The Adventures of Jimmie Dale I
By Frank L. Packard
Public Domain Books
Chapter X: The Alibi
DEATH TO THE GRAY SEAL!"–through the underworld, in dens and dives that sheltered from the law the vultures that preyed upon society, prompted by self-fear, by secret dread, by reason of their very inability to carry out their purpose, the whispered sentence grew daily more venomous, more insistent. THE GRAY SEAL, DEAD OR ALIVE– BUT THE GRAY SEAL!” It was the “standing orders” of the police. Railed at by a populace who angrily demanded at its hands this criminal of criminals, mocked at and threatened by a virulent press, stung to madness by the knowledge of its own impotence, flaunted impudently to its face by this mysterious Gray Seal to whose door the law laid a hundred crimes, for whom the bars of a death cell in Sing Sing was the certain goal could he but be caught, the police, to a man, was like an uncaged beast that, flicked to the raw by some unseen assailant and murderous in its fury, was crouched to strike. Grim paradox–a common bond that linked the hands of the law with those that outraged it!
Death to the Gray Seal! Was it, at last, the beginning of the end? Jimmie Dale, as Larry the Bat, unkempt, disreputable in appearance, supposed dope fiend, a figure familiar to every denizen below the dead line, skulked along the narrow, ill-lighted street of the East Side that, on the corner ahead, boasted the notorious resort to which Bristol Bob had paid the doubtful, if appropriate, compliment of giving his name. From under the rim of his battered hat, Jimmie Dale’s eyes, veiled by half-closed, well-simulated drug-laden lids, missed no detail either of his surroundings or pertaining to the passers-by. Though already late in the evening, half-naked children played in the gutters; hawkers of multitudinous commodities cried their wares under gasoline banjo torches affixed to their pushcarts; shawled women of half a dozen races, and men equally cosmopolitan, loitered at the curb, or blocked the pavement, or brushed by him. Now a man passed him, flinging a greeting from the corner of his mouth; now another, always without movement of the lips–and Jimmie Dale answered them–from the corner of his mouth.
But while his eyes were alert, his mind was only subconsciously attune to his surroundings. Was it indeed the beginning of the end? Some day, he had told himself often enough, the end must come. Was it coming now, surely, with a sort of grim implacability–when it was too late to escape! Slowly, but inexorably, even his personal freedom of action was narrowing, being limited, and, ironically enough, through the very conditions he had himself created as an avenue of escape.
It was not only the police now; it was, far more to be feared, the underworld as well. In the old days, the role of Larry the Bat had been assumed at intervals, at his own discretion, when, in a corner, he had no other way of escape; now it was forced upon him almost daily. The character of Larry the Bat could no longer be discarded at will. He had flung down the gauntlet to the underworld when, as the Gray Seal, he had closed the prison doors behind Stangeist, The Mope, Australian Ike, and Clarie Deane, and the underworld had picked the gauntlet up. Betrayed, as they believed, by the one who, though unknown to them; they had counted the greatest among themselves, and each one fearful that his own betrayal might come next, every crook, every thug in the Bad Lands now eyed his oldest pal with suspicion and distrust, and each was a self-constituted sleuth, with the prod of self-preservation behind him, sworn to the accomplishment of that unhallowed slogan–death to the Gray Seal. Almost daily now he must show himself as Larry the Bat in some gathering of the underworld–a prolonged absence from his haunts was not merely to invite certain suspicion, where all were suspicious of each other, it was to invite certain disaster. He had now either to carry the role like a little old man of the sea upon his back, or renounce it forever. And the latter course he dared not even consider–the Sanctuary was still the Sanctuary, and the role of Larry the Bat was still a refuge, the trump card in the lone hand he played.
He reached the corner, pushed open the door of Bristol Bob’s, and shuffled in. The place was a glare of light, a hideous riot of noise. On a polished section of the floor in the centre, a turkey trot was in full swing; laughter and shouting vied raucously with an impossible orchestra.
Jimmie Dale slowly made the circuit of the room past the tables, that, ranged around the sides, were packed with occupants who thumped their glasses in tempo with the music and clamoured at the rushing waiters for replenishment. A dozen, two dozen, men and women greeted him. Jimmie Dale indifferently returned their salutes. What a galaxy of crooks–the cream of the underworld! His eyes, under half-closed lids, swept the faces–lags, dips, gatmen, yeggs, mob stormers, murderers, petty sneak thieves, stalls, hangers-on–they were all there. He knew them all; he was known to all.
He shuffled on to the far end of the room, his leer a little arrogant, a certain arrogance, too, in the tilt of his battered hat. He also was quite a celebrity in that gathering–Larry the Bat was of the aristocracy and the elite of gangland. Well, the show was over; he had stalked across the stage, performed for his audience– and in another hour now, free until he must repeat the same performance the next day in some other equally notorious dive, he would be sitting in for a rubber of bridge at that most exclusive of all clubs, the St. James, where none might enter save only those whose names were vouched for in the highest and most select circles, and where for partners he would possibly have a justice of the supreme court, or mayhap an eminent divine! He looked suddenly around him, as though startled. It always startled him, that comparison. There was something too stupendous to be simply ironical in the incongruity of it. If–if he were ever run to earth!
His eyes met those of a heavy-built, coarse-featured man, the chewed end of a cigar in his mouth, who stepped from behind the bar, carrying a tin tray with two full glasses upon it. It was Bristol Bob, ex-pugilist, the proprietor.
“How’re you, Larry?” grunted the man, with what he meant to be a smile.
Jimmie Dale was standing in the doorway of a passage that prefaced a rear exit to the lane. He moved aside to allow the other to pass.
“’Ello, Bristol,” he returned dispassionately.
Bristol Bob went on along down the passage, and Jimmie Dale shuffled slowly after him. He had intended to leave the place by the rear door–it obviated the possibility of an undesirable acquaintance joining company with him if he went out by the main entrance. But now his eyes were fixed on the proprietor’s back with a sort of speculative curiosity. There was a private room off the passage, with a window on the lane; but they must be favoured customers indeed that Bristol Bob would condescend to serve personally–any one who knew Bristol Bob knew that.
Jimmie Dale slowed his shuffling gait, then quickened it again. Bristol Bob opened the door and passed into the private room–the door was just closing as Jimmie Dale shuffled by. He had had only a glance inside–but it was enough. They were favoured customers indeed! It was no wonder that Bristol Bob himself was on the job! Two men were in the room: Lannigan of headquarters, rated the smartest plain-clothes man in the country–and, across the table from Lannigan, Whitey Mack, as clever, finished and daring a crook as was to be found in the Bad Lands, whose particular “line” was diamonds, or, in the vernacular of his ilk, “white stones,” that had earned him the sobriquet of “Whitey.” Lannigan of headquarters, Whitey Mack of the underworld, sworn enemies those two–in secret session! Bristol Bob might well play the part of outer guard. If a choice few of those outside in the dance hall could get a glimpse into that private room it would be “good-night” to Whitey Mack.
Jimmie Dale’s eyes were narrowed a little as he shuffled on down the passage. Lannigan and Whitey Mack with their heads together! What was the game? There was nothing in common between the two men. Lannigan, it was well known, could not be “reached.” Whitey Mack, with his ingenious cleverness, coupled with a cold-blooded fearlessness that had made him an object of unholy awe and respect in the eyes of the underworld, was a thorn that was sore beyond measure in the side of the police. Certainly, it was no ordinary thing that had brought these two together; especially, since, with the unrest and suspicion that was bubbling and seething below the dead line, and with which there was none more intimate than Whitey Mack, Whitey Mack was inviting a risk in “making up” with the police that could only be accounted for by some urgent and vital incentive.
Jimmie Dale pushed open the door that gave on the lane. Behind him, Bristol Bob closed the door of the private room and retreated back along the passage. Jimmie Dale stepped out into the lane–and instinctively his eyes sought the window of the private room. The shade was drawn, only a yellow murk filtered out into the black, unlighted lane, but suddenly he started noiselessly toward it. The window was open a bare inch or so at the bottom!
The sill was just shoulder high, and, placing his ear to the opening, he flattened himself against the wall. He could not see inside, for the shade was drawn well to the bottom; but he could hear as distinctly as though he were at the table beside the two men–and at the first words, the loose, disjointed frame of Larry the Bat seemed to tauten curiously and strain forward lithe and tense.
“This Gray Seal dope listens good, Whitey; but, coming from you, I’m leery. You’ve got to show me.”
“Don’t you want him?” There was a nasty laugh from Whitey Mack.
“You BET I want him!” returned the headquarters man with a suppressed savagery that left no doubt as to his earnestness. “I want him fast enough, but–”
“Then, blast him, so do I!” Whitey Mack rapped out with a vicious snarl. “So does every guy in the fleet down here. We got it in for him. You get that, don’t you? He’s got Stangeist and his gang steered for the electric chair now; he put a crimp in the Weasel the other night–get that? He’s like a blasted wizard with what he knows. And who’ll he deal the icy mitt to next? Me–damn him–me, for all I know!”
“That’s all right,” observed Lannigan coolly. “I’m not questioning your sincerity for a minute; I know all about that; but that doesn’t land the Gray Seal. I’ll work with you if you’ve anything to offer, but we’ve had enough ’tips’ and ’information’ handed us at headquarters in the last few years to make us a trifle skeptical. Show me what you’ve got, Whitey?”
“Show you! “ echoed Whitey Mack passionately. “Sure, I’ll show you! That’s what I’m going to do–show you. I’ll show you the Gray Seal! I ain’t handing you any tips. I’VE FOUND OUT WHO THE GRAY SEAL IS!”
There was a tense silence. It seemed to Jimmie Dale as though cold fingers were clutching at his heart, stifling its beat–then the blood came bursting to his forehead. He could not see into the room, but that silence was eloquent. It seemed as though he could picture the two men–Lannigan leaning suddenly forward–Lannigan and Whitey Mack staring tensely into each other’s eyes.
“You–WHAT!” It came low and grim from Lannigan.
“That’s what!” asserted Whitey Mack bluntly. “You heard me! That’s what I said! I know who the Gray Seal is–and I’m the only guy that’s wise to him. Am I letting you in right?”
“You’re sure?” demanded Lannigan hoarsely. “You’re sure? Who is he, then?”
There was a half laugh, half snarl from Whitey Mack.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” he growled. “Nix on that! What do you take me for–a fool? You beat it out of here and round him up–eh–while I suck my thumbs? Say, forget it! Do you think I’m doing this because I love you? Why, blame you, you’ve been aching for a year to put the bracelets on me yourself! Say, wake up! I’m in on this myself.”
Again that silence. Then Lannigan spoke slowly, in a puzzled way.
I don’t get you, Whitey,” he said. “What do you mean?” Then, a little sharply: “You’re quite right; you’ve got some reputation yourself, and you’re badly ’wanted’ if we could get the ’goods’ on you. If you’re trying to plant something, look out for yourself, or–”
“Can that!” snapped Whitey Mack threateningly. “Can that sort of spiel right now–or quit! I ain’t telling you his name–yet. BUT I’LL TAKE YOU TO HIM TO-NIGHT–and you and me nabs him together. Is that straight enough goods for you?”
“Don’t get sore,” said Lannigan, more pacifically. “Yes, if you’ll do that it’s good enough for any man. But lay your cards on the table face up, Whitey–I want to see what you opened the pot on.”
“You’ve seen ’em,” Whitey Mack answered ungraciously. “I’ve told you already. The Gray Seal goes out for keeps–curse him for a snitch! If I bumped him off, or wised up any of the guys to it, and we was caught, we’d get the juice for it even if it was the Gray Seal, wouldn’t we? Well, what’s the use! If one of you dicks get him, he gets bumped off just the same, only regular, up in the wire parlour at Sing Sing. I ain’t looking for that kind of trouble when I can duck it. See?”
“Sure,” said Lannigan.
“Besides, and moreover,” continued Whitey Mack, “there’s SOME reward hung out for him that I’m figuring to born in on. I’d swipe it all myself, don’t you make any mistake about that, and you’d never get a look-in, only, sore as the mob is on the Gray Seal, it ain’t healthy for any guy around these parts to get the reputation of being a snitch, no matter who he snitches on. Bump him off–sure! Snitching–well, you get the idea, eh? I’m ducking that too. Get me?”
“I get you,” said Lannigan, with a short, pleased laugh.
“Well, then,” announced Whitey Mack, “here’s my proposition, and it’s my turn to hand out the ’look-out-for-your-self’ dope. I’m busting the game wide open for you to play, but you throw me down, and"–his voice sank into a sullen snarl again–"you can take it from me, I’ll get you for it!”
“All right,” responded Lannigan soberly. “Let’s hear it. If I agree to it, I’ll stick to it.”
“I believe you,” said Whitey Mack curtly. “That’s why I picked you out for the medal they’ll pin on you for this. And here’s getting down to tacks! I’ll lead you to the Gray Seal to-night and help you nab him and stay with you to the finish, but there’s to be nobody but you and me on the job. When it’s done I fade away, and nobody’s to know I snitched, and no questions asked as to how I found out about the Gray Seal. I ain’t looking for any of the glory–you can fix that up to suit yourself. The cash is different–you come across with half the reward the day they pay it.”
“You’ll get it!” There was savage elation in Lannigan’s voice, the emphatic smash of a fist on the table. “You’re on, Whitey. And if we get the Gray Seal to-night, I’ll do better by you than that.”
“We’ll get him!” said Whitey Mack, with a vicious oath. “And–”
Jimmie Dale crouched suddenly low down, close against the wall. The crunch of a footstep sounded from the end of the lane. Some one had turned in from the cross street, some fifty yards away, and was heading evidently for the back entrance to Bristol Bob’s. Jimmie Dale edged noiselessly, cautiously back past the doorway, kept on, pressed close against the wall, and finally paused. He had not been seen. The back door of Bristol Bob’s opened and closed. The man had gone in.
For a moment Jimmie Dale stood hesitant. There was a wild surging in his brain, something like a myriad batteries of trip hammers seemed to be pounding at his temples. Then, almost blindly, he kept on down the lane in the same direction in which he had started to retreat–as well one cross street as another.
He turned into the cross street, went along it–and presently emerged into the full tide of the Bowery. It was garishly lighted; people swarmed about him. Subconsciously, there were crowded sidewalks; subconsciously, he was on the Bowery–that was all.
Ruin, disaster, peril faced him–faced him, and staggered him with the suddenness of the shock. Was it true? No; it could not be true! It was a bluff–Whitey Mack was bluffing. Jimmie Dale’s lips grew thin in a mirthless smile as he shook his head. Neither Whitey Mack nor any other man would dare to bluff like that. It was too straight, too open-handed, Whitey Mack had laid his cards too plainly on the table. Whitey Mack’s words rang in his ears: “I’ll LEAD you to the Gray Seal to-night and help you nab him and stay with you to the finish.” The man meant what he said, meant what he said, too, about the “finish” of the Gray Seal; not a man in the Bad Lands but meant–death to the Gray Seal! But how, by what means, when, where had Whitey Mack got his information? “I’m the only one that’s wise,” Whitey Mack had said. It seemed impossible. It WAS impossible! Whitey Mack was sincere enough probably in what he had said, but the man simply could not know. Whitey Mack could only have spotted some one that, for some reason or other, he IMAGINED was the Gray Seal. That was it–must be it! Whitey Mack had made a mistake. What clew could he have obtained to–
Over the unwashed face of Larry the Bat a gray pallor spread slowly. His fingers were plucking at the frayed edge of his inside vest pocket. The dark eyes seemed to turn coal-black. A laugh, like the laugh of one damned, rose to his lips, and was choked back. It was gone! GONE! That thin metal case, like a cigarette case, that, between the little sheets of oil paper, held those diamond-shaped, gray-coloured, adhesive seals, the insignia of the Gray Seal–was gone! Clew! It seemed as though there were an overpowering nausea upon him. CLEW! That little case was not a clew–it was a death warrant!
His hands clenched fiercely. If he could only think for a moment! The lining of his pocket had given away. The case had dropped out. But there was nothing about the case to identify any one as the Gray Seal unless it were found in one’s actual possession. Therefore Whitey Mack, to have solved his identity, must have seen him drop the case. There could be no question about that. It was equally obvious then that Whitey Mack would know the Gray Seal as Larry the Bat. Did he also know him as Jimmie Dale? Yes, or no? It was a vital question. His life hung on it.
That keen, facile brain, numbed for the moment, was beginning to work with lightning speed. It was four o’clock that afternoon when he had assumed the character of Larry the Bat–some time between four o’clock and the present, it was now well after eleven, the case had dropped from his pocket. There had been ample time then for Whitey Mack to have made that appointment with Lannigan–and ample time to have made a surreptitious visit to the Sanctuary. Had Whitey Mack gone there? Had Whitey Mack found that hiding place in the flooring under the oilcloth? Had Whitey Mack discovered that the Gray Seal was not only Larry the Bat–but Jimmie Dale?
Jimmie Dale swept his hand across his forehead. It was damp from little clinging beads of moisture. Should he go to the Sanctuary and change–become Jimmie Dale again? Was it the safest thing to do–or the most dangerous? Even if Whitey Mack had been there and discovered the dual personality of Larry the Bat, how would he, Jimmie Dale, know it? The man would have been crafty enough to have left no sign behind him. Was it to the Sanctuary that Whitey Mack meant to lead Lannigan that evening–or did Whitey Mack know him as Jimmie Dale, and to make it the more sensational, plan to carry out the coup, say, at the St. James Club? Whitey Mack and Lannigan were still at Bristol Bob’s; he had probably time, if he so elected, to reach the Sanctuary, change, and get away again. But every minute was priceless now. What should he do? Run from the city as he was for cover–or take the gambler’s chance? Whitey Mack knew him as Larry the Bat–it was not certain that Whitey Mack knew him as Jimmie Dale.
He had halted, absorbed, in front of a moving-picture theatre. Great placards, at first but a blur of colour, suddenly forced themselves in concrete form upon his consciousness. Letters a foot high leaped out at him: “THE DOUBLE LIFE.” There was the picture of a banker in his private office hastily secreting a forged paper as the hero in the guise of a clerk entered; the companion picture was the banker in convict stripes staring out from behind the barred doors of a cell. There seemed a ghastly augury in the coincidence. Why should a thing like that be thrust upon him to shake his nerve when he needed nerve now more than he had ever needed it in his life before?
He raised his hand to jerk aimlessly at the brim of his hat, dropped his hand abruptly to his side again, and started quickly, hurriedly away through the throng around him. A sort of savagery had swept upon him. In a flash he had made his decision. He would take the gambler’s chance! And afterward–Jimmie Dale’s lips were like a thin, straight line–it was Whitey Mack’s life or his own! Whitey Mack had said he was the only one that was wise–and Whitey Mack had not told Lannigan yet, wouldn’t tell Lannigan until the show-down. If he, Jimmie Dale, got to the Sanctuary, became Jimmie Dale and got away again, even if Whitey Mack knew him as Jimmie Dale, there was still a chance. It was his life or Whitey Mack’s–Whitey Mack, with his lean-jawed, clean-shaven wolf’s face! If he could get Whitey Mack before the other was ready to tell Lannigan! Surely he had the right of self-preservation! Surely his life was as valuable as Whitey Mack’s, as valuable as a man’s who, as those in the secrets of the underworld knew well enough, had blood upon his hands, who lived by crime, who was a menace to the community! Had he not the right to preserve his own life at the expense of one such as that? He had never taken life–the thought was abhorrent! But was there any other way in event of Whitey Mack knowing him as Jimmie Dale? His back was against the wall; he was trapped; certain death, and, worse, dishonour stared him in the face. Lannigan and Whitey Mack would be together–the odds would be two to one against him–and he had no quarrel with Lannigan–somehow he must let Lannigan out of it.
The other side of the street was less crowded. He crossed over, and, still with the shuffling tread that dozens around him knew as the characteristic gait of Larry the Bat, but covering the ground with amazing celerity, he hurried along. It was only at the end of the block, that cross street from the Bowery that led to the Sanctuary. How much time had he? He turned the corner into the darker cross street. Whitey Mack would have learned from Bristol Bob that Larry the Bat had just been there; that is, that Larry the Bat was not at the Sanctuary. Whitey Mack would probably be in no hurry–he and Lannigan might wait until later, until Whitey Mack should be satisfied that Larry the Bat had gone home. It was the line of least resistance; they would not attempt to scour the city for him. They might even wait in that private room at Bristol Bob’s until they decided that it was time to sally out. He might perhaps still find them there when he got back; at any rate, from there he must pick up their trail again. On the other hand–all this was but supposition–they might make at once for the Sanctuary to lie in wait for him. In any case there was need, desperate need, for haste.
He glanced sharply around him; and, by the side of the tenement house now that bordered on the alleyway, with a curious, swift, gliding motion, he seemed to blend into the shadow and darkness. It was the Sanctuary, that room on the first floor of the tenement, the tenement that had three entrances, three exits–a passageway through to the saloon on the next street that abutted on the rear, the usual front door, and the side door in the alleyway. Gone was the shuffling gait. Quick, alert, he ran, crouching, bent down, along the alleyway, reached the side door, opened it stealthily, closed it behind him with equal caution, and, in the dark entry, stood motionless, listening intently.
There was no sound. He began to mount the rickety, dilapidated stairs; and, where it seemed that the lightest tread must make them creak out in blatant protest, his trained muscles, delicately compensating his body weight, carried him upward with a silence that was almost uncanny. There was need of silence, as there was need of haste. He was not so sure now of the time at his disposal–that he had even reached the Sanctuary FIRST. How long had he loitered in that half-dazed way on the Bowery? He did not know–perhaps longer than he had imagined. There was the possibility that Whitey Mack and Lannigan were already above, waiting for him; but, even if they were not already there and he got away before they came, it was imperative that no one should know that Larry the Bat had come and gone.
He reached the landing, and paused again, his right hand, with a vicious muzzle of his automatic peeping now from between his fingers, thrown a little forward. It was black, utterly black, around him. Again that stealthy, catlike tread–and his ear was at the keyhole of the Sanctuary door. A full minute, priceless though it was, passed; then, satisfied that the room was empty, he drew his head back from the keyhole, and those slim, tapering fingers, that in their tips seemed to embody all the human senses, felt over the lock. Apparently it had been undisturbed; but that was no proof that Whitey Mack had not been there after finding the metal case. Whitey Mack was known to be clever with a lock–clever enough for that, anyhow.
He slipped in the key, turned it, and, on hinges that were always oiled, silently pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold. He closed the door until it was just ajar, that any sound might reach him from without–and, whipping off his coat, began to undress swiftly.
There was no light. He dared not use the gas; it might be seen from the alleyway. He was moving now quickly, surely, silently here and there. It was like some weird spectre figure, a little blacker than the surrounding darkness, flitting about the room. The oilcloth in the corner was turned back, the loose flooring lifted, the clothes of Jimmie Dale taken out, the rags of Larry the Bat put in. The minutes flew by. It was not the change of clothing that took long– it was the eradication of Larry the Bat’s make-up from his face, throat, neck, wrists, and hands. Occasionally his head was turned in a tense, listening attitude; but always the fingers were busy, working with swift deftness.
It was done at last. Larry the Bat had vanished, and in his place stood Jimmie Dale, the young millionaire, the social lion of New York, immaculate in well-tailored tweeds. He stooped to the hole in the flooring, and, his fingers going unerringly to their hiding place, took out a black silk mask and an electric flashlight–his automatic was already in his possession. His lips parted grimly. Who knew what part a flashlight might not play–and he would need the mask for Lannigan’s benefit, even if it did not disguise him from Whitey Mack. Had he left any telltale evidence of his visit? It was almost worth the risk of a light to make sure. He hesitated, then shook his head, and, stooping again, carefully replaced the flooring and laid the oilcloth over it–he dared not show a light at any cost.
But now even more caution than before was necessary. At times, the lodgers had naturally enough seen their fellow lodger, Larry the Bat, enter and leave the tenement–none had ever seen Jimmie Dale either leave or enter. He stole across the room to the door, halted to assure himself that the hall was empty, slipped out into the hall, and locked the door behind him. Again that trained, long- practiced, silent tread upon the stairs. It seemed as though an hour passed before he reached the bottom, and his brain was shrieking at him to hurry, hurry, HURRY! The entryway at last, the door, the alleyway, a long breath of relief–and he was on the cross street.
A step, two, he took in the direction of the Bowery–and he was bending down as though to tie his shoe, his automatic, from his side pocket, concealed in his hand. WAS THAT SOME ONE THERE? He could have sworn he saw a shadow-like form start out from behind the steps of the house on the opposite side of the street as he had emerged from the alleyway. In his bent posture, without seemingly turning his head, his eyes swept sharply up and down the other side of the ill-lighted street. Nothing! There was not even a pedestrian in sight on the block from there to the Bowery.
Jimmie Dale straightened up nonchalantly, and stooped almost instantly again, as though the lace were still proving refractory. Again that sharp, searching glance. Again–nothing! He went forward now in apparent unconcern; but his right hand, instead of being buried in his coat pocket, swung easily at his side.
It was strange! His ineffective ruse to the contrary, he was certain that he had not been mistaken. Was it Whitey Mack? Was the question answered? Was the Gray Seal known, too, as Jimmie Dale? Were they trailing him now, with the climax to come at the club, at his own palatial home, wherever the surroundings would best lend themselves to assuaging that inordinate thirst for the sensational that was so essentially a characteristic of the confirmed criminal? What a headline in the morning’s papers it would make!
At the corner he loitered by the curb to light a cigarette–still not a soul in sight on either side of the street behind him, except a couple of Italians who had just passed by. Strange again! The intuition, if it were only intuition, was still strong. He swung abruptly on his heel, mingled with the passers-by on the Bowery, walked a rapid half dozen steps until the building hid the cross street, then ran across the road to the opposite side of the Bowery, and, in a crowd now, came back to the corner. He crossed from curb to curb slowly, sheltered by a fringe of people that, however, in no way obstructed his view down the side street. And then Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders. He had evidently been mistaken, after all. He was overexcited; his nerves were raw–that, perhaps, was the solution. Meanwhile, every minute was counting, if Whitey Mack and Lannigan should still be at Bristol Bob’s.
He kept on down the Bowery, hurrying with growing impatience through the crowds that massed in front of various places of amusement. He had not intended to come along the Bowery, and, except for what had occurred, would have taken a less frequented street. He would turn off at the next block.
He was in front of that moving-picture theatre again. “THE DOUBLE LIFE"–his eyes were attracted involuntarily to the lurid, overdone display. It seemed to threaten him; it seemed to dangle before him a premonition as it were, of what the morning held in store; but now, too, it seemed to feed into flame that smouldering fury that possessed him. His life–or Whitey Mack’s! Men, women, and the children who turned night into day in that quarter of the city were clustered thick around the signs, hiving like bees to the bald sensationalism. Almost savagely he began to force his way through the crowd–and the next instant, like a man stunned, had stopped in his tracks. His fingers had closed in a fierce, spasmodic clutch over an envelope that had been thrust suddenly into his hand.
“JIMMIE!” from somewhere came a low, quick voice. “Jimmie, it is half-past eleven now–HURRY.”
He whirled, scanning wildly this face, then that. It was her voice– HER voice! The Tocsin! The sensitive fingers were telegraphing to his brain, as they always did, that the texture of the envelope, too, was hers. Her voice; yes, anywhere, out of a thousand voices, he would distinguish hers–but her face, he had never seen that. Which, out of all the crowd around him, was hers? Surely he could tell her by her dress; she would be different; her personality alone must single her out. She–
“Say, have youse got de pip, or do youse t’ink youse owns de earth!" a man flung at him, heaving and pushing to get by.
With a start, though he scarcely heard the man, Jimmie Dale moved on. His brain was afire. All the irony of the world seemed massed in a sudden, overwhelming attack upon him. It was useless– intuitively he had known it was useless from the instant he had heard her voice. It was always the same–always! For years she had eluded him like that, come upon him without warning and disappeared, but leaving always that tangible proof of her existence–a letter, the call of the Gray Seal to arms. But to-night it was as it had never been before. It was not alone baffled chagrin now, not alone the longing, the wild desire to see her face, to look into her eyes– it was life and death. She had come at the very moment when she, perhaps alone of all the world, could have pointed the way out, when life, liberty, everything that was common to them both was at stake, in deadly peril–and she had gone, ignorant of it all, leaving him staggered by the very possibility of the succour that was held up before his eyes only to be snatched away without power of his to grasp it. His intuition had not been at fault–he had made no mistake in that shadow across the street from the Sanctuary. It had been the Tocsin. He had been followed; and it was she who had followed him, until, in a crowd, she had seized the opportunity of a moment ago. Though ultimately, perhaps, it changed nothing, it was a relief in a way to know that it was she, not Whitey Mack, who had been lurking there; but her persistent, incomprehensible determination to preserve the mystery with which she surrounded herself was like now to cost them both a ghastly price. If he could only have had one word with her–just one word!
The letter in his hand crackled under his clenched fist. He stared at it in a half-blind, half-bitter way. The call of the Gray Seal to arms! Another coup, with its incident danger and peril, that she had planned for him to execute! He could have laughed aloud at the inhuman mockery of it. The call of the Gray Seal to arms–NOW! When with every faculty drained to its last resource, cornered, trapped, he was fighting for his very existence!
“Jimmie, it is half-past eleven now–HURRY!” The words were jangling discordantly in his brain.
And now he laughed outright, mirthlessly. A young girl hanging on her escort’s arm, passing, glanced at him and giggled. It was a different Jimmie Dale for the moment. For once his immobility had forsaken him. He laughed again–a sort of unnatural, desperate indifference to everything falling upon him. What did it matter, the moment or two it would take to read the letter? He looked around him. He was on the corner in front of the Palace Saloon, and, turning abruptly, he stepped in through the swinging doors. As Larry the Bat, he knew the place well. At the rear of the barroom and along the side of the wall were some half dozen little stalls, partitioned off from each other. Several of these were unoccupied, and he chose the one farthest from the entrance. It was private enough; no one would disturb him.
From the aproned individual who presented himself he ordered a drink. The man returned in a moment, and Jimmie Dale tossed a coin on the table, bidding the other keep the change. He wanted no drink; the transaction was wholly perfunctory. The waiter was gone; he pushed the glass away from him, and tore the envelope open.
A single sheet, closely written on both sides of the paper, was in his hand. It was her writing; there was no mistaking that, but every word, every line bore evidence of frantic haste. Even that customary formula, “dear philanthropic crook,” that had prefaced every line she had ever written him before, had been omitted. His eyes traversed the first few lines with that strange indifference that had settled upon him. What, after all, did it matter what it was; he could do nothing–not even save himself probably. And then, with a little start, he read the lines over again, muttering snatches from them.
”. . . Max Diestricht–diamonds–the Ross-Logan stones–wedding– sliding panel in wall of workshop–end of the room near window–ten boards to the right from side wall–press small knot in the wood in the centre of the tenth board–to-night . . .”
It brought a sudden thrill of excitement to Jimmie Dale that, impossible as he would have believed it an instant ago, for the moment overshadowed the realisation of his own peril. A robbery such as that, if it were ever accomplished, would stir the country from end to end; it would set New York by the ears; it would loose the police in full cry like a pack of bloodhounds with their leashes slipped. The society columns of the newspapers had been busy for months featuring the coming marriage of the Ross-Logans’ daughter to one of the country’s young merchant princes. The combined fortunes of the two families would make the young couple the richest in America. The prospective groom’s wedding gift was to be a diamond necklace of perfectly matched, large stones that would eclipse anything of the kind in the country. Europe, the foreign markets, had been literally combed and ransacked to supply the gems. The stones had arrived in New York the day before, the duty on them alone amounting to over fifty thousand dollars. All this had appeared in the papers.
Jimmie Dale’s brows drew together in a frown. On just exactly what percentage the duty was figured he did not know; but it was high enough on the basis of fifty thousand dollars to assume safely that the assessed value of the stones was not less than four times that amount. Two hundred thousand dollars–laid down, a quarter of a million! Well, why not? In more than one quarter diamonds were ranked as the soundest kind of an investment. Furthermore, through personal acquaintance with the “high contracting parties,” who were in his own set, he knew it to be true.
He shrugged his shoulders. The papers, too, had thrown the limelight on Max Diestricht, who, though for quite a time the fashion in the social world, had, up to the present, been comparatively unknown to the average New Yorker. His own knowledge of Max Diestricht went deeper than the superficial biography furnished by the newspapers–the old Hollander had done more than one piece of exquisite jewelry work for him. The old fellow was a character that beggared description, eccentric to the point of extravagance, and deaf as a post; but, in craftmanship, a modern Cellini. He employed no workmen, lived alone over his shop on one of the lower streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues near Washington Square–and possessed a splendid contempt for such protective contrivances as safes and vaults. If his prospective patrons expostulated on this score before intrusting him with their valuables, they were at liberty to take their work elsewhere. It was Max Diestricht who honoured you by accepting the commission; not you who honoured Max Diestricht by intrusting him with it. “Of what use is it to me, a safe!” he would exclaim. “It hides nothing; it only says, ’I am inside; do not look farther; come and get me!’ Yes? It is to explode with the nitro-glycerin–POUF!–and I am deaf and I hear nothing. It is a foolishness, that"–he had a habit of prodding at one with a levelled fore-finger–"every night somewhere they are robbed, and have I been robbed? HEIN, tell me that; have I been robbed?”
It was true. In ten years, though at times having stones and precious metal aggregating large amounts deposited with him by his customers, Max Diestricht had never lost so much as the gold filings. There was a queer smile on Jimmie Dale’s lips now. The knot in the tenth board was significant! Max Diestricht was scrupulously honest, a genius in originality and conception of design, a master in the perfection and delicacy of his finished work–he had been commissioned to design and set the Ross-Logan necklace.
The brain works quickly. All this and more had flashed almost instantaneously through Jimmie Dale’s mind. His eyes fell to the letter again, and he read on. Halfway through, a sudden whiteness blanched his face, and, following it, a surging tide of red that mounted to his temples. It dazed him; it seemed to rob him for the moment of the power of coherent thought. He was wrong; he had not read aright. It was incredible, dare-devil beyond belief–and yet in its very audacity lay success. He finished the letter, read it once more–and his fingers mechanically began to tear it into little shreds. His brain was in a whirl, a vortex of conflicting emotions. Had Whitey Mack and Lannigan left Bristol Bob’s yet? Where were they now? Was there time for–this? He was staring at the little torn scraps of paper in his hand. He thrust them suddenly into his pocket, and jerked out his watch. It was nearly midnight. The broad, muscular shoulders seemed to square back curiously, the jaws to clamp a little, the face to harden and grow cold until it was like stone. With a swift movement he emptied his glass into the cuspidor, set the glass back on the table, and stepped out from the stall. His destination was Max Diestricht’s.
The Palace Saloon was near the upper end of the Bowery, and, failing a taxicab, of which none was in sight, his quickest method was to walk, and he started briskly forward. It was not far; and it was barely ten minutes from the time he had left the Palace Saloon when he swung through Washington Square to Fifth Avenue, and, a moment later, turned from that thoroughfare, heading west toward Sixth Avenue, along one of those streets which, with the city’s northward trend, had quite lost any distinctive identity, and from being once a modestly fashionable residential section had now become a conglomerate potpourri of small tradesmen’s stores, shops and apartments of the poorer class. He knew Max Diestricht’s–he could well have done without the aid of the arc lamp which, even if dimly, indicated that low, almost tumble-down, two-story structure tucked away between the taller buildings on either side that almost engulfed it. It was late. The street was quiet. The shops and stores had long since been closed, Max Diestricht’s among them–the old Hollanders’ name in painted white letters stood out against the background of a darkened workshop window. In the story above, the lights, too, were out; Max Diestricht was probably fast asleep–and he was stone deaf!
A glance up and down the street, and Jimmie Dale was standing, or, rather, leaning against Max Diestricht’s door. There was no one to see, and if there were, what was there to attract attention to a man standing nonchalantly for a moment in a doorway? It was only for a moment. Those master fingers of Jimmie Dale were working surely, swiftly, silently. A little steel instrument that was never out of his possession was in the lock and out again. The door opened, closed; he drew the black silk mask from his pocket and slipped it over his face. Immediately in front of him the stairs led upward; immediately to his right was the door into the shop–the modest street entrance was common to both.
The door into the workshop was not locked. He opened it, stepped inside, and closed it quietly behind him. The place was in blackness. He stood for a moment silent, straining his ears to catch the slightest sound, reconstructing the plan of his surroundings in his mind as he remembered it. It was a narrow, oblong room, running the entire depth of the building, a very long room, blank walls on either side, a window in the middle of the rear wall that gave on a back yard, and from the back yard there was access to the lane; also, as he remembered the place, it was a riot of disorder, with workbenches and odds and ends strewn without system or reason in every direction–one had need of care to negotiate it in the dark. He took his flashlight from his pocket, and, preliminary to a more intimate acquaintance with the interior, glanced out through the front window near which he stood–and, with a suppressed cry, shrank back instinctively against the wall.
Two men were crossing the street, heading directly for the shop door. The arc lamp lighted up their faces. IT WAS INSPECTOR LANNIGAN OF HEADQUARTERS AND WHITEY MACK! The quick intake of Jimmie Dale breath was sucked through clenched teeth. They were close on his heels then–far closer than he had imagined. It would take Whitey Mack scarcely any longer to open that front door than it had taken him. Close on his heels! His face was rigid. He could hear them now at the door. The flashlight in his hand winked down the length of the room. If was a dangerous thing to do, but it was still more dangerous to stumble into some object and make a noise. He darted forward, circuiting a workbench, a stool, a small hand forge. Again the flashlight gleamed. Against the side wall, near the rear, was another workbench, with a sort of coarse canvas curtain hanging part way down in front of it, evidently to protect such things as might be stored away beneath it from dust, and Jimmie Dale sprang for it, whipped back the canvas, and crawled underneath. He was not an instant too soon. As the canvas fell back into place, the shop door opened, closed, and the two men had stepped inside.
Whitey Mack’s voice, in a low whisper though it was, seemed to echo raucously through the shop.
“Mabbe we’ll have a sweet wait, but I got the straight dope on this. He’s going to make a try for Dutchy’s sparklers to-night. We’ll let him go the limit, and we don’t either of us make a move till he’s pinched them, and then we get him with the goods on him. He can’t get away; he hasn’t a hope! There’s only two ways of getting in here or getting out–this door and window here, and a window that’s down there at the back. You guard this, and I’ll take care of the other end. Savvy?”
“Right!” Lannigan answered grimly. “Go ahead!”
There was the sound of footsteps moving forward, then a vicious bump, the scraping of some object along the floor, and a muffled curse from Whitey Mack.
“Use your flashlight!” advised the inspector, in a guarded voice.
“I haven’t got one, damn it!”, growled Whitey Mack. “It’s all right. I’ll get along.”
Again the steps, but more warily now, as though the man were cautiously feeling ahead of him for possible obstacles. Jimmie Dale for a moment held his breath. He could have reached out and touched the man as the other passed. Whitey Mack went on until he had taken up a position against the rear wall. Jimmie Dale heard him as he brushed against it.
Then silence fell. He was between them now. Stretched full length on the floor, Jimmie Dale raised the lower portion of the canvas away from in front of his face. He could see nothing; the place was in Stygian blackness; but it had been close and stifling, and, at least, it gave him more air.
The minutes dragged by–each more interminable than the one that had gone before. Not a movement, not a sound, and then, through the stillness, very faint at first, came the regular, repressed breathing of Whitey Mack, who was much the nearer of the two men. And, once noticeable, almost imperceptible as it was it seemed to pervade the room and fill it with a strange, ominous resonance that rose and fell until the blackness palpitated with it.
Slowly, very slowly, Jimmie Dale’s hand crept into his pocket–and crept out again with his automatic. He lay motionless once more. Time in any concrete sense ceased to exist. Fancied shapes began to assume form in the darkness. By the door, Lannigan stirred uneasily, shifting his position slightly.
Was it hours–was it only minutes? It seemed to ring through the nerve-racking stillness like the shriek of a hurtling shell–and it was only a whisper.
“Watch yourself, Lannigan,” whispered Whitey Mack. “He’s coming now through the yard! Don’t move till I start something. Let him get his paws on the sparklers.”
Silence again. And then a low rasping at the window, like the gnawing of a rat; then, inch by inch, the sash was lifted. There was the sound as of a body forcing its way over the sill cautiously, then a step upon the floor inside, another, and still another. The figure of a man loomed up suddenly against the glow of a flashlight as he threw the round, white ray inquisitively here and there over the rear wall. And now he appeared to be counting the boards. One, two, three–ten. His hand ran up and down the tenth board. Again and again he repeated the operation, and something like the snarl of a baited beast echoed through the room. He half turned to snatch at something in his pocket, and the light for a moment showed a black- bearded, lowering face, partially hidden by a peaked cap that was pulled far down over his eyes.
There was the rip and tear of rending wood, as a steel jimmy, in lieu of the spring the man evidently could not find, bit in between the boards, a muttered oath of satisfaction, and a portion of the wall slid back, disclosing what looked like a metal-lined cupboard. He reached in, seized one of a dozen little boxes, and wrenched off the cover. A blue, scintillating gleam seemed to leap out to meet the white ray of the flashlight. The man chuckled hoarsely, and began to cram the rest of the boxes into his pockets.
Jimmie Dale stirred. On hands and knees he was creeping now from beneath the workbench. Something caught and tore behind him–the canvas curtain. And at the sound, with a sharp cry, the man at the wall whirled, the light went out, and he sprang toward the window. Jimmie Dale gained his feet and leaped forward. A revolver shot cut a lane of fire through the blackness; and, above the roar of the report, Whitey Mack’s voice in a fierce yell:
“It’s all right, Lannigan! I got him! No–HELL!” There was a terrific crash of breaking glass. “He’s got away!”
“Not yet, he hasn’t!” gritted Jimmie Dale between his teeth, and his clubbed revolver swung crashing to the head of a dark form in front of him.
There was a half sigh, half moan. The form slid limply to the floor. Lannigan was floundering down the shop, leaping obstacles in a mad rush, his flashlight picking out the way.
Jimmie Dale stepped swiftly backward, and his hand groped out for the droplight, over the end of the bench, that he had knocked against in his own rush. His fingers clutched it–and the lower end of the shop was flooded with light. Except for his felt hat that lay a little distance away, there was no sign of Whitey Mack; the huddled form of the man, who but a moment since had chuckled as he pocketed old Max Diestricht’s gems, lay sprawled, inert, upon the floor, and Lannigan was staring into the muzzle of Jimmie Dale’s automatic.
“Drop that gun, Lannigan!” said Jimmie Dale coolly. “And I’ll trouble you not to make a noise; it might attract attention from the street; there’s been too much already. DROP THAT GUN!”
The revolver clattered from Lannigan’s hand to the floor. A step forward, and Jimmie Dale’s toe sent it spinning under a bench. Another step, and, his revolver still covering the other, he had whipped a pair of handcuffs from the officer’s side pocket.
Lannigan, as though the thought had never occurred to him, offered no resistance. He was staring in a dazed sort of way back and forth from Jimmie Dale to the man on the floor.
“What’s this mean?” he burst out suddenly, “Where’s–”
“Your wrist, please!” requested Jimmie Dale pleasantly. “No–the left one. Thank you"–as the handcuff snapped shut. “Now go over there and sit down on the floor beside that fellow. QUICK!” Jimmie Dale’s voice rasped suddenly, imperatively.
Still bewildered, but a little sullen now, Lannigan obeyed. Jimmie Dale stooped quickly, and snapped the other link of the handcuff over the unconscious man’s right wrist.
Jimmie Dale smiled.
“That’s the approved way of taking your man, isn’t it? Left wrist to the prisoner’s right. He’s only stunned; he’ll be around in a moment. Know him?”
Lannigan shook his head.
“Take a good look at him,” invited Jimmie Dale. “You ought to know most of them in the business.”
Lannigan bent over a little closer, and then, with an amazed cry, his free hand shot forward and tore away the other’s beard.
It Was Whitey Mack!
“My God!” gasped Lannigan.
“Quite so!” said Jimmie Dale evenly. “You’ll find the diamonds in his pockets, and, excuse me"–his fingers were running through Whitey Mack’s clothes–"ah, here it is"–the thin metal case was in his hand–"a little article that belongs to me, and whose loss, I am free to admit, caused me considerable concern until I was informed that he had only found it without having the slightest idea as to whom it belonged. It made quite a difference!” He had opened the case carelessly before Lannigan’s eyes. “’The Gray Seal!’ I’ll say it for you,” said Jimmie Dale whimsically. “This is what probably put the idea into his head, after first, in some way, having discovered old Max Diestricht’s hiding place; and, if I had given him time enough, he would probably have stuck one of these seals, in clumsy imitation of that little eccentricity of mine, on the wall over there to stamp the job as genuine. You begin to get it, don’t you Lannigan? Pretty sure-fire as an alibi, eh? And he’d have got away with it, too, as far as you were concerned. He had only to fire that shot, smash the window, tuck his false beard, mustache, and peaked cap into his pocket, put on his own hat that you see there on the floor–and yell that the man had escaped. He’d help you chase the thief, too! Rather neat, don’t you think, Lannigan? And worth the risk, too, considering the howl that would go up at the theft of those stones, and that, known as the slickest diamond thief in the country, he would be the first to be suspected–except that the police themselves, in the person of Inspector Lannigan of headquarters, would be prepared to prove a perfectly good alibi for him.”
Lannigan’s head was thrust forward; his eyes, hard, were riveted on Whitey Mack.
“My God!” he said again under his breath. Then fiercely: “He’ll get his for this!”
It was a moment before Jimmie Dale spoke; he was musingly examining the automatic in his hand.
“I am going now, Lannigan,” he observed quietly. “I require, say, fifteen minutes in which to effect my escape. It is, of course, obvious that an alarm raised by you might prove extremely awkward, but a piece of canvas from that bench there, together with a bit of string, would make a most effective gag. I prefer, however, not to submit you to that indignity. Instead, I offer you the alternative of giving me your word to remain quietly where you are for–fifteen minutes.”
Jimmie Dale smiled.
“I agree,” said Lannigan shortly.
Jimmie Dale stepped back. The electric-light switch clicked. The place was in darkness. There was a moment, two, of utter stillness; then softly, from the front end of the shop, a whisper:
“If I were you, Lannigan, I’d take that gun from Whitey’s pocket before he comes round and beats you to it.”
And the door had closed silently behind Jimmie Dale.