THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMIE DALE
by Frank L. Packard
PART ONE: THE MAN IN THE CASE
I. THE GRAY SEAL
II. BY PROXY
III. THE MOTHER LODE
IV. THE COUNTERFEIT FIVE
V. THE AFFAIR OF THE PUSHCART MAN
VI. DEVIL'S WORK
VII. THE THIEF
VIII. THE MAN HIGHER UP
IX. TWO CROOKS AND A KNAVE
X. THE ALIBI
XI. THE STOOL-PIGEON
PART TWO: THE WOMAN IN THE CASE
I. BELOW THE DEAD LINE
II. THE CALL TO ARMS
III. THE CRIME CLUB
IV. THE INNOCENT BYSTANDER
V. ON GUARD
VI. THE TRAP
VII. THE "HOUR"
VIII. THE TOCSIN
IX. THE TOCSIN'S STORY
X. SILVER MAG
XI. THE MAGPIE
XII. JOHN JOHANSSON—FOUR-TWO-EIGHT
XIII. THE ONLY WAY
XIV. OUT OF THE DARKNESS
XVI. "DEATH TO THE GRAY SEAL!"
PART ONE: THE MAN IN THE CASE
THE GRAY SEAL
Among New York's fashionable and ultra-exclusive clubs, the St. James stood an acknowledged leader—more men, perhaps, cast an envious eye at its portals, of modest and unassuming taste, as they passed by on Fifth Avenue, than they did at any other club upon the long list that the city boasts. True, there were more expensive clubs upon whose membership roll scintillated more stars of New York's social set, but the St. James was distinctive. It guaranteed a man, so to speak—that is, it guaranteed a man to be innately a gentleman. It required money, it is true, to keep up one's membership, but there were many members who were not wealthy, as wealth is measured nowadays—there were many, even, who were pressed sometimes to meet their dues and their house accounts, but the accounts were invariably promptly paid. No man, once in, could ever afford, or ever had the desire, to resign from the St. James Club. Its membership was cosmopolitan; men of every walk in life passed in and out of its doors, professional men and business men, physicians, artists, merchants, authors, engineers, each stamped with the "hall mark" of the St. James, an innate gentleman. To receive a two weeks' out-of-town visitor's card to the St. James was something to speak about, and men from Chicago, St. Louis, or San Francisco spoke of it with a sort of holier-than-thou air to fellow members of their own exclusive clubs, at home again.
Is there any doubt that Jimmie Dale was a gentleman—an INNATE gentleman? Jimmie Dale's father had been a member of the St. James Club, and one of the largest safe manufacturers of the United States, a prosperous, wealthy man, and at Jimmie Dale's birth he had proposed his son's name for membership. It took some time to get into the St. James; there was a long waiting list that neither money, influence, nor pull could alter by so much as one iota. Men proposed their sons' names for membership when they were born as religiously as they entered them upon the city's birth register. At twenty-one Jimmie Dale was elected to membership; and, incidentally, that same year, graduated from Harvard. It was Mr. Dale's desire that his son should enter the business and learn it from the ground up, and Jimmie Dale, for four years thereafter, had followed his father's wishes. Then his father died. Jimmie Dale had leanings toward more artistic pursuits than business. He was credited with sketching a little, writing a little; and he was credited with having received a very snug amount from the combine to which he sold out his safe-manufacturing interests. He lived a bachelor life—his mother had been dead many years—in the house that his father had left him on Riverside Drive, kept a car or two and enough servants to run his menage smoothly, and serve a dinner exquisitely when he felt hospitably inclined.
Could there be any doubt that Jimmie Dale was innately a gentleman?
It was evening, and Jimmie Dale sat at a small table in the corner of the St. James Club dining room. Opposite him sat Herman Carruthers, a young man of his own age, about twenty-six, a leading figure in the newspaper world, whose rise from reporter to managing editor of the morning NEWS-ARGUS within the short space of a few years had been almost meteoric.
They were at coffee and cigars, and Jimmie Dale was leaning back in his chair, his dark eyes fixed interestedly on his guest.
Carruthers, intently engaged in trimming his cigar ash on the edge of the Limoges china saucer of his coffee set, looked up with an abrupt laugh.
"No; I wouldn't care to go on record as being an advocate of crime," he said whimsically; "that would never do. But I don't mind admitting quite privately that it's been a positive regret to me that he has gone."
"Made too good 'copy' to lose, I suppose?" suggested Jimmie Dale quizzically. "Too bad, too, after working up a theatrical name like that for him—the Gray Seal—rather unique! Who stuck that on him—you?"
Carruthers laughed—then, grown serious, leaned toward Jimmie Dale.
"You don't mean to say, Jimmie, that you don't know about that, do you?" he asked incredulously. "Why, up to a year ago the papers were full of him."
"I never read your beastly agony columns," said Jimmie Dale, with a cheery grin.
"Well," said Carruthers, "you must have skipped everything but the stock reports then."
"Granted," said Jimmie Dale. "So go on, Carruthers, and tell me about him—I dare say I may have heard of him, since you are so distressed about it, but my memory isn't good enough to contradict anything you may have to say about the estimable gentleman, so you're safe."
Carruthers reverted to the Limoges saucer and the tip of his cigar.
"He was the most puzzling, bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime," said Carruthers reminiscently, after a moment's silence. "Jimmie, he was the king-pin of them all. Clever isn't the word for him, or dare-devil isn't either. I used to think sometimes his motive was more than half for the pure deviltry of it, to laugh at the police and pull the noses of the rest of us that were after him. I used to dream nights about those confounded gray seals of his—that's where he got his name; he left every job he ever did with a little gray paper affair, fashioned diamond-shaped, stuck somewhere where it would be the first thing your eyes would light upon when you reached the scene, and—"
"Don't go so fast," smiled Jimmie Dale. "I don't quite get the connection. What did you have to do with this—er—Gray Seal fellow? Where do you come in?"
"I? I had a good deal to do with him," said Carruthers grimly. "I was a reporter when he first broke loose, and the ambition of my life, after I began really to appreciate what he was, was to get him—and I nearly did, half a dozen times, only—"
"Only you never quite did, eh?" cut in Jimmie Dale slyly. "How near did you get, old man? Come on, now, no bluffing; did the Gray Seal ever even recognise you as a factor in the hare-and-hound game?"
"You're flicking on the raw, Jimmie," Carruthers answered, with a wry grimace. "He knew me, all right, confound him! He favoured me with several sarcastic notes—I'll show 'em to you some day—explaining how I'd fallen down and how I could have got him if I'd done something else." Carruthers' fist came suddenly down on the table. "And I would have got him, too, if he had lived."
"Lived!" ejaculated Jimmie Dale. "He's dead, then?"
"Yes," averted Carruthers; "he's dead."
"H'm!" said Jimmie Dale facetiously. "I hope the size of the wreath you sent was an adequate tribute of your appreciation."
"I never sent any wreath," returned Carruthers, "for the very simple reason that I didn't know where to send it, or when he died. I said he was dead because for over a year now he hasn't lifted a finger."
"Rotten poor evidence, even for a newspaper," commented Jimmie Dale. "Why not give him credit for having, say—reformed?"
Carruthers shook his head. "You don't get it at all, Jimmie," he said earnestly. "The Gray Seal wasn't an ordinary crook—he was a classic. He was an artist, and the art of the thing was in his blood. A man like that could no more stop than he could stop breathing—and live. He's dead; there's nothing to it but that—he's dead. I'd bet a year's salary on it."
"Another good man gone wrong, then," said Jimmie Dale capriciously. "I suppose, though, that at least you discovered the 'woman in the case'?"
Carruthers looked up quickly, a little startled; then laughed shortly.
"What's the matter?" inquired Jimmie Dale.
"Nothing," said Carruthers. "You kind of got me for a moment, that's all. That's the way those infernal notes from the Gray Seal used to end up: 'Find the lady, old chap; and you'll get me.' He had a damned patronising familiarity that would make you squirm."
"Poor old Carruthers!" grinned Jimmie Dale. "You did take it to heart, didn't you?"
"I'd have sold my soul to get him—and so would you, if you had been in my boots," said Carruthers, biting nervously at the end of his cigar.
"And been sorry for it afterward," supplied Jimmie Dale.
"Yes, by Jove, you're right!" admitted Carruthers, "I suppose I should. I actually got to love the fellow—it was the GAME, really, that I wanted to beat."
"Well, and how about this woman? Keep on the straight and narrow path, old man," prodded Jimmie Dale.
"The woman?" Carruthers smiled. "Nothing doing! I don't believe there was one—he wouldn't have been likely to egg the police and reporters on to finding her if there had been, would he? It was a blind, of course. He worked alone, absolutely alone. That's the secret of his success, according to my way of thinking. There was never so much as an indication that he had had an accomplice in anything he ever did."
Jimmie Dale's eyes travelled around the club's homelike, perfectly appointed room. He nodded to a fellow member here and there, then his eyes rested musingly on his guest again.
Carruthers was staring thoughtfully at his coffee cup.
"He was the prince of crooks and the father of originality," announced Carruthers abruptly, following the pause that had ensued. "Half the time there wasn't any more getting at the motive for the curious things he did, than there was getting at the Gray Seal himself."
"Carruthers," said Jimmy Dale, with a quick little nod of approval, "you're positively interesting to-night. But, so far, you've been kind of scouting around the outside edges without getting into the thick of it. Let's have some of your experiences with the Gray Seal in detail; they ought to make ripping fine yarns."
"Not to-night, Jimmie," said Carruthers; "it would take too long." He pulled out his watch mechanically as he spoke, glanced at it—and pushed back his chair. "Great Scott!" he exclaimed. "It's nearly half-past nine. I'd no idea we had lingered so long over dinner. I'll have to hurry; we're a morning paper, you know, Jimmie."
"What! Really! Is it as late as that." Jimmie Dale rose from his chair as Carruthers stood up. "Well, if you must—"
"I must," said Carruthers, with a laugh.
"All right, O slave." Jimmie Dale laughed back—and slipped his hand, a trick of their old college days together, through Carruthers' arm as they left the room.
He accompanied Carruthers downstairs to the door of the club, and saw his guest into a taxi; then he returned inside, sauntered through the billiard room, and from there into one of the cardrooms, where, pressed into a game, he played several rubbers of bridge before going home.
It was, therefore, well on toward midnight when Jimmie Dale arrived at his house on Riverside Drive, and was admitted by an elderly manservant.
"Hello, Jason," said Jimmie Dale pleasantly. "You still up!"
"Yes, sir," replied Jason, who had been valet to Jimmie Dale's father before him. "I was going to bed, sir, at about ten o'clock, when a messenger came with a letter. Begging your pardon, sir, a young lady, and—"
"Jason"—Jimmie Dale flung out the interruption, sudden, quick, imperative—"what did she look like?"
"Why—why, I don't exactly know as I could describe her, sir," stammered Jason, taken aback. "Very ladylike, sir, in her dress and appearance, and what I would call, sir, a beautiful face."
"Hair and eyes—what color?" demanded Jimmie Dale crisply. "Nose, lips, chin—what shape?"
"Why, sir," gasped Jason, staring at his master, "I—I don't rightly know. I wouldn't call her fair or dark, something between. I didn't take particular notice, and it wasn't overlight outside the door."
"It's too bad you weren't a younger man, Jason," commented Jimmie Dale, with a curious tinge of bitterness in his voice. "I'd have given a year's income for your opportunity to-night, Jason."
"Yes, sir," said Jason helplessly.
"Well, go on," prompted Jimmie Dale. "You told her I wasn't home, and she said she knew it, didn't she? And she left the letter that I was on no account to miss receiving when I got back, though there was no need of telephoning me to the club—when I returned would do, but it was imperative that I should have it then—eh?"
"Good Lord, sir!" ejaculated Jason, his jaw dropped, "that's exactly what she did say."
"Jason," said Jimmie Dale grimly, "listen to me. If ever she comes here again, inveigle her in. If you can't inveigle her, use force; capture her, pull her in, do anything—do anything, do you hear? Only don't let her get away from you until I've come."
Jason gazed at his master as though the other had lost his reason.
"Use force, sir?" he repeated weakly—and shook his head. "You—you can't mean that, sir."
"Can't I?" inquired Jimmie Dale, with a mirthless smile. "I mean every word of it, Jason—and if I thought there was the slightest chance of her giving you the opportunity, I'd be more imperative still. As it is—where's the letter?"
"On the table in your studio, sir," said Jason, mechanically.
Jimmie Dale started toward the stairs—then turned and came back to where Jason, still shaking his head heavily, had been gazing anxiously after his master. Jimmie Dale laid his hand on the old man's shoulder.
"Jason," he said kindly, with a swift change of mood, "you've been a long time in the family—first with father, and now with me. You'd do a good deal for me, wouldn't you?"
"I'd do anything in the world for you, Master Jim," said the old man earnestly.
"Well, then, remember this," said Jimmie Dale slowly, looking into the other's eyes, "remember this—keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. It's my fault. I should have warned you long ago, but I never dreamed that she would ever come here herself. There have been times when it was practically a matter of life and death to me to know who that woman is that you saw to-night. That's all, Jason. Now go to bed."
"Master Jim," said the old man simply, "thank you, sir, thank you for trusting me. I've dandled you on my knee when you were a baby, Master Jim. I don't know what it's about, and it isn't for me to ask. I thought, sir, that maybe you were having a little fun with me. But I know now, and you can trust me, Master Jim, if she ever comes again."
"Thank you, Jason," said Jimmie Dale, his hand closing with an appreciative pressure on the other's shoulder "Good-night, Jason."
Upstairs on the first landing, Jimmie Dale opened a door, closed and locked it behind him—and the electric switch clicked under his fingers. A glow fell softly from a cluster of shaded ceiling lights. It was a large room, a very large room, running the entire depth of the house, and the effect of apparent disorder in the arrangement of its appointments seemed to breathe a sense of charm. There were great cozy, deep, leather-covered lounging chairs, a huge, leather-covered davenport, and an easel or two with half-finished sketches upon them; the walls were panelled, the panels of exquisite grain and matching; in the centre of the room stood a flat-topped rosewood desk; upon the floor was a dark, heavy velvet rug; and, perhaps most inviting of all, there was a great, old-fashioned fireplace at one side of the room.
For an instant Jimmie Dale remained quietly by the door, as though listening. Six feet he stood, muscular in every line of his body, like a well-trained athlete with no single ounce of superfluous fat about him—the grace and ease of power in his poise. His strong, clean-shaven face, as the light fell upon it now, was serious—a mood that became him well—the firm lips closed, the dark, reliant eyes a little narrowed, a frown on the broad forehead, the square jaw clamped.
Then abruptly he walked across the room to the desk, picked up an envelope that lay upon it, and, turning again, dropped into the nearest lounging chair.
There had been no doubt in his mind, none to dispel. It was precisely what he had expected from almost the first word Jason had spoken. It was the same handwriting, the same texture of paper, and there was the same old haunting, rare, indefinable fragrance about it. Jimmie Dale's hands turned the envelope now this way, now that, as he looked at it. Wonderful hands were Jimmie Dale's, with long, slim, tapering fingers whose sensitive tips seemed now as though they were striving to decipher the message within.
He laughed suddenly, a little harshly, and tore open the envelope. Five closely written sheets fell into his hand. He read them slowly, critically, read them over again; and then, his eyes on the rug at his feet, he began to tear the paper into minute pieces between his fingers, depositing the pieces, as he tore them, upon the arm of his chair. The five sheets demolished, his fingers dipped into the heap of shreds on the arm of the chair and tore them over and over again, tore them until they were scarcely larger than bits of confetti, tore at them absently and mechanically, his eyes never shifting from the rug at his feet.
Then with a shrug of his shoulders, as though rousing himself to present reality, a curious smile flickering on his lips, he brushed the pieces of paper into one hand, carried them to the empty fireplace, laid them down in a little pile, and set them afire. Lighting a cigarette, he watched them burn until the last glow had gone from the last charred scrap; then he crunched and scattered them with the brass-handled fender brush, and, retracing his steps across the room, flung back a portiere from where it hung before a little alcove, and dropped on his knees in front of a round, squat, barrel-shaped safe—one of his own design and planning in the years when he had been with his father.
His slim, sensitive fingers played for an instant among the knobs and dials that studded the door, guided, it seemed by the sense of touch alone—and the door swung open. Within was another door, with locks and bolts as intricate and massive as the outer one. This, too, he opened; and then from the interior took out a short, thick, rolled-up leather bundle tied together with thongs. He rose from his knees, closed the safe, and drew the portiere across the alcove again. With the bundle under his arm, he glanced sharply around the room, listened intently, then, unlocking the door that gave on the hall, he switched off the lights and went to his dressing room, that was on the same floor. Here, divesting himself quickly of his dinner clothes, he selected a dark tweed suit with loose-fitting, sack coat from his wardrobe, and began to put it on.
Dressed, all but his coat and vest, he turned to the leather bundle that he had placed on a table, untied the thongs, and carefully opened it out to its full length—and again that curious, cryptic smile tinged his lips. Rolled the opposite away from that in which it had been tied up, the leather strip made a wide belt that went on somewhat after the fashion of a life preserver, the thongs being used for shoulder straps—a belt that, once on, the vest would hide completely, and, fitting close, left no telltale bulge in the outer garments. It was not an ordinary belt; it was full of stout-sewn, up-right little pockets all the way around, and in the pockets grimly lay an array of fine, blued-steel, highly tempered instruments—a compact, powerful burglar's kit.
The slim, sensitive fingers passed with almost a caressing touch over the vicious little implements, and from one of the pockets extracted a thin, flat metal case. This Jimmie Dale opened, and glanced inside—between sheets of oil paper lay little rows of GRAY, ADHESIVE, DIAMOND-SHAPED SEALS.
Jimmie Dale snapped the case shut, returned it to its recess, and from another took out a black silk mask. He held it up to the light for examination.
"Pretty good shape after a year," muttered Jimmie Dale, replacing it.
He put on the belt, then his vest and coat. From the drawer of his dresser he took an automatic revolver and an electric flashlight, slipped them into his pocket, and went softly downstairs. From the hat stand he chose a black slouch hat, pulled it well over his eyes—and left the house.
Jimmie Dale walked down a block, then hailed a bus and mounted to the top. It was late, and he found himself the only passenger. He inserted his dime in the conductor's little resonant-belled cash receiver, and then settled back on the uncomfortable, bumping, cushionless seat.
On rattled the bus; it turned across town, passed the Circle, and headed for Fifth Avenue—but Jimmie Dale, to all appearances, was quite oblivious of its movements.
It was a year since she had written him. SHE! Jimmie Dale did not smile, his lips were pressed hard together. Not a very intimate or personal appellation, that—but he knew her by no other. It WAS a woman, surely—the hand-writing was feminine, the diction eminently so—and had SHE not come herself that night to Jason! He remembered the last letter, apart from the one to-night, that he had received from her. It was a year ago now—and the letter had been hardly more than a note. The police had worked themselves into a frenzy over the Gray Seal, the papers had grown absolutely maudlin—and she had written, in her characteristic way:
Things are a little too warm, aren't they, Jimmie? Let's let them cool for a year.
Since then until to-night he had heard nothing from her. It was a strange compact that he had entered into—so strange that it could never have known, could never know a parallel—unique, dangerous, bizarre, it was all that and more. It had begun really through his connection with his father's business—the business of manufacturing safes that should defy the cleverest criminals—when his brains, turned into that channel, had been pitted against the underworld, against the methods of a thousand different crooks from Maine to California, the report of whose every operation had reached him in the natural course of business, and every one of which he had studied in minutest detail. It had begun through that—but at the bottom of it was his own restless, adventurous spirit.
He had meant to set the police by the ears, using his gray-seal device both as an added barb and that no innocent bystander of the underworld, innocent for once, might be involved—he had meant to laugh at them and puzzle them to the verge of madness, for in the last analysis they would find only an abortive attempt at crime—and he had succeeded. And then he had gone too far—and he had been caught—by HER. That string of pearls, which, to study whose effect facetiously, he had so idiotically wrapped around his wrist, and which, so ironically, he had been unable to loosen in time and had been forced to carry with him in his sudden, desperate dash to escape from Marx's the big jeweler's, in Maiden Lane, whose strong room he had toyed with one night, had been the lever which, AT FIRST, she had held over him.
The bus was on Fifth Avenue now, and speeding rapidly down the deserted thoroughfare. Jimmie Dale looked up at the lighted windows of the St. James Club as they went by, smiled whimsically, and shifted in his seat, seeking a more comfortable position.
She had caught him—how he did not know—he had never seen her—did not know who she was, though time and again he had devoted all his energies for months at a stretch to a solution of the mystery. The morning following the Maiden Lane affair, indeed, before he had breakfasted, Jason had brought him the first letter from her. It had started by detailing his every move of the night before—and it had ended with an ultimatum: "The cleverness, the originality of the Gray Seal as a crook lacked but one thing," she had naively written, "and that one thing was that his crookedness required a leading string to guide it into channels that were worthy of his genius." In a word, SHE would plan the coups, and he would act at her dictation and execute them—or else how did twenty years in Sing Sing for that little Maiden Lane affair appeal to him? He was to answer by the next morning, a simple "yes" or "no" in the personal column of the morning NEWS-ARGUS.
A threat to a man like Jimmie Dale was like flaunting a red rag at a bull, and a rage ungovernable had surged upon him. Then cold reason had come. He was caught—there was no question about that—she had taken pains to show him that he need make no mistake there. Innocent enough in his own conscience, as far as actual theft went, for the pearls would in due course be restored in some way to the possession of their owner, he would have been unable to make even his own father, who was alive then, believe in his innocence, let alone a jury of his peers. Dishonour, shame, ignominy, a long prison sentence, stared him in the face, and there was but one alternative—to link hands with this unseen, mysterious accomplice. Well, he could at least temporise, he could always "queer" a game in some specious manner, if he were pushed too far. And so, in the next morning's NEWS-ARGUS, Jimmie Dale had answered "yes." And then had followed those years in which there had been NO temporising, in which every plan was carried out to the last detail, those years of curious, unaccountable, bewildering affairs that Carruthers had spoken of, one on top of another, that had shaken the old headquarters on Mulberry Street to its foundations, until the Gray Seal had become a name to conjure with. And, yes, it was quite true, he had entered into it all, gone the limit, with an eagerness that was insatiable.
The bus had reached the lower end of Fifth Avenue, passed through Washington Square, and stopped at the end of its run. Jimmie Dale clambered down from the top, threw a pleasant "good-night" to the conductor, and headed briskly down the street before him. A little later he crossed into West Broadway, and his pace slowed to a leisurely stroll.
Here, at the upper end of the street, was a conglomerate business section of rather inferior class, catering doubtless to the poor, foreign element that congregated west of Broadway proper, and to the south of Washington Square. The street was, at first glance, deserted; it was dark and dreary, with stores and lofts on either side. An elevated train roared by overhead, with a thunderous, deafening clamour. Jimmie Dale, on the right-hand side of the street, glanced interestedly at the dark store windows as he went by. And then, a block ahead, on the other side, his eyes rested on an approaching form. As the other reached the corner and paused, and the light from the street lamp glinted on brass buttons, Jimmie Dale's eyes narrowed a little under his slouch hat. The policeman, although nonchalantly swinging a nightstick, appeared to be watching him.
Jimmie Dale went on half a block farther, stooped to the sidewalk to tie his shoe, glanced back over his shoulder—the policeman was not in sight—and slipped like a shadow into the alleyway beside which he had stopped.
It was another Jimmie Dale now—the professional Jimmie Dale. Quick as a cat, active, lithe, he was over a six foot fence in the rear of a building in a flash, and crouched a black shape, against the back door of an unpretentious, unkempt, dirty, secondhand shop that fronted on West Broadway—the last place certainly in all New York that the managing editor of the NEWS-ARGUS, or any one else, for that matter, would have picked out as the setting for the second debut of the Gray Seal.
From the belt around his waist, Jimmie Dale took the black silk mask, and slipped it on; and from the belt, too, came a little instrument that his deft fingers manipulated in the lock. A curious snipping sound followed. Jimmie Dale put his weight gradually against the door. The door held fast.
"Bolted," said Jimmie Dale to himself.
The sensitive fingers travelled slowly up and down the side of the door, seeming to press and feel for the position of the bolt through an inch of plank—then from the belt came a tiny saw, thin and pointed at the end, that fitted into the little handle drawn from another receptacle in the leather girdle beneath the unbuttoned vest.
Hardly a sound it made as it bit into the door. Half a minute passed—there was the faint fall of a small piece of wood—into the aperture crept the delicate, tapering fingers—came a slight rasping of metal—then the door swung back, the dark shadow that had been Jimmie Dale vanished and the door closed again.
A round, white beam of light glowed for an instant—and disappeared. A miscellaneous, lumbering collection of junk and odds and ends blocked the entry, leaving no more space than was sufficient for bare passageway. Jimmie Dale moved cautiously—and once more the flashlight in his hand showed the way for an instant—then darkness again.
The cluttered accumulation of secondhand stuff in the rear gave place to a little more orderly arrangement as he advanced toward the front of the store. Like a huge firefly, the flashlight twinkled, went out, twinkled again, and went out. He passed a sort of crude, partitioned-off apartment that did duty for the establishment's office, a sort of little boxed-in place it was, about in the middle of the floor. Jimmie Dale's light played on it for a moment, but he kept on toward the front door without any pause.
Every movement was quick, sure, accurate, with not a wasted second. It had been barely a minute since he had vaulted the back fence. It was hardly a quarter of a minute more before the cumbersome lock of the front door was unfastened, and the door itself pulled imperceptibly ajar.
He went swiftly back to the office now—and found it even more of a shaky, cheap affair than it had at first appeared; more like a box stall with windows around the top than anything else, the windows doubtless to permit the occupant to overlook the store from the vantage point of the high stool that stood before a long, battered, wobbly desk. There was a door to the place, too, but the door was open and the key was in the lock. The ray of Jimmie Dale's flashlight swept once around the interior—and rested on an antique, ponderous safe.
Under the mask Jimmie Dale's lips parted in a smile that seemed almost apologetic, as he viewed the helpless iron monstrosity that was little more than an insult to a trained cracksman. Then from the belt came the thin metal case and a pair of tweezers. He opened the case, and with the tweezers lifted out one of the gray-coloured, diamond-shaped seals. Holding the seal with the tweezers, he moistened the gummed side with his lips, then laid it on a handkerchief which he took from his pocket, and clapped the handkerchief against the front of the safe, sticking the seal conspicuously into place. Jimmie Dale's insignia bore no finger prints. The microscopes and magnifying glasses at headquarters had many a time regretfully assured the police of that fact.
And now his hands and fingers seemed to work like lightning. Into the soft iron bit a drill—bit in and through—bit in and through again. It was dark, pitch black—and silent. Not a sound, save the quick, dull rasp of the ratchet—like the distant gnawing of a mouse! Jimmie Dale worked fast—another hole went through the face of the old-fashioned safe—and then suddenly he straightened up to listen, every faculty tense, alert, and strained, his body thrown a little forward. WHAT WAS THAT!
From the alleyway leading from the street without, through which he himself had come, sounded the stealthy crunch of feet. Motionless in the utter darkness, Jimmie Dale listened—there was a scraping noise in the rear—someone was climbing the fence that he had climbed!
In an instant the tools in Jimmie Dale's hands disappeared into their respective pockets beneath his vest—and the sensitive fingers shot to the dial on the safe.
"Too bad," muttered Jimmie Dale plaintively to himself. "I could have made such an artistic job of it—I swear I could have cut Carruthers' profile in the hole in less than no time—to open it like this is really taking the poor old thing at a disadvantage."
He was on his knees now, one ear close to the dial, listening as the tumblers fell, while the delicate fingers spun the knob unerringly—the other ear strained toward the rear of the premises.
Came a footstep—a ray of light—a stumble—nearer—the newcomer was inside the place now, and must have found out that the back door had been tampered with. Nearer came the steps—still nearer—and then the safe door swung open under Jimmie Dale's hand, and Jimmie Dale, that he might not be caught like a rat in a trap, darted from the office—but he had delayed a little too long.
From around the cluttered piles of junk and miscellany swept the light—full on Jimmie Dale. Hesitation for the smallest fraction of a second would have been fatal, but hesitation was something that in all his life Jimmie Dale had never known. Quick as a panther in its spring, he leaped full at the light and the man behind it. The rough voice, in surprised exclamation at the sudden discovery of the quarry, died in a gasp.
There was a crash as the two men met—and the other reeled back before the impact. Onto him Jimmie Dale sprang, and his hands flew for the other's throat. It was an officer in uniform! Jimmie Dale had felt the brass buttons as they locked. In the darkness there was a queer smile on Jimmie Dale's tight lips. It was no doubt THE officer whom he had passed on the other side of the street.
The other was a smaller man than Jimmie Dale, but powerful for his build—and he fought now with all his strength. This way and that the two men reeled, staggered, swayed, panting and gasping; and then—they had lurched back close to the office door—with a sudden swing, every muscle brought into play for a supreme effort, Jimmie Dale hurled the other from him, sending the man sprawling back to the floor of the office, and in the winking of an eye had slammed shut the door and turned the key.
There was a bull-like roar, the shrill CHEEP-CHEEP-CHEEP of the patrolman's whistle, and a shattering crash as the officer flung his body against the partition—then the bark of a revolver shot, the tinkle of breaking glass, as the man fired through the office window—and past Jimmie Dale, speeding now for the front door, a bullet hummed viciously.
Out on the street dashed Jimmie Dale, whipping the mask from his face—and glanced like a hawk around him. For all the racket, the neighbourhood had not yet been aroused—no one was in sight. From just overhead came the rattle of a downtown elevated train. In a hundred-yard sprint, Jimmie Dale raced it a half block to the station, tore up the steps—and a moment later dropped nonchalantly into a seat and pulled an evening newspaper from his pocket.
Jimmie Dale got off at the second station down, crossed the street, mounted the steps of the elevated again, and took the next train uptown. His movements appeared to be somewhat erratic—he alighted at the station next above the one by which he had made his escape. Looking down the street it was too dark to see much of anything, but a confused noise as of a gathering crowd reached him from what was about the location of the secondhand store. He listened appreciatively for a moment.
"Isn't it a perfectly lovely night?" said Jimmie Dale amiably to himself. "And to think of that cop running away with the idea that I didn't see him when he hid in a doorway after I passed the corner! Well, well, strange—isn't it?"
With another glance down the street, a whimsical lift of his shoulders, he headed west into the dilapidated tenement quarter that huddled for a handful of blocks near by, just south of Washington Square. It was a little after one o'clock in the morning now and the pedestrians were casual. Jimmie Dale read the street signs on the corners as he went along, turned abruptly into an intersecting street, counted the tenements from the corner as he passed, and—for the eye of any one who might be watching—opened the street door of one of them quite as though he were accustomed and had a perfect right to do so, and went inside.
It was murky and dark within; hot, unhealthy, with lingering smells of garlic and stale cooking. He groped for the stairs and started up. He climbed one flight, then another—and one more to the top. Here, treading softly, he made an examination of the landing with a view, evidently, to obtaining an idea of the location and the number of doors that opened off from it.
His selection fell on the third door from the head of the stairs—there were four all told, two apartments of two rooms each. He paused for an instant to adjust the black silk mask, tried the door quietly, found it unlocked, opened it with a sudden, quick, brisk movement—and, stepping in side, leaned with his back against it.
"Good-morning," said Jimmie Dale pleasantly.
It was a squalid place, a miserable hole, in which a single flickering, yellow gas jet gave light. It was almost bare of furniture; there was nothing but a couple of cheap chairs, a rickety table—unpawnable. A boy, he was hardly more than that, perhaps twenty-two, from a posture in which he was huddled across the table with head buried in out-flung arms, sprang with a startled cry to his feet.
"Good-morning," said Jimmie Dale again. "Your name's Hagan, Bert Hagan—isn't it? And you work for Isaac Brolsky in the secondhand shop over on West Broadway—don't you?"
The boy's lips quivered, and the gaunt, hollow, half-starved face, white, ashen-white now, was pitiful.
"I—I guess you got me," he faltered "I—I suppose you're a plain-clothes man, though I never knew dicks wore masks."
"They don't generally," said Jimmie Dale coolly. "It's a fad of mine—Bert Hagan."
The lad, hanging to the table, turned his head away for a moment—and there was silence.
Presently Hagan spoke again. "I'll go," he said numbly. "I won't make any trouble. Would—would you mind not speaking loud? I—I wouldn't like her to know."
"Her?" said Jimmie Dale softly.
The boy tiptoed across the room, opened a connecting door a little, peered inside, opened it a little wider—and looked over his shoulder at Jimmie Dale.
Jimmie Dale crossed to the boy, looked inside the other room—and his lip twitched queerly, as the sight sent a quick, hurt throb through his heart. A young woman, younger than the boy, lay on a tumble-down bed, a rag of clothing over her—her face with a deathlike pallor upon it, as she lay in what appeared to be a stupor. She was ill, critically ill; it needed no trained eye to discern a fact all too apparent to the most casual observer. The squalor, the glaring poverty here, was even more pitifully in evidence than in the other room—only here upon a chair beside the bed was a cluster of medicine bottles and a little heap of fruit.
Jimmie Dale drew back silently as the boy closed the door.
Hagan walked to the table and picked up his hat.
"I'm—I'm ready," he said brokenly. "Let's go."
"Just a minute," said Jimmie Dale. "Tell us about it."
"Twon't take long," said Hagan, trying to smile. "She's my wife. The sickness took all we had. I—I kinder got behind in the rent and things. They were going to fire us out of here—to-morrow. And there wasn't any money for the medicine, and—and the things she had to have. Maybe you wouldn't have done it—but I did. I couldn't see her dying there for the want of something a little money'd buy—and—and I couldn't"—he caught his voice in a little sob—"I couldn't see her thrown out on the street like that."
"And so," said Jimmie Dale, "instead of putting old Isaac's cash in the safe this evening when you locked up, you put it in your pocket instead—eh? Didn't you know you'd get caught?"
"What did it matter?" said the boy. He was twirling his misshappen hat between his fingers. "I knew they'd know it was me in the morning when old Isaac found it gone, because there wasn't anybody else to do it. But I paid the rent for four months ahead to-night, and I fixed it so's she'd have medicine and things to eat. I was going to beat it before daylight myself—I"—he brushed his hand hurriedly across his cheek—"I didn't want to go—to leave her till I had to."
"Well, say"—there was wonderment in Jimmie Dale's tones, and his English lapsed into ungrammatical, reassuring vernacular—"ain't that queer! Say, I'm no detective. Gee, kid, did you think I was? Say, listen to this! I cracked old Isaac's safe half an hour ago—and I guess there won't be any idea going around that you got the money and I pulled a lemon. Say, I ain't superstitious, but it looks like luck meant you to have another chance, don't it?"
The hat dropped from Hagan's hands to the floor, and he swayed a little.
"You—you ain't a dick!" he stammered. "Then how'd you know about me and my name when you found the safe empty? Who told you?"
A wry grimace spread suddenly over Jimmie Dale's face beneath the mask, and he swallowed hard. Jimmie Dale would have given a good deal to have been able to answer that question himself.
"Oh, that!" said Jimmie Dale. "That's easy—I knew you worked there. Say, it's the limit, ain't it? Talk about your luck being in, why all you've got to do is to sit tight and keep your mouth shut, and you're safe as a church. Only say, what are you going to do about the money, now you've got a four months' start and are kind of landed on your feet?
"Do?" said the boy. "I'll pay it back, little by little. I meant to. I ain't no—" He stopped abruptly.
"Crook," supplied Jimmie Dale pleasantly. "Spit it right out, kid; you won't hurt my feelings none. Well, I'll tell you—you're talking the way I like to hear you—you pay that back, slide it in without his knowing it, a bit at a time, whenever you can, and you'll never hear a yip out of me; but if you don't, why it kind of looks as though I have a right to come down your street and get my share or know the reason why—eh?"
"Then you never get any share," said Hagan, with a catch in his voice. "I pay it back as fast as I can."
"Sure," said Jimmie Dale. "That's right—that's what I said. Well, so long—Hagan." And Jimmie Dale had opened the door and slipped outside.
An hour later, in his dressing room in his house on Riverside Drive, Jimmie Dale was removing his coat as the telephone, a hand instrument on the table, rang. Jimmie Dale glanced at it—and leisurely proceeded to remove his vest. Again the telephone rang. Jimmie Dale took off his curious, pocketed leather belt—as the telephone repeated its summons. He picked out the little drill he had used a short while before, and inspected it critically—feeling its point with his thumb, as one might feel a razor's blade. Again the telephone rang insistently. He reached languidly for the receiver, took it off its hook, and held it to his ear.
"Hello!" said Jimmie Dale, with a sleepy yawn. "Hello! Hello! Why the deuce don't you yank a man out of bed at two o'clock in the morning and have done with it, and—eh? Oh, that you, Carruthers?"
"Yes," came Carruthers' voice excitedly. "Jimmie, listen—listen! The Gray Seal's come to life! He's just pulled a break on West Broadway!"
"Good Lord!" gasped Jimmie Dale. "You don't say!"
"The most puzzling bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime," Herman Carruthers, the editor of the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS, had called the Gray Seal; and Jimmie Dale smiled a little grimly now as he recalled the occasion of a week ago at the St. James Club over their after-dinner coffee. That was before his second debut, with Isaac Brolsky's poverty-stricken premises over on West Broadway as a setting for the break.
SHE had written: "Things are a little too warm, aren't they, Jimmie? Let's let them cool for a year." Well, they had cooled for a year, and Carruthers as a result had been complacently satisfied in his own mind that the Gray Seal was dead—until that break at Isaac Brolsky's over on West Broadway!
Jimmie Dale's smile was tinged with whimsicality now. The only effect of the year's inaction had been to usher in his renewed activity with a furor compared to which all that had gone before was insignificant. Where the newspapers had been maudlin, they now raved—raved in editorials and raved in headlines. It was an impossible, untenable, unbelievable condition of affairs that this Gray Seal, for all his incomparable cleverness, should flaunt his crimes in the faces of the citizens of New York. One could actually see the editors writhing in their swivel chairs as their fiery denunciations dripped from their pens! What was the matter with the police? Were the police children; or, worse still, imbeciles—or, still worse again, was there some one "higher up" who was profiting by this rogue's work? New York would not stand for it—New York would most decidedly not—and the sooner the police realised that fact the better! If the police were helpless, or tools, the citizens of New York were not, and it was time the citizens were thoroughly aroused.
There was a way, too, to arouse the citizens, that was both good business from the newspaper standpoint, and efficacious as a method. Carruthers, of the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS, had initiated it. The MORNING NEWS-ARGUS offered twenty-five thousand dollars' reward for the capture of the Gray Seal! Other papers immediately followed suit in varying amounts. The authorities, State and municipal, goaded to desperation, did likewise, and the five million men, women, and children of New York were automatically metamorphosed into embryonic sleuths. New York was aroused.
Jimmie Dale, alias the Gray Seal, member of the ultra-exclusive St. James Club, the latter fact sufficient in itself to guarantee his social standing, graduate of Harvard, inheritor of his deceased father's immense wealth amassed in the manufacture of burglar-proof safes, some of the most ingenious patents on which were due to Jimmie Dale himself, figured with a pencil on the margin of the newspaper he had been reading, using the arm of the big, luxurious, leather-upholstered lounging chair as a support for the paper. The result of his calculations was eighty-five thousand dollars.
He brushed the paper onto the Turkish rug, dove into the pocket of his dinner jacket for his cigarettes, and began to smoke as his eyes strayed around the room, his own particular den in his fashionable Riverside Drive residence.
Eighty-five thousand dollars' reward! Jimmie Dale blew meditative rings of cigarette smoke at the fireplace. What would she say to that? Would she decide it was "too hot" again, and call it off? It added quite a little hazard to the game—QUITE a little! If he only knew who "she" was! It was a strange partnership—the strangest partnership that had ever existed between two human beings.
He turned a little in his chair as a step sounded in the hallway without—that is, Jimmie Dale caught the sound, muffled though it was by the heavy carpet. Came then a knock upon the door.
"Come in," invited Jimmie Dale.
It was old Jason, the butler. The old man was visibly excited, as he extended a silver tray on which lay a letter.
Jimmie Dale's hand reached quickly out, the long, slim tapering fingers closed upon the envelope—but his eyes were on Jason significantly, questioningly.
"Yes, Master Jim," said the old man, "I recognised it on the instant, sir. After what you said, sir, last week, honouring me, I might say, to a certain extent with your confidence, though I'm sure I don't know what it all means, I—"
"Who brought it this time, Jason?" inquired Jimmie Dale quietly.
"Not the young person, begging your pardon, not the young lady, sir. A shuffer in a big automobile. 'Your master at once,' he says, and shoves the letter into my hand, and was off."
"Very good, Jason," said Jimmie Dale. "You may go."
The door closed. Yes, it was from HER—it was the same texture of paper, there was the same rare, haunting fragrance clinging to it.
He tore the envelope open, and extracted a folded sheet of paper. What was it this time? To call the partnership off again until the present furor should have subsided once more—or the skilfully sketched outline of a new adventure? Which? He glanced at the few lines written on the sheet, and lunged forward from his chair to his feet. It was neither one nor the other. It was—
Jimmie Dale's face was set, and an angry red surge swept his cheeks. His lips moved, muttering audibly fragments of the letter, as he stared at it.
"—incredible that you—a heinous thing—act instantly—this is ruin—"
For an instant—a rare occurrence in Jimmie Dale's life—he stood like a man stricken, still staring at the sheet in his hand. Then mechanically his fingers tore the paper into little pieces, and the little pieces into tiny shreds. Anger fled, and a sickening sense of impotent dismay took its place; the red left his cheeks, and in its stead a grayness came.
"Act instantly!" The words seemed to leap at him, drum at his ears with constant repetition. Act instantly! But how? How? Then his brain—that keen, clear, master brain—sprang from stunned inaction into virility again. Of course—Carruthers! It was in Carruthers' line.
He stepped to the desk—and paused with his hand extended to pick up the telephone. How explain to Carruthers that he, Jimmie Dale, already knew what Carruthers might not yet have heard of, even though Carruthers would naturally be among the first to be in touch with such affairs! No; that would never do. Better get there himself at once and trust to—
The telephone rang.
Jimmie Dale waited until it rang again, then he lifted the receiver from the hook.
"Hello?" he said.
"Hello! Hello! Jimmie!" came a voice. "This is Carruthers. That you, Jimmie?"
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale and sat down limply in the desk chair.
"It's the Gray Seal again. I promised you I'd let you in on the ground floor next time anything happened, so come on down here quick if you want to see some of his work at firsthand."
Jimmie Dale flirted a bead of sweat from his forehead.
"Carruthers," said Jimmie languidly, "you newspaper chaps make me tired with your Gray Seal. I'm just going to bed."
"Bed nothing!" spluttered Carruthers, from the other end of the wire. "Come down, I tell you. It's worth your while—half the population of New York would give the toes off their feet for the chance. Come down, you blast idiot! The Gray Seal has gone the limit this time—it's MURDER."
Jimmie Dale's face was haggard.
"Oh!" he said peevishly. "Sounds interesting. Where are you? I guess maybe I'll jog along."
"I should think you would!" snapped Carruthers. "You know the Palace on the Bowery? Yes? Well, meet me on the corner there as soon as you can. Hustle! Good—"
"Oh, I say, Carruthers!" interposed Jimmie Dale.
"Yes?" demanded Carruthers.
"Thanks awfully for letting me know, old man."
"Don't mention it!" returned Carruthers sarcastically. "You always were a grateful beast, Jimmie. Hurry up!"
Jimmie Dale hung up the receiver of the city 'phone, and took down the receiver of another, a private-house installation, and rang twice for the garage.
"The light car at once, Benson," he ordered curtly. "At once!"
Jimmie Dale worked quickly then. In his dressing room, he changed from dinner clothes to tweeds; spent a second or so over the contents of a locked drawer in the dresser, from which he selected a very small but serviceable automatic, and a very small but highly powerful magnifying glass whose combination of little round lenses worked on a pivot, and, closed over one another, were of about the compass of a quarter of a dollar.
In three minutes he was outside the house and stepping into the car, just as it drew up at the curb.
"Benson," he said tersely to his chauffeur, "drop me one block this side of the Palace on the Bowery—and forget there was ever a speed law enacted. Understand?"
"Very good, sir," said Benson, touching his cap. "I'll do my best, sir."
Jimmie Dale, in the tonneau, stretched out his legs under the front seat, and dug his hands into his pockets—and inside the pockets his hands were clenched and knotted fists.
Murder! At times it had occurred to him that there was a possibility that some crook of the underworld would attempt to cover his tracks and take refuge from pursuit by foisting himself on the authorities as the Gray Seal. That was a possibility, a risk always to be run. But that MURDER should be laid to the Gray Seal's door! Anger, merciless and unrestrained, surged over Jimmie Dale.
There was peril here, live and imminent. Suppose that some day he should be caught in some little affair, recognised and identified as the Gray Seal, there would be the charge of murder hanging over him—and the electric chair to face!
But the peril was not the only thing. Even worse to Jimmie Dale's artistic and sensitive temperament was the vilification, the holding up to loathing, contumely, and abhorrence of the name, the stainless name, of the Gray Seal. It WAS stainless! He had guarded it jealously—as a man guards the woman's name he loves.
Affairs that had mystified and driven the police distracted with impotence there had been, many of them; and on the face of them—crimes. But no act ever committed had been in reality a crime—none without the highest of motives, the righting of some outrageous wrong, the protection of some poor stumbling fellow human.
That had been his partnership with her. How, by what amazing means, by what power that smacked almost of the miraculous she came in touch with all these things and supplied him with the data on which to work he did not know—only that, thanks to her, there were happier hearts and happier homes since the Gray Seal had begun to work. "Dear Philanthropic Crook," she often called him in her letters. And now—it was MURDER!
Take Carruthers, for instance. For years, as a reporter before he had risen to the editorial desk, he had been one of the keenest on the scent of the Gray Seal, but always for the sake of the game—always filled with admiration, as he said himself, for the daring, the originality of the most puzzling, bewildering, delightful crook in the annals of crime. Carruthers was but an example. Carruthers now would hunt the Gray Seal like a mad dog. The Gray Seal, to Carruthers and every one else, would be the vilest name in the land—a synonym for murder.
On the car flew—and upon Jimmie Dale's face, as though chiselled in marble, was a look that was not good to see. And a mirthless smile set, frozen, on his lips.
"I'll get the man that did this," gritted Jimmie Dale between his teeth. "I'll GET him! And, when I get him, I'll wring a confession from him if I have to swing for it!"
The car swept from Broadway into Astor Place, on down the Bowery, and presently stopped.
Jimmie Dale stepped out. "I shall not want you any more, Benson," he said. "You may return home."
Jimmie Dale started down the block—a nonchalant Jimmie Dale now, if anything, bored a little. Near the corner, a figure, back turned, was lounging at the edge of the sidewalk. Jimmie Dale touched the man on the arm.
"Hello, Carruthers!" he drawled.
"Ah, Jimmie!" Carruthers turned with an excited smile. "That's the boy! You've made mighty quick time."
"Well, you told me to hurry," grumbled Jimmie Dale. "I'm doing my best to please you to-night. Came down in my car, and got summoned for three fines to-morrow."
Carruthers laughed. "Come on," he said; and, linking his arm in Jimmie Dale's, turned the corner, and headed west along the cross street. "This is going to make a noise," he continued, a grim note creeping into his voice. "The biggest noise the city has ever heard. I take back all I said about the Gray Seal. I'd always pictured his cleverness as being inseparable with at least a decent sort of man, even if he was a rogue and a criminal, but I'm through with that. He's a rotter and a hound of the rankest sort! I didn't think there was anything more vulgar or brutal than murder, but he's shown me that there is. A guttersnipe's got more decency! To murder a man and then boastfully label the corpse is—"
"Say, Carruthers," said Jimmie Dale plaintively, suddenly hanging back, "I say, you know, it's—it's all right for you to mess up in this sort of thing, it's your beastly business, and I'm awfully damned thankful to you for giving me a look-in, but isn't it—er—rather INFRA DIG for me? A bit morbid, you know, and all that sort of thing. I'd never hear the end of it at the club—you know what the St. James is. Couldn't I be Merideth Stanley Annstruther, or something like that, one of your new reporters, or something like that, you know?"
Carruthers chuckled. "Sure, Jimmie," he said. "You're the latest addition to the staff of the NEWS-ARGUS. Don't worry; the incomparable Jimmie Dale won't figure publicly in this."
"It's awfully good of you," said Jimmie gratefully. "I have to have a notebook or something, don't I?"
Carruthers, from his pocket, handed him one. "Thanks," said Jimmie Dale.
A little way ahead, a crowd had collected on the sidewalk before a doorway, and Carruthers pointed with a jerk of his hand.
"It's in Moriarty's place—a gambling hell," he explained. "I haven't got the story myself yet, though I've been inside, and had a look around. Inspector Clayton discovered the crime, and reported it at headquarters. I was at my desk in the office when the news came, and, as you know the interest I've taken in the Gray Seal, I decided to 'cover' it myself. When I got here, Clayton hadn't returned from headquarters, so, as you seemed so keenly interested last week, I telephoned you. If Clayton's back now we'll get the details. Clayton's a good fellow with the 'press,' and he won't hold anything out on us. Now, here we are. Keep close to me, and I'll pass you in."
They shouldered through the crowd and up to an officer at the door. The officer nodded, stepped aside, and Carruthers, with Jimmie Dale following, entered the house.
They climbed one flight, and then another. The card-rooms, the faro, stud, and roulette layouts were deserted, save for policemen here and there on guard. Carruthers led the way to a room at the back of the hall, whose door was open and from which issued a hubbub of voices—one voice rose above the others, heavy and gratingly complacent.
"Clayton's back," observed Carruthers.
They stepped over the threshold, and the heavy voice greeted them.
"Ah, here's Carruthers now! H'are you, Carruthers? They told me you'd been here, and were coming back, so I've been keeping the boys waiting before handing out the dope. You've had a look at that—eh?" He flung out a fat hand toward the bed.
The voices rose again, all directed at Carruthers now.
"Bubble's burst, eh, Carruthers? What about the 'Prince of Crooks'? Artistry in crime, wasn't it, you said?" They were quoting from his editorials of bygone days, a half dozen reporters of rival papers, grinning and joshing him good-naturedly, seemingly quite unaffected by what lay within arm's reach of them upon the bed.
Carruthers smiled a little wryly, shrugged his shoulders—and presented Jimmie Dale to Inspector Clayton.
"Mr. Matthewson, a new man of ours—inspector."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Matthewson," said the inspector.
Jimmie Dale found his hand grasped by another that was flabby and unpleasantly moist; and found himself looking into a face that was red, with heavy rolls of unhealthy fat terminating in a double chin and a thick, apoplectic neck—a huge, round face, with rat's eyes.
Clayton dropped Jimmie Dale's hand, and waved his own in the air. Jimmie Dale remained modestly on the outside of the circle as the reporters gathered around the police inspector.
"Now, then," said Clayton coarsely, "the guy that's croaked there is Metzer, Jake Metzer. Get that?"
Jimmie Dale, scribbling hurriedly in his notebook like all the rest, turned a little toward the bed, and his lower jaw crept out the fraction of an inch. Both gas jets in the room were turned on full, giving ample light. A man fully dressed, a man of perhaps forty, lay upon his back on the bed, one arm outflung across the bedspread, the other dangling, with fingers just touching the floor, the head at an angle and off the pillow. It was as though he had been carried to the bed and flung upon it after the deed had been committed. Jimmie Dale's eyes shifted and swept the room. Yes, everything was in disorder, as though there had been a struggle—a chair upturned, a table canted against the wall, broken pieces of crockery from the washstand on the carpet, and—
"Metzer was a stool pigeon, see?" went on Clayton, "and he lived here. Moriarty wasn't on to him. Metzer stood in thick with a wider circle of crooks than any other snitch in New York."
Jimmie Dale, still scribbling as Clayton talked, stepped to the bed and leaned over the murdered man. The murder had been done with a blackjack evidently—a couple of blows. The left side of the temple was crushed in. Right in the middle of the forehead, pasted there, a gray-colored, diamond shaped paper seal flaunted itself—the device of the Gray Seal. In Jimmie Dale' hand, hidden as he turned his back, the tiny combination of powerful lenses was focused on the seal.
Clayton guffawed. "That's right!" he called out. "Take a good look. That's a bright young man you've got, Carruthers."
Jimmie Dale looked up a little sheepishly—and got a grin from the assembled reporters, and a scowl from Carruthers.
"Now, then," continued Clayton, "here's the facts—as much of 'em as I can let you boys print at present. You know I'm stretching a point to let you in here—don't forget that when you come to write up the case—honour where's honour's due, you know. Well, me and Metzer there was getting ready to close down on a big piece of game, and I was over here in this room talking to him about it early this afternoon. We had it framed to get our man to-night—see? I left Metzer, say, about three o'clock, and he was to show up over at headquarters with another little bit of evidence we wanted at eight o'clock to-night."
Jimmie Dale was listening—to every word. But he stooped now again over the murdered man's head deliberately, though he felt the inspector's rat's eyes upon him—stooped, and, with his finger nail, lifted back the right-hand point of the diamond-shaped seal where it bordered a faint thread of blood on the man's forehead.
There was a bull-like roar from the inspector, and he burst through the ring of reporters, and grabbed Jimmie Dale by the shoulder.
"Here you, what in hell are you doing!" he spluttered angrily.
Embarrassed and confused, Jimmie Dale drew back, glanced around, and smiled again a little sheepishly as his eyes rested on the red-flushed jowl of the inspector.
"I—I wanted to see how it was stuck on," he explained inanely.
"Stuck on!" bellowed Clayton. "I'll show you how it's STUCK on, if you monkey around here! Don't you know any better than that! Where were you dragged up anyway? The coroner hasn't been here yet. You're a hot cub of a reporter, you are!" He turned to Carruthers. "Y'ought to get out printed instructions for 'em before you turn 'em loose!" he snapped.
Carruthers' face was red with mortification. There was a grin, expanded, on the faces of the others.
"Stand away from that bed!" roared Clayton at Jimmie Dale. "And if you go near it again, I'll throw you out of here bodily!"
Jimmie Dale edged away, and, eyes lowered, fumbled nervously with the leaves of his notebook.
Clayton grunted, glared at Jimmie Dale for an instant viciously—and resumed his story.
"I was saying," he said, "that Metzer was to come to headquarters at eight o'clock this evening. Well, he didn't show up. That looked queer. It was mighty important business. We was after one of the biggest hauls we'd ever pulled off. I waited till nine o'clock, an hour ago, and I was getting nervous. Then I started over here to find out what was the matter. When I got here I asked Moriarty if he'd seen Metzer. Moriarty said he hadn't since I was here before. He was a little suspicious that I had something on Metzer—see? Well, by pumping Moriarty, he admitted that Metzer had had a visitor about an hour after I left."
"Who was it? Know what his name is, inspector?" asked one of the reporters quickly.
Inspector Clayton winked heavily. "Don't be greedy boys," he grinned.
"You mean you've got him?" burst out another one of the men excitedly.
"Sure! Sure, I've got him." Inspector Clayton waved his fat hand airily. "Or I will have before morning—but I ain't saying anything more till it's over." He smiled significantly. "Well, that's about all. You've got the details right around you. I left Moriarty downstairs and came up here, and found just what you see—Metzer laying on the bed there, and the gray seal stuck on his forehead—and"—he ended abruptly—"I'll have the Gray Seal himself behind the bars by morning."
A chorus of ejaculations rose from the reporters, while their pencils worked furiously.
Then Jimmie Dale appeared to have an inspiration. Jimmie Dale turned a leaf in his notebook and began to sketch rapidly, cocking his head now on one side now on the other. With a few deft strokes he had outlined the figure of Inspector Clayton. The reporter beside Jimmie Dale leaned over to inspect the work, and another did likewise. Jimmie Dale drew in Clayton's face most excellently, if somewhat flatteringly; and then, with a little flourish of pride, wrote under the drawing: "The Man Who Captured the Gray Seal."
"That's a cracking good sketch!" pronounced the reporter at his side. "Let the inspector see it."
"What is it?" demanded Clayton, scowling.
Jimmie Dale handed him the notebook modestly.
Inspector Clayton took it, looked at it, looked at Jimmie Dale; then his scowl relaxed into a self-sufficient and pleased smile, and he grunted approvingly.
"That's the stuff to put over," he said. "Mabbe you're not much of a reporter, but you can draw. Y're all right, sport—y're all right. Forget what I said to you a while ago."
Jimmie Dale smiled too—deprecatingly. And put the notebook in his pocket.
An officer entered the room hurriedly, and, drawing Clayton aside, spoke in an undertone. A triumphant and malicious grin settled on Clayton's features, and he started with a rush for the door.
"Come around to headquarters in two hours, boys," he called as he went out, "and I'll have something more for you."
The room cleared, the reporters tumbling downstairs to make for the nearest telephones to get their "copy" into their respective offices.
On the street, a few doors up from the house where they were free from the crowd, Carruthers halted Jimmie Dale.
"Jimmie," he said reproachfully, "you certainly made a mark of us both. There wasn't any need to play the 'cub' so egregiously. However, I'll forgive you for the sake of the sketch—hand it over, Jimmie; I'm going to reproduce it in the first edition."
"It wasn't drawn for reproduction, Carruthers—at least not yet," said Jimmie Dale quietly.
Carruthers stared at him. "Eh?" he asked blankly.
"I've taken a dislike to Clayton," said Jimmie Dale whimsically. "He's too patently after free advertising, and I'm not going to help along his boost. You can't have it, old man, so let's think about something else. What'll they do with that bit of paper that's on the poor devil's forehead up there, for instance."
"Say," said Carruthers, "does it strike you that you're acting queer? You haven't been drinking, have you, Jimmie?"
"What'll they do with it?" persisted Jimmie Dale.
"Well," said Carruthers, smiling a little tolerantly, "they'll photograph it and enlarge the photograph, and label it 'Exhibit A' or 'Exhibit B' or something like that—and file it away in the archives with the fifty or more just like it that are already in their collection."
"That's what I thought," observed Jimmie Dale. He took Carruthers by the lapel of the coat. "I'd like a photograph of that. I'd like it so much that I've got to have it. Know the chap that does that work for the police?"
"Yes," admitted Carruthers.
"Very good!" said Jimmie Dale crisply, "Get an extra print of the enlargement from him then—for a consideration—whatever he asks—I'll pay for it."
"But what for?" demanded Carruthers. "I don't understand."
"Because," said Jimmie Dale very seriously, "put it down to imagination or whatever you like, I think I smell something fishy here."
"You WHAT!" exclaimed Carruthers in amazement. "You're not joking, are you, Jimmie?"
Jimmie Dale laughed shortly. "It's so far from a joke," he said, in a low tone, "that I want your word you'll get that photograph into my hands by to-morrow afternoon, no matter what transpires in the meantime. And look here, Carruthers, don't think I'm playing the silly thickhead, and trying to mystify you. I'm no detective or anything like that. I've just got an idea that apparently hasn't occurred to any one else—and, of course, I may be all wrong. If I am, I'm not going to say a word even to you, because it wouldn't be playing fair with some one else; if I'm right the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS gets the biggest scoop of the century. Will you go in on that basis?"
Carruthers put out his hand impulsively. "If you're in earnest, Jimmie—you bet!"
"Good!" returned Jimmie Dale. "The photograph by to-morrow afternoon then. And now—"
"And now," said Caruthers, "I've got to hurry over to the office and get a write-up man at work. Will you come along, or meet me at headquarters later? Clayton said in two hours he'd—"
"Neither," said Jimmie Dale. "I'm not interested in headquarters. I'm going home."
"Well, all right then," Carruthers returned. "You can bank on me for to-morrow. Good-night, Jimmie."
"Good-night, old man," said Jimmie Dale, and, turning, walked briskly toward the Bowery.
But Jimmie Dale did not go home. He walked down the Bowery for three blocks, crossed to the east side, and turned down a cross street. Two blocks more he walked in this direction, and halfway down the next. Here he paused an instant—the street was dimly lighted, almost dark, deserted. Jimmie Dale edged close to the houses until his shadow blended with the shadows of the walls—and slipped suddenly into a pitch-black areaway.
He opened a door, stepped into an unlighted hallway where the air was close and evil smelling, mounted a stairway, and halted before another door on the first landing. There was the low clicking of a lock, three times repeated, and he entered a room, closing and fastening the door behind him.
Jimmie Dale called it his "Sanctuary." In one of the worst neighbourhoods of New York, where no questions were asked as long as the rent was paid, it had the further advantage of three separate exits—one by the areaway where he had entered; one from the street itself; and another through a back yard with an entry into a saloon that fronted on the next street. It was not often that Jimmie Dale used his Sanctuary, but there had been times when it was no more nor less than exactly what he called it—a sanctuary!
He stepped to the window, assured himself that the shade was down—and lighted the gas, blinking a little as the yellow flame illuminated the room.
It was a rough place, dirty, uninviting; a bedroom, furnished in the most scanty fashion. Neither, apparently, was there anything suspicious about it to reward one curious enough to break in during the owner's absence—some rather disreputable clothes hanging on the wall, and flung untidily across the bed—that was all.
Alone now, Jimmie Dale's face was strained and anxious and, occasionally, as he undressed himself, his hands clenched until his knuckles grew white. The gray seal on the murdered man's forehead was a GENUINE GRAY SEAL—one of Jimmie Dale's own. There was no doubt of that—he had satisfied himself on that point.
Where had it come from? How had it been obtained? Jimmie Dale carefully placed the clothes he had taken off under the mattress, pulled a disreputable collarless flannel shirt over his head, and pulled on a disreputable pair of boots. There were only two sources of supply. His own—and the collection that the police had made, which Carruthers had referred to.
Jimmie Dale lifted a corner of the oilcloth in a corner of the room, lifted a piece of the flooring, lifted out a little box which he placed upon the rickety table, and sat down before a cracked mirror. Who was it that would have access to the gray seals in the possession of the police, since, obviously, it was one of those that was on the dead man's forehead? The answer came quick enough—came with the sudden out-thrust of Jimmie Dale's lower jaw. ONE OF THE POLICE THEMSELVES—no one else. Clayton's heavy, cunning face, Clayton's shifty eyes, Clayton's sudden rush when he had touched the dead man's forehead, pictured themselves in a red flash of fury before Jimmie Dale. There was no mask now, no facetiousness, no acted part—only a merciless rage, and the muscles of Jimmie Dale's face quivered and twitched. MURDER, foisted, shifted upon another, upon the Gray Seal—making of that name a calumny—ruining forever the work that she and he might do!
And then Jimmie Dale smiled mirthlessly, with thinning lips. The box before him was open. His fingers worked quickly—a little wax behind the ears, in the nostrils, under the upper lip, deftly placed-hands, wrists, neck, throat, and face received their quota of stain, applied with an artist's touch—and then the spruce, muscular Jimmie Dale, transformed into a slouching, vicious-featured denizen of the underworld, replaced the box under the flooring, pulled a slouch hat over his eyes, extinguished the gas, and went out.
Jimmie Dale's range of acquaintanceship was wide—from the upper strata of the St. James Club to the elite of New York's gangland. And, adored by the one, he was trusted implicitly by the other—not understood, perhaps, by the latter, for he had never allied himself with any of their nefarious schemes, but trusted implicitly through long years of personal contact. It had stood Jimmie Dale in good stead before, this association, where, in a sort of strange, carefully guarded exchange, the news of the underworld was common property to those without the law. To New York in its millions, the murder of Metzer, the stool pigeon, would be unknown until the city rose in the morning to read the sensational details over the breakfast table; here, it would already be the topic of whispered conversations, here it had probably been known long before the police had discovered the crime. Especially would it be expected to be known to Pete Lazanis, commonly called the Runt, who was a power below the dead line and, more pertinent still, one in whose confidence Jimmie Dale had rejoiced for years.
Jimmie Dale, as Larry the Bat—a euphonious "monaker" bestowed possibly because this particular world knew him only by night—began a search for the Runt. From one resort to another he hurried, talking in the accepted style through one corner of his mouth to hard-visaged individuals behind dirty, reeking bars that were reared on equally dirty and foul-smelling sawdust-strewn floors; visiting dance halls, secretive back rooms, and certain Chinese pipe joints.
But the Runt was decidedly elusive. There had been no news of him, no one had seen him—and this after fully an hour had passed since Jimmie Dale had left Carruthers in front of Moriarty's. The possibilities however were still legion—numbered only by the numberless dives and dens sheltered by that quarter of the city.
Jimmie Dale turned into Chatham Square, heading for the Pagoda Dance Hall. A man loitering at the curb shot a swift, searching glance at him as he slouched by. Jimmie Dale paused in the doorway of the Pagoda and looked up and down the street. The man he had passed had drawn a little closer; another man in an apparently aimless fashion lounged a few yards away.
"Something up," muttered Jimmie Dale to himself. "Lansing, of headquarters, and the other looks like Milrae."
Jimmie Dale pushed in through the door of the Pagoda. A bedlam of noise surged out at him—a tin-pan piano and a mandolin were going furiously from a little raised platform at the rear; in the centre of the room a dozen couples were in the throes of the tango and the bunny-hug; around the sides, at little tables, men and women laughed and applauded and thumped time on the tabletops with their beer mugs; while waiters, with beer-stained aprons and unshaven faces, juggled marvelous handfuls of glasses and mugs from the bar beside the platform to the patrons at the tables.
Jimmie Dale's eyes swept the room in a swift, comprehensive glance, fixed on a little fellow, loudly dressed, who shared a table halfway down the room with a woman in a picture hat, and a smile of relief touched his lips. The Runt at last!
He walked down the room, caught the Runt's eyes significantly as he passed the table, kept on to a door between the platform and the bar, opened it, and went out into a lighted hallway, at one end of which a door opened onto the street, and at the other a stairway led above.
The Runt joined him. "Wot's de row, Larry?" inquired the Runt.
"Nuthin' much," said Jimmie Dale. "Only I t'ought I'd let youse know. I was passin' Moriarty's an' got de tip. Say, some guy's croaked Jake Metzer dere."
"Aw, ferget it!" observed the Runt airily. "Dat's stale. Was wise to dat hours ago."
Jimmie Dale's face fell. "But I just come from dere," he insisted; "an' de harness bulls only just found it out."
"Mabbe," grunted the Runt. "But Metzer got his early in de afternoon—see?"
Jimmie Dale looked quickly around him—and then leaned toward the Runt.
"Wot's de lay, Runt?" he whispered.
The Runt pulled down one eyelid, and, with his knowing grin, the cigarette, clinging to his upper lip, sagged down in the opposite corner of his mouth.
Jimmie Dale grinned, too—in a flash inspiration had come to Jimmie Dale.
"Say, Runt"—he jerked his head toward the street door—"wot's de fly cops doin' out dere?"
The grin vanished from the Runt's lips. He stared for a second wildly at Jimmie Dale, and then clutched at Jimmie Dale's arm.
"De WOT?" he said hoarsely.
"De fly cops," Jimmie Dale repeated in well-simulated surprise. "Dey was dere when I come in—Lansing an' Milrae, an—"
The Runt shot a hurried glance at the stairway, and licked his lips as though they had gone suddenly dry.
"My Gawd, I—" He gasped, and shrank hastily back against the wall beside Jimmie Dale.
The door from the street had opened noiselessly, instantly. Black forms bulked there—then a rush of feet—and at the head of half a dozen men, the face of Inspector Clayton loomed up before Jimmie Dale. There was a second's pause in the rush; and, in the pause, Clayton's voice, in a vicious undertone:
"You two ginks open your traps, and I'll run you both in!"
And then the rush passed, and swept on up the stairs.
Jimmie Dale looked at the Runt. The cigarette dangled limply; the Runt's eyes were like a hunted beast's.
"Dey got him!" he mumbled. "It's Stace—Stace Morse. He come to me after croakin' Metzer, an' he's been hidin' up dere all afternoon."
Stace Morse—known in gangland as a man with every crime in the calendar to his credit, and prominent because of it! Something seemed to go suddenly queer inside of Jimmie Dale. Stace Morse! Was he wrong, after all? Jimmie Dale drew closer to the Runt.
"Yer givin' me a steer, ain't youse?" He spoke again from the corner of his mouth, almost inaudibly. "Are youse sure it was Stace croaked Metzer? Wot fer? How'd yer know?"
The Runt was listening, his eyes strained toward the stairs. The hall door to the street was closed, but both were quite well aware that there was an officer on guard outside.
"He told me," whispered the Runt. "Metzer was fixin' ter snitch on him ter-night. Dey've got de goods on Stace, too. He made a bum job of it."
"Why didn't he get out of de country den when he had de chanst, instead of hangin' around here all afternoon?" demanded Jimmie Dale.
"He was broke," the Runt answered. "We was gettin' de coin fer him ter fade away wid ter-night, an'—"
A revolver shot from above cut short his words. Came then the sound of a struggle, oaths, the shuffling tread of feet—but in the dance hall the piano still rattled on, the mandolin twanged, voices sang and applauded, and beer mugs thumped time.
They were on the stairs now, the officers, half carrying, half dragging some one between them—and the man they dragged cursed them with utter abandon. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Jimmie Dale caught sight of the prisoner's face—not a prepossessing one—villainous,—low-browed, contorted with a mixture of fear and rage.
"It's a lie! A lie! A lie!" the man shrieked. "I never seen him in me life—blast you!—curse you!—d'ye hear!"
Inspector Clayton caught Jimmie Dale and the Runt by the collars.
"There's nothing to interest you around here!" he snapped maliciously. "Go on, now—beat it!" And he pushed them toward the door.
They had heard the disturbance in the dance hall now and the occupants were swarming to the sidewalk. A patrol wagon came around the corner. In the crowd Jimmie Dale slipped away from the Runt.
Was he wrong, after all? A fierce passion seized him. It was Stace Morse who had murdered Metzer, the Runt had said. In Jimmie Dale's brain the words began to reiterate themselves in a singsong fashion: "It was Stace Morse. It was Stace Morse." Then his lips drew tight together. WAS it Stace Morse? He would have given a good deal for a chance to talk to the man—even for a minute. But there was no possibility of that now. Later, to-morrow perhaps, if he was wrong, after all!
Jimmie Dale returned to the Sanctuary, removed from his person all evidences of Larry the Bat—and from the Sanctuary went home to Riverside Drive.
In his den there, in the morning after breakfast, Jason, the butler, brought him the papers. Three-inch headlines in red ink screamed, exulted, and shrieked out the news that the Gray Seal, in the person of Stace Morse, fence, yeggman and murderer, had been captured. The public, if it had held any private admiration for the one-time mysterious crook could now once and forever disillusion itself. The Gray Seal was Stace Morse—and Stace Morse was of the dregs of the city's scum, a pariah, an outcast, with no single redeeming trait to lift him from the ruck of mire and slime that had strewn his life from infancy. The face of Inspector Clayton, blandly self-complacent, leaped out from the paper to meet Jimmie Dale's eyes—and with it a column and a half of perfervid eulogy.
Something at first like dismay, the dismay of impotency, filled Jimmie Dale—and then, cold, leaving him unnaturally calm, the old merciless rage took its place. There was nothing to do now but wait—wait until Carruthers should send that photograph. Then if, after all, he were wrong—then he must find some other way. But was he wrong! The notebook that Carruthers had given him, open at the sketch he had made of Clayton, lay upon the desk. Jimmie Dale picked it up—he had already spent quite a little time over it before breakfast—and examined it again minutely, even resorting to his magnifying glass. He put it down as a knock sounded at the door, and Jason entered with a silver card tray. From Carruthers already! Jimmie Dale stepped quickly forward—and then Jimmie Dale met the old man's eyes. It wasn't from Carruthers—it was from HER!
"The same shuffer brought it, Master Jim," said Jason.
Jimmie Dale snatched the envelope from the tray, and waved the other from the room. As the door closed, he tore open the letter. There was just a single line:
Jimmie—Jimmie, you haven't failed, have you?
Jimmie Dale stared at it. Failed! Failed—HER! The haggard look was in his face again. It was the bond between them that was at stake—the Gray Seal—the bond that had come, he knew for all time in that instant, to mean his life.
"God knows!" he muttered hoarsely, and flung himself into a lounging chair, still staring at the note.
The hours dragged by. Luncheon time arrived and passed—and then by special messenger the little package from Carruthers came.
Jimmie Dale started to undo the string, then laid the package down, and held out his hands before him for inspection. They were trembling visibly. It was a strange condition for Jimmie Dale either to witness or experience, unlike him, foreign to him.
"This won't do, Jimmie," he said grimly, shaking his head.
He picked up the package again, opened it, and from between two pieces of cardboard took out a large photographic print. A moment, two, Jimmie Dale examined it, used the magnifying glass again; and then a strange gleam came into the dark eyes, and his lips moved.
"I've won," said Jimmie Dale, with ominous softness. "I've WON!"
He was standing beside the rosewood desk, and he reached for the phone. Carruthers would be at home now—he called Carruthers there. After a moment or two he got the connection.
"This is Jimmie, Carruthers," he said. "Yes, I got it. Thanks. . . . Yes. . . . Listen. I want you to get Inspector Clayton, and bring him up here at once. . . . What? No, no—no! . . . How? . . . Why—er—tell him you're going to run a full page of him in the Sunday edition, and you want him to sit for a sketch. He'd go anywhere for that. . . . Yes. . . . Half an hour. . . . YES. . . . Good-bye."
Jimmie Dale hung up the receiver; and, hastily now, began to write upon a pad that lay before him on the desk. The minutes passed. As he wrote, he scored out words and lines here and there, substituting others. At the end he had covered three large pages with, to any one but himself, an indecipherable scrawl. These he shoved aside now, and, very carefully, very legibly, made a copy on fresh sheets. As he finished, he heard a car draw up in front of the house. Jimmie Dale folded the copied sheets neatly, tucked them in his pocket, lighted a cigarette, and was lolling lazily in his chair as Jason announced: "Mr. Carruthers, sir, and another gentleman to see you."
"Show them up, Jason," instructed Jimmie Dale.
Jimmie Dale rose from his chair as they came in. Jason, well-trained servant, closed the door behind them.
"Hello, Carruthers; hello, inspector," said Jimmie Dale pleasantly, and waved them to seats. "Take this chair, Carruthers." He motioned to one at his elbow. "Glad to see you, inspector—try that one in front of the desk, you'll find it comfortable."
Carruthers, trying to catch Jimmie Dale's eye for some sort of a cue, and, failing, sat down. Inspector Clayton stared at Jimmie Dale.
"Oh, it's YOU, eh?" His eyes roved around the room, fastened for an instant on some of Jimmie Dale's work on an easel, came back finally to Jimmie Dale—and he plumped himself down in the chair indicated. "Thought you was more'n a cub reporter," he remarked, with a grin. "You were too slick with your pencil. Pretty fine studio you got here. Carruthers says you're going to draw me."
Jimmie Dale smiled—not pleasantly—and leaned suddenly over the desk.
"Yes," he said slowly, a grim intonation in his voice, "going to draw you—TRUE TO LIFE."
With an exclamation, Clayton slued around in his chair, half rose, and his shifty eyes, small and cunning, bored into Jimmie Dale's face.
"What d'ye mean by that?" he snapped out
"Just exactly what I say," replied Jimmie Dale curtly. "No more, no less. But first, not to be too abrupt, I want to join with the newspapers in congratulating you on the remarkable—shall I call it celerity, or acumen?—with which you solved the mystery of Metzer's death, and placed the murderer behind the bars. It is really remarkable, inspector, so remarkable, in fact, that it's almost—SUSPICIOUS. Don't you think so? No? Well, that's what Mr. Carruthers was good enough to bring you up here to talk over—in an intimate and confidential way, you know."
Inspector Clayton surged up from his chair to his feet, his fists clenched, the red sweeping over his face—and then he shook one fist at Carruthers.
"So that's your game, is it!" he stormed. "Trying to crawl out of that twenty-five thousand reward, eh? And as for you"—he turned on Jimmie Dale—"you've rigged up a nice little plant between you, eh? Well, it won't work—and I'll make you squirm for this, both of you, damn you, before I'm through!" He glared from one to the other for a moment—then swung on his heel. "Good-afternoon, gentlemen," he sneered, as he started for the door.
He was halfway across the room before Jimmie Dale spoke.
Clayton turned. Jimmie Dale was still leaning over the desk, but now one elbow was propped upon it, and in the most casual way a revolver covered Inspector Clayton.
"If you attempt to leave this room," said Jimmie Dale, without raising his voice, "I assure you that I shall fire with as little compunction as though I were aiming at a mad dog—and I apologise to all mad dogs for coupling your name with them." His voice rang suddenly cold. "Come back here, and sit down in that chair!"
The colour ebbed slowly from Clayton's face. He hesitated—then sullenly retraced his steps; hesitated again as he reached the chair, and finally sat down.
"What—what d'ye mean by this?" he stammered, trying to bluster.
"Just this," said Jimmie Dale. "That I accuse you of the murder of Jake Metzer—IT WAS YOU WHO MURDERED METZER."
"Good God!" burst suddenly from Carruthers.
"You lie!" yelled Clayton—and again he surged up from his chair.
"That is what Stace Morse said," said Jimmie Dale coolly. "Sit down!"
Then Clayton tried to laugh. "You're—you're having a joke, ain't you? It was Stace—I can prove it. Come down to headquarters, and I can prove it. I got the goods on him all the way. I tell you"—his voice rose shrilly—"it was Stace Morse."
"You are a despicable hound," said Jimmie Dale, through set lips. "Here"—he handed the revolver over to Carruthers—"keep him covered, Carruthers. You're going to the CHAIR for this, Clayton," he said, in a fierce monotone. "The chair! You can't send another there in your place—this time. Shall I draw you now—true to life? You've been grafting for years on every disreputable den in your district. Metzer was going to show you up; and so, Metzer being in the road, you removed him. And you seized on the fact of Stace Morse having paid a visit to him this afternoon to fix the crime on—Stace Morse. Proofs? Oh, yes, I know you've manufactured proofs enough to convict him—if there weren't stronger proofs to convict YOU."
"Convict ME!" Clayton's lower jaw hung loosely; but still he made an effort at bluster. "You haven't a thing on me—not a thing—not a thing."