Jim Hanvey, Detective/The Knight's Gambit
THE KNIGHT’S GAMBIT
JIM HANVEY posed pridefully before the triple mirrors. He hitched his trousers one notch higher, affectionately patted the lapels of his new coat and carefully adjusted the cerise necktie. Then he faced the covertly grinning clerk and his voice held that beatific nuance with which a small boy calls attention to the magnificence of his first baseball uniform.
“Swell, ain't it?” queried Jim.
The clerk, a dapper little fellow who was garbed according to the dictates of the latest fashion folder, was professionally enthusiastic. “Perfect, Sir. You never looked better in your life.” Under his breath he added a fervent: “And that aint no lie.”
Jim delighted himself with a further survey of his mirrored self. And, in truth, whatever the ensemble might have lacked from anstandpoint it more than atoned in brilliancy.
The enormous and pudgy figure of the detective was enfolded in a new and ill-fitting suit of near tweeds. A pink silk shirt was stretched tightly over the upper portion of his anatomy. A collar of inconsequential height but amazing girth encased the vivid tie. Below the trouser cuffs was a brief expanse of white sox which topped a pair of peak-toed russet shoes. Above Jim's collar flopped twin chins which bounded on the south a countenance of bovine heaviness. The whole was topped by a new gray felt hat which seemed in constant danger of tobogganing from the crest of the bulbous head.
Jim Hanvey's tiny, fishlike eyes held a gleam of self-approval. Then, as he inspected himself, they closed slowly, held shut for a moment, and uncurtained with even greater deliberateness. His big hands were elevated idly until the fingers found the elaborate golden toothpick which hung suspended from the heavy chain connecting the upper vest pockets. His chest inflated and a sigh escaped his pursy lips— “I’ve been wantin’ an outfit like this for a mighty long time,” he commented. “An' I just never sort of come around to gettin’ it.”
The clerk discreetly lowered his head to scribble hieroglyphics on a sales pad. “Anything else, Sir?” he interrogated meekly.
“No-o. Don’t believe there is. … Oh! yes—a silk handkerchief.”
That article was purchased and Jim fitted it with meticulous care into the breast pocket of his coat so that the pink edging was displayed to weirdest advantage. “How much does it amount to, Son?”
Jim whistled. “Gosh! Swell clothes sure do come high.” Reluctantly he extracted a battered wallet. “Here y’are. I want my other clothes sent to the hotel.” Then, with pitiful eagerness, “I couldn't look no better, could I?”
“No,” answered the clerk with perfect candor. “You surely couldn't.”
Jim Hanvey departed. He walked with the peculiarly stiff and self-conscious gait inevitably attendant upon the wearing of new clothes. His big shoes creaked with every step. His expression was one of radiant self-satisfaction. For years he had craved an orgy of new-clothes purchasing and now that the exigencies of his profession had furnished an adequate excuse he had done himself exceeding proud.
He entered a suburban street car and sat stiffly in his seat misinterpreting the amusement of the other passengers for envy. It never occurred to Jim that his clothes were in shockingly bad taste or that his appearance was grotesque. He was a simple and lonely soul with the male's innate love of bright colors and flaring finery rampant within him, his desires untempered by the inhibitions of culture. He loved the flagrant and flamboyant in dress and secretly harbored an ambition to carry a cane. He owned two but thus far in his career they had remained cloistered. He had never quite mustered sufficient courage to drag one of them into the street. But some day. …
Forty minutes later the street car reached the end of its run and Jim alighted. The suburb silently proclaimed the opulence of its residents. Wide, tree-shaded streets bounded by broad, velvety lawns behind which hugely handsome residences reared their architecturally perfect forms; gardens which paid flowering tribute to landscape experts; sinuously winding driveways, spurting fountains, cleanly clipped hedges. An atmosphere of forbidding and exclusive wealth. Parked by the curbs were limousines of the more expensive makes. Early that morning Jim Hanvey would have felt ill-at-ease in the neighborhood. Now, resplendent in his new regalia, he believed serenely that he fitted comfortably into the picture. His manner was that of the man who belongs. He regretted that he had not bought a cane: a heavy, gold headed cane. Or, perhaps, a man of his mammoth physical proportions would better carry a malacca stick—one of the slender, whippy ones. …
He sought information from a disdainful chauffeur as to which of these estates was the property of Mr. Theodore Weston. But even with the confidence begotten of his magnificent raiment he hesitated briefly before turning up the walkway which led from the street to the massive brownstone mansion nestling far back behind a screen of elms, poplars and shrubbery. There was something about the Weston estate which seemed to elevate it above even its formidable neighbors; a mute announcement of conscious superiority; a formal indifference; an air of casualness such as that affected by the young girl who spends an hour before her mirror carefully arranging her hair in the most attractive way. Jim experienced difficulty in conceiving this palatial place as a home. It wasn't at all Jim's idea of what a home should be. His own tastes inclined to a six-room bungalow set level with the street and perhaps twenty feet back from the sidewalk where a chap could loll of an evening in his shirt sleeves and suspenders with his feet cocked up on the porch railing and the potted geraniums only slightly obstructing his vision.
He moved stiffly up the elm-sentinelled walkway to the broad and imposing veranda which spanned the palace of the industrial king, meticulously scraped a bit of mud from his new shoes, tiptoed to the front door and somewhat timorously pressed the button. Like magic the door swung back and a butler appeared.
“Mr. Weston home?”
The butler's forehead corrugated slightly. His face lost some of the fixed rigidity of expression natural to it. He surveyed the visitor with an admixture of bewilderment and insolence.
Jim fidgeted nervously. The butler maintained an uncompromising silence—which Jim eventually terminated.
“Tell him Jim Hanvey wants to see him.”
“Hmm! Your card, please.”
Jim fumbled wildly. “Gosh! I left my card in my other suit.” He jerked his thumb in apologetic explanation. “Just tell him it's Jim Hanvey and everything’ll be jake.”
The butler disappeared in the cavernous recesses of the mansion leaving the monster detective thoroughly ill-at-ease. In a few moments he returned, expression slightly altered. “Right this way, Sir.”
Hanvey followed. Their feet were soundless on the rich rugs. Jim was left alone in the dim, lavishly comfortable confines of the library. He seated himself on the lounge, hitched up his trousers at the knees to preserve the crease, and waited.
Less than five minutes later Weston appeared. He was a thin, undersized man with a peculiarly high forehead and deep cavernous eyes. His step was mincing but his manner betokened a wealth of nervous energy. He paused on the threshold and stared with ill-concealed amazement at the unwieldy figure which rose from the lounge to greet him.
It was a case of mutual surprise. Jim Hanvey had been prepared to meet a towering, aggressive, physically powerful individual—a man whose physique was in consonance with his reputation in the industrial world. For Jim knew that Weston was all-powerful: fair but ruthless, a hard fighter and a game one. The little man in the doorway was rather of the lounge lizard type. …
As for Weston he could not believe that this mammoth individual who bulked before him was the person who had been recommended as the best detective in the country. Jim was not at all of the detective type. His new raiment accentuated the flabbiness of the form, intensified the general impression of lethargic indifference and general unfitness. And so the two men stared, each struggling to readjust in a moment his preconceived idea of the other. It was the financier who spoke first, his voice snapping with a peculiar steely timbre not at all in accord with his diminutive size.
“Yeh. … Mr. Weston?”
“I am Mr. Weston.”
“Mr. Theodore Weston?”
“Gosh. …” Jim paused suddenly. Weston stared intently.
“Say it,” he prompted.
“You’re a runt,” proferred Jim. “I thought I was gonna meet a big feller.”
“And you,” countered Weston, “look more like a side-show freak than a detective.”
“You said it. I never was awful strong on looks an’ my figger never caused me to be mistook for no sylph.”
They stood facing one another in the subdued light of the library. Jim covertly straightened his tie and patted his new coat. Jim was very well pleased with himself. He wondered whether this man had noticed his new suit—
“Nice suit of clothes you’ve got on, Mr. Weston.”
“Eh?” The smaller man was startled. “Oh! Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Jim hesitated. “I’m awful strong for swell clothes, aint you?”
“I don’t notice them much.”
Jim sighed disappointedly. “Thought not. …”
Weston motioned his visitor to a chair. He extracted from his desk a humidor of fragrant Havana cigars, and as he was doing so, Jim reached for a battered, near-silver cigar case which reposed in the inside pocket of his coat. Each extended his to the other. Jim's were short and fat and very, very black. Weston took one from the case and Jim accepted one from his host. Each sniffed at his gift, each made a poorly concealed wry face and each placed the cigar carefully beside him with the remark—“Smoke it later.” Then each man lighted one of his own. As the fierce aroma of Jim's projectile assailed Weston's nostril’s, the little man winced. But Jim did not notice. He was inexpressibly content with the strong fumes he generated. And so they smoked on as they chatted idly. Weston finally caused the conversation to veer to the subject.
“You have been recommended to me, Mr. Hanvey, as the one man capable of helping me out of a dilemma. I cannot question the judgment of the men who have bespoken you.”
“Fine. That’s awful nice of you, Mr. Weston.”
“I’ll admit—” honestly “—that I am somewhat surprised by your appearance. This is a matter which requires infinite tact and delicacy. It's not—er—what you might call strong-arm work.”
“That's good,” endorsed the detective. “I’m in awful poor trim.”
“It is, in fact, a problem such as detectives seldom meet with; an affair of diplomacy. It involves no particular moral turpitude. Yet the intervention and assistance of friends cannot aid me at all—which is why I have sought outside—and professional—help.”
“In other words,” summarized Jim slowly, “somebody’s tryin’ to slip somethin’ over on you.”
“Precisely. Not in a business way. That would be relatively easy to cope with. In entrusting you with this story I must impress upon you the necessity for strictest secrecy. My confidence must remain inviolate. As a matter of fact, I find myself excessively embarrassed. … I—I—scarcely know where to begin.”
“Hmm! An' you're doubtful about beginnin' at all, aint you, Mr. Weston?”
“No. Not exactly. With the endorsement you have received from business associates of mine. …”
“You still think I look like such a slob I aint the man to show no finesse. Aint that it?”
“You state it rather crudely, Mr. Hanvey, but you have hit the bull's-eye.”
“Well,” Jim slumped in his chair. His eyes closed with maddening slowness—remained shut for a second—then opened even more slowly. … “I’m willin’ to do my best to help you out. But if you want me to enter a beauty contest, I guess we'd better call it off.”
“It isn’t that, Mr. Hanvey. You see, the primary essential is that you come here as my guest for two or three weeks.”
“In this house? Gosh!”
“That will be necessary.”
Hanvey deliberated. Once again he gave vent to the ocular yawn which interested—and somewhat exasperated—his host. “I reckon I'll have to put up with it then,” he sighed.
Weston smiled slightly. “I don't believe it will be as terrible as you anticipate. The—er—reimbursement in this affair, Mr. Hanvey, will be adequate. More than adequate, should you happen to be successful.”
Jim waved a pudgy hand. “Never mind that. I'll take a chance if you will.”
Again silence settled between them. Weston sat forward in his chair with his keen eyes glittering across the room. Finally he rose abruptly and stepped mincingly across the library to the window. Jim remained slouched on the lounge, apparently asleep. A miasma of rancid smoke hovered about his Brobdingnagian figure.
The descending sun of early evening bathed the dapper figure of the little industrial giant in a soft, mellow light. He stood by the window staring out—at something—silent, intense, a bit morose. And finally he spoke without turning his head.
Jim rose with a grunt and waddled across the room. His enormous bulk completely shadowed that of the smaller man. And now there had come a slight change in the atmosphere. Weston's use of Jim's last name and a sudden pathetic drooping of the narrow shoulders bespoke the fact that he had reconciled himself to his disappointment in Jim's appearance and was willing to place his trust in the big detective. He spoke in a sharp but toneless voice.
“Look yonder,” he directed, pointing down the winding, poplar-lined bridle path which twisted toward the house from a rich green valley beyond.
Jim blinked slowly—and looked. His first impression was one of enthusiasm for the pastoral beauty of the scene: a gradual blending of formal gardening into the rich lusciousness of untrammelled nature; a gentle tinting of the gold of early evening; the silver of a brook in the valley below … a wealth of color and of natural beauty.
Then his fishlike eyes discerned two persons on horseback, a man and a woman, who were walking their mounts slowly toward the house. They rode close together and they were conversing with an absorption which made plain that the outside world did not exist for them. The girl had half-turned in her saddle in order that her eyes might feast unrestrainedly upon the man; while he, conscious of his power, was injecting the full wealth of an engaging personality into the task of holding her undivided attention.
They approached slowly, the mounts scarce moving, and as they came closer something in the magnificent stature and military carriage of the man stirred memory in the mind of the obese detective. But before recognition came to him his attention was once more attracted to the girl.
She was young—that much was evident even at the distance separating her from Jim. There was some thing about the slim, boyish figure; the artless eagerness with which she hung upon the words of her companion, which proclaimed extreme youth. And, too, the way she sat her horse—carelessly, easily, as though she belonged. The girl wore no hat, her rich brown hair was piled carelessly atop the exquisitely shaped head. Her left hand held the rein loosely, her right hung by her side. It held a riding crop which she twiddled aimlessly. Up through the poplar-lined bridle path they came … the shadows spotting the roadway like the stippling of a pen-and-ink artist.
“My daughter,” said Weston simply and without turning. There was affection in his voice—and worry—and abounding pride. Jim responded to the tone with all the sincerity of his emotionful nature.
“Swell lookin' kid,” was his comment.
He turned his attention to the man, now limned in the glow of the late evening sun. He was a perfect foil for the girl; a figure of powerful, dominant masculine maturity offsetting her naïve girlishness. He wore an immaculate riding costume. He rode like a Centaur, swaying to the stride of his horse … oblivious to everything save the girl by his side. He was talking, head inclined toward her. And then Jim recognized the man and he emitted a slow, amazed whistle. Theodore Weston turned.
“You know him?”
“Who is he?”
Jim favored the man with a prolonged scrutiny. It was scarcely possible … but there was certitude in the tone with which he made answer to his host's question.
“That's Whitey Kirk.”
“Who is Whitey Kirk?”
“The cleverest con man in the world,” was the answer, and there was a ring of professional admiration in his voice. “I didn't know he was a friend of yours—”
“There ain't anything to be ashamed of if he is. Y'know I’m awful strong for Whitey—Warren is his real name—because of the fact that he is so good. For ten years that baby has been pullin' jobs, big jobs, wide-open jobs—and they’ve never fastened a thing on him. He's a wizard, that’s what. He's tackled everything from stock swindling to smuggling and he's gotten away with it. I can’t help liking a man with his brains and ability. And nerve— Oh! Mamma!”
Weston walked heavily back to the table of black walnut which occupied the middle of the library. Jim followed slowly, and then, seeing that the attention of his host was not upon him, deftly exchanged the two cigars which lay upon the desk—so that his own vicious black one was once more in his possession. “Fair exchange,” he told himself, “ain't always robbery.”
Absently Weston reached for the rich Havana which had thus been returned to him, lighted it, and puffed meditatively for a few moments. Hanvey slouched opposite in an easy chair, allowed his fat fingers to toy idly with the golden toothpick which hung from his cable-strength watch chain. He contemplated the little man, wondering what was coming, and, without knowing why, feeling a sense of sorrow and of personal responsibility.
“That,” said Weston suddenly, waving toward the window which they had just vacated, “is why I sent for you.”
Silence. From outside came the crunch-crunch of horses’ hoofs on the gravel driveway, the sound of a man's voice—and a girl's—then nothing save the soft sighing of the evening breeze through the trees which surrounded the stately home. It was Theodore Weston who punctured the silence—
“What is this man’s criminal record?”
“He ain’t got none. We know he's crooked, we even know most of what he's done. But we ain’t ever been able to get the goods on him.”
“He’s never been arrested?”
“That will make it more difficult—very much more difficult. Perhaps too much so.” He was silent for a moment, and then—with a sudden intensity which surprised Jim: “The man is a criminal, Mr. Hanvey. It shall be your task to prove it!”
“Hmm!” Jim's glassy orbs closed—then opened—with exasperating leisureliness. “Why?”
“Because—” and Jim liked the directness of Weston's speech, “that man is engaged to marry my daughter.”
“Gee!” commented Jim Hanvey. “That's tough.”
“It is worse than that—it is horrible. She is not quite eighteen years of age. He is—Oh! about forty I judge—”
“They met at Ormond Beach last year. We have a winter place there. My daughter is a golf enthusiast. This man, it seems, was down there playing golf—peculiar pastime for a criminal—”
“Whitey's a gent.”
“Madge was injured one day on the links—struck by a golf ball on number ten fairway. She was stunned. Number ten is farthest removed from the clubhouse. This man Kirk was playing right behind her. He is a powerful fellow and he carried her to the clubhouse in his arms. From there she was taken home in a car which he provided. I thanked him and he introduced himself. It never occurred to me that he was not a gentleman. He told me he was a graduate of one of the large universities—”
“—And we were all emotionally grateful at the time. We magnified the very simple favor which he had done for us. Certainly it never occurred to us to scrutinize too closely the very natural friendship which rapidly developed between him and my daughter. We didn’t take it seriously—somehow a parent finds difficulty in appreciating the maturity of his own child.
“We all liked him. His natural gentility was the only credential we asked. He and Madge were together everywhere: he appeared to be a man of means, culture and leisure. We fancied that he had a paternal interest in her. They golfed together, played tennis, swam, rode—a very delightful winter idyll. And the day Madge told her mother and me that she was engaged to marry this man—well, Mr. Hanvey, unless you’re a father—and have received a shock through your child—a shock involving the happiness of that child—you cannot understand.”
Jim fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair. The voice of his host rang with fierce bitterness. … “You sure are up against it, Weston.”
“I investigated him, suddenly realizing that Mrs. Weston and I had been criminally negligent. I was amazed by the fact that I knew nothing whatever of him save that he bore all the earmarks of a gentleman. He vouchsafed no personal information. I brought the family back north—and investigated further. The thing was horrible enough as it was—a seventeen-year-old-girl engaged to a man of forty. She wouldn’t listen to reason. … I tried to be tactful in my handling of the situation. You see,” simply, “I am worth a great many millions of dollars and it was only natural that I should be careful … marrying for money, you know—”
“Yeh—sure. I know.”
“As though the situation itself were not sufficiently bad, came the report that the man is a notorious criminal. I told Madge and she went straight to him with it. He laughed—said he had bitter enemies who were trying to injure him. Defied them to prove that he had ever been crooked. Suggested that they produce a prison record. Of course it couldn’t be done. You can imagine the effect on an impressionable young girl—in love for the first time. She fancied him a persecuted man—she said flatly that she didn’t believe a word of it and intended to stand by him. …”
“Good sport,” breathed Jim heavily.
“She is. Too good. I talked to him—straight from the shoulder. He gazed at me blandly and said that my accusations were false. I offered him his own price. He didn’t even have the grace to get insulted—merely stated that he didn’t have a price. Alleged that he was genuinely in love with Madge. I threatened him. He laughed. I ordered him never to see her again. He told me coldly that if I persisted in any such foolish course he’d induce her to elope with him. And finally, because it seemed the wisest thing to do, Mrs. Weston and I sanctioned a secret engagement, hoping against hope that the true nature of the beast would show—and Madge would be awakened.
“It hasn’t worked, Hanvey. She is more infatuated than ever. That's why you were recommended to me. They told me that you were the one person who might be of real assistance.”
Jim leaned forward in his chair. “Me? How can I help?”
“I have been told that you know crooks better than any other man in the world. That you can work miracles with them—because you understand them. I ask you pointblank, Jim Hanvey—will you undertake the task of saving my daughter from this man?”
Jim lighted a fresh cigar. Through the haze of rancid smoke he stared at the little financier. “I’ll undertake it on one condition,” he said slowly.
“And that is—?”
“—That I be allowed a free hand. Absolutely.”
“Good. Remember, Weston, I’m liable to pull a bone—the chances are that I’ll flunk it. Whitey Kirk is the cleverest crook on two continents. He's in soft here—awful soft. He ain’t gonna let go easy. But if you're willin’ for me to try—I’ll try. If I flop—it won’t be because I haven’t done my damndest.”
The smaller man rose, crossed the room and dropped a hand on Jim's fat shoulders. “You won’t fail, Hanvey.”
“Because,” replied the other, “it means too much to Madge. If you’re what they say you are—you'll put it over.”
Jim rose awkwardly. “I’ll do my best. I’ll have to stick around here for a week or two.” He looked down upon his new and shrieking raiment— “Thank goodness I already bought a new suit. I’d hate to look like a bum in a swell joint like this.”
Twenty minutes later Jim Hanvey departed for the city in one of Weston's limousines. He lolled against the rich upholstery enjoying to the ultimate the luxury and uniqueness of the experience. At his modest and untidy apartment he swiftly packed a near-leather suitcase with those articles which he fancied would be essential to his new rôle of society butterfly. He left the apartment, entered the limousine for the return trip—then suddenly halted the chauffeur— “Just a minute, Buddy. I forgot something.”
He re-entered the building. When he returned to the car a few minutes later he nervously clasped the thing which he had forgotten.
It was his light malacca cane.
He reached the Weston home shortly before the dinner hour and was shown to his rooms; a bedroom, parlor and bath suite on the west wing of the mansion. He gazed apprehensively about and experienced more than a hint of trepidation. A valet arrived to inquire whether he might assist Mr. Hanvey to dress for dinner.
“My Gawd, no!” roared Jim. “You'd make me feel downright bashful.”
In the living room he was introduced to Mrs. Weston, a sweet-faced and surprisingly young woman considerably larger than her husband. Mrs. Weston pressed Jim's hands as she wished him well. “Theodore says you’ll succeed, Mr. Hanvey … he says he knows you will.”
“He’s an awful wise guy.”
“You don’t know what it means to us.”
“The heck I don't. Believe me, Mis’ Weston—I know a heap about this. An’ say—if it ain’t impolite to ask—how long is it before we eat?”
It was in the library immediately preceding dinner that the detective met Whitey Kirk. That gentleman, tall and broad and handsomely debonaire in his dinner jacket, strolled into the room puffing on a cigarette. He paused and stared through the semi-gloom toward the large and strange figure in the outrageous clothes. The figure moved forward and, as though from a distance, Whitey heard the voice of his future father-in-law—“… my friend Mr. Hanvey. Mr. Kirk. …”
Then Jim's limp hand and the well-known voice—“Sure, me an' Whitey Kirk is old friends, ain’t we, Whitey?”
“You know one another?” Weston's simulation was very poor indeed.
“I’ve had the pleasure of Mr. Hanvey’s acquaintance for a number of years.
“Yeh—sure he has, Mr. Weston. We’ve had business dealin's with one another—as you might say.”
Kirk had regained his impassivity and by no slightest gesture did he give testimony to the internal seethe nor the swift groping of his keen brain for the answer to this new problem. The presence of Jim Hanvey betokened trouble—great gobs of it—and trouble was the one thing which Whitey Kirk was at that moment most desirous of avoiding. He negotiated Jim into the glare of an electrolier while he himself stood in the shadows, but he gained no information from the bovine expression of the triple-chinned detective. Jim sat stolidly, lids curtaining his expressionless, fishy orbs, fingers twiddling the golden toothpick. Theodore Weston gazed interestedly from one to the other. He felt a queer confidence in the ability of the ungainly detective, and didn't understand the feeling. Jim was the apparent personification of the ultimate in human stupidity, but Weston's keen, sparkling eyes had not missed the flash of apprehension which had whitened Kirk's face at the moment of recognition.
And then Madge Weston burst into the room—billowed through the door like a stray zephyr. She called gay greetings and then, girllike, made directly toward Warren Kirk—pausing abruptly at sight of the stranger. She accepted her father's introduction matter-of-factly and immediately set about the task of making the stranger feel at home. It was plain to her that he was out of the picture—a veritable china shop bull—and she was more than a little sorry for him. Jim responded eagerly to her advances, and the warmth of his response grew more keen when he noticed that Kirk was highly displeased.
Here was the sort of girl who made an irresistible appeal to Jim—pretty in a fresh, wholesome, sensible and entirely immature way; eager, unspoiled, urgent with life and vitality; far, far removed from the genus flapper—all of whom were anathema to Jim. Flappers frightened the big fellow. They had a manner which he could not fathom, their quick vapid repartee passed over his head, he held the consciousness that he was the butt of their covert ridicule. But not with Madge. She was herself—wholesome and delightful and girlish— By the time they entered the dining room Madge and the big detective were the best of friends.
The dinner commenced as an ordeal for Jim until he realized that he could never solve the fork riddle and devoted his entire attention to enjoyment of the rich and rare food. Mrs. Weston smiled toward her husband—she had the soul of the true hostess, the hostess who enjoys the enjoyment of her guest. True, Madge was a trifle shocked by his lack of table manners, but that was soon borne with—and then forgotten. He was having such a good time!
Alone, following the dinner, the three men were silent. Warren Kirk was decidedly ill-at-ease. Finally he rose: “Mighty fine night, Jim.”
“Ain’t so worse inside.”
“Want to stroll round the grounds?”
“You mean you want to have a talk with me?”
“Sure.” Jim, with difficulty, hoisted himself from the chair. “But remember I’m a rotten walker, Whitey.”
A shade of annoyance flashed across the man's face. “My name is Warren.”
“A'right, Warren. Le’s travel.”
They descended from the spacious veranda to the moon-drenched garden. The night air was soft and warm and saturated with the odor of lilacs. From far off came the tinkle of a piano and the sensuous strains of a violin—and in the street somewhere children were playing and calling gleefully to one another. Everywhere quietude and beauty and peace. Side by side the two men walked: Jim's big figure waddling on short, fat legs; Whitey's broad shoulders thrown far back, his firm, muscular limbs moving with easy rhythm. And it was the taller man who broke the silence. He spoke without turning and his voice was frigid and direct.
“What's the big idea, Jim?”
“Hmm! Just visitin’ my ol’ college chump who I ain’t seen since we graduated from Harvard together.”
“Let’s cut out the kidding. What are you here for?”
Jim's voice was mildly reproving. “Don’t you know?”
“I can guess.”
“A'right. You got my permission. One guess ought to be enough. If you miss I’ll give you another.”
“You’re here—” Whitey's icy voice came slowly, his words close-clipped—“to break up my romance.”
“With that kid?”
“Yes—with that kid.”
Jim's heavy head rolled in earnest negation. “Naw, son—you're all wrong. I ain't here to bust up no romance.”
“Listen to me, Jim Hanvey—you've got a reputation for telling the truth—”
“I’m telling it now. I ain't here to bust up no romance, Whitey. I’m here to keep you from gettin' away with whatever graft you’re planning.”
“I’m not planning anything except to marry this girl.”
“Well—that’s a pretty good graft, ain’t it? Good lookin’ kid—young—heiress to about twenty million bucks. Mmm! I'd call it a real swell graft.”
“I’m in love with her—”
A harsh note crept into the detective's voice. “That’s a lie, Whitey, and you know it. If you was you’d clear out. You know you can't bring her nothin' but misery. Now what I want to find out is this—are you plannin’ to go through with this deal an’ marry her, or have you got a price?”
“I have no price.”
“You can’t be bought off?”
“Well, that makes my job harder. I thought maybe you was lookin’ for a soft spot and didn’t want to queer things by bargaining with the old man. It'd be worth a heap to him to get rid of you. Not that you ain’t a good crook, Whitey—an’ in a professional way I ain’t got nothin' but respect an’ admiration for you. But as a gent, Whitey, you ain’t worth a damn.”
For a few moments neither spoke. It was Kirk who broke the silence. “You must know already that you can’t queer me with the kid.”
“Does look like a tough assignment.”
“There isn't anything you can do.”
“Yes there is.”
“Well, for one thing, I can make it downright embarrassin' for you—so durned embarrassin' that maybe you’ll decide you’d better break it off with the girl and begin to talk dollars and cents.”
“Not a chance.”
“No?” A pause, and then—“I’m glad you think so, Whitey. But lookin' over that young lady kinder careful it strikes me that if she was ever convinced you was a crook she'd give you the go-bye so fast you'd think you was a popboy at an automobile racetrack. Yep—that gal sure never would stand for no crooks payin’ her rent—not if I’ve got her right.”
“Perhaps not,” admitted the other, “but you can't hang a thing on me. You know I’m a crook and I know it. But nobody has ever gotten a thing on me. Not a thing. In ten years I haven’t slipped once—not a single time.”
Jim gazed at him keenly: “That's what you think,” he said with peculiar emphasis.
They returned to the house; Hanvey expressionless as ever, Kirk struggling to conceal the worry inspired by Jim's air of confidence. Whitey knew that he had never slipped in his decade of criminality—he knew but he wasn’t sure. Perhaps, somewhere in that period, there had been an error of judgment, a weakness which he did not suspect. He knew the axiom of the criminal world—a detective may make a thousand mistakes and yet be successful; a criminal cannot err once. Warren Kirk realized that he was only human—and therefore fallible. And if Jim knew something and could prove it …
Later in the evening Kirk persuaded Madge to accompany him to the veranda. Scarcely had they left the room when Jim fired a question at her parents—
“Knowing what you do about this guy, why'd you agree to their engagement?”
“Madge is headstrong,” was the simple answer. “We thought it best to appear to consent.”
“Mmm!” Jim nodded slowly. “It sure is a pleasure to work with folks which uses their heads for somethin’ more than havin' a picture taken of.”
Meanwhile, on the veranda, Whitey Kirk was talking with low-voiced earnestness to the girl. “It’s this way, Madge—Hanvey is a detective and a good one. He is one of the leaders of the police clique which for years has been attempting to hang something on me. Your father has fallen under their influence. He has hinted to you that my past is not all it might have been. He has hired Jim Hanvey to come down here and prove to you that I am crooked.” He bent his handsome head close to her wide-open, frightened eyes. “I believe I am a gentleman, little girl. I want you to promise that the minute you lose your trust in me you will let me know—and I shall leave you. But if you're willing to stand by me …” With a little sob she seized his hand and pressed it tightly.
“Don’t talk that way, Warren. Don't! I can’t bear the thought that anyone even thinks you are not all right. And don’t suggest that I won’t stand by you. I love you, dear. …”
He took her in his arms then and kissed her, and even as he did so there was a coldly calculating light in his gray eyes. He was playing this game for big stakes. It was the chance of a lifetime—an opportunity to insure affluence with safety. And Madge was a pretty good sort. He wasn’t in love with her, of course, but on the other hand he might do worse in the selection of a life partner. Nice, clean kid—and sensible… “Gee! it’d sure bust things higher than a kite if Jim could ever prove to her …”
And so after the silence of midnight had fallen over the house, Whitey Kirk sat staring from the window of his room. Beside him was an ash tray filled with cigarette stumps.
Jim had him worried. Whitey knew—none better the ability of the ponderous detective, knew that he would not be absolutely safe until he was actually married to the girl. It wasn’t that Jim had discovered proof of any past transgression so much as there was danger that Jim might frame him.
Whitey knew well the romantic strain rampant in the soul of the ponderous visitor, realized that Jim believed he must save the girl. And he realized that, all other methods failing, there was every likelihood that Jim would frame a robbery or a bit of crookedness in such a manner that he would appear guilty. “He might even plant a jewel robbery,” reflected Kirk, “and plant the loot in my room. Then, if they caught me …”
Early the following morning he went riding with Madge and forewarned her of that possibility. Madge was horrified and indignant, but there was in her eyes a queer, questioning light which had been absent the previous night. Madge was seeing a great deal of smoke and instinctively she found herself wondering whether, after all, there might not be a bit of fire. She cast aside the idea as unworthy—but it persisted subtly and she was downcast and constrained for the last hour of their time together.
But she was blessed with a strain of sterling loyalty and active fighting qualities. Immediately upon her return home, she sought an interview with her father. It was brief, surfeited with mutual pain, and very much to the point. Father and daughter were honest with one another.
“Why are you opposed to my engagement, Dad?”
“The disparity in age, for one thing.”
“I don’t like Kirk.”
“You believe he is not—all that he might be?”
“I have had him investigated.”
“Yet you never heard of a man who was as evil as they say Warren is who has never been caught, have you?”
“Then why persecute him? Why not play fair? Why make me unhappy?”
“Believing what I do, Madge—”
“The police are down on him—for no reason. They’ve been persecuting him for years. If what they say were true, Dad—” and her voice crescendoed bitterly—“they’d have proved something. But it's not true, and I want you to know that I shall stand by him in spite of you and Mother and this fat Mr. Hanvey and all the rest of the world.”
Weston crossed the room and took her face between his hands. “I like you to talk that way, Daughter. I like my little girl to be a good sportsman. I’m not trying to persecute Warren Kirk: I’m trying to get at the truth. You have no objections to that, have you?”
She thought it over for a moment— “And if you discover that these allegations are untrue?”
“Then you may marry him whenever you wish.”
She walked slowly from the room. She and her father had always been pals. He was fair to a fault—and honest. She responded to the fairness of his present attitude. She loved the Warren Kirk she thought she knew. If he was not that man … If, beneath the polished exterior, there was blackness … She went quietly to her room to ponder. …
When she came downstairs shortly before the luncheon hour Jim Hanvey was waiting for her. His huge figure overflowed a chair in the reception hall and he lumbered to his feet at her descent. Somehow, despite the nature of his mission, she could not find it in her heart to dislike him. There was something infinitely pathetic and appealing about the man—a vague, elusive quality which excited the maternal instinct in her breast. The cheap, ready-made clothes which flapped so grotesquely about the ill-shapen figure were not funny … she liked Jim Hanvey and she admitted it frankly. He bowed now with elephantine lack of grace.
“Good mornin', Miss Madge.”
Jim glanced around apprehensively. “I’ve been sittin' here waitin’ for you. I wonder if you'd talk to me for a minute?”
She arched her brows in surprise. “Certainly.”
“Let’s go where no one can hear us.”
They repaired to the library. Jim hitched his chair very close to hers. “I want you to understand just one thing, Miss Madge—I’m a friend of your’n.” He cleared his throat. “I want to come clean with you—if you’ll let me.”
“Well, first off I want to tell you why I'm here, I'm here—” his fishy eyes closed slowly, opened even more slowly and then fixed glassily and compellingly on hers— “I’m here to break off this match between you an’ Whitey.”
Her lips parted and she leaned forward. “Why?” she cried. “Do you, too, believe that he is—a-a not what he should be?”
Jim Hanvey's ponderous head rolled from side to side.
“No ma'am!” he said explosively, “I don't!”
“What?” Her voice rang with incredulous amazement.
“Whitey ain't no crook—and that’s what I wanted to tell you. He's on the level, that kid is. They’ve been out to get him for the last ten years and they’ve not succeeded. Why? The reason is because he's straight. But they’ve had it in for him. If he'd ever slipped—even an inch—they’d have got him. That's what I wanted to tell you—that I’m here as your friend. Of course I think he's pretty old for you—but that’s your business and his. Your father thinks I’m gonna try to hang somethin’ on Whitey. I’m not. But it's better for a friend of his to stick around than to tell the old man how I really stand and have him hire some one who has it in for Whitey. He wouldn't have a chance then. They’d frame him. And I just wanted to explain this to you so you'd know you can trust me.”
Impulsively she clasped his big right hand in both of hers. Her eyes were shining: “I don’t know how to thank you. And I do trust you— Oh! so much! It's horrible, what they’re saying about Warren—and I know it isn’t so. I—well, do you mind if I tell Warren that you’re here to help him—to help us?”
“No,” returned Jim dryly, “I don't mind. Tell him. He'll be awful interested.”
And Whitey was interested when she told him the following morning. He was more than that, and the amazement which was writ large upon his features was reflected in the fury which surcharged his voice.
“It’s a damned lie—” He did not catch the startled, hurt glance which she bestowed upon him. “Jim believes I’m crooked. He's here to prove it to you. And when he says he's our friend, he lies.”
She cringed slightly. The intensity of the man troubled her. It was something which her immaturity could not understand; a new vision of this hitherto soft-spoken, gentle, thoughtful man. A tremor of doubt assailed her. Girl-like, she could not comprehend the bitterness which seemed so unnecessary. For the moment Whitey Kirk had stepped out of character.
Later she told Jim that Kirk was distrustful and Hanvey insisted that the three of them meet for a chat. Kirk violently opposed the suggestion. Things which he could not fathom were happening too swiftly for his comfort. He was afraid of Jim and did not know how to combat this new tack—this brummagem friendliness. It was Madge who insisted that the trio talk things over, and Madge who made evasion impossible. Lowering and sullen he greeted the impassive Jim who puffed placidly upon one of his murderous cigars and appeared happily oblivious to the rancor in the other's manner. But Madge was noticing—and she was vaguely uncomfortable for Jim.
“What's your game, Jim?” Whitey Kirk came straight to the point.
“Game? Who said I was playin' a game?”
“You know perfectly well that when you told Miss Weston you were here in the rôle of friend, you lied.”
“Mph! You don’t care who you call a liar, do you?”
“No I don’t, and——”
“Well——”—softly— “I’m too much your friend to get sore at you about doin' it. Ain't that the sensible thing, Miss Madge?”
“It is.” She clipped her words short with a mannerism keenly remindful of her father. “And I must say, Warren, that you seem unnecessarily severe.”
He swung wrathfully upon her. “I tell you that your father has employed this man to destroy our happiness—to break off our engagement——”
“He told me so himself,” she answered with some asperity.
“Certainly. And he said he was remaining here because he is our friend and because if he resigned any other man who assumed the task would be our enemy. Isn't that simple?”
“Yeh,” chimed in Jim, “ain't it?”
Kirk gazed at him through half-closed eyes. “I still don’t get the drift——”
“It’s just this,” explained Hanvey. “Everybody says you’re a crook—but you ain't—are you?”
“Folks just think you are. They’re terrible unjust to you. You're really a gent and you're engaged to a swell young girl. All you want is a chance to marry her. Well, I’m here to see that you get that chance.”
“That isn’t true!” snapped Kirk bluntly.
“Because you know good and well——” He pulled himself up sharply, suddenly remembering that his fiancée was an auditor “—that you think I’m not on the level.”
“Aw, Son, you’re doin' yourself an awful injustice. I never knew a straighter, nicer feller than you in my life. I’ve always been your friend. I’ve always told these other dicks who've been after you that it wasn't no use—that they’d never get the goods on you so they might as well quit tryin'. Honest, I have.”
Kirk turned away. “One warning, Madge,” he flung harshly over his shoulder, “this man isn't to be trusted.”
She stared after his retreating figure, her own countenance aflame with embarrassment. Jim Hanvey, alone of the trio, seemed unperturbed. His attitude of disinterestedness was superb, and when she would have apologized for Kirk he cut her short. “That’s all right, Miss Madge. I don’t hold it against poor Whitey. They’ve been houndin’ him for so long he's just naturally suspicious of everybody. Don't you go lettin' this little scene worry you. Just remember that I'm your friend. Real—sure-enough friend.”
She left him there and scarcely had she disappeared within the house when Kirk returned. His face was pallid and the gray eyes were blazing beneath the thinly pencilled brows. Jim greeted him with a broad grin. “Back again, Whitey?”
“Yes. What I want to know——”
“I’ll tell you one thing you ought to know—that is you pulled an awful bone just now. The way you acted you almost convinced me I was wrong and that you really are a crook.”
“Come off that, Jim. What are you driving at?”
“Just trying to help you out. You an’ Miss Madge. Terrible swell kid. I’m strong for her.”
“You can’t hang anything on me.”
Hanvey met his eyes squarely. Then the detective's lids closed with interminable slowness. At the termination of the protracted ocular yawn he gave vent to a single comment. “Nobody in this world ever batted a thousand,” he said.
That night the three principals in the little drama gave themselves over to intensive thought. Jim speculated least of all. He was more than merely satisfied with the results of his preliminary work, although he was yet somewhat appalled by the difficulty of the task he had undertaken—and with the urgency of success. He shuddered in his big, simple heart at thought of the girl’s future should his efforts meet with failure. Whitey was all right in his own sphere—but this girl did not belong there and he knew that Whitey could never fit himself into her world.
As for Whitey Kirk, that gentleman was victim to a severe and obsessing worry. He had been apprehensive from the moment of Jim's arrival on the scene and had already laid a predicate of defense against any possible move of the detective. But the first move had caught him unprepared—it had come from an unexpected quarter and he found himself off guard. Jim's expressed friendship was the one thing with which he did not know how to cope. He realized that he had pulled a strategic blunder that afternoon—all through the evening Madge had been cool and unlike her naturally effusive and effervescent self. Madge was thinking—and Whitey didn't want Madge to think. Her nimble brain contained too much of her father's powers of logical deduction.
Kirk could not vision the goal toward which Jim was heading. That Jim had a definite objective, he did not doubt. He knew that the protestations of friendly interest were untrue—but he could not prove they were untrue. The very fact that Hanvey's strategy was unintelligible to him caused additional worry. He could face a definite attack. This one, subtle and evasive, bewildered and rendered him horribly vulnerable.
Madge sat at her window, staring seriously across the silhouette of hills. In her eyes was a brooding reflective light which was at once doubting and speculative. Instinct informed her that Jim Hanvey was her friend. She could not help but trust him. And she had that day made the startling discovery that there was something to Warren Kirk beside suave gentility. She had glimpsed beneath the surface and had seen there a hardness and a grimness which she—eighteen and in love—had never suspected.
There was little sleep for her that night and she did not come down the following morning until long after breakfast. She had forgotten an engagement to ride with Kirk and learned with an inexplicable measure of relief that he had gone alone. In the morning room she found Jim Hanvey smoking one of his vile cigars and worrying himself over the proper place to drop the ashes. She settled herself for a chat—and so, eager and friendly, Whitey Kirk found her when he returned from his ride. He remonstrated with her, and, as she had discovered a granite something in him the previous day, so he now learned that there was a strain of firmness in her which did not brook opposition.
“I think you're unjust and unreasonable, Warren.”
“I know what I’m talking about.”
“Has Mr. Hanvey ever harmed you?”
“It isn’t his fault that he hasn’t. He has tried.”
“How do you know?”
Kirk's face flushed. That was a question which was embarrassing to answer. He knew well enough, but— “I know—that’s all.”
“That isn’t sufficient for me, Warren. I like Mr. Hanvey and I believe he's our friend.”
Kirk's face hardened unpleasantly. “He may be yours, Madge; but he isn't mine.”
They had walked down the rosepath together and now she left him abruptly and returned to Hanvey. He gave no slightest indication of interest in their conversation. He stared stolidly at nothing at all and allowed her ample time to recover her mental equilibrium.
Kirk again tried to solve the riddle. Jim was proceeding with a smug complacency which worried him. Mentally, he checked over the list of his criminal exploits. He was positive that each had been excellently covered but he wasn’t sure. Now. He had been sure until Jim appeared on the scene. But nothing could explain Jim's air of confidence save the certainty that he had uncovered some supposedly closed trail of Kirk's. But if Jim Hanvey was planning to discredit Kirk in the eyes of the girl, his actions gave no hint of that fact. It was the following morning, after a hearty tiff between Whitey and Madge, that he found her crying in an arbor and slumped down beside her consolingly
“Awl c'mon, Kid—that ain't no way to carry on. Whitey didn’t mean nothin’ by what he said.”
She faced him squarely. There were tears in her eyes but no suggestion of weakness in the firm line of her jaw. “It isn't what he said, Mr. Hanvey—it's what he didn't say.”
“Well then—he didn't mean nothin' by what he didn't say. Whitey's a swell feller, Madge. A nawful swell feller. Best in the world. He's got his faults—we've all of us got them. But I’m strong for Whitey an’ I’d give anything in the world if he’d believe that.”
“So would I,” she said. “I trust you, Mr. Hanvey. I don’t know why—but I do. Perhaps it’s because I like you so much.”
Jim blushed like a schoolgirl. “Gee! them words is music to my ears. There ain’t many folks have said that to me, Miss Madge. Y'know—it seems that when folks meet up with a fat man they think all they got to do to prove they’re good fellers is to give him a razzin’. Goshamighty, a fat feller likes friends as much as a skinny one. More, I’ll say. He needs 'em more.” He breathed heavily with the exertion of prolonged declamation. “That's why I wisht Whitey would like me an’ trust me like you do. Matter of fact I’ve just been achin’ to solve his problem, but he wouldn’t let me get within firin’ distance—you'd think I was gonna eat him.”
“You’ve been aching to solve what problem, Mr. Hanvey?”
“His an’ yourn.”
Jim looked away. “I don’t exactly like to tell you. If Whitey was to suspect I was hornin’ in on his affairs he’d get plumb peeved. Reckon I’d better wait. But it is a terrible good solution.”
“What is it?”
Her interrogation fairly crackled. Jim grinned.
“Anybody listenin’ to that would know you was your father’s daughter, Sis.”
“What have you in mind?”
“Nothin’ special—just an easy way out. Somethin' Whitey would of thought of long ago if he'd been twenty years younger.” He stared reflectively at the sky— “Elopement!”
The color receded from her cheeks. For a moment she sat motionless, then leaned forward earnestly. “Would he?”
“Elope? Goodness goshness! yes! Feller who wouldn’t elope with you would be a wooden indian. °Course I suppose he's figured that it’d get you in dutch with your folks, but I’ve been studyin' them out, an' I know they’re so nuts about you they’d forgive you right away. Ain't it so?”
“Yes. … Mr. Hanvey, I’ve been hoping that Warren would suggest that. I have, really. I know it sounds unmaidenly to say it—but I’ve been so worried and so uncertain. And recently Warren has acted so peculiarly—since you came here, that is. … I wish it was over and done with.”
“That’s the way to talk, Sis. And I want you to know I’m here to help you all I can.”
“Positively. But—” ruminatingly “—I wouldn't mention that fact to Whitey if I was you.”
She nodded agreement. “Perhaps I had better not. But I’ll count on you just the same.”
It was that night that she walked through the gardens with Kirk and broached her plan. She did it simply and naïvely—she was worried, she said, recent developments had mitigated the perfection of their happiness. He had become morose and she worried. It was better not to go on this way. If he really loved her, he wouldn’t wait—he'd just carry her off. …
Whitey Kirk scarce believed the evidence of his senses. He was amazed and exultant. Ever since the moment of Jim's arrival on the scene he had longed to suggest an elopement, but he was afraid. Jim would find out some way, and then there'd be thunder to pay. He had feared it would be a tactical blunder, might arouse her suspicions of over-anxiety on his part.
His agreement was instant and enthusiastic—sufficiently enthusiastic even for her girlish, romance-loving heart. Within an hour their plans were laid: they were to announce after dinner the following night that they were going for a ride. At about eight o'clock they’d leave the grounds in her own high-powered sport roadster into which their suitcases would previously have been put. Then across country to the next town—and marriage. Whitey was whistling gleefully when they returned to the spacious veranda, but Madge was victim to a strange admixture of emotions. On the one hand was the thrill of active romance—on the other a feeling that she was doing wrong, that she wasn’t playing fair with her parents; that, perhaps, after all was said and done, Whitey wasn’t exactly the man for her.
Some of her doubts she expressed to Jim the following morning. He laughed away her fears. He had advised it, he said, because it was the simplest way out of a serious difficulty. A problem, he explained, was only a problem until it attained solution. It became then, a status. Those were not Jim's words, but that was the sense of them. She was only half convinced and told him so.
“But I trust you, Jim Hanvey. I’m taking your advice. I’ll do what you say.”
“You really love Whitey?”
“Then elope with him tonight.”
All through the long afternoon she was distraught. Her suitcase was packed and ready. Immediately following a peculiarly strained dinner Whitey Kirk disappeared. He returned in a few minutes having, in the interim, placed his suitcase in the girl's car. The world was a very bright and rosy place for Whitey just then. He glanced contemptuously toward the slothful, hulking figure of the detective. Not the least item of the prospective triumph would be Jim's discomfiture.
For her part, Madge was uncertain and unhappy. Only her immaturity and her fear of that youthful bugbear known as “backing down” prevented an eleventh-hour retreat. But, starry-eyed and firm jawed, she set herself to go through with it. She had said she'd do it and she would—come what might. But she experienced none of the happiness which she had fancied would be hers upon her nuptial night. There was only a vague, formless terror … time and again she turned to Jim Hanvey for comfort. Jim knew—she could talk to him. He tried cumbersomely to reassure her, and succeeded partially. That evening he was to her both mother and father … they were very close to one another; the big, ungainly detective and the bewildered, emotion-driven child of a millionaire father.
At seven-thirty o’clock Whitey Kirk called Madge aside.
“Your suitcase in the car, dear?”
“Yes,” she answered softly.
“You put it there yourself?”
“Yes. …” Then she hesitated and bit her lip. Madge had never been taught to lie. “Well, not exactly myself.”
“What do you mean: Not exactly?”
“What do you mean, Madge?”
“Well, somebody put it there for me.”
“I don’t see what difference that makes, Warren.”
He quizzed her with an intensity which he himself did not understand. “Who was it?”
Her head was flung back defiantly.
His jaw dropped slowly. Then his fingers tightened on her arm. “Jim Hanvey?”
“Then—” He was striving to adjust himself to this queer development— “Then Jim Hanvey knows about this elopement?”
“You told him?”
“No. That is—not exactly.”
“Good God! Madge, can’t you realize what you've done? You've spoiled the whole thing. If Jim Hanvey knows of this we may as well call it off. We’ll never get away with it. I told you from the first that he was here to prevent our marriage. And now that you’ve told him—”
Her voice was level and firm in defense of the detective.
“And I’ve told you you were wrong, Warren. Jim is my friend and yours. He won't stop our elopement.”
“What makes you think that?” His voice contained a sneer.
“Because,” she announced calmly, “the idea of this elopement originated with Jim Hanvey!”
His grip on her arm relaxed. He gazed at her in incredulous astoundment. His brain seemed momentarily atrophied. Of all possible disclosures this was the most disturbing. It had been sufficiently alarming to learn that Jim was aware of the proposed elopement but to be informed that the idea had originated with the portly detective was a stunning blow.
He questioned the girl dazedly, choosing his words with care, holding himself in leash that he might betray none of the violent emotion which seethed within him. He might have suspected … might have known that Jim was not entirely inactive. And all the time, while the girl was explaining, his own brain groped for an answer to the puzzle. What was Jim planning? What could he be planning? As from a great distance he heard her words—
“And so you see I was right and Jim is your friend.”
An uncontrollable fury shook him. The words were out of their own volition— “He’s a damned sneak! Butting in on my affairs!”
She recoiled. The viciousness of the man's attitude, his venomous speech. … He saw his error quickly and for the next ten minutes devoted himself and his expert talents to the task of making amends. She was only half convinced. … “We’ll go through with it,” he said grimly. “Jim will double-cross you—you'll see. But we'll go through.”
She went to her room. The farewell to her dainty little sanctuary was not easy. She dabbed at her eyes with a tiny lace handkerchief and prayed for the moral courage to renege at this eleventh hour. But that courage did not come—she was too young and her philosophy was builded about a tenet of gameness. She had said she'd elope with Warren Kirk and elope she would despite the instinct which cried to her in warning.
She pulled herself together with an effort, set her lips in a straight, determined line, and—with shoulders thrown back and head held high—descended the stair way. Her eyes roved questioningly about and she felt more than a hint of regret at failing to discern the hulking figure of Jim Hanvey. Nor did she see Kirk. She inquired his whereabouts of her father.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Weston. “I saw Kirk strolling about with Jim Hanvey but I don’t know where they went. Weren’t you going riding with Warren?”
She nodded in dumb misery. As they reached the veranda Kirk appeared from the dusk. He seemed nervous and, in the light which streamed through the doorway, his face possessed a marked pallor. He addressed the girl: “All ready, Dear?”
“Yes.” She turned to her father. “Where is Johnson? I want him to get the roadster.”
Weston answered. “Johnson has gone to town in the big car, Dear. I’ll get the other out for you.”
“No.” Her manner denoted anxiety. “I’ll back it out myself. You talk to Warren.”
There was no eagerness in her manner as she progressed slowly toward the garage in the rear of the big house. A premonition of disaster was with her, the irrevocability of the thing was depressing. Game as she was, there was considerable trepidation at the thought that she was thus wilfully abandoning the placidity of her existence for a future unknown and with a man whom she had just come to realize she scarcely knew.
She climbed thoughtfully into the roadster, assured herself that her suitcase and Whitey's were there, and then started the motor. Its rhythmic hum brought no elation this night. Just before slipping into gear, she reached to the dashboard and switched on her head lights. As by magic the interior of the garage was illumined by the brilliant glare. And then, as the significance of the sight disclosed by the sudden illumination penetrated her consciousness, she capitulated to her overwrought nerves. She screamed.
“Dad! O-oh! Dad!”
She sat motionless, gripped by a horrid fear, until her father stood beside the car, and as she alighted uncertainly her eyes discerned the figure of Warren Kirk farther back in the shadows. He hovered there uncertainly. Her father held her arm anxiously and then, as he saw her distended eyes, he followed their direction and a startled exclamation escaped from between his lips. For, in the very corner of the garage was a bundle of flashy, vivid clothes—a bundle bound securely by ropes and rendered mute by a gag.
“He’s dead!” The girl's eyes flashed accusingly upon Kirk, and then back to the pitiful figure of Jim Hanvey in the corner. Jim was slumped grotesquely, his chin hung forward on the massive breast, a thin trickle of blood coursed down his fat cheeks and lost itself in the fat recesses of the ample chins.
How long she stood there she didn't know. She remembered her father leaping across the garage, whipping out a gold penknife as he did so. And she knew vaguely that Kirk was beside her, his hand on her elbow. She shook his hand off and he moved away as though she had struck him. Weston administered first aid to the stricken man from a silver pocket flask and not until the fishy eyes wavered open did the girl move, and then it was to dart across the garage and drop to her knees by the side of the ungainly figure. She pillowed his head on her breast and soft, crooning mother-sounds came from between her lips. She wiped away the thin stream of blood with the hem of her skirt. Jim rousing himself with an effort, blinked dazedly into the glare of the auto lamps and shook his head. His voice came lugubriously—
“Gosh! I sure feel like Friday the thirteenth.”
As Jim, with the aid of Theodore Weston, struggled to his feet, Whitey Kirk moved slowly into the circle of light. His finely chiselled face exhibited great concern. He voiced a question— “What happened, Jim?”
It was Madge Weston who answered. She, too, had risen, and a new maturity seemed to have enveloped her. With a quietly dramatic gesture she removed from the fourth finger of her left hand the ring which Kirk had given her. She extended it to him.
“You know what happened to him, Warren.”
“I don't. …” His denial was fervent. “I’ll swear to you, Madge—”
“Take this, Warren. I’d rather not discuss the matter.”
His eyes held hers. And the man saw there a light of finality which was beyond question or argument. With that revealing glance he knew that he had lost. Madge turned to her father and gave a calm, quiet, womanly explanation—
“I was about to elope with Warren. He was afraid that Mr. Hanvey might try to stop us. And so he committed this—this cowardly act—”
“I didn't!” It was Kirk defending himself passionately. “I give you my word. Jim, you know I didn’t do this. Tell them—”
“It doesn’t matter what Mr. Hanvey says,” retorted the girl sadly. “He has always been your friend and he's your friend now. He’d probably say you didn’t do it, wouldn't you, Mr. Hanvey?”
“Yeh.” Jim's big head nodded slowly. “I prob'ly would. I ain't aimin’ to git Whitey into no trouble.”
“You see, Warren, he's standing by you to the end. For it is the end, Warren. The very end. I’ve learned a good deal in the last few days. Somehow, I marvel that I didn’t know before.”
“But I didn’t do it, Madge. Tell her that I didn't do it, Jim.”
Jim met his eyes levelly. “I ain’t accused you of nothin', have I, Whitey?”
Kirk stood rigid, staring from one to the other. From father and daughter he received stares of unveiled hostility. From Jim Hanvey only a mild, blinking reproof. Kirk's big figure shook with fury and he smashed one fist into the palm of the other hand.
“It's all a damned lie!” he shouted. “I had nothing to do with this and Jim Hanvey knows it.”
“Well,” came the quiet retort from the detective, “I ain’t said you did, have I?”
It was Madge Weston who interposed. “It doesn’t matter what either of you might say,” she remarked coldly. “And now, Dad, I think we'd better help Mr. Hanvey into the house.”
They supported the big figure between them. Whitey Kirk stood aside as they passed him. Later, after Weston and Madge had bandaged Jim's slight scalp wound, Kirk dispatched a note to Madge protesting his innocence and begging for an audience. She returned a curt refusal and the following morning, without again having seen the girl, Whitey Kirk abruptly departed the Weston home.
That afternoon Jim Hanvey and Theodore Weston faced each other across the polished surface of the walnut desk in the library. Jim was puffing peacefully upon one of his favorite black cigars and his host was struggling manfully with its mate. But however horrible the cigar might have been, it was not sufficiently malevolent to negative entirely the unalloyed exaltation which Weston was experiencing.
“You accomplished the impossible, Jim. I’ll never forget it. I didn't believe it would work——”
“I wasn’t so dog-goned sure of it myself,” answered the big detective slowly. Then he grinned ruefully as he tenderly rubbed the bruise on his head. “I’ll hand you one thing, Mr. Weston. Your bindin’ an’ gaggin' wasn’t such a fine job—but believe me that sure was one awful wallop you hit me. I don’t wonder Miss Madge was so sure that Whitey done it. She never would believe her Dad was that cruel.”
Weston was deeply apologetic. “You insisted that I hit you hard.”
“Sure I did,” chuckled Jim. “I’m just remarkin' that you certainly took me at my word.”