The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 1/Chapter 2
THE most puzzling bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime," Herman Carruthers, the editor of the Morning News-Argus, had called the Gray Seal; and Jimmie Dale smiled a little grimly now as he recalled the occasion of a week ago at the St. James Club over their after-dinner coffee. That was before his second début, with Isaac Brolsky's poverty-stricken premises over on West Broadway as a setting for the break.
She had written: "Things are a little too warm, aren't they, Jimmie? Let's let them cool for a year." Well, they had cooled for a year, and Carruthers as a result had been complacently satisfied in his own mind that the Gray Seal was dead—until that break at Isaac Brolsky's over on West Broadway!
Jimmie Dale's smile was tinged with whimsicality now. The only effect of the year's inaction had been to usher in his renewed activity with a furor compared to which all that had gone before was insignificant. Where the newspapers had been maudlin, they now raved—raved in editorials and raved in headlines. It was an impossible, untenable, unbelievable condition of affairs that this Gray Seal, for all his incomparable cleverness, should flaunt his crimes in the faces of the citizens of New York. One could actually see the editors writhing in their swivel chairs as their fiery denunciations dripped from their pens! What was the matter with the police? Were the police children; or, worse still, imbeciles—or, still worse again, was there some one "higher up" who was profiting by this rogue's work? New York would not stand for it—New York would most decidedly not—and the sooner the police realised that fact the better! If the police were helpless, or tools, the citizens of New York were not, and it was time the citizens were thoroughly aroused.
There was a way, too, to arouse the citizens, that was both good business from the newspaper standpoint, and efficacious as a method. Carruthers, of the Morning News-Argus, had initiated it. The Morning News-Argus offered twenty-five thousand dollars' reward for the capture of the Gray Seal! Other papers immediately followed suit in varying amounts. The authorities. State and municipal, goaded to desperation, did likewise, and the five million men, women, and children of New York were automatically metamorphosed into embryonic sleuths. New York was aroused.
Jimmie Dale, alias the Gray Seal, member of the ultra-exclusive St. James Club, the latter fact sufficient in itself to guarantee his social standing, graduate of Harvard, inheritor of his deceased father's immense wealth amassed in the manufacture of burglar-proof safes, some of the most ingenious patents on which were due to Jimmie Dale himself, figured with a pencil on the margin of the newspaper he had been reading, using the arm of the big, luxurious, leather-upholstered lounging chair as a support for the paper. The result of his calculations was eighty-five thousand dollars.
He brushed the paper onto the Turkish rug, dove into the pocket of his dinner jacket for his cigarettes, and began to smoke as his eyes strayed around the room, his own particular den in his fashionable Riverside Drive residence.
Eighty-five thousand dollars' reward! Jimmie Dale blew meditative rings of cigarette smoke at the fireplace. What would she say to that? Would she decide it was "too hot" again, and call it off? It added quite a little hazard to the game—quite a little! If he only knew who "she" was! It was a strange partnership—the strangest partnership that had ever existed between two human beings.
He turned a little in his chair as a step sounded in the hallway without—that is, Jimmie Dale caught the sound, muffled though it was by the heavy carpet. Came then a knock upon the door.
"Come in," invited Jimmie Dale.
It was old Jason, the butler. The old man was visibly excited, as he extended a silver tray on which lay a letter.
Jimmie Dale's hand reached quickly out, the long, slim tapering fingers closed upon the envelope—but his eyes were on Jason significantly, questioningly.
"Yes, Master Jim," said the old man, "I recognised it on the instant, sir. After what you said, sir, last week, honouring me, I might say, to a certain extent with your confidence, though I'm sure I don't know what it all means, I——"
"Who brought it this time, Jason?'* inquired Jimmie Dale quietly.
"Not the young person, begging your pardon, not the young lady, sir. A shuffer in a big automobile. 'Your master at once,' he says, and shoves the letter into my hand, and was off."
"Very good, Jason," said Jimmie Dale. "You may go."
The door closed. Yes, it was from her—it was the same texture of paper, there was the same rare, haunting fragrance clinging to it.
He tore the envelope open, and extracted a folded sheet of paper. What was it this time? To call the partnership off again until the present furor should have subsided once more—or the skilfully sketched outline of a new adventure? Which? He glanced at the few lines written on the sheet, and lunged forward from his chair to his feet. It was neither one nor the other. It was——
Jimmie Dale's face was set, and an angry red surge swept his cheeks. His lips moved, muttering audibly fragments of the letter, as he stared at it.
"——incredible that you—a heinous thing—act instantly—this is ruin——"
For an instant—a rare occurrence in Jimmie Dale's life—he stood like a man stricken, still staring at the sheet in his hand. Then mechanically his fingers tore the paper into little pieces, and the little pieces into tiny shreds. Anger fled, and a sickening sense of impotent dismay took its place; the red left his cheeks, and in its stead a grayness came.
"Act instantly!" The words seemed to leap at him, drum at his ears with constant repetition. Act instantly! But how? How? Then his brain—that keen, clear, master brain—sprang from stunned inaction into virility again. Of course—Carruthers! It was in Carruthers' line.
He stepped to the desk—and paused with his hand extended to pick up the telephone. How explain to Carruthers that he, Jimmie Dale, already knew what Carruthers might not yet have heard of, even though Carruthers would naturally be among the first to be in touch with such affairs! No; that would never do. Better get there himself at once and trust to——
The telephone rang.
Jimmie Dale waited until it rang again, then he lifted the receiver from the hook.
"Hello?" he said.
"Hello! Hello! Jimmie!" came a voice. "This is Carruthers. That you, Jimmie?"
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale—and sat down limply in the desk chair.
"It's the Gray Seal again. I promised you I'd let you in on the ground floor next time anything happened, so come on down here quick if you want to see some of his work at firsthand."
Jimmie Dale flirted a bead of sweat from his forehead.
"Carruthers," said Jimmie languidly, "you newspaper chaps make me tired with your Gray Seal. I'm just going to bed."
"Bed nothing!" spluttered Carruthers, from the other end of the wire. "Come down, I tell you. It's worth your while—half the population of New York would give the toes off their feet for the chance. Come down, you blasé idiot! The Gray Seal has gone the limit this time—it's murder."
Jimmie Dale's face was haggard.
"Oh!" he said peevishly. Sounds interesting. Where are you? I guess maybe I'll jog along."
"I should think you would!" snapped Carruthers. "You know the Palace on the Bowery? Yes? Well, meet me on the corner there as soon as you can. Hustle! Good——"
"Oh, I say, Carruthers!" interposed Jimmie Dale.
"Yes?" demanded Carruthers.
"Thanks awfully for letting me know, old man."
"Don't mention it!" returned Carruthers sarcastically. "You always were a grateful beast, Jimmie. Hurry up!"
Jimmie Dale hung up the receiver of the city 'phone, and took down the receiver of another, a private-house installation, and rang twice for the garage.
"The light car at once, Benson," he ordered curtly. "At once!"
Jimmie Dale worked quickly then. In his dressing room, he changed from dinner clothes to tweeds; spent a second or so over the contents of a locked drawer in the dresser, from which he selected a very small but serviceable automatic, and a very small but highly powerful magnifying glass whose combination of little round lenses worked on a pivot, and, closed over one another, were of about the compass of a quarter of a dollar.
In three minutes he was outside the house and stepping into the car, just as it drew up at the curb.
"Benson," he said tersely to his chauffeur, "drop me one block this side of the Palace on the Bowery—and forget there was ever a speed law enacted. Understand?"
"Very good, sir," said Benson, touching his cap. "I'll do my best, sir."
Jimmie Dale, in the tonneau, stretched out his legs under the front seat, and dug his hands into his pockets—and inside the pockets his hands were clenched and knotted fists.
Murder! At times it had occurred to him that there was a possibility that some crook of the underworld would attempt to cover his tracks and take refuge from pursuit by foisting himself on the authorities as the Gray Seal. That was a possibility, a risk always to be run. But that murder should be laid to the Gray Seal's door! Anger, merciless and unrestrained, surged over Jimmie Dale.
There was peril here, live and imminent. Suppose that some day he should be caught in some little affair, recognised and identified as the Gray Seal, there would be the charge of murder hanging over him—and the electric chair to face!
But the peril was not the only thing. Even worse to Jimmie Dale's artistic and sensitive temperament was the vilification, the holding up to loathing, contumely, and abhorrence of the name, the stainless name, of the Gray Seal. It was stainless! He had guarded it jealously—as a man guards the woman's name he loves.
Affairs that had mystified and driven the police distracted with impotence there had been, many of them; and on the face of them—crimes. But no act ever committed had been in reality a crime—none without the highest of motives, the righting of some outrageous wrong, the protection of some poor stumbling fellow human.
That had been his partnership with her. How, by what amazing means, by what power that smacked almost of the miraculous she came in touch with all these things and supplied him with the data on which to work he did not know—only that, thanks to her, there were happier hearts and happier homes since the Gray Seal had begun to work. "Dear Philanthropic Crook," she often called him in her letters. And now—it was murder!
Take Carruthers, for instance. For years, as a reporter before he had risen to the editorial desk, he had been one of the keenest on the scent of the Gray Seal, but always for the sake of the game—always filled with admiration, as he said himself, for the daring, the originality of the most puzzling, bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime. Carruthers was but an example. Carruthers now would hunt the Gray Seal like a mad dog. The Gray Seal, to Carruthers and every one else, would be the vilest name in the land—a synonym for murder.
On the car flew—and upon Jimmie Dale's face, as though chiselled in marble, was a look that was not good to see. And a mirthless smile set, frozen, on his lips.
"I'll get the man that did this," gritted Jimmie Dale between his teeth. "I'll get him ! And, when I get him, I'll wring a confession from him if I have to swing for it!"
The car swept from Broadway into Astor Place, on down the Bowery, and presently stopped.
Jimmie Dale stepped out. "I shall not want you any more, Benson," he said. "You may return home."
Jimmie Dale started down the block—a nonchalant Jimmie Dale now, if anything, bored a little. Near the corner, a figure, back turned, was lounging at the edge of the sidewalk. Jimmie Dale touched the man on the arm.
"Hello, Carruthers!" he drawled.
"Ah, Jimmie!" Carruthers turned with an excited smile. "That's the boy! You've made mighty quick time."
"Well, you told me to hurry," grumbled Jimmie Dale. "I'm doing my best to please you to-night. Came down in my car, and got summoned for three fines to-morrow."
Carruthers laughed. "Come on," he said; and, linking his arm in Jimmie Dale's, turned the corner, and headed west along the cross street. "This is going to make a noise," he continued, a grim note creeping into his voice. "The biggest noise the city has ever heard. I take back all I said about the Gray Seal. I'd always pictured his cleverness as being inseparable with at least a decent sort of man, even if he was a rogue and a criminal, but I'm through with that. He's a rotter and a hound of the rankest sort! I didn't think there was anything more vulgar or brutal than murder but he's shown me that there is. A guttersnipe's got more decency! To murder a man and then boastfully label the corpse is——"
"Say, Carruthers," said Jimmie Dale plaintively, suddenly hanging back, "I say, you know, it's—it's all right for you to mess up in this sort of thing, it's your beastly business, and I'm awfully damned thankful to you for giving me a look-in, but isn't it—er—rather infra dig for me? A bit morbid, you know, and all that sort of thing. I'd never hear the end of it at the club—you know what the St. James is. Couldn't I be Merideth Stanley Annstruther, or something like that, one of your new reporters, or something like that, you know?"
Carruthers chuckled. "Sure, Jimmie," he said. "You're the latest addition to the staff of the News-Argus. Don't worry; the incomparable Jimmie Dale won't figure publicly in this."
"It's awfully good of you," said Jimmie gratefully. "I have to have a notebook or something, don't I?"
Carruthers, from his pocket, handed him one. "Thanks," said Jimmie Dale.
A little way ahead, a crowd had collected on the sidewalk before a doorway, and Carruthers pointed with a jerk of his hand.
"It's in Moriarty's place—a gambling hell," he explained. "I haven't got the story myself yet, though I've been inside, and had a look around. Inspector Clayton discovered the crime, and reported it at headquarters. I was at my desk in the office when the news came, and, as you know the interest I've taken in the Gray Seal, I decided to 'cover' it myself. When I got here, Clayton hadn't returned from headquarters, so, as you seemed so keenly interested last week, I telephoned you. If Clayton's back now we'll get the details. Clayton's a good fellow with the 'press,' and he won't hold anything out on us. Now, here we are. Keep close to me, and I'll pass you in."
They shouldered through the crowd and up to an officer at the door. The officer nodded, stepped aside, and Carruthers, with Jimmie Dale following, entered the house.
They climbed one flight, and then another. The card-rooms, the faro, stud, and roulette layouts were deserted, save for policemen here and there on guard. Carruthers led the way to a room at the back of the hall, whose door was open and from which issued a hubbub of voices—one voice rose above the others, heavy and gratingly complacent.
"Clayton's back," observed Carruthers.
They stepped over the threshold, and the heavy voice greeted them.
"Ah, here's Carruthers now! H'are you, Carruthers? They told me you'd been here, and were coming back, so I've been keeping the boys waiting before handing out the dope. You've had a look at that—eh?" He flung out a fat hand toward the bed.
The voices rose again, all directed at Carruthers now.
"Bubble's burst, eh, Carruthers? What about the 'Prince of Crooks'? Artistry in crime, wasn't it, you said?" They were quoting from his editorials of bygone days, a half dozen reporters of rival papers, grinning and joshing him good-naturedly, seemingly quite unaffected by what lay within arm's reach of them upon the bed.
Carruthers smiled a little wryly, shrugged his shoulders—and presented Jimmie Dale to Inspector Clayton.
"Mr. Matthewson, a new man of ours—inspector."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Matthewson," said the inspector.
Jimmie Dale found his hand grasped by another that was flabby and unpleasantly moist; and found himself looking into a face that was red, with heavy rolls of unhealthy fat terminating in a double chin and a thick, apoplectic neck—a huge, round face, with rat's eyes.
Clayton dropped Jimmie Dale's hand, and waved his own in the air. Jimmie Dale remained modestly on the outside of the circle as the reporters gathered around the police inspector.
"Now, then," said Clayton coarsely, "the guy that's croaked there is Metzer, Jake Metzer. Get that?"
Jimmie Dale, scribbling hurriedly in his notebook like all the rest, turned a little toward the bed, and his lower jaw crept out the fraction of an inch. Both gas jets in the room were turned on full, giving ample light. A man fully dressed, a man of perhaps forty, lay upon his back on the bed, one arm outflung across the bedspread, the other dangling, with fingers just touching the floor, the head at an angle and off the pillow. It was as though he had been carried to the bed and flung upon it after the deed had been committed. Jimmie Dale's eyes shifted and swept the room. Yes, everything was in disorder, as though there had been a struggle—a chair upturned, a table canted against the wall, broken pieces of crockery from the washstand on the carpet, and——
"Metzer was a stool pigeon, see?" went on Clayton, "and he lived here. Moriarty wasn't on to him. Metzer stood in thick with a wider circle of crooks than any other snitch in New York."
Jimmie Dale, still scribbling as Clayton talked, stepped to the bed and leaned over the murdered man. The murder had been done with a blackjack evidently—a couple of blows. The left side of the temple was crushed in. Right in the middle of the forehead, pasted there, a gray-colored, diamond shaped paper seal flaunted itself—the device of the Gray Seal. In Jimmie Dale's hand, hidden as he turned his back, the tiny combination of powerful lenses was focused on the seal.
Clayton guffawed. "That's right!" he called out. "Take a good look. That's a bright young man you've got, Carruthers."
Jimmie Dale looked up a little sheepishly—and got a grin from the assembled reporters, and a scowl from Carruthers.
"Now, then," continued Clayton, "here's the facts—as much of 'em as I can let you boys print at present. You know I'm stretching a point to let you in here—don't forget that when you come to write up the case—honour where's honour's due, you know. Well, me and Metzer there was getting ready to close down on a big piece of game, and I was over here in this room talking to him about it early this afternoon. We had it framed to get our man to-night—see? I left Metzer, say, about three o'clock, and he was to show up over at headquarters with another little bit of evidence we wanted at eight o'clock to-night."
Jimmie Dale was listening—to every word. But he stooped now again over the murdered man's head deliberately, though he felt the inspector's rat's eyes upon him—stooped, and, with his finger nail, lifted back the right-hand point of the diamond-shaped seal where it bordered a faint thread of blood on the man's forehead.
There was a bull-like roar from the inspector, and he burst through the ring of reporters, and grabbed Jimmie Dale by the shoulder.
"Here you, what in hell are you doing!" he spluttered angrily.
Embarrassed and confused, Jimmie Dale drew back, glanced around, and smiled again a little sheepishly as his eyes rested on the red-flushed jowl of the inspector.
"I—I wanted to see how it was stuck on," he explained inanely.
"Stuck on!" bellowed Clayton. "I'll show you how it's stuck on, if you monkey around here! Don't you know any better than that! Where were you dragged up anyway? The coroner hasn't been here yet. You're a hot cub of a reporter, you are!" He turned to Carruthers. "Y'ought to get out printed instructions for 'em before you turn 'em loose!" he snapped.
Carruthers' face was red with mortification. There was a grin, expanded, on the faces of the others.
"Stand away from that bed!" roared Clayton at Jimmie Dale. "And if you go near it again, I'll throw you out of here bodily!"
Jimmie Dale edged away, and, eyes lowered, fumbled nervously with the leaves of his notebook.
Clayton grunted, glared at Jimmie Dale for an instant viciously—and resumed his story.
"I was saying," he said, "that Metzer was to come to headquarters at eight o'clock this evening. Well, he didn't show up. That looked queer. It was mighty important business. We was after one of the biggest hauls we'd ever pulled off. I waited till nine o'clock, an hour ago, and I was getting nervous. Then I started over here to find out what was the matter. When I got here I asked Moriarty if he'd seen Metzer. Moriarty said he hadn't since I was here before. He was a little suspicious that I had something on Metzer—see? Well, by pumping Moriarty, he admitted that Metzer had had a visitor about an hour after I left."
"Who was it? Know what his name is, inspector?" asked one of the reporters quickly.
Inspector Clayton winked heavily. "Don't be greedy, boys," he grinned.
"You mean you've got him?" burst out another one of the men excitedly.
"Sure! Sure, I've got him." Inspector Clayton waved his fat hand airily. "Or I will have before morning—but I ain't saying anything more till it's over." He smiled significantly. "Well, that's about all. You've got the details right around you. I left Moriarty downstairs and came up here, and found just what you see—Metzer laying on the bed there, and the gray seal stuck on his forehead—and"—he ended abruptly—"I'll have the Gray Seal himself behind the bars by morning."
A chorus of ejaculations rose from the reporters, while their pencils worked furiously.
Then Jimmie Dale appeared to have an inspiration. Jimmie Dale turned a leaf in his notebook and began to sketch rapidly, cocking his head now on one side now on the other. With a few deft strokes he had outlined the figure of Inspector Clayton. The reporter beside Jimmie Dale leaned over to inspect the work, and another did likewise. Jimmie Dale drew in Clayton's face most excellently, if somewhat flatteringly; and then, with a little flourish of pride, wrote under the drawing: "The Man Who Captured the Gray Seal."
"That's a cracking good sketch!" pronounced the reporter at his side. "Let the inspector see it."
"What is it?" demanded Clayton, scowling.
Jimmie Dale handed him the notebook modestly.
Inspector Clayton took it, looked at it, looked at Jimmie Dale; then his scowl relaxed into a self-sufficient and pleased smile, and he grunted approvingly.
"That's the stuff to put over," he said. "Mabbe you're not much of a reporter, but you can draw. Y're all right, sport—y're all right. Forget what I said to you a while ago."
Jimmie Dale smiled too—deprecatingly. And put the note book in his pocket.
An officer entered the room hurriedly, and, drawing Clayton aside, spoke in an undertone. A triumphant and malicious grin settled on Clayton's features, and he started with a rush for the door.
"Come around to headquarters in two hours, boys," he called as he went out, "and I'll have something more for you."
The room cleared, the reporters tumbling downstairs to make for the nearest telephones to get their "copy" into their respective offices.
On the street, a few doors up from the house where they were free from the crowd, Carruthers halted Jimmie Dale.
"Jimmie," he said reproachfully, "you certainly made a snark of us both. There wasn't any need to play the 'cub' so egregiously. However, I'll forgive you for the sake of the sketch—hand it over, Jimmie; I'm going to reproduce it in the first edition."
"It wasn't drawn for reproduction, Carruthers—at least, not yet," said Jimmie Dale quietly.
Carruthers stared at him. "Eh?" he asked blankly.
"I've taken a dislike to Clayton," said Jimmie Dale whimsically. "He's too patently after free advertising, and I'm not going to help along his boost. You can't have it, old man, so let's think about something else. What'll they do with that bit of paper that's on the poor devil's forehead up there, for instance."
"Say," said Carruthers, "does it strike you that you're acting queer? You haven't been drinking, have you, Jimmie?"
"What'll they do with it?" persisted Jimmie Dale.
"Well," said Carruthers, smiling a little tolerantly, "they'll photograph it and enlarge the photograph, and label it 'Exhibit A' or 'Exhibit B' or something like that—and file it away in the archives with the fifty or more just like it that are already in their collection."
"That's what I thought," observed Jimmie Dale. He took Carruthers by the lapel of the coat. "I'd like a photograph of that. I'd like it so much that I've got to have it. Know the chap that does that work for the police?"
"Yes," admitted Carruthers.
"Very good!" said Jimmie Dale crisply. "Get an extra print of the enlargement from him then—for a consideration—whatever he asks—I'll pay for it."
"But what for?" demanded Carruthers. "I don't understand."
"Because," said Jimmie Dale very seriously, "put it down to imagination or whatever you like, I think I smell something fishy here."
"You what!" exclaimed Carruthers in amazement. "You're not joking, are you, Jimmie?"
Jimmie Dale laughed shortly. "It's so far from a joke," he said, in a low tone, "that I want your word you'll get that photograph into my hands by to-morrow afternoon, no matter what transpires in the meantime. And look here, Carruthers, don't think I'm playing the silly thickhead, and trying to mystify you. I'm no detective or anything like that. I've just got an idea that apparently hasn't occurred to any one else—and, of course, I may be all wrong. If I am, I'm not going to say a word even to you, because it wouldn't be playing fair with some one else; if I'm right the Morning News-Argus gets the biggest scoop of the century. Will you go in on that basis?"
Carruthers put out his hand impulsively. "If you're in earnest, Jimmie—you bet!"
"Good!" returned Jimmie Dale. "The photograph by to-morrow afternoon then. And now——"
"And now," said along, or meet me at headquarters later? Clayton said in two hours he'd——", "I've got to hurry over to the office and get a write-up man at work. Will you come
"Neither," said Jimmie Dale. "I'm not interested in headquarters. I'm going home."
"Well, all right then," Carruthers returned. "You can bank on me for to-morrow. Good-night, Jimmie."
"Good-night, old man," said Jimmie Dale, and, turning, walked briskly toward the Bowery.
But Jimmie Dale did not go home. He walked down the Bowery for three blocks, crossed to the east side, and turned down a cross street. Two blocks more he walked in this direction, and halfway down the next. Here he paused an instant—the street was dimly lighted, almost dark, deserted. Jimmie Dale edged close to the houses until his shadow blended with the shadows of the walls—and slipped suddenly into a pitch-black areaway.
He opened a door, stepped into an unlighted hallway where the air was close and evil smelling, mounted a stairway, and halted before another door on the first landing. There was the low clicking of a lock, three times repeated, and he entered a room, closing and fastening the door behind him.
Jimmie Dale called it his "Sanctuary." In one of the worst neighbourhoods of New York, where no questions were asked as long as the rent was paid, it had the further advantage of three separate exits—one by the areaway where he had entered; one from the street itself; and another through a back yard with an entry into a saloon that fronted on the next street. It was not often that Jimmie Dale used his, but there had been times when it was no more nor less than exactly what he called it—a sanctuary!
He stepped to the window, assured himself that the shade was down—and lighted the gas, blinking a little as the yellow flame illuminated the room.
It was a rough place, dirty, uninviting; a bedroom, furnished in the most scanty fashion. Neither, apparently, was there anything suspicious about it to reward one curious enough to break in during the owner's absence—some rather disreputable clothes hanging on the wall, and flung untidily across the bed—that was all.
Alone now, Jimmie Dale's face was strained and anxious—and, occasionally, as he undressed himself, his hands clenched until his knuckles grew white. The gray seal on the murdered man's forehead was a genuine gray seal—one of Jimmie Dale's own. There was no doubt of that—he had satisfied himself on that point.
Where had it come from? How had it been obtained? Jimmie Dale carefully placed the clothes he had taken off under the mattress, pulled a disreputable collarless flannel shirt over his head, and pulled on a disreputable pair of boots. There were only two sources of supply. His own—and the collection that the police had made, which Carruthers had referred to.
Jimmie Dale lifted a corner of the oilcloth in a corner of the room, lifted a piece of the flooring, lifted out a little box which he placed upon the rickety table, and sat down before a cracked mirror. Who was it that would have access to the gray seals in the possession of the police, since, obviously, it was one of those that was on the dead man's forehead? The answer came quick enough—came with the sudden out-thrust of Jimmie Dale's lower jaw. One of the police themselves—no one else. Clayton's heavy, cunning face, Clayton's shifty eyes, Clayton's sudden rush when he had touched the dead man's forehead, pictured themselves in a red flash of fury before Jimmie Dale. There was no mask now, no facetiousness, no acted part—only a merciless rage, and the muscles of Jimmie Dale's face quivered and twitched. Murder, foisted, shifted upon another, upon the Gray Seal—making of that name a calumny—ruining forever the work that she and he might do!
And then Jimmie Dale smiled mirthlessly, with thinning lips. The box before him was open. His fingers worked quickly—a little wax behind the ears, in the nostrils, under the upper lip, deftly placed—hands, wrists, neck, throat, and face received their quota of stain, applied with an artist's touch—and then the spruce, muscular Jimmie Dale, transformed into a slouching, vicious-featured denizen of the underworld, replaced the box under the flooring, pulled a slouch hat over his eyes, extinguished the gas, and went out.
Jimmie Dale's range of acquaintanceship was wide—from the upper strata of the St. James Club to the élite of New York's gangland. And, adored by the one, he was trusted implicitly by the other—not understood, perhaps, by the latter, for he had never allied himself with any of their nefarious schemes, but trusted implicitly through long years of personal contact. It had stood Jimmie Dale in good stead before, this association, where, in a sort of strange, carefully guarded exchange, the news of the underworld was common property to those without the law. To New York in its millions, the murder of Metzer, the stool pigeon, would be unknown until the city rose in the morning to read the sensational details over the breakfast table; here, it would already be the topic of whispered conversations, here it had probably been known long before the police had discovered the crime. Especially would it be expected to be known to Pete Lazanis, commonly called the Runt, who was a power below the dead line and, more pertinent still, one in whose confidence Jimmie Dale had rejoiced for years.
Jimmie Dale, as Larry the Bat—a euphonious "monaker" bestowed possibly because this particular world knew him only by night—began a search for the Runt. From one resort to another he hurried, talking in the accepted style through one corner of his mouth to hard-visaged individuals behind dirty, reeking bars that were reared on equally dirty and foul-smelling sawdust-strewn floors; visiting dance halls, secretive back rooms, and certain Chinese pipe joints.
But the Runt was decidedly elusive. There had been no news of him, no one had seen him—and this after fully an hour had passed since Jimmie Dale had left Carruthers in front of Moriarty's. The possibilities however were still legion—numbered only by the numberless dives and dens sheltered by that quarter of the city.
Jimmie Dale turned into Chatham Square, heading for the Pagoda Dance Hall. A man loitering at the curb shot a swift, searching glance at him as he slouched by. Jimmie Dale paused in the doorway of the Pagoda and looked up and down the street. The man he had passed had drawn a little closer; another man in an apparently aimless fashion lounged a few yards away.
"Something up," muttered Jimmie Dale to himself. "Lansing, of headquarters, and the other looks like Milrae."
Jimmie Dale pushed in through the door of the Pagoda. A bedlam of noise surged out at him—a tin-pan piano and a mandolin were going furiously from a little raised platform at the rear; in the centre of the room a dozen couples were in the throes of the tango and the bunny-hug; around the sides, at little tables, men and women laughed and applauded and thumped time on the tabletops with their beer mugs; while waiters, with beer-stained aprons and unshaven faces, juggled marvelous handfuls of glasses and mugs from the bar beside the platform to the patrons at the tables.
Jimmie Dale's eyes swept the room in a swift, comprehensive glance, fixed on a little fellow, loudly dressed, who shared a table halfway down the room with a woman in a picture hat, and a smile of relief touched his lips. The Runt at last!
He walked down the room, caught the Runt's eyes significantly as he passed the table, kept on to a door between the platform and the bar, opened it, and went out into a lighted hallway, at one end of which a door opened onto the street, and at the other a stairway led above.
The Runt joined him. "Wot's de row, Larry?" inquired the Runt.
"Nuthin' much," said Jimmie Dale. "Only I t'ought I'd let youse know. I was passin' Moriarty's an' got de tip. Say, some guy's croaked Jake Metzer dere."
"Aw, ferget it!" observed the Runt airily. "Dat's stale. I was wise to dat hours ago."
Jimmie Dale's face fell. "But I just come from dere," he insisted; "an' de harness bulls only just found it out."
"Mabbe," grunted the Runt. "But Metzer got his early in de afternoon—see?"
Jimmie Dale looked quickly around him—and then leaned toward the Runt.
"Wot's de lay, Runt?" he whispered.
The Runt pulled down one eyelid, and, with his knowing grin, the cigarette, clinging to his upper lip, sagged down in the opposite corner of his mouth.
Jimmie Dale grinned, too—in a flash inspiration had come to Jimmie Dale.
"Say, Runt"—he jerked his head toward the street door—"wot's de fly cops doin' out dere?"
The grin vanished from the Runt's lips. He stared for a second wildly at Jimmie Dale, and then clutched at Jimmie Dale's arm.
"De wot?" he said hoarsely.
"De fly cops," Jimmie Dale repeated in well-simulated surprise. "Dey was dere when I come in—Lansing an' Milrae, an——"
The Runt shot a hurried glance at the stairway, and licked his lips as though they had gone suddenly dry.
"My Gawd, I——" He gasped, and shrank hastily back against the wall beside Jimmie Dale.
The door from the street had opened noiselessly, instantly. Black forms bulked there—then a rush of feet—and at the head of half a dozen men, the face of Inspector Clayton loomed up before Jimmie Dale. There was a second's pause in the rush; and, in the pause, Clayton's voice, in a vicious undertone:
"You two ginks open your traps, and I'll run you both in!"
And then the rush passed, and swept on up the stairs.
Jimmie Dale looked at the Runt. The cigarette dangled limply; the Runt's eyes were like a hunted beast's.
"Dey got him!" he mumbled. "It's Stace—Stace Morse. He come to me after croakin' Metzer, an' he's been hidin' up dere all afternoon."
Stace Morse—known in gangland as a man with every crime in the calendar to his credit, and prominent because of it! Something seemed to go suddenly queer inside of Jimmie Dale. Stace Morse! Was he wrong, after all? Jimmie Dale drew closer to the Runt.
"Yer givin' me a steer, ain't youse?" He spoke again from the corner of his mouth, almost inaudibly. "Are youse sure it was Stace croaked Metzer? Wot fer? How'd yer know?"
The Runt was listening, his eyes strained toward the stairs. The hall door to the street was closed, but both were quite well aware that there was an officer on guard outside.
"He told me," whispered the Runt. "Metzer was fixin' ter snitch on him ter-night. Dey've got de goods on Stace, too. He made a bum job of it."
"Why didn't he get out of de country den when he had de chanst, instead of hangin' around here all afternoon?" demanded Jimmie Dale.
"He was broke," the Runt answered. "We was gettin' de coin fer him ter fade away wid ter-night, an'——"
A revolver shot from above cut short his words. Came then the sound of a struggle, oaths, the shuffling tread of feet—but in the dance hall the piano still rattled on, the mandolin twanged, voices sang and applauded, and beer mugs thumped time.
They were on the stairs now, the officers, half carrying, half dragging some one between them—and the man they dragged cursed them with utter abandon. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Jimmie Dale caught sight of the prisoner's face—not a prepossessing one—villainous,—low-browed, contorted with a mixture of fear and rage.
"It's a lie! A lie! A lie!" the man shrieked. "I never seen him in me life—blast you!—curse you!—d'ye hear!"
Inspector Clayton caught Jimmie Dale and the Runt by the collars.
"There's nothing to interest you around here!" he snapped maliciously. "Go on, now—beat it!" And he pushed them toward the door.
They had heard the disturbance in the dance hall now, and the occupants were swarming to the sidewalk. A patrol wagon came around the corner. In the crowd Jimmie Dale slipped away from the Runt.
Was he wrong, after all? A fierce passion seized him. It was Stace Morse who had murdered Metzer, the Runt had said. In Jimmie Dale's brain the words began to reiterate themselves in a singsong fashion: "It was Stace Morse. It was Stace Morse." Then his lips drew tight together. Was it Stace Morse? He would have given a good deal for a chance to talk to the man—even for a minute. But there was no possibility of that now. Later, to-morrow perhaps, if he was wrong, after all!
Jimmie Dale returned to the Sanctuary, removed from his person all evidences of Larry the Bat—and from the Sanctuary went home to Riverside Drive.
In his den there, in the morning after breakfast, Jason, the butler, brought him the papers. Three-inch headlines in red ink screamed, exulted, and shrieked out the news that the Gray Seal, in the person of Stace Morse, fence, yegg-man and murderer, had been captured. The public, if it had held any private admiration for the one-time mysterious crook could now once and forever disillusion itself. The Gray Seal was Stace Morse—and Stace Morse was of the dregs of the city's scum, a pariah, an outcast, with no single redeeming trait to lift him from the ruck of mire and slime that had strewn his life from infancy. The face of Inspector Clayton, blandly self-complacent, leaped out from the paper to meet Jimmie Dale's eyes—and with it a column and a half of perfervid eulogy.
Something at first like dismay, the dismay of impotency, filled Jimmie Dale—and then, cold, leaving him unnaturally calm, the old merciless rage took its place. There was nothing to do now but wait—wait until Carruthers should send that photograph. Then if, after all, he were wrong—then he must find some other way. But was he wrong! The notebook that Carruthers had given him, open at the sketch he had made of Clayton, lay upon the desk. Jimmie Dale picked it up—he had already spent quite a little time over it before breakfast—and examined it again minutely, even resorting to his magnifying glass. He put it down as a knock sounded at the door, and Jason entered with a silver card tray. From Carruthers already! Jimmie Dale stepped quickly forward—and then Jimmie Dale met the old man's eyes. It wasn't from Carruthers—it was from her!
"The same shuffer brought it, Master Jim," said Jason.
Jimmie Dale snatched the envelope from the tray, and waved the other from the room. As the door closed, he tore open the letter. There was just a single line:
Jimmie—Jimmie, you haven't failed, have you?
Jimmie Dale stared at it. Failed! Failed—her! The haggard look was in his face again. It was the bond between them that was at stake—the Gray Seal—the bond that had come, he knew for all time in that instant, to mean his life.
"God knows!" he muttered hoarsely, and flung himself into a lounging chair, still staring at the note.
The hours dragged by. Luncheon time arrived and passed—and then by special messenger the little package from Carrruthers came.
Jimmie Dale started to undo the string, then laid the package down, and held out his hands before him for inspection. They were trembling visibly. It was a strange condition for Jimmie Dale either to witness or experience, unlike him, foreign to him.
"This won't do, Jimmie," he said grimly, shaking his head.
He picked up the package again, opened it, and from between two pieces of cardboard took out a large photographic print. A moment, two, Jimmie Dale examined it, used the magnifying glass again; and then a strange gleam came into the dark eyes, and his lips moved.
"I've won," said Jimmie Dale, with ominous softness. "I've won!"
He was standing beside the rosewood desk, and he reached for the phone. Carruthers would be at home now—he called Carruthers there. After a moment or two he got the connection.
"This is Jimmie, Carruthers," he said. "Yes, I got it. Thanks. . . . Yes. . . . Listen. I want you to get Inspector Clayton, and bring him up here at once. . . . What? No, no—no! . . . How? . . . Why—er—tell him you're going to run a full page of him in the Sunday edition, and you want him to sit for a sketch. He'd go anywhere for that. . . . Yes. . . . Half an hour. . . . Yes. . . . Good-bye."
Jimmie Dale hung up the receiver; and, hastily now, began to write upon a pad that lay before him on the desk. The minutes passed. As he wrote, he scored out words and lines here and there, substituting others. At the end he had covered three large pages with, to any one but himself, an indecipherable scrawl. These he shoved aside now, and, very carefully, very legibly, made a copy on fresh sheets. As he finished, he heard a car draw up in front of the house. Jimmie Dale folded the copied sheets neatly, tucked them in his pocket, lighted a cigarette, and was lolling lazily in his chair as Jason announced: "Mr. Carruthers, sir, and another gentleman to see you."
"Show them up, Jason," instructed Jimmie Dale.
Jimmie Dale rose from his chair as they came in. Jason, well-trained servant, closed the door behind them.
"Hello, Carruthers; hello, inspector," said Jimmie Dale pleasantly, and waved them to seats. "Take this chair, Carruthers." He motioned to one at his elbow. "Glad to see you, inspector—try that one in front of the desk, you'll find it comfortable."
Carruthers, trying to catch Jimmie Dale's eye for some sort of a cue, and, failing, sat down. Inspector Clayton stared at Jimmie Dale.
"Oh, it's you, eh?" His eyes roved around the room, fastened for an instant on some of Jimmie Dale's work on an easel, came back finally to Jimmie Dale—and he plumped himself down in the chair indicated. "Thought you was more'n a cub reporter," he remarked, with a grin. "You were too slick with your pencil. Pretty fine studio you got here, Carruthers says you're going to draw me."
Jimmie Dale smiled—not pleasantly—and leaned suddenly over the desk.
"Yes," he said slowly, a grim intonation in his voice, "I'm going to draw you—true to life."
With an exclamation, Clayton slued around in his chair, half rose, and his shifty eyes, small and cunning, bored into Jimmie Dale's face.
"What d'ye mean by that?" he snapped out.
"Just exactly what I say," replied Jimmie Dale curtly. "No more, no less. But first, not to be too abrupt, I want to join with the newspapers in congratulating you on the remarkable—shall I call it celerity, or acumen?—with which you solved the mystery of Metzer's death, and placed the murderer behind the bars. It is really remarkable, inspector, so remarkable, in fact, that it's almost—suspicious. Don't you think so? No? Well, that's what Mr. Carruthers was good enough to bring you up here to talk over—in an intimate and confidential way, you know."
Inspector Clayton surged up from his chair to his feet, his fists clenched, the red sweeping over his face—and then he shook one fist at Carruthers.
"So that's your game, is it!" he stormed. "Trying to crawl out of that twenty-five thousand reward, eh? And as for you"—he turned on Jimmie Dale—"you've rigged up a nice little plant between you, eh? Well, it won't work—and I'll make you squirm for this, both of you, damn you, before I'm through!" He glared from one to the other for a moment—then swung on his heel. "Good-afternoon, gentlemen," he sneered, as he started for the door.
He was halfway across the room before Jimmie Dale spoke.
Clayton turned. Jimmie Dale was still leaning over the desk, but now one elbow was propped upon it, and in the most casual way a revolver covered Inspector Clayton.
"If you attempt to leave this room," said Jimmie Dale, without raising his voice, "I assure you that I shall fire with as little compunction as though I were aiming at a mad dog—and I apologise to all mad dogs for coupling your name with them." His voice rang suddenly cold. "Come back here, and sit down in that chair!"
The colour ebbed slowly from Clayton's face. He hesitated—then sullenly retraced his steps; hesitated again as he reached the chair, and finally sat down.
"What—what d'ye mean by this?" he stammered, trying to bluster.
"Just this," said Jimmie Dale. "That I accuse you of the murder of Jake Metzer—it was you who murdered Metser."
"Good God!" burst suddenly from Carruthers.
"You lie!" yelled Clayton—and again he surged up from his chair.
"That is what Stace Morse said," said Jimmie Dale coolly, "Sit down!"
Then Clayton tried to laugh. "You're—you're having a joke, ain't you? It was Stace—I can prove it. Come down to headquarters, and I can prove it. I got the goods on him all the way. I tell you"—his voice rose shrilly—"it was Stace Morse."
"You are a despicable hound," said Jimmie Dale, through set lips. "Here"—he handed the revolver over to Carruthers—"keep him covered, Carruthers. You're going to the chair for this, Clayton," he said, in a fierce monotone. "The chair! You can't send another there in your place—this time. Shall I draw you now—true to life? You've been grafting for years on every disreputable den in your district. Metzer was going to show you up; and so, Metzer being in the road, you removed him. And you seized on the fact of Stace Morse having paid a visit to him this afternoon to fix the crime on—Stace Morse. Proofs? Oh, yes, I know you've manufactured proofs enough to convict him—if there weren't stronger proofs to convict you."
"Convict me!" Clayton's lower jaw hung loosely; but still he made an effort at bluster. "You haven't a thing on me—not a thing—not a thing."
Jimmie Dale smiled again—unpleasantly.
"You are quite wrong, Clayton. See—here." He took a sheet of paper from the drawer of his desk.
Clayton reached for it quickly. "What is it?" he demanded.
Jimmie Dale drew it back out of reach.
"Just a minute," he said softly. "You remember, don't you, that in the presence of Carruthers here, of myself, and of half a dozen reporters, you stated that you had been alone with Metzer in his room at three o'clock yesterday, and that it was you—alone—who found the body later on at nine o'clock? Yes? I mention this simply to show that from your own lips the evidence is complete that you had an opportunity to commit the crime. Now you may look at this, Clayton." He handed over the sheet of paper.
Clayton took it, stared at it, turning it over from first one side to the other. Then a sort of relief seemed to come to him and he gulped.
"Nothing but a damned piece of blank paper!" he mumbled.
Jimmie Dale reached over and took back the sheet.
"You're wrong again, Clayton," he said calmly. "It was quite blank before I handed it to you—but not now. I noticed yesterday that your hands were generally moist. I am sure they are more so now—excitement, you know. Carruthers, see that he doesn't interrupt."
From a drawer, Jimmie Dale took out a little black bottle, the notebook he had used the day before, and the photograph Carruthers had sent him. On the sheet of paper Clayton had just handled, Jimmie Dale sprinkled a little powder from the bottle.
"Lampblack," explained Jimmie Dale. He shook the paper carefully, allowing the loose powder to fall on the desk blotter—and held out the sheet toward Clayton. "Rather neat, isn't it? A very good impression, too. Your thumb print, Clayton. Now don't move. You may look—not touch." He laid the paper down on the desk in front of Clayton. Beside it he placed the notebook, open at the sketch—a black thumb print now upon it. "You recall handling this yesterday, I'm sure, Clayton. I tried the same experiment with the lampblack on it this morning, you see. And this"—beside the notebook he placed the police photograph; that, too, in its enlargement, showed, sharply defined, a thumb print on a diamond-shaped background. "You will no doubt recognise it as an official photograph, enlarged, taken of the gray seal on Metzer's forehead—and the thumb print of Metzer's murderer. You have only to glance at the little scar at the edge of the centre loop to satisfy yourself that the three are identical. Of course, there are a dozen other points of similarity equally indisputable, but——"
Jimmie Dale stopped. Clayton was on his feet—rocking on his feet. His face was deathlike in its pallor. Moisture was oozing from his forehead.
"I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" he cried out wildly. "My God, I tell you, I didn't do it—and—and—that would send me to the chair."
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale coldly, "and that's precisely where you're going—to the chair."
The man was beside himself now—racked to the soul by a paroxysm of fear.
"I'm innocent—innocent!" he screamed out. "Oh, for God's sake, don't send an innocent man to his death. It was Stace Morse. Listen! Listen! I'll tell the truth." He was clawing with his hands, piteously, over the desk at Jimmie Dale. "When the big rewards came out last week I stole one of the gray seals from the bunch at headquarters to—to use it the first time any crime was committed when I was sure I could lay my hands on the man who did it. Don't you see? Of course he'd deny he was the Gray Seal, just as he'd deny that he was guilty—but I'd have the proof both ways and—and I'd collect the rewards, and—and——" The man collapsed into the chair.
Carruthers was up from his seat, his hands gripping tight on the edge of the desk as he leaned over it.
"Jimmie—Jimmie—what does this mean?" he gasped out.
Jimmie Dale smiled—pleasantly now.
"That he has told the truth," said Jimmie Dale quietly. "It is quite true that Stace Morse committed the murder. Shows up the value of circumstantial evidence though, doesn't it? This would certainly have got him off, and convicted Clayton here before any jury in the land. But the point is, Carruthers, that Stace Morse isn't the Gray Seal—and that the Gray Seal is not a murderer."
Clayton looked up. "You—you believe me?" he stammered eagerly.
Jimmie Dale whirled on him in a sudden sweep of passion.
"No, you cur!" he flashed. "It's not you I believe. I simply wanted your confession before witnesses." He whipped the three written sheets from his pocket. "Here, substantially, is that confession written out." He passed it to Carruthers. "Read it to him, Carruthers."
Carruthers read it aloud.
"Now," said Jimmie Dale grimly, "this spells ruin for you, Clayton. You don't deserve a chance to escape prison bars, but I'm going to give you one, for you're going to get it pretty stiff, anyhow. If you refuse to sign this, I'll hand you over to the district attorney in half an hour, and Carruthers and I will swear to your confession; on the other hand, if you sign it, Carruthers will not be able to print it until to-morrow morning, and that gives you something like fourteen hours to put distance between yourself and New York. Here is a pen—if you are quick enough to take us by surprise once you have signed, you might succeed in making a dash for that door and effecting your escape—without forcing us to compound a felony—understand?"
Clayton's hand trembled violently as he seized the pen. He scrawled his name—looked from one to the other—wet his lips—and then, taking Jimmie Dale at his word, rushed for the door—and the door slammed behind him.
Carruthers' face was hard. "What did you let him go for, Jimmie?" he said uncompromisingly.
"Selfishness. Pure selfisheness," said Jimmie Dale softly. "They'd guy me unmercifully if they ever heard of it at the St. James Club. The honour is all yours, Carruthers. I don't appear on the stage. That's understood? Yes? Well, then"—he handed over the signed confession—"is the 'scoop' big enough?"
Carruthers fingered the sheets, but his eyes in a bewildered way searched Jimmie Dale's face.
"Big enough!" he echoed, as though invoking the universe. "It's the biggest thing the newspaper game has ever known. But how did you come to do it? What started you? Where did you get your lead?"
"Why, from you, I guess, Carruthers," Jimmie Dale answered thoughtfully, with artfully puckered brow. "I remembered that you had said last week that the Gray Seal never left finger marks on his work—and I saw one on the seal on Metzer's forehead. Then, you know, I lifted one corner where the seal overlapped a thread of blood, and, underneath, the thread of blood wasn't in the slightest disturbed; so, of course, I knew the seal had been put on quite a long time after the man was dead—not until the blood had dried thoroughly, to a crust, you know, so that even the damp surface of the sticky side of the seal hadn't affected it. And then, I took a dislike to Clayton somehow—and put two and two together, and took a flyer in getting him to handle the notebook. I guess that's all—no other reason on earth. Jolly lucky, don't you think?"
Carruthers didn't say anything for a moment. When he spoke, it was irrelevantly.
"You saved me twenty-five thousand dollars on that reward, Jimmie."
"That's the only thing I regret," said Jimmie Dale brightly. "It wasn't nice of you, Carruthers, to turn on the Gray Seal that way. And it strikes me you owe the chap, whoever he is, a pretty emphatic exoneration after what you said in this morning's edition."
"Jimmie," said Carruthers earnestly. "You know what I thought of him before. It's like a new lease of life to get back one's faith in him. You leave it to me. I'll put the Gray Seal on a pedestal to-morrow that will be worthy of the immortals—you leave it to me."
And Carruthers kept his word. Also, before the paper had been an hour off the press, Carruthers received a letter. It thanked Carruthers quite genuinely, even if couched in somewhat facetious terms, for his "sweeping vindication," twitted him gently for his "backsliding," begged to remain "his gratefully," and in lieu of signature there was a gray-coloured piece of paper shaped like this:
Only there were no finger prints on it.