E-text pepared by Al Haines
The printed version of this book had two Chapter V's. Rather than renumber all the subsequent chapters in the book, I numbered the first "V" to "V (a)" and the second one to "V (b)".
Supertales of Modern Mystery
[Frontispiece: "Then why can't you marry me?"]
Mckinlay, Stone & Mackenzie New York Copyright, 1913, by The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Blake, the Second Deputy, raised his gloomy hound's eyes as the door opened and a woman stepped in. Then he dropped them again.
"Hello, Elsie!" he said, without looking at her.
The woman stood a moment staring at him. Then she advanced thoughtfully toward his table desk.
"Hello, Jim!" she answered, as she sank into the empty chair at the desk end. The rustling of silk suddenly ceased. An aphrodisiac odor of ambergris crept through the Deputy-Commissioner's office.
The woman looped up her veil, festooning it about the undulatory roll of her hat brim. Blake continued his solemnly preoccupied study of the desk top.
"You sent for me," the woman finally said. It was more a reminder than a question. And the voice, for all its quietness, carried no sense of timidity. The woman's pale face, where the undulating hat brim left the shadowy eyes still more shadowy, seemed fortified with a calm sense of power. It was something more than a dormant consciousness of beauty, though the knowledge that men would turn back to a face so wistful as hers, and their judgment could be dulled by a smile so narcotizing, had not a little to do with the woman's achieved serenity. There was nothing outwardly sinister about her. This fact had always left her doubly dangerous as a law-breaker.
Blake himself, for all his dewlap and his two hundred pounds of lethargic beefiness, felt a vague and inward stirring as he finally lifted his head and looked at her. He looked into the shadowy eyes under the level brows. He could see, as he had seen before, that they were exceptional eyes, with iris rings of deep gray about the ever-widening and ever-narrowing pupils which varied with varying thought, as though set too close to the brain that controlled them. So dominating was this pupil that sometimes the whole eye looked violet, and sometimes green, according to the light.
Then his glance strayed to the woman's mouth, where the upper lip curved outward, from the base of the straight nose, giving her at first glance the appearance of pouting. Yet the heavier underlip, soft and wilful, contradicted this impression of peevishness, deepened it into one of Ishmael-like rebellion.
Then Blake looked at the woman's hair. It was abundant and nut-brown, and artfully and scrupulously interwoven and twisted together. It seemed to stand the solitary pride of a life claiming few things of which to be proud. Blake remembered how that wealth of nut-brown hair was daily plaited and treasured and coiled and cared for, the meticulous attentiveness with which morning by morning its hip-reaching abundance was braided and twisted and built up about the small head, an intricate structure of soft wonder which midnight must ever see again in ruins, just as the next morning would find idly laborious fingers rebuilding its ephemeral glories. This rebuilding was done thoughtfully and calmly, as though it were a religious rite, as though it were a sacrificial devotion to an ideal in a life tragically forlorn of beauty.
He remembered, too, the day when he had first seen her. That was at the time of "The Sick Millionaire" case, when he had first learned of her association with Binhart. She had posed at the Waldorf as a trained nurse, in that case, and had met him and held him off and outwitted him at every turn. Then he had decided on his "plant." To effect this he had whisked a young Italian with a lacerated thumb up from the City Hospital and sent him in to her as an injured elevator-boy looking for first-aid treatment. One glimpse of her work on that thumb showed her to be betrayingly ignorant of both figure-of-eight and spica bandaging, and Blake, finally satisfied as to the imposture, carried on his investigation, showed "Doctor Callahan" to be Connie Binhart, the con-man and bank thief, and sent the two adventurers scurrying away to shelter.
He remembered, too, how seven months after that first meeting Stimson of the Central Office had brought her to Headquarters, fresh from Paris, involved in some undecipherable way in an Aix-les-Bains diamond robbery. The despatches had given his office very little to work on, and she had smiled at his thunderous grillings and defied his noisy threats. But as she sat there before him, chic and guarded, with her girlishly frail body so arrogantly well gowned, she had in some way touched his lethargic imagination. She showed herself to be of finer and keener fiber than the sordid demireps with whom he had to do. Shimmering and saucy and debonair as a polo pony, she had seemed a departure from type, something above the meretricious termagants round whom he so often had to weave his accusatory webs of evidence.
Then, the following autumn, she was still again mysteriously involved in the Sheldon wire-tapping coup. This Montreal banker named Sheldon, from whom nearly two hundred thousand dollars had been wrested, put a bullet through his head rather than go home disgraced, and she had straightway been brought down to Blake, for, until the autopsy and the production of her dupe's letters, Sheldon's death had been looked upon as a murder.
Blake had locked himself in with the white-faced Miss Elsie Verriner, alias Chaddy Cravath, alias Charlotte Carruthers, and for three long hours he had pitted his dynamic brute force against her flashing and snake-like evasiveness. He had pounded her with the artillery of his inhumanities. He had beleaguered her with explosive brutishness. He had bulldozed and harried her into frantic weariness. He had third-degreed her into cowering and trembling indignation, into hectic mental uncertainties. Then, with the fatigue point well passed, he had marshaled the last of his own animal strength and essayed the final blasphemous Vesuvian onslaught that brought about the nervous breakdown, the ultimate collapse. She had wept, then, the blubbering, loose-lipped, abandoned weeping of hysteria. She had stumbled forward and caught at his arm and clung to it, as though it were her last earthly pillar of support. Her huge plaited ropes of hair had fallen down, thick brown ropes longer than his own arms, and he, breathing hard, had sat back and watched them as she wept.
But Blake was neither analytical nor introspective. How it came about he never quite knew. He felt, after his blind and inarticulate fashion, that this scene of theirs, that this official assault and surrender, was in some way associated with the climacteric transports of camp-meeting evangelism, that it involved strange nerve-centers touched on in rhapsodic religions, that it might even resemble the final emotional surrender of reluctant love itself to the first aggressive tides of passion. What it was based on, what it arose from, he could not say. But in the flood-tide of his own tumultuous conquest he had watched her abandoned weeping and her tumbled brown hair. And as he watched, a vague and troubling tingle sped like a fuse-sputter along his limbs, and fired something dormant and dangerous in the great hulk of a body which had never before been stirred by its explosion of emotion. It was not pity, he knew; for pity was something quite foreign to his nature. Yet as she lay back, limp and forlorn against his shoulder, sobbing weakly out that she wanted to be a good woman, that she could be honest if they would only give her a chance, he felt that thus to hold her, to shield her, was something desirable.
She had stared, weary and wide-eyed, as his head had bent closer down over hers. She had drooped back, bewildered and unresponsive, as his heavy lips had closed on hers that were still wet and salty with tears. When she had left the office, at the end of that strange hour, she had gone with the promise of his protection.
The sobering light of day, with its cynic relapse to actualities, might have left that promise a worthless one, had not the prompt evidence of Sheldon's suicide come to hand. This made Blake's task easier than he had expected. The movement against Elsie Verriner was "smothered" at Headquarters. Two days later she met Blake by appointment. That day, for the first time in his life, he gave flowers to a woman.
Two weeks later he startled her with the declaration that he wanted to marry her. He did n't care about her past. She 'd been dragged into the things she 'd done without understanding them, at first, and she 'd kept on because there 'd been no one to help her away from them. He knew he could do it. She had a fine streak in her, and he wanted to bring it out!
A little frightened, she tried to explain that she was not the marrying kind. Then, brick-red and bull-necked, he tried to tell her in his groping Celtic way that he wanted children, that she meant a lot to him, that he was going to try to make her the happiest woman south of Harlem.
This had brought into her face a quick and dangerous light which he found hard to explain. He could see that she was flattered by what he had said, that his words had made her waywardly happy, that for a moment, in fact, she had been swept off her feet.
Then dark afterthought interposed. It crept like a cloud across her abandoned face. It brought about a change so prompt that it disturbed the Second Deputy.
"You 're—you 're not tied up already, are you?" he had hesitatingly demanded. "You 're not married?"
"No, I 'm not tied up!" she had promptly and fiercely responded. "My life 's my own—my own!"
"Then why can't you marry me?" the practical-minded man had asked.
"I could!" she had retorted, with the same fierceness as before. Then she had stood looking at him out of wistful and unhappy eyes. "I could—if you only understood, if you could only help me the way I want to be helped!"
She had clung to his arm with a tragic forlornness that seemed to leave her very wan and helpless. And he had found it ineffably sweet to enfold that warm mass of wan helplessness in his own virile strength.
She asked for time, and he was glad to consent to the delay, so long as it did not keep him from seeing her. In matters of the emotions he was still as uninitiated as a child. He found himself a little dazed by the seemingly accidental tenderness, by the promises of devotion, in which she proved so lavish. Morning by jocund morning he built up his airy dreams, as carefully as she built up her nut-brown plaits. He grew heavily light-headed with his plans for the future. When she pleaded with him never to leave her, never to trust her too much, he patted her thin cheek and asked when she was going to name the day. From that finality she still edged away, as though her happiness itself were only experimental, as though she expected the blue sky above them to deliver itself of a bolt.
But by this time she had become a habit with him. He liked her even in her moodiest moments. When, one day, she suggested that they go away together, anywhere so long as it was away, he merely laughed at her childishness.
It was, in fact, Blake himself who went away. After nine weeks of alternating suspense and happiness that seemed nine weeks of inebriation to him, he was called out of the city to complete the investigation on a series of iron-workers' dynamite outrages. Daily he wrote or wired back to her. But he was kept away longer than he had expected. When he returned to New York she was no longer there. She had disappeared as completely as though an asphalted avenue had opened and swallowed her up. It was not until the following winter that he learned she was again with Connie Binhart, in southern Europe.
He had known his one belated love affair. It had left no scar, he claimed, because it had made no wound. Binhart, he consoled himself, had held the woman in his power: there had been no defeat because there had been no actual conquest. And now he could face her without an eye-blink of conscious embarrassment. Yet it was good to remember that Connie Binhart was going to be ground in the wheels of the law, and ground fine, and ground to a finish.
"What did you want me for, Jim?" the woman was again asking him. She spoke with an intimate directness, and yet in her attitude were subtle reservations, a consciousness of the thin ice on which they both stood. Each saw, only too plainly, the need for great care, in every step. In each lay the power to uncover, at a hand's turn, old mistakes that were best unremembered. Yet there was a certain suave audacity about the woman. She was not really afraid of Blake, and the Second Deputy had to recognize that fact. This self-assurance of hers he attributed to the recollection that she had once brought about his personal subjugation, "got his goat," as he had phrased it. She, woman-like, would never forget it.
"There 's a man I want. And Schmittenberg tells me you know where he is." Blake, as he spoke, continued to look heavily down at his desk top.
"Yes?" she answered cautiously, watching herself as carefully as an actress with a role to sustain, a role in which she could never quite letter-perfect.
"It's Connie Binhart," cut out the Second Deputy.
He could see discretion drop like a curtain across her watching face.
"Connie Binhart!" she temporized. Blake, as his heavy side glance slewed about to her, prided himself on the fact that he could see through her pretenses. At any other time he would have thrown open the flood-gates of that ever-inundating anger of his and swept away all such obliquities.
"I guess," he went on with slow patience "we know him best round here as Charles Blanchard."
"Blanchard?" she echoed.
"Yes, Blanchard, the Blanchard we 've been looking for, for seven months now, the Blanchard who chloroformed Ezra Newcomb and carried off a hundred and eighteen thousand dollars."
"Newcomb?" again meditated the woman.
"The Blanchard who shot down the bank detective in Newcomb's room when the rest of the bank was listening to a German band playing in the side street, a band hired for the occasion."
"When was that?" demanded the woman.
"That was last October," he answered with a sing-song weariness suggestive of impatience at such supererogative explanations.
"I was at Monte Carlo all last autumn," was the woman's quick retort.
Blake moved his heavy body, as though to shoulder away any claim as to her complicity.
"I know that," he acknowledged. "And you went north to Paris on the twenty-ninth of November. And on the third of December you went to Cherbourg; and on the ninth you landed in New York. I know all that. That's not what I 'm after. I want to know where Connie Binhart is, now, to-day."
Their glances at last came together. No move was made; no word was spoken. But a contest took place.
"Why ask me?" repeated the woman for the second time. It was only too plain that she was fencing.
"Because you know," was Blake's curt retort. He let the gray-irised eyes drink in the full cup of his determination. Some slowly accumulating consciousness of his power seemed to intimidate her. He could detect a change in her hearing, in her speech itself.
"Jim, I can't tell you," she slowly asserted. "I can't do it!"
"But I 've got 'o know," he stubbornly maintained. "And I 'm going to."
She sat studying him for a minute or two. Her face had lost its earlier arrogance. It seemed troubled; almost touched with fear. She was not altogether ignorant, he reminded himself, of the resources which he could command.
"I can't tell you," she repeated. "I'd rather you let me go."
The Second Deputy's smile, scoffing and melancholy, showed how utterly he ignored her answer. He looked at his watch. Then he looked back at the woman. A nervous tug-of-war was taking place between her right and left hand, with a twisted-up pair of ecru gloves for the cable.
"You know me," he began again in his deliberate and abdominal bass. "And I know you. I 've got 'o get this man Binhart. I 've got 'o! He 's been out for seven months, now, and they 're going to put it up to me, to me, personally. Copeland tried to get him without me. He fell down on it. They all fell down on it. And now they're going to throw the case back on me. They think it 'll be my Waterloo."
He laughed. His laugh was as mirthless as the cackle of a guinea hen. "But I 'm going to die hard, believe me! And if I go down, if they think they can throw me on that, I 'm going to take a few of my friends along with me."
"Is that a threat?" was the woman's quick inquiry. Her eyes narrowed again, for she had long since learned, and learned it to her sorrow, that every breath he drew was a breath of self-interest.
"No; it's just a plain statement." He slewed about in his swivel chair, throwing one thick leg over the other as he did so. "I hate to holler Auburn at a girl like you, Elsie; but I 'm going—"
"Auburn?" she repeated very quietly. Then she raised her eyes to his. "Can you say a thing like that to me, Jim?"
He shifted a little in his chair. But he met her gaze without a wince.
"This is business, Elsie, and you can't mix business and—and other things," he tailed off at last, dropping his eyes.
"I 'm sorry you put it that way," she said. "I hoped we 'd be better friends than that!"
"I'm not counting on friendship in this!" he retorted.
"But it might have been better, even in this!" she said. And the artful look of pity on her face angered him.
"Well, we 'll begin on something nearer home!" he cried.
He reached down into his pocket and produced a small tinted oblong of paper. He held it, face out, between his thumb and forefinger, so that she could read it.
"This Steinert check 'll do the trick. Take a closer look at the signature. Do you get it?"
"What about it?" she asked, without a tremor.
He restored the check to his wallet and the wallet to his pocket. She would find it impossible to outdo him in the matter of impassivity.
"I may or I may not know who forged that check. I don't want to know. And when you tell me where Binhart is, I won't know."
"That check was n't forged," contended the quiet-eyed woman.
"Steinert will swear it was," declared the Second Deputy.
She sat without speaking, apparently in deep study. Her intent face showed no fear, no bewilderment, no actual emotion of any kind.
"You 've got 'o face it," said Blake, sitting back and waiting for her to speak. His attitude was that of a physician at a bedside, awaiting the prescribed opiate to produce its prescribed effect.
"Will I be dragged into this case, in any way, if Binhart is rounded up?" the woman finally asked.
"Not once," he asserted.
"You promise me that?"
"Of course," answered the Second Deputy.
"And you 'll let me alone on—on the other things?" she calmly exacted.
"Yes," he promptly acknowledged. "I 'll see that you 're let alone."
Again she looked at him with her veiled and judicial eyes. Then she dropped her hands into her lap. The gesture seemed one of resignation.
"Binhart's in Montreal," she said.
Blake, keeping his face well under control, waited for her to go on.
"He 's been in Montreal for weeks now. You 'll find him at 381 King Edward Avenue, in Westmount. He 's there, posing as an expert accountant."
She saw the quick shadow of doubt, the eye-flash of indecision. So she reached quietly down and opened her pocket-book, rummaging through its contents for a moment or two. Then she handed Blake a folded envelope.
"You know his writing?" she asked.
"I 've seen enough of it," he retorted, as he examined the typewritten envelope post-marked "Montreal, Que." Then he drew out the inner sheet. On it, written by pen, he read the message: "Come to 381 King Edward when the coast is clear," and below this the initials "C. B."
Blake, with the writing still before his eyes, opened a desk drawer and took out a large reading-glass. Through the lens of this he again studied the inscription, word by word. Then he turned to the office 'phone on his desk.
"Nolan," he said into the receiver, "I want to know if there 's a King Edward Avenue in Montreal."
He sat there waiting, still regarding the handwriting with stolidly reproving eyes. There was no doubt of its authenticity. He would have known it at a glance.
"Yes, sir," came the answer over the wire. "It's one of the newer avenues in Westmount."
Blake, still wrapped in thought, hung up the receiver. The woman facing him did not seem to resent his possible imputation of dishonesty. To be suspicious of all with whom he came in contact was imposed on him by his profession. He was compelled to watch even his associates, his operatives and underlings, his friends as well as his enemies. Life, with him, was a concerto of skepticisms.
She was able to watch him, without emotion, as he again bent forward, took up the 'phone receiver, and this time spoke apparently to another office.
"I want you to wire Teal to get a man out to cover 381 King Edward Avenue, in Montreal. Yes, Montreal. Tell him to get a man out there inside of an hour, and put a night watch on until I relieve 'em."
Then, breathing heavily, he bent over his desk, wrote a short message on a form pad and pushed the buzzer-button with his thick finger. He carefully folded up the piece of paper as he waited.
"Get that off to Carpenter in Montreal right away," he said to the attendant who answered his call. Then he swung about in his chair, with a throaty grunt of content. He sat for a moment, staring at the woman with unseeing eyes. Then he stood up. With his hands thrust deep in his pockets he slowly moved his head back and forth, as though assenting to some unuttered question.
"Elsie, you 're all right," he acknowledged with his solemn and unimaginative impassivity. "You 're all right."
Her quiet gaze, with all its reservations, was a tacit question. He was still a little puzzled by her surrender. He knew she did not regard him as the great man that he was, that his public career had made of him.
"You've helped me out of a hole," he acknowledged as he faced her interrogating eyes with his one-sided smile. "I 'm mighty glad you 've done it, Elsie—for your sake as well as mine."
"What hole?" asked the woman, wearily drawing on her gloves. There was neither open contempt nor indifference on her face. Yet something in her bearing nettled him. The quietness of her question contrasted strangely with the gruffness of the Second Deputy's voice as he answered her.
"Oh, they think I 'm a has-been round here," he snorted. "They 've got the idea I 'm out o' date. And I 'm going to show 'em a thing or two to wake 'em up."
"How?" asked the woman.
"By doing what their whole kid-glove gang have n't been able to do," he avowed. And having delivered himself of that ultimatum, he promptly relaxed into his old-time impassiveness, like a dog snapping from his kennel and shrinking back into its shadows. At the same moment that Blake's thick forefinger again prodded the buzzer-button at his desk end the watching woman could see the relapse into official wariness. It was as though he had put the shutters up in front of his soul. She accepted the movement as a signal of dismissal. She rose from her chair and quietly lowered and adjusted her veil. Yet through that lowered veil she stood looking down at Never-Fail Blake for a moment or two. She looked at him with grave yet casual curiosity, as tourists look at a ruin that has been pointed out to them as historic.
"You did n't give me back Connie Binhart's note," she reminded him as she paused with her gloved finger-tips resting on the desk edge.
"D' you want it?" he queried with simulated indifference, as he made a final and lingering study of it.
"I 'd like to keep it," she acknowledged. When, without meeting her eyes, he handed it over to her, she folded it and restored it to her pocket-book, carefully, as though vast things depended on that small scrap of paper.
Never-Fail Blake, alone in his office and still assailed by the vaguely disturbing perfumes which she had left behind her, pondered her reasons for taking back Binhart's scrap of paper. He wondered if she had at any time actually cared for Binhart. He wondered if she was capable of caring for anybody. And this problem took his thoughts back to the time when so much might have depended on its answer.
The Second Deputy dropped his reading-glass in its drawer and slammed it shut. It made no difference, he assured himself, one way or the other. And in the consolatory moments of a sudden new triumph Never-Fail Blake let his thoughts wander pleasantly back over that long life which (and of this he was now comfortably conscious) his next official move was about to redeem.
It was as a Milwaukee newsboy, at the age of twelve, that "Jimmie" Blake first found himself in any way associated with that arm of constituted authority known as the police force. A plain-clothes man, on that occasion, had given him a two-dollar bill to carry about an armful of evening papers and at the same time "tail" an itinerant pickpocket. The fortifying knowledge, two years later, that the Law was behind him when he was pushed happy and tingling through a transom to release the door-lock for a house-detective, was perhaps a foreshadowing of that pride which later welled up in his bosom at the phrase that he would always "have United Decency behind him," as the social purifiers fell into the habit of putting it.
At nineteen, as a "checker" at the Upper Kalumet Collieries, Blake had learned to remember faces. Slavic or Magyar, Swedish or Calabrian, from that daily line of over two hundred he could always pick his face and correctly call the name. His post meant a life of indolence and petty authority. His earlier work as a steamfitter had been more profitable. Yet at that work he had been a menial; it involved no transom-born thrills, no street-corner tailer's suspense. As a checker he was at least the master of other men.
His public career had actually begun as a strike breaker. The monotony of night-watchman service, followed by a year as a drummer for an Eastern firearm firm, and another year as an inspector for a Pennsylvania powder factory, had infected him with the wanderlust of his kind. It was in Chicago, on a raw day of late November, with a lake wind whipping the street dust into his eyes, that he had seen the huge canvas sign of a hiring agency's office, slapping in the storm. This sign had said:
Being twenty-six and adventurous and out of a job, he had drifted in with the rest of earth's undesirables and asked for work.
After twenty minutes of private coaching in the mysteries of railway signals, he had been "passed" by the desk examiner and sent out as one of the "scab" train crew to move perishable freight, for the Wisconsin Central was then in the throes of its first great strike. And he had gone out as a green brakeman, but he had come back as a hero, with a Tribune reporter posing him against a furniture car for a two-column photo. For the strikers had stoned his train, half killed the "scab" fireman, stalled him in the yards and cut off two thirds of his cars and shot out the cab-windows for full measure. But in the cab with an Irish engine-driver named O'Hagan, Blake had backed down through the yards again, picked up his train, crept up over the tender and along the car tops, recoupled his cars, fought his way back to the engine, and there, with the ecstatic O'Hagan at his side, had hurled back the last of the strikers trying to storm his engine steps. He even fell to "firing" as the yodeling O'Hagan got his train moving again, and then, perched on the tender coal, took pot-shots with his brand-new revolver at a last pair of strikers who were attempting to manipulate the hand-brakes.
That had been the first train to get out of the yards in seven days. Through a godlike disregard of signals, it is true, they had run into an open switch, some twenty-eight miles up the line, but they had moved their freight and won their point.
Blake, two weeks later, had made himself further valuable to that hiring agency, not above subornation of perjury, by testifying in a court of law to the sobriety of a passenger crew who had been carried drunk from their scab-manned train. So naively dogged was he in his stand, so quick was he in his retorts, that the agency, when the strike ended by a compromise ten days later, took him on as one of their own operatives.
Thus James Blake became a private detective. He was at first disappointed in the work. It seemed, at first, little better than his old job as watchman and checker. But the agency, after giving him a three-week try out at picket work, submitted him to the further test of a "shadowing" case. That first assignment of "tailing" kept him thirty-six hours without sleep, but he stuck to his trail, stuck to it with the blind pertinacity of a bloodhound, and at the end transcended mere animalism by buying a tip from a friendly bartender. Then, when the moment was ripe, he walked into the designated hop-joint and picked his man out of an underground bunk as impassively as a grocer takes an egg crate from a cellar shelf.
After his initial baptism of fire in the Wisconsin Central railway yards, however, Blake yearned for something more exciting, for something more sensational. His hopes rose, when, a month later, he was put on "track" work. He was at heart fond of both a good horse and a good heat. He liked the open air and the stir and movement and color of the grand-stand crowds. He liked the "ponies" with the sunlight on their satin flanks, the music of the band, the gaily appareled women. He liked, too, the off-hand deference of the men about him, from turnstile to betting shed, once his calling was known. They were all ready to curry favor with him, touts and rail-birds, dockers and owners, jockeys and gamblers and bookmakers, placating him with an occasional "sure-thing" tip from the stables, plying him with cigars and advice as to how he should place his money. There was a tacit understanding, of course, that in return for these courtesies his vision was not to be too keen nor his manner too aggressive. When he was approached by an expert "dip" with the offer of a fat reward for immunity in working the track crowds, Blake carefully weighed the matter, pro and con, equivocated, and decided he would gain most by a "fall." So he planted a barber's assistant with whom he was friendly, descended on the pickpocket in the very act of going through that bay-rum scented youth's pocket, and secured a conviction that brought a letter of thanks from the club stewards and a word or two of approval from his head office.
That head office, seeing that they had a man to be reckoned with, transferred Blake to their Eastern division, with headquarters at New York, where new men and new faces were at the moment badly needed.
They worked him hard, in that new division, but he never objected. He was sober; he was dependable; and he was dogged with the doggedness of the unimaginative. He wanted to get on, to make good, to be more than a mere "operative." And if his initial assignments gave him little but "rough-neck" work to do, he did it without audible complaint. He did bodyguard service, he handled strike breakers, he rounded up freight-car thieves, he was given occasionally "spot" and "tailing" work to do. Once, after a week of upholstered hotel lounging on a divorce case he was sent out on night detail to fight river pirates stealing from the coal-road barges.
In the meantime, being eager and unsatisfied, he studied his city. Laboriously and patiently he made himself acquainted with the ways of the underworld. He saw that all his future depended upon acquaintanceship with criminals, not only with their faces, but with their ways and their women and their weaknesses. So he started a gallery, a gallery of his own, a large and crowded gallery between walls no wider than the bones of his own skull. To this jealously guarded and ponderously sorted gallery he day by day added some new face, some new scene, some new name. Crook by crook he stored them away there, for future reference. He got to know the "habituals" and the "timers," the "gangs" and their "hang outs" and "fences." He acquired an array of confidence men and hotel beats and queer shovers and bank sneaks and wire tappers and drum snuffers. He made a mental record of dips and yeggs and till-tappers and keister-crackers, of panhandlers and dummy chuckers, of sun gazers and schlaum workers. He slowly became acquainted with their routes and their rendezvous, their tricks and ways and records. But, what was more important, he also grew into an acquaintanceship with ward politics, with the nameless Power above him and its enigmatic traditions. He got to know the Tammany heelers, the men with "pull," the lads who were to be "pounded" and the lads who were to be let alone, the men in touch with the "Senator," and the gangs with the fall money always at hand.
Blake, in those days, was a good "mixer." He was not an "office" man, and was never dubbed high-brow. He was not above his work; no one accused him of being too refined for his calling. Through a mind such as his the Law could best view the criminal, just as a solar eclipse is best viewed through smoked glass.
He could hobnob with bartenders and red-lighters, pass unnoticed through a slum, join casually in a stuss game, or loaf unmarked about a street corner. He was fond of pool and billiards, and many were the unconsidered trifles he picked up with a cue in his hand. His face, even in those early days, was heavy and inoffensive. Commonplace seemed to be the word that fitted him. He could always mix with and become one of the crowd. He would have laughed at any such foolish phrase as "protective coloration." Yet seldom, he knew, men turned back to look at him a second time. Small-eyed, beefy and well-fed, he could have passed, under his slightly tilted black boulder, as a truck driver with a day off.
What others might have denominated as "dirty work" he accepted with heavy impassivity, consoling himself with the contention that its final end was cleanness. And one of his most valuable assets, outside his stolid heartlessness, was his speaking acquaintanceship with the women of the underworld. He remained aloof from them even while he mixed with them. He never grew into a "moll-buzzer." But in his rough way he cultivated them. He even helped some of them out of their troubles—in consideration for "tips" which were to be delivered when the emergency arose. They accepted his gruffness as simple-mindedness, as blunt honesty. One or two, with their morbid imaginations touched by his seeming generosities, made wistful amatory advances which he promptly repelled. He could afford to have none of them with anything "on" him. He saw the need of keeping cool headed and clean handed, with an eye always to the main issue.
And Blake really regarded himself as clean handed. Yet deep in his nature was that obliquity, that adeptness at trickery, that facility in deceit, which made him the success he was. He could always meet a crook on his own ground. He had no extraneous sensibilities to eliminate. He mastered a secret process of opening and reading letters without detection. He became an adept at picking a lock. One of his earlier successes had depended on the cool dexterity with which he had exchanged trunk checks in a Wabash baggage car at Black Rock, allowing the "loft" thief under suspicion to carry off a dummy trunk, while he came into possession of another's belongings and enough evidence to secure his victim's conviction.
At another time, when "tailing" on a badger-game case, he equipped himself as a theatrical "bill-sniper," followed his man about without arousing suspicion, and made liberal use of his magnetized tack-hammer in the final mix up when he made his haul. He did not shirk these mix ups, for he was endowed with the bravery of the unimaginative. This very mental heaviness, holding him down to materialities, kept his contemplation of contingencies from becoming bewildering. He enjoyed the limitations of the men against whom he was pitted. Yet at times he had what he called a "coppered hunch." When, in later years, an occasional criminal of imagination became his enemy, he was often at a loss as to how to proceed. But imaginative criminals, he knew, were rare, and dilemmas such as these proved infrequent. Whatever his shift, or however unsavory his resource, he never regarded himself as on the same basis as his opponents. He had Law on his side; he was the instrument of that great power known as Justice.
As Blake's knowledge of New York and his work increased he was given less and less of the "rough-neck" work to do. He proved himself, in fact, a stolid and painstaking "investigator." As a divorce-suit shadower he was equally resourceful and equally successful. When his agency took over the bankers' protective work he was advanced to this new department, where he found himself compelled to a new term of study and a new circle of alliances. He went laboriously through records of forgers and check raisers and counterfeiters. He took up the study of all such gentry, sullenly yet methodically, like a backward scholar mastering a newly imposed branch of knowledge, thumbing frowningly through official reports, breathing heavily over portrait files and police records, plodding determinedly through counterfeit-detector manuals. For this book work, as he called it, he retained a deep-seated disgust.
The outcome of his first case, later known as the "Todaro National Ten Case," confirmed him in this attitude. Going doggedly over the counterfeit ten-dollar national bank note that had been given him after two older operatives had failed in the case, he discovered the word "Dollars" in small lettering spelt "Ddllers." Concluding that only a foreigner would make a mistake of that nature, and knowing the activity of certain bands of Italians in such counterfeiting efforts, he began his slow and scrupulous search through the purlieus of the East Side. About that search was neither movement nor romance. It was humdrum, dogged, disheartening labor, with the gradual elimination of possibilities and the gradual narrowing down of his field. But across that ever-narrowing trail the accidental little clue finally fell, and on the night of the final raid the desired plates were captured and the notorious and long-sought Todaro rounded up.
So successful was Blake during the following two years that the Washington authorities, coming in touch with him through the operations of the Secret Service, were moved to make him an offer. This offer he stolidly considered and at last stolidly accepted. He became an official with the weight of the Federal authority behind him. He became an investigator with the secrets of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving at his beck. He found himself a cog in a machinery that seemed limitless in its ramifications. He was the agent of a vast and centralized authority, an authority against which there could be no opposition. But he had to school himself to the knowledge that he was a cog, and nothing more. And two things were expected of him, efficiency and silence.
He found a secret pleasure, at first, in the thought of working from under cover, in the sense of operating always in the dark, unknown and unseen. It gave a touch of something Olympian and godlike to his movements. But as time went by the small cloud of discontent on his horizon grew darker, and widened as it blackened. He was avid of something more than power. He thirsted not only for its operation, but also for its display. He rebelled against the idea of a continually submerged personality. He nursed a keen hunger to leave some record of what he did or had done. He objected to it all as a conspiracy of obliteration, objected to it as an actor would object to playing to an empty theater. There was no one to appreciate and applaud. And an audience was necessary. He enjoyed the unctuous salute of the patrolman on his beat, the deferential door-holding of "office boys," the quick attentiveness of minor operatives. But this was not enough. He felt the normal demand to assert himself, to be known at his true worth by both his fellow workers and the world in general.
It was not until the occasion when he had run down a gang of Williamsburg counterfeiters, however, that his name was conspicuously in print. So interesting were the details of this gang's operations, so typical were their methods, that Wilkie or some official under Wilkie had handed over to a monthly known as The Counterfeit Detector a full account of the case. A New York paper has printed a somewhat distorted and romanticized copy of this, having sent a woman reporter to interview Blake—while a staff artist made a pencil drawing of the Secret Service man during the very moments the latter was smilingly denying them either a statement or a photograph. Blake knew that publicity would impair his effectiveness. Some inner small voice forewarned him that all outside recognition of his calling would take away from his value as an agent of the Secret Service. But his hunger for his rights as a man was stronger than his discretion as an official. He said nothing openly; but he allowed inferences to be drawn and the artist's pencil to put the finishing touches to the sketch.
It was here, too, that his slyness, his natural circuitiveness, operated to save him. When the inevitable protest came he was able to prove that he had said nothing and had indignantly refused a photograph. He completely cleared himself. But the hint of an interesting personality had been betrayed to the public, the name of a new sleuth had gone on record, and the infection of curiosity spread like a mulberry rash from newspaper office to newspaper office. A representative of the press, every now and then, would drop in on Blake, or chance to occupy the same smoking compartment with him on a run between Washington and New York, to ply his suavest and subtlest arts for the extraction of some final fact with which to cap an unfinished "story." Blake, in turn, became equally subtle and suave. His lips were sealed, but even silence, he found, could be made illuminative. Even reticence, on occasion, could be made to serve his personal ends. He acquired the trick of surrendering data without any shadow of actual statement.
These chickens, however, all came home to roost. Official recognition was taken of Blake's tendencies, and he was assigned to those cases where a "leak" would prove least embarrassing to the Department. He saw this and resented it. But in the meantime he had been keeping his eyes open and storing up in his cabinet of silence every unsavory rumor and fact that might prove of use in the future. He found himself, in due time, the master of an arsenal of political secrets. And when it came to a display of power he could merit the attention if not the respect of a startlingly wide circle of city officials. When a New York municipal election brought a party turn over, he chose the moment as the psychological one for a display of his power, cruising up and down the coasts of officialdom with his grim facts in tow, for all the world like a flagship followed by its fleet.
It was deemed expedient for the New York authorities to "take care" of him. A berth was made for him in the Central Office, and after a year of laborious manipulation he found himself Third Deputy Commissioner and a power in the land.
If he became a figure of note, and fattened on power, he found it no longer possible to keep as free as he wished from entangling alliances. He had by this time learned to give and take, to choose the lesser of two evils, to pay the ordained price for his triumphs. Occasionally the forces of evil had to be bribed with a promise of protection. For the surrender of dangerous plates, for example, a counterfeiter might receive immunity, or for the turning of State's evidence a guilty man might have to go scott free. At other times, to squeeze confession out of a crook, a cruelty as refined as that of the Inquisition had to be adopted. In one stubborn case the end had been achieved by depriving the victim of sleep, this Chinese torture being kept up until the needed nervous collapse. At another time the midnight cell of a suspected murderer had been "set" like a stage, with all the accessories of his crime, including even the cadaver, and when suddenly awakened the frenzied man had shrieked out his confession. But, as a rule, it was by imposing on his prisoner's better instincts, such as gang-loyalty or pity for a supposedly threatened "rag," that the point was won. In resources of this nature Blake became quite conscienceless, salving his soul with the altogether Jesuitic claim that illegal means were always justified by the legal end.
By the time he had fought his way up to the office of Second Deputy he no longer resented being known as a "rough neck" or a "flat foot." As an official, he believed in roughness; it was his right; and one touch of right made away with all wrong, very much as one grain of pepsin properly disposed might digest a carload of beef. A crook was a crook. His natural end was the cell or the chair, and the sooner he got there the better for all concerned. So Blake believed in "hammering" his victims. He was an advocate of "confrontation." He had faith in the old-fashioned "third-degree" dodges. At these, in his ponderous way, he became an adept, looking on the nervous system of his subject as a nut, to be calmly and relentlessly gnawed at until the meat of truth lay exposed, or to be cracked by the impact of some sudden great shock. Nor was the Second Deputy above resorting to the use of "plants." Sometimes he had to call in a "fixer" to manufacture evidence, that the far-off ends of justice might not be defeated. He made frequent use of women of a certain type, women whom he could intimidate as an officer or buy over as a good fellow. He had his aides in all walks of life, in clubs and offices, in pawnshops and saloons, in hotels and steamers and barber shops, in pool rooms and anarchists' cellars. He also had his visiting list, his "fences" and "stool-pigeons" and "shoo-flies."
He preferred the "outdoor" work, both because he was more at home in it and because it was more spectacular. He relished the bigger cases. He liked to step in where an underling had failed, get his teeth into the situation, shake the mystery out of it, and then obliterate the underling with a half hour of blasphemous abuse. He had scant patience with what he called the "high-collar cops." He consistently opposed the new-fangled methods, such as the Portrait Parle, and pin-maps for recording crime, and the graphic-system boards for marking the movements of criminals. All anthropometric nonsense such as Bertillon's he openly sneered at, just as he scoffed at card indexes and finger prints and other academic innovations which were debilitating the force. He had gathered his own data, at great pains, he nursed his own personal knowledge as to habitual offenders and their aliases, their methods, their convictions and records, their associates and hang outs. He carried his own gallery under his own hat, and he was proud of it. His memory was good, and he claimed always to know his man. His intuitions were strong, and if he disliked a captive, that captive was in some way guilty—and he saw to it that his man did not escape. He was relentless, once his professional pride was involved. Being without imagination, he was without pity. It was, at best, a case of dog eat dog, and the Law, the Law for which he had such reverence, happened to keep him the upper dog.
Yet he was a comparatively stupid man, an amazingly self-satisfied toiler who had chanced to specialize on crime. And even as he became more and more assured of his personal ability, more and more entrenched in his tradition of greatness, he was becoming less and less elastic, less receptive, less adaptive. Much as he tried to blink the fact, he was compelled to depend more and more on the office behind him. His personal gallery, the gallery under his hat, showed a tendency to become both obsolete and inadequate. That endless catacomb of lost souls grew too intricate for one human mind to compass. New faces, new names, new tricks tended to bewilder him. He had to depend more and more on the clerical staff and the finger-print bureau records. His position became that of a villager with a department store on his hands, of a country shopkeeper trying to operate an urban emporium. He was averse to deputizing his official labors. He was ignorant of system and science. He took on the pathos of a man who is out of his time, touched with the added poignancy of a passionate incredulity as to his predicament. He felt, at times, that there was something wrong, that the rest of the Department did not look on life and work as he did. But he could not decide just where the trouble lay. And in his uncertainty he made it a point to entrench himself by means of "politics." It became an open secret that he had a pull, that his position was impregnable. This in turn tended to coarsen his methods. It lifted him beyond the domain of competitive effort. It touched his carelessness with arrogance. It also tinged his arrogance with occasional cruelty.
He redoubled his efforts to sustain the myth which had grown up about him, the myth of his vast cleverness and personal courage. He showed a tendency for the more turbulent centers. He went among murderers without a gun. He dropped into dives, protected by nothing more than the tradition of his office. He pushed his way in through thugs, picked out his man, and told him to come to Headquarters in an hour's time—and the man usually came. His appetite for the spectacular increased. He preferred to head his own gambling raids, ax in hand. But more even than his authority he liked to parade his knowledge. He liked to be able to say: "This is Sheeny Chi's coup!" or, "That's a job that only Soup-Can Charlie could do!" When a police surgeon hit on the idea of etherizing an obdurate "dummy chucker," to determine if the prisoner could talk or not, Blake appropriated the suggestion as his own. And when the "press boys" trooped in for their daily gist of news, he asked them, as usual, not to couple his name with the incident; and they, as usual, made him the hero of the occasion.
For Never-Fail Blake had made it a point to be good to the press boys. He acquired an ability to "jolly" them without too obvious loss of dignity. He took them into his confidences, apparently, and made his disclosures personal matters, individual favors. He kept careful note of their names, their characteristics, their interests. He cultivated them, keeping as careful track of them from city to city as he did of the "big" criminals themselves. They got into the habit of going to him for their special stories. He always exacted secrecy, pretended reluctance, yet parceled out to one reporter and another those dicta to which his name could be most appropriately attached. He even surrendered a clue or two as to how his own activities and triumphs might be worked into a given story. When he perceived that those worldly wise young men of the press saw through the dodge, he became more adept, more adroit, more delicate in method. But the end was the same.
It was about this time that he invested in his first scrap-book. Into this secret granary went every seed of his printed personal history. Then came the higher records of the magazines, the illustrated articles written about "Blake, the Hamard of America," as one of them expressed it, and "Never-Fail Blake," as another put it. He was very proud of those magazine articles, he even made ponderous and painstaking efforts for their repetition, at considerable loss of dignity. Yet he adopted the pose of disclaiming responsibility, of disliking such things, of being ready to oppose them if some effective method could only be thought out. He even hinted to those about him at Headquarters that this seeming garrulity was serving a good end, claiming it to be harmless pother to "cover" more immediate trails on which he pretended to be engaged.
But the scrap-books grew in number and size. It became a task to keep up with his clippings. He developed into a personage, as much a personage as a grand-opera prima donna on tour. His successes were talked over in clubs. His name came to be known to the men in the street. His "camera eye" was now and then mentioned by the scientists. His unblemished record was referred to in an occasional editorial. When an ex-police reporter came to him, asking him to father a macaronic volume bearing the title "Criminals of America," Blake not only added his name to the title page, but advanced three hundred dollars to assist towards its launching.
The result of all this was a subtle yet unmistakable shifting of values, an achievement of public glory at the loss of official confidence. He excused his waning popularity among his co-workers on the ground of envy. It was, he held, merely the inevitable penalty for supreme success in any field. But a hint would come, now and then, that troubled him. "You think you 're a big gun, Blake," one of his underworld victims once had the temerity to cry out at him. "You think you 're the king of the Hawkshaws! But if you were on my side of the fence, you 'd last about as long as a snowball on a crownsheet!"
It was not until the advent of Copeland, the new First Deputy, that Blake began to suspect his own position. Copeland was an out-and-out "office" man, anything but a "flat foot." Weak looking and pallid, with the sedentary air of a junior desk clerk, vibratingly restless with no actual promise of being penetrating, he was of that indeterminate type which never seems to acquire a personality of its own. The small and bony and steel-blue face was as neutral as the spare and reticent figure that sat before a bald table in a bald room as inexpressive and reticent as its occupant. Copeland was not only unknown outside the Department; he was, in a way, unknown in his own official circles.
And then Blake woke up to the fact that some one on the inside was working against him, was blocking his moves, was actually using him as a "blind." While he was given the "cold" trails, younger men went out on the "hot" ones. There were times when the Second Deputy suspected that his enemy was Copeland. Not that he could be sure of this, for Copeland himself gave no inkling of his attitude. He gave no inkling of anything, in fact, personal or impersonal. But more and more Blake was given the talking parts, the role of spokesman to the press. He was more and more posted in the background, like artillery, to intimidate with his remote thunder and cover the advance of more agile columns. He was encouraged to tell the public what he knew, but he was not allowed to know too much. And, ironically enough, he bitterly resented this role of "mouthpiece" for the Department.
"You call yourself a gun!" a patrolman who had been shaken down for insubordination broke out at him. "A gun! why, you 're only a park gun! That's all you are, a broken-down bluff, an ornamental has-been, a park gun for kids to play 'round!"
Blake raged at that, impotently, pathetically, like an old lion with its teeth drawn. He prowled moodily around, looking for an enemy on whom to vent his anger. But he could find no tangible force that opposed him. He could see nothing on which to centralize his activity. Yet something or somebody was working against him. To fight that opposition was like fighting a fog. It was as bad as trying to shoulder back a shadow.
He had his own "spots" and "finders" on the force. When he had been tipped off that the powers above were about to send him out on the Binhart case, he passed the word along to his underlings, without loss of time, for he felt that he was about to be put on trial, that they were making the Binhart capture a test case. And he had rejoiced mightily when his dragnet had brought up the unexpected tip that Elsie Verriner had been in recent communication with Binhart, and with pressure from the right quarter could be made to talk.
This tip had been a secret one. Blake, on his part, kept it well muffled, for he intended that his capture of Binhart should be not only a personal triumph for the Second Deputy, but a vindication of that Second Deputy's methods.
So when the Commissioner called him and Copeland into conference, the day after his talk with Elsie Verriner, Blake prided himself on being secretly prepared for any advances that might be made.
It was the Commissioner who did the talking. Copeland, as usual, lapsed into the background, cracking his dry knuckles and blinking his pale-blue eyes about the room as the voices of the two larger men boomed back and forth.
"We 've been going over this Binhart case," began the Commissioner. "It's seven months now—and nothing done!"
Blake looked sideways at Copeland. There was muffled and meditative belligerency in the look. There was also gratification, for it was the move he had been expecting.
"I always said McCooey was n't the man to go out on that case," said the Second Deputy, still watching Copeland.
"Then who is the man?" asked the Commissioner.
Blake took out a cigar, bit the end off, and struck a match. It was out of place; but it was a sign of his independence. He had long since given up plug and fine-cut and taken to fat Havanas, which he smoked audibly, in plethoric wheezes. Good living had left his body stout and his breathing slightly asthmatic. He sat looking down at his massive knees; his oblique study of Copeland, apparently, had yielded him scant satisfaction. Copeland, in fact, was making paper fans out of the official note-paper in front of him.
"What's the matter with Washington and Wilkie?" inquired Blake, attentively regarding his cigar.
"They 're just where we are—at a standstill," acknowledged the Commissioner.
"And that's where we 'll stay!" heavily contended the Second Deputy.
The entire situation was an insidiously flattering one to Blake. Every one else had failed. They were compelled to come to him, their final resource.
"Why?" demanded his superior.
"Because we have n't got a man who can turn the trick! We have n't got a man who can go out and round up Binhart inside o' seven years!"
"Then what is your suggestion?" It was Copeland who spoke, mild and hesitating.
"D'you want my suggestion?" demanded Blake, warm with the wine-like knowledge which, he knew, made him master of the situation.
"Of course," was the Commissioner's curt response.
"Well, you 've got to have a man who knows Binhart, who knows him and his tricks and his hang outs!"
"Well, who does?"
"I do," declared Blake.
The Commissioner indulged in his wintry smile.
"You mean if you were n't tied down to your Second Deputy's chair you could go out and get him!"
"Within a reasonable length of time?"
"I don't know about the time! But I could get him, all right."
"If you were still on the outside work?" interposed Copeland.
"I certainly would n't expect to dig him out o' my stamp drawer," was Blake's heavily facetious retort.
Copeland and the Commissioner looked at each other, for one fraction of a second.
"You know what my feeling is," resumed the latter, "on this Binhart case."
"I know what my feeling is," declared Blake.
"That the right method would 've got him six months ago, without all this monkey work!"
"Then why not end the monkey work, as you call it?"
"By doing what you say you can do!" was the Commissioner's retort.
"How 'm I going to hold down a chair and hunt a crook at the same time?"
"Then why hold down the chair? Let the chair take care of itself. It could be arranged, you know."
Blake had the stage-juggler's satisfaction of seeing things fall into his hands exactly as he had manoeuvered they should. His reluctance was merely a dissimulation, a stage wait for heightened dramatic effect.
"How 'd you do the arranging?" he calmly inquired.
"I could see the Mayor in the morning. There will be no Departmental difficulty."
"Then where 's the trouble?"
"There is none, if you are willing to go out."
"Well, we can't get Binhart here by pink-tea invitations. Somebody 's got to go out and get him!"
"The bank raised the reward to eight thousand this week," interposed the ruminative Copeland.
"Well, it 'll take money to get him," snapped back the Second Deputy, remembering that he had a nest of his own to feather.
"It will be worth what it costs," admitted the Commissioner.
"Of course," said Copeland, "they 'll have to honor your drafts—in reason."
"There will be no difficulty on the expense side," quietly interposed the Commissioner. "The city wants Binhart. The whole country wants Binhart. And they will be willing to pay for it."
Blake rose heavily to his feet. His massive bulk was momentarily stirred by the prospect of the task before him. For one brief moment the anticipation of that clamor of approval which would soon be his stirred his lethargic pulse. Then his cynic calmness again came back to him.
"Then what 're we beefing about?" he demanded. "You want Binhart and I 'll get him for you."
The Commissioner, tapping the top of his desk with his gold-banded fountain pen, smiled. It was almost a smile of indulgence.
"You know you will get him?" he inquired.
The inquiry seemed to anger Blake. He was still dimly conscious of the operation of forces which he could not fathom. There were things, vague and insubstantial, which he could not understand. But he nursed to his heavy-breathing bosom the consciousness that he himself was not without his own undivulged powers, his own private tricks, his own inner reserves.
"I say I 'll get him!" he calmly proclaimed. "And I guess that ought to be enough!"
The unpretentious, brownstone-fronted home of Deputy Copeland was visited, late that night, by a woman. She was dressed in black, and heavily veiled. She walked with the stoop of a sorrowful and middle-aged widow.
She came in a taxicab, which she dismissed at the corner. From the house steps she looked first eastward and then westward, as though to make sure she was not being followed. Then she rang the bell.
She gave no name; yet she was at once admitted. Her visit, in fact, seemed to be expected, for without hesitation she was ushered upstairs and into the library of the First Deputy.
He was waiting for her in a room more intimate, more personal, more companionably crowded than his office, for the simple reason that it was not a room of his own fashioning. He stood in the midst of its warm hangings, in fact, as cold and neutral as the marble Diana behind him. He did not even show, as he closed the door and motioned his visitor into a chair, that he had been waiting for her.
The woman, still standing, looked carefully about the room, from side to side, saw that they were alone, made note of the two closed doors, and then with a sigh lifted her black gloved hands and began to remove the widow's cap from her head. She sighed again as she tossed the black crepe on the dark-wooded table beside her. As she sank into the chair the light from the electrolier fell on her shoulders and on the carefully coiled and banded hair, so laboriously built up into a crown that glinted nut-brown above the pale face she turned to the man watching her.
"Well?" she said. And from under her level brows she stared at Copeland, serene in her consciousness of power. It was plain that she neither liked him nor disliked him. It was equally plain that he, too, had his ends remote from her and her being.
"You saw Blake again?" he half asked, half challenged.
"No," she answered.
"I was afraid to."
"Did n't I tell you we 'd take care of your end?"
"I 've had promises like that before. They were n't always remembered."
"But our office never made you that promise before, Miss Verriner."
The woman let her eyes rest on his impassive face.
"That's true, I admit. But I must also admit I know Jim Blake. We 'd better not come together again, Blake and me, after this week."
She was pulling off her gloves as she spoke. She suddenly threw them down on the table. "There 's just one thing I want to know, and know for certain. I want to know if this is a plant to shoot Blake up?"
The First Deputy smiled. It was not altogether at the mere calmness with which she could suggest such an atrocity.
"Hardly," he said.
"Then what is it?" she demanded.
He was both patient and painstaking with her. His tone was almost paternal in its placativeness.
"It's merely a phase of departmental business," he answered her. "And we 're anxious to see Blake round up Connie Binhart."
"That's not true," she answered with neither heat nor resentment, "or you would never have started him off on this blind lead. You 'd never have had me go to him with that King Edward note and had it work out to fit a street in Montreal. You 've got a wooden decoy up there in Canada, and when Blake gets there he 'll be told his man slipped away the day before. Then another decoy will bob up, and Blake will go after that. And when you 've fooled him two or three times he 'll sail back to New York and break me for giving him a false tip."
"Did you give it to him?"
"No, he hammered it out of me. But you knew he was going to do that. That was part of the plant."
She sat studying her thin white hands for several seconds. Then she looked up at the calm-eyed Copeland.
"How are you going to protect me, if Blake comes back? How are you going to keep your promise?"
The First Deputy sat back in his chair and crossed his thin legs.
"Blake will not come back," he announced. She slewed suddenly round on him again.
"Then it is a plant!" she proclaimed.
"You misunderstand me, Miss Verriner. Blake will not come back as an official. There will be changes in the Department, I imagine; changes for the better which even he and his Tammany Hall friends can't stop, by the time he gets back with Binhart."
The woman gave a little hand gesture of impatience.
"But don't you see," she protested, "supposing he gives up Binhart? Supposing he suspects something and hurries back to hold down his place?"
"They call him Never-Fail Blake," commented the unmoved and dry-lipped official. He met her wide stare with his gently satiric smile.
"I see," she finally said, "you 're not going to shoot him up. You 're merely going to wipe him out."
"You are quite wrong there," began the man across the table from her. "Administration changes may happen, and in—"
"In other words, you 're getting Jim Blake out of the way, off on this Binhart trail, while you work him out of the Department."
"No competent officer is ever worked out of this Department," parried the First Deputy.
She sat for a silent and studious moment or two, without looking at Copeland. Then she sighed, with mock plaintiveness. Her wistfulness seemed to leave her doubly dangerous.
"Mr. Copeland, are n't you afraid some one might find it worth while to tip Blake off?" she softly inquired.
"What would you gain?" was his pointed and elliptical interrogation.
She leaned forward in the fulcrum of light, and looked at him soberly.
"What is your idea of me?" she asked.
He looked back at the thick-lashed eyes with their iris rings of deep gray. There was something alert and yet unparticipating in their steady gaze. They held no trace of abashment. They were no longer veiled. There was even something disconcerting in their lucid and level stare.
"I think you are a very intelligent woman," Copeland finally confessed.
"I think I am, too," she retorted. "Although I have n't used that intelligence in the right way. Don't smile! I 'm not going to turn mawkish. I 'm not good. I don't know whether I want to be. But I know one thing: I 've got to keep busy—I 've got to be active. I 've got to be!"
"And?" prompted the First Deputy, as she came to a stop.
"We all know, now, exactly where we 're at. We all know what we want, each one of us. We know what Blake wants. We know what you want. And I want something more than I 'm getting, just as you want something more than writing reports and rounding up push-cart peddlers. I want my end, as much as you want yours."
"And?" again prompted the First Deputy.
"I 've got to the end of my ropes; and I want to swing around. It's no reform bee, mind! It's not what other women like me think it is. But I can't go on. It doesn't lead to anything. It does n't pay. I want to be safe. I 've got to be safe!"
He looked up suddenly, as though a new truth had just struck home with him. For the first time, all that evening, his face was ingenuous.
"I know what's behind me," went on the woman. "There 's no use digging that up. And there 's no use digging up excuses for it. But there are excuses—good excuses, or I 'd never have gone through what I have, because I feel I was n't made for it. I 'm too big a coward to face what it leads to. I can look ahead and see through things. I can understand too easily." She came to a stop, and sat back, with one white hand on either arm of the chair. "And I 'm afraid to go on. I want to begin over. And I want to begin on the right side!"
He sat pondering just how much of this he could believe. But she disregarded his veiled impassivity.
"I want you to take Picture 3,970 out of the Identification Bureau, the picture and the Bertillon measurements. And then I want you to give me the chance I asked for."
"But that does not rest with me, Miss Verriner!"
"It will rest with you. I could n't stool with my own people here. But Wilkie knows my value. He knows what I can do for the service if I 'm on their side. He could let me begin with the Ellis Island spotting. I could stop that Stockholm white-slave work in two months. And when you see Wilkie to-morrow you can swing me one way or the other!"
Copeland, with his chin on his bony breast, looked up to smile into her intent and staring eyes.
"You are a very clever woman," he said. "And what is more, you know a great deal!"
"I know a great deal!" she slowly repeated, and her steady gaze succeeded in taking the ironic smile out of the corners of his eyes.
"Your knowledge," he said with a deliberation equal to her own, "will prove of great value to you—as an agent with Wilkie."
"That's as you say!" she quietly amended as she rose to her feet. There was no actual threat in her words, just as there was no actual mockery in his. But each was keenly conscious of the wheels that revolved within wheels, of the intricacies through which each was threading a way to certain remote ends. She picked up her black gloves from the desk top. She stood there, waiting.
"You can count on me," he finally said, as he rose from his chair. "I 'll attend to the picture. And I 'll say the right thing to Wilkie!"
"Then let's shake hands on it!" she quietly concluded. And as they shook hands her gray-irised eyes gazed intently and interrogatively into his.
When Never-Fail Blake alighted from his sleeper in Montreal he found one of Teal's men awaiting him at Bonaventure Station. There had been a hitch or a leak somewhere, this man reported. Binhart, in some way, had slipped through their fingers.
All they knew was that the man they were tailing had bought a ticket for Winnipeg, that he was not in Montreal, and that, beyond the railway ticket, they had no trace of him.
Blake, at this news, had a moment when he saw red. He felt, during that moment, like a drum-major who had "muffed" his baton on parade. Then recovering himself, he promptly confirmed the Teal operative's report by telephone, accepted its confirmation as authentic, consulted a timetable, and made a dash for Windsor Station. There he caught the Winnipeg express, took possession of a stateroom and indited carefully worded telegrams to Trimble in Vancouver, that all out-going Pacific steamers should be watched, and to Menzler in Chicago, that the American city might be covered in case of Binhart's doubling southward on him. Still another telegram he sent to New York, requesting the Police Department to send on to him at once a photograph of Binhart.
In Winnipeg, two days later, Blake found himself on a blind trail. When he had talked with a railway detective on whom he could rely, when he had visited certain offices and interviewed certain officials, when he had sought out two or three women acquaintances in the city's sequestered area, he faced the bewildering discovery that he was still without an actual clue of the man he was supposed to be shadowing.
It was then that something deep within his nature, something he could never quite define, whispered its first faint doubt to him. This doubt persisted even when late that night a Teal Agency operative wired him from Calgary, stating that a man answering Binhart's description had just left the Alberta Hotel for Banff. To this latter point Blake promptly wired a fuller description of his man, had an officer posted to inspect every alighting passenger, and early the next morning received a telegram, asking for still more particulars.
He peered down at this message, vaguely depressed in spirit, discarding theory after theory, tossing aside contingency after contingency. And up from this gloomy shower slowly emerged one of his "hunches," one of his vague impressions, coming blindly to the surface very much like an earthworm crawling forth after a fall of rain. There was something wrong. Of that he felt certain. He could not place it or define it. To continue westward would be to depend too much on an uncertainty; it would involve the risk of wandering too far from the center of things. He suddenly decided to double on his tracks and swing down to Chicago. Just why he felt as he did he could not fathom. But the feeling was there. It was an instinctive propulsion, a "hunch." These hunches were to him, working in the dark as he was compelled to, very much what whiskers are to a cat. They could not be called an infallible guide. But they at least kept him from colliding with impregnabilities.
Acting on this hunch, as he called it, he caught a Great Northern train for Minneapolis, transferred to a Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul express, and without loss of time sped southward. When, thirty hours later, he alighted in the heart of Chicago, he found himself in an environment more to his liking, more adaptable to his ends. He was not disheartened by his failure. He did not believe in luck, in miracles, or even in coincidence. But experience had taught him the bewildering extent of the resources which he might command. So intricate and so wide-reaching were the secret wires of his information that he knew he could wait, like a spider at the center of its web, until the betraying vibration awakened some far-reaching thread of that web. In every corner of the country lurked a non-professional ally, a secluded tipster, ready to report to Blake when the call for a report came. The world, that great detective had found, was indeed a small one. From its scattered four corners, into which his subterranean wires of espionage stretched, would in time come some inkling, some hint, some discovery. And at the converging center of those wires Blake was able to sit and wait, like the central operator at a telephone switchboard, knowing that the tentacles of attention were creeping and wavering about dim territories and that in time they would render up their awaited word.
In the meantime, Blake himself was by no means idle. It would not be from official circles, he knew, that his redemption would come. Time had already proved that. For months past every police chief in the country had held his description of Binhart. That was a fact which Binhart himself very well knew; and knowing that, he would continue to move as he had been moving, with the utmost secrecy, or at least protected by some adequate disguise.
It would be from the underworld that the echo would come. And next to New York, Blake knew, Chicago would make as good a central exchange for this underworld as could be desired. Knowing that city of the Middle West, and knowing it well, he at once "went down the line," making his rounds stolidly and systematically, first visiting a West Side faro-room and casually interviewing the "stools" of Custom House Place and South dark Street, and then dropping in at the Cafe Acropolis, in Halsted Street, and lodging houses in even less savory quarters. He duly canvassed every likely dive, every "melina," every gambling house and yegg hang out. He engaged in leisurely games of pool with stone-getters and gopher men. He visited bucket-shops and barrooms, and dingy little Ghetto cafes. He "buzzed" tipsters and floaters and mouthpieces. He fraternized with till tappers and single-drillers. He always made his inquiries after Binhart seem accidental, a case apparently subsidiary to two or three others which he kept always to the foreground.
He did not despair over the discovery that no one seemed to know of Binhart or his movements. He merely waited his time, and extended new ramifications into newer territory. His word still carried its weight of official authority. There was still an army of obsequious underlings compelled to respect his wishes. It was merely a matter of time and mathematics. Then the law of averages would ordain its end; the needed card would ultimately be turned up, the right dial-twist would at last complete the right combination.
The first faint glimmer of life, in all those seemingly dead wires, came from a gambler named Mattie Sherwin, who reported that he had met Binhart, two weeks before, in the cafe of the Brown Palace in Denver. He was traveling under the name of Bannerman, wore his hair in a pomadour, and had grown a beard.
Blake took the first train out of Chicago for Denver. In this latter city an Elks' Convention was supplying blue-bird weather for underground "haymakers," busy with bunco-steering, "rushing" street-cars and "lifting leathers." Before the stampede at the news of his approach, he picked up Biff Edwards and Lefty Stivers, put on the screws, and learned nothing. He went next to Glory McShane, a Market Street acquaintance indebted for certain old favors, and from her, too, learned nothing of moment. He continued the quest in other quarters, and the results were equally discouraging.
Then began the real detective work about which, Blake knew, newspaper stories were seldom written. This work involved a laborious and monotonous examination of hotel registers, a canvassing of ticket agencies and cab stands and transfer companies. It was anything but story-book sleuthing. It was a dispiriting tread-mill round, but he was still sifting doggedly through the tailings of possibilities when a code-wire came from St. Louis, saying Binhart had been seen the day before at the Planters' Hotel.
Blake was eastbound on his way to St. Louis one hour after the receipt of this wire. And an hour after his arrival in St. Louis he was engaged in an apparently care free and leisurely game of pool with one Loony Ryan, an old-time "box man" who was allowed to roam with a clipped wing in the form of a suspended indictment. Loony, for the liberty thus doled out to him, rewarded his benefactors by an occasional indulgence in the "pigeon-act."
"Draw for lead?" asked Blake, lighting a cigar.
"Sure," said Loony.
Blake pushed his ball to the top cushion, won the draw, and broke.
"Seen anything of Wolf Yonkholm?" he casually inquired, as he turned to chalk his cue. But his eye, with one quick sweep, had made sure of every face in the room.
Loony studied the balls for a second or two. Wolf was a "dip" with an international record.
"Last time I saw Wolf he was out at 'Frisco, workin' the Beaches," was Loony's reply.
Blake ventured an inquiry or two about other worthies of the underworld. The players went on with their game, placid, self-immured, matter-of-fact.
"Where's Angel McGlory these days?" asked Blake, as he reached over to place a ball.
"What's she been doin'?" demanded Loony, with his cue on the rail.
"She 's traveling with a bank sneak named Blanchard or Binhart," explained Blake. "And I want her."
Loony Ryan made his stroke.
"Hep Roony saw Binhart this mornin', beatin' it for N' Orleans. But he was n't travelin' wit' any moll that Hep spoke of."
Blake made his shot, chalked his cue again, and glanced down at his watch. His eyes were on the green baize, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
"I got 'o leave you, Loony," he announced as he put his cue back in the rack. He spoke slowly and calmly. But Loony's quick gaze circled the room, promptly checking over every face between the four walls.
"What's up?" he demanded. "Who 'd you spot?"
"Nothing, Loony, nothing! But this game o' yours blamed near made me forget an appointment o' mine!"
Twenty minutes after he had left the bewildered Loony Ryan in the pool parlor he was in a New Orleans sleeper, southward bound. He knew that he was getting within striking distance of Binhart, at last. The zest of the chase took possession of him. The trail was no longer a "cold" one. He knew which way Binhart was headed. And he knew he was not more than a day behind his man.
The moment Blake arrived in New Orleans he shut himself in a telephone booth, called up six somewhat startled acquaintances, learned nothing to his advantage, and went quickly but quietly to the St. Charles. There he closeted himself with two dependable "elbows," started his detectives on a round of the hotels, and himself repaired to the Levee district, where he held off-handed and ponderously facetious conversations with certain unsavory characters. Then came a visit to certain equally unsavory wharf-rats and a call or two on South Rampart Street. But still no inkling of Binhart or his intended movements came to the detective's ears.
It was not until the next morning, as he stepped into Antoine's, on St. Louis Street just off the Rue Royal, that anything of importance occurred. The moment he entered that bare and cloistral restaurant where Monsieur Jules could dish up such startling uncloistral dishes, his eyes fell on Abe Sheiner, a drum snuffer with whom he had had previous and somewhat painful encounters. Sheiner, it was plain to see, was in clover, for he was breakfasting regally, on squares of toast covered with shrimp and picked crab meat creamed, with a bisque of cray-fish and papa-bottes in ribbons of bacon, to say nothing of fruit and bruilleau.
Blake insisted on joining his old friend Sheiner, much to the tatter's secret discomfiture. It was obvious that the drum snuffer, having made a recent haul, would be amenable to persuasion. And, like all yeggs, he was an upholder of the "moccasin telegraph," a wanderer and a carrier of stray tidings as to the movements of others along the undergrooves of the world. So while Blake breakfasted on shrimp and crab meat and French artichokes stuffed with caviar and anchovies, he intimated to the uneasy-minded Sheiner certain knowledge as to a certain recent coup. In the face of this charge Sheiner indignantly claimed that he had only been playing the ponies and having a run of greenhorn's luck.