The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 1/Chapter 4
THE COUNTERFEIT FIVE
IT was still early in the evening, but a little after nine o'clock. The Fifth Avenue bus wended its way, jouncing its patrons, particularly those on the top seats, across town, and turned into Riverside Drive. A short distance behind the bus, a limousine rolled down the cross street leisurely, silently.
As the lights of passing craft on the Hudson and a myriad scintillating, luminous points dotting the west shore came into view, Jimmie Dale rose impulsively from his seat on the top of the bus, descended the little circular iron ladder at the rear, and dropped off into the street. It was only a few blocks farther to his residence on the Drive, and the night was well worth the walk; besides, restless, disturbed, and perplexed in mind, the walk appealed to him.
He stepped across to the sidewalk and proceeded slowly along. A month had gone by and he had not heard a word from—her. The break on West Broadway, the murder of Metzer in Moriarty's gambling hell, the theft of Markel's diamond necklace had followed each other in quick succession—and then this month of utter silence, with no sign of her, as though indeed she had never existed.
But it was not this temporary silence on her part that troubled Jimmie Dale now. In the years that he had worked with this unknown, mysterious accomplice of his whom he had never seen, there had been longer intervals than a bare month in which he had heard nothing from her—it was not that. It was the failure, total, absolute, and complete, that was the only result for the month of ceaseless, unremitting, doggedly-expended effort, even as it had been the result many times before, in an attempt to solve the enigma that was so intimate and vital a factor in his own life.
If he might lay any claims to cleverness, his resourcefulness, at least, he was forced to admit, was no match for hers. She came, she went without being seen—and behind her remained, instead of clews to her identity, only an amazing, intangible mystery, that left him at times appalled and dismayed. How did she know about those conditions in West Broadway, how did she know about Metzer's murder, how did she know about Markel and Wilbur—how did she know about a hundred other affairs of the same sort that had happened since that night, years ago now, when out of pure adventure he had tampered with Marx's, the jeweller's strong room in Maiden Lane, and she had, mysteriously then, too, solved his identity, discovered him to be the Gray Seal?
Jimmie Dale, wrapped up in his own thoughts, entirely oblivious to his surroundings, traversed another block. There had never been since the world began, and there would never be again, so singular and bizarre a partnership as this——of hers and his. He, Jimmie Dale, with his strange double life, one of New York's young bachelor millionaires, one whose social status was unquestioned; and she, who—who what? That was just it! Who what? What was she? What was her name? What one personal, intimate thing did he know about her? And what was to be the end? Not that he would have severed his association with her—not for worlds!—though every time, that, by some new and curious method, one of her letters found its way into his hands, outlining some fresh coup for him to execute, his peril and danger of discovery was increased in staggering ratio. To-day, the police hunted the Gray Seal as they hunted a mad dog; the papers stormed and raved against him; in every detective bureau of two continents he was catalogued as the most notorious criminal of the age—and yet, strange paradox, no single crime had ever been committed!
Jimmie Dale's strong, fine-featured face lighted up. Crime! Thanks to her, there were those who blessed the name of the Gray Seal, those into whose lives had come joy, relief from misery, escape from death even—and their blessings were worth a thousandfold the risk and peril of disaster that threatened him at every minute of the day.
"Thank God for her!" murmured Jimmie Dale softly. "But—but if I could only find her, see her, know who she is, talk to her, and hear her voice!" Then he smiled a little wanly. "It's been a pretty tough month—and nothing to show for it!"
It had! It had been one of the hardest months through which Jimmie Dale had ever lived. The St. James, that most exclusive club, his favourite haunt, had seen nothing of him; the easel in his den, that was his hobby, had been untouched; there had been days even when he had not crossed the threshold of his home. Every resource at his command he had called into play in an effort to solve the mystery. For nearly the entire month, following first this lead and then that, he had lived in the one disguise that he felt confident she knew nothing of—that was, or, rather, had become, almost a dual personality with him. From the Sanctuary, that miserable and disreputable room in a tenement on the East Side, a tenement that had three separate means of entrance and exit, he had emerged day after day as Larry the Bat, a character as well known and as well liked in the exclusive circles of the underworld as was Jimmie Dale in the most exclusive strata of New York's society and fashion. And it had been useless—all useless. Through his own endeavours, through the help of his friends of the underworld, the lives of half a dozen men, Bert Hagan's on West Broadway, for instance, Markel's, and others', had been laid bare to the last shred, but nowhere could be found the one vital point that linked their lives with hers, that would account for her intimate knowledge of them, and so furnish him with the clew that would then with certainty lead him to a solution of her identity.
It was baffling, puzzling, unbelievable, bordering, indeed, on the miraculous—herself, everything about her, her acts, her methods, her cleverness, intangible in one sense, were terrifically real in another. Jimmie Dale shook his head. The miraculous and this practical, everyday life were wide and far apart. There was nothing miraculous about it—it was only that the key to it was, so far, beyond his reach.
And then suddenly Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders in consonance with a whimsical change in both mood and thought.
"Larry the Bat, is a hard taskmaster!" he muttered facetiously. "I'm afraid I'm not very presentable this evening—no bath this morning, and no shave, and, after nearly a month of make-up, that beastly grease paint gets into the skin creases in a most intimate way." He chuckled as the thought of old Jason, his butler, came to him. "I saw Jason, torn between two conflicting emotions, shaking his head over the black circles under my eyes last night—he didn't know whether to worry over the first signs of a galloping decline, or break his heart at witnessing the young master he had dandled on his knees going to the damnation bowwows and turning into a confirmed roué! I guess I'll have to mind myself, though. Even Carruthers detached his mind far enough from his editorial desk and the hope of exclusively publishing the news of the Gray Seal's capture in the Morning News-Argus, to tell me I was looking seedy. It's wonderful the way a little paint will metamorphose a man! Well, anyway, here's for a good hot tub to-night, and a fresh start!"
He quickened his pace. There were still three blocks to go, and here was no hurrying, jostling crowd to impede his progress; indeed, as far as he could see up the Drive, there was not a pedestrian in sight. And then, as he walked, involuntarily, insistently, his mind harked back into the old groove again.
"I've tried to picture her," said Jimmie Dale softly to himself. "I've tried to picture her a hundred, yes, a thousand times, and——"
A bus, rumbling cityward, went by him, squeaking, creaking, and rattling in its uneasy joints—and out of the noise, almost at his elbow it seemed, a voice spoke his name—and in that instant intuitively he knew, and it thrilled him, stopped the beat of his heart, as, dulcet, soft, clear as the note of a silver bell it fell—and only one word:
He whirled around. A limousine, wheels just grazing the curb, was gliding slowly and silently past him, and from the window a woman's arm, white-gloved and dainty, was extended, and from the fingers to the pavement fluttered an envelope—and the car leaped forward.
For the fraction of a second, Jimmie Dale stood dazed, immovable, a gamut of emotions, surprise, fierce exultation, amazement, a strange joy, a mighty uplift, swirling upon him—and then, snatching up the envelope from the ground, he sprang out into the road after the car. It was the one chance he had ever had, the one chance she had ever given him, and he had seen—a white-gloved arm! He could not reach the car, it was speeding away from him like an arrow now, but there was something else that would do just as well, something that with all her cleverness she had overlooked—the car's number dangling on the rear axle, the rays of the little lamp playing on the enamelled surface of the plate! Gasping, panting, he held his own for a yard or more, and there floated back to him a little silvery laugh from the body of the limousine, and then Jimmie Dale laughed, too, and stopped—it was No. 15,836.
He stood and watched the car disappear up the Drive. What delicious irony! A month of gruelling, ceaseless toil that had been vain, futile, useless—and the key, when he was not looking for it, unexpectedly, through no effort of his, was thrust into his hand—No. 15,836!
Jimmie Dale, the gently ironic smile still on his lips, those slim, supersensitive fingers of his subconsciously noting that the texture of the envelope was the same as she always used, retraced his steps to the sidewalk.
"Number fifteen thousand eight hundred and thirty-six," said Jimmie Dale aloud—and halted at the curb as though rooted to the spot. It sounded strangely familiar, that number! He repeated it over again slowly: "One-five-eight-three-six." And the smile left his lips, and upon his face came the look of a chastened child. She had used a duplicate plate! Fifteen thousand eight hundred and thirty-six was the number of one of his own cars—his own particular runabout!
For a moment longer he stood there, undecided whether to laugh or swear, and then his eyes fastened mechanically on the envelope he was twirling in his fingers. Here, at least, was something that was not elusive; that, on the contrary, as a hundred others in the past had done, outlined probably a grim night's work ahead for the Gray Seal! And, if it were as those others had been, every minute from the moment of its receipt was precious time. He stepped under the nearest street light, and tore the envelope open.
"Dear Philanthropic Crook," it began—and then followed two closely written pages. Jimmie Dale read them, his lips growing gradually tighter, a smouldering light creeping into his dark eyes, and once he emitted a short, low whistle of consternation—that was at the end, as he read the postscript that was heavily underscored: "Work quickly. They will raid to-night. Be careful. Look out for Kline, he is the sharpest man in the United States secret service."
For a brief instant longer, Jimmie Dale stood under the street lamp, his mind in a lightning-quick way cataloguing every point in her letter, viewing every point from a myriad angles, constructing, devising, mapping out a plan to dovetail into them—and then Jimmie Dale swung on a downtown bus. There was neither time nor occasion to go home now—that marvellous little kit of burglar's tools that peeped from their tiny pockets in that curious leather undervest, and that reposed now in the safe in his den, would be useless to him to-night; besides, in the breast pocket of his coat, neatly folded, was a black silk mask, and, relics of his role of Larry the Bat, an automatic revolver, an electric flashlight, a steel jimmy, and a bunch of skeleton keys, were distributed among the other pockets of his smart tweed suit.
Jimmie Dale changed from the bus to the subway, leaving behind him, strewn over many blocks, the tiny and minute fragments into which he had torn her letter; at Astor Place he left the subway, walked to Broadway, turned uptown for a block to Eighth Street, then along Eighth Street almost to Sixth Avenue—and stopped.
A rather shabby shop, a pitiful sort of a place, displaying in its window a heterogeneous conglomeration of cheap odds and ends, ink bottles, candy, pencils, cigarettes, pens, toys, writing pads, marbles, and a multitude of other small wares, confronted him. Within, a little, old, sweet-faced, gray-haired woman stood behind the counter, pottering over the rearrangement of some articles on the shelves.
"My word!" said Jimmie Dale softly to himself. "You wouldn't believe it, would you! And I've always wondered how these little stores managed to make both ends meet. Think of that old soul making fifteen or twenty thousand dollars from a layout like this—even it it has taken her a lifetime!"
Jimmie Dale had halted nonchalantly and unconcernedly by the curb, not too near the window, busied apparently in an effort to light a refractory cigarette; and then, about to enter the store, he gazed aimlessly across the street for a moment instead. A man came briskly around the corner from Sixth Avenue, opened the store door, and went in.
Jimmie Dale drew back a little, and turned his head again as the door closed—and a sudden, quick, alert, and startled look spread over his face.
The man who had entered bent over the counter and spoke to the old lady. She seemed to listen with a dawning terror creeping over her features, and then her hands went piteously to the thin hair behind her ears. The man motioned toward a door at the rear of the store. She hesitated, then came out from behind the counter, and swayed a little as though her limbs would not support her weight.
Jimmie Dale's lips thinned.
"I'm afraid," he muttered slowly, "I'm afraid that I'm too late even now." And then, as she came to the door and turned the key on the inside: "Pray Heaven she doesn't turn the light out—or somebody might think I was trying to break in!"
But in that respect Jimmie Dale's fears were groundless. She did not turn out either of the gas jets that lighted the little shop; instead, in a faltering, reluctant sort of manner, she led the way directly through the door in the rear, and the man followed her.
The shop was empty—and Jimmie Dale was standing against the door on the outside. His position was perfectly natural—a hundred passers-by would have noted nothing but a most commonplace occurrence—a man in the act of entering a store. And, if he appeared to fumble and have trouble with the latch, what of it! Jimmie Dale, however, was not fumbling—hidden by his back that was turned to the street, those wonderful fingers of his, in whose tips seemed embodied and concentrated every one of the human senses, were working quickly, surely, accurately, without so much as the wasted movement of a single muscle.
A faint tinkle—and the key within fell from the lock to the floor. A faint click—and the bolt of the lock slipped back. Jimmie Dale restored the skeleton keys and a little steel instrument that accompanied them to his pocket—and quietly opened the door. He stepped inside, picked up the key from the floor, inserted it in the lock, closed the door behind him, and locked it again.
"To guard against interruption," observed Jimmie Dale, a little quizzically.
He was, perhaps, thirty seconds behind the others. He crossed the shop noiselessly, cautiously, and passed through the door at the rear. It opened into a short passage that, after a few feet, gave on a sort of corridor at right angles—and down this latter, facing him, at the end, the door of a lighted room was open, and he could see the figure of the man who had entered the shop, back turned, standing on the threshold. Voices, indistinct, came to him.
The corridor itself was dark; and Jimmie Dale, satisfied that he was fairly safe from observation, stole softly forward. He passed two doors on his left—and the curious arrangement of the building that had puzzled him for a moment became clear. The store made the front of an old tenement building, with apartments above, and the rear of the store was a sort of apartment, too—the old lady's living quarters.
Step by step, testing each one against a possible creaking of the floor, Jimmie Dale moved forward, keeping close up against one wall. The man passed on into the room—and now Jimmie Dale could distinguish every word that was being spoken; and, crouched up, in the dark corridor, in the angle of the wall and the door jamb itself, could see plainly enough into the room beyond. Jimmie Dale's jaw crept out a little.
A young man, gaunt, pale, wrapped in blankets, half sat, half reclined in an invalid's chair; the old lady, on her knees, the tears streaming down her face, had her arms around the sick man's neck; while the other man, apparently upset at the scene, tugged vigorously at long, gray mustaches.
"Sammy! Sammy!" sobbed the woman piteously. "Say you didn't do it, Sammy—say you didn't do it!"
"Look here, Mrs. Matthews," said the man with the gray mustaches gently, "now don't you go to making things any harder. I've got to do my duty just the same, and take your son."
The young man, a hectic flush beginning to burn on his cheeks, gazed wildly from one to the other.
"What—what is it?" he cried out.
The man threw back his coat and displayed a badge on his vest.
"I'm Kline of the secret service," he said gravely. "I'm sorry, Sammy, but I want you for that little job in Washington at the bureau—before you left on sick leave!"
Sammy Matthews struggled away from his mother's arms, pulled himself forward in his chair—and his tongue licked dry lips,
"What—what job?" he whispered thickly.
"You know, don't you?" the other answered steadily. He took a large, flat pocketbook from his pocket, opened it, and took out a five-dollar bill. He held this before the sick man's eyes, but just out of reach, one finger silently indicating the lower left-hand corner.
Matthews stared at it for a moment, and the hectic flush faded to a grayish pallor, and a queer, impotent sound gurgled in his throat.
"I see you recognise it," said the other quietly. "It's open and shut, Sammy. That little imperfection in the plate's got you, my boy."
"Sammy! Sammy!" sobbed the woman again. "Sammy, say you didn't do it!"
"It's a lie!" said Matthews hoarsely. "It's a lie! That plate was condemned in the bureau for that imperfection—condemned and destroyed."
"Condemned to be destroyed," corrected the other, without raising his voice. "There's a little difference there, Sammy—about twenty years' difference—in the Federal pen. But it wasn't destroyed; this note was printed from it by one of the slickest gangs of counterfeiters in the United States—but I don't need to tell you that, I guess you know who they are. I've been after them a long time, and I've got them now, just as tight as I've got you. Instead of destroying that plate, you stole it, and disposed of it to the gang. How much did they give you?"
Matthews' face seemed to hold a dumb horror, and his fingers picked at the arms of the chair. His mother had moved from beside him now, and both her hands were patting at the man's sleeve in a pitiful way, while again and again she tried to speak, but no words would come.
"It's a lie!" said Matthews again, in a colourless, mechanical way.
The man glanced at Mrs. Matthews as he put the five-dollar note back into his pocket, seemed to choke a little, shook his head, and all trace of the official sternness that had crept into his voice disappeared.
"It's no good," he said in a low tone. "Don't do that, Mrs. Matthews, I've got to do my duty." He leaned a little toward the chair. "It's dead to rights, Sammy. You might as well make a clean breast of it. It was up to you and Al Gregor to see that the plate was destroyed. It wasn't destroyed; instead, it shows up in the hands of a gang of counterfeiters that I've been watching for months. Furthermore, I've got the plate itself. And finally, though I haven't placed him under arrest yet for fear you might hear of it before I wanted you to and make a get-away, I've got Al Gregor where I can put my hands on him, and I've got his confession that you and he worked the game between you to get that plate out of the bureau and dispose of it to the gang."
"Oh, my God!"—it came in a wild cry from the sick man, and in a desperate, lurching way he struggled up to his feet. "Al Gregor said that? Then—then I'm done!" He clutched at his temples. "But it's not true—it's not true! If the plate was stolen, and it must have been stolen, or that note wouldn't have been found, it was Al Gregor who stole it—I didn't, I tell you! I knew nothing of it, except that he and I were responsible for it and—and I left it to him—that's the only way I'm to blame. He's caught, and he's trying to get out of it with a light sentence by pretending to turn State's evidence, but—but I'll fight him—he can't prove it—it's only his word against mine, and——"
The other shook his head again.
"It's no good, Sammy," he said, a touch of sternness back in his tones again. "I told you it was open and shut. It's not only Al Gregor. One of the gang got weak knees when I got him where I wanted him the other night, and he swears that you are the one who delivered the plate to them. Between him and Gregor and what I know myself, I've got evidence enough for any jury against every one of the rest of you."
Horror, fear, helplessness seemed to mingle in the sick man's staring eyes, and he swayed unsteadily upon his feet.
"I'm innocent!" he screamed out. "But I'm caught, I'm caught in a net, and I can't get out—they lied to you—but no one will believe it any more than you do and—and it means twenty years for me—oh, God!—twenty years and——" His hands went wriggling to his temples again, and he toppled back in a faint into the chair.
"You've killed him! You've killed my boy!" the old lady shrieked out piteously, and flung herself toward the senseless figure.
The man jumped for the table across the room, on which was a row of bottles, snatched one up, drew the cork, smelled it, and ran back with the bottle. He poured a little of the contents into his cupped hand, held it under young Matthews' nostrils, and pushed the bottle into Mrs. Matthews' hands.
"Bathe his forehead with this, Mrs. Matthews," he directed reassuringly. "He'll be all right again in a moment. There, see—he's coming around now."
There was a long, fluttering sigh, and Matthews opened his eyes; then a moment's silence; and then he spoke, with an effort, with long pauses between the words:
The words seemed to ring absolute terror in the old lady's ears. She turned, and dropped to her knees on the floor.
"Mr. Kline, Mr. Kline," she sobbed out, "oh, for God's love, don't take him! Let him off, let him go! He's my boy—all I've got! You've got a mother, haven't you? You know——" The tears were streaming down the sweet, old face again. "Oh, won't you, for God's dear name, won't you let him go? Won't——"
"Stop!" the man cried huskily. He was mopping at his face with his handkerchief. "I thought I was case-hardened, I ought to be—but I guess I'm not. But I've got to do my duty. You're only making it worse for Sammy there, as well as me."
Her arms were around his knees now, clinging there.
"Why can't you let him off!" she pleaded hysterically. "Why can't you! Why can't you! Nobody would know, and I'd do anything—I'd pay anything—anything—I'll give you ten—fifteen thousand dollars!"
"My poor woman," he said kindly, placing his hand on her head, "you are talking wildly. Apart altogether from the question of duty, even if I succeeded in hushing the matter up, I would probably at least be suspected and certainly discharged, and I have a family to support—and if I were caught and get ten years in the Federal prison for it. I'm sorry for this; I believe it's your boy's first offence, and if I could let him off I would."
"But you can—you can!" she burst out, rocking on her knees, clinging tighter still to him, as though in a paroxysm of fear that he might somehow elude her. "It will kill him—it will kill my boy. And you can save him! And even if they discharged you, what would that mean against my boy's life! You wouldn't suffer, your family wouldn't suffer, I'll—I'll take care of that—perhaps I could raise a little more than fifteen thousand—but, oh, have pity, have mercy—don't take him away!"
The man stared at her a moment, stared at the white face on the reclining chair—and passed his hand heavily across his eyes.
"You will! You will!" It came in a great surging cry of joy from the old lady. "You will—oh, thank God, thank God!—I can see it in your face!"
"I—I guess I'm soft," he said huskily, and stooped and raised Mrs. Matthews to her feet. "Don't cry any more. It'll be all right—it'll be all right. I'll—I'll fix it up somehow. I haven't made any arrests yet, and—well, I'll take my chances. I'll get the plate and turn it over to you to-morrow, only—only it's got to be destroyed in my presence."
"Yes, yes!" she cried, trying to smile through her tears—and then she flung her arms around her son's neck again.
"And when you come to-morrow, I'll be ready with the money to do my share, too, and——"
But Sammy Matthews shook his head.
"You're wrong, both of you," he said weakly. "You're a white man, Kline. But destroying that plate won't save me. The minute a single note printed from it shows up, they'll know back there in Washington that the plate was stolen, and——"
"No; you're safe enough there," the other interposed heavily. "Knowing what was up, you don't think I'd give the gang a chance to get them into circulation, do you? I got them all when I got the plate. And"—he smiled a little anxiously—"I'll bring them here to be destroyed with the plate. It would finish me now, as well as you, if one of them ever showed up. Say," he said suddenly, with a catch in his breath, "I—I don't think I know what I'm doing."
Mrs. Matthews reached out her hands to him.
"What can I say to you!" she said brokenly. What——"
Jimmie Dale drew back along the wall. A little way from the door he quickened his pace, still moving, however, with extreme caution. They were still talking behind him as he turned from the corridor into the passageway leading to the store, and from there into the store itself. And then suddenly, in spite of caution, his foot slipped on the bare floor. It was not much—just enough to cause his other foot, poised tentatively in air, to come heavily down, and a loud and complaining creak echoed from the floor.
Jimmie Dale's jaws snapped like a steel trap. From down the corridor came a sudden, excited exclamation in the little old lady's voice, and then her steps sounded running toward the store. In the fraction of a second Jimmie Dale was at the front door.
"Clumsy, blundering fool!" he whispered fiercely to himself as he turned the key, opened the door noiselessly until it was just ajar, and turned the key in the lock again, leaving the bolt protruding out. One step backward, and he was rapping on the counter with his knuckles. "Isn't anybody here?" he called out loudly. "Isn't any—oh!"—as Mrs. Matthews appeared in the back doorway. "A package of cigarettes, please."
She stared at him, a little frightened, her eyes red and swollen with recent crying.
"How—how did you get in here?" she asked tremulously.
"I beg your pardon?" inquired Jimmie Dale, in polite surprise.
"I—I locked the door—I'm sure I did," she said, more to herself than to Jimmie Dale, and hurried across the floor to the door as she spoke.
Jimmie Dale, still politely curious, turned to watch her.
For a moment bewilderment and a puzzled look were in her face—and then a sort of surprised relief.
"I must have turned the key in the lock without shutting the door tight," she explained, "for I knew I turned the key."
Jimmie Dale bent forward to examine the lock—and nodded.
"Yes," he agreed, with a smile. "I should say so." Then, gravely courteous: "I'm sorry to have intruded."
"It is nothing," she answered; and, evidently anxious to be rid of him, moved quickly around behind the counter. "What kind of cigarettes do you want?"
"Egyptians—any kind," said Jimmie Dale, laying a bill on the counter.
He pocketed the cigarettes and his change, and turned to the door.
"Good-evening," he said pleasantly—and went out.
Jimmie Dale smiled a little curiously, a little tolerantly. As he started along the street, he heard the door of the little shop close with a sort of supercareful bang, the key turned, and the latch rattle to try the door—the little old lady was bent on making no mistake a second time!
And then the smile left Jimmie Dale's lips, his face grew strained and serious, and he broke into a run down the block to Sixth Avenue. Here he paused for an instant—there was the elevated, the surface cars—which would be the quicker? He looked up the avenue. There was no train coming; the nearest surface car was blocks away. He bit his lips in vexation—and then with a jump he was across the street and hailing a passing taxicab that his eyes had just lighted on.
"Got a fare?" called Jimmie Dale.
"No, sir," answered the chauffeur, bumping his car to an abrupt halt.
"Good!" Jimmie Dale ran alongside, and yanked the door open. "Do you know where the Palace Saloon on the Bowery is?"
"Yes, sir," replied the man.
Jimmie Dale held a ten-dollar bank note up before the chauffeur's eyes.
"Earn that in four minutes, then," he snapped—and sprang into the cab.
The taxicab swerved around on little better than two wheels, started on a mad dash down the Avenue—and Jimmie Dale braced himself grimly in his seat. The cab swerved again, tore across Waverly Place, circuited Washington Square, crossed Broadway, and whirled finally into the upper end of the Bowery.
Jimmie Dale spoke once—to himself—plaintively.
"It's too bad I can't let old Carruthers in on this for a scoop with his precious Morning News-Argus—but if I get out of it alive myself, I'll do well! Wonder if the day'll ever come when he finds out that his very dear friend and old college pal, Jimmie Dale, is the Gray Seal that he's turned himself inside out for about four years now to catch, and that he'd trade his soul with the devil any time to lay hands on! Good old Carruthers! 'The most puzzling, bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime'—am I?"
The cab drew up at the curb. Jimmie Dale sprang out, shoved the bill into the chauffeur's hand, stepped quickly across the sidewalk, and pushed his way through the swinging doors of the Palace Saloon. Inside leisurely and nonchalantly, he walked down past the length of the bar to a door at the rear. This opened into a passageway that led to the side entrance of the saloon on the cross street. Jimmie Dale emerged from the side entrance, crossed the street, retraced his steps to the Bowery, crossed over, and walked rapidly down that thoroughfare for two blocks. Here he turned east into the cross street; and here, once more, his pace became leisurely and unhurried.
"It's a strange coincidence, though possibly a very happy one," said Jimmie Dale, as he walked along, "that it should be on the same street as the Sanctuary—ah, this ought to be the place!"
An alleyway, corresponding to the one that flanked the tenement where, as Larry the Bat, he had paid room rent as a tenant for several years, in fact, the alleyway next above it, and but a short block away, intersected the street, narrow, black, and uninviting. Jimmie Dale, as he passed, peered down its length.
"No light—that's good!" commented Jimmie Dale to himself. Then: "Window opens on alleyway ten feet from ground—shoe store, Russian Jew, in basement—go in front door—straight hallway—room at end—Russian Jew probably accomplice—be careful that he does not hear you moving overhead"—Jimmie Dale's mind, with that curious faculty of his, was subconsciously repeating snatches from her letter word for word, even as he noted the dimly lighted, untidy, and disorderly interior of what, from strings of leather slippers that decorated the cellarlike entrance, was evidently a cheap and shoddy shoe store in the basement of the building.
The building itself was rickety and tumble-down, three stories high, and given over undoubtedly to gregarious foreigners of the poorer class, a rabbit burrow, as it were, having a multitude of roomers and lodgers. There was nothing ominous or even secretive about it—up the short flight of steps to the entrance, even the door hung carelessly half open.
Jimmie Dale's slouch hat was pulled a little farther down over his eyes as he mounted the steps and entered the hallway. He listened a moment. A sort of subdued, querulous hubbub seemed to hum through the place, as voices, men's, women's, and children's, echoing out from their various rooms above, mingled together, and floated down the stairways in a discordant medley. Jimmie Dale stepped lightly down the length of the hall—and listened again; this time intently, with his ear to the keyhole of the door that made the end of the passage. There was not a sound from within. He tried the door, smiled a little as he reached for his keys, worked over the lock—and straightened up suddenly as his ear caught a descending step on the stairs. It was two flights up, however—and the door was unlocked now. Jimmie Dale opened it, and, like a shadow, slipped inside; and, as he locked the door behind him, smiled once more—the door lock was but a paltry makeshift at best, but inside his fingers had touched a massive steel bolt that, when shot home, would yield when the door itself yielded—and not before. Without moving the bolt, he turned—and his flashlight for a moment swept the room.
"Not much like the way they describe this sort of place in storybooks!" murmured Jimmie Dale capriciously. "But I get the idea. Mr. Russian Jew downstairs makes a bluff at using it for a storeroom."
Again the flashlight made a circuit. Here, there, and everywhere, seemingly without any attempt at order, were piles of wooden shipping cases. Only the centre of the room was clear and empty; that, and a vacant space against the wall by the window.
Jimmie Dale, moving without sound, went to the window. There was a shade on it, and it was pulled down. He reached up underneath it, felt for the window fastening, and unlocked it; then cautiously tested the window itself by lifting it an inch or two—it slid easily in its grooves.
He stood then for a moment, hardfaced, a frown gathering his forehead into heavy furrows, as the flashlight's ray again and again darted hither and thither. There was nothing, absolutely nothing in the room but wooden packing cases. He lifted the cover of the one nearest to him and looked inside. It was quite empty, except for some pieces of heavy cord, and a few cardboard shoe boxes that, in turn, were empty, too.
"It's here, of course," said Jimmie Dale thoughtfully to himself. "Clever work, too! But I can't move half a hundred packing cases without that chap below hearing me; and I can't do it in ten minutes, either, which, I imagine, is the outside limit of time. Fortunately, though, these cases are not without their compensation—a dozen men could hide here."
He began to move about the room. And now he stooped before one pile of boxes and ;then another, curiously attempting to lift up the entire pile from the bottom. Some he could not move; others, by exerting all his strength, gave a little; and then, finally, over in one corner, he found a pile that appeared to answer his purpose.
"These are certainly empty," he muttered.
There was just room to squeeze through between them and the next stack of cases alongside; but, once through, by the simple expedient of moving the cases out a little to take advantage of the angle made by the corner of the room, he obtained ample space to stand comfortably upright against the wall. But Jimmie Dale was not satisfied yet. Could he see out into the room? He experimented with his flashlight—and carefully shifted the screen of cases before him a little to one side. And yet still he was not satisfied. With a sort of ironical droop at the corners of his lips, as though suddenly there had flashed upon him the inspiration that fathered one of those whimsical ideas and fancies that were so essentially a characteristic of Jimmie Dale, he came out from behind the cases, went across the room to the case he had opened when he first entered, took out the cord and the cover of one of the cardboard shoe boxes, and with these returned to his hiding place once more.
The sounds from the upper stories of the tenement now reached him hardly at all; but from below, directly under his feet almost, he could hear some one, the proprietor of the shoe store probably, walking about.
Tense, every faculty now on the alert, his head turned in a strained, attentive attitude, Jimmie Dale threw on the flashlight's tiny switch, took that intimate and thin metal case from his pocket, extracted a diamond-shaped, gray paper seal with the little tweezers, moistened the adhesive side, and stuck it in the centre of the white cardboard-box cover, then tore the edges of the cardboard down until the whole was just small enough to slip into his pocket. Through the cardboard he looped a piece of cord, placard fashion, and with his pencil printed the four words—"with the compliments of"—above the gray seal. He surveyed the result with a grim, mirthless chuckle—and put the piece of cardboard in his pocket.
"I'm taking the longest chances I ever took in my life" said Jimmie Dale very seriously to himself, as his fingers twisted, and doubled, and tied the remaining pieces of cord together, and finally fashioned a running noose in one end. "I don't——" The cord and the flashlight went into his pocket, the room was in darkness, the black mask was whipped from his breast pocket and adjusted to his face, and his automatic was in his hand.
Came the creak of a footstep, as though on a ladder exactly below him, another, and another, receding curiously in its direction, yet at the same time growing louder in sound as if nearer the floor—then a crack of light showed in the floor in the centre of the room. This held for an instant, then expanded suddenly into a great luminous square—and through a trapdoor, opened wide now, a man's head appeared.
Jimmie Dale's eyes, fixed through the space between the piles of cases, narrowed—there was, indeed, little doubt but that the shoe-store proprietor below was an accomplice! The store served a most convenient purpose in every respect—as a secret means of entry into the room, as a sort of guarantee of innocence for the room itself. Why not! To the superficial observer, to the man who might by some chance blunder into the room—it was but an adjunct of the store itself!
The man in the trap-doorway paused with his shoulders above the floor, looked around, listened, then drew himself up, walked across the floor, and shot the heavy bolt on the door that led into the hallway of the house. He returned then to the trapdoor, bent over it, and whistled softly. Two more men, in answer to the summons, came up into the room.
"The Cap'll be along in a minute," one of them said. "Turn on the light."
A switch clicked, flooding the room with sudden brilliancy from half a dozen electric bulbs.
"Too many!" grunted the same voice again. "We ain't working to-night—turn out half of 'em."
The sudden transition from the darkness for a moment dazzled Jimmie Dale's eyes—but the next moment he was searching the faces of the three men. There were few crooks, few denizens of the crime world below the now obsolete but still famous dead line that, as Larry the Bat, he did not know at least by sight.
"Moulton, Whitie Burns, and Marty Dean," confided Jimmie Dale softly to himself. "And I don't know of any worse, except—the Cap. And gun fighters, every one of them, too—nice odds, to say nothing of——"
"Here's the Cap now!" announced one of the three. "Hello, Cap, where'd you raise the mustache?"
Jimmie Dale's eyes shifted to the trapdoor, and into them crept a contemptuous and sardonic smile—the man who was coming up now and hoisting himself to the floor was the man who, half an hour before, had threatened young Sammy Matthews with arrest.
The Cap, alias Bert Malone, alias a score of other names, closed the trapdoor after him, pulled off his mustache and gray wig, tucked them in his pocket, and faced his companions brusquely.
"Never mind about the mustache," he said curtly. "Get busy, the lot of you. Stir around and get the works out!"
"What for?" inquired Whitie Burns, a sharp, ferret-faced little man. "We got enough of the old stuff on hand now, and that bum break Gregor made when he pinched the cracked plate put the finish on that. Say, Cap——"
"Close your face, Whitie, and get the works out!" Malone cut in shortly. "We've only got the whole night ahead of us—but we'll need it all. We're going to run the queer off that cracked plate."
One of the others, Marty Dean this time, a certain brutal aggressiveness in both features and physique, edged forward.
"Say, what's the lay?" he demanded. "A joke? We printed one fiver off that plate—and then we knew enough to quit. With that crack along the corner, you couldn't pass 'em on a blind man! And Gregor saying he thought we could patch the plate up enough to get by with gives me a pain—he's got jingles in his dome factory! Run them fivers, eh—say, are you cracked, too?"
"Aw, forget it!" observed Malone caustically. "Who's running this gang?" Then, with a malicious grin: "I got a customer for those fivers—fifteen thousand dollars for all we can turn out to-night. See?"
The others stared at him for a moment, incredulity and greed mingling in a curious half-hesitant, half-expectant look on their faces.
Then Whitie Burns spoke, circling his lips with the tip of his tongue:
"D'ye mean it, Cap—honest? What's the lay? How'd you work it?"
Malone, unbending with the sensation he had created, grinned again.
"Easy enough," he said offhandedly. "It was like falling off a log. Gregor said, didn't he, that the only way he had been able to get his claws on that plate was on account of young Matthews going away sick—eh? Well, the old Matthews woman, his mother, has got money—about fifteen thousand. I guess she ain't got any more than that, or I'd have raised the ante. Aw, it was easy. She threw it at me. I framed one up on them, that's all. I'm Kline, of the secret service—see? I don't suppose they'd ever seen him, though they'd know his name fast enough, but I made up something like him. I showed them where I had a case against Sammy for pinching the plate that was strong enough to put a hundred innocent men behind the bars. Of course, he knew well enough he was innocent, but he could see the twenty years I showed him with both eyes. Say, he mussed all over the place, and went and fainted like a girl. And then the old woman came across with an offer of fifteen thousand for the plate, and corrupted me." Malone's cunning, vicious face, now that the softening effects of the gray hair and mustache were gone, seemed accentuated diabolically by the grin broadening into a laugh, as he guffawed.
Marty Dean's hand swung with a bang to Malone's shoulder.
"Say, Cap—say, you're all right!" he exclaimed excitedly. "You're the boy! But what's the good of running anything off the plate before turning it over to 'em—the stuff's no good to us."
"You got a wooden nut, with sawdust for brains," said Malone sarcastically. "If he'd thought the gang of counterfeiters that was supposed to have bought the plate from him had run off only one fiver and then stopped because they say it wouldn't get by, and weren't going to run any more, and just destroy the plate like it was supposed to have been destroyed to begin with, and it all end up with no one the wiser, where d'ye think we'd have banked that fifteen thousand! I told him I had the whole run confiscated, and that the queer went with the plate, so we'll just make that little run to-night—that's why I sent word around to you this morning."
"By the jumping!" ejaculated Whitle Burns, heavy with admiration. "You got a head on you, Cap!"
"It's a good thing for some of you that I have," returned Malone complacently. "But don't stand jawing all night. Go on, now—get busy!"
There was no surprise in Jimmie Dale's face—he had chosen his position behind a pile of cases that he had been extremely careful, as a man is careful when his life hangs in the balance, to assure himself were empty. None of the four came near or touched the pile behind which he stood; but, here and there about the room, they pulled this one and that one out from various stacks. In scarcely more than a moment, the room was completely transformed. It was no longer a storeroom for surplus stock, for the storage of bulky and empty packing cases! From the cases the men had picked out, like a touch of magic, appeared a veritable printing plant, an elaborate engraver's outfit—a highly efficient foot-power press, rapidly being assembled by Whitie Burns; an electric dryer, inks, a pile of white, silk-threaded bank-note paper, a cutter, and a score of other appurtenances.
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale very gently to himself. "Yes, quite so—but the plate? Ah!" Malone was taking it out from the middle of a bundle of old newspapers, loosely tied together, that he had lifted from one of the cases.
Jimmie Dale's eyes fastened on it—and from that instant never left it. A minute passed, two, three of them—the four men were silently busy about the room—Malone was carefully cleaning the plate.
"They will raid to-night. Look out for Kline, he is the sharpest man in the United State secret service"—the warning in her letter was running through Jimmie Dale's mind. Kline—the real Kline—was going to raid the place to-night. When? At what time? It must be nearly eleven o'clock already, and——
It came sudden, quick as the crack of doom—a terrific crash against the bolted door—but the door, undoubtedly to the surprise of those without, held fast, thanks to the bolt. The four men, white-faced, seemed for an instant turned to statues. Came another crash against the door—and a sharp, imperative order to those within to open it and surrender.
"We're pinched! Beat it!" whispered Whitie Burns wildly—and dashed for the trapdoor.
Like a rat for its hole, Marty Dean followed. Malone, farther away, dropped the plate on the floor, and rushed, with Moulton beside him, after the others—but he never reached the trapdoor.
Over the crashing blows, raining now in quick succession on the door of the room, over a startled commotion as lodgers, roomers, and tenants on the floor above awoke into frightened activity with shouts and cries, came the louder crash of a pile of packing boxes hurled to the floor. And over them, vaulting those scattered in his way, Jimmie Dale sprang at Malone. The man reeled back, with a cry. Moulton dashed through the trapdoor and disappeared. The short, ugly barrel of Jimmie Dale's automatic was between Malone's eyes.
"You make a move," said Jimmie Dale, in a low, sibilant way, "and I'll drop you where you stand! Put your hands behind your back—palms together!"
Malone, dazed, cowed, obeyed. A panel of the door split, and rent down its length—the hinges were sagging. Jimmie Dale worked like lightning. The cord with the slip noose from his pocket went around Malone's wrists, jerked tight, and knotted; the placard, his lips grim, with no sign of humour, Jimmie Dale dangled around the man's neck.
"An introduction for you to Mr. Kline out there—that you seem so fond of!" gritted Jimmie Dale. Then, working as he talked: "I've got no time to tell you what I think of you, you pitiful hound"—he snatched up the plate from the floor and put it in his pocket—"Twenty years, I think you said, didn't you?"—his hand shot into Malone's pocket-book, and extracted the five-dollar note—"If you can open this with your toes maybe you can get away"—he wrenched the trapdoor over and slammed it shut—"good-night, Malone"—and he leaped for the window.
The door tottered inward from the top, ripping, tearing, smashing hinges, panels, and jamb. Jimmie Dale got a blurred vision of brass buttons, blue coats, and helmets, and, in the forefront, of a stocky, gray-mustached, gray-haired man in plain clothes.
Jimmie Dale threw up the window, swung out, as with a rush the officers burst through into the room and a revolver bullet hummed viciously past his ear, and dropped to the ground—into encircling arms!
"Ah, no, you don't, my bucko!" snapped a hoarse voice in his ear. "Keep quiet now, or I'll crack your bean—understand!"
But the officer, too heavy to be muscular, was no match for Jimmie Dale, who, even as he had dropped from the sill, had caught sight of the lurking form below; and now, with a quick, sudden, lithe movement he wriggled loose, his fist from a short-arm jab smashed upon the point of the other's jaw, sending the man staggering backward—and Jimmie Dale ran.
A crowd was already collecting at the mouth of the alleyway, mostly occupants of the house itself, and into these, scattering them in all directions, eluding dexterously another officer who made a grab for him, Jimmie Dale charged at top speed, burst through, and headed down the street, running like a deer.
Yells went up, a revolver spat venomously behind him, came the shrill cheep-cheep! of the police whistle, and heavy boots pounding the pavement in pursuit.
Down the block Jimmie Dale raced. The yells augmented in his rear. Another shot—and this time he heard the bullet buzz. And then he swerved—into the next alleyway—that flanked the Sanctuary.
He had perhaps a ten yards' lead, just a little more than the distance from the street to the side door of the Sanctuary that opened on the alleyway. And, as he ran now, his fingers tore at his clothing, loosening his tie, unbuttoning coat, vest, collar, shirt, and undershirt. He leaped at the door, swung it open, flung himself inside—and then sacrificing speed to silence, went up the stairs like a cat, cramming his mask now into his pocket.
His room was on the first landing. In an instant he had unlocked the door, entered, and locked it again behind him. From outside, an excited street urchin's voice shrilled up to him:
"He went in that door! I seen him!"
The police whistle chirped again; and then an authoritative voice:
"Get around and watch the saloon back of this, Heeney—there's a way out through there from this joint."
Jimmie Dale, divested of every stitch of clothing that he had worn, pulled a disreputable collarless flannel shirt over his head, pulled on a dirty and patched pair of trousers, and slipped into a threadbare and filthy coat. Jimmie Dale was working against seconds. They were at the lower door now. He lifted the oilcloth in the corner of the room, lifted up the loose piece of the flooring, shoved his discarded garments inside, and from a little box that was there smeared the hollow of his hand with some black substance, possessed himself of two little articles, replaced the flooring, replaced the oilcloth, and, in bare feet, stole across the room to the door. Against the door, without a sound, Jimmie Dale placed a chair, and on the chair seat he laid the two little articles he had been carrying in his hand. It was intensely black in the room, but Jimmie Dale needed no light here. From under the bed he pulled out a pair of woolen socks and a pair of congress boots, both as disreputable as the rest of his attire, put them on—and very quietly, softly, cautiously, stretched himself out on the bed.
The officers were at the top of the stairs. A voice barked out:
"Stand guard on this landing, Peters. Higgins, you take the one above. We'll start from the top of the house and work down. Allow no one to pass you."
"Yes, sir! Very good, Mr. Kline," was the response.
Kline!—the sharpest man in the United States secret service, she had said. Jimmie Dale's lips set.
"I'm glad I had no shave this morning," said Jimmie Dale grimly to himself.
His fingers were working with the black substance in the hollow of his hand—and the long, slim, tapering fingers, the shapely, well-cared-for hands grew unkempt and grimy, black beneath the finger nails—and a little, too, played its part on the day's growth of beard, a little around the throat and at the nape of the neck, a little across the forehead to meet the locks of straggling and disordered hair. Jimmie Dale wiped the residue from the hollow of his hand on the knee of his trousers—and lay still.
An officer paced outside. Upstairs doors opened and closed. Gruff, harsh tones in commands echoed through the house. The search party descended to the second floor—and again the same sounds were repeated. And then, thumping down the creaking stairs, they stopped before Jimmie Dale's room. Some one tried the door, and, finding it locked, rattled it violently.
"Open the door!" It was Kline's voice.
Jimmie Dale's eyes were closed, and he was breathing regularly, though just a little slower than in natural respiration.
"Break it down!" ordered Kline tersely.
There was a rush at it—and it gave. It surged inward, knocked against the chair, upset the latter, something tinkled to the floor—and four officers, with Kline at their head, jumped into the room.
Jimmie Dale never moved. A flashlight played around the room and focused upon him—and then he was shaken roughly—only to fall inertly back on the bed again.
"I guess this is all right, Mr. Kline," said one of the officers. "It's Larry the Bat, and he's doped to the eyes. There's the stuff on the floor we knocked off the chair."
"Light the gas!" directed Kline curtly; and, being obeyed, stooped to the floor and picked up a hypodermic syringe and a small bottle. He held the bottle to the light, and read the label: Liquor Morphinæ. "Shake him again!" he commanded.
None too gently, a policeman caught Jimmie Dale by the shoulder and shook him vigorously—again Jimmie Dale, once the other let go his hold, fell back limply on the bed, breathing in that same, slightly slowed way.
"Larry the Bat, eh?" grunted Kline; then, to the officer who had volunteered the information: "Who's Larry the Bat? What is he? And how long have you known him?"
"I don't know who he is any more than what you can see there for yourself," replied the officer. "He's a dope fiend, and I guess a pretty tough case, though we've never had him up for anything. He's lived here ever since I've been on the beat, and that's three years or——"
"All right!" interrupted Kline crisply. "He's no good to us! You say there's an exit from this house into that saloon at the back?"
Yes, sir; but the fellow, whoever he is, couldn't get away from there. Heeney's been over on guard from the start."
"Then he's still inside there," said Kline, clipping off his words. "We'll search the saloon. Nice night's work this is! One out of the whole gang—and that one with the compliments of the Gray Seal!"
The men went out and began to descend the stairs.
"One," said Jimmie Dale to himself, still motionless, still breathing in that slow way so characteristic of the drug. "Two. Three. Four."
The minutes went by—a quarter of an hour—a half hour. Still Jimmie Dale lay there—still motionless—still breathing with slow regularity. His muscles began to cramp, to give him exquisite torture. Around him all was silence—only distant sounds from the street reached him, muffled, and at intervals. Another quarter of an hour passed—an eternity of torment. It seemed to Jimmie Dale, for all his will power, that he could not hold himself in check, that he must move, scream out even in the torture that was passing all endurance. It was silent now, utterly silent—and then out of the silence, just outside his door, a footstep creaked—and a man walked to the stairs and went down.
"Five," said Jimmie Dale to himself. "The sharpest man in the United States secret service."
And then for the first time Jimmie Dale moved—to wipe away the beads of sweat that had sprung out upon his forehead.