Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 19

XIXI HEAR OF THE GLASS ROOM.

They were not masked; it was daylight. The hour was late in the afternoon, to be sure; but I saw them plainly as they made no attempt at concealment. And I could guess at the significance of this. They showed themselves, without care, for they felt absolutely sure I would never have a chance to give evidence against them.

I used to wonder why a man doesn't put up a fight, in spite of having a gun shoved against him, when he knows he's in for the worst possible after he surrenders to such a circle as met me. The fact is, at the moment, the gun at your belt is wholly convincing; you aren't competent to imagine incidents subsequent to the occasion of its going off. So you don't force the occasion.

"Step in there," somebody said to me; and I stepped. "There" was a door in the rear of a building; it led into an empty room and to another door indicated as my destination.

Here was a closet without further portal and without window; its light came through the door by which I entered; and it was so dark that, when I was thrust in and the door slammed and bolted, I supposed myself alone.

I stood still, with my hand on the door panel, while the after-images of light faded from my retinas and became replaced by the blackness of pitch dark. I indulged myself—or attempted to—in some of that logic said by Jerry, a little time ago, to be the present prerogative of gervers, guns and gorillas, and in which I felt certain that pumpers of poison gas would not be found lacking.

The last step on their ladder of reason was not difficult for my mind to ascend. I had spoiled their great scheme at the Sencort Trust; therefore now I was to be punished. Perhaps, in contemplation of the certainty of this, should have been satisfied; but I had to go about the gathering up of earlier starts and sequences.

I felt myself caught in a continuity, frequently suggested but not finally convincing, until suddenly that gat at my stomach summed up everything for me. "Here you are!" it spoke. "You've gone this way and that; but now you've come to it!"

I got to thinking what Jerry told me of "his friend"—Keeban, his strange, sinister twin—"sitting in with destiny" by knowing, in advance, what he was going to do to others. I'd thought of him sitting in with destiny on Dorothy Crewe and old Win Scofield and on Jerry himself; but I hadn't thought of him sitting in with destiny on me. Stupid, now that I came to see it; for of course I was in his calculations all along; he'd used me, as long as I proved profitable and now that I'd failed him, he'd finish me.

For I knew than that Keeban had me. He had not shown himself in that circle of reception in the alley. No; every face there had been unknown to me, unless one was the dyke-keeper of Klangenberg's delicatessen. They were normal-appearing, good-looking youths who made the majority in that circle.

I'd often noticed—haven't you—how indistinguishable our felons are from the philanthropists of the day. Mix up the captions—best of newspapers sometimes do—accompanying the illustrated page pictures of the gentry who last night did "Fanny's First Play" for the Presbyterian Home and the guests and ladies who last night failed to start their Fiat promptly after they had it all filled from the ring and wrist-watch trays in Caldon's windows, and who could be sure which words went with which faces?

Admit the truth; you'd hire most murderers on sight. Others do; why not you? They look normal.

Nero was normal, H. G. Wells says; he had a little peculiarity, to be sure, but that was merely incidental to his position, not to his nature. He was so placed, you see, that the ideas, which remain mere passing black thoughts and impulses with the rest of us, could without any trouble or personal effort at all become actual deeds with him. That was the secret of Nero. Before a man condemns Nero as being of a separate species from himself, he should examine very carefully his own secret thoughts. This is Wells's own advice and monition.

It occurred to me there in the dark in reference to the normals on the other side of the door. They looked all right; but they showed signs of an education decidedly deficient on inhibitions, and altogether too prodigal at translating dark thoughts and impulses into action.

I wondered about Jerry and how much he might be knowing of my present position; twice, recently, you remember, I'd had word from him. I did the drowning-man acts,—both of them; I caught at the straw that somehow he might save me, and I reviewed, if not my entire life, yet several significant epochs of it; and I got to thinking about Doris.

She was in with the worst, I was now sure; she not only had had me hit on the head, when I came to see her, but she'd worked in that scheme to gas Sencort and his guests. I kept thinking about her and the dances we'd had together at the Flamingo Feather and our dinner on the train when I'd had the best time ever in life.

Meanwhile I was listening and I began to realize that there was a soft, regular sound separate from and nearer than those which reached me through the door. It was the zephyr of breath. Some one was in the closet with me.

"Hello," I whispered. "Who's here?"

A hand touched my side and I seized it,—a small, firm hand mighty like Doris's.

"Hello; who're you?" I asked.

"Hello, Steve," she said. Doris! By Christopher, Doris!

"Anybody else in here?" I asked. That sounds stupider now than at the time; for after this, I was ready for anything.

"No," she said.

"What're you doing here?" I asked her; and she said, "What d'you suppose?"

That was it; what did I suppose? Here she was with me. I was there because I'd run down and showed Teverson those slotted pipes and spoiled the best of Keeban's schemes. Now why should she be here except for the same reason?

"They saw you down on Wall Street," I said.

"Yes."

"I see," I whispered.

"Do you?" she asked me.

I bent at the same time that my hands, which had been holding hers, felt up her arms, over her shoulders and located her cheeks. I held her between my hands and, bending, kissed her. On the lips, it was; I found them fair. She helped, perhaps, a little.

"How long you been here," I asked her, my lips burning like flame; and how I liked it!

"What time is it?" she asked.

"'Bout five when they shoved me in."

"I came at three."

I kissed her again at that; I was still bending and had her cheeks between my hands.

"How'd they get you? You take a cab?"

"That's how they got you?"

"Me," I said. "But you—you weren't so easy, were you?"

"Oh, I don't know," she temporized.

Queer—wasn't that—how she wanted to show consideration for me? "I should have told you," she blamed herself, "that they'd be watching the Sencort building, and when they bumped off just guinea pigs, they'd lay for who fooled 'em."

"I had a tip to skip out," I said. "But I didn't start in time. Where did they get you?"

Now she told me, "They took me out of my room by the back way."

I held to her but differently—oh, entirely differently—from my hold of her in that Sencort room. For I knew not only that she'd not been in that scheme, not only that she'd gone there to warn Teverson, as she said, but also I knew she'd nothing to do with that blow on my medulla oblongata at Cheron Street.

"Vine's doing this, I suppose," I whispered.

"Yes."

"He sent me both those telegrams?"

"No; only the second; I came on, as I wired you. He grabbed me when I arrived and threw you the second wire, I didn't see the street till he was through with you."

"What'd he do to you?"

"Me? Oh, he was all right about me, then."

"He didn't hurt you at all?"

She knew what I meant and replied, "He did not! Christina saw to that."

"Oh, she's back with him?"

"Umhm. That's why she saw to it."

"All right," I said; and kept hold of her. My property, she was; mine.

"You're forgiving me?" I said.

"For what?"

"Down on Wall Street; and what I did after I'd been hit."

"Oh, that was you, Steve, just you."

Pretty soon, then, I asked her, "What's Vine's idea for us now?"

You'd have thought I would have asked that the first thing. But question any doctor; inquire how patients act when they know there's no hope for them. Do they say right away, "What is it, doctor?" They do not; they say. "Lovely weather; and what a view from this window!"

Doris was like a doctor in that, when I got around to asking her, she did her stalling, too; but finally she told me, "Well, I guess for us it's the 'glass room'."