The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 10
THERE was silence between them. Minute after minute passed. Neither spoke.
Jimmie Dale dropped back into his chair again, and stared abstractedly before him. "We do not hold many trumps, Jimmie—we do not hold many trumps"—her words were repeating themselves over and over in his mind. They seemed to challenge him mockingly to deny what was so obviously a fact, and because he could not deny it to taunt and jeer at him—to jeer at him, when all that was held at stake hung literally upon his next move!
He looked up mechanically as the Tocsin walked to a broken mirror at the rear of the miserable room; nodded mechanically in approval as she began deftly to retouch the make-up on her face where the tears had left their traces—and resumed his abstracted gaze before him.
Box number four-two-eight—John Johansson—the Crime Club—the identity of the man who was posing as Henry LaSalle! If only he could hit upon a clew to the solution of a single one of those things, or a single phase of one of them—if only he could glimpse a ray of light that would at least prompt action, when every moment of inaction was multiplying the odds against them!
There were the men who were watching his house at that moment on Riverside Drive—he, as Larry the Bat, might in turn keep watch on them. He had though of that. In time, perhaps, he might, by so doing, discover the whereabouts of the crime club. In time! It was just that—he had no time! Forty-eight hours, the Tocsin insisted, was all the time that he could count upon before they would become suspicious of Jimmie Dale's "illness," before they would discover that they were watching an empty house!
He might—though this was even more hazardous—make an attempt to trace the wires that tapped those of his telephone through the basement window that gave on the garage driveway. And what then? True, they could not lead very far away; but, even if successful, what then? They would not lead him to the Crime Club, but simply to some confederate, to some man or woman playing the part of a servant, perhaps, in the house next door, who, in turn, would have to be shadowed and watched.
Jimmie Dale shook his head. Better, of the two, to start in at once and shadow those who were shadowing his house. But that was not the way! He knew that intuitively. He hated to eliminate it from, for he had no other move to take its place—but such a move was almost suicide in itself. Time, and time alone, was the vital factor. They, the Tocsin and he, must act quickly—and strike that night if they were to win. His fingers, the grimy fingers, dirty-nailed, of Larry the Bat, that none now would recognise as the slim tapering, wonderfully sensitive fingers of Jimmie Dale, the fingers that had made the name of the Gray Seal famous, whose tips mocked at bars and safes and locks, and seemed to embody in themselves all the human senses, tightened spasmodically on the edge of the table. Time! Time! Time! It seemed to din in his ears. And while he sat there powerless, impotent, the Crime Club was moving heaven and earth to find what he must find—that package—if he was to save this woman here, the woman whom he loved, she who had been forced, through the machinations of these hell fiends, to adopt the life of a wretched hag, to exist among the dregs of the underworld, whose and vice and wantonness none knew better than he!
Jimmie Dale's face set grimly. Somewhere—somewhere in the past five years of this life of hers in which she had been fighting the Crime Club, pitting that clever brain of hers against it, must lie a clew. She had told him her story only in baldest outline, with scarcely a reference to her own personal acts, with barely a single detail. There must be something, something that perhaps she had overlooked, something, just the merest hint of something that would supply a starting point, give him a glimmer of light.
She came back from across the room, and sank down in her chair again. She did not speak—the question, that meant life and death to them both, was in her eyes.
Jimmie answered the mute interrogation tersely.
"Not yet!" he said. Then, almost curtly, in a quick, incisive way, as the keen, alert brain began to delve and probe: "You say this man Clarke never returned to the house after that night?"
She nodded her head quietly.
"You are sure of that?" he insisted.
Yes," she said. "I am sure."
"And you say that all these years you have kept a watch on the man who is posing as your uncle, and that he never went anywhere, or associated with any one, that would afford you a clew to this Crime Club?"
"Yes," she said again.
It was a moment before Jimmie Dale spoke.
"It's very strange!" he said musingly, at last. "So strange, in fact, that it's impossible. He must have communicated with the others, and communicated with them often. The game they were playing was too big, too full of details, to admit of any other possibility. And the telephone as an explanation isn't good enough."
"And yet," she said earnestly, "possible or impossible, it is nevertheless true. That he might have succeeded in eluding me on occasions was perhaps to be expected; but that in all those years I should not catch him once in what, if you are correct, must have been many and repeated conferences with the same men is too improbable to be thought of seriously."
Jimmie Dale shook his head again.
"If you had been able to watch him night and day, that might be so," he said crisply. "But, at best, you could only watch him a very small portion of the time."
She smiled at him a little wanly.
"Do you think, Jimmie, from what you, as the Gray Seal, know of me, that I would have watched in any haphazard way like that?"
He glanced at her with a sudden start.
"What do you mean?" he asked quickly.
"Look at me!" she said quietly. "Have you ever seen me before? I mean as I am now."
"No," he answered, after an instant. "Not that I know of."
"And yet"—she smiled wanly again—"you have not lived, or made the place you hold in the underworld, without having heard of Silver Mag."
"You!" exclaimed Jimmie Dale. "You—Silver Mag!" He stared at her wonderingly, as, crouch-shouldered now, the hair, gray-threaded, straggling out from under the hood of a faded, dark-blue, seam-worn cloak, she sat before him, a typical creature of the underworld, her rôle an art in its conception, perfect in its execution. Silver Mag! Yes, he had heard of Silver Mag—as every one in the Bad Lands had heard of her. Silver Mag and her pocketful of coin! Always a pocketful of silver, so they said, that was dispensed prodigally to the wives and children temporarily deprived of support by husbands and fathers unfortunate enough in their clashes with the law to be doing "spaces" up the river—and therefore the underworld swore by Silver Mag. Always silver, never a bill; Silver Mag had never been seen with a banknote—that was her eccentricity. Much or little, she gave or paid out of her pocketful of jangling silver. She was credited with being a sworn enemy of the police, and—yes, he remembered, too—with having done "time" herself. "I don't quite understand," he said, in a puzzled way. "I haven't run across you personally because you probably took care to see that I shouldn't; but—it's no secret—every one says you've served a jail sentence yourself."
"That is simply enough explained," she answered gravely. "The story is of my own making. When I decided to adopt this life, both for my own keeping a watch on that man, I knew that I must win the confidence of the underworld, that I must have help, and that in order to obtain that help I must have some excuse for my enmity against the man known as Henry LaSalle. To be widely known in the underworld was of inestimable value—nothing, I knew, could accomplish that as quickly as eccentricity. You see now how and why I became known as Silver Mag. I gained the confidence of every crook in New York through their wives and children. I told them the story of my jail sentence—while I swore vengeance on Henry LaSalle. I told them that he had had me arrested for something I never stole while I was working for him as a charwoman, and that he had had me railroaded to jail. There wasn't one but gave me credit for the theft, perhaps; but equally, there wasn't one but understood, and my eccentricity helped this out, my wanting to 'get' Henry LaSalle. Well—do you see now, Jimmie? I had money, I had the confidence of the underworld, I had an excuse for my hatred of Henry LaSalle, and so I had all the help I wanted. Day and night that man has been watched. He receives no visitors—what social life he has is, as you know, at the club. There is not a house that he has ever entered that, sooner or later, I have not entered after him in the hope of finding the headquarters of the clique. Even the men and women, as far as human possibility could accomplish it, that he has talked to on the streets have been shadowed, and their identity satisfactorily established—and the net result has been failure; utter, absolute, complete failure!"and as the best means of
Jimmie Dale's eyes, that had held steadily on her face, shifted, troubled and perplexed, to the table top.
"You are wonderful!" he said, under his breath. "Wonderful! And—and that makes it all the more amazing, all the more incomprehensible. It is still impossible that he has not been in close and constant touch with his accomplices. He must have been! We would be blind fools to argue against it! It could not, on the face of it, have been otherwise!"
"Then how, when, where has he done it?" she asked wearily.
"God knows!" he said bitterly. "And if they have been clever enough to escape you all these years, I'm almost inclined to say what you said a little while ago—that we're beaten."
She watched him miserably, as he pushed back his chair impulsively and, standing up, stared down at her.
"We're against it—hard!" he said, with a mirthless laugh. Then, his lips tightening: "But we'll try another tack—the chauffeur—Travers. Though even here the Crime Club has a day's start of us, even if last night they knew no more about the whereabouts of that package than we know now. I'm afraid of it! The chances are more than even that they've already got it. If they were able to catch Travers as the chauffeur, they would have had something tangible to work back from"—Jimmie Dale was talking more to himself than to the Tocsin now, as though he were muttering his thoughts aloud. "How did they get track of him? When? Where? What has it led to? And what in Heaven's name," he burst out suddenly, "is this box number four-two-eight!"
"A saftey-deposit vault, perhaps, that he has taken somewhere," she hazarded.
Jimmie Dale laughed mirthlessly again.
"That is the one definite thing I do know—that it isn't!" he said positively. "It is nothing of that kind. It was half-past ten o'clock at night when I met him, and he said that he had intended going back for the package if it had been safe to do so. Deposit vaults are not open at that hour. The package is, or was, if they have not already got it, readily accessible—and at any hour. Now go over everything again, every detail that passed between you and Travers. He let you know that he was back in New York by means of a 'personal,' you said. What else was in that 'personal' besides the telephone number and the hour you were to call him? Anything?"
"Nothing that will help us any," she replied colourlessly. "There were simply the words 'northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place,' and the signature that we had agreed upon, the two first and two last letters of the alphabet transposed—BAZY."
"I see," said Jimmie Dale quickly. "And over the 'phone he completed his message. Clever enough!"
"Yes," she said. "In that way, if any one were listening, or overhead the plan, there could be little harm come of it, for the essential feature of all, the place of rendezvous, was not mentioned. It has not been Travers' fault that this happened—and in spite of every precaution it has cost him his life. He wanted nothing to give them a clew to my whereabouts; he was trying to guard against the slightest evidence that would associate us one with the other. He even warned me over the 'phone not to tell him now, where, or the mode of life I was living. And naturally, he dared give me no particulars about himself. I was simply to select a third party whom I could trust, and to follow out his instructions, which were those that I sent to you in my letter."
Jimmie Dale began to pace nervously up and down the room.
"Nothing else?" he queried, a little blankly.
"Nothing else," she said monotonously.
"But since last night, since you knew that things had gone wrong," he persisted, "surely you traced that telephone number—the one you called up?"
"Yes," she said, and shrugged her shoulders in a tired way. "Naturally I did that—but, like everything else, it amounted to nothing. He telephoned from Makoff's pawnshop on that alley off Thompson Street, and——"
"Where!" Jimmie Dale, suddenly stock-still, almost shouted the word. "He telephoned from—where! Say that again!"
She looked at him in amazement, half rising from her chair.
"Jimmie, what is it?" she cried. "You don't mean that——"
He was beside her now, his hands pressed upon her shoulders, his face flushed.
"Box number four-two-eight!" He laughed out hysterically in his excitement. "John Johansson—box number four-two-eight! And like a fool I never thought of it! Don't you see? Don't you know now yourself? The underground post office!"
She stood up, clinging to him; a wild relief, that was based on her confidence in him, in her eyes and face, even while she shook her head.
"No," she said frantically. "No—I do not know. Tell me, Jimmie! Tell me quickly! You mean at Makoff's?"
"No! Not Makoff's—at Spider Jack's, on Thompson Street!"—he was clipping off his words, still holding her tightly by the shoulders, still staring into her eyes. "You know Spider Jack! Jack's little novelty store! Ah, you have not learned all of the underworld yet! Spider Jack is the craftiest 'fence' in the Bad Lands—and Makoff is his partner. Spider buys the crooks' stuff, and Makoff disposes of it through the pawnshop—it's only a step through the connecting back yard from one to the other, and——"
"Yes—but," she interrupted feverishly, "the package—you said——"
"Wait!" Jimmie Dale cried. "I'm coming to that! If Travers stood in with Makoff, he stood in with Spider Jack. For years Spider has been a sort of clearing house for the underworld—for years he has conducted, and profitably, too, his underground post office. Crooks from all over the country, let alone those in New York, communicate with each other through Spider Jack. These, for a fee, are registered at Spider's, and given a number—a box number he calls it, though, of course, there are no actual boxes. Letters come by mail addressed to him—the sealed envelope within containing the actually intended recipient's name. These Spider either forwards, or delivers in person when they are called for. Dozens of crooks, too, unwilling, perhaps, to dispose of small ill-gotten articles at ruinous 'fence' prices, and finding it unhealthy for the moment to keep them in their possession, use this means of depositing them temporarily for safe-keeping. You see now, don't you? It's certain that's where Travers left the package. He used the name of John Johansson, not to hoodwink Spider Jack, I should say, but as an added safeguard against the Crime Club. Travers must have known both Makoff and Spider Jack in the old days, and probably had reason, and good reason, to trust them both—possibly, a crook then himself, as he confessed, he may have acted in a legal capacity for them in their frequent tangles with the police."
"Then," she said—and there was a glad, new note in her voice, "then, Jimmie—Jimmie, we are safe! You can get it, Jimmie! It is only a little thing for the Gray Seal to do—to get it now that we know where it is."
"Yes," he said tersely. "Yes—if it is still there."
"Still there!"—she repeated the words quickly, nervously. "Still there! What do you mean?"
"I mean if they, too, have not discovered that he was at Makoff's—if they have not got there first!" he said grimly. "There seems to be no limit to their cleverness, or their power. They penetrated his disguise as a chauffeur, and who knows what more they have learned since last night? We are fighting them in the dark, and—what's that!" he whispered tensely, suddenly—and leaning forward like a flash, as he whipped his automatic from his pocket, he blew out the lamp.
The room was in darkness. They stood there rigid, silent, listening. Her hand found and caught his arm.
And then it came again—a low sound, the sound of a stealthy footstep just outside the window that faced on the storage yard.