Smarlinghue slouched on along the street, but the "slouch" covered the ground at an amazing rate of speed. He had not far to go—but neither had he a moment that he dared lose. Spider Webb's old antique shop, but a few blocks away, nestled in a squalid little courtyard just west of the Bowery, and on the same side of the Bowery as the Sanctuary.
Some one, out of the shadows of the street, flung him a good-night. Smarlinghue mumbled his acknowledgment from the corner of his mouth, and hurried along.
His thoughts were still on the Wolf. He had not exhausted the sum of the Wolf's digressions from the realms of the logical! In the old days there had been an intimacy even between the Wolf and Larry the Bat. That underground passage from the shed into that queer house near Chatham Square, for instance—which was known only to the most intimate! But perhaps the Wolf had forgotten, or perhaps even the Wolf had never known he had been on quite such intimate terms with—Larry the Bat.
Jimmie Dale glanced behind him. There was no one in sight for the moment. He was at the corner of a lane now—and he chose the lane. It was a shorter, and a safer route. It bordered on the rear of the courtyard which was his objective, and obviated the necessity of attempting to steal down past the side of "The Yellow Eastern" unnoticed. No, he did not underestimate the Wolf, but if he had luck to-night—! He shrugged his shoulders in a sort of grim whimsicality.
His mind reverted to the Spider now—Spider Webb. Facetious, in a way, the name was! Webb—Spider Webb! And yet the man had come by it honestly, or dishonestly, enough! The old antique shop for years covered dealings that were shabbier than the shabbiest of its antiques! It was probable that more stolen had found Spider Webb's a clearing house than any other Mecca of the crooks in New York. It was probable, too, that it had known more police raids than any of its competitors—but, unlike many of its competitors, nothing but what indubitably belonged there had ever been found. But then again, the Spider was a specialist—he specialised in small articles, particularly jewelry—no one in the Bad Lands who knew his way about would ever have dreamed of going to the Spider with anything else! Nor was the Spider without justification in thus restricting his operations. The Spider had always managed to hide his questionable wares, until he was able to dispose of them and they passed again out of his possession, with an ingenuity that had baffled, enraged, and mortified the police—and commanded the enthusiastic confidence and admiration of the underworld! But this was, for the most part, past history, and of the days gone by, for the Spider now had grown old—had grown to be an old man—for it had begun of late to be whispered that he talked more than he had been wont to talk in the days of his prime, that he was not as safe as he had been, and in consequence his trade of late had begun to drift away from him.
And herein lay the secret of the old man's murder at the hands of the Wolf. The Tocsin's note had not failed to lay stress on this. No one probably, through a career of half a score of years, knew more about the Wolf and the Wolf's doings than did the Spider. Rightly or wrongly, the word was out that the old man, in his garrulity, was not safe—and the Wolf was inviting no chances where the electric chair was concerned, that was all! The old man would henceforth be perfectly safe, as far as any talking went! It was brutal, hideous—but it was the Wolf! Also, the Wolf, tritely expressed, had proposed to kill two birds with one stone. The old man's trade was not entirely gone. Yesterday, an old-time lag, who had dealt with the Spider for many years, and who had "pulled" the Moorcliffe job—the robbery of a summer mansion a few miles up the Hudson—had "fenced" the proceeds at the antique shop. Ten thousand dollars' worth of first-water sparklers! Everybody that was anybody in gangland knew this. The Wolf had seen the psychological and profitable moment to strike—again that was all! And again it was diabolical—but again it was the Wolf!
Jimmie Dale's face was set like flint. And this was the man who had sworn that he would "get" the Gray Seal! A sort of unholy, passionate joy surged upon him. Well, they would see, he and the Wolf—and perhaps to-night! It was certain that the Wolf would act alone. The man's devilish cunning showed itself in having inveigled the old man to that storehouse on the river bank, rather than to have killer the Spider in the Spider's own home. It might be days perhaps before the Spider's absence—for the Spider's peculiar life had demanded mysterious absences before—was even commented upon, and the Wolf had taken pains to see that the body was not, immediately at least, identified. It was very simple—from the Wolf's standpoint! The Wolf was counting it none too easy a task evidently to find the Spider's ingenious and storied hiding place, and this would give him a night, two nights, or more, in which, undisturbed, he might prosecute his search. And, as he had committed alone, so he would continue to work alone, there were those even in gangland, and in spite of the acknowledged leadership, who would not look with friendly eyes upon the Wolf for this!
It was black here in the lane, and now, possibly a distance of a hundred yards up from the street, Jimmie Dale's fingers, feeling along the left-hand fence, came upon the latch of a small, narrow door—the courtyard's access to the lane. He passed through, and stood still— listening—looking sharply about him. He knew the place well. It was the heart and centre, the core of its own particular and vicious section of the underworld. Ahead of him, flanking the two-story, tumble-down building that was the Spider's home, was a narrow alleyway, then a small and filthy courtyard, and, its rear upon this and fronting the street, the alleyway again at the side, the "The Yellow Lantern" that he had been careful to avoid a dance hall of the lowest type. The Spider had not unshrewdly chosen his location; nor the proprietor of "The Yellow Lantern" his—their clientele was a common one, and their interests did not clash!
From the direction of "The Yellow Lantern" came a hilarious uproar, subdued somewhat by the distance, out of which arose the strident notes of a tinny piano beating blatantly the measure of a turkey trot. There was no other sound. There were lights from the rear of the dance hall, enough, Jimmie Dale knew, to throw a murky illumination over the front windows of the antique shop; but there were no lights showing from the Spider's dwelling itself, that loomed black on the side of the alleyway at his right hand—the old couple that kept the Spider's house were doubtless long since in bed in their own particular apartments upstairs.
Jimmie Dale moved softly forward now, gained the back entrance of the Spider's house, and tried the door cautiously. It was locked. From one of the little pockets in the girdle under his shirt came a black silk mask, which he slipped over his face; from another of the pockets came a little steel picklock. He was pressed close against the door now, his body merged with the black shadows of the wall. A minute passed—and then the door swung open, and closed without a sound. Another minute passed, and still another. From upstairs came the sound of stertorous breathing, nothing else, only quiet, and a silence that was heavy in itself—and then the round, white ray of Jimmie Dale's flashlight winked through the blackness. As between himself and the Wolf, he was first, at least, on the ground!
He was in the kitchen of the house. On the opposite side of the room from him were two doors, one of them, the one to the left, open—and the flashlight, playing through, disclosed a passageway leading, obviously, to the shop at the front, and continuing to the stairway. He crossed to the right-hand door noiselessly, opened it, and, with a low ejaculation of satisfaction, stepped in over the threshold. It was the room he sought—the Spider's bedroom, or, better perhaps, the Spider's den that served the man for all purposes. The Spider, it was very plain, was not fastidious! The room was dingy beyond description; the furnishings poor and poverty-stricken in appearance. It was here the Spider met his clients of a sort—and drove his bargains. There was no hint of affluence—the room was miserly.
The flashlight swept in a circle around the room. There was a bed in one corner, a table and two chairs in another, and a miserable washstand in still another. The centre of the room, save for an old carpet on the floor, was quite bare of furnishings. Jimmie Dale's survey of the appointments, however, was most cursory—they concerned him little. The flashlight's ray was even lifted above them, as it moved about. There was only one door—the door by which he had entered; and only one window—which, with a sudden frown, he mentally noted did not open on the alleyway, for the very sufficient reason that the alleyway was on the other side of the house. He stepped quickly to the window, and looked out. It was a moment before he could see; and then, with a quick nod of his head, he began, with extreme caution to loosen the window catches on the sill. There was a narrow space between the house and what was the blank brick wall of the building next to it, and this space extended to the rear, and therefore, indirectly, by circling the house at the back, led to the house and the door in the fence again.
Jimmie Dale smiled grimly, as he swung the old-fashioned windows back on either side. So far he was in luck to-night, and, with luck, in a very few minutes now be out and away from the house by the same way he had entered it—but luck sometimes was a fickle thing, and a goddess most to be trusted by those who looked after themselves!
He walked back to the doorway, and levelled his flashlight across the room directly in front of him. The ray fell upon the wooden panelling, and, holding the light steadily on the same spot, he moved forward across the floor to the opposite wall, dropped on his hands and knees, and began to examine the woodwork critically. It was beautiful work, this panelling that went all around the room, very old, but very beautiful work, and of very beautifully matched wood—it was entirely out of place with the rest of the room, or would have been, were it not that the panelling itself bore witness to the fact that it had been built in there when the house itself had been built, and bore witness, too, to the fact that in those days, long gone by, a relic perhaps even of Dutch handiwork, the house had not been unpretentious amongst its fellows of that generation.
"Behind panelling in bedroom directly opposite the door," she had written. Inch by inch, over an area a yard square, those sensitive finger tips of Jimmie Dale felt their way, lingering here over a knot in the wood, and there over a joint or crevice. Five minutes went by—and the five became ten. An exclamation of annoyance, low, guarded, escaped him. There was nothing—he could find nothing. The Spider's ingenuity had not been over-rated! Somewhere there must be the secret spring which operated the panel, but there was no sign of it; neither was there the slightest sign or indication that any portion of the panelling was even movable.
He drew back for an instant, frowning. Perhaps—and then he shook his head—no, the Tocsin did not make mistakes of that kind. The safe was unquestionably behind the panelling in front of him. Well, there was a way—it was distasteful to him because it was crude and bungling, but he could afford no more time in a search, that he had already convinced himself was hopeless.
From the girdle came a half dozen little blue-steel tools. A jimmy found and nosed its way into the joint between two panels. There was a low, faint creak of rending wood. A wedge followed the jimmy. A faint creak again—and now one a little louder—and Jimmie Dale, half turned, listened intently—the narrow board was in his hand. There was nothing—no sound—save that interrupted, stertorous breathing from above, and the tinny jangle of the piano from the direction of "The Yellow Lantern."
And now Jimmie Dale smiled again—that curious flicker on his lips that mingled whimsicality and a deadly earnestness. The Tocsin had made no mistake. Showing through the aperture, gleaming under the flashlight's ray, was the nickel dial of a safe. He worked rapidly now. The first panel out, the remainder came much more readily—and finally the entire face of the safe was disclosed. Jimmie Dale stared at it—and pursed his lips. It was an ugly safe, extremely ugly—from a cracksman's point of view! Also, there seemed a hint of irony, a jeer almost, in the impassive wall of steel that confronted him. It was one of his own make—one that had helped, in the old days, to amass the millions that his father had left to him—and it was one of the best!
In an abstracted, deliberate way, his eyes pondering the safe, the blue-steel tools were replaced in the pockets of the leather girdle; and then the long, slim, tapering fingers closed upon the dial's knob and twirled it tentatively, and his head bent forward until his ear was pressed hard against the face of the safe.
It was very still now—only the breathing from above that seemed in cadence with those strange and paradoxical palpitations that are known only in a great silence—the piano for the moment had ceased its jangle. Jimmie Dale's fingers, from the dial, sought the floor, and frictioned briskly over the rough, threadbare carpet, until the nerves tingled under the delicate skin—and then they shot to the dial again.
Strained, every faculty keyed up to its highest tension, he crouched there against the safe. Again and again his fingers rubbed over the rough carpet, and again the sweat beads oozed out upon his forehead with the strain—and then there came through the stillness a long-drawn intake of his breath. The handle swung the bolt with a low metallic thud—the safe was open.
There was the inner door now. Again those slim fingers, almost raw, quivering now at the tips, rubbed along the carpet, and the lips, just showing beneath the edge of the mask, grew tight with pain. Then he leaned forward, crouched once more, his head and shoulders inside the outer door, like some strange animal burrowing for its prey. Faint, musical, like some far distant tinkle, came the twirling of the dial—and then, suddenly, he drew back sharply, his hand shot to his pocket, whipped out his automatic, and, motionless there on his knees, every muscle rigid, he listened. There was the piano again, the breathing, the weird pound and thump of the silence—nothing else. He shook his head in half angry, half tolerant self-remonstrance. He was under strain, that was all—he had thought he had heard a footstep out there in the alleyway. He laid his automatic on the floor within instant reach, and turned again to the safe—acute and sensitive as his hearing was, it would haw taken good ears indeed to have distinguished a step at that distance on the other side of the house!
But now he worked, seemingly at least, with even greater rapidity than before. Imagination had had one effect, if it had had no other—it was a spur, a reminder that at any moment there might well be a footstep, and one that was born only of the imagination! His jaws clamped. He had not counted on this—an old-fashioned iron monstrosity that was dismaying only in its appearance, perhaps—but not this! He had been here far longer now than he—
'Ah'—tense, low, that deep intake of the breath again.
The inner door swung wide; the flashlight's ray leaped, dazzling white, into the interior, and, on the lower shelf, upon a flat, narrow, black tin box—the cash-box.
In an instant, Jimmie Dale had picked it up. It was not locked, and he lifted the cover. From within there scintillated back the gleam of diamonds—a handful of pendants, brooches, ear-rings lay there disclosed, and, too, a string of pearls. Ten thousand dollars! It was a modest figure! He reached his hand inside the box—and on the instant snatched it back, and thrust the box swiftly into his pocket. The flashlight was out. The room was in darkness.
This time it was not imagination—nor, he knew now, had it been imagination before. There was a faint creak of the flooring in the kitchen, a single incautious step that he placed as having come from near the doorway of the passage—and now some one had halted on the threshold of the room itself. Jimmie Dale's brain was working with lightning speed. There had been no time to reach the window—time only to snatch up his automatic and retreat a little from the immediate vicinity of the safe. Had the other heard the slight sound—it was only the brushing of his coat against the wall! Much less had there been time to close the safe—nor would it have done any good—he could not have replaced the broken panelling! And now—what? The man, with a stealth that he, Jimmie Dale, except for that one incautious footfall, could not have excelled, must have entered through a window from the alleyway into the passage. It was dark, utterly dark—save that the window showed dimly like a faint transparent square set in the blackness.
He could not see, but he could sense the other standing there in the doorway, motionless, silent, as though listening. Perhaps a minute passed. There was something nerve-racking now in the silence, something sinister, something pregnant with menace. And then, suddenly, there came a low, scratching sound, and a match flame spurted through the darkness, and lighted up a face—a face that was thrust forward through the doorway with a sort of pent-up and malicious eagerness; a vicious face, with sharp, restive black eyes under great, hairy eyebrows; a face with a huge jaw, outflung now, that was like the jaw of a beast. It was the Wolf!
It held for the fraction of a second, that light—no more. It travelled upward past the face, as though the Wolf were holding it above his head to get his bearings; and then, with a sharp and furious oath, the match was hurled to the floor, there was a scuffling sound— and then silence again.
Jimmie Dale's automatic was thrust a little forward in his hand, as he crouched against the wall. He could have shot the man, as the other stood in the doorway. The Wolf had offered a target that it would have been hard to miss—and it would, one day, have saved the law the same task! He was a fool, perhaps, that he had not taken what was, perhaps again, the one chance he had for his life, for he was at a decided disadvantage now, since he knew intuitively that the Wolf, scuttling back, had now craftily protected himself behind the jamb of the door, and yet at the same time still commanded the interior of the room. But he could not have fired in cold blood like that—even upon the Wolf, devil though the man was, murderer a dozen times over though he the man to be! He, Jimmie Dale, had never shot to kill not yet—but in a fight, cornered, if there was no other way...!
He moved a little, a bare few inches, then a few more—without a sound. In the light of the match, the Wolf must have seen the dismantled panelling and the open safe, and a masked figure crouched against the wall—and the Wolf would have marked the position of that crouched figure against the wall!
Silence—a minute of it—still another!
Again Jimmie Dale moved inch by inch—toward the window. And yet to attempt the window was to invite a shot and expose himself, for, dark as it was, his body would show plainly enough against the background of that lesser gloom of window square.
Jimmie Dale's eyes strained through the blackness across the room. He could just make out the configuration of the doorway. The Wolf was just on the other side of it, just inside the kitchen, he was sure of that. Almost a smile was flickering over Jimmie Dale's tight-pressed lips. There was a way—there was a way now, if the Wolf did not get him with a chance shot. He moved again, and reached the window, crouched low beneath the sill—and passed by the window.
And then the Wolf spoke from the doorway in a hoarse whisper, and in the whisper there was a low, taunting laugh.
"I been waitin' for you to try the window, but you're too foxy—eh? All right, my bucko—then I'll get you another way—with just one shot, see? And then—good-night! And say, whoever t'hell you are, thanks for crackin' the box for me!"
The man's voice came from the right of the doorway—and the door opened inward—and he, Jimmie Dale, remembered that he had opened it wide. It was slow, very slow, this creeping inch by inch through the darkness. It seemed as though his breath were as stertorous as that breathing from above, and that the Wolf must hear.
And then the Wolf laughed low again.
There was a curious crackling noise, as of paper being torn—and then, quick, in the doorway, came a yellow flame, and the Wolf's hand showed from around the edge of the jamb, and, making momentary daylight of the room, a flaming piece of paper, tossed in, fell upon the floor.
There was a flash, the roar of the report—and another—as the Wolf fired! There was the sullen spat of a bullet upon the panelling an inch from Jimmie Dale's head—and a sharp and sudden pain, as though a hot iron had seared his leg.
And now Jimmie Dale's automatic, too, cut flashes with its vicious flame-tongues through the black. Coolly, steadily, he was firing at the doorway—to hold the Wolf there—to keep the Wolf now in the position of the Wolf's own choosing. The paper was but a dull cinder in the centre of the room; twisted too tightly, it had gone out almost immediately.
There came screams, loud, terrified, in a woman's voice from the floor above—and the hoarser tones of a man shouting. A window was flung open. Snarling blasphemous, furious oaths, the Wolf was firing at the flashes of Jimmie Dale's revolver—but each time as Jimmie Dale fired, the sound drowned in the roar of the report, he moved a good yard forward.
Came the trampling of feet from overhead now; and now, as the woman still screamed, answering shouts and yells came from the dance hall. Jimmie Dale had the foot of the bed now near the corner. He again, and instantly flung himself flat upon the floor—and, in the answering flash of the Wolf's shot, placed the exact location of the door itself. There was tumult enough now to deaden the slight sound he made. He crept swiftly past the bed to the wall, against which the door, wide open, was swung back, felt out with his hand, the edge of the door, and, leaping suddenly to his feet, hurled the door shut upon the Wolf. There was a scream of pain—the door as it slammed perhaps had caught the Wolf's arm or wrist—but before it was opened again Jimmie Dale was across the room, and, flinging himself through the window, dropped to the ground.
The door crashing back against the wall again, the Wolf's baffled yell of rage, and an abortive shot, told him that his ruse had been solved. He was running now, as rapidly as he could in the darkness and in the narrow space between the Spider's house and the wall of the brick building. Yells in increasing volume sounded from the direction of "The Yellow Lantern"; and now he could hear the pound of feet racing across the courtyard toward the antique shop. The woman, from the open window above, was still screaming with terror.
If he could gain the door in the fence—and the lane! But there was still the Wolf to reckon with! The Wolf had only to run through the kitchen and out by the back entrance—the shorter distance of the two. But the Wolf had already lost a few seconds so that now the race was a gamble. Could he, Jimmie Dale, get there first! He could not run in the other direction—that would take him into the courtyard, and the courtyard now, as evidenced by the yells and shouting, was filled with an excited crowd emptying from the dance hall.
He reached the rear end of the house, and darted across the wider space here, racing for the opening in the fence—and suddenly changed his tactics, and began to zigzag a little. A revolver flash cut the night. Came the Wolf's howl from the back stoop, and, over his shoulder, Jimmie Dale saw the other, dark-shadowed, leap forward in pursuit—and heard the Wolf fire again.
He flung himself against the fence door, and it gave with a crash. Pandemonium reigned behind him. In a blur he saw the courtyard, that was dimly lighted now by the open doors and open windows of the dance hall, swaying with shapes, and, like ghostly figures, a mob tearing toward him down the alleyway.
The Wolf's voice, punctuated with a torrent of blasphemy and vile invective, shrilled out over the tumult:
"Come on! Here he is! Out in the lane!"
"Who is it?" shrilled another voice.
"I don't know!" yelled the Wolf. "Catch him, and we'll damn soon find out!"
Jimmie Dale was running like a hare now down the lane. The Wolf leading, still firing, the crowd poured out into the lane in pursuit. Jimmie Dale zigzagged no longer, there was greater risk in that than in risking the shots—it was black enough in the lane to risk the shots; but his lead, barely twenty-five yards, was too short to risk their gaining upon him through his running from side to side.
His brain, cool in peril, worked swiftly. The Sanctuary! That was the one chance for his life! He had been no more than a masked figure huddled against the wall of the room in there. The Wolf had not recognised him. He would be safe if he could reach the Sanctuary! There were two blocks to go along the street ahead, then the next lane, and from that into the intersecting lane, the loose board in the fence that swung at a touch, the French window—and the Sanctuary. But to accomplish this he must gain upon his pursuers, not merely hold his own, but increase the distance between them by at least another fifteen or twenty yards; he must, in other words, be out of range of vision as he disappeared through the fence. Well, he should be able to do that! It was the trained athlete against an ill-conditioned, dissolute mob!
He swerved from the lane into the street. There was grim and hellish humour in the thought that a wolf should be leading the snarling, howling pack, blood mad now, at his heels! The Wolf had ceased firing—obviously because the Wolf's revolver was empty. The others, a lesser breed, and previously intent on a peaceful orgy at the dance hall, were evidently not armed.
Jimmie Dale gained five yards, another five, and another ten. He had no fear of being recognised as Smarlinghue even here, where, poorly illuminated as the street was, it was like bright sunlight compared with the darkness of the lane. There was no stooped, bent figure, no slouching gait—there was, instead, a tall, broad-shouldered man, whose face was masked, and who ran with the speed of a greyhound, and whose automatic, spitting ahead of him as he ran, invited none of the few pedestrians, or those rushing to their doorways, to block his path.
He swerved again, into a lane again, the lane he had been making for; and, as he swerved, he flung a sidelong glance down the street. Yes, his twenty-five yards were fifty now, except for the Wolf, who ran perhaps ten yards in advance of any of the others. The howls, yells, shouts and execrations welled into a louder outburst as he dashed into the lane. Ten from fifty left forty. Forty yards clear! It was a very narrow margin, even allowing for the blackness of the lane—but it was enough—it was slightly more than the distance along the intersecting lane to the rear of the Sanctuary—he would have pushed aside that loose board before the Wolf turned the corner from one lane into the other!
Forty yards! Perhaps he could make it forty-five! Forty-five would be safer; and—he reeled suddenly, and staggered, and, with a low cry, his hands reached upward to his temples. His head was swimming—a dizziness, a nausea was upon him—his strength seemed as it were being sapped from his limbs. What was it? He—yes—the wound in his leg! Yes—he remembered now—that burning like the searing of a hot iron. He had forgotten it in the excitement. But it could not amount to anything—or he would not have been able to have come this far. It was only a passing giddiness—he was better now—see, he was still running—he had only slowed his pace for an instant—that was all.
They swept into the lane behind him. He looked back—and his lips grew tight, and bitter hard. It was no longer forty yards—he was not running so fast now—and it was the Wolf, and the Wolf's pack, who were gaining.
He swerved for the third time—into the stretch of intersecting lane. The Sanctuary was just ahead, but he must reach that loose board in the fence and have disappeared before the Wolf swung around the corner behind him—or else—or else, since that led to nowhere to the French window of Smarlinghue's room, the game was as good as up if he attempted it!
He strained forward, striving to mass his strength and fling it into one supreme effort. He was close now—only another five yards to go. Yes—he was weak. His teeth set. Four yards—three! If only there were not that glimmer of light, faint as it was, seeping down the lane from the street lamp across the road from the Sanctuary! Two yards—now! No! The Wolf's yell, as the man tore around the corner of the two lanes, rang out like a knell of doom.
Drawn, white-faced, Jimmie Dale, stumbling now, lurched past that loose board he had counted upon for what was literally his life—lurched past, and stumbled on. He could not run much farther. There was one chance left—just one—that there should be no one to see him enter the front door of the Sanctuary, no one lounging about, no one in the tenement doorway. If that chance failed—well, then it was the end—the end of Smarlinghue, the end of Jimmie Dale, the end of Larry the Bat, the end of the Gray Seal—and the Wolf would have kept his pledge to gangland. But it would be an end that gangland would long remember, and an end that the Wolf would share!
The street was just before him now. He turned into it—and there came a little cry, a moan almost, of relief. The doorway of the tenement was clear. He sprang for it, entered, and, suddenly silent now in his tread, reached the door of his own room, slipped through and closed it softly behind him.
And now Jimmie Dale worked with frantic speed. He could hear them racing, yelling, shouting along the lane. A match crackled in his hand, and the gas-jet spluttered into flame—the light in the room could not be seen from the lane. He ran across the room, tearing off his mask as he went, and, wrenching the cash-box from his pocket, tucked mask and cash-box behind the disordered array of dirty canvases on the floor—he dared not take the risk or the time that loosening the base board would entail. He flung his hat into a corner, and, ripping off his coat, tossed it upon the cot; then, snatching up a paint tube, he smeared a daub of paint upon the palette that lay on the table, and laid a wet brush hurriedly several times across the canvas on the easel.
From the corner of the lane and street outside came the scuffling to and fro of many feet, as though in uncertainty, in indecision, in hesitancy. A dozen voices spoke at once, high-pitched, wild, frenzied.
"Where is he?... Which way did he go?... Where—"
And then the Wolf's voice, above the rest, in a sudden, excited yell:
"What's that across there! It's him! There he is! He's kept on up the lane! He's—"
The voice was lost in a chorus of shouts, in the pound and stampede of racing feet again, of the pack in cry. The sounds receded and died in the distance. Jimmie Dale drew his hand across his forehead and brought it away damp with sweat. He staggered now to the wash-stand, and from the drawer took out a bottle of brandy, and, heedless of glass, uncorked it, and lifted it to his lips. He would never know a closer call! He had been weaker than he had thought! Thank God for the brandy! The fiery stimulant was whipping the blood in his veins into life again, and—the bottle was still held to his lips, but he was no longer drinking. His eyes were on the washstand's mirror. He heard no sound, but in the mirror he saw the door of his room open, close again, and, leaning with his back against it—the Wolf!
Not a muscle of Jimmie Dale's face moved. He allowed another gulp of brandy to gurgle noisily down his throat. The cool, alert, keen brain was at work. It was certain that the Wolf had at no time that night recognised him as Smarlinghue. The Wolf, therefore, at worst, could be no more than gambling on the chance that the object of the chase had taken refuge here in the tenement, and, naturally enough then, was beginning his investigation with the ground floor room. And yet, why then had the Wolf, deliberately in that case, sent his pack off on a false scent? In the mirror he could see that huge jaw outthrust, the black eyes narrowed, an ugly leer on the working face—and a revolver in the Wolf's hand that held a bead on his, Jimmie Dale's, head.
It was "Smarlinghue," the wretched, nervous, drug-wrecked creature that turned around—and, as though startled at the sight of the other, almost let the bottle fall from his hand.
"So it was you—eh—Smarlinghue! Curse you!" snarled the Wolf. "Come out here, and stand in the centre of the room!"
Smarlinghue cringed. He put down the bottle with a trembling hand, and slouched forward.
"I ain't done nothing!" he whined.
"No, you ain't done a thing—except crack a box and pinch about ten thousand dollars' worth of sparklers!" The Wolf's face, if possible, was more ugly in its threat than before.
Smarlinghue, in a sort of stupefied amazement, stared around the room—as though he expected to see a gleaming heap of diamonds leap into sight somewhere before him. He shook his head helplessly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled. "I—I heard a row outside there a little while ago. Maybe that's it."
"Yes—mabbe it is!" sneered the Wolf viciously. "So you don't know anything about it—eh? You've got a hell of a good memory, haven't you! You don't know anything about the Spider's safe, or about a little fight in the Spider's room, or about jumping out of the window, and beating it for here with the gang after you—no, you don't! You never heard of it before—of course, you didn't!"
Smarlinghue began to wring his hands nervously one over the other. He shook his head helplessly again.
"It wasn't me!" He licked his lips. "Honest, it wasn't me! I—I don't know what you're talking about. I ain't been out of this room. Honest! Somebody's trying to put me in wrong. I tell you, I ain't been out of here all night. I—look!" With sudden, feverish eagerness, as though from an inspiration, he pointed to the paint brush, the palette, and the canvas on the easel. "Look! Look for yourself! You can see for yourself! I've been painting."
And then the Wolf laughed—and it was not a pleasant laugh.
"Yes, you've been painting!" he jeered. "Sure, you have! I know that! Only you've been painting a damned sight more than you thought you were!"
The revolver muzzle covered Jimmie Dale steadily, unswervingly; in the Wolf's face was malicious and sardonic mockery—but the Wolf's eyes were no longer on Jimmie Dale's face, they seemed curiously intent upon the floor at Jimmie Dale's feet. Mechanically Jimmie Dale followed their direction—and his eyes, too, held on the floor. For a moment neither spoke. The game was up! His boot top was soaked with blood, and, trickling down the side of the boot, a little crimson stream was collecting in a pool upon the floor.
"You painted some of that on the doorstep!" The Wolf's taunting laugh held a deadly menace. "And you painted a drop or two of it along the street as you ran. I thought when you bust away from the Spider's and that cursed gang nosed in that I was going to lose out; but I figured that I had hit you, and I was keeping my eyes skinned to see. And then you commenced to do the drip act—savvy? I was still looking for it when I came out of the lane—you remember, Smarlinghue, don't you?—you got your memory back, ain't you?—that I was a bit ahead of the rest of 'em? It didn't take a second to spot that on the doorstep, and there's some more of it in the hall. Damned queer, ain't it—that it led right to Smarlinghue's room!" The laugh was gone. The Wolf began to come forward across the room. The snarl was in his voice again. "You come across with those sparklers, and you come across—quick!"
But now Smarlinghue was like a crazed and demented creature, and he shook his fists at the Wolf.
"I won't! I won't!" he screamed. "You went there to do the same thing! I had as much right as you! And I got them—I got them! They said he had them there, they were all talking about them to-day, and I got them! I won! They're mine now! I won't give them to you! I won't! I tell you, I won't!"
"Won't you?" The Wolf had reached Jimmie Dale, and one of the Wolf's hands found and shook Jimmie Dale's throat, while the revolver muzzle pressed hard against Jimmie Dale's breast. "Oh, I guess you will! D'ye hear about a man being murdered to-day with his face cut up? Oh, you did—eh? Well, I happen to know that man was the Spider, and one of these days, mabbe, the police'll tumble to who it was, too. Get me? Suppose I call some of that gang back, and show 'em the painting you've done along the hall—eh? And then, by and by, when the bulls get wise, it'll be yours for the juice route, not just a space or two for cracking a box! Get me again?"
Smarlinghue, struggling weakly, pulled the other's hand from his throat.
"You—you were there, too, at—at the Spider's," he choked craftily. "You're—you're in it as—as bad as I am."
"Sure, I was there!" mocked the Wolf, and snatched at Jimmie Dale's throat again. "Sure, I was there—everybody saw me! The Spider was a friend of mine, and everybody knows that, too. I was just going there to pay a pal a little visit—see? And that's how I found you there—see? Anything wrong with that spiel? It's a cinch, aint it?" The fingers closed tighter and tighter on Jimmie Dale's throat. "And that's enough talk—give me them sparklers!" He flung Jimmie Dale savagely away. "Get 'em!"
Smarlinghue reeled backward in the direction of the disordered canvases on the floor. It was quite true! If the Wolf carried out his threat—which he most certainly would do if he did not get the diamonds for himself—Smarlinghue, and not the Wolf, would be held for the Spider's murder. Jimmie Dale stooped, fumbled amongst the canvases, and produced the cash-box. Well, the diamonds would have to go, that was all—he had no choice left to him. But he was still "Smarlinghue," still the half cowed, yet half defiant, pale-faced creature that shook with mingled rage and fear, as he turned again. He clutched the cash-box to him, as though loath to let it go; but, too, as though fascinated by the Wolf's revolver, he moved reluctantly toward the Wolf, who now stood by the table.
Smarlinghue's hands twined and twined over the box, caressing it in hideous greed and avarice; and he mumbled, and his lips worked.
"Half—give me half?" he whispered feverishly.
"I'll give you—nothing!" snarled the Wolf.
"Half—give me a quarter then?" whimpered Smarlinghue.
"Drop it!" The Wolf's revolver jerked forward into Jimmie Dale's face.
And then Smarlinghue screamed out in impotent rage, and, wrenching the cover of the cash-box open, flung the jewels in a glittering heap upon the table—and, dancing in demented fashion upon his toes, like a man gone mad, he hurled the cash-box in fury from him. It went through the canvas on the easel, and clattered to the floor.
The Wolf laughed.
But Smarlinghue had retreated now, and, crouched upon the cot, was mumbling through twisted lips.
And again the Wolf laughed, and, gathering up the jewels, dropped them into his pocket, and backed to the door. He stood there an instant, his eyes narrowed on Jimmie Dale.
"I got the stuff now"—he was snarling low, viciously—"and mabbe that puts it a little more up to me. But if you ever open your mug about this, I'll do to you what I did to the Spider to-day—and if you want to know what that is, go and ask the police to let you have a look! D'ye understand?"
Came the brutal, taunting laugh again, and the door closed behind the Wolf, and his step died away along the passage, and rang an instant later on the pavement without.
It was a moment before Jimmie Dale moved—but into Smarlinghue's distorted features there came a strange smile. He reeled a little from weakness, as he walked to the door, locked it, and, returning, stooped and picked up the cash-box from the floor. In the false bottom, the Tocsin had said. From the leather girdle came a sharp-pointed tool. He pried with it for an instant inside and around the bottom edges, and loosening a sheet of metal that fitted exactly to the edges of the box, lifted out from beneath it several folded sheets of paper. He glanced at the typewritten sheets, a curious, menacing gleam creeping into the dark eyes, then thrust the papers inside his shirt; and, dropping into a chair, unlaced and kicked off his blood-soaked boot.
He was very weak; he had lost, he must have lost, a great deal of blood—but there was something to do yet—still something to do. There was still—the Wolf!
He tore the sheet on the cot into strips, and washed and dressed his wound—a flesh wound, but bad enough, he saw, just above the knee. And then, this done, he took a damp piece of cloth, went to the door again, opened it, and looked out. There was neither any one in sight, nor any sound. The passage was murky; one gas-jet alone lighted it, and that was turned down. There were little spots, dark spots on the floor—but the Wolf had told him that. He passed his hand over his head—he was a little dizzy. Then slowly, laboriously, he removed the spots from the hallway—and one from the doorstep.
Back in his room once more, he locked the door again. A sense of utter exhaustion was stealing upon him—but there was still something yet to be done. Another gulp of brandy steadied him, steadied his head. He took the papers from his pocket and read them now. Here were the details, minute, exact, with the names of those involved, names of those who would squeal quickly enough to save themselves once they were in the clutches of the law, of two of the most famous murder mysteries that New York had known; the details of two, and, unfinished, the partial details of another. It was the evidence the police had long sought. It was the death sentence upon the Wolf—for murder.
Jimmie Dale's face, very white now, was set and hard. The Spider had been too late—to save himself. Beginning to fear the Wolf, as the Tocsin had explained, he had begun to make a record of those days gone by, meaning to hold it over the Wolf's head in self-protection, deposit it somewhere where it would come to light if any attack were made upon him—only the Wolf had struck before the Spider had finished all he had meant to write, before he had told any one or had warned the Wolf that the papers were in existence. Too late to save himself—and yet, if the Wolf still paid the penalty for murder, did it matter if he were convicted for the taking of another life than that of Spider Webb! It was like some grim, retributive proxy! The Spider, at least, had not been too late—for that!
For a moment longer, Jimmie Dale sat there, staring at the papers in his hand. They were unsigned, the Spider's name nowhere appeared—the Spider had been crafty enough to deal only with crimes in which he had had no personal share. There was nothing, not even handwriting, as the papers now stood, to intimate that they had emanated from the Spider; and therefore, in their disclosure, there could be no suspicion in the Wolf's mind that they bore any relation to this night's work. Nor would the Wolf, tried for another crime, ever mention this night's work. It would be the last thing the Wolf would do. The Wolf had double-crossed the underworld, and the underworld, if it found it out, would not easily forgive—and even in a death cell, clinging to the hope of commutation of sentence, the Wolf would never run the risk of his additional guilt of the Spider's murder leaking out. The role of "Smarlinghue" in the underworld was safe.
And now Jimmie Dale's lips twitched queerly. The papers were unsigned. He took from the leather girdle the thin metal box, the tweezers, and a diamond-shaped, adhesive, gray paper seal—and, holding the seal with the tweezers, he moistened it with his tongue, and pressed it down upon the lower sheet. It was signed now! Signed with a signature that the police—and the Wolf—knew well!
He rose unsteadily, and, taking the empty cash-box, loosened the base-board from the wall near the door, hid the cash-box away, and felt through the pockets of his evening clothes—there was a blank envelope there, he remembered, in which he had placed some memoranda—an envelope, and the little gold pencil in his dress waistcoat pocket. He found them, and, kneeling on the floor, printing the letters, he addressed the envelope to police headquarters, folded and placed the documents inside, and sealed the envelope.
He replaced the base-board, and stood up—but his hand caught at the wall to support himself.
"To-morrow," said Jimmie Dale weakly—he was groping his way back across the room to the cot "I—I guess I'm all—all in—to-night."
THE VOICES OF THE UNDERWORLD
Futility! And on top of futility, a week of inaction, thanks to that flesh wound in his leg. Futility seemed to haunt, yes, and torture him! Even his rehabilitation of Larry the Bat, with all its attendant risk and danger, had been futile as far as she was concerned. And he had counted so much on that! And that had failed, and nothing was left to him but to pursue again the one possible chance of success, the hope that somewhere in the innermost depths of the Bad Lands he might pick up the clue he sought. And so, to-night, he was listening again to the voices of the underworld—and so far he had heard nothing but ominous mutterings, proof that the sordid denizens of crimeland were more than usually disturbed. The Wolf had gone to join his friend Frenchy Virat in the Tombs! The twisted lips of the underworld whispered the name of the Gray Seal!
Jimmie Dale's fingers, twitching, simulating even in that little detail the drug-wrecked role of Smarlinghue that he played, clutched with a sort of hideous eagerness at the hypodermic syringe which he held in his hands. How many times, here in Foo Sen's, or in other lairs that were but the counterpart of Foo Sen's, had he lain, stretched out, a pretended victim to a vice that robbed his face of colour, that shook his miserably clad body, that clouded his eyes and stole from them the light of reason—while he listened! How many times—and how many times in the days to come would he do it again! Would it never be his, the secret that he sought—the clue that would divulge the identity of those who threatened the Tocsin's life; those who, like human wolves, like a hell-pack snarling for its prey, had driven her again into hiding and made of her a hunted thing!
The fingers closed convulsively over the hypodermic. Wolves! A hell-pack! A tinge of red dyed the grey-white, hollowed cheeks, as a surge of fury swept upon him. No, it was not futility; no, it was not wasted effort—this haunting of the dens of the underworld! In his soul he knew that some day he would pick up the trail of that hell-pack and those human wolves—and when that some day came it would be a day of reckoning, and the price that he would exact would not be small!
He lay back on the bunk that Foo Sen had ingratiatingly allotted him. The air was close, heavy with the sweet, sickish smell of opium, and full of low, strange sounds and noises. And these sounds, in their composite sense, emanating from unseen sources, were as the ominous and sinister evidence of some foul and grotesque presence; analysed, they resolved themselves into the swish of hangings, the swish of slippered, shuffling feet, the stertorous breathing of a sleeper, the clink of coin as of men at play, the tinkle of glass, the murmur of voices, the restive stir of reclining bodies, whisperings.
And now he looked about him through half closed eyes. He was in a little compartment, whose doorway was a faded and stained hanging of flowered cretonne, and whose walls were but flimsy-boarded affairs that partitioned him off from like compartments on either side. It was very near to the pulse of the underworld. Above ground, opening on a street just off Chatham Square, Foo Sen's, to the uninitiated, was but one of the multitudinous Chinese laundries in New York; below, below even the innocent cellar of the house, a half dozen sub-cellars were merged into one, and here Foo Sen plied his trade. And Foo Sen was cosmopolitan in his wares! Here, one, hard pressed, might find refuge from the law; here a pipe and pill were at one's command; here one might hide his stolen goods, or hatch his projected crime, or gamble, or debauch at will—it was the entree only that was hard to obtain at Foo Sen's!
Jimmie Dale's lips twisted in a grim smile. The old days of Larry the Bat had supplied Smarlinghue with the means which, in the last six months, had been turned to such good account that the Smarlinghue of to-day was almost as fully in the confidence of the underworld as had been the Larry the Bat of yesterday. And yet there had been nothing! No clue! He had wormed himself again into the inner circle of crimeland; he lay here in Foo Sen's to-night, as he had once lain in one of Foo Sen's competitor's dives as Larry the Bat, months ago, on the night the place had been raided—but there was still nothing—still no clue—only the shuffle of slippered feet, the stertorous breathings, a subdued curse, a blasphemous laugh, a coin ringing upon a table top, the murmur of voices, whisperings!
One might hear many things here if one listened, and he had heard many things in his frequent visits to these hidden dens of this lower world that shunned the daylight—many things, but never the one thing that he risked his life to hear—many things, from these friends of his who, if in Smarlinghue they but suspected for an instant the presence of Larry the Bat, would literally have torn him limb from limb—many things, but never the one thing, never a word of her—many things, the hatching of crime, as now, for instance, those muttering voices were hatching it from the other side of the partition next to his bunk. Subconsciously he had caught a word here and there, and now, without a sound, he edged his shoulders nearer to the partition until his ear was pressed close against a crack. It did not concern her, but he listened now intently.
"Aw, ferget it!" a voice rasped in a hoarse undertone. "Sure, I saw it! Ain't I just told youse I saw Curley hand de dough over dis afternoon! Fifteen thousand dollars all in big new bills, five-hundred-dollar bills I t'ink dey was—dat's wot!"
"How d'youse know it was fifteen thousand?" demanded another voice.
There was a short, vicious laugh; then the voice of the first speaker again:
"'Cause I heard him say so, an' de old guy counted it, an' sealed it up in an envelope, an' gave Curley a receipt, an' tucked de green boys into de safe. Aw, say, dere's nothin' to it, I can open dat old tin box wid a toothpick!"
"Mabbe youse can, but mabbe de stuff ain't dere now—mabbe it's in de bank," demurred the second voice.
"Don't youse worry! It's dere! Where else would it be! Ain't I told youse it was near five o'clock when I went dere—an' dat's after de banks are closed, ain't it? Well, wot d'youse say?"
"I don't like pinchin' any of Curley's money." The second speaker's voice was still further lowered. "It ain't healthy ter hand Curley anything."
"Who's handin' Curley anything!" retorted the other. "It ain't got nothin' to do wid Curley. It ain't Curley's money any more. He paid it over for whatever he's blowin' himself on, an' he's got his receipt for it. It's none of his funeral after dat! How's he goin' to lose anything if we lift de cash? An' if he ain't goin' to lose nothin', wot's he goin' to care! Ferget it! Wot's de matter wid youse!"
There was a moment's apparent hesitancy; then, hoarsely:
"Youse are sure, eh, dat nobody saw youse dere?"
"Say, youse have got de chilly feet fer fair ter-night, ain't youse! Well, can it! No, dey didn't pipe me, youse can bet yer life on dat. I was goin' inter de office w'en I hears some spielin' goin' on inside, an' I opens de door a crack, an' I keeps it open like dat—savvy? An' w'en de old guy shoots de ready inter de box, an' I makes me fade-away, I didn't shut de door hard enough ter bust de glass panels, neither—see? Dat's de story, an' it's on de level. I beats it den, an' I been huntin' fer youse ever since. Now, wot d'youse say—are youse on?"
"Sure!" The second speaker's voice had lost its hesitancy now; it was gruff, assured, even eager. "Sure! I guess youse have pulled a winner, all right! Wot's de lay? Have youse doped it out?"
"Ask me!" responded the other, with a complacent chuckle. "Youse look after de old guy, dat's all youse have ter do. Hook up wid him, an' keep him busy at his house. Get me? De old nut has a crazy notion of goin' down ter de office in de middle of de night sometimes, an' dere's no use takin' any chances. Youse can put up some hard luck story on him, throw in a weep, an' youse got his goat fer as long as youse can talk. Leave de rest ter me. Only, say, youse keep away from me fer de rest of de night—get me? Dey might smell a plant after youse bein' wid him. Youse go somewhere to an all-night joint so's youse have an alibi all de way through, an'—"
The voice ceased abruptly. In a flash the left sleeve of Jimmie Dale's ragged, threadbare coat was pushed up, leaving the forearm exposed. The hypodermic needle pricked the flesh. There was no sound of any step; but the cretonne hanging wavered almost imperceptibly, as though some one, or perhaps but a current of air from the passage without, had swayed it slightly. Jimmie Dale was mumbling incoherently to himself now; his lips, like his fingers, working in nervous twitches. A few seconds passed—a half minute. Still mumbling, Jimmie Dale, with a caress like that of a miser for his gold, was fondling the shining little instrument in his hand—and then the hanging was suddenly thrust aside.
Jimmie Dale neither looked up, nor appeared to be conscious of any one's presence—but he had already recognised the voices of the two men from the adjoining compartment, who, he was quite well aware, were staring in at him now. The smaller, with sharp, cunning, beady, black eyes, the prime mover in the scheme that had just been outlined, was a clever and dangerous "box-worker,", known as the Rat; the other, a heavy, vicious-faced man, with eyes quite as beady and unpleasant as those of his companion, was Muggy Ladd, who made his living as a "stagehand" for those, such as the Rat, who were more gifted than himself.
"Satisfied?" inquired the Rat "He's full up to de eyes wid it now. Foo said he'd been hittin' it up hard fer de last hour." The Rat addressed Jimmie Dale. "Hello, Smarly!" he called out.
Jimmie Dale lifted his head, and blinked at the cretonne hanging.
"Lemme alone!" he complained thickly. "Go 'way, an' lemme alone!
"Sure!" said the Rat genially. "Sure, we will! Sweet dreams, Smarly!"
The hanging fell back into place. Jimmie Dale continued to blink at it, and mumble to himself. The Rat's pleasant little plan of robbing somebody's safe of fifteen thousand dollars had nothing to do with her—but it involved a moral obligation on his part that he had neither the right nor the intention to ignore. And the fulfilment, or the attempt at fulfilment, of that obligation had suddenly assumed unexpected difficulties. Even while he had listened, and before the Rat was halfway through his story, he, Jimmie Dale, was conscious that he had made up his mind the Rat would rob no safe of fifteen thousand dollars that night if he could prevent it, and he had intended following the Rat from Foo Sen's. He dared not do that now. Muggy Ladd's cautiousness, that had evidently induced the Rat to inspect his, Jimmie Dale's, compartment, had made that impossible. The Rat had seen him there; and, forced to the deception in order to avert any suspicion that he had overheard the others' conversation, the Rat had seen him in the condition of one who was apparently already far gone under the influence of drug. To risk the attempt to follow the Rat now, to risk discovery by the Rat, was to risk, not only the admission that he had been playing a part, but to risk what he had fought for and staked his life for months now to establish—the role, the character of "Smarlinghue" in the underworld. Nor, for the same reason, would he dare move from the place for some little time—there was Foo Sen and the attendants.
Jimmie Dale dropped his head down on the bunk, turned heavily over, facing the partition, and flung his arm across his face. His lips had ceased their nervous working; they were drawn together, thin and hard now. It was bad enough to be forced to remain temporarily inactive, though that in itself was not so serious, for it was still early, not much more than nine o'clock, and it was only fair to presume that the Rat would make no move for some hours to come; but what was much more serious was the fact that, unable to follow the Rat, he would be obliged to solve for himself the problem of whose was the safe, and whose the fifteen thousand dollars that was the Rat's objective. The Rat had referred to "the old guy"—that meant nothing. "Curley," however, was a little better—Curley, who had paid over the money to the "old guy."
Jimmie Dale's forehead, hidden by his arm, furrowed deeply. From Muggy Ladd's initial objection to touching anything that concerned Curley, it could mean only one Curley. He, Jimmie Dale, knew this Curley by sight, and, slightly, by reputation. Curley and his partner, Haines, kept a small wholesale liquor store in one of the most populous, where all were populous, quarters of the East Side; also Curley had a pull as a ward politician, which might very readily account for Muggy Ladd's diffidence; and Curley was credited with doing a thriving business—both ways—as ward heeler and liquor purveyor. Certainly, at least, he was known always to have money; and had even been known at times to lend it freely to those in want—for a consideration. Yes, it was undoubtedly and unquestionably Curley, of Haines & Curley, familiarly known on the East Side as Reddy Curley from his flaming red hair—but to whom had Curley paid over the sum of fifteen thousand dollars?
For a moment the frown on Jimmie Dale's forehead deepened, then he nodded his head quickly. If he could find Curley, or Haines, or even Patsy Marles, the clerk who worked in the liquor store—which might possibly still be open for another hour or so yet—it should not, after all, and without even any undue inquisitiveness on the part of Smarlinghue, prove very difficult to obtain the necessary information, for, if Curley had been in a deal involving fifteen thousand dollars, he was much more likely to be boastful than reticent about it. It resolved itself then after all, into simply a matter of time.
Whisperings, a raucous laugh, a curse, the clink of coin, the rattle of dice, the scuffle of slippered feet, the low swish of the loose-garbed Chinese attendants went on interminably. Jimmie Dale began to toss uneasily from side to side of his bunk, and began to mumble audibly again. Perhaps half an hour passed, during which, from time to time, the curtain of the compartment was drawn quietly aside and the impassive face of one or other of the Chinese attendants was thrust through the opening—and then suddenly Jimmie Dale raised himself up on his elbow, and pointed a shaking finger at one of these apparitions.
"Foo Sen"—he licked his lips as he spoke—"you tell Foo Sen come here!"
The face disappeared, and a moment later another—the wizened, yellow face of a little old Chinaman—took its place.
"You wantee me, Smarly'oo?" inquired the proprietor suavely.
"Tell 'em to help me out of this." Jimmie Dale essayed vainly to rise, and fell back on the bunk. "D'ye hear, Foo Sen—tell'em! Goin' home!"
"Alee same bletter stay sleep him off," advised Foo Sen.
Jimmie Dale succeeded in sitting upright on the edge of the bunk—and snarled at the other.
"You mind your own business, Foo Sen!" he flung out gutturally. "Goin' home! Tell 'em to help me out—sleep where I like! Makes me sick here—rotten smell—rotten punk sticks!"
"You allee same fool," commented Foo Sen imperturbably, as he clapped his hands. "Mabbe you no get home; mabbe you get run in police cell sleep him off, instead. That your business, you likee that—all right!"
Foo Sen smiled placidly, and was gone.
An instant later, Jimmie Dale, his arms twined around the necks of two Chinamen, and leaning heavily upon them, and stumbling as he walked, was being conducted through a maze of dark and narrow passages that gradually trended upward to a higher level—and presently a door closed behind him, and he was in the open air.
It was dark about him, not even the glimmer of a window light showed from anywhere—but in Foo Sen's there were eyes that saw through the darkness, and his progress, alone now, was both unsteady and slow. He was in a very narrow alleyway between two houses—one of the several hidden entrances to Foo Sen's. The alley opened in one direction on a lane, in the other direction on the street. Jimmie Dale chose the direction of the lane, reached the lane, and, still stumbling and lurching, made his way along for a distance of possibly fifty yards; then, well clear of the neighbourhood of Foo Sen's, he began to quicken his pace—and twenty minutes later, frowning in disappointment, he was standing in front of Reddy Curley's liquor store, only to find that the place was already closed for the night.
IN THE SANCTUARY
It was ten o'clock now, an hour since the Rat and Muggy Ladd had left Foo Sen's. Again Jimmie Dale told himself that it was still early, that the Rat would wait for a much later hour—but at the same time he acknowledged to himself a sense of growing and premonitory uneasiness. Certainly, in any case, he had no time to lose. He turned quickly and hurried along the block that separated him from the Bowery—he had a fair idea of the haunts usually frequented in the evening by the men he sought, and, even failing to find the men themselves, there was always the chance, and a very good one, that, where Curley was known, Curley's fifteen thousand dollar deal might be the subject of gossip which would answer his, Jimmie Dale's, purpose quite as well.
But an hour went by—and yet another. Midnight came—and midnight had brought him nothing. It seemed as though he had combed the East Side from end to end, and he had found neither Curley, nor Haines, nor Patsy Marles—nor had he heard anything—nor had such guarded questions as he had dared to ask without involving possible disastrous consequences to "Smarlinghue," should the Rat, after all, succeed and hear of his activities, had any result. And then, still maintaining his efforts with dogged determination, though conscious now that with the hour so late he might perhaps better return to the Sanctuary, change, say, into the clothes of Jimmie Dale, and, crediting the Rat with already having made a successful inroad on the safe, devote his energies to running down the Rat, and, if possible, to salvaging the plunder, he was in the act of entering again one of the dance halls he had already visited earlier in the evening, when one of the men he was searching for lurched out through the doorway. It was Patsy Marles, garrulous, drunk, exceedingly unsteady on his feet, and accompanied by three or four companions. They crowded out past Jimmie Dale, and gathered aimlessly on the pavement. Marles' voice rose in earnest insobriety for what was very probably by no means the first time.
"Betcher life! Spot cash—fifteen thousand—spot cash! Sure, I saw it! Only—hic!—got one boss now. Little ol' Reddy got the—hic!—papers from lawyer 'safternoon. Know ol' Grenville, don't you—that's him—ol' Grenville. Come on, whatsh's use standin' round here doin' nothin'!"
Jimmie Dale did not enter the dance hall—instead, scuffling hurriedly along to the next corner, he turned off the Bowery, and, choosing the darker and more dimly lighted streets and, at times, a lane or alleyway, broke a run. In the space of a little more than a second he had at last obtained the information that he had searched for vainly for over two hours. There seemed something mockingly ironical in the fact that he had been obliged to search for those two hours! What had happened in that time? Two hours! It was three hours now since the Rat had left Foo Sen's!
He shook his head with sudden impatience at himself. He would gain nothing by speculating on possibilities! He had the information now. The one thing to do was to act upon it. So it was old Grenville's safe! Old Grenville, the lawyer; honest old Grenville, the East Side called him, the one man, perhaps, whose word was accepted at its face value, and who was both liked and trusted everywhere in the Bad Lands—because he was honest! Jimmie Dale's lips tightened as he ran. It was more than ordinarily dirty work, then, on the Rat's part. Grenville was an old man, close to seventy, at a guess; and if any one had earned immunity from the depredations of the underworld it was this curious and lovable old character—honest Grenville. The man was not a criminal lawyer, he had made no enemies even in that way; he was more a paternal family solicitor, as it were, to the dregs of humanity that had crowded his queer and dingy office now, so report had it, for over forty years. He was credited with having amassed a little money, not a fortune, perhaps, for there were many fees never collected and never asked for amongst the needy, but enough to live comfortably on in the simple and unpretentious way in which old Grenville lived.
Yes, it was dirty work—miserable, dirty work, the work of a hound and a cur! And the Rat's logic was unassailable. From Patsy Marles' maudlin babbling it was evident that Reddy Curley had bought Haines, his partner, out; that the price was fifteen thousand dollars; and that Grenville, acting for Haines obviously, had received the purchase money from Curley, and in return had handed over what the Rat had taken to be a receipt, but what was probably in reality much more likely to have been a Bill of Sale. But in either case, it was neither Curley nor Haines who would suffer—it was old Grenville, who, if the funds were stolen and not recovered, would have to make the amount good out of his own pocket, and who, as all who knew old Grenville knew well, would unhesitatingly do so at once if it took the last cent that pocket held.
Jimmie Dale had halted before a small building on one of the cross streets near the upper end of the Bowery. There were some half dozen signs on the doorway, for the most part time worn and shabby, amongst them that of Henry Grenville, Attorney-at-Law.
There were no lights in any of the windows, but Jimmie Dale, as he tried the door, found it unlocked, and, opening it noiselessly, stepped inside. Here, a single incandescent suspended over the stair well gave a murky illumination to the surroundings. A narrow corridor, dotted with office doors, was on his left; the stairway—there was no elevator—was directly in front of him. He stood motionless for an instant, listening. There was no sound. He moved forward then, as silent as the silence around him, and began to mount the stairs. Old Grenville's office, he knew, was at the rear of the corridor on the first landing.
It was after midnight now, quite a little after midnight. Jimmie Dale's fingers, in the right-hand pocket of his tattered coat, closed over the stock of his automatic. Still no sound! Was he too late to forestall the Rat; or, by no means an unlikely possibility, was the Rat there now; or was—a low, muttered exclamation, that mingled surprise and bewilderment, came suddenly from Jimmie Dale's lips. He had reached the landing, and here, from the head of the stairs, he could see a dull yellow glow thrown out into the corridor through the glass panel of the lawyer's door.
An instant's pause, and then, chagrined, the sense of defeat upon him, he moved forward again as silently as before. He reached the door and crouched beside it. A murmur of voices came to him from within. Jimmie Dale's lips parted in grim irony. The game was up, of course, but he was occupying precisely the same coign of vantage that, according to the Rat, the Rat had occupied that afternoon, and if the Rat had been able, undiscovered, to see and hear, then he, Jimmie Dale, could do the same. The slim, tapering, sensitive fingers closed on the doorknob—a thin ray of light began to steal through between the door-edge and the jamb—and grew wider—and the voices, from a confused murmur, became distinct. And now, through the narrow crack of the slightly opened door, he could see inside; and he could see that, as he had already realised, he was too late, very much too late, in time only, as it were, for the post-mortem of the affair—even the police were already on the spot!
It was a curious scene! A rickety old railing across the middle of the musty, bare-floored room served to indicate that the space beyond was the old lawyer's "private" office. And here, inside the railing, a desk, or, rather, a great, flat, deal table, spread with a red, ink-stained cloth, was littered with books and papers; while behind the table, again, stood a huge, old-fashioned safe, its door swung wide open, its erstwhile contents scattered in disorder about the floor.
Jimmie Dale's eyes swept the interior of the room with a single, quick, comprehensive glance—and then, narrowed, travelled from one to another of the faces of the four men who were gathered around the table. He knew them all. The stocky, grizzle-haired man in the centre was a plain-clothes man from headquarters, named Barlow; at the lower end of the table Reddy Curley and Haines, his partner, faced each other, Curley drumming indifferently with his fingers on the table-top, Haines scowling and chewing his lower lip, a certain coarse brutality in both their faces that was neither pleasant nor inviting; but it was the white-haired old man, bent of form, standing at the head of the table, upon whom Jimmie Dale's eyes lingered. Old Grenville! The man's hand, as he raised it to pass it across his eyes, was shaking palpably; his face, kindly still in spite of its worn and haggard expression, was pale with anxiety and strain. Barlow was speaking:
"You say there's nothing else missing, Mr. Grenville, except the sealed envelope that contained the fifteen thousand dollars given you by Mr. Curley this afternoon?"
The old lawyer shook his head.
"I can't say," he answered. "As I told you, I often come here at night to work. To-night a client kept me very late at my house, so it was only, I should say, a quarter of an hour ago when I reached here. I telephoned you at once, and, awaiting your arrival, I did not disturb anything, so I have not examined any of the papers yet."
"I don't think it's a question of papers," observed the Headquarters man dryly.
"There was nothing else taken then," decided Grenville slowly; "for there was no other money in the safe at the time—in fact, I rarely keep any there."
"Well then," said Barlow crisply, "it's pretty near open and shut that some one was wise to that fifteen thousand being there to-night, and it wasn't just a lucky haul out of any old safe just because the safe looked easy." He turned toward Curley and Haines. "Were either of you talking with any one around the East Side to-night who would be likely to make a tip of it, or pass the tip along?"
"We weren't there at all to-night," Curley replied. "Haines and I were out in my car, and we'd just got back when you picked us up at the store on the way up here. But, at that, I guess you're right. We didn't make any secret about it, and I daresay after I'd got the business tacked away safe in my inside pocket this afternoon"—he grinned maliciously at Haines—"I may have mentioned it to one or two."
"Got it tucked away safe, have you? Own it, do you?" Haines caught him up truculently.
"Sure!" Curley had wicked, little greenish-grey eyes, and their stare was uninviting as he fixed them on his quondam partner. "If you want to grouch, go ahead and grouch! We've been pretty good friends for a pretty good number of years, but I ain't a fool. Sure, it's mine now! I didn't ask you to employ Grenville, did I? I was satisfied to take any old piece of paper with your fist on it, saying you'd sold out to me; but no, you were for having the thing done with frills on it Well, I'm still satisfied! I came here at five o'clock this afternoon, and paid the coin over to your attorney, and I got a perfectly good little Bill of Sale for it—and that lets me out. It's up to you and your Mister Attorney. Why don't you ask him what he's going to do about it, instead of trying to take it out on me the way you've been doing ever since Barlow told us what had happened, and—"
"Mr. Curley is perfectly right, Mr. Haines"—the old lawyer's voice was quiet, though it trembled a little. "The title to the business is now vested in Mr. Curley, and you are entitled to look to me for compensation. I"—he hesitated an instant—"I—I hope the money may be recovered, otherwise—"
"Eh?" inquired Mr. Haines sharply.
"Otherwise," the old lawyer went on with an effort, "I am afraid I shall have a great deal of difficulty in raising so large a sum."
"The hell you are!" said Mr. Haines uncharitably, and leaned forward over the table. "Don't try to come that dodge! Everybody says you're well fixed. Everybody says you've got a neat little pile salted away."
The lawyer's face was ashen, and his lips were quivering; but there was a fine dignity in the poise of the old man's head, and in the squared shoulders.
"Nevertheless, I am, unfortunately, telling you the truth, in spite of any rumours, or public belief to the contrary," he said steadily. "A few thousands, a very few, is all I have ever been able to lay aside. Those are at your disposal, Mr. Haines, and the balance I promise to procure as speedily as possible; but in plain words, if this money is not recovered, and I do not say this to invite either sympathy or leniency, but because you have questioned my word, I shall have lost everything I own."
Mr. Haines scowled.
"Well, I'm glad to know you've at least got enough!" he said roughly. "It sure will surprise a whole lot of people that fifteen thousand wipes Mr. Henry Grenville out!"
A flush dyed the old lawyer's cheeks. He made as though to speak—and, instead, turned silently away from the table, his back to the others. There was silence in the room now for a moment. Again Jimmie Dale's eyes travelled swiftly from one to another of the group—to Curley, grinning maliciously at his ex-partner again—to Haines, gnawing at his lower lip, and scowling blackly—to Barlow, obviously uncomfortable, who was uneasily tracing patterns with his forefinger on the top of the table—and back to the old lawyer, whose shoulders now, as though carrying a load too heavy for their strength, had drooped pathetically, and into whose face, in spite of a brave effort at self-control, had crept a wan and miserable despair.
"Look here!" said Barlow gruffly. "It strikes me you can settle all this some other time. It's got nothing to do with the guy that pulled this break, and I'm losing time. Headquarters is waiting for my report. You two had better beat it; Mr. Grenville won't mind, I guess—I've got your end of the story, and—"
Jimmie Dale was retreating back along the corridor—and a minute later he was in the street, and scuffling along in a downtown direction. His hands, in the pockets of his tattered coat, were clenched, and through the pallor of Smarlinghue's make-up a dull red burned his cheeks. Old Grenville—and the Rat! The smile that found lodgment on Smarlinghue's contorted lips was mirthless. The old man had taken it like the gentleman he was. He had not perhaps hidden the quiver of the lip—who would at seventy! It was not easy to begin life again at seventy! Old Grenville—and the Rat! Well, the game was not played out yet! There would be an accounting of that fifteen thousand dollars before the morning came, and, as between old Grenville and the Rat, it might not perhaps be old Grenville who paid!
Hurrying now, running through lanes and alleyways as he had come, Jimmie Dale headed for the Sanctuary. It was very simple now. The Rat, his work completed, would lay very low—asleep probably, in the innocent surroundings of his own room! The Rat would not be hard to find. It was necessary only that, in the little interview he proposed to have with the Rat, "Smarlinghue" should have disappeared!
He reached the tenement where, for months now, that ground floor room, opening on the small and dirty courtyard in the rear, had been his refuge, Smarlinghue's home in the underworld, glanced quickly up and down the street to assure himself that he was not observed, then, darting into the dark hallway, he crossed it silently, unlocked the Sanctuary door, stepped through, and closed and locked the door behind him. Nor, even now, did he make the slightest sound. From the top-light, high up near the ceiling and far above the little French window whose shade was drawn, there came a faint and timid streak of moonlight. It did not illuminate the room; it but lessened the degree of blackness, as it were, giving a dim and shadowy outline to objects scattered here and there about the room—and to a darker shadow amongst those other shadows, a shadow that moved swiftly and in utter silence, a shadow that was Jimmie Dale at work.
No one had seen him enter—not that there should be anything strange in the fact that Smarlinghue should enter Smarlinghue's own room, but it would not be Smarlinghue who went away! No one had seen him enter—it was vital now that he should not be heard moving around the room, and so invite the chance of some aimless caller in the person of a fellow-tenant, for it was no longer Smarlinghue who would be found there!
The ragged outer garments he had been wearing lay discarded in a heap on the floor, close to that section of the wall near the door where the base-board, ingeniously movable, would, in another moment or so, afford them safe hiding until such time as "Smarlinghue" should reappear in person again; from the nostrils, from beneath the lips, from behind the ears, the tiny, cleverly-inserted pieces of wax, distorting the features, had vanished; and now, over the cracked basin on the rickety washstand, the masterly-created pallor was washed rapidly away—and the thin, hollow-cheeked, emaciated face of Smarlinghue, the drug fiend, was gone, and in its place, clean-cut, clear-eyed, was the face of Jimmie Dale, clubman and millionaire.
He smiled a little whimsically, a little wanly, as he stole back across the room. It was a strange life, a dangerous life! He wondered often enough, as he was wondering now, what the end of it would be—would he find the Tocsin—or would he find death at the hands of the underworld—or judicial murder at the hands of the law for a hundred crimes attributed to the Gray Seal! Crimes! The smile grew serious and wistful, as he knelt on the floor and began to loosen the section of the baseboard in front of him. There had never been a crime committed by the Gray Seal! Yes, it was strange, bizarre, incredulous even to himself sometimes, this life of his—the strange partnership formed so long ago now with her, the Tocsin, who had prompted those "crimes" that righted a wrong, that brought sunlight into some life where there had been gloom before, and hope where there had been misery—and the love that had come—and then disaster again, and her disappearance—and his resumption once more of a dual life and a role in the underworld—and, yes, in spite of her own danger, those "calls to arms" to the Gray Seal again for the sake of others, while she refused, through love for him, through fear of the peril that it would bring him, help for herself.
He shook his head, as, the base-board removed now, he reached into the hollow beyond for the neatly-folded, expensively-tailored tweeds of Jimmie Dale. She was wrong in that. Could anything add to the peril in which he lived, as it was! If only in some way he might reach her, see her, talk to her, if only for a moment, he could make her see that, and understand, and—
A low, startled cry burst suddenly from his lips; he felt the blood ebb from his cheeks—and surge back again in a burning, mighty tide. It was dark, he could not see; but those wonderfully sensitive finger tips, that were ears and eyes to Jimmie Dale, were telegraphing a wild, mad, amazing message to his brain. The Tocsin had been here—here in the Sanctuary! She had been here—here in this room—and within the last few hours—sometime since seven o'clock that evening, when, as Jimmie Dale, he had come here to assume the role of Smarlinghue preparatory to his vigil in Foo Sen's!
His hand, thrust in through the opening to reach for his clothes, had found an envelope where it lay on the top of the folded garments—and his hand was still thrust inside—there was no need to look—the texture of the paper was hers—hers—the Tocsin's! The blood was racing wildly through his veins. There was a mad joy upon him—and a sense of keen and bitter emptiness. Wild thoughts, in lightning flashes, swept his brain. She must have been here, then, many times before ... she knew the Sanctuary as well as he did ... she knew the secret hiding place behind the base-board ... she had come, of course, knowing he was absent ... she might come some day thinking he was absent ... yes, why not—why not ... perhaps—perhaps that was the way ... some day she might come again....
He laughed a little in a shaken way, and drew out the letter. With a mental wrench, he forced his mind into a calmer state. It was very singular that she should have placed the letter in that hiding place! It could evidence but one thing—that the contents of the letter, unlike any she had ever written before, were not of a pressing nature, for she would know very well that it might have been many hours, days even, before he might go there for the clothes of Jimmie Dale again! What, then, did it mean? Had she decided at last to tell him all, to let him take his place beside her, share her danger, fight with her! Was that it?
He reached hurriedly into the opening again, drew out the little leather girdle, and from one of its pockets took out a flashlight. He had not dared to light the gas before; dressed, or, rather, undressed, as he was at present, and no longer Smarlinghue, he dared much less to light it now.
He tore the envelope open, and, still kneeling on the floor, the flashlight upon the pages, began to read:
"Dear Philanthropic Crook: You will be surprised to find this letter in such a place, won't you? Yes, you are quite right, for once, as you will already have told yourself, there is no hurry—for it is too late to hurry. Listen, then! Henry Grenville's safe—the old East Side lawyer, you know—"
He had read eagerly so far. He stared at the letter now, and the words only danced in an unmeaning jumble before him. It was not for herself, it was not that she had thrown the barriers down and was bidding him come to her; it was again another "call to arms" to the Gray Seal—and for another's sake. And there came to Jimmie Dale a miserable disappointment, for his hope, shattered now, had been greater than he had admitted even to himself. And then he was aware that, subconsciously, it had seemed to him a most curious coincidence that the letter should be dealing with the robbery of Henry Grenville's safe that night. Yes, certainly, it was a most curious coincidence, when he was even then on his way—to the Rat! He shrugged his shoulders in his whimsical way. Well, for once, he had forestalled the Tocsin! There could be little here that he did not already know. He began to read again, but skimming over the words and sentences hurriedly now.
"... Curley ... liquor business ... buying out partner, Haines ... this afternoon ... fifteen thousand dollars ... large bills, one-hundred, five-hundred and thousand-dollar denominations ... sealed in envelope by Grenville ... placed by Grenville in his safe ... head of one of the most successful and desperate gangs in the country ... years under cover through position occupied ... take your time, Jimmie, and be careful before you act ... rest of gang is 'working' Boston and New England this week ... backyard from lane, high board fence ... in cellar ... cleverly concealed door at right of coal bin ... knot in wood seventh board from wall on level with your shoulders ... short passage beyond leading to door of den ... sound-proof room ... exit through other side ... sliding panel to room above ... opened by hanging weight inside ..."
In a stunned way now, Jimmie Dale stared for a long minute at the letter in his hand—then he read it again—and yet again. And then, the flashlight out, as he tore the letter into fragments, he stared again, for a long minute—into the blackness.
It was damnable, it was monstrous, this thing that he had read; it plumbed the dregs of human deviltry—but for once the Tocsin was at fault. Of the plot that had been hatched, of those details that she described, there could be no doubt, there was no question there, and there the Tocsin, he knew, had made no mistake; but the Tocsin, yes, and those who had hatched the crime themselves, had taken no account of the possible intervention of an outsider in the person of—the Rat! There was even a sort of grim irony in it all—that the Rat should quite unconsciously have feathered his nest at the expense of a far more elaborately arranged crime than his own, and at the expense of those who were of even a more abandoned, dangerous and unscrupulous type of criminal than himself!
Jimmie Dale's face hardened suddenly—and suddenly he stooped and pulled his clothes from their hiding place, and began to dress. For once, his inside information outreached hers. It was still—the Rat. Her letter changed nothing, save that afterwards, perhaps—well, that afterwards, perhaps, there was another, others beside the Rat, with whom an accounting would be made!
THE SECRET ROOM
Jimmie Dale dressed quickly now. From the pockets of the little leather girdle to the pockets of his tweeds he transferred a steel picklock, a pair of light steel handcuffs, a piece of fine but exceedingly strong cord, a black silk mask, and that small metal case, within which, between sheets of oiled paper, lay those gray-coloured, diamond-shaped, adhesive paper seals that were known in every den in the underworld, known in every police bureau of two continents, as the insignia of the Gray Seal. He slipped the flashlight into his pocket, took his automatic from the discarded garments of Smarlinghue—and, thrusting the ragged clothing into the opening, put the removable section of the base-board back into place.
And now, twin to that streak of lesser gloom that came from the top-light, another filtered into the room. The small French window opened and closed without sound—the room was empty. A shadow in the courtyard, close against the wall of the tenement, moved forward a foot, a yard—a loose board in the fence bordering the lane swung silently aside—and in a moment more, striding nonchalantly up the block, Jimmie Dale turned into the Bowery.
He had some distance to go, almost back as far as the liquor store at the lower end of the Bowery, for the Rat lived, if he, Jimmie Dale, was not mistaken, just one block this side, in a small one-story frame building on the corner of a cross street; and—it seemed incongruous, queerly out of place somehow—the Rat lived with his mother. Home ties, or home relationships, hardly seemed in harmony with the Rat! Still, in this case, it was perhaps very debatable ground as to which was the more pernicious, the old woman or the son! Ostensibly, she kept a little variety store; but her business, if report were true, was the edifying occupation of school mistress—the children graduating under her tuition being ranked by common consent as the most accomplished pickpockets in gangland!
Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, as he swung at last from the Bowery into a narrow, poorly lighted street. Well, at least, if the Rat's criminal career ended to-night, the Rat's punishment need excite no sympathy for the old woman, as far as he, Jimmie Dale, was concerned—it was a pity only that she had not been behind the bars herself long ago! Yes, this was the place—the small frame building diagonally across from the corner on which he had halted. He crossed over for a closer inspection. The front of the house was dark, the little store windows shuttered. He hesitated an instant, then walked around the corner to survey the building from the side and rear. Here, from a window that gave on the intersecting street, there showed a light. The window was low, scarcely above the level of his head, but held no promise on that score as a source of information, for the shade within was tightly drawn. Jimmie Dale scowled at it for a moment, noted its proximity to the backyard and the front of the building. The Rat, then, or the Rat's mother, was still up, and he would need to exercise more than ordinary caution—or else wait—indefinitely, perhaps.
He shook his head at that alternative, as he looked sharply up and down the street. He would gain little by waiting, and—ah! He was crouched in the doorway now, the deft fingers working swiftly with the picklock. There was a faint metallic click, barely audible above his low-breathed exclamation—and the door opened and closed behind him.
The flashlight in his hand winked once—and went out. Small, glass-topped counters were on either side of the somewhat restricted aisle in which he stood; directly in front of him, at the rear of the store, was a door, leading, obviously, to the living rooms beyond.
The old days of Larry the Bat, the rickety, creaky stairs of the old Sanctuary had trained Jimmie Dale's step to a silence that was almost uncanny. It might have been a shadow moving there across the floor of the store, a shadow flitting through that doorway beyond. There was no sound.
And now, at the end of a short, dark passage, he stopped before the door of what was, from its location, the lighted room he had seen from the street; and, slipping his mask over his face, he placed his ear against the door panel to listen. He was rewarded only by absolute silence. His lips, under the mask, twisted queerly, as, softly, cautiously, he tried the door. It gave under the steady pressure that he exerted upon it—gave without sound for the measure of a fraction of an inch—it was unlocked. And now Jimmie Dale could see into the room—and suddenly he stepped noiselessly forward, his automatic holding a bead on the crouched figure of the Rat, asleep apparently in his chair, whose head, flung forward, was buried in his crossed arms upon the table in the centre of the room.