The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 6
HAD it not been for the stop the car had previously made, for the possibility that he might have obtained a glimpse outside when the door had been opened, the scarf over his eyes would have been superfluous; for now, with it removed, he could scarcely distinguish the forms of the three men around him, since the window curtains of the car were tightly drawn. Nor was he given the opportunity to do more, even had it been possible. The car stopped, the door was opened, he was pushed toward it—and even as he reached the ground, the door was closed behind him, and the car was speeding on again. But where he could not see before, it took now but a glance to obtain his bearings—he was standing on a corner on Riverside Drive, within a few doors of his own house.
Jimmie Dale stood still for a moment, watching the car as it disappeared rapidly up the Drive. And with a sort of grim facetiousness his brain began to correlate time and distance. Where had he come from? Where was this Crime Club? They had been, as nearly as he could estimate, two hours in making the journey; and, as nearly as he could estimate, in their turnings and twistings had covered at least twice the distance that would be represented by a direct route. Granting, then, an average speed of forty miles an hour, which was overgenerous to be on the safe side, and the fact that they certainly had not crossed the Hudson, which now lay before him, flanking the Drive the Crime Club was somewhere within the area of a semicircle Whose centre was the corner on which he now stood and whose radius was forty miles—or forty yards! He forced a laugh. It was just that, no more, no less—he was as likely to have started on his ride from within a biscuit throw of where he now stood, as to have started on it from miles away!
But—he aroused himself with a start—he was wasting time! It must be very late, near morning, and he would have need for every moment that was left between now and daylight. He turned, walked quickly to his house, mounted the steps, and with his latch-key—they had at least permitted him to retain the contents of his pockets when they had forced him to change his clothes—opened the front door softly, and, stepping inside, closed the door as silently as he had opened it.
He paused for an instant to listen. There was not a sound. The servants, naturally, would have been in bed hours ago. Even old Jason—Jimmie Dale smiled, half whimsically, half affectionately—whose paternal custom it was to sit up for his Master Jim, who, as he was fond of saying, he had dandled as a baby on his knee, had evidently given it up as a bad job on this occasion and had turned in himself. Jason, however, had left the light burning here in the big reception hall.
Jimmie Dale stepped to the switch and turned off the light; then stood hesitant in the darkness. Was there anything to be gained by rousing Jason now and telling him what he intended to do—to instruct him to answer any inquiries by the statement that "Mr. Dale had gone away for a trip"? He could trust Jason; Jason already knew much—more than one of those mysterious letters of the Tocsin's had passed through Jason's hands.
Jimmie Dale shook his head. No; he could communicate with Jason from downtown in the morning. He had half expected to find Jason up, and, in that case, would have taken the other, as far as necessary, into his confidence; but it was not a matter that pressed for the moment. He could get into touch with Jason at any time readily enough. Was there anything else before he went? He would not be able to get back as easily as he got out! Money! He shook his head again—a little grimly this time. He had been caught once before as Larry the Bat without funds! There was plenty of money now hidden in the Sanctuary, enough for any emergency, enough to last him indefinitely.
He stepped forward along the hall, his tread noiseless on the rich, heavy rug, passed into the rear of the house, descended the back stairs, and reached the cellar. It was below the level of the ground, of course; but a narrow window here, though quite large enough to permit of egress, gave on the driveway at the side of the house that led to the garage in the rear.
Cautiously now, for the cement flooring was, in the stillness, little less than a sounding board, Jimmie Dale reached the wall and felt along it to the window, the lower edge of whose sill was just slightly below the level of his shoulder. It opened inward, if he remembered correctly. His fingers were feeling for the fastenings. It was too dark to see a thing. He muttered in annoyance. Where were the fastenings! At the sides, or at the bottom? His hand began to make a circuit of the sill—and then suddenly, with a low, sharp cry, he leaned forward!
What did this mean? Wires! No wires had ever been there before! His fingers were working now with feverish haste, telegraphing their message to his brain. The wires ran through the sill close to the corner of the wall—tiny fragments of wood, as from an auger, were still on the sill—and here was a small particle of wire insulation that, those sensitive finger tips proclaimed, was fresh.
A cold thrill ran through Jimmie Dale; and there came again that sickening sense of impotency in the face of the malignant, devilish cunning arrayed against him, that once before he had experienced, that night. He had thought to forestall them—and he had been forestalled himself! This could only have been done—they had had no interest in him before then—while they held him at the Crime Club, while he was spending that two hours in the car! Was that why they had taken so long in coming? Was that why the car had stopped that time—that those with him might be told that the work here had been completed, and he need no longer be kept away?
He edged away from the window, and, as cautiously as he had come, retraced his steps across the cellar and up the stairs—and then, the possibility of being heard from without gone, he broke into a run. There was no need to wonder long what those wires meant. They could mean only one of two things—and the Crime Club would have little concern in his electric light! They had tapped his telephone. The mains, he knew, ran into the cellar from the underground service in the street. He was racing like a madman now. How long ago, how many hours ago, had they done that! Great Scott, she was to have telephoned! Had she done so? Was the game, all, everything, she herself, at their mercy already? If she had telephoned, Jason would have left a message on his desk—he would look there first—afterward he would waken Jason.
He gained the door of his den on the first landing, a room that ran the entire length of one side of the house from front to rear, burst in, switched on the light—and stood stock-still in amazement.
"Jason!" he cried out.
The old butler, fully dressed, rubbing and blinking his eyes at the light, and with a startled cry, rose up from the depths of a lounging chair.
"Jason!" exclaimed Jimmie Dale again.
"I beg pardon, sir. Master Jim," stammered the man. "I—I must have fallen asleep, sir."
"Jason, what are you doing here?" Jimmie Dale demanded sharply.
"Well, sir," said Jason, still fumbling for his words, "it—it was the telephone, sir."
"Yes, sir. A woman, begging your pardon, Master Jim, a lady, sir, has been telephoning every hour or so, and she——"
"Yes!" Jimmie Dale had jumped across the room and had caught the other fiercely by the shoulder. "Yes—yes! What did she say? Quick, man!"
"Good Lord, Master Jim!" faltered Jason. "I—she——"
"Jason," said Jimmie Dale, suddenly as cold as ice, "what did she say? Think, man! Every word!"
"She didn't say anything, Master Jim. Nothing at all, sir—except to keep asking each time if she could speak to you."
"Nothing else, Jason?"
"You are sure?"
"I'm sure. Master Jim. Not another thing but that, sir, just as I've told you."
"Thank God!" said Jimmie Dale, in a low voice.
"Yes, sir," said Jason mechanically.
"How long ago was it since she telephoned last?" asked Jimmie Dale quickly.
"Well, sir, I couldn't rightly say. You see, as I said. Master Jim, I must have gone to sleep, but——"
They were staring tensely into each other's face. The telephone on the desk was ringing vibrantly, clamourously, through the stillness of the room.
Jason, white, frightened, bewildered, touched his lips with the tip of his tongue.
"That'll be her again, sir," he said hoarsely.
"Wait!" said Jimmie Dale tersely.
He was trying to think, to think faster than he had ever thought before. He could not tell Jason to say that he had not yet come in—they knew he was in, it would be but showing his hand to that "some one" who would be listening now on the wire. He dared not speak to her, or, above all, allow her to expose herself by a single inadvertent word. He dared not speak to her—and she was here now, calling him! He could not speak to her—and it was life and death almost that she should know what had happened; life and death almost for both of them that he should know all and everything she could tell him. True, it would take but a minute to run to the cellar and cut those wires, while Jason held her on the pretence of calling him, Jimmie Dale, to the 'phone; only a minute to cut those wires—and in so doing advertise to these fiends the fact that he had discovered their trick; admit, as though in so many words, that their suspicions of him were justified; lay himself open to some new move that he could not hope to foresee; and, paramount to all else, rob her and himself of this master trump the Crime Club had placed in his hands, by means of which there was a chance that he could hoist them with their own petard!
The telephone rang again—imperatively, insistently.
"Listen, Jason." Jimmie Dale was speaking rapidly, earnestly. "Say that I've come in and have gone to bed—in a vile humour. That you told me a lady had been calling, but that I said if she called again I wasn't to be disturbed if it was the Queen of Sheba herself—that I wouldn't answer any 'phone to-night for anybody. Do you understand? No argument with her—just that. Now, answer!"
Jason lifted the receiver from the hook.
"Yes—hello!" he said. "Yes, ma'am, Mr. Dale has come in, but he has retired. . . . Yes, I told him; but, begging your pardon, ma'am, he was in what I might say was a bit of a temper, and said he wasn't to be disturbed by any one."
Jimmie Dale snatched the receiver from Jason, and put it to his own ear.
"Kindly tell Mr. Dale that unless he comes to the 'phone now," a feminine voice, her voice, in well-simulated indignation, was saying, "it will be a very long day before I shall trouble myself to——"
Jimmie Dale clapped his hand firmly over the mouthpiece of the instrument. Thank God for that clever brain of hers! She understood!
"Repeat what you said before, Jason," he instructed hurriedly. "Then say 'good-night.'"
He removed his hand from the mouthpiece.
"It's quite useless, ma'am," said Jason apologetically. "In the rare temper he was in, he wouldn't come, to use his own words, ma'am, not for the Queen of Sheba herself, ma'am. Good-night, ma'am."
Jimmie Dale hung the receiver back on the hook—and with his hand flirted away a bead of moisture that had sprung to his forehead.
"Good Lord, Master Jim, what's wrong, sir? What's happened, sir? And—and those clothes, Master Jim, sir! They aren't the ones you went out in, sir—they aren't yours at all, sir!" Jason ventured anxiously.
"Jason," said Jimmie Dale, "switch off the light, and go to the front window and look out. Keep well behind the curtains. Don't show yourself. Tell me if you see anything."
"Yes, sir," said Jason obediently.
The light went out. Jimmie Dale moved to the rear of the room—to the window overlooking the garage and yard.
"I don't see anything, sir," Jason called.
"Watch!" Jimmie Dale answered.
A minute passed—two—three. Jimmie Dale was staring down into the black of the yard. She understood! She knew, of course, before she 'phoned that something had gone wrong to-night. She knew that only peril of the gravest moment would have kept him from the 'phone—and her. She knew now, as a logical conclusion, that it was dangerous to attempt to communicate with him at his home. Those wires! Where did they lead to? Not far away—that would be almost a mechanical impossibility. Was it into the Crime Club itself—near at hand? Or the basement, say, of that apartment house across the driveway? Or—where?
And then Jimmie Dale spoke again:
"Do you see anything, Jason?"
"I'm not sure, sir," Jason answered hesitantly. "I thought I saw a man move behind a tree out there across the road a minute ago, sir. Yes, sir—there he is again!"
There was a thin, mirthless smile on Jimmie Dale's lips.
Below, in the shadow of the garage, a dark form, like a deeper shadow, stirred—and was still again.
"What time is it, Jason?" Jimmie Dale asked presently.
"It'll be about half-past four, sir."
"Go to bed, Jason."
"Yes, sir; but"—Jason's voice, low, troubled, came through the darkness from the upper end of the room—"Master Jim, sir, I——"
"Go to bed, Jason—and not a word of this."
"Yes, sir. Good-night, Master Jim,"
Jimmie Dale groped his way to the big lounging chair in which he had found Jason asleep, and flung himself into it They had struck quickly, these ingenious, dress-suited murderers of the Crime Club! The house was already watched, would be watched now untiringly, unceasingly; not a movement of his henceforth but would be under their eyes!
His hands, resting on the arms of the chair, closed slowly until they became tight-clenched, knotted fists. What was he to do? It was not only the Crime Club, it was not only the Tocsin and her peril—there was the underworld snapping and snarling at his heels, there was the police, dogged and sullen, ever on the trail of the Gray Seal! His life, even before this, in his fight against the underworld and the police, had depended upon his freedom of action—and now, at one and the same time, that freedom was cut away from beneath his feet, as it were, and a third foe, equally as deadly as the others, was added to the list!
For months, to preserve and sustain the character of Larry the Bat, he had been forced to assume the rôle almost daily; for, in that sordid empire below the dead line, whose one common bond and aim was the Gray Seal's death, where suspicion, one of the other, was rampant and extravagant, where each might be the one against whom all swore their vengeance, Larry the Bat could not mysteriously disappear from his accustomed haunts without inviting suspicion in an active and practical form—an inquisitorial visit to his squalid lodgings, the Sanctuary—and the end of Larry the Bat!
If, as he had thought only a few hours before, he was through forever with his dual life, that would not have mattered, the underworld would have been welcome to make what it chose of it—but now the preservation of the character of Larry the Bat was more vital and necessary to him than it had ever been before. It as a means of defense and offense against these men who lurked now outside his doors. It was the sole means now of communication with her; for, warned both by Jason's words, and what must be an obvious fact to her, that their plans had miscarried, that it was dangerous to communicate with him as Jimmie Dale, she would expect him, count on him to make that move. There would be no longer either reason or attempt on her part to maintain the mystery with which she had heretofore surrounded herself, the crisis had come, she would be watching, waiting, hoping, seeking for him more anxiously and with far more at stake than he had ever sought for her—until now!
He got up impulsively from his chair, and, in the blackness, began to pace the room. The next move was clear, pitifully clear; it had been clear from the first, it had been clear even in that ride in the car—it was so clear that it seemed veritably to mock him as he prodded his brains for some means of putting it into execution. He must get to the Sanctuary, become Larry the Bat—but how? How! The question seemed at last to become resonant, to ring through the room with the weight of doom upon it.
Schemes, plans, ideas came, bringing a momentary uplift—only to be discarded the next instant with a sort of bitter, desperate regret. These men were not men of mere ordinary intelligence; their cleverness, their power, the amazing scope of their organisation, all bore grim witness to the fact that they would be blinded not at all by any paltry ruse.
He could walk out of the house in the morning as Jimmie Dale without apparent hindrance—that was obvious enough. And so long as he pursued the usual avocations of Jimmie Dale, he would not be interfered with—only watched. It was useless to consider that plan for a moment. It would not help him to reach the Sanctuary—without leading them there behind him! True, there was always the chance that he might shake them off his trail, but he could hardly hope to accomplish anything like that without their knowing that it was done deliberately—and that he dared not risk. The strongest weapon in his hands now was his secret knowledge that he was being watched.
That telephone there, for instance, that most curiously kept on insisting in his mind that it, and it alone was the way out, was the last thing he could place in jeopardy. Besides, there was another reason why such a plan would not do; for, granting even that he succeeded in eluding them on the way, and managed to reach the Sanctuary, his freedom of action would be so restricted and limited as to be practically worthless—he would have to return to his home here again within a reasonable time as Jimmie Dale, within a few hours at most—or again they would be in possession of the fact that he had discovered their surveillance.
That, it was true, had been his original plan when he had entered the house half an hour previously, but it was an entirely different matter now. Then, he had counted on getting away without their knowing it, before they, as he had fondly thought, would have had a chance to establish their espionage, and when they would have had no reason to suspect, for a time at least, that he was not still within the house, when they would have been watching, as it were, an empty cage.
He stopped in his walk, and, after a moment, dropped down into the lounging chair again. That was it, of course. An empty cage! If he could escape from the house! Not so much without their seeing him; that was more or less a mechanical detail. But escape—and leave them in possession of a sort of guarantee or assurance that he was still there! That would give him the freedom of action that he must have. He smiled with bitter irony. That solved the problem! That was all there was to it—just that! It was very simple, exceedingly simple; it was only—impossible!
The smile left his lips, and once more his hands clenched fiercely. No; it was not impossible! It must be done—if he was to win through, if he was even to save himself! It must be done—or fail her! It could be done; there was a way—if he could only see it!