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The Spider Strikes/Chapter 13

Wentworth did not want to use the power of the police upon Madame Pompé... He needed the information she could give him regarding the identity of the criminal he sought. But he was afraid that any such attempt might cause his quarry to take flight for some considerable length of time. He knew only too well that the man who styled himself Mr. X was a master of cunning and could only be defeated in desperate encounter or by means of the most cautious planning.

There was another avenue of information which Wentworth wished to explore before probing further in any other direction. He wished to know why this master criminal wanted to get in touch with Jack Selwyn, the confidential clerk of the diamond merchant.

Without thought of sleep Wentworth, accompanied by Ram Singh, returned to the Park Avenue apartment where Wentworth changed to day clothes and set out immediately upon his search for Selwyn.

Day was just breaking when he came to the address given him by Dorothy Canfield, and found a very cheap apartment building upon the west side of town. There was a narrow entrance sandwiched between a tobacconist and a barber shop. The front door was ajar, and he entered the tiny, dismally lighted hall with its usual clutter of rickety letter boxes. Nobody was in sight and he quickly found the letter box bearing the name of George Baker, the false name used by the man he was seeking. It required only a few seconds for him to ascend the narrow stairs and arrive at the Baker room on the third floor.

Without knocking, Wentworth threw open the door and entered. A single glance showed him that the room was empty. It was poorly furnished, and the bed was badly rumpled, showing that it had been slept in. Abruptly Wentworth bent forward, playing his flashlight over the bed. Upon the sheet were several large drops of blood. He touched one of the red spots with his finger, and it came away red. The blood was very fresh.

Richard Wentworth seldom allowed himself to show emotion in moments of surprise or stress, but he sat now upon a chair and stared at the bed with a frowning, troubled face. He did not know Jack Selwyn, who now called himself George Baker. He had only known Dorothy Canfield during a few minutes of conversation, but he had taken her under his protection and he visioned her pathetic face at the news that her sweetheart's bed was covered with fresh blood, her sweetheart vanished.

The troubled frowning disappeared from his face and, for a moment, was replaced by an expression of ferocity that was almost shocking. Then the ferocity, too, faded away and he swung around on his chair, cool but inexorably determined.

His eyes swept the room and on the floor he noticed a photograph which, on examination proved to be that of a very good looking young man. He turned the photograph over and found the name and address of George Baker written upon the back, the address being complete even to the number of the room which now contained the bloodstained sheet.

The handwriting was that of a woman and, so far as Wentworth could remember, it was that of Dorothy Canfield. Slipping the photograph into his pocket he left the room, almost running into a woman with a mop and bucket in the hall.

"Know where Mr. Baker works?" he asked, not expecting that she did.

"Sure!" she answered. "He works for the tobacconist downstairs."

The tobacconist, who also sold newspapers, was just opening his store in the early morning light.

"Seen Baker lately?" Wentworth asked as he came out on the street.

"He's gone to the doctor to see a sick friend," the tobacconist replied. "Found a note from him pinned on my door when I arrived this morning."

"What doctor?" snapped Wentworth. "Don't know. Here's the note... You can read it for yourself."

Wentworth took the note. It had been scribbled very rapidly on the back of an envelope and read: "Gone to doctor to see a sick friend. Back as soon as she is better."

The tobacconist knew nothing more. Wentworth raised his stick and stopped a night- prowling taxi on its way to its garage. Soon he was whirling across Central Park once more on his way to Park Avenue where people sleep much later than they do in that part of the west side which he had just left.

At his apartment Wentworth sent the maid on duty to awaken Miss Van Sloan. She came swiftly to him in the dining room where he was drinking coffee and eating several rashers of bacon broiled by Jenkyns himself upon the sideboard. She was dressed in a turquoise wrapper of Chinese silk and her hair hung loose over her shoulders.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, waiving Jenkyns out of the room. "Nita, you look prettier when you get up than when you go to bed. You are one of nature's miracles."

Her face glowed with pleasure at the compliment, but worry overtook it. "What is it, Dick?" she asked. "What has happened?"

"It's little Dorothy," he answered, "and it's bad. They got her sweetheart and I'm afraid he's been done in."

"Oh!" She sank trembling into a chair by his side. "I — I was afraid it was you. Poor little girl! But I'm glad you are all right, Dick."

"Tut, tut!" he chided, pouring her a cup of coffee, "I'm a tough old bird. You shouldn't worry about me."

Then he explained to her what had happened. "The trouble is," he continued, "I simply must question the girl, and it is going to be difficult not to drive her crazy with fear."

"Poor little girl," Nita repeated sympathetically.

"She will have to know sometime, Dick."

In a few minutes Nita brought Dorothy Canfield to the breakfast table for a cup of coffee and a talk with Wentworth. She, too, was very pretty. But it was the charm of youth shining in her eyes and not the poetry of the soul as in the case of Nita.

"Dorothy," began Wentworth, "you will remember that you wrote your sweetheart's address for me in the music room and that I burned it after reading it. Now I want you to think very hard. Did you ever write that address at any other time?"

Dorothy puckered her face in thought, then shook her head in the negative.

Wentworth took the photograph out of his pocket and placed it beside her, face up. "Did you leave this in your room?"

"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed. "I left it under the mattress where I always kept it hidden."

Wentworth turned it over, exposing the written address. "And did you write on the back of it?"

Dorothy crimsoned. "Ye-es," she admitted. "I forgot that I had written the address on the back of it. It was when Jack first telephoned the address to me and I was afraid that I might forget it."

"My dear," he reproved her, "you should not have done that. Suppose that your enemy had searched your room and found it. He would have had Jack Selwyn, now known as Mr. George Baker, completely at his mercy. And that might have prevented there ever being any Mr. and Mrs. Selwyn or even any Mr. and Mrs. Baker."

"But he didn't!" she exclaimed vehemently. "He didn't find it! Tell me that he didn't!"

"Of course not, my dear," lied Wentworth smilingly. "I am very glad that I found it. Now, tell me something more. Has your Jack any relatives in New York or very close friends, people to whom he might entrust his new name?"

She shook her head decisively. "He has no relatives at all in New York, and he told his new name only to me."

Wentworth looked very grave when Dorothy went back to bed for some more sleep. "Nita, there isn't much hope," he said. "It is plain that Selwyn was traced by the photograph with the address upon it which Dorothy left in her room. It also seems certain that he has no friend who would send for him in case of accident or illness, except Dorothy herself. The only deduction is that he was decoyed, probably told that Dorothy was hurt or sick. However, if that is true, I cannot understand the reason for the blood on the sheet. There seems to be only one other possibility and that is that he was forcibly abducted and made to write the note for the tobacconist to prevent any quick inquiry regarding his absence from work."

Nita's hand stole into his. "It almost makes you sick to let a thing like this happen, doesn't it?" she asked. "Is it your heart or your pride?"

"Both," he said, "and something more — my hatred for defeat." Unexpectedly he struck the table such a blow with his fist that the coffee cups rattled and the girl started violently. "By God, Nita, I'll smash somebody for this."

Jenkyns, the butler, came silently into the dining room with a portable telephone in his hand. He came so silently that Nita did not notice and left her hand in Wentworth's grasp.

"Beg pardon, sir, but there is a telephone call for you."

"Who is it, Jenkyns?"

"The — ah — person, sir, will not give his name and I might say, sir, that the individual is very much intoxicated. Oh, very intoxicated, indeed, sir!"

"Plug it in, Jenkyns," said Wentworth, taking the telephone while the butler stooped to plug the end of the cord into the wall connection. "Hello! ... Shut up, you young fool and talk slowly... You have been in fifteen speakeasies? Why did you stop? There are some more, you know... Oh, is that you, Sparks? What the devil have you been doing? ... Been arrested for carrying my rapier stick? You blighter! I want that stick back ... You ran it into the stern of a drunken radio announcer in the fifteenth speakeasy? Never do such a thing, my boy, except in the first ten speakeasies. After that it's dangerous."

For awhile Wentworth listened to more babbling over the wire and made no reply. Then, suddenly, he became vitally interested.

"You say that Madame Pompé was running around with a certain medical doctor just before she gave up radio singing? ... Yes, yes! Say that again... Madame Pompé was traveling the great white way with Dr. Sylvester Quornelle? Is that the name? ... Excellent! Where are you now? ... In some police station? You don't know where but you think it's in New York? I'll see what I can do for you. How severely did you wound this radio announcer? ... He's pinched too, and he can't sit down? Well, I'll see what I can do for you ... What's that? The Molly Ann is lighted up and they are carrying big metal cylinders on board? ... Good work, old man! Get some sleep." Wentworth tossed the portable telephone to the butler like an English drill sergeant tossing a rifle to a recruit. He strode out of the room, almost dragging Nita to her feet in forgetfulness that he yet held her hand.

"A drunken reporter, named Sparks," he told the inspector, "has just run a rapier into the rear of a drunken radio announcer, name unknown. Both are so drunk that they do not know what police station they are in. I would consider it a favor if you would bring them both up here for questioning, inspector."

"All right!" the inspector grinned. "And may I ask where you are going, Mr. Wentworth? You seem always to be some place or going somewhere."

"I am going after the greatest, living criminal, my dear inspector, a man who will shock the world if we do not stop him in a very few hours. There seems to be no limit to his audacity — nor to his cruelty."