The Strange Adventure of the Panama Gold Chests
Author of “The Prairie Wife,” “The Hand of Peril,” “The Door of Dread,”
“The Silver Poppy,” Etc.
IT is one of life’s little ironies, I suppose, that man’s surest escape from misery should be through the contemplation of people more miserable than himself. Such, however, happens to be the case. And prompted by this genial cross between a stoic and cynic philosophy, I had formed the habit of periodically submerging myself in a bath of cleansing depravity.
The hopelessness of my fellow-beings, I found, seemed to give me something to live for. Collision with lives so putrescently abominable that my own by contrast seemed enviable had a tendency to make me forget my troubles. And this developed me into a sort of calamity chaser. It still carried me, on those nights when sleep seemed beyond my reach, to many devious and astounding corners of the city, to unsavory cellars where lemonsteerers and slough-beaters foregathered, to ill-lit rooms where anarchists nightly ate the fire of their own ineffectual oratory, to heavy-fumed drinking-places where pocket-slashers and till-tappers and dummy-chuckers and dips forgot their more arduous hours.
But more and more often I found my steps unconsciously directed towards that particular den of subterranean iniquities known as The Cafe of Failures. For it was in this new-world Cabaret du Neant that I had first heard of that engaging butler known to his confederates as “Sir Henry.” And I still had hopes of recovering my stolen great-coat.
Night by night I went back to that dimly lit den of life’s discards, the same as a bewildered beagle goes back to its last trace of aniseed. I grew inured to its bad air, unobservant of its scorbutic waiters, undisturbed by its ominous-looking warren of private rooms, and apathetic before its meretricious blondes.
Yet at no time was I one of the circle about me. At no time was I anything more than a spectator of their evershifting and ever-mystifying dramas. And this not unnatural secretiveness on their part, combined with a not unnatural curiosity on my own, finally compelled me to a method of espionage in which I grew to take some little pride.
'T'HIS method, for all its ingenuity, was simple enough to any one of even ordinary scientific attainments. When I found, for example, that the more select of those underworld conferences invariably took place in one of that tier of wood-partitioned drinking-rooms which lined the cafe’s east side, I perceived that if I could not invade those rooms in body I might at least be there in another form. So with the help of my friend Durkin, the reformed wire-tapper, I acquired a piece of machinery for the projection of the spirit into unwelcome corners.
This instrument, in fact, was little more than enlargement of the ordinary
NOTE. - This is the seventh story in Mr. Stringer's series, “The Sleep Walker.” Parley Kempton, sorely troubled with sleeplessness, ventures forth at midnight along the highways and byways of Manhattan and encounters divers strange adventures. Although each story is quite complete in itself, the series works logically to the solution of certain mysterious circumstances that have caused the hero’s great distress of mind.
telephone transmitter. It was made by attaching to an oblong of glass, constituting, of course, an insulated base, two carbon supports, with cavities, and four cross-pieces, also of carbon, with pointed ends, fitting loosely into the cavities placed along the side of the two supports. The result was, this carbon being what electricians call “a high resistance” and the loose contact-points where the laterals rested making resistance still higher, that all vibration, however minute, jarred the points against their supports and varied resistance in proportion to the vibration itself. This, of course, produced a changing current in the “primary” of the induction coil, and was in turn reproduced, greatly magnified, in the “secondary” where with the help of a small watchcase receiver it could be easily heard.
In other words, I acquired a mechanical sound-magnifier, a microphone, an instrument, of late called the Dictaphone, which translates the lightest tap of a pencil end into something which reaches the ear with the force of a hammer-blow. And the whole thing, battery, coil, insulated wire, carbon bars and glass base, could be carried in its leather case or thrust under my coat as easily as a folded opera hat.
It was equally easy, I found, to let it hang flat against the side wall of that rancid little chambre particuliere which stood next to the room where most of those star-chamber conspiracies seemed to take place. My method of adjusting the microphone was quite simple.
From the painted wooden partition I lifted down the gilt-framed picture of a bacchanalian lady whose semi-nudity disseminated the virtues of a champagne which I knew to be made from the refuse of the humble anole-evaporator. At the topmost edge of the square of dust where this picture had stood, I carefully screwed two L-hooks and on these hooks hung my microphone-base. Then I rehung the picture, leaving it there to screen my apparatus. My cloth-covered wires, which ran from this picture to the back of the worn leather couch against the wall, 1 very nicely concealed by pinning close
under a stretch of gas pipe and poking in under the edge of the tattered brown linoleum.
YET it was only on the third evening of my mildly exhilarating occupation in that stuffy little camera obscura that certain things occurred to rob my espionage of its impersonal and half-hearted excitement. I had ordered a bottle of Chianti and had gone into that room to all intents and purposes a diffident and maundering bon-vivant looking for nothing more than a quiet corner wherein to
Yet for one long hour I had sat in that secret auditorium, with my watch-case receiver at my ear, while a garrulous quartette of strike-breakers enlarged on the beatitude of beating up a “cop” who had ill-used one of their number.
It must have been a full half hour after they had gone before I again lifted the phone to my ear. What I heard this time was another man’s voice, alert, eager, a little high-pitched with excitement.
“I tell you, Chuck,” this thin and eager voice was declaring, “the thing’s a pipe! I got it worked out like a game o’ checkers. But Redney ’nd me can’t do a thing unless you stake us to a boat and a batch o’ tools!”
“What kind o’ tools?” asked a deep and cavernous bass voice. In that voice I could feel caution and stolidity, even an overtone of autocratic indifference.
“Ten bones’d get the whole outfit,” was the other’s answer.
“But what kind o’ tools?” insisted the unperturbed bass voice.
There was a second or two of silence. “That’s spielin’ the whole song,” demurred the other.
“Well, the whole song’s what I want to know,” was the calm and cavernous answer. “You’ll recall that three weeks ago I staked you boys for that expresswagon job—and I ain’t seen nothing from it yet!”
“Aw, that was a frame-up,” protested the first speaker. “Some squealer was layin’ for us!”
IT was a new voice that spoke next, a husky and quavering voice, as though it came from an alkaline throat not infrequently irrigated with fusel-oil whiskey.
“Tony, we got to let Chuck in on this. W e got to ! ”
“Why’ve we got to?”
“Two men can’t work it alone,” complained the latest speaker. “You know that. We can’t take chances—and Gawd knows there’s enough for three in this haul !”
Again there was a brief silence.
“You make me sick!” suddenly exploded the treble-voiced youth who had first spoken. “You’d think it was me who’s been singin’ about keepin’ this thing
“What’re you boys beefin’ about, anyway?” interposed that placid bass voice.
“I ain’t beefin’ about you. I ain’t kickin’ against lettin’ you in. But what I want to know is how’re we going’ to split when you are in? Who follied this thing up from the first? Who did the dirty work on it? Who nosed round that pier and measured her off, and got a bead on thé whole layout?”
“Then what’d you take me in for?” demanded the worthy called Redney. “Why didn’t you go ahead and hog the whole thing, without havin’ me trailin’ round?” “Cut that out. You know I’ve got to have help,” was the treble-noted retort. “You know it’s too big for one guy to handle.”
“And it’s so big you’ve got to have a boat and outfit,” suggested the bassvoiced man. “And I’ll bet you and Redney can’t raise two bits between you.”
“But you get me a tub with a kicker in, and two or three tools, and then you’ve got the nerve to hold up for a third rake off!” “I don’t see as I’m holdin’ up,” retorted the deep-voiced man. “You came to me, and I told you I was ready to talk business. You said you wanted help. Well, if you want help you’ve got to pay for it, same as I pay for those cigars!” “I’m willin’ to pay for it,” answered the high-voiced youth, with a quietness not . altogether divorced from sulkiness.
“Then what’re we wastin’ good time over?” inquired the man known as Redney. “This aint a case o’ milkin’ coffeebags from a slip-lighter. This haul’s big enough for three.”
“Well, what is your haul?” demanded the bass voice.
AGAIN there was a silence of several seconds.
“Cough it up,” prompted Redney. The silence that ensued seemed to imply that the younger man was slowly and reluctantly arriving at a change of front. There was the sound of a chair being pushed back, of a match being struck, of a glass being put down on a table-top.
“Chuck,” said the treble-voiced youth with a slow and impressive solemnity that was strangely in contrast to his earlier speech, “Chuck, we’re up against the biggest stunt that was ever pulled off in this burg of two-bone pikers!”
“So you’ve been insinuatin’,” was the answer that came out of the silence. “But I’ve been sittin’ here half an hour waitin’ to get a line on what you’re chewin’ a'bout.”
“Chuck,” said the treble voice, “you read the papers, don’t you?”“Now and then,” acknowledged the diffident bass voice.
“Well, did you see yesterday morning where the steamer Finance was rammed by the White Star Géorgie? Where she went down in the Lower Bay before she got started on her way South?”
“I sure did.”
“Well, did you read about her carryin’ six hundred and ten thousand dollars in gold—in gold taken from the Sub-Treasury here and done up in wooden boxes and consigned for that Panama Construction Comp’ny?”
“I sure did.”
“And did your eye fall on the item that all day yesterday the divers from the wreckin’ comp’ny were workin’ on that steamer, workin’ like niggers «’ettin’ that gold out of her strong room?”
“And do you happen to know whére that gold is now?” was the oratorical challenge flung at the other man.
“Just wait a minute,” remarked that ether man in his heavy guttural. “Is that your coup?”
“That’s my coup!” was the confident retort.
“Well, you’ve picked a lemon,” the big man calmly announced. “There’s nothin’ doin’, kiddo, nothin’ doin’!”
“Not on your life,” was the tense retort. “I know what I’m talkin’ about. And Redney knows.”
“And I know that gold went south on the steamer Advance" proclaimed the bass voice. “I happen to know they reshipped the whole bunch o’ metal on their second steamer.”
“Where’d you find that out?” demanded the scoffing treble voice.
“Not bein’ in the Sub-Treasury this season, I had to fall back on the papers for the news.”
“And that’s where you and the papers is in dead wrong! That’s how they’re foolin’ you and ev’ry other guy not in the know. I’ll tell you where that gold is. I’ll tell you where it lies, to the foot, at this minute!”
“She’s lying’ in the store room in a pile o’ wooden boxes, on that Panama Comp’ny’s pier down at the foot o’ Twentyeight’ street!”
“V/’OU’RE dreamin’, Tony, dreamin’.
■I No sane folks leave gold lyin’ round loose that way. No, sir; that’s what they’ve got a nice stone Sub-Treasury for.”
“Look a’ here, Chuck,” went on the tense treble voice. “Jus’ figure out what this day is. And find out when them wreckers got that gold out o’ the Finance’s strong room. And what d’you get? They lightered them boxes up the North River at one o’clock Saturday afternoon. Then swung in next to the Advance and put half-a-dozen cases o’ lead paint aboard. Then they tarpaulined them boxes o’ gold and swung into the Panama Comp’ny’s slip and unloaded that cargo at two o’clock Saturday afternoon !"
“Well, s’pose they did?”
“Don’t you tumble? Saturday afternoon there’s no Sub-Treasury open. And to-day’s Sunday, aint it?And they won’t get into that Sub-Treasury until to-morrow morning. And as sure as I know I’m sittin’ in this chair I know that gold’s lyin’ out there on that Twenty-eight’ street pier!”
No one in that little room seemed to stir. They seemed to be sitting in silent tableau. Then I could hear the man with the bass voice slowly and meditatively intone his low-life expletive.
“Well, I’ll be damned!”
npHE youngest of the trio spoke again, * in a lowered but none the less tense
“In gold, Chuck, pure gold! In fine yellow gold lyin’ there waitin’ to be rolled over and looked after! Talk about treasure-huntin’! Talk about Spanish mains and pirate ships! My Gawd, Chuck, we don’t need to travel down to no Mosquito Coast to dig up our doubloons! We got ’em right here at our back door!”
Some one struck a match.
“But how’re we goin’ to pick ’em?” placidly inquired the man called Chuck. It was as apparent that he already counted himself one of the party as it was that their intention had not quite carried him off his feet.
“Look here,” broke in the more fieryminded youth known as Tony, and from
the sound and the short interludes of silence he seemed to be drawing a map on a slip of paper. Here’s your pier. And here’s your store room. And here’s where your gold lies. And here’s the first door. And here’s the second. We don’t need to count on the doors. They’ve got a watchman somewhere about here. And they’ve put two of their special guards here at the land end of the pier. The store-room itself is empty. They’ve got it doublelocked, and a closed-circuit alarm system to cinch the thing. But what fell use is all that when we can get right up into the bowels o’ that room without touchin’ a lock or a burglar alarm, without makin’ a sound?”
“How?” inquired the bass voice. “Here’s your pier bottom. Here’s the river slip. We row into that slip without showin’ a light, and with the kicker shut off, naturally. We slide in under without makin’ a sound. Then we get our measurements. Then we make fast to this pile, and throw out a line to this one, and a second to this one, to hold us steady against the tide and the ferry wash. Then we find our right plank. We can do that by pokin’ a flashlight up against ’em where it’ll never be seen. Then we take a brace and bit and run a row o’ holes across that plank, the two rows about thirty inches apart, each hole touchin’ the other. Don’t you see, with a good sharp extension bit we can cut out that square in half an hour or so, without makin’ any more noise than you’d make seratchin’ a match on your pants’ leg!”
“And when you get out your square?’ “Then Redney and me climbs through. Redney’ll be the stall. He watches the door from the inside. You stay ,in the boat, with an eye peeled below. I pass you the gold. We cut loose and slip off with the tide. When we’re out o’ hearin’ we throw on the kicker and go kitin’ down to that Bath Beach point o’ yours where we’ll have that six hundred and ten thousand in gold melted down and weighed out before they get that store room door unlocked in the morning!”
“Not so loud, Tony; not so loud!” cautioned the conspirator called Redney. There was a moment of silence.
IN that silence, and without the aid of my microphone, I heard the sound of steps as they approached my door and came to
“Listen!” suddenly whispered one of the men in the other room.
As I sat there, listening as intently as my neighbors, the knob of my door turned. Then the door itself was impatiently shaken.
That sound brought me to my feet with a start of alarm. Accident had enmeshed me in a movement that was too gigantic to be overlooked. The one thing I could not. afford, at such a time, was discovery.
Three silent steps took me across the room to my microphone. One movement lifted that telltale instrument from its hooks, and a second movement jerked free the wires pinned in close along the gas pipe. Another movement or two saw my apparatus slipped into its case and the case dropped down behind the worn leather couch back. Then I sank into the chair beside the table, knowing there was nothing to betray me. Yet as I lounged there over my bottle of Chianti I could feel the excitement of the moment accelerate my pulse. I made an effort to get my feelings under control as second by second slipped away and nothing of importance took place. It was, I decided, my walleyed waiter friend, doubtless bearing a
message that more lucrative patrons were desiring my fetid-aired cubby-hole.
Then, of a sudden, I became aware of the fact that voices were whispering close outside my door. The next moment I heard the crunch of wood subjected to pressure, and before I could move or realize the full meaning of that sound, the door had been forced open and three men were staring in at me.
I looked up at them with a start—with a start, however, which I had the inspired foresight to translate into a hiccough. That hiccough, in turn, reminded me that I had a role to sustain, a role of care-free and irresponsible intoxication.
CO, opprobrious as the whole farce ^ seemed to me, I pushed my hat back on my head and blinkingly stared at the three intruders as they sauntered nonchalantly into the room. Yet as I winked up at them with all the sleepy unconcern at my command, I could see that each one of that trio was very much on the alert. It was the youngest of the three who turned
“Kiddo,” he said, and he spoke with an oily suavity not at all to my liking, “I kind o’ thought I smelt gas leakin’ in
He had the effrontery to turn and stare about at the four walls of the room. Then he moved easily across the floor to where the champagne picture hung. What he saw or did not see there I had no means of determining. For to turn and look after him would be to betray my part.
“That leak aint in this room,” admitted the second of the trio, a swarthy and
loose-lipped land pirate with a sweep of carroty bang which covered his left eyebrow. I knew, even before .he spoke, that he was the man called Redney, just as I knew the first speaker wras the youth they had addressed as Tony. About the third man. who towered above the other two in his giant-like stature, there was a sense of calm and solidity that seemed almost oachydermatous. Yet this same solidity in some way warned me that he might be the most dangerous of them all.
“ ’Sash all righ’!” I loosely condoned, with a sleepy lurch of the body. How much my acting was convincing to them was a matter of vast concern to me. The man named Tony, who had continued to study the wooden partition against which mv microphone had hung, turned back to t’’e table and calm'y seated himself beside me. My heart went down like an elevator with a broken cable when I noticed the nervous sweat which had come out on his forehead.
“Say, Sister, this puts the drinks on us ” he declared, with an airiness which I felt to be as unreal as my own inebriacy. I saw him motion for the other two to seat themselves.
,nr'HEY did so, a little mystified, each -*• man keeping his eyes fixed on the ’■outh called Tony. The latter laughed, for no reason that I could understand, and over his shoulder bawled out the one word, “Shimmey!”
Shimmey, I remembered, was my friend the wall-eyed waiter. And this waiter it was who stepped trailingly into the room.
“Shimmey,” said the voluble youth at
my side. “We introoded on this gen’lmun. And we got to square ourselves. So what’s it goin’ to be?”
“Nothin’!” I protested, with a repugnant wave of the hand.
“You mean we aint good enough for you to drink with?” demanded the youth called Tony. I could see what he wanted. I could feel what was coming. He was looking for some reason, however tenuous, to start trouble. Without fail he would find it in time. But my one desire was to defer that outcome as long as possible. So I grinned back at him, rather idiotically I’m afraid.
“All righ’,” I weakly agreed, blinking about at my tormentors. “Bring me a bran’y an’ soda.”
The other three men looked at the waiter. The waiter, in turn, looked at them. Then he studied my face. There was something decidedly unpleasant in his coldly speculative eyes.
“Shimmey, d’you understand? This gen’lmun wants a brandy and soda.”
The waiter, still studying me, said “Sure!” Then he turned on his heel and waiked out of the room.
I knewr, in my prophetic bones, that there was some form of trouble brewing in that odoriferous little room. But I was determined to side-step it, to avoid it, to the last extremity. And I wTas stil nodthe last extremity. And I was still nodturned with his tray of glasses.
“Well, here’s how,” said the youth, and we all lifted our glasses.
That brandy and soda, I knew, would not be the best of its kind. I also clearly
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Strange Adventure of Panama Gold Chests
Continued from puye 39
saw that it would he unwise to decline it. So I swallowed the stuff as a child swallows medicine.
I downed it in a gulp or two, and put the glass back on the table. Then I proceeded to wipe my mouth with the bacs of my hand, after the approved fashion of my environment.
It was fortunate, at that moment, that my hand was well up in front of my face. For ns the truth of the whole thing canv home to me, as sharp and quick as an electric spark, there must have been a second or two when my role slipped away from
T HAD, it is true, inwardly fortified myA self against a draught that would prove highly unpalatable. But the taste which 1 now detected, the acrid, unmistakable, over-familiar taste was too much for my startled nerves. I hid my sudden body movement only by means of a simulated hiccough. The thing I had unmistakably tasted was chloral hydrate. They had given me knock-out drops.
The idea, of a sudden, struck me as being so ludicrous that I laughed. The mere thought of any such manoeuvre was too much for me—the foolish hope that a homeopathic little pill of chloral would put me under the table, like any shopgirl lured from a dance hall! They were trying to drug me. Drug me, who had taken double and triple doses night after night as I fought for sleep!
They were trying to drug me, me who on my bad nights had even known the narcotic to be forcibly wrested from my clutch by those who stood appalled at the quantities that my too-inured system demanded, and knew only too well that in time it meant madness.
But I remembered, as I saw the three men staring at me, that I still had a role to sustain. I knew it would be unwise to let those sweet worthies know just how the land lay. I enjoyed an advantage much too exceptional and much too valuable to be lightly surrendered.
So to all outward signs and appearances I let the drug do its work. I carefully acted out my pretended lapse into somnolent indifference. I lost the power to co-ordinate; my speech grew inarticulate; my shoulders drooped forward across the table edge. I wilted down like a cut dock-weed, until my face lay flat against the beer-stained wood.
“He’s off,” murmured the man called Chuck. He rose to his feet as he spoke.
“Then we got to beat it,” declared the youth named Tony, already on his feet. I could hear him take a deep breath as he stood there, “And the next long nose who gives me heart disease like this is goin’ to get five inches o’ cold steel !”
TJE knelt before me as he spoke, pulled A 1 back my feet, and ran a knife edge along the shoe laces. Then he promptly pulled the shoes from my feet. These shoes, apparently, he kept in his hand. “That’ll help anchor ’im, I guess,” I heard him remark.
“Let’s get on the job,” suggested the big man, obviously impatient at the delay. “If there’s nothin’ but five inches o’ plank between us and that gold, let’s get busy!”
I sat there, with my head on that table top so redolent of the soured beverages of other days, and listened to them as they
moved across the room. I listened as they passed out and swung the door shut behind them. I waited there for another minute or two, without moving, knowing only too well what a second discovery would entail.
My head was still bent over that unclean table top when I heard the brokenlatched door once more pushed slowly open, and steps slowly cross the floor to where I sat.
Some one, I knew, was staring down at me. I felt four distended finger tips push inquisitively at my head, rolling it a little to one side. Then the figure bending above me shifted its position. A hand felt cautiously about my hody. It strayed lower, until it reached my watch pocket.
I could see nothing of my enemy’s face, and nothing of his figure. All I got a glimpse of was a patch of extremely soiled linen. But that glimpse was sufficient. It was my friend, the wall-eyed waiter, resolutely deciding to make hay while the s-un shone. And that decided me.
With one movement I rose from the chair and wheeled about so as to face him. That quick body twist spun his own figure half way around.
My fist caught him on the forward side of the relaxed jawbone. He struck the worn leather couch as he fell, and then rolled completely over, as inert as a sack of bran.
I looked down at him for a moment or two as he lay face upward on the floor. Then I dropped on one knee beside him, unlaced his slattern and square-toed shoes, and calmly adjusted them to my own feet.
ONCE out in the street I quickened my steps and rounded the first corner. Then I hurried on, turning still another corner, and still another, making doubly sure I was leaving no chance to be trailed. Then I swung aboard a cross-town car, alighting again at a corner flashing with the vulgar brilliance of an all-night drug
I went straight to the telephone booth of that drug store, and there I promptly called up police headquarters. I felt, as I asked for Lieutenant Belton, a person of some importance. Then I waited while the precious moments flew by.
Lieutenant Belton, I was finally informed, was at his room in the Hotel York, on Seventh avenue. So I rang up the Hotel York, only to be informed that the Lieutenant was not in.
I slammed the receiver down on its hook and ended that foolish colloquy. I first thought of Patrolman McCorey. Then I thought of Doyle, and then of Creegan, my old detective friend. Then with a jaw-grip of determination I caught that receiver up again, ordered a taxicab, paid for my calls, consulted my watch, and paced up and down like a caged hyena, waiting for my cab
Another precious ten minutes slipped away before I got to Creegan’s door in Forty-third street, punched the bell button above the mail box, and stood there with my finger on it for exactly a minute and a nail.
'T'IIEN I suddenly remembered that the clicking door latch beside me implied that my entrance was being automatically solicited. I stepped into the dimly lighted hall and made my way determinedly up the narrow carpeted stairs, knowing I would get face to face with Creegan if I had to crawl through a fanlight and pound in his bedroom door.
But it was Creegan himself who con-
fronted me as I swung about the banister turn of that shadowy second landing.
“You wake those kids up,” he solemnly informed me, “and I’ll kill you!”
“Creegan,” I cried, and it seemed foolish that I should have to inveigle and coax him into a crusade which meant infinitely more to him than to me, “I’m going to make you famous!”
“How soon?” he diffidently inquired.
“Inside of two hours’ time,” was my answer.
“Don’t wake those kids!” he commanded looking back over his shoulder.
I caught him by the sleeve, and held him there, for some vague premonition of a sudden withdrawal and a bolted door made me desperate. And time, I knew, was getting short.
“For Heaven’s sake, listen to me,” I said as I held him. And as he stood there under the singing gas jet, with his hurriedly lit and skeptically tilted stogy in one corner of his mouth, I told him in as few words as I could what had happened that night.
“Come in while I get me boots on,” he quietly remarked, leading me into an unlighted hallway and from that into a bedroom about the size of a ship’s cabin. “And speak low,” he said, with a nod toward the rear end of the hall. Then as he sat on the edge of the bed pulling on his shoes he made me recount everything for the second time, stopping me with an occasional question, fixing me with an occasionally cogitative eye.
“But we haven’t a minute to lose,” I warned him, for the second time, as he slipped away into a remoter cubby hole of a room to see, as he put it, “if the kids were keeping covered.”
He rejoined me at the stair head, with the softest of Irish smiles still on his face. By the time we had reached the street and stepped into the waiting taxi, that smile had disappeared. He merely smoked another stogy as we made our way out toward the end of Twenty-eighth street.
AT Tenth avenue, he suddenly decided it was better for us to go on foot. So he threw away his stogy end a little ruefully, and led me down a street as narrow and empty as a river bed. He led me into a part of New York that I had never before known. It was a district of bald brick walls, of rough flag and cobblestone underfoot, of lonely street lamps, of shipping platforms and unbroken warehouse sides, of storage yards and milk depots, with railway tracks bisecting streets as empty as though they were the streets of a dead city. No one appeared before us. Nothing gave signs of being alive in that area of desolate ugliness which seemed like the back yard of all the world concentrated in a few huddled squares.
We were almost on West Street itself before I was conscious of the periodic sound of boat whistles complaining through the night. The air, I noticed, took on a fresher and cleaner smell. Creegan, without speaking, drew me in close to a wall end, at the corner, and together we stood staring out toward the Hudson.
Directly in front of us, beyond a forest of barrels which stippled the asohalt, a veritable city of barrels that looked like the stumpage of a burned-over Douglas pine woodland, stood the facade of the Panama Company’s pier structure. It looked substantial and solemn enough, under its sober sheeting of corrugated iron. And two equally solemn figures
somber and silent in their dark overcoats, Stood impassively on guard before its closet! doors.
“Come on," Creegan finally whispered, walking quickly south to the end of Twenty-seventh street. He suddenly stopped and caught at my arm to arrest my own steps. We stood there, listening. Out of the silence, annarently from midriver, sounded the quick staccato coughing of a gasoline motor. It sounded for a moment or two, and then it «rew silent.
rE stood there without moving. Then the figure at my side seemed stung into sudden madness. Without a word of warning or explanation, my companion ducked down and went dodging in and out between the huddled clumps of barrels, threading a circuitous path toward the slip edge. I saw him drop down on all fours and peer over the stringniece. Then I saw him draw back, rise to his feet, and run northward toward the nier door where the two watchmen stood.
What he said to those watchmen I had no means of knowing. One of them, however, swung about and tattooed on the door with a night stick before Creegan could catch at his arm and stop him. Before 1 could join them, some one from within had thrown open the door. 1 saw Creegan and the first man dive into the chill-aired, high-vaulted buiTding, with its exotic odors of spice and coffee and mysterious tropical bales. I heard somebody call out to turn on the lights, and then Creegan’s disgustedly warning voice call back for him to shut up. Then somewhere in the gloom inside a further colloquy took place, a tangle of voices, a call for quietness followed by a sibilant hiss of caution.
Creegan appeared in the doorway again. I could see that he was motioning
“Come on,” he whispered. And I tiptoed in after him, under that echoing vaulted roof where the outline of a wheeled gangway looked oddly like the
skeleton of some great dinosaur, and the pungent spicy odors took me at one breath two thousand miles southward into the tropics.
“Take off those shoes,” quietly commanded Creegan. And I dropped beside him on the bare pier planks and slipped my feet out of Shimmey’s ungainly toed
AMAN moved aside from a door as we stepped silently up to it. Cree.van turned to whisper a word or two in his ear. Then he opened the door and led me by the sleeve into the utter darkness within, closing and locking the door after
I was startled by the sudden contact of Creegan’s groping fingers. I realized that he was thrusting a short cylindrical object up against my body.
“Take this,” he whispered.
“What is it?” I demanded in an answering whisper.
“It’s a flashlight. Press here—see! And throw it on when I say so!”
I took the flashlight, pressed as he told me, and saw a feeble glow of light from its glass-globed end. About this end he bad swathed a cotton pocket handkerchief. More actual illumination would have come from a tallow candle. But it seemed su Vicient for Creegan’s purpose. I could see him peer about, step across to a pile of stout wooden boxes, count them, test one as to its weight, squint once more searchingly about the room, and then drop full length on the plank flooring and press his ear to the wood.
He writhed and crawled about there, from one quarter of the room to another, every minute or so pressing an ear against the boards under him, for all fl-'' world like a physician sounding a patient’s lungs. He kept returning, I noticed, to one area in the centre of the room, not more than a yard away from the pile of wooden boxes. Then he leaned forward on his knees, his hands supporting his body in a grotesque bear-like posture. He continued to kneel there, intently watching the oak plank directly in front of him.
I saw one hand suddenly move foraward and feel along an inch or two of this plank, come to a stop, and then suddenly raise and wave in the air. I did not realize, at that moment, that the signal was for me.
“Put her out,” he whispered. And as I lifted my thumb from the contact point the room was again plunged into utter darkness. Yet through that darkness I could hear a distinct sound, a minute yet unmistakable noise of splintering wood, followed by an even louder sound, as though an auger were being withdrawn from a hole in the planking at nrfeet.
npHEN up from the floor on which Cregan knelt a thin ray of light flickered and wavered and disappeared. A rumble of guarded voices crept to my ears, and again I could detect that faint yet pregnant gnawing sound as the busy auger once more ate into the oak planking on which we stood.
I suddenly felt Creegan’s hand grope against my knee. He rose to his feet beside me.
“It’s all right,” he whispered, with a calmness which left me a little ashamed of my own excitement. “You stay here until I come back.”
I stood there listening to the slight noise of the door as he opened it and closed it after him. I stood there as I once more heard the telltale splintering of wood, indicating that the auger had completed its second hole through the planking. Then came the sound of its withdrawal, and again the wavering pencil of light as the men under the pier examined their work and adjusted their auger-end for its next perforation.
A new anxiety began to weigh on me. I began to wonder what would be keeping Creegan so long. I grew terrified at the thought that he might be too late. Vague contingencies on which I had failed to reckon began to present themselves to me. I realized that those three desperate men, once they saw I was again coming between them and their ends, would be staisfied with no half measures.
Then occurred a movement which nearly brought a cry from my startled lips. A hand, reaching slowly out through the darkness, came in contact with my knee, and clutched it. That contact, coming as it did without warning, without reason, sent a horripilating chill through all my body. The wonder was that I did not kick out, like a frightened colt, or start to flail
about me with my flashlight. All I did, however, was to twist and swing away. Yet before I could get to my feet, the hand had clutched the side of my coat. And as those clutching fingers held there, I heard a -voice whisper out of the dark-
“Here, take this,” and the moment I heard it I was able to breathe again, for I knew it was Creegan. “You may need it.”
He was holding what I took to be a policeman’s night-stick up in front of me. I took it from him, marveling how he could have re-entered that room without my hearing him.
“There’s a light-switch against the wall there, they say,” was his next whispered message to me. “Find it. Keep back there and throw it on if I give the word.”
I felt and pawed and padded about the wall for an uncertain moment or two. “Got it?” came Creegan’s whispering voice across the darkness.
“Yes,” I whispered back.
TTE did not speak again, for a newer * sound fell on both his ears and mine. It was a sound of prodding and prying, as though the men below were jimmying at their loosened square of planking.
I leaned forward, listening, for I could hear the squeak and grate of the shifting timber block. I did not hear it actually fall away. But I was suddenly conscious of a breath of cooler air in the room where I stood and the persistent ripple of water against barricaded pile-sides.
Then I heard a treble voice say, “A little higher.”
The speaker seemed so close that I felt I could have stooped down and touched his body. I knew, even before I saw the spurt of flame where he struck a match along the floor, that the man was already half way up through the hole. I could see the dirt-covered, clawlike hand as it held the match, nursing the tiny flame, patiently waiting for it to grow. It was not until this hand held the flaring match up before his very face that Creegan moved.
That movement was as simple as it was unexpected. I had no distinct vision of it, but I knew what it meant. I knew the moment I heard the dull and sickening impact of seasoned wood against a human skullbone.
There was just one blow. But it was so well placed that a second seemed unnecessary. Then, as far as I could judge, Creegan took hold of the stunned man and drew him bodily up through the hole in the floor.
A moment later a voice was saying, “Here, pull !” And I knew that the second man was on his way up into the room.
What prevented Creegan from repeating his manoeuvre with the night stick I could not tell. But I knew the second attack was not the clean-cut job of the first, for even as Creegan seized the body half way up through the opening, the struggle must have begun.
npHE consciousness that that struggle A was not to be promptly decided, that a third factor might at any moment appear in the fight, stung me into the necessity of some sort of blind action on my own part. I remembered the first man, and that he would surely be armed. I ran out toward the centre of the room, stumbled over the boxes of gold, and fell sprawling along the floor. Without so much as getting on my feet again I groped about until I found the prostrate body. It took me only a moment to feel about that limp mass, discover the revolver and draw it from its pocket. I was
still on my knees when I heard Creegan call out through the darkness.
“The light!” he gasped. “Turn on the light!”
I swung recklessly about at the note of alarm in his voice and tried to grope my way toward him. Only some last extremity coulci have wrung that call from him. It was only too plain that his position was now a perilous one. But what that peril was I could not decipher.
“Where are you?” I gasped, feeling that wherever he lay he needed help, that the quickest service I could render him would be to reach his side.
“The light, you fool!” he cried out. “The light!”
T dodged and groped back to the wall 1 where I felt the light-switch to be. I had my fingers actually on the switch when an arm like the arm of a derrick itself swung about through the darkness, and at one stroke knocked the breath out of my body and flattened me against the wall. Before I could recover my breath, a second movement spun me half around and lifted me clear off my feet. By this time the great arm was close about me, pinning my hands down to my side.
Before I could cry out or make an effort to escape, the great hulk holding me had shifted his grip, bringing me about directly in front of him and holding me there with a grasp that made even breathing a thing of torture. And as he held me there he reached out and turned on the light with his own hand. I knew, even before I actually saw him, that it was the third
I also knew, even before that light came on, what his purpose was. He was holding me there as a shield in front of him. This much I realized even before I saw the revolver with which he was menacing the enemy in front of him. What held my blinking and bewildered eyes was the fact that Creegan himself, on the far side of the room, was holding the struggling and twisting body of the man called Redney in precisely the same position.
But what disheartened me was the discovery that Creegan held nothing but a night stick in his left hand. All the strength of his right hand, I could see, was needed to hold his man. And his revolver was still in his pocket.
I had the presence of mind to remember my own revolver. And my predicament made me desperate. That gang had sown their dragon teeth, I decided, and now they could reap their harvest.
I made a pretence of struggling away from my captor’s clutch, but all the while I was working one elbow back, farther and farther back, so that a hand could be thrust into my coat pocket. I reached the pocket without being noticed. My fingers closed about the butt of the revolver. And still my purpose had not been discovered.
As I lifted that firearm from my pocket I was no longer a reasoning human being. At the same time that I felt this red flash of rage through my body, I also felt the clutch about my waist relax. The big man behind me was ejaculating a single word. It was “Creegan!"
Y\JHY that one shout should have the ' ' debilitating effect on Creegan which it did, I had no means of knowing. But I saw the sweatstained and blood-marked face of my colleague suddenly change. His eyes stared stupidly, his jaw fell, and he stood there, panting and open-mouthed, as though the last drop of courage had been driven out of his body.
I felt that he was giving up, that he was surrendering, even before I saw him let the man he had been holding fall away from him. But I remembered the revolver in my hand and the ignominies I had suffered. And again 1 felt that wave of something stronger than my own will, and I knew that my moment had come.
I had the revolver at half-arm, with its muzzle in against the body crushing mine, when Creegan’s voice, sharp and short as a bark, arrested that impending finger
“Stop!,” he cried, and the horror of his voice puzzled me.
“Why?" I demanded in a new and terrible calm. But I did not lower my revolver.
“Stop that!” he shouted, and his newer note, more of anger than fear, bewildered me a bit.
BUT Creegan, as he caught at the coat collar of the man called Redney, did not answer my repeated question. Instead, he stared at the man beside me.
“Well, I'll be damned!” he finally murmured.
“What t’hell are you doin' here?” cut in the big man as he pushed my revolver end away and dropped his own gun into his pocket. “I’ve been trailin' these guys for five weeks—and I want to know' why you’re queerin’ my job!”
Creegan, who had been feeling his front teeth between an investigatory thumb and forefinger, blinked up at the big man. Then be turned angrily on me.
“Put down that gun!” he howled. He took a deep breath. Then he laughed, mirthlessly, disgustedly. “You can’t shoot him!"
“Why can’t I?"
“He’s a stool pigeon ; A singed cat !
“And what’s a stool pigeon?” I demanded. “And what’s a singed cat?” Cregan laughed for the second time as he wiped his mouth with the back of his
“He’s a Headquarters’ gink who stays on the fence, and tries to hunt with the hounds the same time he’s runnin’ with the hares—and gener’ly goes round queerin’ an honest officer's work. And I guess he’s queered ours. So about the onlv thing for us to do, ’s far as I can see, is for us to crawl off home and go to bed!”