The Spider Strikes/Chapter 20
Wentworth and Ram Singh returned to the Park Avenue apartment in rather a bedraggled condition because of their swim from the Molly Ann.
Letting himself into the apartment quietly with his latch-key, Wentworth was surprised to see nobody in the hall. Master and servant passed quickly to Wentworth's bedroom without meeting a person, a piece of good fortune which Wentworth appreciated since it relieved him of explaining the wet condition of his clothing.
His master partly dressed in dry clothes, Ram Singh headed for his own quarters. Almost immediately he rushed back in a state of excitement.
"Van Sloan missie-sahib gone!" he exclaimed.
Wentworth dropped the collar in his hand. One look at his troubled and excited servant assured him that something very serious had happened. Partly dressed, he strode out of the bedroom and entered the music room where voices sounded. Here he found the inspector and a group of policemen in earnest consultation. A few words from the inspector told him all that was known.
Madame Pompé had brought a small time-bomb in her overnight bag. She had excused herself from the dinner table for a few minutes and had set the bomb to explode. The explosion resulting in harmless noise and smoke, had caused all the men to rush to her bedroom. When they returned, Miss Van Sloan and Madame Pompé had vanished. Investigation revealed that the regular elevator man had been knocked on the head and that the elevator had been run by a strange man who wore the regular man's uniform. Beyond that nothing was known, and the best detectives on the force would discover nothing to indicate where Miss Van Sloan had disappeared to.
"And you policemen let this happen right under your noses?" Wentworth snapped. He turned away with an expression of utter contempt upon his stern face.
Nor did he wait for or expect any reply to his question. He returned to his bedroom and rapidly finished dressing, commenting angrily in Hindustani to Ram Singh upon what had happened. From a drawer he took a .45 automatic Colt and strapped it in a holster beneath his arm under his coat. The heavy weapon would send a bullet with crashing force and with a roar that the ears could feel. No longer did he intend to fight soundlessly with air pistols and with stealth. There was one man too many in the world, and that man must die.
Even in the height of his anger Wentworth had a revulsion of feeling. What of Nita? Could he aid her more if he did not fight? For a moment he did not doubt that Dr. Quornelle had captured her, and the reason for that capture could only be to put him in Dr. Quornelle's power.
As if the thought had been conveyed to him telepathically Wentworth, at that moment, was called to the telephone and heard the voice of Dr. Quornelle speaking over the wire. The voice was not quite so suave as when Dr. Quornelle had been Mr. X, and few words were wasted.
"You wish to see Miss Van Sloan once more — alive?"
"Naturally." Wentworth controlled his voice, but his grip on the telephone made his knuckles turn white.
"Then you will meet Madame Pompé at the foreign newspaper stand in Times Square in half an hour... And come alone. If you are followed by the police, Miss Van Sloan will die."
"I shall come alone."
The click of the distant receiver indicated that the connection was broken. What was before him Wentworth could only guess. Probably Dr. Quornelle intended to kill him. It might be a shot from an office window while he stood by the news stand on Times Square. It might be anything. But there was only one thing to do. He must go, and he must go alone. After all, he had more confidence in himself than in all the police systems of the world.
One more thing he did before he left the apartment. Underneath his vest he strapped the thin set of tools which were so cleverly designed for burglarious activity.
On his way out of the apartment Wentworth paused in the hall. Excited talk could be heard among the police in the music room. A report had evidently been received regarding the wholesale slaughter upon the Molly Ann. Wentworth turned to the door and was stopped by Ram Singh.
"Sahib?" the native boy pleaded, and Wentworth knew what he meant. "No, no Ram Singh," Wentworth answered, placing his hand for a moment upon the Hindu's shoulder. "You cannot come... I must fight this fight alone."
And into the night Wentworth went alone, to fight one of the cleverest and most dangerous criminals the world had ever known. And because of Nita he made quite certain that he did go alone and that he was not followed by any New York City detective. He traveled by subway, shuttling to Times Square and coming out of the ground into the bright electric glare of that famous square within a few feet of the foreign newspaper stand which had been mentioned as his rendezvous with Madame Pompé.
It was only about midnight, and hundreds of people still crowded the sidewalks on their way to midnight shows or to night clubs. Wentworth did not have long to wait. A taxi drew up at the curb and the door opened. Wentworth strolled over to it and entered, seating himself beside Madame Pompé and casually lighting a cigarette as he did so. The taxi moved off, heading south without any direction from Madame Pompé.
As they moved away a newsboy was shouting an extra.
"Poison gas ship on Hudson River! Spider kills gang before police arrive!"
Wentworth glanced at his companion. She was gorgeously gowned for the evening, as was her custom, and the back of her dress was cut very low. Once as she leaned forward and exposed her back to his gaze, Wentworth smiled. There was no trace of blemish upon her fair skin.
"Like my back better now?" she asked, noticing his smile.
"My compliments to Dr. Quornelle," Wentworth replied. "He is a wonderful artist with his make-up box."
"Yes," she said. "He worked on my back for an hour to make you think that he had whipped me."
Wentworth noted that the taxi was proceeding south on Broadway.
"Going any place in particular?" he asked. "I can't tell you anything," she answered. "You must do what I tell you to do. Otherwise—"
Wentworth did not inquire regarding the "otherwise." Instead: "What will you take to sell him out?" he asked quietly.
Madame Pompé shook her head and was silent.
"Will you take a half a million in cash?" he asked. "I think I could raise it tomorrow." He was thinking about Nita. It is doubtful if he ever would try to buy his own safety.
"No," she answered emphatically. "It is too late. I could not sell him out now, even if I wanted to."
Wentworth puzzled over the meaning which might lie behind her words and conversation ceased. The taxi was traveling farther and farther south on Broadway and they were coming to the great financial center of the world. Fewer people were upon the sidewalks in this part of New York. In Wall Street, itself, the heart of all money the world over, only night watchmen and caretakers are present during the night hours.
And it was into narrow Wall Street that the taxi finally turned from Broadway. It traveled a few short blocks and turned into a side street, stopping only a half block from the greatest financial street of the world.
Wentworth glanced through the window and saw that they had stopped before a large office building that had been boarded across the front in preparation for the wreckers. It was one of those buildings which had once been very important, but which now was about to be torn down to give place to a newer and more important structure.
"Remember," said Madame Pompé, as they left the taxi, "you are being watched every second. If you offer the least resistance, or make any kind of an attack, there is a certain young lady who will die."
It was all too true. On account of Nita, Wentworth was helpless. He followed Madame Pompé across the sidewalks to a door in the boarding, which opened easily at her touch. Inside the boarding they came to the front door of the building before which a man stood with a flashlight. This man turned without speaking, and they followed him into the building.
With his flashlight the man led them across the main hall and down some steps to the basement. Wentworth thought of the pistol in his holster. He expected to be searched and he expected to lose it if, indeed, he was not killed instantly without any search at all. But until he had found Nita, he could do nothing.
Before some huge boilers, which had once heated the building, electric lights were burning and half a dozen men were playing cards around a rough table. As they came into that lighted basement room, Dr. Quornelle himself, came out of the shadows and stood beside Wentworth. The expressionless stare of the two men was pitiless, under the circumstances, in its very lack of expression.
"You understand, of course, Mr. Wentworth," said Dr. Quornelle coldly, "that I have arranged for your little Nita to die if you make the slightest resistance."
"Perfectly." Wentworth was smiling, acting superbly in the face of death and what, to him, was worse. "If I had not understood that, my dear doctor, you would have been dead five seconds ago."
Abruptly Dr. Quornelle patted his prisoner's clothing, discovered the automatic pistol and drew it from the holster. He did not, however, discover the thin kit of tools beneath Wentworth's vest.
"An excellent weapon," Dr. Quornelle commented, slipping the pistol into his own pocket. "I would kill you with it if I had not planned a more disagreeable end for you."
Wentworth laughed. "And what may that end be, Dr. Quornelle?"
"This way, my friend," replied Dr. Quornelle ironically. "I shall now take you to the young lady whom you seem to esteem so very highly as to give your life for her."
In the gloom across that portion of the basement was an iron door, heavily bolted on the outside. The doctor opened the door. As he did so he covered Wentworth with a revolver.
"You will find the lady on the inside," he said.
"Nita!" called Wentworth.
"Don't come in, Dick," the voice of Nita replied from the darkness of the room. "It's a trap!"
But Wentworth had no alternative. The odds against him were too great. For Nita's own sake he could not yet risk an encounter. He walked into the blackness of what seemed to be some kind of an old storage room and heard behind him the clang of the heavy door and the shooting of the big bolts.
"Nita!" he called, and she found him in the darkness and clung to him.
"Oh, Dick!" she sobbed while he held her in his arms. "Why did you do it? You must have known that they were only using me to get you. Why did you do it?"
He laughed and found her lips. "There is your answer," he said after a pause.