Keeban (Little, Brown and Company)/Chapter 4

IVI SIT IN ON FATE.

I got the money next day; I took it myself from the bank. Also I got my revolver and spent the evening in the city. About half an hour before ten, I went to our offices and roused the watchman to let me in. I pretended to work for a while and then let myself out the river door and started down the black, narrow walk above the water.

No one was anywhere about at that hour; not a window in the walls on either side was alight. Ships slid in and out; one minute deckhands, sailors and mates on watch would glide by within ten feet of me; the next I was alone with black, locked doors on one side, the water on the other.

I heard my name whispered in Jerry's voice. "You've got it?" the voice said; and some one was beside me.

This was Jerry of the Mackinaw coat, of the basement room and of the companionship of Christina. If he were Keeban, I must hold him; I must not question nor show doubt. If he were Jerry, I had nothing to do.

"Here I am, Jerry," I said.

"Give it to me."

I kept him walking beside me until the faint light, which trickled down over the bridge at the end of the block, showed me his face, Jerry's face; but, for all of that, also Keeban's.

"Satisfied now?" he asked me, laughing. "Come, Steve!" And he put his hand on my wrist. I drew back, thinking that, if he were Keeban, he'd murder me for ten thousand dollars if, for her necklace, he attacked Dorothy Crewe. I had my hand on my revolver, yet he had the advantage of me, for he could strike without warning and I must wait to see what he meant to do.

Down the river, a steamer blew for bridges; and, "Come now!" he said again to me.

Then some one else was there; some one else of his sort and burly in a Mackinaw coat; and my wrist was my own; no one had hold of me.

They were grappled together and together went down.

"Stay out of this, Steve!" Jerry's voice said to me; and some one choked; some one gasped for breath. I bent over them and in that trickle of light from the bridge, I saw a face—one face, Jerry's. I could not see the other. Then they turned; the one on top was on the bottom but they were over again before I could see. There was Jerry's face once more.

"Stay out, Steve!"

They were throttling each other as they rolled; they came to the edge of the water and I pulled them back, hauling on one and dragging the two.

A light was coming; soon I would see; for the boat, which had been blowing for the bridges, was slipping up. I looked about to it; and something happened; a splash below me. One of the two was gone; the other, gasping, stood on the edge of the timbers, staring down and moving along this way and that while he watched.

I had my gun out now and shoved it against him.

"Steve, you old fool," he cried. "He broke my hold; he's in the water! Watch; where is he?"

"You tell me this," I came back at him. "What was the book we kept first in the case at the edge of your bed? What were you always reading? Damn you, tell me quick!"

He laughed, sucking for breath. "'Westward Ho,' Steve, you old fool!"

"And the next one? You hardly knew which was better."

"'Kidnapped!'"

"Jerry!"

"Here's the boat!" Jerry cried him, "Damn him, he'll get away!" For the big hull, with her lights, her sprays of steam, her splash of screws, was beside us. "He's swum under water to the other side; he's come up there. He's got away," Jerry finished.

Of course we waited till the ship was past and waited and searched long after but found no one for our trouble.

"Where's the money?" Jerry asked me then. "You didn't give it to him?"

"He's the one that met me first?" I said.

"Yes; of course. Did you give it to him?"

"No; I didn't have it. I'm not the complete fool, Jerry. I got it from the bank and left it in our office."

"Let's go there."

We entered our building by the river door and went up the back way to my office. Jerry knew those stairs; he knew where to turn in the dark; he found the light switch by feel and without fumbling. There was not the slightest doubt, when the light came on, that I was with my brother Jerry. My trouble was simply had I been with any one else?

Of course I had seen some one else in a Mackinaw coat who had fought with Jerry; but all I saw was his size and his coat; I never saw, together, two faces which were Jerry's. I could not help thinking this as we sat down; I could not help wondering if all that business down there beside the river was a set stage play of Jerry's to fool me.

He opened the drawer where I kept cigarettes and took one and lighted it. "How're sales?" he asked me.

"Oh, fair."

"Tell me, did Smetsheen, in Minneapolis, pay his account?"

"In full, yesterday. You keep on thinking about the office, Jerry?"

"To tell the truth, not once till just now."

"Where have you been keeping yourself?"

He smiled. "Moving mostly." He walked to the door of the room which had been his office and looked in. "Who's there now?"

"Nobody."

"Not waiting for me?"

"I am," I said.

He shut the door, running his finger over the space where they'd dissolved the gold letters of his name. "They're right," he commented. "I'll never be back—to stay; that is unless I'm caught before I catch Keeban. He had a good idea for me on that money, Steve; I can use it. Got it here?"

I nodded.

"Want to give it to me?"

"There's a squeal set against you which you've got to square?" I asked.

"Who told you that?"

"Christina."

"Haven't you got us mixed now?" He looked at me.

"Maybe," I said, boldly.

He got up. "Keep your damn money. By God, you, Steve——"

I got up and pushed him down into his chair. "I don't deserve that. You know it."

He laughed. "You sure don't. Old Top, I had a hundred on me that night at the station; it's spent. Problem; how to live? Bigger problem; how to entertain? I might blow a peter, work a second story, stick up a store, scratch some paper; but non-felonious endeavor, old Bean, is absolutely closed to me. I'll come to some of the big-time stuff; I'll have to, if I keep my place; but I can't help a certain prejudice in favor of postponing it as long as possible. Meantime, I've simply got to entertain. I'm supposed to have rocks worth a quarter million, you see."

"You mean, in the underworld, of course you're Keeban."

He laughed. "Underworld's good, Steve. Marvellous how the human race laps up that 'up' and 'down' rot. We simply have to have it, heaven and hell, above and below. Who believes in either as a place? Think it out a second, Steve; where, exactly, d'you suppose is the underworld?"

"Why," I said. "South State Street, partly; and part of the west side. Down in New York along the Bowery, in spots, and near the east end docks."

Jerry shook his head, still smiling.

"Where is it, then?" I retorted.

"Where's hell, Steve, these days?"

"Why," I said, "within one."

"That's it; there's where's the underworld, too. Among those who carry the underworld within their breasts, I'm Keeban; and therefore needing, more or less immediately," his tone trailed off practically, "as much of ten thousand dollars as you've got in that peter behind you and which you feel inclined to give. It'll go to good use, Steve; great use! No sense trying to tell you now. Take Christina, for an example. You saw her last night."

"Of course."

"Recognize her?"

"No," I said, but I wondered; and at his hint, something stirred in my memory.

"Think red hair, not yellow."

I couldn't, to any use; yet now I was sure I had seen her. More than that, I'd known her, and I groped for her name and her right association, in my memory.

"Who is she, Jerry?"

He shook his head. "Not now."

"Where'd I meet her before?"

He smiled again. "In the underworld, one time you went there."

"You mean that time you and I went down South State Street to——"

"There you go, thinking up a place again, whereas, old Top, the place was most proper; polite, in fact, and almost in our highest circles. The only underworld about was the bit she packed with her; but it was quite a bit, believe me. And it's growing."

"That means," I guessed, "something's going to happen where she is?"

Jerry looked away and thought and looked again at me. "That's one place something's fairly sure to happen soon; of course, there are several others. It's funny, Steve, to see ourselves now."

"From where you are, you mean?"

"That's it. Take me, for instance, as I was. Down there, in the east end of New York, was my particular friend, Keeban. I knew nothing of him; he knew nothing of me, probably, till a bunch from Princeton ran onto him and took him for somebody they knew. They sure must have puzzled him, but they started something in his head which he half tried out by 'touching' another Princeton bunch for a hundred and getting it from Davis. About that time—as long as eight years ago—Keeban 'marked up' me."

"'Marked up?'" I repeated.

"Marked up my name on his board as good game for attention when he could get around to me. What made him put it off so long, I don't know; probably he'd a lot of prospects chalked on his board ahead of me; probably he felt he'd wait until he could put in the time to make proper preparation to appear as me. He guessed he had a great chance for a big haul; and—he made it."

Jerry went pale and looked down. "There's many more marked up on Keeban's board and on others'. I know some of the names marked up and something about what's going to occur to them. It's a little like sitting in on fate, Steve," he said, color coming back to his face, "to see this man's number and that creeping up to the top of the board; to a limited extent, one knows what's behind to-morrow, what's going to happen. Here's a man you know and I know and, to all appearances, he's sitting secure; but on Harry Vine's board, we'll say, his number is up toward the top. He doesn't guess it and you can't nor anybody else in the city; but at a certain time, and at a certain place and exactly in one way, he's going to die; and that's all there is to it."

"Who're you talking about, Jerry?" I demanded.

He changed swiftly. "Nobody; just talk. What was I up here for, anyway?"

"I left the money up here," I reminded. "We came up to get it."

"Why don't you, then?"

I turned to the safe and spun the combination. When I touched the banknotes, I thought to compromise with myself, give him some but not all. Like Jerry, he guessed it.

"All or none, Steve," he said.

I gave him all.

"That'll be useful."

"Wait!" I held him.

"Want it back?"

"No. You're sitting in on fate, you said," I went at him. "You know what crimes are going to be committed; then why don't you stop them?"

He laughed. "After I'd stopped the first, wouldn't I soon cease to know? Old Top, a man in my position has rather to pick and choose. He can stop one, perhaps; then let it be a good one! Besides, that's not my business now; I'm getting Keeban. Yet, if certain names get to the top of the board, I'll call you perhaps. On your own wire. Now Hamlet's father's ghost again. G'night, Steve." He left me.

Sometimes, when I thought it over, I believed Jerry and Keeban, separate people, had met me that night; sometimes I was sure that Jerry had worked ten thousand dollars out of me. I would analyze his talk and realize how he led me along, shifting from direct discussion of the money to his hints about Christina and the numbers coming "up" and then, after making me interested in this, how he got the money from me.

But one thing was true and undeniable; I did know Christina. Many times during the following days I tried to place her, but never did until that call reached me about the next "number up."