The Adventures of Detective Barney/The Kidnappers
Barney Cook entered the operatives’ room of the Babbing Bureau twenty minutes late, and one of the detectives, at a typewriter desk, said: “The Chief wants to see you."
His tone was ominous. Barney looked up guiltily at the clock.
He had been given a holiday on the previous day and told to “rest up” after his exploit in the Catskills. He had taken his rest on the streets, and at the moving picture shows. At night he had gone to a vaudeville theater with two of his old gang. It had “leaked” to them that he was a detective—a fact which should have been kept a professional secret. He had been posing and strutting in their eyes till after midnight. And he had overslept.
He saw all these damning facts, as the accusing explanation of his lateness, while he was still confronting the face of the clock. Consequently, he asked the operative, with a schoolboy air of innocence: “What’s he want to see me about?”
He was leading up to a preliminary rehearsal of his interview with Babbing. The man paused in his typewritting long enough to verify the last word that he had written; then he went on again, impatiently; and Barney was left to face Babbing, and the score of his delinquencies, with no defense but the open countenance of virtue.
He went, but he went unconfident.
He had always been able to invent explanations and excuses that would pass muster in the schoolroom; and he had had a boy’s contempt for the gullibility of his elders; but Babbing had given him more respect for adult perspicacity. He could never tell how much Babbing knew; and he found it impossible to lie with assurance among the covered pitfalls of Babbing’s inquiring silences.
Of course, he could say that his mother had told Mrs. Jordan, next door, that he was working in the Babbing Bureau; and Mrs. Jordan had told her son “Dummy”; and Dummy had told everybody. And he had gone to the vaudeville show to get away from the curiosity of the neighborhood. And he was late getting down to the office because a bunch of fellows had been laying for him outside, and he had hung around, inside, waiting for them to go away, and—
Babbing was busy at his desk. He asked, unexpectedly: “Who was that you were talking with—on the corner—as I came in?”
It had been “Dummy” Jordan. Barney had to admit as much.
“He ’s deaf and dumb, is he?”
Barney hesitated. His story had cast Dummy Jordan for the part of village gossip. “Yes, ’r,” he confessed reluctantly.
Babbing looked over his spectacles at him. “You can talk—on your fingers—pretty fluently?”
“Well, what ’s the matter?” Babbing asked. “Who is this Dummy Jordan?”
“No one. He ’s just the fullah that lives next door t’ us.”
Babbing said, into an office telephone: “Bring me the file on the Dart gang.” He pressed a call button to summon his office manager. He remarked, aside to Barney: “I don’t know what you ’re trying to conceal— Is it anything important?”
“No, sir,” the ingenuous Barney answered.
“All right. Save yourself the trouble of looking so innocent, then. Sit down.”
He greeted the reverend gray hairs of his office manager with “Arch, I ’ve got an idea for that Merriman disappearance. The woman who kept the lodging house at number 125 was a Mrs. Andrews, was n’t she?”
“That,” Archibald said, “I have forgotten.”
“Well, look it up. And have Billy type her a letter on our Wallbridge Chicago letter-head, introducing me as Adam Cook. Something like this: ‘Dear Madam: I am giving this letter to an old friend, Mr. Adam Cook, who expects to be in New York for some months on business and wishes to get comfortable, private rooms for self and son. Anything that you can do for him will be much appreciated by Yours truly’—and have him sign it Charles J. Wallbridge. Date it back about ten days. And when he ’s typing it, have him put a 6 on top of the 5 in 125. Do you understand?”
“Good. What are we using room 1047 for?”
“I think it ’s disengaged.”
“Clear it out and fix it up for me as Adam Cook. I ’ll promote that tunneling machine again. Get the model in there, and the blue prints, and put Clara in charge. Be sure to have everything right, now. I ’ll move in, this afternoon, and I expect they ’ll start to check me up right away. We don’t want any holes in our cover.”
“I ’ll attend to it.”
“And have the name painted on the door.”
A clerk had entered with a file of typewritten reports in a loose-leaf binder. Babbing had taken it while he was still talking to Archibald; and he turned over the pages, rapidly, as he talked. “That ’s right,” he said. “She ’s a Mrs. Josiah Andrews at number 125. Go ahead.”
Archibald went out softly, after the clerk; and Barney, having caught something that concerned the name of Cook in these preparations for a plant, waited on the edge of his chair in guilty suspense. Babbing continued to read.
“Well, Barney,” he said, still reading, “you ’d better get it off your mind, had n’t you?”
“Whatever it is that ’s bothering you. I have n’t time to put you through the third degree. Come on. Give it up.”
Barney grinned sheepishly. “Dummy knows I ’m a— He knows I ’m workin’ here.”
“And all the rest of your friends, eh?”
“Huh! You ’ll meet that on the street some day, when you least expect it. Go on.”
Barney balked, silent.
“For instance,” Babbing suggested, “You have n’t told me that you did n’t want to give up young Whately when you found him at Langton’s. Have you?” He swung around in his swivel chair. “Eh?”
Barney shook his head.
Babbing rose. “Well,” he said, walking up and down in a meditative promenade, “we ’d better clear that up. If you ’re going to be a detective, you ’ll have that sort of job turning up every other day. You ’re next thing to a public hangman. And you ’ve got to make up your mind to do your duty whether you like it or not.”
He stopped to look out the window, at the roofs below; and his point of view broadened accordingly. “The morals of the situation are rather mixed. Society—people—the human family—have decided that if they ’re to live together they must n’t kill, or steal from, or otherwise injure one another. They have made laws against these acts. And they punish the man or woman who breaks the laws. In case of war, of course, killing and stealing are permitted by one branch of the family against another branch. But in time of peace, the officers of the law, as agents of society, are the only ones allowed to kill or otherwise injure their fellows. And then only in defense of society.” He turned on Barney. “Do you understand?”
Barney said he did.
“Well, then—” He came forward—“as a detective, you ’re allowed to do a great many things that would be punished in the private individual. You’re expected to swindle, and steal from, and lie to, and betray the enemies of society in any way you can, in order to defeat them and defend society. It ’s your duty to do it, and do it diligently. If you don’t, you ’re as bad as the criminal. And that ’s the only moral law that binds you, professionally.
“But, in your private life,”—He wagged an emphatic forefinger—“you ’re bound by all the moralities that bind every one else. And in your dealings with me, you have to be an honest employee. Or take the consequences. When I send you out to get a man, you ’re a crook if you don’t use every means to bring him in, no matter what sympathy you feel for him or his mother or his sweetheart or any one else. Understand?”
“Good.” He went back to his desk. “I ’m telling you this because I have a job for you that I don’t want any fumbling on. I ’m going to plant you as a deaf mute. With this Dart gang. You ’ll have to be prepared with a trunk and a hand-bag full of good clothes. Corcoran ’ll go with you to see that you get them right. I ’ll give him instructions. He ’ll take you—and your baggage—to rooms that I ’ll engage for us at the Hotel Haarlem. I ’ll pick you up there, as soon as you ’re fixed, and explain matters to you as we go along.” He took his office ’phone: “Get Corcoran in here right away.” As he returned to his study of the Dart file, he said to Barney: “You can practise being deaf and dumb till he comes.”
Barney grinned at this pleasantry as cheerfully as a dog wags its tail when the voice of authority turns from reproof to forgiveness. He had not altogether understood Babbing’s lecture upon the morals of his profession; the young savage in him had not yet been sufficiently civilized to make him sensible of any social compact with his fellows. But he had the instinct of personal loyalty that keeps his people clannish; and he accepted Babbing’s scolding, without ill-will, humbly, as a deserved rebuke of bad faith.
He accepted it, also, as a proof of Babbing’s interest. It had been his experience that all his elders who liked him, showed their affection by admonishment; and he was aware, from Babbing’s manner, that he had made himself solid, as he would say, with the Chief. Moreover, he was going out on another case. As a deaf mute! He was likely to have some fun! And if any one could expect a boy to reflect upon the moral aspects of anything under such circumstances—
Corcoran arrived in due course, silent, non-committal, with his hat on the back of his head, looking like a newspaper man, on the sporting page. When he had received his instructions, he said “Come on, kid,” slightingly, and he let Barney trot along behind him to the elevator. “Going to put you out as a dummy, eh?” He pressed the signal button. “I suppose you ’ll be able to get away with that, if you keep your mouth shut.”
His manner was contemptuous. Barney had not forgotten their first experience together and Corcoran’s disgust at “this kid business” when he had stolen Cooper’s cipher code.
He touched the detective’s elbow, mutely, and began to spell out an impertinent reply on his fingers.
“Aw, can that,” Corcoran said. He did not know the deaf and dumb alphabet, and it annoyed him.
Barney lifted his eyebrows, frowned, flickered eloquently with his hands, pointed at Corcoran, repeated his pantomime, and ended with his eyebrows up again.
Corcoran said: “What the hell ’s the matter with you?”
Barney pointed to his mouth and to his ears, shook his head and launched into another gravely impudent communication.
“I ’ll chuck you down the elevator shaft in a minute,” Corcoran growled.
Barney spelled out on his fingers: “Yes, you will, you big stiff.” And it was evident from his face that he was making an insulting reply.
Corcoran flushed and swore at him. Barney grinned. In the elevator cage, he spelled out: “I ’ve got your goat.”
And he had. By the time they arrived at the Hotel Haarlem—with an auto full of purchases for Barney’s new rôle—Corcoran was in a speechless rage, and Barney, still consistently deaf and dumb, was enjoying himself like a young imp.
“G—— Corcoran said, through his teeth, ”I hope this Dart gang cuts your throat. They ’ll do it, too, if they get half a chance.”
It was late in the afternoon when Adam Cook, accompanied by his afflicted son, descended from a taxi-cab in front of number 126, rang the bell, and asked to see the mistress of the house. A discouraged-looking maid ushered them grudgingly into the parlor and left them there—in a room that apparently had been outfitted second-hand from all the discarded reps and plushes of all the defunct boarding houses of the last generation.
Barney looked around him and was disappointed. Corcoran’s prediction that the Dart gang would cut his throat if they got “half a chance,” had given him a promise of excitement; and Babbing had endorsed the promise with a further warning in the taxi-cab. “These people,” he had said, “are professional criminals. You can’t get past them with any mistakes, mind you. They ’re dangerous. If they suspect you ’re after them, they ’re deadly. They ’ll kill to get free. You ’ll have to watch out.” Consequently, Barney had entered the room with the feeling that he was about to penetrate a bandit’s lair.
And there was an old upright piano, very yellow in the teeth—against a wall-paper of faded violets on faded pink—under a steel engraving of Lincoln’s cabinet, in a black frame. Between the lace curtains of the front windows a sheaf of dusty pampas plumes preserved themselves aridly in a Japanese bronze vase of chipped plaster. The carpet had footpaths worn threadbare in its design. No two chairs were mates. They looked as if they had never had mates—determined spinsters whom age had only hardened. Shabby gentility in a room could go no further without being mellowed into pathos.
Babbing twinkled at it. He pointed Barney to a chair and waited, standing. At the sound of a footstep in the hall, he faced the door—a mild-mannered, mild-eyed widower, accustomed to courtesy and evidently able to buy it.
The mistress of the house proved to be one of those lean and angular women who dress and pipe-clay themselves to a military rigidity, with a high collar, a stiff belt, false hair, talcum powder, tight lacing and hard padding. Her features were large—all but her eyes, which were black and beady. No one could doubt her evident respectability. She even looked as if she suffered from indigestion. And the sight of her dampered the last impatience of Barney’s expectation. Like a boy who has come to see melodrama and finds himself fobbed off with expository dialogue, he settled down on himself to wait for the action to begin.
Babbing had said to him: “You’ll have to look half-witted—simple—dotty. Understand?” No difficulty about that. Barney knew her sort. He had listened to one like her talking to his mother, once, till his legs went to sleep. She was a bore.
She acknowledged Bathing’s greeting as inhospitably as a hired housekeeper, and he explained that he was Adam Cook, from Chicago, now living at the Hotel Haarlem, but looking for rooms for himself and his young son, in some respectable house in which he could leave the boy safely while he was away at his office. "I have a letter of introduction to you, m’am,” he said; and he laid down his hat, got out his glasses, put them on, took them off to polish them, put them on again, and began to search through his many pockets—and the many papers in them—for the letter.
Meanwhile he did not interrupt his explanations. His son, he confided, was deaf and dumb, and they had come to New York to have him taught hp-reading at the Deaf and Dumb Institute. He had transferred his business from Chicago and opened offices in the Cranmer building, but he had found it impossible to leave the boy alone in a hotel, even though he had engaged a young woman from the Institute to come to their rooms every morning to give him instruction in lip reading. The boy, to tell the truth, was backward. Of course. Naturally.
Barney looked it. He was regarding the poses of Lincoln’s cabinet with a dull endurance.
Still in pursuit of the letter, Babbing had taken out his pocket-book, and in searching through it he spilled out a number of hundred dollar bills on the floor. She instantly unbent at sight of them, and helped him pick them up, in spite of his polite remonstrances. He was very fussily annoyed by his own clumsiness, and he crammed the bills into his trousers pocket with no appearance of respect for their value.
She asked: “Won’t you sit down, Mr. Cook? You say you have a letter of introduction to me?”
“I have, m’am,” he said, “if I can find it.”
“From your friend Mr. Wallbridge.” He was going through the envelopes from his breast pocket, for the second time.
“Of Chicago. Charles J. Wallbridge. Yes, ’m.”
She seemed puzzled. “I don’t—recall the name.”
“Here! I have it.” He handed the letter to her with an air of triumph.
She read it. She re-read it. And it was evident, during the second reading, that she was making up her mind what to do. Babbing watched her over his benevolent spectacles. When she raised her eyes to his, she smiled in the way that is called “fetching”—when it succeeds.
“My name is Mrs. Dart,” she said. “This is for a Mrs. Andrews who has a lodging house across the street.” And her tone in reference to Mrs. Andrews and the “lodging house” was slighting.
Babbing stammered: “Am I— Have I— Across the street, m’am?”
She pointed to the street number in the superscription of the letter. “It ’s the fault of the typewriter, you see. There ’s both a five and a six.”
One glance satisfied Babbing that it was even so. He plucked off his spectacles, distressed, and apologetic. “I beg your pardon, Mrs.—”
“Mrs. Dart, I beg your pardon. I ’ve been wasting your time. I ’ve intruded on—”
“Not at all,” she interrupted, with formal politeness. “I ’m glad to have met you. I don’t rent rooms, of course. This is a private residence. My son and his wife live here with me, and we rent our top floor to some young men—business men—who are friends of my son’s. But—”
Babbing was not listening. He looked around him as if he were rather lost. “Across the— But that’s the north side, isn’t it? And I particularly wanted a back room that would be sunny.” He appealed to her in a manner of bewildered helplessness.
“Mr. Cook—” She hesitated—“I don’t know who the gentleman is who has referred you to that house, but I do know—”
He broke in, uneasily: “Wallbridge? He ’s a stock broker, m’am. I don’t know him very well, except in a business way.”
She nodded several times, compressing her lips.
“Do you mean—” he asked, alarmed.
“Your son,” she said, “would need to be not only deaf but blind!”
They both glanced at Barney. He had been sitting in his chair by the window, playing a game with himself. He had been trying to imagine that he could not hear what they were saying; and there were moments when he almost succeeded. As a natural consequence of this division in his mind, his eyes found that both Babbing and she looked strange. Her nose was grotesquely large, and it showed purplish through her face-powder. Babbing was small and fat and funny. She simpered. Babbing watched her as if he were hypnotized. They moved, unexpectedly, like a pair of marionettes.
When they turned to him, they found him observing them with a mute and glassy stare. They went on with their palaver. Barney began to find it tedious.Mrs. Dart was taking a charitable interest in their housing problem, and Babbing’s vague and rambling impracticality encouraged her to advise him. He was a stranger to New York. He did not know whether it would be possible to get two large rooms, with bath, in a private family, no matter what one paid for them. He did not care to go to a boarding house. New York, he knew, was not like Chicago; people were less friendly; they were more suspicious of strangers; they would not admit you to their family circle so readily.
He would like to get rooms in this quarter, because it was so convenient to the Institute. He liked these old-fashioned houses; they were so home-like. The high ceilings made them cool. Lots of air. And the big windows. And the walls, being thick, made the rooms quiet. Very different from a hotel. Even in the Haarlem, where he was paying seventy-five dollars a week, he had none of the real comforts of quiet and privacy. His tastes were simple. He did not care for show.
And so forth.
Mrs. Dart took him to see the large room behind the parlor—which she herself was occupying—as an example of the sort of room that he ought to try to get. And when they returned to Barney, they were already arranging the terms on which Babbing could rent that room from her, and the small bed-room behind it. It was exactly what he wanted. And would she mind if he put some of his own furniture into it, as soon as he could get it sent from Chicago? He liked to have his things about him. They had associations.
She understood that, she said. Her son was always at her to get rid of her old trash, as he called it, but she could not bear to part with it.
Barney swallowed a yawn.
They were having a very genial, chatty time together, though Babbing confessed that he was worried about Mrs. Andrews and his friendly obligation to deliver Wallbridge’s letter. It was at last decided that he should cross the street and present his introduction, look at the rooms offered to him, and decide against them. Then he could return to the hotel, have his baggage brought to Mrs. Dart’s next day, and move, that evening, into her charming apartment.
He paid her fifty dollars, in advance, for two weeks’ rent. She patted Barney on the back, as they went to the door, and babied him, ingratiatingly; he remained stolid without any effort. She even shook hands with him on the threshold; and she had a large-wristed, bony, cold hand that made him think of pickled pig’s feet.
“You are fond of children, m’am,” Babbing said.
She had to admit it; and Babbing took his leave in the subduedly grateful manner of a widower who has been rescued from perplexities by a woman’s instinctive sympathy for the unmanaged male.
He put Barney in the cab and left him there while he went to present his letter to Mrs. Andrews. And, of course, he did not present it, although he took it from his pocket while he was standing at the door, and entered carrying it in his hand. He merely asked to see the furnished room that was advertised for rent by a printed card on the door jamb; and he found this room not at all to his liking.
When he returned to Barney and they started back to the hotel, he preserved a thoughtful silence. “I don’t know whether we can get away with it or not,” he said, at last. “She plays a great game.”
“What do I have to do next?” Barney asked, expectantly.
“Nothing but keep your mouth shut,” he replied. “If there ’s anything going to be done, she ’ll do it.”
Barney had been relieved to escape from the sight of her. He did not relish the prospect of returning. He said, disparagingly: “What do you want her for?”
And Babbing answered: “The less you know about that, the better. Give me the deaf and dumb alphabet. I ’ll have to work that up. We ’ve got to be thorough on this job, or we ’ll find ourselves in a hole.”
It was this thoroughness, finally, that brought Barney back to a sense of pleasurable excitement in the plant. Not only did Babbing “work up” the deaf and dumb alphabet. He coached Barney on the details of their life in Chicago, the death of his mother there, and the imaginary incidents of his kidnapping, some years before. He took all the New York labels from his own clothes and from Barney’s. He had Corcoran buy some well-thumbed second-hand picture books, and he wrote in them: “To Barney, from his affectionate Papa.” He filled his pockets with fraudulent letters addressed to Adam Cook about his tunneling machine; and he saw that there was nothing suspicious in Barney’s possession.
“Now,” he said, on their way to the house, “don’t ever sit with your back to a door. Don’t go to sleep until you ’re sure that your window and your door are both locked. Be on the lookout all the time to see that they don’t get a chance to startle you into betraying yourself. Understand?
“They may get some one in to try to pump you. If they do, be as stupid as you can. You’re not supposed to be more than half-witted anyway.
“Dodge any one you know on the streets. Don’t speak to anybody, anywhere. Not even to me. No matter what happens, don’t make any outcry. If we get into a tight place, the fact that you ’re deaf and dumb is all that will save you from serious trouble. Our boys will be watching the house. And watching you on the streets. And if anything happens, let it happen—and keep quiet—and wait—and we ’ll get to you.”
“What ’s going to happen?” Barney asked, thrilled.
“Probably nothing at all,” Babbing said. “We ’re fishing—with you for bait. They may not rise to you. If they do, don’t worry—that ’s all. We ’ll have the line on you, all the time.”
So, with Barney wriggling happily under the ticklish apprehension of being a decoy, they settled down in their dingy room to the routine which Babbing arranged for them. The maid served them their breakfast in their apartment, on an old-fashioned card table at the foot of Babbing’s folding bed. She made up Barney’s room while they were still at table, and Babbing lingered over his newspaper until a young woman from his office—playing the part of a teacher from the Institute—came to give Barney his pretended lessons in lip reading. Babbing left her in charge and went to his work. At midday she took Barney out to luncheon at a nearby restaurant, and brought him back to the house afterward. He remained there, amusing himself in solitude, till five o’clock, when Babbing arrived. They went for a walk together, dined together at some café, and spent the evening together either in their rooms or—presumably—seeing the sights. Mrs. Dart seemed to take no more than a kindly landlady’s interest in their doings, and Barney remained dumb so religiously that his mouth ached.
But under the surface of this daily round, Barney saw various hidden activities always on the alert. The teacher who came to give him lip readings, spied and listened at the door, and watched about her in the restaurant and on the streets. He recognized operatives of the Babbing Bureau in the casual passers-by wherever he went. Babbing continually “tested” himself to see whether he was being followed when he was out with Barney; and when they went to the Cranmer building of an evening, it was always in the office of Adam Cook that Babbing received his men and worked on his cases. They were reporting regularly on the Dart gang.
Barney was not allowed to go alone on the streets. And Babbing explained to Mrs. Dart, one morning, in the natural course of conversation, that his son had been kidnapped in Chicago, some years previous, and ransomed for five thousand dollars; and since that time, another attempt had been made to steal him; and, in fact, they had moved from Chicago because of this second attempt; and Babbing had not felt it safe to leave Barney in a hotel in New York; and that was the real reason why they had sought rooms in a private residence.
Babbing blurted it all out in a worried rush, once he had begun it; and Mrs. Dart heard him sympathetically. She even volunteered to keep an eye on Barney in the afternoons, to make sure that he did not slip out while no one was watching him. Babbing was deeply indebted to her. It relieved his mind more than he could say.
When she had left the room, he spelled out to Barney on his fingers: “Watch yourself.”
And Barney watched, as eager as young hope. He was leading a life of elegant idleness, sleeping late, eating unlimitedly, wearing good clothes and doing no work whatever; and by contrast with his days as a telegraph boy, he was a son of poverty who had fallen heir to millions. Consequently, he was full of a restless vitality that remained bottled up in him like an effervescence. He made his Institute teacher take lessons from him so that she could understand “dummy talk”; for she refused to let him whisper to her, even in the privacy of his room—obeying Babbing’s orders. And when he was left to his solitary afternoons, he roamed around impatiently, unable to take any interest in the “baby books” that his affectionate Papa had bought for him. He had been carefully deprived of the newspapers, which he was supposed to be too immature to understand. “Gee!” he said to himself, “a fullah might ’s well be in a coop. It would n’t hurt ’em to let me go to a movey. Gee, this is fierce. If somethin’ don’t happen soon, I ’ll blow up an’ bust.”
He was being taught the detective’s patience—the patience of a cat at a mouse hole.
One afternoon, Mrs. Dart came in with a workman, carrying a table to replace the card table which she wished to remove. Barney was sitting by the window, apparently absorbed in a picture book; and he watched them with an interest that was not assumed. Any intrusion was welcome.
The workman scrutinized him casually. “Looks as if he could kick,” he said to the table. And Mrs. Dart answered, hurriedly: “Sh! He can read your lips.”
She nodded and smiled to Barney, who watched her blankly. As they went out, taking the card table, he heard the man mutter something about “blind-fold.”
And he sat staring at the closed door as if he were indeed a dummy. He had been so intent upon his own deceits—and Babbing’s—that he had neither seen nor suspected the deceits of his opponents. He had accepted Mrs. Dart as a mildly-scheming bore who had been tricked into admitting them to her house; and he had despised her. Her “Sh! He can read your lips”—followed by her affected smile to him as she went out—had goose-fleshed him, less with fear of her than with a panic at his own stupidity. What were they up to? How had he failed to see any signs of it before? How far had they gone in it? “Looks as if he could kick.” The man had come there, disguised, to size him up. To what end? What were they going to do to him?
Barney had the sensations of the African hunter who found himself trailed by his lion.
He was relieved by the thought that Babbing was also out after the animal, and he ran to the door to listen. Hearing nothing, he began to caper, excitedly. Something was going to “happen” at last! Babbing would come at five o’clock, and they would consult together. His term of confinement would end in a dramatic springing of the trap for which he had been the bait. He began to “shadow fight” around the room, boxing the air with jubilant leads and counters, ducking and side-stepping and planting mighty blows.
By the time that he had winded himself with the violence of this exercise, he had worked off enough of his excitement to sit again. Gee! if Babbing would only come now. But Babbing was not due till five, and it was vain to expect him before that time. As Adam Cook, it was part of his character to be methodical.
At four o’clock the doorbell rang, and Barney put his ear to the hall-door, alertly. He heard the maid go to answer the bell. In a moment he heard her returning down the hall, followed by a heavier footfall. He darted back to his seat by the window in time to be busy with a picture book when she knocked. He disregarded the knock, of course. She put her head in. “That ’s him,” she said.
Barney looked up. A young man with a wrinkled mouth smiled falsely at him, shifted his flat-brimmed derby from his right hand to his left, took an envelope from the pocket of his natty blue serge, and crossed the room to deliver it. His feet were long and thin. He looked down at them—after he had handed Barney the envelope—smoothing his plastered black hair on the back of his head with the flat of his palm.
Barney knew him at once for what he was. The East Side breeds them by the hundreds, to be cadets, gangsters, touts, runners-up, the little jackals of organized vice protected by politics. Barney hated them as kikes, despised them as parasites, loathed them as cheap skates, and knew that they were dangerous because they shot where his own sort of tough would use the instruments of battery.
The letter was a typewritten note that read: “My dear Boy; I am to have dinner with a friend, uptown. I am sending an auto for you. Come with the bearer.” It was signed “Your affectionate Papa,” in the handwriting of Babbing’s inscription in his picture books.
Barney guessed that it was a forgery.
He was at an age when the intelligence, like the voice, has moments of adult bass, and moments when it cracks and runs up to a boyish treble; but, in many practical affairs of life, his mind had been matured by his experience on the streets; and within the limits of that experience he was as alert as a young fox. He understood that he was being kidnapped by “a bunch o’ crooks.” He knew, from the sample before him, that the men might be murderous. Yet the situation, for the instant, seemed almost amusing to him, and the men nearly ridiculous. Conceive the emotions of a street mongrel when it sees itself stolen, with infinite precautions, by a thief who expects to get a reward for returning it!
He put the letter in his pocket and went to his bedroom for his hat. He noticed himself in his glass—rather pale—and he smiled at his reflection reassuringly. Of course, Babbing had planned for all this. He had expected them to kidnap him. They would take him to some secret den, and he would overhear everything they said, and then, when he had been rescued, his testimony would convict them of all the crimes that had ever been pictured in the Sunday supplements.
It was the thought of these crimes that made him pale. He remembered Corcoran’s “They’ll cut your throat, if they get half a chance.” And Babbing’s “They ’ll kill to get free.” He found himself afflicted with a cold crawling in his insides; and he wished that the plant might have been arranged so that Babbing could accompany him. His mind ran up into boyish trebles again when he imagined the bandits’ lair in which he would be hidden. It was a stage setting from a Bowery melodrama, and its general atmosphere was shudderful.
He was returned to the realities by the sight of the young crook who waited for him. The fellow was obviously nervous and in a hurry to get away; his anxiety put Barney more at ease, and he looked around the room as if he were in search of something. His kidnapper stood at the hall door, with his hand on the knob, his hat already on his head, eyeing him impatiently. Barney went back to his bedroom.
The crook followed to the bedroom door and beckoned to Barney to come along; and Barney, of course, stopped to ask, on his fingers, “What?” The other shook his head, showed his watch, pointed over his shoulder with his thumb and said, under his voice: “Come on, you damn dummy. I got no time—” He choked down his impatience and tried to smile alluringly. Barney gazed at that smile like a cradled infant who sees teeth for the first time. He was repeating the success of his performance with Corcoran and enjoying an artist’s triumph.
It took nearly five minutes to get him to the street entrance, and there his impatient abductor went ahead, down the steps, to open the door of a ramshackle taxi-cab that was waiting for them, with its motor thumping. It was making as much noise as a crosstown trolley car with a flat wheel.
Barney saw Corcoran far down the street.
He slipped back into the house again to give the detective time to reach them, and he grinned in the privacy of his room, enjoying himself. At the thought that the men might get frightened and go off without him, he hurried out again, taking a picture book as if he had returned for that.
Corcoran had disappeared.
The street was empty.
The houses looked blank.
The man at the door of the taxi smiled and wagged a hooked finger at him. And Barney stood on the steps, stupidly reluctant, his book under his arm, paralyzed by the thought that Corcoran had deserted him—to be revenged.
If the auto had been the basket of a balloon, ready to leap into space with him he could not have approached it with a more fascinated mind in a more apprehensive body. He drew a fortifying long breath. When he got in, and the auto started, his physical excitement was such that the first jerk of the forward movement set him gulping. He was off.
He was off on all imaginable wild adventures.
He foresaw a thrilling pursuit of the taxi-cab, across the state, by Babbing and his operatives in an automobile that showed at the foot of every hill just as they topped it and shot down the other side. He foresaw himself, tied hand and foot, lying on a pallet of straw in a cellar, guarded by an old hag with a face like a pick, who muttered to herself about the murders she had committed, and gnawed at her crooked fingers. He tried to escape through a grated coal hole, and they caught him and bound him to a post and fixed up a shot-gun with a string tied to the trigger from the knob of the door, so that if any one attempted to get in to rescue him while they were away, the gun would explode and shoot him through the heart. And Babbing—
“Go easy, Gus,” his kidnapper warned the driver. “We don’t want any argument with the traffic squad.”
They slowed at the corner, waiting for an opening in the stream of traffic that flowed north. Barney saw that traffic with large dumb eyes from which all intelligence had withdrawn, inward, to the more vivid pictures of a fancy that was fearful with delight. Some one came out from the curb, stepped on the running-board and opened the cab door.
It was Corcoran.
Another operative clambered in beside the driver.
“How do, Tip,” Corcoran greeted Barney’s captor. “They want to see you down at the office.” He squeezed into the cab and forced down one of the small folding seats for himself. The driver had jammed on the brakes. “Tip” stared at the detective. “What d’ yuh want?”
And Barney saw himself checked in the mid-flight of adventure by this premature intrusion of help. “Gee!” he said to himself. “The big boob! Why couldn’t he leave us alone fer a minute!”
“They want to see you,” Corcoran said, “about the same old trouble. I ’ve been looking for you all day.”
“Well, I ’m busy.”
“Won’t take you a second. Run along down in the machine. I ’ll go with you.”
“Now look-a-here, Cork,” he protested plaintively, “you ’ve been over me so often on that damn ol’ frame up of yours— I don’t know a thing about the bus’ness, an’ I can tell you that, here, without wastin’ gasoline.”
Corcoran noticed Barney. “Who ’s your young friend?”
“It don’t matter who he is. I was told to take him uptown to keep a date, an’ I got to do it. How long ’ll you want me?”
“About five minutes.”
Tip cursed. “All right. I ’ll get out. The kid can go up alone.”
“They want to see Gus, too. Better come along as you are. We won’t keep you any time. Who is the kid?”
“Oh, hell, what difference does it make!” He was a thief accidentally intercepted by a policeman while making off with stolen property concealed on him. His one play was to go with the officer without arousing suspicion, and drop the stolen goods while the eyes of the law were averted. Barney, at least, could not betray him.
“Back up, Gus,” he ordered the driver. “We ’ve got to go down with these people an’ help ’em put up a bluff that they ’re earnin’ their wages. Don’t you know any one else in this burg to make a stall with, Cork, excep’ me?”
Corcoran laughed, “No, Tip. You’re my only meal ticket.”
He had to go, and it was to his profit to go good-naturedly. He made himself pleasant on the way down to the Babbing Bureau, laughing and telling stories, with a convincing appearance of innocence; and he only lost his temper for a moment when Barney could not be made to understand that he was to wait in the taxi while the others went into the Cranmer Building. That young dummy (at a sign from Corcoran) insisted on accompanying them to the detective offices, making an effort to show his father’s letter every time that Tip tried to turn him back. Tip did not wish that document exposed, under the circumstances. He had to let Barney follow, in order to prevent him from appealing to Corcoran with the letter.
It was Archibald, impersonating Babbing, who received them at Babbing’s desk. He broke the news to Meyers that he and his driver, Gus Kane, were “wanted” on a charge of attempting to kidnap Barney Cook, son of Adam Cook, who had retained the Bureau to protect his son from a repetition of his Chicago adventure. (“Good night!” Kane said.) And Barney, still worrying about his rendezvous with his affectionate parent, produced his letter inquiringly, and clinched the case against the kidnappers.
“Now,” Archibald said formally—after Tip Meyers had lied and struggled and sunk himself deeper and deeper into the quicksand—“the only thing for you to do is to come across with the evidence that will bring the real criminals to justice, not only in the present case, but in the Merriman disappearance. We want Mrs. Dart and her husband. We don’t care so much about you. I may say that when we heard where Mr. Cook was living, we expected something of this sort to happen, and we prepared for it. We are now in a position to provide that the Cook case need not be prosecuted, if you decide to give us the benefit of your assistance in the other matter. Otherwise, of course, you know what the penalty is for kidnapping. Corcoran, you might take this boy back to his father. And send a stenographer in here as you go out.”
Meyers, with no suspicion of the trick that was being played on him, looked at Barney and saw himself caught red-handed. He rubbed a wrist reflectively, as if anticipating the handcuff on it. “Well,” he said, “I ’m it. If we turn up the rest, you ’ll let me an’ Gus clear o’ this Cook business, do you?”
“That ’s the bargain,” Archibald agreed.
Corcoran beckoned to Barney to follow him. Outside, he said: “You ’d better get out of here until we ’re done with these people.”
“Where ’s the Chief?”
“He ’s down there, still—waiting for word to grab Mrs. Dart.”
“Well, say,” Barney complained, “if you ’d ’a’ left me alone fer a minute I ’d ’a’ had the whole gang!”
“Gee whizz, kid,” Corcoran sneered at him. “Who do you think you are?”
Barney waved him off. “I ’m Little Pussy-foot, the Boy Scout of the Metrollopis. If you get stuck again on this job, let me know. Ta-ta!”
“You ’re too free with your mouth,” Corcoran growled, over his shoulder as he went.
“Free!” Barney said. “I could talk my teeth loose.” He swaggered to the elevator, whistling sibilantly. It was a relief even to whistle. “Take it from me, kid,” he told himself, “this ’s no job fer a boy sopranner. You ’ve got cobwebs on your top notes.”