Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, as he opened a low gate in the fence silently and stepped through, into the yard beyond, leaving the gate open behind him. He was not a fool, blinded to what probably lay ahead! He could not hope to reach the Tocsin, much less effect her rescue, without warning the inmates of this house that loomed up before him now, without a fight with the Mole and the Mole's gangsters. It was not likely that he could reach the shelter of that shed, but the Tocsin could, and, once inside, throwing away her cloak and wig, "Silver Mag" would disappear, and after that there was the Sanctuary, and then her own brave wits. There came a queer twist to Jimmie Dale's lips, and then a shrug of his shoulders again. It was not likely to be the ending to the night that he had thought it might be when sitting there in Bristol Bob's only a few short hours ago!
Faint streaks of light through the interstices of a shuttered window showed just in front of him, as he stole forward across the yard. Window or back door, it mattered little to Jimmie Dale now, so that he could gain an entry into the house unobserved. It was very quiet—even ominously quiet—that impression came to him suddenly again. The quarter here was full of dives and gambling hells and resorts frequented by the worst in crimeland—but it seemed that the Mole's injunction had been obeyed to the letter! It boded little good—for her! Jimmie Dale's face, under the grime of Larry the Bat's make-up, grew white and set, as he approached the window. God in Heaven, was he already too late! The Mole, with his little tobacco shop in front as a blind, and his rooms above rented to "lodgers," thus housing the gang of Apaches that worked under his leadership, had had every opportunity, once the Tocsin was in his power in there, of doing as he would. And then another thought came flashing quick upon him. If they had gone that far, if she were dead, they must have discovered that under the cloak and the gray, straggling hair of Silver Mag—was Marie LaSalle. He forced a grip of iron upon himself, fighting mentally like a madman with himself for his self-control. The night with every passing moment seemed yawning wider and wider before him in a chasm that threatened ruin, and disaster, and the wreckage of everything that in life was worth the living, and—no,' Not yet! The luck had turned! She was there! Silver Mag was there! There! And safe so far!
The window was shoulder high. He was peering in through the blind. There was no light in the room itself, but a faint glow came in through the open doorway of a lighted room beyond—enough to enable him to make out a woman's form, the grizzled hair streaming over the threadbare cloak, as she lay on a cheap cot across the room, her face to the wall, her hands bound together behind her back.
It was Jimmie Dale working with all the art he knew; now; and those slim, sensitive, wonderful fingers were swift and silent as they had never been before. A steel jimmy loosened the shutters, and they swung apart with out a sound. He could see better now—see, at least, that she was alone in the room. He tapped softly on the window pane. It was too dark to see her face, but he saw her raise her head quickly, and then, evidently, quick to meet an emergency as she always was, rise from the cot and steal to the edge of the open door. He was working at the window now. A fever of anxiety was him—it seemed that his fingers stumbled, that they lost their cunning, that an eternity passed as she stood there apparently on guard by the door, her bound hands behind her back like some piteous appeal to him to hurry—to hurry—and, in the name of all that life meant to both of them, to make haste.
And now cautiously, inch by inch, he was raising the window; and in another moment, in obedience to his whisper, the bound wrists were thrust within his reach, and he was severing the cords with his knife.
"Thank God!" breathed Jimmie Dale fervently. "Now jump—across the yard—the door of Foo Sen's shed—it's open—quick—"
There came a sudden crash from the front of the house, a sudden turmoil from within, a burst of shouts, a chorus of yells. The police! And now another shout, another burst of yells—from the rear—from the lane! Jimmie Dale's lips were like a thin, straight line. She was free from the house now, standing beside him here in the darkness. He reached swiftly up and closed the shutters—left open they invited immediate attention. His mind was working in lightning flashes. The police were at the front and rear, of course—they would not raid the front and leave the rear unguarded! But why the shouts out there in the lane—why had they not rushed in at once—and why now that shot! It was followed by another, and still another—and then a fusillade of them, as though the shots were returned.
"Quick!" he whispered again, and led the way toward the gate in the fence. The police would be pouring out of the house from the back door in a minute—the only chance was a dash for it. His mind was groping now, bewildered. What did it mean? The police who had obviously been detailed to the lane at the rear of the Mole's were fighting now—with whom—why? But the fight was working further on down the lane in the opposite direction from that shed door. "Quick!" he said again. "The shed door—on the other side—quick!"
Together they darted into the lane. From behind, the back door of the Mole's house was flung open, and there came the rush of feet. From down the lane the short, vicious tongue-flames of revolvers stabbed through the black. But in the darkness, save for those quick, myriad flashes like gigantic fireflies winking in the night, he could see nothing. They were racing, racing like mad, he and this form beside him for whose safety he prayed so wildly, so passionately in his soul now. It was only a step further—just another one—and the police, coming out of the Mole's, had not reached the gate yet. Just another step—and then a bullet, straying from the fight down there along the lane, drummed past his ear in an angry buzz—and the form beside him lurched heavily, stumbled, and pitched forward. And, with a low, broken cry, Jimmie Dale swung out a supporting arm, and pushing the shed door open with his elbow, gained the interior, and lowered his burden gently, a dead weight now, to the floor.
And then Jimmie Dale sprang to the door, and swung a heavy bolt that was there into place; then, running across the shed, he locked the other door as well. It was, perhaps, needless precaution. No one had seen them enter here, and there was little chance of the police developing any interest in the shed; while from the other side—Foo Sen's—the fact that there was a police battle in the lane would only cause the inmates of the dive to give the shed and lane the widest possible berth!
It had taken scarcely a second to lock the doors, and now he knelt beside a form that was ominously still upon the floor, and called her name over and over again.
"Marie! Marie! Marie!" he whispered frantically.
There was no answer—no movement. The strong, steady hands shook, those marvellous fingers, usually so deft and sure, faltered now as they loosened the cloak and threw the hood back over the wig of tangled, matted hair. It was not the darkness alone that would not let him see—there was a mist and a blur before his eyes. And now he loosened the heavy wig itself to give her relief—she would have no further need of that, for it would not be as Silver Mag that she left here—if she left here at all—no, no!—his mind seemed breaking—she would leave here, she must—yes, yes, she was breathing now—she was not dead—not dead!
He wrenched his flashlight from his pocket. To find the wound and stop the flow of blood! The ray shot out—there was a cry from Jimmie Dale—and like a man distraught he reeled to his feet—and like a man distraught stared at the upturned face, ghastly white under the flashlight's glare.
It was the Pippin.
The wig of grizzled hair that he had unconsciously been holding dropped from Jimmie Dale's hand, and his hand went upward to his temple. Was he mad! Was this joy, relief, rage or fury that, surging upon him, was robbing him of his senses! The Pippin! How could it be the Pippin! The cloak with its hood, and the long, gray matted wig were very like Silver Mag's—very like Silver Mag's! The Pippin! The Pippin!—one-time actor who had murdered old Melinoff, the old-clothes dealer! No—he was not mad! Dimly, his mind groping in the darkness, he began to see.
The Pippin's eyes opened.
"Who's there?" he demanded weakly.
Jimmie Dale, without a word, leaned forward, and threw the ray of light upon his own face.
A queer smile flickered across the Pippin's lips; his voice, weak as it was, was debonair and careless.
"Well, we nearly got you, Larry—at that! You fell for it, all right. Only—only some one"—his voice weakened still farther—"must have spilled the beans—to the—police."
Jimmie Dale made no answer. His lips were thinned and tight together. It was plain enough now. It had been a plant to get him—to get Larry the Bat, who was known to the underworld to be the Gray Seal—to get the Gray Seal through an appeal to the Gray Seal's loyalty toward his pal, Silver Mag! A plant, devilish enough in its ingenuity—Silver Mag impersonated—the "news" of her capture spread broadcast through the underworld on the chance that it would reach the ears of Larry the Bat, and tempt Larry the Bat into the open—as it had done! He knew now why the Pippin had gone to Melinoff's—old Melinoff's stock, more than any other dealer's, would be the most likely to supply the Pippin with the garments that, if not too closely inspected, would pass muster for Silver Mag's. He knew now why the underworld, believing what it had been told, had been warned to keep away from the Mole's—he knew now that it was because he was to have no inkling that he was walking into a baited trap.
He had torn the Pippin's clothing loose, found the bullet hole in the left side, perilously near the heart, and was striving now to staunch the other's wound. The man had little call for mercy, but at least—
The Pippin pushed his hand away.
"It's no use," said the Pippin. "I'm—I'm done for. But—but I don't understand. When you came to the window, I went to the door and tipped them off that you were there, and the gang that was waiting started around into the lane so that you wouldn't get any chance to make a break that way. I—I don't understand. Where—where did the police come from?"
"I sent them—from Melinoff's," said Jimmie Dale grimly.
The Pippin came up on his elbow.
"You!" he gasped. "You—you know what happened there—you were wise to everything all the time?"
"No," said Jimmie Dale. "I only knew you had murdered Melinoff. You left one of your cuff links there."
"Did I?" said the Pippin. He sank back on the floor again. "I didn't know it. It—it must have fallen out of my shirt when I undressed. I came away wearing women's things, and carrying my own clothes in a bundle." He laughed shortly, huskily. "That's what was the matter with Melinoff. It was the old fool's own fault! I didn't want to hurt him! He didn't understand at first when I was pawing all his stuff over, but when he saw me try the things on, and tumbled that I was—was going to play Silver Mag, he said he wouldn't stand for it. Ha, ha! Silver Mag!" The Pippin's voice had taken on a queer mumbling note, and his mind seemed to be functioning suddenly in a half-wandering way. "Some role, Silver Mag! I was the star to-night! You remember Silver Mag—how she used to go around in the old days and hand out the silver coins, never a bill, just coins, to the families whose men were doing spaces up the river in Sing Sing? She kept old Melinoff's wife going while he was in limbo—that's what he said. I didn't want to hurt the old fool, but he wouldn't keep his mouth shut. Ha, ha! Silver Mag! It was some play on the boards to-night! Clever brain, the Big Fellow's got! It wasn't any good if Silver Mag and Larry the Bat were together, but Silver Mag was seen buying a ticket and getting on a train for Chicago last night—and last night, later than that, the Gray Seal sent the Forrester stuff to the police—so they couldn't have been together this evening unless he went afterwards to Chicago, too—and he didn't do that because all the trains were watched. It was the biggest chance that ever came across of getting the Gray Seal in a trap. Some stage setting—some play—clever brain that—"
The voice trailed off. Outside there was quiet now, save for the crunch of an occasional footstep. The police who, as Jimmie Dale understood quite clearly now, had run into the Mole's gang as the two converged at the rear of the Mole's house, had evidently now got the better of the gangsters. And that convergence, too, explained why the Pippin had accompanied him so meekly toward the shed—the Pippin's one aim and object at that moment had been to avoid the police! He leaned suddenly forward over the man—the Pippin was going fast now. There was one thing yet, a thing that was vital, paramount, above all others.
"Pippin," he said quietly, "you're going out. Who put up this plant? It wasn't the Mole, he's not big enough, he's only a tool like yourself. Who was it?"
"No—not the Mole," murmured the Pippin. "He—he isn't big enough. Clever brain—clever brain—clever—"
"Who was it? Answer me, Pippin!"
"Yes," said the Pippin, and the queer smile came again, "I—I'll tell you. It—it was some one"—Jimmie Dale could scarcely hear the words—"some one—who will—get you yet!"
The smile was still on the Pippin's lips—but the man was dead. Jimmie Dale stood up again, and then Jimmie Dale, too, smiled; but it was a grim smile, hard and ominous. In his mind he had answered his own question.
It was that unseen hand of last night—only to-night the challenge had been direct. Well, he would pick up the gauntlet again—and at the same time, perhaps, add a little "atmosphere" to Carruthers' scoop! From his pocket came the thin, metal insignia case; and, lifting it with the tiny tweezers, moistening the adhesive side with his tongue, Jimmie Dale stooped down and fastened a gray seal on the floor by the Pippin's side.
And then Jimmie Dale crept out of the shed toward Foo Sen's, and crept into the dark areaway, and, as he had come, by alleyways and lanes, and through yards, and by ill-lighted, unfrequented streets, returned again to the Sanctuary—alone.
THE TOCSIN'S STORY
It was a whimsical movement, a whimsical trick of Jimmie Dale's—that outward thrust of his hand that he might study it in a curiously impersonal, yet mercilessly critical way. He laughed a little harshly, as he allowed his hand to drop again to the arm of his chair. No, there was no tremor there—mentally he might be near the breaking point, his nerves raw and on edge; but physically, outwardly, he gave no sign of the strain that, cumulative in its anxiety, had increased hourly, it seemed, in the three days that had passed since the night he had so narrowly escaped the trap laid by that unknown master criminal, whose cunning, power and malignant genius was dominating and making itself felt in every den and dive of the underworld, and for whom the Pippin and the Mole that night had been but blind tools, pawns moved at the will of this unseen, evil strategist upon a chessboard of inhuman deviltry.
An evening newspaper lay open on the table. Jimmie Dale's eyes fixed for an instant on a glaring headline, then travelled slowly around the little room—one of the St. James' Club's private writing rooms—and came back to the paper again. The failure of that night, the Pippin's death, the stir and publicity, the stimulus given to police activity, had, it seemed, in no way acted as a deterrent upon the sinister ingenuity which, he made no doubt, was likewise the author of the mysterious crime that to-night was upon every tongue in the city—the murder of one of New York's most prominent bankers under almost incredible circumstances, and the coincident disappearance of a number of documents which were vaguely hinted at as being of international importance and of priceless worth. The crime had been committed in broad daylight, in mid-afternoon, in the banker's private office, and within call of the entire staff of the bank. No one had been seen either to enter or leave the office during an interval of some fifteen to twenty minutes, previous to which time it had been established by one of the staff that the banker was engaged in his usual occupation at his desk, and at the expiration of which he had been discovered by the cashier lying dead upon the floor, his skull fractured by a blow that had evidently been dealt him from behind, the desk in disorder as though it had been hurriedly searched, and the papers, known to have been in the banker's possession at that time, gone.
Jimmie Dale brushed his hand across his eyes in a dazed way. No, of course, he did not know, he could not actually know that it was the same guiding evil genius at work here that had murdered both Forrester and old Melinoff, but something beyond actual proof, a sense of intuition, made of it a certainty in his own mind, at least, which left no room for argument. There had been viciously clever work here, as daring and crafty as it was remorseless in its brutality, and—he laughed suddenly, harshly as before, and, rising abruptly from his chair, stepped to the window, pushed aside the portieres, and stood staring down on Fifth Avenue, whose great, wide, lighted thoroughfare seemed a curiously and incongruously lonely spot now in its evening quiet and emptiness.
Suppose it was so! Granted that his intuition was in no way astray! What did it matter? It was a thing extraneous, of no personal significance to him! It was even strange that it had succeeded in intruding itself upon his thoughts at all, when mind and soul in these last few days had fought and groped and stumbled against the sickness of a fear that, growing upon him, had blotted out all other things from his consciousness. The Tocsin! Where was she? What had happened? Had she——no, he dared not let himself believe what a brutal logic told him now he should believe. He would not! He could not! And yet since that night when her note had come, the note that had been so full of a glad spontaneity, so full of victory—"It is the beginning of the end ... The way is clearing ... I am very happy tonight, and I wanted to tell you so"—since that night there had been no word from her.
No, that was not literally true. There had been word from her; but, rather than having brought hope and reassurance to him, it had only increased his fear and anxiety. That night, after a return to the Sanctuary, where, in lieu of the character of Larry the Bat, he had resumed his own personality again, be had hurried to his home to await the expected word from her that would tell him her success, which her note had indicated was to be looked for at any moment, had been achieved. The night, however, had brought forth nothing; but in the morning, amongst the mail which old Jason, his butler, had handed him, had been a letter from her. It had been written evidently in leisure, and evidently prior to the hurried little note that happiness, a surge of joy, a gladness and a hope whose share she could not hold back from him, had undoubtedly prompted her to write; it had been born out of impulse, that note, an impulse due, apparently, to a sudden turn in the brave fight she was waging which seemed to place the final victory almost within her grasp. The letter was not at all like that; it struck a far sterner note—the possibility of defeat—not in despair, not in a tone of failing courage, but as one who, weighing the chances, was not blind to an opponent's strength, but who, even in one's own defeat, still sought to snatch final victory even after death.
Jimmie Dale turned from the window, sat down again in his chair, and drew the letter from his pocket—and, sitting there, the strong jaws clamped and locked, his face drawn in rigid lines, the dark, steady eyes cold and hard, read it again, as he had read it many times before since Jason had handed it to him that morning several days ago:
"Dear Philanthropic Crook: I wonder if I am writing those words for the last time? I believe I am. I do not mean I am in such danger that I will never have the opportunity again; but, rather, that I will never have the need to do so. But to-night should tell. It is very near the end—one way or the other—and I believe it is my way. Oh, Jimmie, I pray God it is, and that tomorrow—but I did not start this letter to you to talk of that.
"Long ago—do you remember, Jimmie?—I wrote you that I would not, could not bring you into the shadows again for me, and that I must fight this out alone. It must be that way, Jimmie; there is no other way, and what I am about to say must not lead you to think that I am hesitating now, or have changed my mind. It is only this—that the game is not won until the last card is played, and, while I am almost certain that I see the way now, there is still that last card to play. Do not let us mince matters, Jimmie. If I fail, you know what it means. But, in the bigger way, Jimmie, I can only count for but very little in the balance. There is the afterwards that is of far more moment—that justice, swift and sure, should put an end to the depredations and the menace to society that exists to-day in the person of one of the cleverest and most conscienceless fiends that ever plotted crime. Nor, in case you should have to take up the work where I leave off, would you be even then obliged to come into those shadows again. It is very strange, Jimmie. It is almost like some grim, terribly grim, ironical joke. Everything, all the power, all the resources that this man possesses have been used against me in the last few months, because he knows that unless he accomplishes my death he must remain in hiding just as he has forced me into hiding; and yet at the same time—and this he does not know, because he does not know that he is known to you, and that you, as Jimmie Dale, a man whose position and prominence would carry conviction with every word you might say, are in a position to testify against him—with my death he automatically accomplishes his own destruction. And so you see, Jimmie, in one sense at least, I cannot fail! No, I do not mean to speak lightly—I—I have as much as you, Jimmie—to live for.
"Listen, then! We knew, you and I, that while both my supposed uncle and the head of the Crime Club were killed that night of the old Sanctuary fire, and that the greater number, almost all in fact, of the members of the band were caught by the police, that a few of them still evaded the trap and escaped. But we believed these were so few in number and were so thoroughly disorganised that nothing more was to be feared from them. And this in a very great measure is true; but it is not altogether true. No, I am not going to tell you that the Crime Club rose from its ashes and is in operation again; but one of the men who escaped that night, one of the Club's leaders, possessed evidently of the secret as to where the Club's surplus funds were hidden, is the man who, through a lavish use of those funds, is operating now through the underworld, who is responsible for Forrester's murder, and is the man who through all these months has sought to reach me. I referred to him as 'one of the leaders'—I believe him now to have been the most dangerous of them all. You know him as—Clarke. Do you remember, Jimmie? He was the man who so cleverly impersonated Travers as the chauffeur, after they had killed Travers. He was the man who was at the house that night when Travers first learned that my father and my uncle had been murdered, and that the same fate was in store for me. I told you that from where he sat in the room that night I could not see his face, that Travers told me who he was—but, apart from not being able to recognise him on that particular occasion, I knew him well, for he had been a frequent visitor to the house even prior to my father's death, and subsequently in company with Travers as one who appeared to have struck up an intimacy with my supposed uncle.
"The day after the Crime Club was raided by the police, you will remember that Clarke not being amongst those caught, I gave the authorities what particulars I could in reference to the man. But nothing came of it. A description and the name of 'Clarke' was little enough to work on. The man had disappeared. Time passed, and I supposed, as no doubt you, as well, supposed, that Clarke had made good his escape, that he was probably well content with such good fortune, and that nothing more, if he could help it, would ever be heard of him. Jimmie, I was wrong. Within a month a series of narrow escapes from accidents, any one of which might easily have accomplished my death, seemed to follow me persistently. I will not take the time now to enumerate them all—they were so commonplace, so liable to happen to any one, such for instance as escaping by a hair's-breadth from being run down by a speeding car swerving, around the corner as I started to cross the street, or again by an iron tackle falling from a scaffolding where work was in progress on the building in which, pending the remodelling of my own house, as you know, I had taken an apartment, that at first I attached no ulterior significance to them. But finally, as they persisted, I became convinced that they were deliberate and premeditated attempts upon my life. I said nothing to you, as I did not wish to alarm you. And then one night Clarke showed himself.
"Do you remember the colourless liquid, the poison instantaneous in its action and defying detection by autopsy, which was so favourite a method of murder with the Crime Club? I had expected to be out for the evening, and had given the maids permission to go out together. It was about halfpast eight when I left the apartment. I had only gone a few blocks when I returned for something I had forgotten. I was in my bedroom when I heard the hall door open stealthily. I switched off the bedroom light instantly, and slipped into the clothes closet, leaving the door just ajar. I knew, of course, that if it were another attack directed against me, it was one that was prearranged and that was being made on the presumption that I was out and that the apartment was empty. There was silence for a moment or two, then a step crossed the threshold of the bedroom, and the light went on. It was Clarke. There was a little night table beside the bed on which my maid, before she had gone out, had placed as usual a carafe of ice water and a small tray of biscuits. Clarke was evidently very well acquainted with this fact. He stepped at once to the table, took a vial from his pocket, poured the contents into the carafe—and the next instant the room was in darkness again, and Clarke was gone. I acted as quickly as I could. I dared not move or give any sign of my presence until he was out of the apartment, for I would have accomplished nothing except my death. But the minute the outer door closed I picked up the telephone to communicate with the vestibule. It was a ground-floor apartment, as you know. The one chance was to have the hall porter intercept Clarke in the vestibule. As a matter of fact, the telephone was not answered for fully a minute or so—too late, of course! Clarke had vanished. The boy at the telephone desk said he had been busy with another call. That is all, Jimmie. I saw clearly that night that there was only one thing left for me to do if I hoped to save my life, and that was to fight Clarke with his own weapons. And so I wrote you; and you know now why Marie LaSalle 'left the city for an extended trip,' as her bankers informed you, and why during all these months I have 'disappeared.'
"I come now to the last thing I have to say—the reason for writing this letter. My death was essential to Clarke, because he believed that I was the only one who could positively identify him as 'Clarke,' and that, therefore, as long as I lived he could not resume his own identity and personal freedom of action for fear that I might, even if only through inadvertence, recognise him. He could take no chances. But I believe I have beaten Clarke. I have discovered that 'Clarke' is in reality Peter Marre, the shyster lawyer, better known among his clientele as Wizard Marre. But Marre, too, has disappeared—you understand, Jimmie? And now, hidden, under cover, never showing himself personally, 'Clarke' is working, not only to reach me, but to further all his other schemes, through some agency without appearing himself either as Marre or as 'Clarke.' I believe it is only a matter of a few hours now before I shall either have got to the bottom of who and what this agency is, or else—again do not let us mince matters, Jimmie—'Clarke' will have been too much for me. And in that latter case is found the whole object of this letter. Once I am removed from his path, and believing that no one else could, or would, link 'Clarke' and Peter Marre together, he will naturally resume the freedom of his former life, and Peter Marre will appear again in his old-time surroundings, a Peter Marre unhampered by fear of discovery, and therefore a Peter Marre a hundredfold more dangerous than ever before. And so, Jimmie, if that should happen, you have simply to get this information into the hands of the police without appearing yourself, say, through the agency of the Gray Sealand I shall not have brought you into the shadows again."
The letter was signed simply—"Marie." But there was a postscript:
"You will hear from me the moment that I can tell you I am free at last."
Jimmie Dale sat staring at the postscript. He made no movement; and there was no sound in the room, save that the sheets of paper crackled slightly in his hand. He was afraid to-night, afraid as he had never been in his life before; and the fear that was gnawing at his heart was mirrored in a gray, rigid face, and in the misery that had crept into the dark, half-closed eyes. It was three days ago since he had received that letter, and the awaited, promised word had not come—three days, and the letter stated that it would be but a matter of a few hours before the decision that meant life or death was reached. And the hurried little note, so obviously written subsequent to the letter, though it had been received prior to it, but bore out in its very optimism the fact that the final card was then almost in the very act of being played. And since then—there had been nothing.
He put little faith in the Pippin's belief that she had gone to Chicago. He found no relief in that possibility at all. That they had seen her buy a ticket and board a train—yes. That for her own ends she had let them see her do that—yes. But whether she had ever gone or not was quite a different matter! Her letter would certainly indicate that she had not. But even if she had! She could have communicated with him from Chicago just as easily as she could have communicated with him from any place here in New York!
Jimmie Dale's hand lifted and pressed hard against his temple, as though to still the dull, constant throbbing that brought to his mental agony the added torment of physical pain. For these three days now he had fought with mind and body and soul against the one conclusion that was tenable—the conclusion which to-night, robbing him of every hope in life, bringing a grief and anguish greater than he could bear, cold logic was finally forcing him to accept. She would have known the torment of anxiety in which he lived, and if her plans had only been delayed or checked, if it had been no more than that, she would surely have communicated with him and allayed his fears.
A low sound, a moan of bitter pain, came from Jimmie Dale's lips. Logic had won at last, and was triumphant in the blackest hour that had ever come into his life. The one glimmer of hope to which, as time went on and one by one other hopes had vanished, he had still clung tenaciously, had surrendered, too, and gone down before the face of that brutal logic that weighed neither human agony nor suffering in its remorseless conclusions. Clarke, it was true, had not yet resumed his former life as Peter Marre—but he, Jimmie Dale, was forced to admit now that that meant little or nothing. A thousand and one reasons might account for Clarke postponing his re-entry into his old life—that the man had allowed three days to pass proved nothing.
Marre! Peter Marre! Wizard Marre! A smile that held no mirth hovered for an instant over Jimmie Dale's lips. Yes, he knew Marre, Marre of the underworld, well! The man was brilliant, clever—and possessed of a devil's soul! Also Marre, as certainly no other man had ever held it, held the confidence of crimeland—and crime-land had supplied the tricky lawyer with his clientele. And so Marre was "Clarke," one of the leaders of the old Crime Club! Jimmie Dale's smile disappeared, and his lips drew straight and tight together. It was quite easily understood now. The returns in a financial sense from such a clientele, large even as they perhaps might be, were meagre and pitiful in comparison with the huge sums which, in one way and another, the Crime Club would have acquired; but the returns in another sense had been vast and of incalculable value, not only to Clarke, but to the Crime Club as well. Clarke's power in the underworld as Marre had reached the height where the underworld itself eulogised that power by bestowing on the man the "moniker" of Wizard, investing him, as it were, with a title and a peerage in that inglorious realm. And this power, supplying a foreknowledge of events through intimacy with those whispered secrets in the innermost circles of the citizenry of crimeland, must have been of immeasurable worth. And now Clarke, hidden away somewhere, acting, it appeared, through some unknown agency and go-between, was utilising that power with deadly cunning and effect—not only against the Tocsin, but against society at large, as witness the murder of Forrester of a few days ago, and presumably the murder of Jathan Lane, the banker, not longer ago than this afternoon.
Jimmie Dale shook his head suddenly. Acting through some unknown agency? The Tocsin had not said that. Indeed, if she had been as near to the final move in this battle of wits which she had been playing for months, as her letter indicated, she must have known by now who and what and where that agency was. And he could see plainly enough why she had kept her own counsel in that respect. It was through her great, unselfish love for him that she had intentionally refrained from giving him any clue that would enable him to find his way into the danger zone which she reserved for herself alone. Yes, he understood that—but it only made what he feared now the harder to bear. She had been right, of course, in her conclusion as to what he would have done had she given him the opportunity! It was the one thing he had been fighting for, struggling for, battling for all these months, that clue—and she had told him only that "Clarke" was behind it all, and that "Clarke" was Peter Marre. And it had served him little! As though the earth had opened and swallowed the man and his alias up, there was neither trace nor sign of Peter Marre.
He knew that well! He had not been idle since that letter came! He had instantly seized upon what he had hoped would prove the clue that he could follow to the heart of the web—and the clue had led him nowhere. Marre, like the Tocsin, was somewhere "on a trip." Marre's office was not closed. A year ago Marre had taken in with him as partner a young lawyer by the name of Cleaver, who lacked only, through experience, the same degree of dishonest finesse and cunning possessed by Marre himself—a defect which Marre had doubtless counted on speedily rectifying under his own unholy tutelage! Cleaver was carrying on the business. To all inquiries Cleaver's replies had been the same—Mr. Marre, through overwork, had been obliged to take a rest; he did not know where Mr. Marre was other than that Mr. Marre was making an extended tour through the Orient, nor did he know when Mr. Marre might be expected to return; Mr. Marre, purposely, in order that he might escape all thought and care of business, and to preclude the possibility of anything of that nature reaching him, had refrained from giving the office any specific address. But he, Jimmie Dale, had not been content with inquiries alone in those last few days—though the result here again had been nothing. He was satisfied only that, in so far as the main issue was concerned, Cleaver was not in Marre's confidence, and that Cleaver not only did not know Marre's exact whereabouts, but believed, as he had said, that Marre was travelling somewhere in the Orient.
Jimmie Dale drew his hand heavily again across his forehead. It seemed as though the very act of sitting here was a traitorous act to her, that even in this momentary inaction he had cause for bitter self-reproach and even for contempt—and yet he could see no way now to take. In the last three days, as Smarlinghue, as Jimmie Dale, yes, even as Larry the Bat again, working with feverish intensity, with almost sleepless continuity, he had exhausted every means and effort within his power of running Marre, alias Clarke, to earth. There seemed nothing now left to do but to wait until Marre should resume his own identity; nothing left but the promise of a vengeance that—again Jimmie Dale laughed harshly, and, as the laugh died away, a smile took its place on the thinned lips that was not good to see. Yes, she was right in that; he knew Marre—he knew Marre, with his thin, cruel face, his black, sleepy eyes; his suave, ingratiating manner that hid under its veneer a devil's treachery! Nor, well as he knew the man, was it strange that he had not known Clarke as Peter Marre, for he had seen Clarke only once—that night in the long ago, in Spider Jack's when the man, with consummate art, a master of disguise, had impersonated Travers, the dead chauffeur, and had succeeded in fooling even Spider Jack himself. But he, Jimmie Dale, knew now. Yes, she had been right—a whiteness came and gathered on his lips—in that sense she could not fail, Marre at least would pay! But perhaps not quite as she suggested, perhaps not quite by the simple act of a denunciation to the police, perhaps not quite in so simple a way as that, for, after all—his hand clenched over the sheets of her letter—though it would be easy enough to establish Marre's alias now that the alias was known, there might be another way in which Marre would answer, a more intimate way, a more personal way! Not murder—the skin was ivory white across his knuckles—not murder, but—
Jimmie Dale was quietly folding the sheets of paper in his hand. Some one was knocking at the door.
"Come in!" said Jimmie Dale—and slipped the letter back into his pocket, as the door opened.
It was one of the club's attendants.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Dale, sir," said the man; "but there is a 'phone call for you." He glanced toward the telephone on the table. "I was not sure just where you were, sir. Shall I ask them to connect you here?"
"Thank you!" said Jimmie pleasantly. "Very good, Masters. No—I'll attend to it myself."
The man withdrew, and closed the door again. Jimmie Dale rose from his chair, and, stepping to the table, picked up the instrument.
"There is a call for me, I believe," he said. "This is Mr. Dale."
There was a moment's silence, then Jimmie Dale spoke again.
"Yes—hello!" he said. "Yes, this is Mr. Dale. What—"
The room seemed suddenly to swirl about him—the hand so steady a few moments ago was trembling palpably now as it held the instrument. Her voice? No—he was mad! It was his brain, overwrought, strained, not to the breaking point, but beyond, that had broken at last, and was mocking at him now in some cruel phantasy. Her voice? No, it could not be, for she—for she was—
"Jimmie! Jimmie!"—the voice came hurriedly again, almost frantically this time. "Jimmie—are you there?"
"You!" His lips were dry, he moistened them with his tongue. "You!" he whispered hoarsely. "You, Marie—and I thought—I thought that you were—"
"Jimmie," she broke in, a quick, wistful catch in her voice, "I cannot stay here a moment—you understand, don't you? There is not an instant to lose—on the floor by the Sanctuary window—a note—will you hurry, Jimmie—good-bye."
She was gone. Mechanically he replaced the receiver on the hook. She was gone—but it was her voice he had heard—hers—and she was alive. The play of emotion upon him robbed him for the moment of coherent thought, and came and swept over him in a mighty surge and engulfed him; and now in the sudden revulsion from despair and the bitterest of agony his mind was dazed and numbed. It seemed as though he were obeying some subconscious power, as he turned and left the room; as though some influence outside of, and extraneous to, himself gave him a spurious self-mastery, a self-command, a mask of nonchalance, as he walked calmly through the club lobby and out to the street.
Benson, his chauffeur, held the door of his car open for him.
"Where to, sir?" Benson asked.
"The Palace—Bowery," Jimmie Dale answered. "And hurry, Benson!"
Jimmy Dale flung himself back on the seat of the big touring car. It was an address, the Palace Saloon on the Bowery, that he had often given Benson before—the nearest point to which Benson, trusted as Benson was, had ever been permitted to approach the Sanctuary itself. The night air, the sweep of the wind was grateful, as the machine sped forward. He did not reason, he could not reason—his mind was in turmoil still. Only two things were clear, distinct, rising dominant out of that turmoil—that he had heard her voice, her voice that he had never thought to hear again; and that there was need, a desperate need for haste now, because he must reach the Sanctuary without an instant's loss of time.
And then gradually his brain began to clear, to adjust itself, to function normally; and when finally the car drew up at a corner on the Bowery, it was a Jimmie Dale, keen, self-possessed and alert, who sprang briskly to the pavement.
"Will you need me any further, sir?" Benson asked.
Jimmie Dale was lighting a cigarette deliberately—it was the same question that he was pondering in his own mind, but the answer was dependent upon the contents of that note which was waiting for him in the Sanctuary.
"I am not quite sure, Benson," he replied. "In any case, you had better wait here for twenty, minutes. If I am not back in that time, you may go home. Don't wait any longer."
"Very good, sir," Benson answered.
It was only a short distance to the Sanctuary—down the cross street, a turn into another only to emerge again on one that paralleled the first, and then Jimmie Dale, walking slowly now, was sauntering along an ill-lighted thoroughfare flanked on either side with a miscellany of small shops and tenements of the cheaper class. There were but few pedestrians in sight; but, as he neared the tenement that made the corner of the lane ahead, Jimmie Dale's pace became still more leisurely. A man and a woman were strolling up the street toward him. They passed. Jimmie Dale, at the corner of the lane now, glanced behind him. The two were self-absorbed. And then, like a shadow merging with the darkness of the lane, Jimmie Dale had disappeared.
In an instant, he had gained the loose board in the high fence; and in another, pressing close to the rear wall of the tenement, he had reached the little French window that gave on the dingy courtyard. There was an almost inaudible sound, a faint metallic snip, as, kneeling, his fingers loosened the hidden catch beneath the sill—and the window on well-oiled hinges swung silently inward, and closed as silently again behind Jimmie Dale as he entered.
The top-light, high up near the ceiling, threw a misty ray of moonlight along the greasy, threadbare carpet, and threw into relief a folded piece of dark-coloured paper at Jimmie Dale's feet. He stooped and picked it up—and then moving close to the window again, his fingers, in the darkness, felt over the dilapidated roller shade to assure himself that the rents were securely pinned together against the possibility of prying eyes. He stepped quickly then across the room, tested the door lock; and then the single gas-jet, air-choked, hissing spitefully, illuminated the room with a wavering meagre yellow flame.
Under the light, Jimmie Dale unfolded the paper, his face hardening suddenly. It was not like any note she had ever written him before—there was no white envelope here, no paper of fine and delicate texture, no ink-written message carefully penned; instead, evidence enough of her desperate haste, the desperate circumstances probably under which she had written it, the message was on a torn piece of brown wrapping paper, and the words, in pencil, were scrawled in hurried, broken sentences. And standing there, fighting for a grip upon himself, Jimmie Dale read the message——almost illegible! in places—and then, as though a strange incredulity, a strange inability to grasp and understand its import fully, were prompting him, he read it again, murmuring snatches of it aloud.
"... I did not mean to bring you into the shadows... but there is another life, not mine, at stake ... I have no right to do anything else ... if I intervened, or gave warning, the evidence that will convict Clarke's agent, and will convict Clarke through the agent, is lost... that is why, in spite of all, I am writing this ... do you understand? ... for three nights he disappeared, and somehow, I do not yet know how, evaded me in the daytime ... no trace, just as I believed I had the man through whom Clarke is working trapped ... dared not take the chance of giving up watch for an instant ... did not know about this afternoon until an hour ago ... too late ... Jathan Lane's murder at the bank ... Klanner, the janitor of the bank ... very fair hair, scar on left cheek bone ... worked at night ... under passage from private office ... blackjack with which murder was done, document and money in Klanner's room ... unmarried ... lives in rear room, first floor of tenement at ... you must get the evidence ... unto Caesar!.. ship chandler's store, junk shop ... Larens, Joe Larens, the hunchback ... Clarke's agent ... another murder to cover up their tracks ... must get Clarke through Hunchback Joe ... will squeal if he sees no way of escape ... Klanner's room at once ... Klanner with Kid Greer will be at Baldy Jack's at ten o'clock ... will stop at nothing ... innocent bystander ... document of international importance, ... gold and details ... Federal authorities, not the police ... will see that Secret Service men get tip where to raid at midnight ... under the sail cloth in left corner ..."
Jimmie Dale was tearing the paper into little shreds. His brain, eagerly now, was leaping from premise to conclusion, fitting the strange, complex parts of her story, seemingly so utterly at variance one with another, into a single, concrete whole. Yes, he understood why, in spite of herself, she had been forced to bring him within those shadows at the last—to save another's life, which she could not do alone without forfeiting the opportunity of securing the evidence that would condemn those actually guilty, and reach, through the lesser lights, the man higher up—Marre, alias Clarke. Yes, he understood, too, that this was the end—if all went well! A grim smile came and flickered across Jimmie Dale's lips. She believed that Hunchback Joe, if caught and trapped, would squeal to the police. The grim smile deepened. Hunchback Joe might, or might not, squeal to the police—but in any case Hunchback Joe would tell his story! He, Jimmie Dale, would see to that—whatever the cost, whatever the consequences, if he had to choke and wring it from the man's lips. It was a surer way than trusting to the police—it was the only sure way of reaching the end. The cost! The risk! What did it matter? What was cost, or risk! Her life was in the balance!
He glanced quickly around him. Would it be as Smarlinghue to-night? He shook his head. No, if it were really the end, if he won through to-night, this would be the last time he would ever stand here in the Sanctuary, and to leave the clothes of Jimmie Dale here, even in so secure a hiding place as behind that movable section of the base-board, would impose upon him the necessity of returning—was but to hamper himself, and, indeed, as likely as not, if hard pressed, to court disaster.
His glance, strangely whimsical, strangely wistful now, travelled again over the room. If it was the end to-night, this was his good-by to Smarlinghue, to Larry the Bat—and the Gray Seal. This was his exit from the sordid stage of the underworld—forever. Yes, in time, suspicious of Smarlinghue's continued absence, they would investigate and search the Sanctuary here; they might even discover that hiding place in the wall—but what did it matter? They would find only the trappings of a character that had passed out of existence; and out of that fact the police and the underworld would be privileged to make what capital they could! No, it would not be as Smarlinghue that he would work to-night—he was well enough as he was. He had not worn evening clothes since that letter came, for the nights had been spent in constant toil, and the dark suit of tweeds he wore now was not conspicuous. Nor need he even have recourse to that hiding place again—what he required was already in his pockets—for days now, in whatever role he had played, he had been prepared for any emergency.
Jimmie Dale looked at his watch—it was ten minutes after nine—and, reaching up, turned out the light. A minute more and the French window was silently opened and closed again, and Jimmie Dale was once more on the street. Here, walking quickly, but keeping to the less frequented streets, he headed deeper into the East Side. He would have no need of Benson, and Benson without further ado at the expiration of the allotted twenty minutes would obey orders literally and go home. No, he would have no further need of Benson and the car—Jimmie Dale smiled curiously, his mind absorbed now in the immediate problem that confronted him—they worked on a carefully prepared and methodical schedule, these minions of Clarke or Marre, allowing ample time in each successive step in their plans that there might be neither confusion nor mistake in what they did. Well, what was ample time for them, was ample time for him! It was not far from the tenement where the Tocsin had said Klanner lived to Baldy Jack's—and Klanner was not due at Baldy Jack's until ten o'clock.
Under the slouch hat, pulled far down over his eyes, Jimmie Dale's brows knitted into a frown. It was true then, and his intuition had not been at fault! It was Clarke who had planned the murder and robbery at the bank that afternoon—and Hunchback Joe, Clarke's familiar, and his accomplices who had carried it out. Yes, it had been clever enough—but difficult enough too! Yet of two alternatives they had chosen the easiest. The document, containing the secret international arrangements for gold shipments into the United States, embracing European commitments, and including transportation details, was always, except when in the banker's personal possession, carefully locked away in the bank's vaults. In the daytime then, it was impossible for a stranger to reach those vaults; and at night time to attempt to force the strongest vaults in the City of New York, with their intricate electric-alarm system, was a task from which even Clarke might shrink!
The Tocsin had made it very clear. The document, or documents, never left the bank's premises; it never left the bank's vaults except when in the possession of the bank's president in the latter's private office. Clarke had therefore chosen the line of least resistance—the bank president's office! And that accounted, he, Jimmie Dale, understood now, for the sudden failure of the Tocsin's plans three nights ago, since it accounted evidently for the sudden disappearance of Hunchback Joe, which had checkmated her on that night and on subsequent nights—for it had taken those three nights to perfect their plans in the bank, and the work there had evidently been done under the personal supervision of Hunchback Joe.
The plan's cleverness and cunning lay in its devilish simplicity—it required only long, painstaking and laborious preparation. There were, according to the newspapers, two entrances to the banker's private office; the customers' entrance from the main rotunda of the bank, and a rear entrance leading in behind the cages to the working quarters of the staff, which was separated from the general offices by a short, narrow, enclosed passage with a second door at the extreme end. The president's office, as befitted his position, was richly furnished, and the passage, being in reality but an adjunct to the office itself, had not been overlooked—it was carpeted with a long Persian rug. That portion of the basement directly beneath the president's office and the passage had been partitioned off into a storeroom for old files and books, and was consequently rarely visited. For the rest, the method was fairly obvious. The storeroom was ceiled in with wood, which, when carefully cut away, could be replaced during the daytime, and so hide all traces of what was going on should any one enter the place. It required, then, simply a certain number of nights' work—and it had taken three. An opening had been cut through the flooring into the passage, and the surface flooring of the passage over the aperture refitted into place, so that, covered by the rug, there was no indication that anything was wrong.
The minor details the Tocsin had passed over—but to supply them required but little effort of the imagination. The president customarily devoted a certain amount of time each afternoon to the matter in question, and immediately on his return from lunch always took the papers from the vault and carried them to his private office. It became, then, simply necessary that the man, or men, hiding in the basement should know when the president was alone; but this would hardly be a very difficult matter, for, with nothing but the upper skin of the flooring left, one had only to post himself in the opening and he could hear as well, almost, as though he were in the private office itself. The entrance could then be effected in the security of the little passage; the rear door of the passage would be silently locked against interruption; the door leading into the president's office, where the president sat with his back to the door, would be silently opened—then a quick leap, soundless on the heavy carpet—the blow of a blackjack—the limp body caught and lowered to the floor—the documents secured—the escape.
The escape! Jimmie Dale had turned suddenly into a pitch-black areaway, and, cautiously now, was making his way to the rear of a three-story tenement of the poorer class. The escape had naturally been accomplished in exactly the same way—the rear door unlocked again to obviate any immediate attention being paid to the passage—the murderer lowering himself through the aperture, and, as he replaced the flooring, manipulating the rug so that it would drop innocently back into place— and the exit from the basement would of course already have been provided for. Jimmie Dale's face was hard. The newspapers, going to press almost at the moment the murder was discovered, though giving a general description of the bank's premises, had had no opportunity to furnish details of the ensuing police investigation; but that the police would eventually discover the hole in the flooring was obvious; that they would also discover it without much delay was equally obvious—and it had been intended that they should. Clarke's object, acting through Hunchback Joe, had been to provide only for the immediate escape—and after that, with callous deviltry, he proposed to utilise this very means of escape to cover up the tracks of the tools who were doing his work, and, backed with another murder, to put the crime upon another's shoulders!
Jimmie Dale had halted now to survey his surroundings, and, his eyes grown accustomed to the darkness, he could make out a door opening on the small yard in which he stood, and to the right of the door an unlighted and closed window. That was Klanner's window. He did not know Klanner, the bank's janitor—except that he knew him as an innocent man, as the proposed victim of as foul and black and pitiless a conspiracy as had ever been hatched in a human brain! Nor did he know Hunchback Joe—save by reputation. The man was a comparative newcomer in the underworld. He had bought out a small ship-chandler's business, a rickety, out-at-the-heels place on an equally rickety old wharf on the East River; and it was generally understood that he was a "fence" of a sort, making a speciality of, and catering to, a certain extensive and vicious class of thieves, the wharf rats, who infested the city's shipping—his ostensible business of a ship-chandler enabling him to handle and dispose of that class of stolen property with comparative immunity.
Jimmie Dale was crouching at the door, a little steel picklock in his fingers. It was fairly evident now that the underworld in general had but an extremely superficial acquaintance with Hunchback Joe; that Hunchback Joe's minor depredations against the law were but a cloak to—the mental soliloquy ended abruptly. Jimmie Dale drew suddenly back from the door, and, retreating along the wall of the building, crouched down in the darkness beneath the window. What was that? It came again——a step, stealthy, cautious, from the areaway—and now another step—there were two men there.
The picklock was back in his pocket, and, in its place, his fingers closed around the stock of his automatic. A shadow showed around the corner of the building, a queer, twisted, misshapen shadow—it was followed by another. Jimmie Dale drew in his breath softly. Hunchback Joe! He had rather expected that the man would already have come and gone, that this initial act of the brutal drama staged for the night's work would already have been performed. Well, it did not matter! There was still time—time to wait while Hunchback Joe did his work here, time in turn to do his own and still reach Baldy Jack's before ten o'clock.
From somewhere in the distance came the roar and rattle of an elevated train; from a neighbouring tenement came the strains of a wheezy phonograph. The figures were at the rear door of the tenement now. A minute passed; the door opened, closed, the two figures had disappeared—and then, in a flash, Jimmie Dale had straightened up, and a steel jimmy was working with deft, silent speed at the window sash. He had the time it would take Hunchback Joe to reach and open Klanner's door from the hall inside—no more. And if he could watch Hunchback Joe at work it would simplify to a very large extent his own task when Hunchback Joe was through; there would be no necessity for a search, and—ah! The window gave. He raised it noiselessly, reached inside and pulled down the roller shade to within an inch of the sill, and pulled the window down again to a little below the level of the shade. The opening left was unnoticeable—but he could now both see and hear.
There came a faint sound from within—the creak of a slowly opening door, a step across the floor, then the flare of a match, and the light in the room went on.
Jimmie Dale was drawn back now against the wall at one corner of the window, his eyes on a level with the sill. He had made no mistake about that misshapen, twisted shadow—it was Hunchback Joe. Jimmie Dale's eyes travelled to the hunchback's companion—and narrowed as he recognised the other. The man was well enough known in the underworld, a hanger-on for the most part, a confirmed hop-fighter, though when not under the influence of the drug he was counted one of the cleverest second-story workers and lock-pickers in the Bad Lands—Hoppy Meggs, they called him. Again Jimmie Dale's eyes shifted—to Hunchback Joe once more. Like some abnormal and repulsive toad the man looked. His shoulders were thrust upward until they seemed to merge with the head itself, the body was crooked and bent forward, due to the ugly deformity of the man's back, while the face was carried at an upward tilt, as though tardily to rectify the curvature of the spine, and out of the sinister, bearded face, the beard tawny and ill-kempt, little black eyes from under protruding brows blinked ceaselessly.
A sudden fury, an anger hot and passionate seized upon Jimmie Dale; and there came an impulse almost overpowering to play another role, a deadlier, grimmer role than that of spectator! A toad, he had called the man. He was wrong—the man was a devil in human guise. He crushed back the impulse, a cold smile on his lips. He could afford to wait! It was not time yet. There was still the game to play out. He would have an opportunity to give full sway to impulse before the night was out, before the Tocsin should have set the Secret Service men upon the other's trail—before midnight came.
Hunchback Joe was speaking now.
"Go on, Hoppy; get busy!" he ordered sharply, jerking his hand toward a, trunk that stood at the foot of the cheap iron bedstead. "Get that opened. Hurry up! And see that you don't leave any scratches on it, or—you understand!" He leaned forward, leering with sudden savagery at his companion.
Hoppy Meggs moved forward, dropped on his knees in front of the trunk, examined the lock for an instant—and grunted in contempt.
"Aw, it's a cinch! Say, I could do it wid a hairpin!" he grinned—and a moment later threw back the lid.
Hunchback Joe drew a short, ugly blackjack, a packet of papers, and a large roll of bills from his pocket, and tossed the articles into the trunk.
"Lock it again!" he instructed tersely.
Hoppy Meggs hesitated—he was staring into the trunk.
"Say, youse don't mean dat—do youse?" he demanded heavily. "Not dem papers dat—"
Hunchback Joe's smile was not pleasant.
"Lock the trunk!" he said curtly. And then, as Hoppy Meggs closed down the lid: "I didn't bring you here to offer any advice; but as I don't want you to labour under the impression that, not having any brains of your own, there aren't, therefore, any brains at all to stand between you and the police, I'll tell you. If they recover the original document, besides fixing the crime on Klanner, they'll figure they've got it back before any harm has been done, and before it has been passed on to whoever had paid down the little cash advance to Klanner for the job in the shape of that roll there—eh? And figuring that way they won't change any of the plans or details as they stand now in those papers—eh? And meanwhile a copy is just as good to the man who is coughing up to you and me and the rest of us for this, isn't it?"
"My Gawd!" said Hoppy Meggs in fervent admiration, as he locked the trunk.
"Yes," said Hunchback Joe—and the snarl was back in his voice. "And now you see to it that you've got the rest of what you've got to do straight. It won't pay you to make any mistakes! Let the Mole's crowd start something before you pull the lights—it's got to look like a drunken row where the bystander, with nobody but himself to blame for being in such a place as that, accidentally gets his! And you tip the Kid off again to leave Klanner by his lonesome at the table before the trouble starts, or he'll get in bad himself. The Kid can pull a fake play to make up with some moll across the room. Klanner's no friend of his, he never saw the man before—you understand?—just ran into him outside the dance hall, if any questions are asked. But I don't want any questions, and there won't be any if he plays his hand right. Tell him I said his job's over once he has Klanner inside—and to stand from under. Get me?"
"Sure!" said Hoppy Meggs.
"Well, we'll beat it, then," snapped Hunchback Joe.
The room was in darkness again. Jimmie Dale crouched further back along the wall. The rear door opened, two shadows emerged, passed around the corner of the tenement—and disappeared.
The minutes passed, five of them, and then Jimmie Dale, too, was making his way softly along the areaway to the street—but in Jimmie Dale's pockets were the short leaden blackjack, ugly for the stain on its leathern covering, the packet of papers, and the roll of banknotes that had been in Klanner's trunk. He gained the street, paused under the nearest street lamp to consult his watch, and swung briskly along again. It was a matter of only two blocks to Baldy Jack's, one of the most infamous dance halls in the Bad Lands, but it was already ten minutes to ten.
And now a curious metamorphosis came to Jimmie Dale's appearance. The neat, well-fitting Fifth Avenue tweeds did not fit quite so perfectly—the coat bunched a little at the shoulders, the trousers were drawn a little higher until they lost their "set." His hat was pulled still farther over his eyes, but at a more rakish angle, and his tie, tucked into his shirt bosom just below the collar, exposed blatantly a diamond shirt stud. But on Jimmie Dale's lips there was an ominous smile not wholly in keeping with the somewhat jaunty swagger he had assumed, and the lines at the corners of his mouth were drawn down hard and sharp. It was miserable work, the work of a hound and cur! Who, better than the janitor of the bank, would have had the opportunity to carry on that work there! And so they had selected Klanner as their victim. But Klanner, if allowed to talk, might be able to defend himself—therefore Klanner would not be allowed to talk. There was only one way to prevent that effectively—by killing Klanner. But, again, Klanner's death must not appear in any way to be consequent to the murder at the bank—therefore it was to bear every evidence of having been purely inadvertent, and, in a way, an accident. Yes, it was crafty enough, hideous enough to be fully worthy even of the fiendish brain that had planned it! Kid Greer, having probably struck up an acquaintance with Klanner during the past few days, had inveigled Klanner to-night into Baldy Jack's, ostensibly, no doubt, for an innocent and casual glass of beer, and in a general row and melee in the dance hall—not an uncommon occurrence in a place like Baldy Jack's—Klanner would be shot and killed. The rest was obvious. The man's effects would naturally be examined, and the evidence of his "guilt" found in his trunk. It was an open and shut game against a dead man! Even his previous good record would smash on the rock of a presumed double life. The fact that Klanner had voluntarily been in a place like Baldy Jack's was damning in itself!
Jimmie Dale, approaching the garishly lighted exterior of the dance hall now, lit a cigarette. The plan, if successful, placed the guilt without question or cavil upon Klanner, but that was not all—strong as that motive might be, Clarke had had still another in view, and one that perhaps took precedence over the first. Hunchback Joe had defined it clearly enough. The documents would have been valueless to Clarke, either to sell, or to put to any use himself, if the plans and arrangements they contained were subsequently altered or changed. But it was obvious that a man in Klanner's station could have no personal interest in them; it was obvious, as evidenced by the money, that he was working for some one else, and therefore the documents appearing in his trunk would logically appear to have been recovered before he had been able to hand them over to his principal, and before any vital harm had been done that would necessitate any change in the details they contained.
Jimmie Dale pushed the door of the dance hall open, and stepped nonchalantly inside. It was the usual scene, there was the usual hilarious uproar, the usual close, almost fetid atmosphere that mingled the odours of stale beer and tobacco. Baldy Jack's was always popular, and the place, even for that early hour, was already doing a thriving business. Jimmie Dale's eyes, from a dozen couples swirling in the throes of the bunny-hug on the polished section of the floor in the centre of the hall, strayed over the little tables that were ranged three and four deep around the walls. At the upper end of the room a man, fair-haired and neatly dressed, though his clothes were evidently not those of one in over-affluent circumstances, sat alone at one of the tables. It might, or might not, be Klanner. Jimmie Dale strolled forward up the hall, and, as though deliberating over his selection of a seat, paused by the table. The man looked up. There was a long, jagged scar on the other's right cheek bone. It was Klanner. Jimmie Dale pulled out a chair at a vacant table directly behind the other, and sat down. A waiter, in beer-spotted apron and balancing a dripping tray, came for his order.
"Suds!" said Jimmie Dale laconically.
Again Jimmie Dale's eyes made a circuit of the place, failed to identify the person of one Kid Greer, and, giving up the attempt, rested speculatively instead on Klanner's back. Yes, he could quite fully understand why the Tocsin could not have warned Klanner to beware, for instance, of Kid Greer. Such a warning, apart from keeping Hunchback Joe from planting the evidence, would even have defeated its own end—for, even to save Klanner, the game had to be played out as Hunchback Joe had planned it. They meant to "get" Klanner, and if not here at Baldy Jack's, then somewhere else. She knew what they meant to do here—she might not know when, or how, or where they would make the attempt if they had been forced to change their plans.
Jimmie Dale tossed a coin on the table, as the waiter set down a glass of beer in front of him—and then, over the top of the glass, Jimmie Dale resumed his scrutiny of the hall. Directly behind him was a back entrance that opened on a lane at the rear of the building; and between himself and the entrance was only one table, which was unoccupied. Jimmie Dale, playing with his match box, as he lighted another cigarette, dropped the box, stooped to pick it up—and drew his chair unostentatiously nearer to Klanner.
It was ten o'clock now, time that—yes, the game was on—now! A man, that he recognised as one of the Mole's gunmen, had dropped into a seat a couple of tables away from Klanner, where there was a clear space between the two men. There was a sudden jostling among the dancers on the floor—then an oath, rising high above the riot of talk and laughter—a swirl of figures—a medley of shouts and women's screams, drowning out the squeak of the musicians' violins and the thump of the tinny piano.
Jimmie Dale's jaws locked hard together. There was a struggling, Furious mob at the lower end of the hall—but his eyes now never left the gunman two tables away. Klanner, in dazed amazement, had half risen from his seat, as though uncertain what to do. The screams, shouts, oaths and yells grew louder—came the roar of a revolver shot—another—pandemonium was reigning now. It seemed an hour, a great period of time since the first shout had rung through the hall—it had been but a matter of seconds. Jimmie Dale was crouched a little forward in his chair now, tense, motionless. What was holding Hoppy Meggs! This was Hoppy Meggs' cue, wasn't it?—those shots there, aimed at the floor, had only been to create the panic—there was to be another shot that—
The hall was in sudden darkness. With a spring, quick on the instant, Jimmie Dale was upon Klanner's back, hurling the man to the floor. The tongue-flame of a revolver split the black over his head; there was the deafening roar of a revolver shot almost in his ears that blotted out for an instant all other sounds—and then came the shouts and cries again in an access of terror and now the rush of feet—a blind stampede in the darkness for the exits. Another shot from the gunman, as though to make his work doubly sure, followed the first—but now some of the fear-stricken crowd had come between them, plunging, falling, tripping over tables and chairs, seeking the rear exit.
"Quick!" Jimmie Dale breathed in Klanner's ear. He was half lifting, half dragging the man along. "Quick—get your feet, man!"
There was a surging mob around them now, pushing, fighting madly to reach the door; and, as Klanner regained his feet, they were both swept forward, and, lunging through the door, were precipitated out into the lane. And here, wary of a riot call that had probably already been rung in by the patrolman on the beat, the crowd was taking to its heels and dispersing in both directions along the lane.
"Quick!" said Jimmie Dale again—and, with his hand on Klanner's arm, broke into a run.
Those running in the same direction turned off from the lane at the first cross street; but Jimmie Dale held to the lane, and it was three blocks away from Baldy Jack's before he stopped.
Klanner was panting from his exertions.
"My God—what's it mean!" he gasped. "I—I thought I saw a revolver in that man's hand, the fellow next to me, just as the lights went out."
"You probably did," said Jimmie Dale grimly.
"Well——what's it mean?" repeated Klanner heavily.
It was a moment before Jimmie Dale answered. For the man's own sake, the less that Klanner knew the better, probably—and yet the man must be kept out of harm's way for the rest of the night. Having failed at Baldy Jack's, it was certain, since Clarke's whole plan hinged on Klanner's death, that they would try again. After to-night—if all went well—it did not matter, for Klanner then would be no longer a factor to Clarke or Hunchback Joe!
"It means," said Jimmie Dale gravely, "that there's been some sort of a gangster's fight pulled off, and that probably there's been dirty work—murder—in there. The police will go the limit to round up everybody they can find who was in Baldy Jack's. There's only one thing to do—keep your mouth shut and lie low to-night. You can't take any chances of getting into this—you look like a man who's got a decent job he doesn't want to lose, and you don't look like a man who is entitled to be saddled with a reputation for hanging around that sort of place. Do you live near here?"
"Yes," said Klanner, a little dully.
"Well then," said Jimmie Dale quietly, "get out of this neighbourhood for the night. Don't risk recognition while the chase is hot. Go uptown somewhere to any hotel you like, and stay there in your room. You can go to work just as well from there in the morning. Got any money?"
"Yes," said Klanner slowly. "Yes, I got some money—and I guess you're right. Say, who are you anyway? You seem to have a line on this sort of thing, and I guess I owe you a whole skin. If you hadn't—"
"I'm a man in a hurry," said Jimmie Dale whimsically—and then the grim note crept back into his voice. "I am giving you a straight tip. Take it—and take that street car that's coming along there." He held out his hand.
"Sure!" said Klanner. "And I—"
"Good-night," said Jimmie Dale, and started abruptly across the street, entering the lane on the other side again—but here, in the shadows, he paused for a moment, watching until Klanner boarded the uptown car.
AT FIVE MINUTES OF TWELVE
Twenty minutes later, well along the East River front, in an unsavoury and deserted neighbourhood, Jimmie Dale was crouched before the door of a small building that seemed built half on the shore edge, and half on an old and run-down pier that extended out into the water. The building itself was little more than a storage shed, and originally had probably laid claims to nothing more pretentious—to-day it served as warehouse and office for Hunchback Joe's "business," and, above, for Hunchback Joe's living quarters. Jimmie Dale glanced around him sharply—not for the first time. There were no other buildings in his immediate vicinity, and such as could be seen loomed up only as black, shadowy, distant shapes—warehouses and small factories, for the most part, and empty and deserted now at night. It was intensely black—only a twinkling light here and there from a passing craft on the river, and the glow from thousands of street lamps that, like some strange aerial illumination, hovered over the opposite shore. The shed itself, windowless at least in front, was as silent, as deserted, and as black as all around it.
Jimmie Dale's hand stole into his pocket, produced a black silk mask, adjusted the mask over his face—and then the deft, slim fingers were at work with a little steel instrument on the door lock. A moment more, and the door swung silently inward, slowly, inch by inch. He listened intently. There was no sound. He stepped inside, and silently closed and locked the door behind If Hunchback Joe had not returned yet, it was necessary that Hunchback Joe should find the door as he had left it—locked! Again Jimmie Dale listened—and then the ray of his flashlight circled the place. A miscellany of ship's junk was piled without any attempt at order all over the place; a board partition with two small windows, one on each side of the door, ran from side to side of the shed about a third of the way up its length; and in the sides of the shed itself were also two small, narrow windows—too small and too narrow, Jimmie Dale noted grimly, for the passage of a man's body.
He moved forward cautiously, though he was almost certain that he was ahead of Hunchback Joe. He, Jimmie Dale, had come without an instant's loss of time from Baldy Jack's, and it was more than an even chance that Hunchback Joe would have remained somewhere in the neighbourhood until the affair was over. It would take some little time—not until after the police had restored order—to discover that the attempt upon Klanner had been abortive, that Klanner's body was not lying there dead on the floor. But after that—Jimmie Dale opened the door of the partition stealthily, slipped through, and, as his flashlight swept around again, nodded his head sharply—yes, he had thought so!—there was a means of communication here—a telephone. Well then, after that, Hunchback Joe would set every crook and tool over whom he had any control at work to find Klanner. But that meant different men at work in many different directions, and there must therefore be some central spot where Hunchback Joe could be instantly reached and reports made to him should Klanner be found—and what better place, what more likely place than here in the security of his own lair! Yes, Hunchback Joe, since he, Jimmie Dale, was now satisfied that the other had not yet returned, would be back here, and, in all probability, long before midnight. Midnight! Why had the Tocsin set midnight, waited for midnight as the hour for the Secret Service raid? Did she have a hidden purpose in that? Was it possible she knew that some one beside Hunchback Joe would also be here at that hour—that Clarke might be here, too! Well, why not! There might well be need for a conference between Clarke and his unholy chief of staff! There might—Jimmie Dale frowned savagely. His mind was running riot! He had not come here to speculate on possibilities; for, whatever might happen, there was definite and instant work to do.
The white ray of the flashlight played steadily now around him. The place evidently served as the office; it was partitioned off again in exactly the same manner from the rear of the shed, making an oblong enclosure the width of the shed one way, and a good fifteen feet the other. It was electric-lighted, and contained a battered table in lieu of desk, upon which stood the telephone; there were several chairs, and a safe, whose scratched, marred, and apparently ramshackle exterior did not disguise from Jimmie Dale the fact that it was of the finest and most modern make.
A rough, wooden stairway led above. Jimmie Dale mounted this, found that it gave on a crudely furnished, attic-like bedroom, and then descending again, he opened the rear door of the partition, and flashed his light around the back of the shed. There were a few packing cases here—that was all. The shed was evidently built out to the extreme end of the pier, judging from its depth; and there had been side doors, but these were boarded up and bore evidence of having been long out of use—and there were no windows.
Jimmie Dale returned now to the front of the shed.
"Under the sail-cloth in left corner," she had written. Yes, here it was! He stooped down, a twisted smile on his lips, and, taking from his pocket the packet of papers and the blackjack, tucked them under several folds of the cloth. "Unto Caesar!" she had said. Well, he had rendered back to "Caesar" the things that were "Caesar's." He straightened up. The Secret Service men would know where to look—she would have seen to that! "Unto Caesar!" The smile died away, and an angry red tinged Jimmie Dale's cheeks—he was picturing again that scene in Klanner's room, the bestial deviltry of that deformed and hideous creature who, to cover up his own guilt, was railroading an innocent man to death. "Unto Caesar!"—yes, there was grim justice here—but that was not enough! Justice might and would have its turn, but before then there was another sort of justice, too!