Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 18

XVIIIDORIS APPEARS AND VANISHES.

I was a changed man, as you may imagine. Yesterday and up to this minute of this morning, I was the laugh of the locality. "F. P. A." had put in a little paragraph about me; the librettists of the running revues also had tamped in a line or two of appropriate personal reference to the Chicago vendor of beans, with two nice, new money plates packed in his jeans.

It was music to me to hear any one address me as Teverson was doing.

"You know nearly all that I do," I told him. "Maybe you've heard I've been in a little mixup with counterfeiters and others recently. I got my tip out of that."

"Who sent the tip?"

I shook my head; it was hopeless to go into the question of Jerry with him; and Teverson was not inclined to waste time impractically.

"Pipes!" he repeated. "They were going to use the pipes; that's all you knew of their method?"

"That's all."

"What do you want to do now?" he asked me, almost deferentially. "Stay here?"

"I'd like to see this through, of course," I said. "I'd like to know what happens to those guinea pigs."

"Whatever you like," he answered, and shook hands with me. I could see he was getting uneasy about Strathon and Géroud. He went out and I, having nothing to do but wait, wandered in the hall.

A door opened at the rear and showed an enclosed stairway lit by yellow electricity; a girl had come up the stairs and now was standing in the dimness of the hall.

During the second she showed herself in the lighted doorway, before the door closed again, I had a glimpse of her outline. She was little and trim; like Doris, I thought.

I stepped down by her and she went to the side of the hall and stood. Then I had the instinct to seize her; and there, in the quarter-light, I saw what I was feeling with my hands. She was Doris Janvier.

With the realization, my head seemed to hurt where I'd been hit; but my fingers held firm to her, giving her no chance to get away.

"What are you doing here?" I challenged.

She was quick! "I came up to see Mr. Teverson!" she said to me. "They wouldn't let me see him downstairs. I heard he was up here!"

I half shook her. "You came up to see if they were meeting in the directors' room. You're the "wire" inside to-day! You came to see if everybody was placed! Well, nobody'll be in that room but guinea pigs this morning. I don't mind telling you, for you'll not get back to tell them."

"Oh!" she said. That was all, just then. "Oh!"

I kept hold of her, not knowing what else to do or say.

"Where are they?" I asked her, after a half-minute.

"Who?"

"Your crowd."

She waited half a minute herself and then said, "I don't know."

"Never mind; we'll find them. We're following your pipes," I assured her. I dragged her toward the front of the hall and had a better look at her.

"They're not my pipes!" she denied.

"That's true," I admitted. "You found them in place; all you had to do was to make new openings."

"Steve!" she said to me.

"Don't try it," I asked her.

I could see her face now,—her lips straight and thin, her eyes fixed on me, her forehead damp with those tiny drops of perspiration which you know are cold. She was wearing, not the same suit she'd had on the train; but one as smart, with fur collar and cuffs. She was the same neat little thing who had so completely fooled me; but she wouldn't again.

"Steve!" she repeated my name. "I came here to find Mr. Teverson to warn him. Since he's been warned, I don't care."

"I do!" I retorted and held her. She'd spoken as if I'd let her walk away.

Reed was back at the door of the directors' room with little furry things in his hands. Somebody opened the door, he entered and came out quickly without the guinea pigs. He saw me and stepped up.

"Who's this, Mr. Fanneal?" he asked me, respectfully enough, gazing at Doris.

I didn't reply and he answered himself. "Oh, it's her who was asking for Mr. Teverson downstairs."

"I'll see to her," I said to Reed, and I led her into a room which I found empty.

"Now you'd better tell me all you know," I advised her.

"What'll you do, if I don't?"

"You'll not get out of this!" I promised her. "Not out of this!"

Nothing yet had really happened in "this"; we'd discovered nothing actual but those slotted pipes. Not even the guinea pigs had been killed yet; but the certainty of the plot, which had convinced Teverson too, turned me sick when I thought of it. And this girl, whom I held, was in the scheme.

True, she had stopped, on a lower floor, to inquire for Teverson; but that proved nothing in her favor. I thought how I'd trusted her before and how I'd been hit on the back of the head when I went to that meeting place where I was to have my chance to argue with her, alone.

I held to her; and she gazed at me and I felt her breathing slowly and deeply. The little clock on the desk near us turned to eleven; and we both heard steps and talk in the hall.

"What are they doing?" she asked me.

I opened our door; and we both saw two men, whose figures looked like Weston and Reed. They had hooded affairs, of gas-mask pattern over their heads, and they were at the door of the directors' room.

"Don't go in!" Doris cried to them. "No mask's any good! Don't let them in!" she cried to me.

Apparently they did not hear and Doris jerked toward them. I held her and shoved her back of me. "Don't go in, Reed!" I called and at that moment, though I did not know it, I must have let Doris go.

I was watching the men and calling to them again; they had the door open a little; now they dropped back, but they could look in.

"They're dead," said Reed's voice.

"Sure," said the other. Then I missed Doris; and when I saw her, she was at the top of the stairs where she had first appeared. She had the door open and she was standing in it, looking back; then she slammed it. I was after her, but she had too good a lead. On the third floor, she entered the Sencort offices and left me on the back stairs with a bolted door between us.

I beat upon it and shouted and then realized, too late, that my best chance was to go to the ground and head her off. Of course I never headed her; she was gone.

When I returned upstairs, Reed had ventilated the directors' room by opening the windows from the outside ledge. He had taken out the four guinea pigs he had left penned on the top of the directors' table. They were all dead without visible hurt or reason.

Teverson came out of his conference, which was being held on the third floor; and he turned the limp guinea pigs over thoughtfully.

"There's only one reason those aren't Strathon and Géroud and Sencort and me, Fanneal," he said, looking at me. "You want to do one more big thing for us and against—them?" He moved his head toward the wall; I knew, whom he meant.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Keep this all quiet. It's asking something, I know."

I guess I got red at that. He meant I'd played rather prominently as a goat and it was something to ask me to conceal the one thing I'd put through.

"It's the only thing to do," I agreed.

He gave me his hand again. "We'll all know," he said.

"How about the men you have tracing the pipes?" I asked.

"Nothing from them yet."

And there was nothing until a good deal later, when they found that those old gas pipes had been extended into an unused basement room in the building to the left. When they entered this room, they found proof that recently it had been occupied; men had been doing things there with reference to the end of that extended gas pipe, but everybody had got away.

I kept quiet, of course; the Sencort people hushed their clerks. Lord Strathon, for England, and M. Géroud, for France, met with Sencort and Teverson and made their agreements as everybody read. Nobody read of that near success at gassing them dead as those guinea pigs which had been penned on their table.

Nobody knew, but the Sencort people and I and those who had slotted the pipes and killed the four guinea pigs from that next-door basement room.

"Get out of New York, Steve! Stay away!" said another note to me in Jerry's handwriting.

It arrived the second day after the gassing of the guinea pigs and I was thinking it over, when walking on Park Avenue and, being far from my hotel, I gave in to a taxi driver who offered his cab at the curb.

"Belmont!" I told him; and he started in the right direction; then he swung to the east and was over Third Avenue. He was up an alley while I was rapping at his window.

I realized then and opened the door and jumped out while the cab was still moving; but I was near his destination. A gat was at my midriff before I'd stopped slipping in the muck underfoot; and as I looked into the faces of the gents surrounding me, I understood that, upon the rack of their club, my number to-day had arrived at the top.