the paymaster of the Martindale-Kensington Mills, whose plant was on the Hudson, had gone that morning in his runabout to the nearest town, three miles away, for the monthly pay roll; had secured the money from the bank, a sum of twenty-odd thousand dollars; and had started back with it for the mill. At first, it being broad daylight and a well-frequented road, his nonappearance caused no apprehension; but as early afternoon came and there was still no sign of Roessle the mill management took alarm. Discovering that he had left the bank for the return journey at a few minutes before eleven, and that nothing had been seen of him at his home, the police were notified. Followed then several hours of fruitless search, until finally, with the whole countryside aroused and the efforts of the police augumented by private search parties, the car was found in a thicket at the edge of a crossroad some four miles back from the river, and, a little way from the car, the body of Roessle, dead, the man’s head crushed in where it had been fiendishly battered by some blunt, heavy object. There was no clew–no one could be found who had seen the car on the crossroad–the murderer, or murderers, and the twenty-odd thousand dollars in cash had disappeared leaving no trace behind.
There were several columns of this, which Jimmie Dale skimmed through quickly; but at the end he stared for a long time at the last paragraph. Somehow, strange, to relate, the paper had neglected to turn its “sob” artist loose, and the few words, added almost as though they were an afterthought, for once rang true and full of pathos in their very simplicity–at the Roessle home, where Mrs. Roessle was prostrated, two little tots of five and seven, too young to understand, had gravely received the reporter and told him that some bad man had hurt their daddy.
“Mr. Dale, sir!”
Jimmie Dale lowered his paper. A club attendant was standing before him, respectfully extending a silver card tray. From the man, Jimmie Dale’s eyes fixed on a white envelope on the tray. One glance was enough–it was HERS, that letter. The Tocsin again! His brain seemed suddenly to be afire, and he could feel his pulse quicken, the blood begin to pound in fierce throbs at his heart. Life and death lay in that white, innocent-looking, unaddressed envelope, danger, peril–it was always life and death, for those were the stakes for which the Tocsin played. But, master of many things, Jimmie Dale was most of all master of himself. Not a muscle of his face moved. He reached nonchalantly for the letter.
“Thank you,” said Jimmie Dale.
The man bowed and started away. Jimmie Dale laid the envelope on the arm of the lounging chair. The man had reached the door when Jimmie Dale stopped him.
“Oh, by the way,” said Jimmie Dale languidly, “where did this come from?”
“Your chauffeur, sir,” replied the other. “Your chauffeur gave it to the hall porter a moment ago, sir.”
“Thank you,” said Jimmie Dale again.
The door closed.
Jimmie Dale glanced around the room. It was the caution of habit, that glance; the habit of years in which his life had hung on little things. He was alone in one of the club’s private library rooms. He picked up the envelope, tore it open, took out the folded sheets inside, and began to read. At the first words he leaned forward, suddenly tense in his chair. He read on, turning the pages hurriedly, incredulity, amazement, and, finally, a strange menace mirroring itself in turn upon his face.
He stood up–the letter in his hand.
“My God!” whispered Jimmie Dale.
It was a call to arms such as the Gray Seal had never received before–such as the Tocsin had never made before. And if it were true it– True! He laughed aloud a little gratingly. True! Had the Tocsin, astounding, unbelievable, mystifying as were the means by which she acquired her knowledge not only of this, but of countless other affairs, ever by so much as the smallest detail been astray. If it were true!
He pulled out his watch. It was half-past nine. Benson, his chauffeur, had sent the letter into the club. Benson had been waiting outside there ever since dinner. Jimmie Dale, for the first time since the first communication that he had ever received from the Tocsin, did not immediately destroy her letter now. He slipped it into his pocket–and stepped quickly from the room.
In the cloakroom downstairs he secured his hat and overcoat, and, though it was a warm evening, put on the latter since he was in evening clothes, then walked leisurely out of the club.
At the curb, Benson, the chauffeur, sprang from his seat, and, touching his cap, opened the door of a luxurious limousine.
Jimmie Dale shook his head.
“I shall not keep you waiting any longer, Benson,” he said. “You may take the car home, and put it up. I shall probably be late to- night.”
“Very good, sir,” replied the chauffeur.
“You sent in a letter a moment or so ago, Benson?” observed Jimmie Dale casually, opening his cigarette case.
“Yes, sir,” said Benson. “I hope I didn’t do wrong, sir. He said it was important, and that you were to have it at once.”
“He?” Jimmie Dale was lighting his cigarette now.
“A boy, sir,” Benson amplified. “I couldn’t get anything out of him. He just said he’d been told to give it to me, and tell me to see that you got it at once. I hope, sir, I haven’t–”
“Not at all, Benson,” said Jimmie Dale pleasantly. “It’s quite all right. Good-night, Benson.”
“Good-night, sir,” Benson answered, climbing back to his seat.
There was a queer little smile on Jimmie Dale’s lips, as he watched the great car swing around in the street and glide noiselessly away– a queer little smile that still held there even after he himself had started briskly along the avenue in a downtown direction. It was invariably the same, always the same–the letters came unexpectedly, when least looked for, now by this means, now by that, but always in a manner that precluded the slightest possibility of tracing them to their source. Was there anything, in his intimate surroundings, in his intimate life, that she did not know about him– who knew absolutely nothing about her! Benson, for instance–that the man was absolutely trustworthy–or else she would never for an instant have risked the letter in his possession. Was there anything that she did not–yes, one thing–she did not know him in the role he was going to play to-night. That at least was one thing that surely she did not know about him; the role in which, many times, for weeks on end, he had devoted himself body and soul in an attempt to solve the mystery with which she surrounded herself; the role, too, that often enough had been a bulwark of safety to him when hard pressed by the police; the role out of which he had so carefully, so painstakingly created a now recognised and well-known character of the underworld–the role of Larry the Bat.
Jimmie Dale turned from Fifth Avenue into Broadway, continued on down Broadway, across to the Bowery, kept along the Bowery for several more blocka–and finally headed east into the dimly lighted cross street on which the Sanctuary was located.
And now Jimmie Dale became cautious in his movements. As he approached the black alleyway that flanked the miserable tenement, he glanced sharply behind and about him; and, at the alleyway itself, without pause, but with a curious lightning-like side step, no longer Jimmie Dale now, but the Gray Seal, he disappeared from the street, and was lost in the deep shadows of the building.
In a moment he was at the side door, listening for any sound from within–none had ever seen or met the lodger or the first floor either ascending or descending, except in the familiar character of Larry the Bat. He opened the door, closed it behind him, and in the utter blackness went noiselessly up the stairs–stairs so rickety that it seemed a mouse’s tread alone would have set them creaking. There seemed an art in the play of Jimmie Dale’s every muscle; in the movements, lithe, balanced, quick, absolutely silent. On the first landing he stopped before another door, there was the faint click of a key turning in the lock; and then this door, too, closed behind him. Sounded the faint click of the key as it turned again, and Jimmie Dale drew a long breath, stepped across the room to assure himself that the window blind was down, and lighted the gas jet.
A yellow, murky flame spurted up, pitifully weak, almost as though it were ashamed of its disreputable surroundings. Dirt, disorder, squalour, the evidence of low living testified eloquently enough to any one, the police, for instance, in times past inquisitive until they were fatuously content with the belief that they knew the occupant for what he was, that the place was quite in keeping with its tenant, a mute prototype, as it were, of Larry the Bat, the dope fiend.
For a little space, Jimmie Dale, immaculate in his evening clothes, stood in the centre of the miserable room, his dark eyes, keen, alert, critical, sweeping comprehensively over every object about him–the position of a chair, of a cracked drinking glass on the broken-legged table, of an old coat thrown with apparent carelessness on the floor at the foot of the bed, of a broken bottle that had innocently strewn some sort of white powder close to the threshold, inviting unwary foot tracks across the floor. And then, taking out the Tocsin’s letter, he laid it upon the table, placed what money he had in his pockets beside it, and began rapidly to remove his clothes. The Sanctuary had not been invaded since his last visit there.
He turned back the oilcloth in the far corner of the room, took up the piece of loose flooring, which, however, strangely enough, fitted so closely as to give no sign of its existence even should it inadvertently, by some curious visitor again be trod upon; and from the aperture beneath lifted out a bundle of clothes and a small box.
Undressed now, he carefully folded the clothes he had taken off, laid them under the flooring, and began to dress again, his wardrobe supplied by the bundle he had taken out in exchange–an old pair of shoes, the laces broken; mismated socks; patched trousers, frayed at the bottoms; a soiled shirt, collarless, open at the neck. Attired to his satisfaction, he placed the box upon the table, propped up a cracked mirror, sat down in front of it, and, with a deft, artist’s touch, began to apply stain to his hands, wrists, neck, throat, and face–but the hardness, the grim menace that now grew into the dominant characteristic of his features was not due to the stain alone.
“Dear Philanthropic Crook"–his eyes were on the Tocsin’s letter that lay before him. He read on–for once, even to Jimmie Dale’s keen, facile mind, a first reading had failed to convey the full significance of what she had written. It was too amazing, almost beyond belief–the series of crimes, rampant for the past few weeks, at which the community had stood aghast, the brutal murder of Roessle but a few hours old, lay bare before his eyes. It was all there, all of it, the details, the hellish cleverness, the personnel even of the thugs, all, everything–except the proof.
“Get him, Jimmie–the man higher up. Get him, Jimmie–before another pays forfeit with his life"–the words seemed to leap out at him from the white page in red, dancing lines–"Get him–Jimmie–the man higher up.”
Jimmie Dale finished the second reading of the letter, read it again for the third time, then tore it into tiny fragments. His fingers delved into the box again, and the transformation of Jimmie Dale, member of New York’s most exclusive social set, into a low, vicious- featured denizen of the underworld went on–a little wax applied skilfully behind the ears, in the nostrils and under the upper lip.
It was all there–all except the proof. And the proof–he laughed aloud suddenly, unpleasantly. There seemed something sardonic in it; ay, more than that, all that was grim in irony. The proof, in Stangeist’s own writing, sworn to before witnesses in the presence of a notary, the text of the document, of course, unknown to both witnesses and notary, evidence, absolute and final, that would be admitted in any court, for Stangeist was a lawyer, and would see to that, was in Stangeist’s own safe, for Stangeist’s own protection– Stangeist, who was himself the head and brains of this murder gang– Stangeist, who was the man higher up!
It was amazing, without parallel in the history of crime–and yet ingenious, clever, full of the craft and cunning that had built up the shyster lawyer’s reputation below the dead line.
Jimmie Dale’s lips were curiously thin now. So it was Stangeist! A Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a vengeance! He knew Stangeist–not personally; not by the reputation Stangeist held, low even as that was, among his brother members of the profession; but as the man was known for what he really was among the crooks and criminals of the underworld, where, in that strange underground exchange, whispered confidences passed between those whose common enemy was the law, where Larry the Bat himself was trusted in the innermost circles.
Stangeist was a power in the Bad Lands. There were few among that unholy community that Stangeist, at one time or another, in one way or another, had not rescued from the clutches of the law, resorting to any trick or cunning, but with perjury, that he could handle like the master of it that he was, employed as the most common weapon of defence for his clients–provided he were paid well enough for it. The man had become more than the attorney for the crime world–he had become part of it. Cunning, shrewd, crafty, conscienceless, cold-blooded–that was Stangeist.
The form and features of the man pictured themselves in Jimmie Dale’s mind–the six-foot muscular frame, that was invariably clothed in attire of the most fashionable cut; the thin lips with their oily, plausible smile, the straight black hair that straggled into pin point, little black eyes, the dark face with its high cheek bones, which, with the pronounced aquiline nose and the persistent rumour that he was a quarter caste, had led the underworld, prejudiced always in favour of a “monaker,” to dub the man the “Indian Chief.”
Jimmie Dale laughed again–still unpleasantly. So Stangeist had taken the plunge at last and branched out into a wider field, had he? Well, there was nothing surprising in that–except that he had not done it before! The irony of it lay in the fact that at last he had been TOO clever, overstepped himself in his own cleverness, that was all. It was Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane that Stangeist had gathered around him, the Tocsin had said–and there were none worse in Larry the Bat’s wide range of acquaintanceship than those three. Stangeist had made himself master of Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane–and he had driven them a little too hard on the division of the spoils–and laughed at them, and cracked the whip much after the fashion that the trainer in the cage handles the growling beasts around him.
A dozen of the crimes that had appalled and staggered New York they had committed under his leadership; and then, it seemed, they had quarrelled furiously, the three pitted against Stangeist, threatening him, demanding a more equitable share of the proceeds. None was better aware than Stangeist that threats from men of their calibre were likely to result in a grim aftermath–and Stangeist, yesterday, the Tocsin said, had answered them as no other man than Stangeist would either have thought of or have dared to do. One by one, at separate times, covering the other with a revolver, Stangeist had permitted them to read a document that was addressed to the district attorney. It was a confession, complete in every detail, of every crime the four together had committed, implicating Stangeist as fully and unreservedly as it did the other three. It required no commentary! If anything happened to Stangeist, a stab in the dark, for instance, a bullet from some dark alleyway, a blackjack deftly wielded, as only Australian Ike, The Mope or Clarie Deane knew how to wield it–the document automatically became a DEATH SENTENCE for Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane!
It was very simple–and, evidently, it had been effective, as witness the renewal of their operations in the murder of Roessle that afternoon. Fear and avarice had both probably played their part; fear of the man who would with such consummate nerve fling his life into the balance to turn the tables upon them, while he jeered at them; avarice that prompted them to get what they could out of Stangeist’s brains and leadership, and to be satisfied with what they COULD get–since they could get no more!
Satisfied? Jimmie Dale shook his head. No; that was hardly the word–cowed, perhaps, for the moment, would be better. But afterward, with a document like that in existence, when they would never be safe for an instant–well, beasts in the cages had been known to get the better of the man with the whip, and beasts were gentle things compared with Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane! Some day they would reverse the tables on the Indian Chief– if they could. And if they couldn’t it would not be for the lack of trying.
There would be another act in that drama of the House Divided before the curtain fell! And there would be a sort of grim, poetic justice in it, a temptation almost to let the play work itself out to its own inevitable conclusion, only–Jimmie Dale, the final touches given to his features, stood up, and his hands clenched suddenly, fiercely–it was not just the man higher up alone, there were the other three as well, the whole four of them, all of them, crimes without number at their door, brutal, fiendish acts, damnable outrages, murder to answer for, with which the public now was beginning to connect the name of the Gray Seal! The Gray Seal!
Jimmie Dale’s hands, whose delicate fingers were artfully grimed and blackened now beneath the nails, clenched still tighter–and then, with a quick shrug of his shoulders, a thinning of the firmly compressed lips, he picked up the coat from where it lay upon the floor, put it on, put the money that was on the table in his pocket, and replaced the box under the flooring.
In quick succession, from the same hiding place, an automatic, a black silk mask, an electric flashlight, that thin metal box like a cigarette case, and a half dozen vicious-looking little blued-steel burglar’s tools were stowed away in his pockets, the flooring carefully replaced, the oilcloth spread back again; and then, pulling a slouch hat well down over his eyes, he reached up to turn off the gas.
For an instant his hand held there, while his eyes, sweeping around the apartment, took in every single detail about him in that same alert, comprehensive way as when he had entered–then the room was in darkness, and the Gray Seal, as Larry the Bat, a shuffling, unkempt creature of the underworld, alias Jimmie Dale, the lionised of clubs, the matrimonial target of exclusive drawing-rooms, closed the door of the Sanctuary behind him, shuffled down the stairs, shuffled out into the lane, and shuffled along the street toward the Bowery.
A policeman on the corner accosted him familiarly.
“Hello, Larry!” grinned the officer.
“’Ello!” returned Jimmie Dale affably through the side of his mouth. “Fine night, ain’t it?"–and shuffled on along the street.
And now Jimmie Dale began to hurry–still with that shuffling tread, but covering the ground nevertheless with amazing celerity. He had lost no time since receiving the Tocsin’s letter, it was true, but, for all that, it was now after ten o’clock. Stangeist’s house was “dark” that evening, she had said, meaning that the occupants, Stangeist as well as whatever servants there might be, for Stangeist had no family, were out–the servants in town for a theatre or picture show probably–and Stangeist himself as yet not back, presumably from that Roessle affair. The stub of an old cigar, unlighted, shifted with a sudden, savage twist of the lips from one side of Jimmie Dale’s mouth to the other. There was need for haste. There was no telling when Stangeist might get back–as for the servants, that did not matter so much; servants in suburban homes had a marked affinity for “last trains!”
Jimmie Dale boarded a cross-town car, effected a transfer, and in a quarter of an hour after leaving the Sanctuary was huddled, an inoffensive heap, like a tired-out workingman, in a corner seat of a Long Island train. From here, there was only a short run ahead of him, and, twenty minutes later, descending from the train at Forest Hills, he had passed through the more thickly settled portion of the little place, and was walking briskly out along the country road.
Stangeist’s house lay, approximately, a mile and a half from the station, quite by itself, and set well back from the road. Jimmie Dale could have found it with his eyes blindfolded–the Tocsin’s directions had lacked none of their usual explicit minuteness. The road was quite deserted. Jimmie Dale met no one. Even in the houses that he passed the lights were in nearly every instance already out.
Something, merciless in its rage, swept suddenly over Jimmie Dale, as, unbidden, of its own volition, the last paragraph he had read in that evening’s paper began to repeat itself over and over again in his mind. The two little kiddies–it seemed as though he could see them standing there–and from Jimmie Dale’s lips, not given to profanity, there came a bitter oath. It might possibly be that, even if he were successful in what was before him to-night, the authors of the Roessle murder would never be known. That confession of Stangeist’s was written prior to what had happened that afternoon, and there would be no mention, naturally, of Roessle. And, for a moment, that seemed to Jimmie Dale the one thing paramount to all others, the one thing that was vital; then he shook his head, and laughed out shortly. After all, it did not matter– whether Stangeist and the blood wolves he had gathered around him paid the penalty specifically for one particular crime or for another could make little difference–they would PAY, just as surely, just as certainly, once that paper was in his possession!
Jimmie Dale was counting the houses as he passed–they were more infrequent now, farther apart. Stangeist was no fool–not the fool that he would appear to be for keeping a document like that, once he had had the temerity to execute it, in his own safe; for, in a day or two, the Tocsin had hinted at this, after holding it over the heads of Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane again to drive the force of it a little deeper home, he would undoubtedly destroy it–and the SUPPOSITION that it was still in existence would have equally the same effect on the minds of the other three! Stangeist was certainly alive to the peril that he ran with such a thing in his possession, only the peril had not appealed to him as imminent either from the three thugs with whom he had allied himself, or, much less, from any one else, that was all.
Jimmie Dale halted by a low, ornamental stone fence, some three feet high, and stood there for a moment, glancing about him. This was Stangeist’s house–he could just make out the building as it loomed up a shadowy, irregular shape, perhaps two hundred yards back from the fence. The house was quite dark, not a light showed in any window. Jimmie Dale sat down casually on the fence, looked carefully again up and down the road–then, swinging his legs over, quick now in every action, he dropped to the other side, and stole silently across the grass to the rear of the house.
Here he stopped again, reached up to a window that was about on a level with his shoulders, and tested its fastenings. The window–it was the window of Stangeist’s private sanctum, according to the plan in her letter–was securely locked. Jimmie Dale’s hands went into his pocket–and the black silk mask was slipped over his face. He listened intently–then a little steel instrument began to gnaw like a rat.
A minute passed–two of them. Again Jimmie Dale listened. There was not a sound save the night sounds–the light breeze whispering through the branches of the trees; the far-off rumble of a train; the whir of insects; the hoarse croaking of a frog from some near-by creek or pond. The window sash was raised an inch, another, and gradually to the top. Like a shadow, Jimmie Dale pulled himself up to the sill, and, poised there, his hand parted the heavy portieres that hung within. It was too dark to distinguish even a single object in the room. He lowered himself to the floor, and slipped cautiously between the portieres.
From somewhere in the house, a clock began to strike. Jimmie Dale counted the strokes. Eleven o’clock. It was getting late–TOO late! Stangeist was likely to be back at any moment. The flashlight, in Jimmie Dale’s hand now, circled the room with its little round white ray, lingering an instant in a queer, inquisitive sort of way here and there on this object and that–and went out. Jimmie Dale nodded–the flat desk in the centre of the floor, the safe in the corner by the rear wall, the position of everything in the room, even to the chairs, was photographed on his mind.
He stepped from the portieres to the safe, and the flashlight played again–this time reflecting back from the glistening nickelled knobs. Jimmie Dale’s lips tightened. It was a small safe, almost ludicrously small; but to such height as the art of safe design had been carried, that design was embodied in the one before him.
“Type K-four-two-eight-Colby,” muttered Jimmie Dale. “A nasty little beggar–and it’s eleven o’clock now! I’d use ’soup’ for once, if it weren’t that it would put Stangeist wise, and give him a chance to make his get-away before the district attorney got the nippers on the four of them.”
The light went out. Jimmie Dale dropped to his knees; and, while his left hand passed swiftly, tentatively over dials and handle, he rubbed the fingers of his right hand rapidly to and fro over the carpet. Wonderful finger tips were those of Jimmie Dale, sensitive to an abnormal degree; and now, tingling with the friction, the nerves throbbing at the skin surface, they closed in a light, delicate touch upon the knob of the dial–and Jimmie Dale’s ear pressed close against the face of the safe.
Time passed. The silence grew heavy–seemed to palpitate through the room. Then a deep breath, half like a sigh, half like a fluttering sob as of a strong man taxed to the uttermost of his endurance, came from Jimmie Dale, and his left hand swept away the sweat beads that had spurted to his forehead.
“Eight–thirteen–twenty-two,” whispered Jimmie Dale.
There was a click, a low metallic thud as the bolts slid back, and the door swung open.
And now the flashlight again, searching the mechanism of the inner door–then darkness once more.
Five minutes, ten minutes went by. The clock struck again–and the single stroke seemed to boom out through the house in a weird, raucous, threatening note, and seemed to linger, throbbing in the air.
The inner door was open–the flashlight’s ray was flooding a nest of pigeonholes and little drawers. The pigeonholes were crammed with papers, as, presumably, too, were the drawers. Jimmie Dale sucked in his breath. He had already been there well over half an hour– every minute now, every second was counting against him, and to search that mass of papers before Stangeist returned was–
“Ah!"–it came in a fierce little ejaculation from Jimmie Dale. From the centre pigeonhole, almost the first paper he had touched, he drew a long, sealed envelope and at a single swift glance had read the inscription upon it, written in longhand:
TO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY,
NEW YORK CITY.
The words in the corners were underscored three times.
Swiftly, deftly, Jimmie Dale’s hands rolled the rounded end of one of his collection of the legal instruments under the flap of the envelope, turned the sheets over and drew out the folded document inside. There were eight sheets of legal foolscap, neatly fastened together at the top left-hand corner with green tape. He opened them out, read a few words here and there, and turned the pages hurriedly over to scrutinise the last one–and nodded grimly. Three witnesses had testified to the signature of Stangeist, and a notary’s seal, accompanied by the usual legal formula, was duly affixed.
Jimmie Dale slipped the document into his pocket, and, with the envelope in his hand, moved to the desk. He opened first one drawer and then another, and finally discovering a pile of blank foolscap, took out four sheets, folded them, and placed them in the envelope, sealing the flap of the latter again. That it did not seal very well now brought a quizzical twitch to Jimmie Dale’s lips. Sealed or unsealed, perhaps, it made little difference; but, for all that, he was not through with it yet. Apart from bringing the four to justice, there was, after all, a chance to vindicate the Gray Seal in this matter at least, and repudiate the newspaper theory which the public, to whom the Gray Seal was already a monster of iniquity, would seize upon with avidity.
There was no further need of light now. Jimmie Dale replaced the flashlight in his pocket, took out the thin, metal case, opened it, and with the tiny pair of tweezers that likewise nestled there, lifted out one of the gray, diamond-shaped paper seals. There was no question but that, once under arrest, Stangeist’s effects would be immediately and thoroughly searched by the authorities! Jimmie Dale’s smile from quizzical became ironic. It would afford the police another little, bewildering reminder of the Gray Seal, and give Carruthers, good old Carruthers of the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS, so innocently ignorant that the Gray Seal was his old college pal, yet the one editor of them all who was not forever barking and yelping at the Gray Seal’s heels, a chance to vindicate himself a little, too! Jimmie Dale moistened the adhesive side of the gray seal, and, still mindful of tell-tale finger prints, laid it with the tweezers on the flap of the envelope, and pressed it firmly into place with his elbow.
And then, suddenly, every faculty instantly on the alert, he snatched up the envelope from the desk, and listened. Was it imagination, a trick of nerves, or–no, there it was again!–a footfall on the gravel walk at the front of the house. The sound became louder, clearer–two footfalls instead of one. It was Stangeist, and somebody was with him.
In an instant Jimmie Dale was across the room and kneeling again before the safe. His fingers were flying now. The envelope shot back into the pigeonhole from which he had taken it–the inner door of the safe closed silently and swiftly.
A dry chuckle came from Jimmie Dale’s lips. It was just like fiction, just precisely time enough to have accomplished what he had come for before he was interrupted, not a second more or less, the villain foiled at the psychological moment! The key was rattling in the front door now–they were in the hall–he could hear Stangeist’s voice–there came a dull glow from the hallway, following the click of an electric-light switch. The outer door of the safe swung shut, the bolts slid into place, the dial whirled under Jimmie Dale’s fingers. It was only a step to the portieres, the open window–and escape. He straightened up, stepped back, the portieres closed behind him–and the chuckle died on Jimmie Dale’s lips.
He was trapped–caught without so much as a corner in which to turn! Stangeist was even then coming into the room–and OUTSIDE, darkly outlined, two forms stood just beneath the window. Instinctively, quick as a flash, Jimmie Dale crouched below the sill. Who were they? What did it mean? Questions swept in swift sequence through his brain. Had they seen him? It would be very dark against the background of the portieres, but yet if they were watching–he drew a breath of relief. He had not been seen. Their voices reached him in low, guarded whispers.
“Say, youse, Ike, pipe it! Dere’s a window open in the snitch’s room. Come on, we’ll get in dere. It’ll make the hair stand up on the back of his neck fer a starter.”
“Aw, ferget it! “ replied another voice. “Can the tee-ayter stunt! Clarie leaves the front door unfastened, don’t he? An’ dey’ll be in dere in a minute now. Wotcher want ter do? Crab the game? He might hear us an’ fix Clarie before we had a chanst, the skinny old fox! An’ dere’s the light now–see! Beat it on yer toes fer the front of the house!”
The room was flooded with light. Through the portieres, that Jimmie Dale parted by the barest fraction of an inch, he could see Stangeist and another man, a thick-set, ugly-faced-looking customer– Clarie Deane, according to that brief, whispered colloquy that he had heard outside. He looked again through the window. The two dark forms had disappeared now, but they had disappeared just a few seconds too late–with the two other men now in the room, and one of them so close that Jimmie Dale could almost have reached out and touched him, it was impossible to get through the window without being detected, when the slightest sound would attract instant attention and equally instant suspicion. It was a chance to be taken only as a last resort.
Jimmie Dale’s face grew hard, as his fingers closed around his automatic and drew the weapon from his pocket. It was all plain enough. That last act in the drama which he had speculatively anticipated was being staged with little loss of time–and in a grim sort of way the thought flashed across his mind that, perilous as his own position was, Stangeist at that moment was in even greater peril than himself. Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane, given the chance, and they seemed to have made that chance now, were not likely to deal in half measures–Clarie Deane had dropped into a chair beside the desk; and The Mope and Australian Ike were creeping around to the front door!
The parting in the portieres widened a little more, a very little more, slowly, imperceptibly, until Jimmie Dale, by the simple expedient of moving his head, could obtain an unobstructed view of the entire room.
Stangeist tossed a bag he had been carrying on the desk, pulled up a chair opposite to Clarie Deane, and sat down. Both men were side face to Jimmie Dale.
“You tell the boys,” said Stangeist abruptly, “to fade away after this for a while. Things are getting too hot. And you tell The Mope I dock him five hundred for that extra crunch on Roessle’s skull. That sort of thing isn’t necessary. That’s the kind of stunt that gets the public sore–the man was dead enough as it was. See?”
“Sure!” Clarie Deane’s ejaculation was a grunt.
Stangeist opened the bag, and dumped the contents on the desk–pile after pile of banknotes, the pay roll of the Martindale-Kensington Mills.
“Some haul!” observed Clarie Deane, with a hoarse chuckle. “The papers said over twenty thousand.”
“You can’t always believe what the papers say,” returned Stangeist curtly; and, taking a scribbling pad from the desk, began to check up the packages.
Clarie Deane’s cigar had gone out. He rolled the short stub in his mouth, and leaned forward.
The bills were evidently just as they had been delivered to the murdered paymaster at the bank, done up with little narrow paper bands in packages of one hundred notes each, save for a small bundle of loose bills which latter, with the rolls of silver, Stangeist swept to one side of the desk.
Package by package, Stangeist went on jotting the amounts down on the pad.
“Nix!” growled Clarie Deane suddenly. “Cut that out! Them’s fivers in that wad. Make that five hundred instead of one–I’m onter yer!”
“Mistake,” said Stangeist suavely, changing the figures with his pencil. “You’re pretty wide awake for this time of night, aren’t you, Clarie?”
“Oh, I dunno!” responded Clarie Deane gruffly. “Not so very!”
Stangeist, finished with the packages, picked up the loose bills, and, with a short laugh, tossed them into the bag and followed them with the rolls of silver. He pushed the bag toward Clarie Deane.
“That’s a little extra for you,” he said. “The trouble with you fellows is that you don’t know when you’re well off–but the sooner you find it out the better, unless you want another lesson like yesterday.” He made the addition on the pad. “Fifteen thousand, eight hundred dollars,” he announced softly. “That’s seven thousand, nine hundred for the three of you to divide, less five hundred from The Mope.”
Clarie Deane’s eyes narrowed. His hands were on his knees, hidden by the desk.
“There’s more’n twenty there,” he said sullenly–and drew a match across the under edge of the desk with a long, crackling noise.
Stangeist’s face lost its suavity, a snarl curled his lips; but, about to reply, he sprang suddenly to his feet instead, his head turned sharply toward the door.
“What’s that!” he said hoarsely. “It’s not the servants, they wouldn’t dare to–”
Stangeist’s words ended in a gulp. He was staring into the muzzle of a heavy-calibered revolver that Clarie Deane had jerked up from under the desk.
“You sit down, or I’ll blow your block off!” said Clarie Deane, with a sudden leer.
It happened then almost before Jimmie Dale could grasp the details; before even Clarie Deane himself could interfere. The door burst open, two men rushed in–and one, with a bound, flung himself at Stangeist. The man’s hand, grasping a clubbed revolver, rose in the air, descended on Stangeist’s head–and Stangeist went down in a limp heap, crashed into the chair, and slid from the chair with a thud to the floor.
There was an oath from Clarie Deane. He jumped from his seat, and with a violent shove sent the man reeling half across the room.
“Blast you, Mope!” he snarled. “You’re too blamed fly! D’ye wanter queer the whole biz?”
“Aw, wot’s the matter wid youse!” The Mope, purple-faced with rage, little black eyes glittering, mouth working under a flattened nose that some previous encounter had broken and bent over the side of his face, advanced belligerently.
Australian Ike, who had entered the room with him, pulled him back.
“Ferget it!” he flung out. “Clarie’s dealin’ the deck. Ferget it!”
The Mope glared from one to the other; then shook his fist at Stangeist on the floor.
“Youse two make me sick!” he sneered. “Wot’s the use of waitin’ all night? We was to bump him off, anyway, wasn’t we? Dat’s wot youse said yerselves, ’cause wot was ter stop him writin’ out another paper if we didn’t fix him fer keeps?”
“That’s all right,” rejoined Clarie Deane; “but that’s the second act, you bonehead, see! We ain’t got the paper yet, have we? Say, take a look at that safe! It’s easier ter scare him inter openin’ it than ter crack it, ain’t it?”
Jimmie Dale, from his crouched position, began to rise to his feet slowly, making but the slightest movement at a time, cautious of the least sound. His lips were like a thin line, his fingers tightly pressed over the automatic in his hand. There was not room for him between the portieres and the window; and, do what he could, the hangings bulged a little. Let one of the three notice that, or inadvertently brush against the portieres, and his life would not be worth an instant’s purchase.
They were lifting Stangeist up now, propping him up in the chair. Stangeist moaned, opened his eyes, stared in a dazed way at the three faces that leered into his, then dawning intelligence came, and his face, that had been white before, took on a pasty, grayish pallor.
“You–the three of you!” he mumbled. “What’s this mean?”
And then Clarie Deane laughed in a low, brutal way.
“Wot d’ye think it means? We want that paper, an’ we want it damn quick–see! D’ye think we was goin’ ter stand fer havin’ a trip ter Sing Sing an’ the wire chair danglin’ over our heads!”
Stangeist closed his eyes. When he opened them again, something of the old-time craftiness was in his face.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” he inquired, almost sharply. “You know what will happen to you, if anything happens to me.”
“Don’t youse kid yerself!” retorted Clarie Deane. “D’ye think we’re fools? This ain’t like it was yesterday–see! We GETS the paper this time–so there won’t nothin’ happen to us. You come across with it blasted quick now, or The Mope’ll give you another on the bean that’ll put you to sleep fer keeps!”
The blood was running down Stangeist’s face. He wiped it away from his eyes.
“It’s not here,” he said innocently. “It’s in my box in the safety- deposit vaults.”
“Aw,” blurted out Australian Ike, pushing suddenly forward, “youse can’t work dat crawl on–”
“Cut it out, Ike!” snapped Clarie Dane. “I’m runnin’ this! So it’s in the vaults, eh?” He shoved his face toward Stangeist’s.
“Yes,” said Stangeist easily. “You see–I was looking for something like this.”
Clarie Deane’s fist clenched.
“You lie!” he choked. “The Mope, here, was the last of us you showed the paper to yesterday afernoon, an’ the vaults was closed then–an’ you ain’t been there to-day, ’cause you’ve been watched. That’s why we fixed it fer to-night after the divvy that you’ve just tried ter do us on again, ’cause we knew you had it here.”
“I tell you, it’s not here,” said Stangeist evenly.
“You lie!” said Clarie Deane again. “It’s in that safe. The Mope heard you tell the girl in yer office that if anything happened to you she was ter wise up the district attorney that there was a paper in your safe at home fer him that was important. Now then, you beat it over ter that safe, an’ open it up–we’ll give you a minute ter do it in.”
“The paper’s not there, I tell you,” said Stangeist once more.
“That’s all right,” submitted Clarle Deane grimly. “There’s a quarter of that minute gone.”
“I won’t!” Stangeist flashed out violently.
“That’s all right,” repeated Clarie Deane. “There’s half of that minute gone.”
Jimmie Dale’s eyes, in a fascinated sort of way, were on Stangeist. The man’s face was twitching now, moisture began to ooze from his forehead, as the callous brutality of the scowling faces seemed to get him–and then he lurched suddenly forward in his chair.
“My God!” he cried out, a ring of terror in his voice “What do you mean to do? You’ll pay for it! They’ll get you! The servants will be back in a minute.”
“Two skirts!” jeered Clarie Deane. We ain’t goin’ ter run away from them. If they comes before we goes, we’ll fix ’em. That minute’s up!”
Stangeist licked his lips with his tongue.
“Suppose–suppose I refuse?” he said hoarsely.
“You can suit yerself,” said Clarie Deane, with a vicious grin. “We know the paper’s there, an’ we gets it before we leaves here–see? You can take yer choice. Either you goes over ter the safe an’ opens it yerself, or else"–he paused and produced a small bottle from his pocket–"this is nitro-glycerin’, an’ we opens it fer you with this. Only if we does the job we does it proper. We ties you up and sets you against the door of the safe before we touches off the ’soup,’ an’ mabbe if yer a good guesser you can guess the rest.”
There was a short, raucous guffaw from The Mope.
Stangeist turned a drawn face toward the man, stared at him, and stared in a miserable way at the other two in turn. He licked his lips again–none was in a better position than himself to know that there would be neither scruples nor hesitancy to interfere with carrying out the threat.
“Suppose,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady, “suppose I open the safe–what then–afterward?”
“We ain’t got the safe open yet,” countered Clarie Deane uncompromisingly. “An’ we ain’t got no more time ter fool over it, either. You get a move on before I counts five, or The Mope an’ Ike ties you up! One–”
Stangeist staggered to his feet, wiped the blood out of his eyes for the second time, and, with lips working, went unsteadily across the room to the safe.
He knelt before it, and began to manipulate the dial; while the others crowded around behind him. The Mope was fingering his revolver again club fashion. Australian Ike’s elbow just grazed the portieres, and Jimmie Dale flattened himself against the window, holding his breath–a smile on his lips that was mirthless, deadly, cold. The end was not far off now; and then–WHAT?
Stangeist had the outer door of the safe open now–and now the inner door swung back. He reached in his hand to the pigeonhole, drew out the envelope–and with a sudden, wild cry, reeled to his feet.
“My God!” he screamed out. “What’s–what’s this!”
Clarie Deane snatched the envelope from him.
“THE GRAY SEAL!"–the words came with a jerk from his lips. He ripped the envelope open frantically–and like a man stunned gazed at the four blank sheets, while the colour left his face. “IT’S GONE!” he cried out hoarsely.
“Gone!” There was a burst of oaths from Australian Ike. “Gone! Den we’re nipped–de lot of us!”
The Mope’s face was like a maniac’s as he whirled on Stangeist.
“Sure!” he croaked. “But youse gets yers first, youse–”
With a cry, Stangeist, to elude the blow, ducked blindly backward– into the portieres–and with a rip and tear the hangings were wrenched apart.
It came instantaneously–a yell of mingled surprise and fury from the three–the crash and spit of Jimmie Dale’s revolver as he fired one shot at the floor to stop their rush–then he flung himself at the window, through it, and dropped sprawling to the ground.
A stream of flame cut the darkness above him, a bullet whistled by his head–another–and another. He was on his feet, quick as a cat, and running close alongside of the wall of the house. He heard a thud behind him, still another, and yet a third–they were dropping through the window after him. Came another shot, an angry hum of the bullet closer than before–then the pound of racing feet.
Jimmie Dale swung around the corner of the house, running at top speed. Something that was like a hot iron suddenly burned and seared along the side of his head just above the ear. He reeled, staggered, recovered himself, and dashed on. It nauseated him, that stinging in his head, and all at once seemed to be draining his strength away. The shouts, the shots, the running feet became like a curious buzzing in his ears. It seemed strange that they should have hit him, that he should be wounded! If he could only reach the low stone wall by the road, he could at least make a fight for his life on the other side!
Red streaks swam before Jimmie Dale’s eyes. The wall was such a long way off–a yard or two was a very long way more to go–the weakness seemed to be creeping up now even to numb his brain. No, here was the wall–they hadn’t hit him again–he laughed in a demented way–and rolled his body over, and fell to the other side.
The cry seemed to reach some inner consciousness, revive him, send the blood whipping through his veins. That voice! It was her– HERS! The Tocsin! There was an automobile, engine racing, standing there in the road. He won to his feet–dark, rushing forms were almost at the wall. He fired–once–twice–fired again–and turned, staggering for the car.
Panting, gasping, he half fell into the tonneau. The car leaped forward, yells filled the air–but only one thing was dominant in Jimmie Dale’s reeling brain now. He pulled himself up to his feet, and leaned over the back of the seat, reaching for the slim figure that was bent over the wheel.
“It’s you–you at last!” he cried. “Your face–let me lee your face!”
A bullet split the back panel of the car–little spurting flames were dancing out from the roadway behind,
“Are you mad!” she shouted back at him. “Let me steer–do you want them to hit me!”
“No-o,” said Jimmie Dale, in a queer singsong sort of way, and his head seemed to spin dizzily around. “No–I guess–” He choked. “The paper–it’s in–my pocket"–and he went down unconscious on the floor of the car.
When he recovered his senses he was lying on a couch in a plainly furnished room, and a man, a stranger, red, jovial-faced, farmerish looking, was bending over him.
“Where am I?” he demanded finally, propping himself up on his elbow.
“You’re all right,” replied the man. “She said you’d come around in a little while.”
“Who said so?” inquired Jimmie Dale.
“She did. The woman who brought you here about five minutes ago. She said she ran you down with her car.”
“Oh!” said Jimmie Dale. He felt his head–it was bandaged, and it was bandaged, he was quite sure, with a piece of torn underskirt. He looked at the man again. “You haven’t told me yet where I am.”
“Long Island,” the other answered. “My name’s Hanson. I keep a bit of a truck garden here.”
“Oh,” said Jimmie Dale again.
The man crossed the room, picked up an envelope from the table, and came back to Jimmie Dale.
“She said to give you this as soon as you got your senses, and asked us to put you up for a while, as long as you wanted to stay, and paid us for it, too. She’s all right, she is. You don’t want to hold the accident up against her, she was mighty sorry about it. And now I’ll go and see if the old lady’s got your room ready while you’re readin’ your letter.”
The man left the room.
Jimmie Dale sat up on the couch, and tore the envelope open. The note, scrawled in pencil, began abruptly:
You were quite a problem. I couldn’t take you HOME–could I? I couldn’t take you to what you call the Sanctuary could I? I couldn’t take you to a hospital, nor call in a doctor–the stain you use wouldn’t stand it. But, thank God! I know it’s only a flesh wound, and you are all right where you are for the day or two that you must keep quiet and take care of yourself. By the time you read this the paper will be on the way to the proper hands, and by morning the four where they should be. There were a few articles in your clothes I thought it better to take charge of in case–well, in case of ACCIDENT.”
Jimmie Dale tore the note up, and smiled wryly at the door. He felt in his pockets. Mask, revolver, burglar’s tools, and the thin metal insignia case were gone.
“And I had the sublime optimism,” murmured Jimmie Dale, “to spend months trying to find her as Larry the Bat!”
The bullet wound along the side of his head and just above his ear would have been a very awkward thing indeed, in more ways than one, for Jimmie Dale, the millionaire, to have explained at his club, in his social set, or even to his servants, and of these latter to Jason the Solicitous in particular; but for Jimmie Dale as Larry the Bat it was a matter of little moment. There was none to question Larry the Bat, save in a most casual and indifferent way; and a bandage of any description, primarily and above all one that he could arrange himself, with only himself to take note of the incongruous hues of skin where the stain, the grease paint, and the make-up was washed off, would excite little attention in that world where daily affrays were common-place happenings, and a wound, for whatever reason, had long since lost the tang of novelty. Why then should it arouse even a passing interest if Larry the Bat, credited as the most confirmed of dope fiends, should have fallen down the dark, rickety stairs of the tenement in one of his orgies, and, in the expressive language of the Bad Lands, cracked his bean!
And so Jimmie Dale had been forced to maintain the role of Larry the Bat for a far longer period than he had anticipated when, ten days before, he had assumed it for the night’s work that had so nearly resulted fatally for himself, though it had placed Roessle’s murderers behind the bars. For, the next day, unwilling to court the risk of remaining in that neighbourhood, he had left Hanson’s, the farmer’s, house on Long Island where the Tocsin had carried him in an unconscious state, telephoned Jason that he had been unexpectedly called out of town for a few days, and returned to the Sanctuary in New York. And here, to his grim dismay, he had found the underworld in a state of furious, angry unrest, like a nest of hornets, stirred up, seeking to wreak vengeance on an unseen assailant.
For years, as the Gray Seal, Jimmie Dale had lived with the slogan of the police, “The Gray Seal dead or alive–but the Gray Seal!" sounding in his ears; with the newspapers screaming their diatribes, arousing the people against him, nagging the authorities into sleepless, frenzied efforts to trap him; with a price upon his head that was large enough to make a man, not too pretentious, rich for life–but in the underworld, until then, the name of the Gray Seal had been one to conjure with, for the underworld had sworn by the unknown master criminal, and had spoken his name with a reverence that was none the less genuine even if pungently tainted with unholiness. But now it was different. Up and down through the Bad Lands, in gambling hells, in vicious resorts, in the hiding places where thugs and crooks burrowed themselves away from the daylight, through the heart and the outskirts of the underworld travelled the fiat, whispered out of mouths crooked to one side–DEATH TO THE GRAY SEAL!
Gangland differences were forgotten in the larger issue of the common weal. The gang spirit became the spirit of a united whole, and the crime fraternity buzzed and hummed poisonously, spurred on by hatred, thirst for revenge, fear, and, perhaps most potent of all, a hideous suspicion now of each other.
The underworld had received a shock at which it stood aghast, and which, with its terrifying possibilities, struck consternation into the soul of every individual of that brotherhood whose bond was crime, who was already “wanted” for some offence or other, whether it ranged from murder in the first degree to some petty piece of sneak thievery. Stangeist, the Indian chief, the lawyer whose cunning brain had stood as a rampart between the underworld and a prison cell, was himself now in the Tombs with the certainty of the electric chair before him; and with him, the same fate equally assured, were Australian Ike, The Mope, and Clarie Deane! Aristocrats of the Bad Lands, peers of that inglorious realm were those four–and the blow had fallen with stunning force, a blow that in itself would have been enough to have stirred the underworld to its depths. But that was not all–from the cells in the Tombs, from the four came the word, and passed from mouth to mouth in that strange underground exchange until all had heard it, that the Gray Seal had “SQUEALED.” The Gray Seal who, though unknown, they had counted the most eminent among themselves, had squealed! Who was the Gray Seal? It he had held the secrets of Stangeist and his band, what else might he not know? Who else might not fall next? The Gray Seal had become a snitch, a menace, a source of danger that stalked among them like a ghastly spectre. Who was the Gray Seal? None knew.
“Death to the Gray Seal! Run him to earth!” went the whisper from lip to lip; and with the whisper men stared uncertainly into each other’s faces, fearful that the one to whom they spoke might even be–the Gray Seal!
Jimmie Dale’s lips twisted queerly as he looked around him at the squalid appointments of the Sanctuary. The police were bad enough, the papers were worse; but this was a still graver peril. With every denizen of the underworld below the dead line suspicious of each other, their lives, the penitentiary, or a prison sentence the stakes against which each one played, the role of Larry the Bat, clever as was the make-up and disguise, was fraught now more than ever before with danger and peril. It seemed as though slowly the net was beginning at last to tighten around him.
The murky, yellow flame of the gas jet flickered suddenly, as though in acquiescence with the quick, impulsive shrug of Jimmie Dale’s shoulders–and Jimmie Dale, bending to peer into the cracked mirror that was propped up on the broken-legged table, knotted his dress tie almost fastidiously. The hair, if just a trifle too long, covered the scar on his head now, the wound no longer required a bandage, and Larry the Bat, for the time being at least, had disappeared. Across the foot of the bed, neatly folded, lay his dress coat and overcoat, but little creased for all that they had lain in that hiding-place under the flooring since the night when, hurrying from the club, he had placed them there to assume instead the tatters of Larry the Bat. It was Jimmie Dale in his own person again who stood there now in Larry the Bat’s disreputable den, an incongruous figure enough against the background of his miserable surroundings, in perfect-fitting shoes and trousers, the broad expanse of spotless white shirt bosom glistening even in the poverty-stricken flare from the single, sputtering gas jet.
Jimmie Dale took the watch from his pocket that had not been wound for many days, wound it mechanically, set it by guesswork–it was not far from eight o’clock–and replaced it in his pocket. Carefully then, one at a time, he examined his fingers, long, slim, sensitive, tapering fingers, magical masters of safes and locks and vaults of the most intricate and modern mechanism–no single trace of grime remained, they were metamorphosed hands from the filthy paws of Larry the Bat. He nodded in satisfaction; and picked up the mirror for a final inspection of himself, that, this time, did not miss a single line in his face or neck. Again Jimmie Dale nodded. As though he had vanished into thin air, as though he had never existed, not a trace of Larry the Bat remained–except the heap of rags upon the floor, the battered slouch hat, the frayed trousers, the patched boots with their broken laces, the mismated socks, the grimy flannel shirt, and the old coat that he had just discarded.
The mirror was replaced on the table; and, pushing the heap of clothes before him with his foot, Jimmie Dale knelt down in the corner of the room where the oilcloth had been turned up and the loose planking of the floor removed, and began to pack the articles away in the hole. Jimmie Dale rolled the trousers of Larry the Bat into a compact little bundle, and stuffed them under the flooring. The gas jet seemed to blink again in a sort of confidential approval, as though the secret lay inviolate between itself and Jimmie Dale. Through the closed window, shade tightly drawn, came, low and muffled, the sound of distant life from the Bowery, a few blocks away. The gas jet, suffering from air somewhere within the pipes, hissed angrily, the yellow flame died to a little blue, forked spurt–and Jimmie Dale was on his feet, his face suddenly hard and white as marble.
Some One Was Knocking At the Door!
For the fraction of a second Jimmie Dale stood motionless. Found as Jimmie Dale in the den of Larry the Bat, and the consequences required no effort of the imagination to picture them; police or denizen of the underworld who was knocking there, it was all the same, the method of death would be a little different, that was all– one legalised, the other not. Jimmie Dale, Larry the Bat, the Gray Seal, once uncovered, could expect as much quarter as would be given to a cornered rat. His eyes swept the room with a swift, critical glance–evidences of Larry the Bat, the clothes, were still about, even if he in the person of Jimmie Dale, alone damning enough, were not standing there himself. And he was even weaponless–the Tocsin had taken the revolver from his pocket, together with those other telltale articles, the mask, the flashlight, the little blued-steel tools, before she had intrusted him that night, wounded and unconscious, to Hanson’s care.
Jimmie Dale slipped his feet out of his low evening pumps, snatched up the old coat and hat from the pile, put them on, and, without a sound, reached the gas jet and turned it off. A second had gone by– no more–the knocking still sounded insistently on the door. It was dark now, perfectly black. He started across the room, his tread absolutely silent as the trained muscles, relaxing, threw the body weight gradually upon one foot before the next step was taken. It was like a shadow, a little blacker in outline than the surrounding blackness, stealing across the floor.
Halfway to the door he paused. The knocking had ceased. He listened intently. It was not repeated. Instead, his ear caught a guarded step retreating outside in the hall. Jimmie Dale drew a breath of relief. He went on again to the door, still listening. Was it a trap–that step outside?
At the door now, tense, alert, he lowered his ear to the keyhole. There came the faintest creak from the stairs. Jimmie Dale’s brows gathered. It was strange! The knocking had not lasted long. Whoever it was was going away–but it required the utmost caution to descend those stairs, rickety and tumble-down as they were, with no more sound than that! Why such caution? Why not a more determined and prolonged effort at his door–the visitor had been easily satisfied that Larry the Bat was not within. TOO easily satisfied! Jimmie Dale turned the key noiselessly in the lock. He opened the door cautiously–half inch–an inch, there was no sound of footsteps now. Occasionally a lodger moved about on the floor above; occasionally from somewhere in the tenement came the murmur of voices as from behind closed door–that was all. All else was silence and darkness now.
The door, on its well-oiled hinges, swung wide open. Jimmie Dale thrust out his head into the hall–and something fell upon the threshold with a little thud–but for a moment Jimmie Dale did not move. Listening, trying to pierce the darkness, he was as still as the silence around him; then he stooped and groped along the threshold. His hand closed upon what seemed like a small box wrapped in paper. He picked it up, closed and locked the door again, and retreated back across the room. It was strange– unpleasantly strange–a box propped stealthily against the door so that it would fall to the threshold when the door was opened! And why the stealth? What did it mean? Had the underworld with its thousand eyes and ears already succeeded in a few days where the police had failed signally for years–had they sent him this, whatever it was, as some grim token that they had run Larry the Bat to earth? He shook his head. No; gangland struck more swiftly, with less finesse than that–the “cat-and-mouse” act was never one it favoured, for the mouse had been known to get away.
Jimmie Dale lighted the gas again, and turned the package over in his hands. It was, as he had surmised, a small cardboard box; and it was wrapped in plain paper and tied with a string. He untied the string, and still suspicious, as a man is suspicious in the knowledge that he is stalked by peril at every turn, removed the wrapper a little gingerly. It was still without sign or marking upon it, just an ordinary cardboard box. He lifted off the cover, and, with a short, sudden laugh, stared, a little out of countenance, at the contents.
On the top lay a white, unaddressed envelope. HERS! Beneath–he emptied the box on the table–his black silk mask, his automatic revolver, the kit of fine, small blued-steel burglar’s tools, his pocket flashlight, and the thin metal insignia case. The Tocsin! Impulsively Jimmie Dale turned toward the door–and stopped. His shoulders lifted in a shrug that, meant to be philosophical, was far from philosophical. He could not, dared not venture far through the tenement dressed as he was; and even if he could there were three exits to the Sanctuary, a fact that now for the first time was not wholly a source of unmixed satisfaction to him; and besides–she was gone!
Jimmie Dale opened the letter, a grim smile playing on his lips. He had forgotten for the moment that the illusion he had cherished for years in the belief that she did not know Larry the Bat as an alias of Jimmie Dale was no more than–an illusion. Well, it had been a piece of consummate egotism on his part, that was all. But, after all, what did it matter? He had had his innings, tried in the role of Larry the Bat to solve her identity, devoted weeks on end to the attempt–and failed. Some day, perhaps, his turn would come; some day, perhaps, she would no longer be able to elude him, unless–the letter crackled suddenly in his fingers–unless the house that they had built on such strange and perilous foundations crashed at some moment, without an instant’s warning, in disaster and ruin to the ground. Who knew but that this letter now, another call to the Gray Seal to act, another peril invited, would be the LAST? There must be an end some day; luck and nerve had their limitations–it had almost ended last week!
“Dear Philanthropic Crook"–it was the same inevitable beginning. “You are well enough again, aren’t you, Jimmie?–I am sending these little things back to you, for you will need them to-night."–Jimmie Dale read on, muttering snatches of the letter aloud: “Michael Breen prospecting in Alaska–map of location of rich mining claim– Hamvert, his former partner, had previously fleeced him of fifteen thousand dollars–his share of a deal together–Breen was always a very poor man–Breen later struck a claim alone; but, taking sick, came back home–died on arrival in New York after giving map to his wife–wife in very needy circumstances–lives with little daughter of seven in New Rochelle–works out by the day at Henry Mittel’s house on the Sound near-by–wife intrusted map for safe-keeping and advice to Mittel–Hamvert after map–telephone wires cut–room one hundred and forty-eight, corner, right, first floor, Palais- Metropole Hotel, unoccupied–connecting doors–quarter past nine to-night–the Weasel–Mittel’s house later–the police–look out for both the Weasel and the police, Jimmie–”
There was more, several pages of it, explanations, specific details down to a minute description of the locality and plan of the house on the Sound. Jimmie Dale, too intent now to mutter, read on silently. At the end he shuffled the sheets a little abstractedly, as his face hardened. Then his fingers began to tear the letter into little shreds, tearing it over and over again, tearing the shreds into tiny particles. He had not been far wrong. From what the night promised now, this might well be the last letter. Who knew? There would be need of all the wit and luck and nerve to-night that the Gray Seal had ever had before.
With a jerk, Jimmie Dale roused himself from the momentary reverie into which he had fallen; and, all action now, stuffed the torn pieces of the letter into his trousers pocket to be disposed of later in the street; took off the old coat and slouch hat again, and resumed the disposal of Larry the Bat’s effects under the flooring.
This accomplished, he replaced the planking and oilcloth, stood up, put on his dress coat and light overcoat, and, from the table, stowed the black silk mask, the automatic, the little kit of tools, the flashlight, and the thin metal case away in his pockets.
Jimmie Dale raised his hand to the gas fixture, circled the room with a glance that missed no single detail–then the light went out, the door closed behind him, locked, a dark shadow crept silently down the stairs, out through the side door into the alleyway, along the alleyway close to the wall of the tenement where it was blackest, and, satisfied that for the moment there were no passers- by, emerged on the street, walking leisurely toward the Bowery.
Once well away from the Sanctuary, however, Jimmie Dale quickened his steps; and twenty minutes later, having stopped but once to telephone to his home on Riverside Drive for his touring car, he was briskly mounting the steps of the St. James Club on Fifth Avenue. Another twenty minutes after that, and he had dismissed Benson, his chauffeur, and, at the wheel of his big, powerful machine, was speeding uptown for the Palais-Metropole Hotel.
It was twelve minutes after nine when he drew up at the curb in front of the side entrance of the hotel–his watch, set by guesswork, had been a little slow, and he had corrected it at the club. He was replacing the watch in his pocket as he sauntered around the corner, and passed in through the main entrance to the big lobby.
Jimmie Dale avoided the elevators–it was only one flight up, and elevator boys on occasions had been known to be observant. At the top of the first landing, a long, wide, heavily carpeted corridor was before him. “Number one hundred and forty-eight, the corner room on the right,” the Tocsin had said. Jimmie Dale walked nonchalantly along–past No. 148. At the lower end of the hall a group of people were gathered around the elevator doors; halfway down the corridor a bell boy came out of a room and went ahead of Jimmie Dale.
And then Jimmie Dale stopped suddenly, and began to retrace his steps. The group had entered the elevator, the bell boy had disappeared around the farther end of the hall into the wing of the hotel–the corridor was empty. In a moment he was standing before the door of No. 148; in another, under the persuasion of a little steel instrument, deftly manipulated by Jimmie Dale’s slim, tapering fingers, the lock clicked back, the door opened, and he stepped inside, closing and locking the door again behind him.
It was already a quarter past nine, but no one was as yet in the connecting room–the fanlight next door had been dark as he passed. His flashlight swept about him, located the connecting door–and went out. He moved to the door, tried it, and found it locked. Again the little steel instrument came into play, released the lock, and Jimmie Dale opened the door. Again the flashlight winked. The door opened into a bathroom that, obviously, at will, was either common to the two rooms or could, by the simple expedient of locking one door or the other, be used by one of the rooms alone. In the present instance, the occupant of the adjoining apartment had taken “a room with a bath.”
Jimmie Dale passed through the bathroom to the opposite door. This was already three-quarters open, and swung outward into the bedroom, near the lower end of the room by the window. Through the crack of the door by the hinges, Jimmie Dale flashed his light, testing the radius of vision, pushed the door a few inches wider open, tested it again with the flashlight–and retreated back into No. 148, closing the door on his side until it was just ajar.
He stood there then silently waiting. It was Hamvert’s room next door, and Hamvert and the Weasel were already late. A step sounded outside in the corridor. Jimmie Dale straightened intently. The step passed on down the hallway and died away. A false alarm! Jimmie Dale smiled whimsically. It was a strange adventure this that confronted him, quite the strangest in a way that the Tocsin had ever planned–and the night lay before him full of peril in its extraordinary complications. To win the hand he must block Hamvert and the Weasel without allowing them an inkling that his interference was anything more than, say, the luck of a hotel sneak thief at most. The Weasel was a dangerous man, one of the slickest second-story workers in the country, with safe cracking as one of his favourite pursuits, a man most earnestly desired by the police, provided the latter could catch him “with the goods.” As for Hamvert, he did not know Hamvert, who was a stranger in New York, except that Hamvert had fleeced a man named Michael Breen out of his share in a claim they had had together when Breen had first gone to Alaska to try his luck, and now, having discovered that Breen, when prospecting alone somewhere in the interior a month or so ago, had found a rich vein and had made a map or diagram of its location, he, Hamvert, had followed the other to New York for the purpose of getting it by hook or crook. Breen’s “find” had been too late; taken sick, he had never worked his claim, had barely got back home before he died, and only in time to hand his wife the strange legacy of a roughly scrawled little piece of paper, and–Jimmie Dale straightened up alertly once more. Steps again–and this time coming from the direction of the elevator; then voices; then the opening of the door of the next room; then a voice, distinctly audible:
“Pull up a chair, and we’ll get down to business. You’re late, as it is. We haven’t any time to waste, if we’re going to wash pay- dirt to-night.”
“Aw, dat’s all right!” responded another voice–quite evidently the Weasel’s. “Don’t youse worry–de game’s cinched to a fadeaway.”
There was the sound of chairs being moved across the floor. Jimmie Dale slipped the black silk mask over his face, opened the door on his side of the bathroom cautiously, and, without a sound, stepped into the bathroom that was lighted now, of course, by the light streaming in through the partially opened door of Hamvert’s room. The two were talking earnestly now in lower tones. Jimmie Dale only caught a word here and there–his faculties for the moment were concentrated on traversing the bathroom silently. He reached the farther door, crouched there, peered through the crack–and the old whimsical smile flickered across his lips again.
The Palais-Metropole was high class and exclusive, and the Weasel for once looked quite the gentleman, and, for all his sharp, ferret face, not entirely out of keeping with his surroundings–else he would never have got farther than the lobby. The other was a short, thickset, heavy-jowled man, with a great shock of sandy hair, and small black eyes that looked furtively out from overhanging, bushy eyebrows.
“Well,” Hamvert was saying, “the details are your concern. What I want is results. We won’t waste time. You’re to be back here by daylight–only see that there’s no come-back.”
“Leave it to me!” returned the Weasel, with assurance. “How’s dere goin’ ter be any come-back? Mittel keeps it in his safe, don’t he? Well, gentlemen’s houses has been robbed before–an’ dis job’ll be a good one. De geographfy stunt youse wants gets pinched wid de rest, dat’s all. It disappears–see? Who’s ter know youse gets yer claws on it? It’s just lost in de shuffle.”
“Right!” agreed Hamvert briskly–and from his inside pocket produced a package of crisp new bills, yellow-backs, and evidently of large denominations. “Half down and half on delivery–that’s our deal.”
“Dat’s wot!” assented the Weasel curtly.
Hamvert began to count the bills.
Jimmie Dale’s hand stole into his pocket, and came out with his handkerchief and the thin metal insignia case. From the latter, with its little pair of tweezers, he took out one of the adhesive gray seals. His eyes warily on the two men, he dropped the seal on his handkerchief, restored the thin metal case to his pocket–and in its stead the blue-black ugly muzzle of his automatic peeped from between his fingers.
“Five thousand down,” said Hamvert, pushing a pile of notes across the table, and tucking the remainder back into his pocket; “and the other five’s here for you when you get back with the map. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pay a penny in advance, but since you want it that way and the map’s no good to you while the rest of the long green is, I–” He swallowed his words with a startled gulp, clutched hastily at the money on the table, and began to struggle up from his chair to his feet.
With a swift, noiseless side-step through the open door, Jimmie Dale was standing in the room.
Jimmie Dale’s tones were conversational. “Don’t get up,” said Jimmie Dale coolly. “And take your hand off that money!”
The Weasel, whose back had been to the door, squirmed around in his chair–and in his turn stared into the muzzle of Jimmie Dale’s revolver, while his jaw dropped and sagged.
“Good-evening, Weasel,” observed Jimmie Dale casually. “I seem to be in luck to-night. I got into that room next door, but an empty room is slim picking. And then it seemed to me I heard some one in here mention five thousand dollars twice, which makes ten thousand, and which happens to be just exactly the sum I need at the present moment–if I can’t get any more! I haven’t the honour of your wealthy friend’s acquaintance, but I am really charmed to meet him. You–er–understand, both of you, that the slightest sound might prove extremely embarrassing.”
Hamvert’s face was white, and he stirred uneasily in his chair; but into the Weasel’s face, the first shock of surprised dismay past, came a dull, angry red, and into the eyes a vicious gleam–and suddenly he laughed shortly.
“Why, youse damned fool,” jeered the Weasel, “d’youse t’ink youse can get away wid dat! Say, take it from me, youse are a piker! Say, youse make me tired. Wot d’youse t’ink youse are? D’youse t’ink dis is a tee-ayter, an’ dat youse are a cheap-skate actor strollin’ acrost de stage? Aw, beat it, youse make me sick! Why, say, youse pinch dat money, an’ youse have got de same chanst of gettin’ outer dis hotel as a guy has of breakin’ outer Sing Sing! By de time youse gets five feet from de door of dis room we has de whole works on yer neck.”
“Do you think so, Weasel?” inquired Jimmie Dale politely. He carried his handkerchief to his mouth to cloak a cough–and his tongue touched the adhesive side of the little diamond-shaped gray seal. Hand and handkerchief came back to the table, and Jimmie Dale leaned his weight carelessly upon it, while the automatic in his right hand still covered the two men. “Do you think so, Weasel?” he repeated softly. “Well, perhaps you are right; and yet; somehow, I am inclined to disagree with you. Let me see, Weasel–it was Tuesday night, two nights ago; wasn’t it, that a trifling break in Maiden Lane at Thorold and Sons disturbed the police? It was a three-year job for even a first offender, ten for one already on nodding terms with the police and fifteen to twenty for–well, say, for a man like you, Weasel–IF HE WERE CAUGHT! Am I making myself quite plain?”
The colour in the Weasel’s cheeks faded a little–his eyes were holding in sudden fascination upon Jimmie Dale.
“I see that I am,” observed Jimmie Dale pleasantly. “I said, ’if he were caught,’ you will remember. I am going to leave this room in a moment, Weasel, and leave it entirely to your discretion as to whether you will think it wise or not to stir from that chair for ten minutes after I shut the door. And now"–Jimmie Dale nonchalantly replaced his handkerchief in his pocket, nonchalantly followed it with the banknotes which he picked up from the table– and smiled.
With a gasp, both men had strained forward, and were staring, wild- eyed, at the gray seal stuck between them on the tabletop.
“The Gray Seal!” whispered the Weasel, and his tongue circled his lips.
Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders.
“That WAS a bit theatrical, Weasel,” he said apologetically; “and yet not wholly unnecessary. You will recall Stangeist, The Mope, Australian Ike, and Clarie Deane, and can draw your own inference as to what might happen in the Thorold affair if you should be so ill- advised as to force my hand. Permit me"–the slim, deft fingers, like a streak of lightning, were inside Hamvert’s coat pocket and out again with the remainder of the banknotes–and Jimmie Dale was backing for the door–not the door of the bathroom by which he had entered, but the door of the room itself that opened on the corridor. There he stopped, and his hand swept around behind his back and turned the key in the locked door. He nodded at the two men, whose faces were working with incongruously mingled expressions of impotent rage, bewilderment, fear, and fury–and opened the door a little. “Ten minutes, Weasel,” he said gently. “I trust you will not have to use heroic measures to restrain your friend for that length of time, though if it is necessary I should advise you for your own sake to resort almost–to murder. I wish you good evening, gentlemen.”
The door opened farther; Jimmie Dale, still facing inward, slipped between it and the jamb, whipped the mask from his face, closed the door softly, stepped briskly but without any appearance of haste along the corridor to the stairs, descended the stairs, mingled with a crowd in the lobby for an instant, walked, seemingly a part of it, with a group of ladies and gentlemen down the hall to the side entrance, passed out–and a moment later, after drawing on a linen dust coat which he took from under the seat, and exchanging his hat for a tweed cap, the car glided from the curb and was lost in a press of traffic around the corner.
Jimmie Dale laughed a little harshly to himself. So far, so good– but the game was not ended yet for all the crackle of the crisp notes in his pocket. There was still the map, still the robbery at Mittel’s house–the ten-thousand-dollar “theft” would not in any way change that, and it was a question of time now to forestall any move the Weasel might make.
Through the city Jimmie Dale alternately dodged, spurted, and dragged his way, fuming with impatience; but once out on the country roads and headed toward New Rochelle, the big machine, speed limits thrown to the winds, roared through the night–a gray streak of road jumping under the powerful lamps; a village, a town, a cluster of lights flashing by him, the steady purr of his sixty-horse-power engines; the gray thread of open road again.
It was just eleven o’clock when Jimmie Dale, the road to himself for the moment at a spot a little beyond New Rochelle, extinguished his lights, and very carefully ran his car off the road, backing it in behind a small clump of trees. He tossed the linen dust coat back into the car, and set off toward where, a little distance away, the slap of waves from the stiff breeze that was blowing indicated the shore line of the Sound. There was no moon, and, while it was not particularly dark, objects and surroundings at best were blurred and indistinct; but that, after all, was a matter of little concern to Jimmie Dale–the first house beyond was Mittel’s. He reached the water’s edge and kept along the shore. There should be a little wharf, she had said. Yes; there it was–and there, too, was a gleam of light from the house itself.
Jimmie Dale began to make an accurate mental note of his surroundings. From the little wharf on which he now stood, a path led straight to the house, bisecting what appeared to be a lawn, trees to the right, the house to the left. At the wharf, beside him, two motor boats were moored, one on each side. Jimmie Dale glanced at them, and, suddenly attracted by the familiar appearance of one, inspected it a little more closely. His momentarily awakened interest passed as he nodded his head. It had caught his attention, that was all–it was the same type and design, quite a popular make, of which there were hundreds around New York, as the one he had bought that year as a tender for his yacht.
He moved forward now toward the house, the rear of which faced him– the light that flooded the lawn came from a side window. Jimmie Dale was figuring the time and distance from New York as he crept cautiously along. How quickly could the Weasel make the journey? The Weasel would undoubtedly come, and if there was a convenient train it might prove a close race–but in his own favour was the fact that it would probably take the Weasel quite some little time to recover his equilibrium from his encounter with the Gray Seal in the Palais-Metropole, also the further fact that, from the Weasel’s viewpoint, there was no desperate need of haste. Jimmie Dale crossed the lawn, and edged along in the shadows of the house to where the light streamed out from what now proved to be open French windows. It was a fair presumption that he would have an hour to the good on the Weasel.
The sill was little more than a couple of feet from the ground, and, from a crouched position on his knees below the window, Jimmie Dale raised himself slowly and peered guardedly inside. The room was empty. He listened a moment–the black silk mask was on his face again–and with a quick, agile, silent spring he was in the room.
And then, in the centre of the room, Jimmie Dale stood motionless, staring around him, an expression, ironical, sardonic, creeping into his face. THE ROBBERY HAD ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED! At the lower end of the room everything was in confusion; the door of a safe swung wide, the drawers of a desk had been wrenched out, even a liqueur stand, on which were well-filled decanters, had been broken open, and the contents of safe and desk, the thief’s discards as it were, littered the floor in all directions.
For an instant Jimmie Dale, his eyes narrowed ominously, surveyed the scene; then, with a sort of professional instinct aroused, he stepped forward to examine the safe–and suddenly darted behind the desk instead. Steps sounded in the hall. The door opened–a voice reached him:
“The master said I was to shut the windows, and I haven’t dast to go in. And he’ll be back with the police in a minute now. Come on in with me, Minnie.”
“Lord!” exclaimed another voice. “Ain’t it a good thing the missus is away. She’d have highsteericks!”
Steps came somewhat hesitantly across the floor–from behind the desk, Jimmie Dale could see that it was a maid, accompanied by a big, rawboned woman, sleeves rolled to the elbows over brawny arms, presumably the Mittels’ cook.
The maid closed the French windows, there were no others in the room, and bolted them; and, having gained a little confidence, gazed about her.
“My, but wasn’t he cute!” she ejaculated.” Cut the telephone wires, he did. And ain’t he made an awful mess! But the master said we wasn’t to touch nothing till the police saw it.”
“And to think of it happening in OUR house!” observed the cook heavily, her hands on her hips, her arms akimbo. “It’ll all be in the papers, and mabbe they’ll put our pictures in, too.”
“I won’t get over it as long as I live!” declared the maid. “The yell Mr. Mittel gave when he came downstairs and put his head in here, and then him shouting and using the most terrible language into the telephone, and then finding the wires cut. And me following him downstairs half dead with fright. And he shouts at me. ’Bella,’ he shouts, ’shut those windows, but don’t you touch a thing in that room. I’m going for the police.’ And then he rushes out of the house.”
“I was going to bed,” said the cook, picking up her cue for what was probably the twentieth rehearsal of the scene, “when I heard Mr. Mittel yell, and–Lord, Bella, there he is now!”
Jimmie Dale’s hands clenched. He, too, had caught the scuffle of footsteps, those of three or four men at least, on the front porch. There was one way, only one, of escape–through the French windows! It was a matter of seconds only before Mittel, with the police at his heels, would be in the room–and Jimmie Dale sprang to his feet. There was a wild scream of terror from the maid, echoed by another from the cook–and, still screaming, both women fled for the door.
“Mr. Mittel! Mr. Mittel!” shrieked the maid–she had flung herself out into the hall. “He’s–he’s back again!”
Jimmie Dale was at the French windows, tearing at the bolts. They stuck. Shouts came from the front entryway. He wrenched viciously at the fastenings. They gave now. The windows flew open. He glanced over his shoulder. A man, Mittel presumably, since he was the only one not in uniform, was springing into the room. There was a blur of forms and brass buttons behind Mittel–and Jimmie Dale leaped to the lawn, speeding across it like a deer.
But quick as he ran, Jimmie Dale’s brain was quicker, pointing the single chance that seemed open to him. The motor boat! It seemed like a God-given piece of luck that he had noticed it was like his own; there would be no blind, and that meant fatal, blunders in the dark over its mechanism, and he could start it up in a moment–just the time to cast her off, that was all he needed.
The shouts swelled behind him. Jimmie Dale was running for his life. He flung a glance backward. One form–Mittel, he was certain–was perhaps a hundred yards in the rear. The others were just emerging from the French windows–grotesque, leaping things they looked, in the light that streamed out behind them from the room.
Jimmie Dale’s feet pounded the planking of the wharf. He stooped and snatched at the mooring line. Mittel was almost at the wharf. It seemed an age, a year to Jimmie Dale before the line was clear. Shouts rang still louder across the lawn–the police, racing in a pack, were more than halfway from the house. He flung the line into the boat, sprang in after it–and Mittel, looming over him, grasped at the boat’s gunwhale.
Both men were panting from their exertions.
“Let go!” snarled Jimmie Dale between clenched teeth.
Mittel’s answer was a hoarse, gasping shout to the police to hurry– and then Mittel reeled back, measuring his length upon the wharf from a blow with a boat hook full across the face, driven with a sudden, untamed savagery that seemed for the moment to have mastered Jimmie Dale.
There was no time–not a second–not the fraction of a second. Desperately, frantically he shoved the boat clear of the wharf. Once–twice–three times he turned the engine over without success– and then the boat leaped forward. Jimmie Dale snatched the mask from his face, and jumped for the steering wheel. The police were rushing out along the wharf. He could just faintly discern Mittel now–the man was staggering about, his hands clapped to his face. A peremptory order to halt, coupled with a threat to fire, rang out sharply–and Jimmie Dale flung himself flat in the bottom of the boat. The wharf edge seemed to open in little, crackling jets of flame, came the roar of reports like a miniature battery in action, then the FLOP, FLOP, FLOP, as the lead tore up the water around him, the duller thud as a bullet buried its nose in the boat’s side, and the curious rip and squeak as a splinter flew. Then Mittel’s voice, high-pitched, as though in pain:
“Can’t any of you run a motor boat? He’s got me bad, I’m afraid. That other one there is twice as fast.”
“Sure!” another voice responded promptly. “And if that’s right, he’s run his head into a trap. Cast loose, there, MacVeay, and pile in, all of you! You go back to the house, Mr. Mittel, and fix yourself up. We’ll get him!”
Jimmie Dale’s lips thinned. It was true! If the other boat had any speed at all, it was only a question of time before he would be overtaken. The only point at issue was how much time. It was dark– that was in his favour–but it was not so dark but that a boat could be distinguished on the water for quite a distance, for a longer distance than he could hope to put between them. There was no chance of eluding the police that way! The keen, facile brain that had saved the Gray Seal a hundred times before was weaving, planning, discarding, eliminating, scheming a way out–with death, ruin, disaster the price of failure. His eyes swept the dim, irregular outline of the shore. To his right, in the opposite direction from where he had left his car, and perhaps a mile ahead, as well as he could judge, the land seemed to run out into a point. Jimmie Dale headed for it instantly. If he could reach it with a little lead to the good, there was a chance! It would take, say, six minutes, granting the boat a speed of ten miles an hour–and she could do that. The others could hardly overtake him in that time– they hadn’t got started yet. He could hear them still shouting and talking at the wharf. And Mittel’s “twice as fast” was undoubtedly an exaggeration, anyhow.
A minute more passed, another–and then, astern, Jimmie Dale caught the racket from the exhaust of a high-powered engine, and a white streak seemed to shoot out upon the surface of the water from where, obscured now, he placed the wharf. A quarter-mile lead, roughly four hundred yards; yes, he had as much as that–but that, too, was very little.
He bent over his engine, coaxing it, nursing it to its highest efficiency; his eyes strained now upon the point ahead, now upon his pursuers behind. He was running with the wind, thank Heaven! or the small boat would have had a further handicap–it was rolling up quite a sea.
The steering gear, he found, was corded along the side of the boat, permitting its manipulation from almost any position, and, abruptly now, Jimmie Dale left the engine to rummage through the little locker in the stern of the boat. But as he rummaged, his eyes held speculatively on the boat astern. She was gaining unquestionably, steadily, but not as fast as he had feared. He would still have a hundred yards’ lead, at least, abreast the point–and, he was smiling grimly now, a hundred yards there meant life to the Gray Seal! The locker was full of a heterogeneous collection of odds and ends–a suit of oilskins, tools, tins, and cans of various sizes and descriptions. Jimmie Dale emptied the contents, some sort of powder, of a small, round tin box overboard, and from his pocket took out the banknotes, crammed them into the box, crammed his watch in on top of them, and screwed the cover on tightly. His fingers were flying now. A long strip torn from the trousers’ leg of the oilskins was wrapped again and again around the box–and the box was stuffed into his pocket.
The flash of a revolver shot cut the blackness behind him, then another, and another. They were firing in a continuous stream again. It was fairly long range, but there was always the chance of a stray bullet finding its mark. Jimmie Dale, crouching low, made his way to the bow of the boat again.
The point was looming almost abreast now. He edged in nearer, to hug it as closely as he dared risk the depth of the water. Behind, remorselessly, the other boat was steadily closing the gap; and the shots were not all wild–one struck, with a curious singing sound, on some piece of metal a foot from his elbow. Closer to the shore, running now parallel with the head of the point, Jimmie Dale again edged in the boat, his jaws, clamped, working in little twitches.
And then suddenly, with a swift, appraising glance behind him, he swerved the boat from her course and headed for the shore–not directly, but diagonally across the little bay that, on the farther side of the point, had now opened out before him. He was close in with the edge of the point, ten yards from it, sweeping past it–the point itself came between the two boats, hiding them from each other–and Jimmie Dale, with a long spring, dove from the boat’s side to the water.
The momentum from the boat as he sank robbed him for an instant of all control over himself, and he twisted, doubled up, and rolled over and over beneath the water–but the next moment his head was above the surface again, and he was striking out swiftly for the shore. It was only a few yards–but in a few SECONDS the pursuing boat, too, would have rounded the point. His feet touched bottom. It was haste now, nothing else, that counted. The drum of the racing engines, the crackling roar of the exhaust from the oncoming boat was in his ears. He flung himself upon the shore and down behind a rock. Around the point, past him, tore the police boat, dark forms standing clustered in the bow–and then a sudden shout:
“There she is! See her? She’s heading into the bay for the shore!”
Jimmie Dale’s lips relaxed. There was no doubt that they had sighted their quarry again–a perfect fusillade of revolver shots directed at the now empty boat was quite sufficient proof of that! With something that was almost a chuckle, Jimmie Dale straightened up from behind the rock and began to run back along the shore. The little motor boat would have grounded long before they overtook her, and, thinking naturally enough, that he had leaped ashore from her, they would go thrashing through the woods and fields searching for him!
It was a longer way back by the shore, a good deal longer; now over rough, rocky stretches where he stumbled in the darkness, now through marshy, sodden ground where he sank as in a quagmire time and again over his ankles. It was even longer than he had counted on, and time, with the Weasel on one hand and the return of the police on the other, was a factor to be reckoned with again, as, a half hour later, Jimmie Dale stole across the lawn of Mittel’s house for the second time that night, and for the second time crouched beneath the open French windows.
Masked again, the water still dripping from what were once immaculate evening clothes but which now sagged limply about him, his collar a pasty string around his neck, the mud and dirt splashed to his knees, Jimmie Dale was a disreputable and incongruous-looking object as he crouched there, shivering uncomfortably from his immersion in spite of his exertions. Inside the room, Mittel passed the windows, pacing the floor, one side of his face badly cut and bruised from the blow with the boat hook–and as he passed, his back turned for an instant, Jimmie Dale stepped into the room.
Mittel whirled at the sound, and, with a suppressed cry, instinctively drew back–Jimmie Dale’s automatic was dangling carelessly in his right hand.
“I am afraid I am a trifle melodramatic,” observed Jimmie Dale apologetically, surveying his own bedraggled person; “but I assure you it is neither intentional nor for effect. As it is, I was afraid I would be late. Pardon me if I take the liberty of helping myself; one gets a chill in wet clothes so easily"–he passed to the liqueur stand, poured out a generous portion from one of the decanters, and tossed it off.
Mittel neither spoke nor moved. Stupefaction, surprise, and a very obvious regard for Jimmie Dale’s revolver mingled themselves in a helpless expression on his face.
Jimmie Dale set down his glass and pointed to a chair in front of the desk.
“Sit down, Mr. Mittel,” he invited pleasantly. “It will be quite apparent to you that I have not time to prolong our interview unnecessarily, in view of the possible return of the police at any moment, but you might as well be comfortable. You will pardon me again if I take another liberty"–he crossed the room, turned the key in the lock of the door leading into the hall, and returned to the desk. “Sit down, Mr. Mittel!” he repeated, a sudden rasp in his voice.
Mittel, none too graciously, now seated himself.
“Look here, my fine fellow,” he burst out, “you’re carrying things with a pretty high hand, aren’t you? You seem to have eluded the police for the moment, somehow, but let me tell you I–”
“No,” interrupted Jimmie Dale softly, “let ME tell you–all there is to be told.” He leaned over the desk and stared rudely at the bruise on Mittel’s face. “Rather a nasty crack, that,” he remarked.
Mittel’s fists clenched, and an angry flush swept his cheeks.
“I’d have made it a good deal harder,” said Jimmie Dale, with sudden insolence, “if I hadn’t been afraid of putting you out of business and so precluding the possibility of this little meeting. Now then"–the revolver swung upward and held steadily on a line with Mittel’s eyes–” I’ll trouble you for the diagram of that Alaskan claim that belongs to Mrs. Michael Breen!”
Mittel, staring fascinated into the little, round, black muzzle of the automatic, edged back in his chair.
So–so that’s what you’re after, is it?” he jerked out. “Well"–he laughed unnaturally and waved his hand at the disarray of the room– “it’s been stolen already.”
“I know that,” said Jimmie Dale grimly. “By–YOU!”
“Me!” Mittel started up in his chair, a whiteness creeping into his face. “Me! I–I–”
“Sit down!” Jimmie Dale’s voice rang out ominously cold. “I haven’t any time to spare. You can appreciate that. But even if the police return before that map is in my possession, they will still be TOO LATE as far as you are concerned. Do you understand? Furthermore, if I am caught–you are ruined. Let me make it quite plain that I know the details of your little game. You are a curb broker, Mr. Mittel–ostensibly. In reality, you run what is nothing better than an exceedingly profitable bucket shop. The Weasel has been a customer and also a stool for you for years. How Hamvert met the Weasel is unimportant–he came East with the intention of getting in touch with a slick crook to help him–the Weasel is the coincidence, that is all. I quite understand that you have never met Hamvert, nor Hamvert you, nor that Hamvert was aware that you and the Weasel had anything to do with one another and were playing in together–but that equally is unimportant. When Hamvert engaged the Weasel for ten thousand dollars to get the map from you for him, the Weasel chose the line of least resistance. He KNEW you, and approached you with an offer to split the money in return for the map. It was not a question of your accepting his offer–it was simply a matter of how you could do it and still protect yourself. The Weasel was well qualified to point the way–a fake robbery of your house would answer the purpose admirably–you could not be held either legally or morally responsible for a document that was placed, unsolicited by you, in your possession, if it were stolen from you.”
Mittel’s face was ashen, colourless. His hands were opening and shutting with nervous twitches on the top of the desk.
Jimmie Dale’s lips curled.
“But"–Jimmie Dale was clipping off his words now viciously– “neither you nor the Weasel were willing to trust the other implicitly–perhaps you know each other too well. You were unwilling to turn over the map until you had received your share of the money, and you were equally unwilling to turn it over until you were SAFE; that is, until you had engineered your fake robbery even to the point of notifying the police that it had been committed; the Weasel, on the other hand, had some scruples about parting with any of the money without getting the map in one hand before he let go of the banknotes with the other. It was very simply arranged, however, and to your mutual satisfaction. While you robbed your own house this evening, he was to get half the money in advance from Hamvert, giving Hamvert to understand that HE had planned to commit the robbery himself to-night. He was to come out here then, receive the map from you in exchange for your share of the money, return to Hamvert with the map, and receive in turn his own share. I might say that Hamvert actually paid down the advance–and it was perhaps unfortunate for you that you paid such scrupulous attention to details as to cut your own telephone wires! I had not, of course, an exact knowledge of the hour or minute in which you proposed to stage your little play here. The object of my first visit a little while ago was to forestall your turning the diagram over to the Weasel. Circumstances favoured you for the moment. I am back again, however, for the same purpose–the map!”
Mittel, in a cowed way, was huddled back in his chair. He smiled miserably at Jimmie Dale.
“QUICK!” Jimmie Dale flung out the word in a sharp, peremptory bark. “Do you need to be told that the CARTRIDGES are dry?”
Mittel’s hand, trembling, went into his pocket and produced an envelope.
“Open it!” commanded Jimmie Dale. “And lay it on the desk, so that I can read it–I am too wet to touch it.”
Mittel obeyed–like a dog that has been whipped.
A glance at the paper, and Jimmie Dale’s eyes lifted again–to sweep the floor of the room. He pointed to a pile of books and documents in one corner that had been thrown out of the safe.
“Go over there and pick up that check book!” he ordered tersely.
“What for?” Mittel made feeble protest.
“Never mind what for!” snapped Jimmie Dale. “Go and get it–and HURRY!
Once more Mittel obeyed–and dropped the book hesitantly on the desk.
Jimmie Dale stared silently, insolently, contemptuously at the other.
Mittel stirred uneasily, sat down, shifted his feet, and his fingers fumbled aimlessly over the top of the desk.
“Compared with you,” said Jimmie Dale, in a low voice, the Weasel, ay, and Hamvert, too, crooks though they are, are gentlemen! Michael Breen, as he died, told his wife to take that paper to some one she could trust, who would help her and tell her what to do; and, knowing no one to go to, but because she scrubbed your floors and therefore thought you were a fine gentleman, she came timidly to you, and trusted you–you cur!”
Jimmie Dale laughed suddenly–not pleasantly. Mittel shivered.
“Hamvert and Breen were partners out there in Alaska when Breen first went out,” said Jimmie Dale slowly, pulling the tin can wrapped in oilskin from his pocket. “Hamvert swindled Breen out of the one strike he made, and Mrs. Breen and her little girl back here were reduced to poverty. The amount of that swindle was, I understand, fifteen thousand dollars. I have ten of it here, contributed by the Weasel and Hamvert; and you will, I think, recognise therein a certain element of poetic justice–but I am still short five thousand dollars.”
Jimmie Dale removed the cover from the tin can. Mittel gazed at the contents numbly.
“You perhaps did not hear me?” prompted Jimmie Dale coldly. “I am still short five thousand dollars.”
Mittel circled his lips with the tip of his tongue.
“What do you want?” he whispered hoarsely.
“The balance of the amount.” There was an ominous quiet in Jimmie Dale’s voice. “A check payable to Mrs. Michael Breen for five thousand dollars.”
“I–I haven’t got that much in the bank,” Mittel fenced, stammering.
“No? Then I should advise you to see that you have by ten o’clock to-morrow morning!” returned Jimmie Dale curtly. “Make out that check!”
Mittel hesitated. The revolver edged insistently a little farther across the desk–and Mittel, picking up a pen, wrote feverishly. He tore the check from its stub, and, with a snarl, pushed it toward Jimmie Dale.
“Fold it!” instructed Jimmie Dale, in the same curt tones. “And fold that diagram with it. Put them both in this box. Thank you!" He wrapped the oilskin around the box again, and returned the box to his pocket. And again with that insolent, contemptuous stare, he surveyed the man at the desk–then he backed to the French windows. “It might be as well to remind you, Mittel,” he cautioned sternly, “that if for any reason this check is not honoured, whether through lack of funds or an attempt by you to stop payment, you’ll be in a cell in the Tombs to-morrow for this night’s work–that is quite understood, isn’t it?”
Mittel was on his feet–sweat glistened on his forehead.
“My God!” he cried out shrilly. “Who are you?”
And Jimmie Dale smiled and stepped out on the lawn.
“Ask the Weasel,” said Jimmie Dale–and the next instant, lost in the shadows of the house, was running for his car.