sky, and stood like furtive conspirators in little groups together, while the wind whispered its plots through their branches. It was a night to inspire the fabulous thoughts and imaginative morbidities I loved so well.
I walked slowly, contentedly, my thoughts free and far aw r ay. I never saw the car following me, or the man lurking ahead in the gloom. I strolled past the great tree in front of the Carter house, and then, without warning, balls of fire burst within my head, and I plunged, unconscious, into waiting arms.
When I recovered, I was already there in the cellar, lying on a bench.
It was a large cellar—an old cellar. Wherever I looked there was stone and cobwebs. Behind me lay the stairs down which I had been carried. To the left was a little room, like a fruit-cellar. Far down the stone wall to the right I could discern the looming outlines of a coal-pile, though furnace there was none.
Directly in the space before me was a table and two chairs. The table was occupied by an oil lamp and a pack of cards in solitaire formation. The chairs were likewise occupied, by two men. My captors.
One of them, a big, red-faced man with the neck of a hog, was speaking.
"Yeah, Regetti. We got him easy. We follow him like you say, from house, and grab him in front of tree. Right away come here—nobody saw not'ing."
"Where's Slim and the Greek?" asked the man who was playing solitaire, looking up. He was short, slim, and sallow. His hair was dark, his complexion swarthy. Italian, I decided. Probably the leader. I realized, of course, that I had been kidnapped. Where I was or who my captors were I could not say. My throbbing head cleared, and I had enough sense not to bluster or start trouble. These weren't local men — not with those clothes—and there was an ominous bulge in the dark man's coat-pocket. I decided to play 'possum and await developments.
The hog-necked man was replying to the other's question.
"I tell Slim and Greek to go back to hotel with car," he said. "Just like you say, boss."
"Good work, Polack," said the other, lighting a cigar.
"I do my best for you, Joe Regetti," said the big man, in his broken dialect.
"Yeah. Sure. I know you do," the swarthy Regetti replied. "Just keep it up, and we're going to be all set, see? Once I put the snatch on a few more of these birds, we'll clean up. The local coppers are all stiffs, and as soon as I get a line on some more of these old families we'll be taking in the dough regular."
"I beg your pardon," I said.
"Oh, awake, eh?" The thin Italian didn't move from the table. "Glad to hear it. Sorry the boys had to get rough, mister. Just sit tight and everything's going to be swell."
"I'm glad to hear that," I replied, sarcastically. "You see, I'm not accustomed to being kidnapped."
"Well, let me handle it," said Joe Regetti. "I'll show you the ropes."
"Thanks," I retorted. "You already have." And I pointed to the ones that bound my hands and feet.
"Sense of humor, eh? O. K. Hope your friends come across with the dough after they get this letter I wrote, or maybe the rest isn't going to be so funny."
"What next?" I said, desperately hoping that something would turn up to give me an opening of some sort.
"You'll see soon enough," advised the man. "First, I'm going to sit up with you down here for the rest of the night."
The Pole's face paled.