Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 20

XXDORIS AND I ARE TAKEN TO IT.

When she said "for us," I got another thrill there in the dark, and right away I got quite the opposite when she said "the glass room."

I had not heard of it before. No; that was the première for the phrase with me; but it was one of those phrases which carry their own connotation; and this was decidedly an uncomfortable one.

"What's the 'glass room'?" I asked her.

"Never mind," she said, and it was like a mother to a child. You've heard something of the sort when a visitor let slip, before the children, a remark about the feature atrocity in the morning paper. "Never mind," Doris said again to me.

"Well, I'm grown." I said. "And since I'm apparently a candidate for it, why not tell me—unless you prefer to have it come as a complete surprise to me?"

"Don't!" she asked me; and we stood in silence in the dark.

"You've explored the cavern, I suppose between three and five," I said, starting up the small talk again.

"Yes."

"It runs to solid walls, I take it?"

"Very solid."

"Nothing like a trap door in the floor, by any chance?"

"Not by any."

"Now a noise would probably be one of the worst advised projects possible, don't you think?"

"It wouldn't change the end at all," Doris said, "and would only put us worse off now. They'd tie and gag us—or else let us yell for their amusement."

"Of course some one's just outside."

"Of course."

We were silent again and I listened. "Yet we don't know. I hear nobody now."

I threw my weight against the panels, bracing my feet as firmly as I could. The wood creaked but did not break. Hearing some one at the other side, I relaxed and the door opened.

"Who's so crazy to come out?" one of the normals said to me. "Come along." He punched me with his pistol. I came.

He slammed the door on Doris and threw over the bolt. Without another word to me, but guiding me by punches of his automatic against my side, he herded me into another closet, equipped with a heavy door. Here I was alone.

Standing alone in the dark, I wondered why they put me in with Doris, first; and I wondered now that it was too late to ask her again, exactly what "the glass room" was. Then my two perplexities partly answered each other.

She, having been caught doing a "double cross" on her crowd, knew what was going to happen to her; and they put me with her so she would tell me and so, while I waited, I would have the benefit of my own anticipations of the "glass room."

Suggestive sort of name, wasn't it?

I stood in that closet, or sat on the floor, for three hours. It turned out to be not yet nine when the normals removed me. Of course it seemed several times longer; many more than three hours' thoughts went through my head.

"Ready for the 'glass room' now?" one of the normals said to me.

I said something in the manner of "Go ahead."

"Come along then," he said; and prodded me as before. But this time, as they were taking me out, they did a little more. They tied my hands and stuffed my mouth full of cotton and bound it in. After they had prodded me into their car, they threw a rope around my feet and pulled it tight.

I did not see Doris at all, then. I had no idea whether they already had attended to her, or whether she was next or whether they were leaving her behind.

In the car, the curtains were down; I couldn't see out, yet I had some idea of where we were going. First we headed east, running with the long blocks, then we swung to the right and went with the short squares, crossing many streets and stopping many times at traffic signals.

That was one of the queerest features of the ride, to feel that the car, carrying me bound and gagged to the glass room, was halting, with the most punctilious, to obey the street regulations.

The three normals said little to me and not much more to each other. Altogether it was a quiet ride and, in itself, uneventful. We turned east again after our run south and I knew that we were in that bulge of the city below the numbered streets.

We went on to a bridge,—the Williamsburg bridge, I thought; and when we were off it, and had taken a couple of turns, I lost all reckoning. I wasn't particularly up on Long Island City and Brooklyn.

When we reached our terminus, they threw the noose from my feet and prodded me to precede them from the car. Others were there waiting,—other normals, I mean. I saw nobody else in my fix. We were between two large, dark buildings which seemed to compose a factory of some sort. I saw corrugated, sheet-steel shutters covering the windows, not only next to the ground but upon the upper floors. The factory unit to the right communicated with the one to the left by a bridge-of-sighs effect about twenty feet from the ground. The whole place had a shut and deserted look which was intensified by the distance of the nearest night lamps.

There was a dark, overcast sky. I remember glancing up to get a glimpse of a star or so, if I could; but nothing like one was showing. So I took a long deep breath of the outside air, as the next best thing to do, before following some of the normals, and preceding others, into an aperture which developed a door somewhat farther along.

We were in a large, wide space of a character familiar to me; it was bare of furniture, except for many long, low tables, several chairs and stools and, here and there, a desk. Chutes slanted down upon the tables. These were for the delivery of goods in the days when the factory was working; here the shipments had been made up and dispatched.

I saw all this in the yellow glow from a couple of old electric bulbs in fixtures on the sides of the great supporting columns which stood in rows through the room. Although these lights proved that current was coming into the building, the state of this shipping floor was conclusive that the factory was shut down. It was an easy trick, I knew, for one of the normals "cut in" the current which had been turned off by the company.

Several empty boxes, ready for goods which never slid down the chutes, were piled up on one side and I passed near enough to read the stencilling on their ends.

"Stamby-Temke Chemical Company," they said.

I had a dim notion of the name. It seemed to me that this was one of the plants which had boomed during the war and afterwards had continued, with the idea that German dyes and chemicals would not again compete in the American market. They had quoted us coloring matter and synthetic fruit flavors; but we weren't interested.

The normals walked me upon the broad platform of a freight elevator. I saw by the city license framed on its side that this was operated by electric power. A normal moved a lever and we slowly rose past one dark floor, two, three, four. Upon the fifth, we stepped out. Several lights were burning here and better ones than below,—bright Mazdas, these were. We were in another wide room but this had rows of desks and work benches; big bottles and carboys gleamed from shelves. The glass in the windows reflected the lights like mirrors, for they were black behind, with steel shutters tight screening them. None of this light escaped.

One of the normals jerked the binder from before my mouth and I coughed out the cotton without hindrance. From this floor, no shout could escape; nor could a shot be heard outside.

They watched me but let me alone. I sat on the edge of a desk and looked about at them. Just now, they were doing nothing.

It was plain, of course, that they had complete control of this empty plant. Probably Stamby-Temke had a watchman but the normals either overpowered him, terrorized him or bought him over. Perhaps he was one of them, who had applied for the job for the purpose of obtaining these buildings for their use. Evidently they were quite at home here.

They were so at ease, indeed, that they must be sure that no one would disturb them. I attempted a pose "at ease" but with my hands tied back of me, and more particularly with the feeling I had, I certainly made a poor pretense at it.

Something was going to happen to me here, I knew; and I was going to have nothing to say about it. The occurrence would be of that sort which precedes the finding of a body in a deserted building.

You've read in the papers, as I had, how the vice-president of the John Doe Company, making an inspection of a disused building prior to reopening it, was shocked to come upon the body of a man, evidently dead for some time. His clothing and so on; marks of identification and so on. The police state that the man undoubtedly met a violent end and prior to his death and so on. It is evident that the man was brought there by several others who used the building for—well, here I was to find out for what these normals used this building.

The elevator, which had descended after depositing us, reappeared with another group of normals and with a girl. Doris! Yes; there she was! If they had tied and gagged her while bringing her here, they had loosed her again; she stepped off the elevator and moved a little away from the normals. Not even her hands were tied; but she was in the same fix I was; that was clear.

They were letting her go to see what she would try to do, as they had let me. I got up from my seat on the desk; she came toward me. "Hello," I said; and she said the same and sat in a chair near me. I slumped down again on the edge of the desk.

There was an average of eight of the normals about us in that big office; some kept sifting in and out, from and to a farther room, where there appeared to be somebody or something particularly important.

Doris glanced that way several times and they watched her; I watched her, too. She appeared alert and on edge with eyes bright and with lips thin and tight; but she didn't show fright.

I'm not sure what I showed but I know what I felt. I was dull, not alert like her. One sort of nature seems to dull itself when in for what it can't prevent; that was mine. I guessed that the "glass room" was over in that farther end of this floor.

During those three hours alone in that closet, I had spent a good deal of thought on the "glass room"; and, knowing that the scheme at the Sencort Trust had employed gas, naturally I set to fitting gas in the arrangements of the "glass room." So now that I had seen this was a chemical factory, I was sure I was right. They had some ritual with gas for Doris and me. A rather elaborate ritual, if one were to judge by the time it took them to make ready. Or perhaps they were waiting for somebody.

A telephone instrument stood on the desk beside me. The last time I'd sat down, I had placed myself next it. Now I didn't take it up; I merely moved my hand and lifted the receiver from the hook.

One of the normals saw me and made no move. He had no reason for worry; there was no response in the wire; the circuit was dead.

"Know anything to do?" I asked Doris in a whisper.

"Not now," she replied.

The normals did not care; they did not even come closer to hear what we said.

"This is the place, I suppose," I continued.

She nodded.

"What's your idea for later?" I asked her.

"I'll have it—later," she said.

So that was it. She had no better plan than I who had none at all.

Just then Jerry came in. That is, I thought at first he was Jerry. My heart leaped at the sight of him; physically it leaped; I felt it pounding in me. I thought he was Jerry, you see. I thought he had come here as Keeban; I believed he was playing the part of Keeban but that really he was Jerry who had come to try to save me.