The Strange Adventure of the Stolen Wheel-Code
Third Episode of “The Sleep Walker” Series
Author of “The Prairie Wife,” “The Hand of Peril,” “The Door of Dread,” “The Silver Poppy."
I WAS in for a night of it. I realized that as I lay back in my big green library-chair and closed my eyes. For somewhere just in front of those tightly closed lids of mine I could still see a briskly revolving sort of pin-wheel, glowing like a milk-white orange against a murky violet fog that paled and darkened with every beat of my pulse.
I knew the symptoms only too well. The entire encampment of consciousness was feverishly awake, was alert, was on the qui-vive. That pulsing white pin-wheel was purely a personal matter between me and my imagination. It was something distinctly my own. It was me. And, being essentially subjective, it could be neither banished nor controlled.
So I decided to make for the open. To think of a four-poster in any such era of intensified wakefulness would be a mockery. For I was the arena of that morbid wakefulness which brought with it an over-crowded mental consciousness of existence far beyond my own physical vision, as though I had been appointed night-watchman for the whole round world, with a searching eye on all its multitudinous activities and aberrations. I seemed able to catch its breathing as it slept its cosmic sleep. I seemed to brood with lunar aloofness above its teeming plains, depressed by its enormous dimensions, confused by its incomprehensible tangle and clutter of criss-cross destinies. Its uncountable midnight voices seemed to merge into a vague sigh, so pensively remote, so inexpressibly tragic, that when I stood in my doorway and caught the sound of a hare-brained young Romeo go whistling down past the Players’ Club his shrill re-piping of a Broadway roof-song seemed more than discordant; it seemed desecration. The fool was happy, when the whole world was sitting with its fists clenched, awaiting some undefined doom.
It was long past midnight, I remembered as I closed the door, for it must have been an hour and more since I had looked out and seen the twelve ruby flashes from the topmost peak of the Metropolitan Tower signalling its dolorous message that another day had gone.
I had watched those twelve winks with a sinking heart, finding something sardonic in their brisk levity, for I had been reminded by a telltale neurasthenic twitching of my right eyelid that some angling Satan known as insomnia was once more tugging and jerking at my soul, as a flyhook tugs and jerks at a trout’s mouth.
1 knew, even as I wandered drearily off from my house-door and paced as drearily round and round the iron-fenced park enclosure, that 1 was destined for another
sleepless night, and I had no intention of passing it cooped up between four walls. I had tried that before, and in that way, I remembered, madness lay.
CO I wandered restlessly on through ^ the deserted streets, with no active thought of destination and no immediate sense of direction. All I remembered was that the city lay about me, bathed in a night of exceptional mildness, a night that should have left it beautiful. But it lay. about me, in its stillness, as dead and flat and stale as a tumbler of tepid wine.
I flung myself wearily down on a bench in Madison Square, facing the slowly spurting fountain that had so often seemed to me a sort of visible pulse of the sleeping city. I sat peering idly up at the Flatiron Building, where like an eternal plowshare it threw its eternal cross furrows of Fifth Avenue and Broadway along the city’s tangled stubble of steel and stone. Then I peered at the sleepers all about me, the happy sleepers huddled and sprawled along the park benches. I envied them, every mortal of that ragged and homeless army ! I almost
hated them. Fcr they were drinking deep of the one thing I had been denied.
As I lounged there with my hat pulled down over my eyes, I listened to the soothing purr and splash of the ever-pulsing foum-ain. Then I let my gaze wander disconsolately southward, out past the bronze statue of Seward. I watched the driver of a Twenty-third Street taxicab of the “night-hawk” variety asleep on his seat. He sat there in his faded hat and coat, as motionless as metal, as though he had loomed there through all the ages, like a brazen statue of Slumber touched with some mellowing patina of time.
Then, as I gazed idly northward, I suddenly forgot the fountain and the nighthawk chauffeur and the sleepers. For out of Fifth Avenue, past where the double row of electric globes swung down the gentle slope of Murray Hill like a double pearl strand down a woman’s breast, I caught sight of a figure turning quietly into the quietness of the square. It attracted and held my eye because it seemed the only movement in that place of utter stillness, wjiere even the verdigris-tinted
trees stood as motionless as though they had been cut from plates of copper.
I watched the figure as it drew nearer and nearer. The lonely midnight seemed to convert the casual stroller into an emissary of mystery, into something compelling and momentous. I sat indolently back on my park bench, peering at him as he drifted in under the milk-white arc lamps whose scattered globes were so like a scurry of bubbles caught in the tree branches.
I WATCHED the stranger as closely as a travelerin mid-ocean watches the approach of a lonely steamer. I did not move as he stood for a moment beside the fountain. I gave no sign of life as he looked slowly about, hesitated, and then crossed over to the end of the very bench on which I sat. There was something military-like about the slim young figure in its untimely and incongruous cape overcoat. There was also something alert and guardedly observant in the man's movements as he settled himself back in the bench. He sat there listening to the purr and splash of the water. Then, in an incredibly short space of time, he was fast asleep.
I still sat beside him. I was still idly pondering who and what the newcomer could be, when another movement attracted my attention. It was the almost silent approach of a second and larger figure, the figure of a wide-shouldered man in navy blue serge, passing quietly in between the double line of bench sleepers. He circled once about the granitebowled ring of the fountain. Then he dropped diffidently into the seat next to the man in the cape overcoat, not five feet from where I sat.
Something about him, from the moment he took up that position, challenged my attention. I watched him from under my hat brim as he looked guardedly about. I did not move as he let his covert eyes dwell for a moment or two on my lounging figure. I still watched him as he bent forward and listened to the deep breathing of the man so close beside him.
Then I saw a hand creep out from his side. There was something quick and reptilious in its movements. I saw it feel and pad about the sleeping man’s breast. Then I saw it slip, snakelike, in under the cloth of the coat.
It moved about there, for a second or two, as though busily exploring the recess of every possible pocket.
Then I saw the stealthy hand quietly but quickly withdrawn. As it came away it brought with it a packet that flashed white in the lamplight, plainly a packet of papers. This was thrust hurriedly down into the coat pocket of the newcomer next to me. There was not a sound. There was no more movement.
The wide-shouldered man sat there for what must have been a full minute of time. Then he i-ose quietly to his feet and started as quietly away.
It wasn’t until then that the full reality of what he had done came home to me. He had deliberately robbed a sleeping and unprotected man. He was at that moment actually carrying away the spoils of some predetermined and audacious theft. And I had sat calmly and unprotectingly by and watched a thief, a professional “dip,” enact a crime under my very eyes, within five feet of where I sat!
IN three quick steps I had crossed to * the sleeping man’s side and was shaking him. I still kept my eye on the slowly retreating figure of the thief as he made his apparently diffident \\-ay up through
the square. I had often heard of those street harpies known as “lush-dips,” those professional pickpockets who preyed on the wayside inebriate. But never before had I seen one at work.
“Quick! Wake up!” I cried, with a desperate shake at the sleeper's shoulder. “You’ve been robbed!”
The next move of that little midnight drama was an unexpected and startling one. Instead of being confronted by the disputatious maunderings of a halfwakened sleeper, I was suddenly and firmly caught by the arm and jerked bodily into the seat beside him.
“You’ve been robbed!” I repeated, as I felt that firm grip haul me seatward.
“Shut up!” said a calm a ,J very wideawake voice, quite close to my ear. I struggled to tear my arm away from the hand that still clung to it.
“But you’ve been robbed!” I expostulated. I noticed that his own gaze was already directed northward, toward where the blue-clad figure still moved aimlessly on under the arc lamps.
“How do you know that?” he demanded. I was struck by his resolute and rather authoritative voice.
“Why, I saw it with my own eyes ! And there goes the man who did it!” I told him, pointing northward.
He jerked down my hand and swung around on me.
“Watch that man!” he said, almost fiercely. “But for Heaven’s sake keep still!”
“What does this mean?” I naturally demanded.
HE swept me with one quick glance.
Yet he looked more at my clothes, I fancy, than at my face. My tailor seemed to be quite satisfactory to him.
“Who are you?” he asked. I took my time in answering, for I was beginning to resent his repeated note of superiority.
“My name, if that’s what you mean, happens to be the euphonious but highly respectable one of Kempton—Parley Kempton.”
“No, no,” he said with quick impatience. “What are you?”
“I’m nothing much except a member of a rather respectable club, and a man who doesn’t sleep over well.”
His eyes were still keenly watching the slowly departing figure. My flippancy
Two Famous Canadians
ARTHUR STRINGER, the well-known author, is writing a story of Mary Pickford for MacLean s. He spent the winter on the Pacific Coast and so had a splendid opportunity to see the moving picture business from the inside. The photograph above was taken on one of his visits to secure from this famous little actress the material for the story that is to appear in an early issue.
seemed to have been lost on him. His muscular young hand suddenly tightened on my sleeve.
“By God, sir, you can help me!” he cried, under his breath. “You must! I’ve a right to call on you, as a decent citizen,
“Who are you?” I interrupted, quite myself by this time.
“I’m Lieutenant Palmer.” he absently admitted, all the while eying the moving figure.
“And I’ve got to get that man, or it’ll cost me a court-martial. I’ve got to get him. Wait! Sit back here without moving. Now watch what he does!”
I saw the thief drop into an empty bench, glance down at his timepiece, look carelessly about, and then lean back with his legs crossed. Nothing more happened.
“Well,” I inquired, “what’s the game?”
“It’s no game,” he retorted, in his quick and decisive tones. “It’s damn near a tragedy. But now I’ve found him! I’ve placed him! And that’s the man I’m after!”
“I don’t doubt it,” I languidly admitted. “But am I to assume that this little bench scene was a sort of, well, a sort of carefully studied out trap?”
“It was the only way I could clinch the thing,” he admitted.
“Clinch what?” I asked, conscious of his hesitation.
“Oh, you’ve got to know,” he finally conceded, “now you’ve seen this much ! And I know you’re—you’re the right sort. I can’t tell you everything. But I’m off the Connecticut. She’s the flagship of our Atlantic fleet’s first division, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Shrodder. I was sent to confer with Admiral Maddox, the commandant of the Navy Yard. Then I was to communicate with Rear-Admiral Kellner, the supervisor of Naval Auxiliaries. It was in connection with the navy’s new Emergency Wheel Code. I can’t explain it to you; there’s a lot of navy-department data I can’t go into. But I was ashore here in New York with a list of the new wireless code signals.”
“And you let them get away?”
“There was no letting about it. They were stolen from me, stolen in some mysterious way I can’t understand. I’ve only one clue. I’d dined at the Plaza. Then I’d gone up to the ballroom and sat through the amateur theatricals for the French Hospital. I’d been carrying the code forms and they’d been worrying me. So I ‘split the wheel’, as we say in the service. Mean I’d divided ’em and left one half locked up at my hotel while I still carried the other half. Each part, I knew, would be useless without the other. How or when they got the half I was carrying I can’t tell, for the life of me. I remember dancing two or three times in the ballroom after the theatricals. But it couldn’t have been any of those women. They weren’t that sort.”
“Then who was it?” For the first time a sense of his boyishness had crept over
“That’s just it; I don’t know. But I kept feeling that I was being shadowed. I was almost positive I was being trailed. They would be after the second half, I felt. So Í made a dummy, and loafed about all day waiting for a sign. I kept it up until to-night. Then, when I actually found I; was being followed, every move I made, I-.”
His voice trailed off and he caught at mv arm again.
'“See, he’s on the move again! He’s going, this time. And that’s the man! I want you to help me watch him, watch every step and trick. And if there’s a
second man, I’m going to get you to follow him, while I stick to this one. It’s not altogether for myself, remember; it’s more for the whole service!”
WE were on our feet by this time, passing northward along the asphalted walks that wound in and out between the trees.
“You mean this man’s a sort of agent, a foreign spy, after your naval secrets?” I asked, as we watched the figure in blue circle casually out toward Fifth Avenue.
“That’s what I’ve got to find out. And I’m going to do it, if I have to follow him to hell and back!” was the young officer’s answer. Then he suddenly drew up, with a whispered warning.
“You’d better go west, toward Broadway. Then walk north into Fifth Avenue again, toward Brentano’s corner. I’ll swing up Madison Avenue on the opposite side of him, and walk west on Twentysixth Street. Don’t speak to me as we pass. But watch him, every moment. And if there’s a second man, follow him!”
A moment later I was, sauntering westward toward the old Hoffman House corner. As I approached the avenue curb I saw the unperturbed figure in blue stop beside the Farragut Monument on the north-west fringe of Madison Square. I saw him take out a cigar, slowly and deliberately strike a match on the stonework of the exedra, and then as slowly and deliberately light his cigar.
I felt, as I saw it, that it was some sort of signal. This suspicion grew stronger, when, a moment later, I saw a woman step out of a nearby doorway. She wore a plumed Gainsborough hat and a creamcolored gown. Over her slender young shoulders, I further made out, hung an opera cloak of delicate lacework.
She stood for a moment at the carriage step, as though awaiting a car or taxi. Then she quickly crossed the avenue and, turning north, passed the waiting man in blue. She passed him without a spoken
But as the cream-colored figure drifted nonchalantly by the broad-shouldered man I caught a fleeting glimpse of something passing between them, a hint of one catching a white packet from another. It was a hint, and nothing more. But it was enough.
A/fY first impulse, as I saw that move*’ * ment, was to circle quickly about and warn Palmer of what had taken place.
A moment’s thought, however, shpwed me the danger of this. And the young lieutenant, I could see, had already changed his course, so that his path southward through the center of the square paralleled that of the other man now walking more briskly along the avenue curb.
He had clearly stated that I was to watch any confederate. I had no intention to quibble over side issues. As I started northward, indeed, after that mysterious figure in the Gainsborough hat and the cream-colored gown a most pleasurable and purposeful tingle of excitement thrilled up and down my back-
I shadowed her as guardedly as I was able, following her block by block as she hurried up the empty thoroughfare that was now as quiet and lonely as a glacial moraine. My one fear was that she would reach the Waldorf, or some equally complex beehive of human life, before I could overtake her. Once there, I knew, she would be as completely lost as a needle in a haystack. She may have suspected me
by this time, I felt, for twice I saw her look back over her shoulder.
Then I suddenly stopped and ducked into a doorway. For a moment after I saw a taxicab come clattering into the avenue out of Thirty-third Street I discovered that, at her repeated gesture, it was pulling up beside the curb.
I stood well back in the shadow until she had climbed into the seat, the door had slammed shut, and the driver had turned his vehicle about and started northward again. Then I skirted along the shop fronts, darted across the street, and made straight for the hotel cabstand and a taxi driver drowsily exhaling cigarette smoke up toward the tepid midnight skies. The bill I thrust into his hand took all the sleep out of his body and ended the incense to the morning stars.
“Up the avenue,” I said as I clambered in. “And follow that taxicab two blocks behind until it turns, and then run up on it and wait.”
TT turned at Forty-second Street and * went eastward to Lexington Avenue. Then, doubling on its tracks, it swung southward again. We' let it clatter on well ahead of us. But as it turned suddenly westward, at the corner of Twenty-third Street, we broke the speed laws to draw once more up on it. Then, as we crossed
Twenty-third Street, I told the driver to keep on southward toward Gramercy Square. For I had caught sight of the other taxi already drawn up at the curb halfway between Lexington and Fourth Avenues.
A moment after we jolted across the car tracks I slipped away from my cab and ran back to the cross-street on foot. As I reached the corner I caught sight of a figure in a cream-colored gown cross the sidewalk and step quickly into the doorway of a shabby four-storied building.
I had no time to study this building. It might have been an antiquated residence turned into a cluster of artists’ studios, or a third-rate domicile of third-rate business firms. My one important discovery was that the door opened as I turned the knob and that I was able quietly and quickly to step into the dark hallway.
I stood there in the gloom, listening intently. I could hear the light and hurried click of shoe heels on the bare tread-boards of the stairs. I waited and listened and carefully counted these clicks. I knew, as I did so, that the woman had climbed to the top floor.
Then I heard the chink of metal, the sound of a key thrust into a lock, and then the cautious closing of a door. Then I found myself surrounded by nothing but darkness and silence again.
I stood there in deep thought for a minute or two. Then I groped my way cautiously to the foot of the stairs, found the heavy old-fashioned balustrade, and slowly and silently climbed the stairway.
I did not stop until I found myself on the top floor of that quiet and manyodored building. I paused there, at a standstill, peering through the darkness that surrounded me.
My search was rewarded by the discovery of one thin streak of yellow light along what must have been the bottom of a closed door. Just beyond that door, I felt, my pusuit was to come to an end.
T GROPED my way to the wall and tip*■ toed quietly forward. When I came to the door, I let my hand close noiselessly about the knob. Then, cushioning it with a firm grasp, I turned it slowly, inch by
The door, I found, was locked. But inside the room I could still hear the occasional click of shoe heels and the indeterminate noises of an occupant moving quietly yet hurriedly about.
I stood there, puzzled, depressed by my first feeling of frustration. Then I made out the vague oblong of what must have been a window in the rear of the narrow hall. I tiptoed back to this window, in the hope that it might lead to something. I
found, to my disappointment, that it was barred with half-inch iron rods. And this meant a second defeat.
As I tested these rods I came on one that was not so secure as the others. One quiet and steady wrench brought an end screw bodily out of the half-rotted wood. Another patient twist or two entirely freed the other end.
I found myself armed with a four-foot bar, sharpened wedge-like at each end for its screw head. So I made my way silently back to the pencil of yellow light and the locked door above it. I stood there listening for a minute or two. All I could hear was the running of tap water and the occasional rustling of a paper. So I quietly forced the edge of my rod in between the door and its jamb, and as quietly levered the end outward.
Something had to give under that strain. I was woefully afraid that it would be the lock bar itself. This I knew would go with a snap, and promptly betray my movement. But as I increased the pressure I could tell that it was the socket screws that were slowly yielding in the pine wood jamb.
I stopped and waited for some obliterating noise before venturing the last thrust that would send the bolt free of the loosening socket. It came with the sudden sound of steps and the turning off of the run-
ning tap. The door had been forced open and stood an inch or two from the jamb before the steps sounded again.
I waited, with my heart in my mouth, wondering if anything had been overheard, if anything had been discovered. It was only then, too, that the enormity of my offence came home to me. I was a house-breaker. I was playing the part of a midnight burglar. I was facing a situation in which I had no immediate interest. I was being confronted by perils I had no means of comprehending. But I intended to get inside that room no matter what it cost.
I HEARD, as I stood there, the sound of a drawer being opened and closed. Then came a heel click or two on the wooden floor, and then an impatient and quite audible sigh. There was no mistaking that sigh. It was as freighted with femininity as though I had heard a woman’s voice. And nothing was to be gained by waiting. So I first leaned my iron rod silently against the door corner. Then, taking a deep breath, I stepped quickly and noiselessly into the lighted room.
I stood there, close beside the partly opened door, blinking a little at the sudden glare of light. There was an appreciable interval before the details of the scene could register themselves on my mind.
What I saw was a large and plainly furnished room. Across one corner stood a roll-top desk, and from the top of this I caught the glimmer of a telephone transmitter. In the rear wall stood two oldfashioned, low-silled windows. Against this wall, and between these two windows, stood a black iron safe.
Before the open door of this safe, with her back turned to me, was the woman in the cream-colored gown. It was quite plain that she was not yet aware of my presence.
She had thrown her hat and cape aside, and was at the moment bending low oyer the dark maw of the opened safe, reaching into its recesses with one white and rounded arm. I stood there watching her, wondering what move would be most effective. I made no sound; of that I was certain. Yet some sixth sense must have warned her of my presence. For without rhyme or reason she suddenly stood erect, and swinging about in her tracks, confronted me.
Her face, which had been a little flushed from stooping, went white. She stared at me without speaking, her eyes wide with terrified wonder. I could see her lips slowly part, as the shock of what she beheld began to relax the jaw muscles along the olive-white cheek.
I stared back at her with a singularly disengaged mind. I felt, in fact, very much at my ease, very much the master of the situation. As an opponent, I could see, she would be more than mysterious. She would, in fact, be extremely interesting.
HER next move, however, threw a new complexion on the situation, for she unexpectedly let her hand dart out to the wall beside her, just behind the safe top. As she did so, I could hear the snap of a switch button ; the next moment the light went out. It left the room in impenetrable darkness.
I stood there, unprepared for any offensive or defensive movement. Yet my enemy, I knew, was not idle. As I stood peering unavailingly through the gloom I could hear the quick thud of the safe door being shut. Then came the distinct sound of a heavy key being thrust and
turned in a metal lock—the safe, obviously, was of the old-fashioned key-tumbler make—and then the noise of this key being withdrawn. Then came a click or two of shoe heels, a rustle of clothing, and a moment later the startingly sharp shattering of a window pane.
The woman had deliberately locked the safe and flung the key through the window! She had stolen a march on me. She had defeated me in the first movement of our encounter. My hesitation had been a mistake, a costly mistake.
“Be so good as to turn on that light!” I commanded.
Not a sound came from the darkness.
“Turn up that light,” I cried, “or I’ll fire! I’ll rake every foot of this room!” And with that I gave a very significant double click to my cigarette case spring.
The light came on again as suddenly as it went out. I discreetly pocketed my cigarette case.
'T'HE woman was standing beside the safe, as before, studying me with her wide and challenging eyes. But all this time not a word had come from her lips.
“Sit down!” I commanded, as authoritatively and yet as off handedly as I could. It was then that she spoke for the first
“Thank you, I prefer to stand!” was her answer. She spoke calmly and distinctly and almost without accent. Yet I felt the voice was, in some way, a foreign one. Some vague substratum of the exotic in the carefully enunciated tones made me surmise that she was either an Austrian or a Gallicized Hungarian, or, if not that, possibly a Polish woman.
“You will be here for some time,” I hinted.
“And you?” she asked. I noticed an almost imperceptible shrug of her softly rounded shoulder. Rice powder, I imagined, somewhat increased its general effect of dead-whiteness.
“I’ll be here until that safe is opened,” was my retort.
“That long?” she mocked.
“That long!” I repeated, exasperated at her slow ¿mile.
“Ah, then I shall sit down,” she murmured as she caught up the lace cape and adjusted it about her shoulders. “For, believe, me, that will be a very, very long time, monsieur !”
I watched her carefully as she crossed the room and sank into a chair. She drew her cream-colored train across her knees with frugal and studious deliberateness.
TT SUDDENLY flashed over me, as I * watched her, that her ruse might have been a double-barreled one. Obliquity such as hers would have unseen convolutions. It was not the key to the safe she had flung through the window! She would never have been so foolish. It was a trick, a subterfuge. She still had that key somewhere about her.
“And now what must I do?” she asked as she drew the cloak closer about her shoulders.
“You can hand me over the key to that safe,” was my answer.
She could actually afford to laugh a little.
“That is quite impossible!”
“I want that key!” I insisted.
“Pardon, but is this not—dangerous?” she mildly inquired. “Is it not so, to break into houses at midnight, and rob women?”
It was my turn to laugh.
“Not a bit of it,” I calmly assured her. “And you can judge if I’m frightened or
not. There’s something much more dangerous than that!”
She was again studying me with her puzzled and ever-narrowing eyes.
“Which means?” she prompted.
“Well, for example, the theft of government naval codes, among other things.” “You are very, very drunk,” she retorted with her quietly scoffing smile. “Or you are insane, quite insane. May I not lock my jewels in my own safe? Ah,
I begin to see—this is a trick, that you may steal from me!”
“Then why not send for the police?” I challenged, pointing toward the telephone.
A look of guile crept into her studious eyes.
“You will permit that?” she asked.
“I invite it,” was my answer.
“Then I shall call for help.”
“Only from the police.”
“Yes; I shall call for help,” she repeated, crossing to the telephone.
I LEANED forward as she stood in front of it. I caught her bare arm in my left hand, just below the elbow. As I drew it backward it brought her body against mine, pinning her other arm close against my side.
The thing was repugnant to me, but it was necessary. As I pinioned her there, writhing and panting, I deliberately thrust my right hand into the open bosom of her gown. I was dimly conscious of a faint aura of perfume, of a sense of warmth behind the soft and lace-fringed corsage. But it was the key itself that redeemed the assault and brought a gasp of relief to my lips, the huge brass key, as big as an egg beater.
“Lache!” I heard gasped into my ear. The woman staggered to a chair, white to the lips; and for a moment or two I thought she was going to faint.
“Oh, you dog!” she gasped, as she sat there panting and staring at me with her blazing eyes. “Cochon! Cur!"
But I paid little heed to her, for the wine of victory was already coursing and tingling through all my veins.
“You know, you can still call the police,”
I told her as I faced the heavy black door of the safe. One turn of the wrist, I knew, would bring me face to face with my prize.
A sudden movement from the woman, as I stooped over the safe door, brought me round in a flash. She was on her feet and half way across the room before I could intercept her. And I was not any too gentle, I’m afraid, for the excitement of the thing had gone to my head.
That earlier assault at my hands seemed to have intimidated her. I could see actual terror in her eyes as I forced her back against the wall. She must have realized her helplessness. She stared up into my face, bewildered, desperate. There was something supple and pantherlike about her, something alluring and yet disturbing. I could see what an effective weapon that sheer physical beauty of hers might be, once its tigerish menace had been fully sheathed.
“Wait!” she cried, catching at my arm. “If there is anything you want I will give it to you.”
“There are several things I want,” was my uncompromising answer.
“But why should you want them?” she asked, still clinging to my arm.
“It’s my duty to take them,” I replied, unconscious of any mendacity. “That’s what I’m sent here for! That’s why I’ve watched the man who gave you the packet!”
“The packet you took in Madison Square an hour ago; the packet you locked
in this safe ! And if you like I’ll tell you just what that packet is!”
“This is some mistake, some very sad mistake,” she had the effrontery to declare. Her arm still clung to me. Her face was very close to mine as she went on. “I can explain everything, if you will only give me the time—everything! I can show you where you are wrong, and how you may suffer through a mistake like this !”
“We can talk all that over later,” I promptly told her, for I was beginning to suspect that her object now was merely to kill time, to keep me there, in the hope of some chance discovery. I peered about the room, wondering what would be the quickest way out of my dilemma.
“What are you going to do?” she asked as she watched me shove a chair over against the wall, directly beside the safe.
“I’m going to seat you very comfortably in this very comfortable chair,” I informed her, “and in this equally comfortable corner directly behind the safe door. And at the first trick or sign of trouble, I’m afraid I’m going to make a hole right through one of those nice white shoulders of yours!”
SHE sat down without being forced into the chair. Her alert and ever-moving eyes blazed luminous from her dead-white face. I knew, as I thrust the huge key in the lock and turned it back that she would have to be watched, and watched every moment of the time.
I had already counted on the safe door, as it swung back, making a barrier across the corner in which she sat. This I found to be the case. I took a second precaution, however, by shoving a tilted chair-back firmly in under the edge of the safe lock.
I knew, as I stooped before the open strong box, that she could make no sudden move without my being conscious of it. I also knew that time was precious. So I reached into the depths of the almost empty safe and lifted out a number of papers neatly held together by a rubber band.
These I placed on the safe top. Then I snapped off the band and examined the first document. On the back of it, neatly inscribed in French was the eminently satisfactory legend : “Plans and Specifi-
cations; Bs. Lake Torpedo Company, Bridgeport.” The next packet was a blue print of war projectiles, and on the back of it was written: “Model Tracings,
through Jenner, from the Bliss Company W orks—18—Self-Projectors.”
The third packet carried no inscription. But as I opened it I saw at a glance what it was. I knew in a moment that I held before me the governmental wheel code of wireless signals in active service. It was the code that had been stolen from Lieutenant Palmer. The fourth and last paper, I found, was plainly the dummy which had been taken from the same officer that night in Madison Square. The case was complete. The chase was over and done.
“In the cash drawer, on the right, you will find more,” quietly remarked the young woman watching me from the side of the safe.
“It’s locked,” I said, as I tugged at the drawer knob. I stood erect at her sudden
“Why not take everything?” she asked, with her scoffing smile.
A ND I saw no reason why I shouldn’t; **■ though a suspicion crossed my mind that this might be still another ruse to kill time. If such it was, I faced it at once,
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for I sent my boot heel promptly in against the wooden cash drawer, smashing it at one blow.
She had been mistaken, or had deliberately lied, for the drawer was empty. And I told her so, with considerable heat.
“Ah, we all make mistakes, I think,” she murmured with her enigmatic shrug.
“What I want to know,” I said as I banded the four papers together and thrust them down in my pocket, “is just how you got that first code from my young friend the lieutenant?”
She smiled again, a little wearily, as I swung the safe door shut and locked it. She did not rise from the chair. But as I stood confronting her, something in my
attitude, apparently, struck her as distinctly humorous. For she broke into a sudden and deeper ripple of laughter. There was, however, something icy and chilling in it. Her eyes now seemed more veiled. They had lost their earlier look of terror. Her face seemed to have relaxed into softer contours.
“Would you like to know?’’ she said, lifting her face and looking with that older, half-mocking glance into my own. She was speaking slowly and deliberately, and I could see the slight shrug she gave to one pantherlike shoulder. “Would t be so out of place in a ballroom? Ah, have not more things than hearts been lost when a man dances with a woman?”
“I see—you mean you stole it, at the Plaza?”
“Not at all, monsieur!” she murmured languidly back. Then she drew a deeper breath, and sat more rigid in her straightback chair.
Something about her face at that moment puzzled me. It seemed to hold some latent note of confidence. The last trace of fear had fled from it. There was something strangely like triumph, muffled triumph, in it.
An arrow of apprehension shot through me as I stooped peering into her shadowy eyes. It went through my entire body, sharp as an electric shock. It brought me wheeling suddenly about with my back to her and my face to the open room.
THEN I understood. I saw through it all, in one tingling second. For there, facing me, stood the figure of a man in navy blue. It was the same figure that I had followed through the square.
But now there was nothing secretive or circuitous about his attitude. It was quite the other way; for as he stood there he held a b[ue-barreled revolver in his hand. And I could see, only too plainly, that it was leveled directly at me. The woman’s ruse had worked. I had wasted too much time. The confederate for whom she was plainly waiting had come to her rescue.
The man took three or four steps farther into the room. His revolver was still covering me. I heard a little gasp from the woman as she rose to her feet. I took it for a gasp of astonishment.
“You are going to kill him?” she cried, in German.
“Haven’t I got to?” asked back the man. He spoke in English and without an accent. “Don’t you understand he’s a safe-breaker? He’s broken into this house? So! He’s caught in the act—he’s shot in self-defence!”
I watched the gun barrel. The man’s calm words seemed to horrify the woman at my side. But there was not a trace of pity in her voice as she spoke again. “Wait!” she cried.
“Why?” asked the man with the gun. “He has everything—the code, the plans, everything.”
“Get them!” commanded the man.
“But he’s armed,” she explained.
A sneer crossed the other’s impassive face.
“What if he is? Take his gun; take everything!”
The woman stepped close to where I stood. Again I came within the radius of her perfumes. I could even feel her breath on my face. Her movements were more than ever pantherlike as she went through my pockets one by one. Yet her flashing and dextrous hands found no revolver, for the simple reason there was none to find. This puzzled and worried
“Hurry up !” commanded the man covering me.
She stepped back and to one side, with the packet in her hand.
“Now close the windows!” ordered the
My heart went down in my boots as I heard the thud of that second closed window. There was going to be no waste of
T THOUGHT of catching the woman and A holding her shieldlike before my body. I thought of the telephone, and then of the light switch, and then of the window. But they all seemed hopeless.
The woman turned away, holding her hands over her ears. The incongruous thought flashed through me that two hours before I had called the city flat and stale; and here, within a rifle shot of my own door, I was standing face to face with death itself!
“Look here,” I cried, much as I hated to, “what do you get out of this?”
“You!” said the man.
“And what good will that do?”
“It’ll probably shut your mouth, for one
“But there are other mouths,” I cried. “And I’m afraid they’ll have a great deal
“I’m ready for them!” was his answer.
I could see his arm raise a little, and straighten out as it raised. The gun barrel was nothing but a black “0” at the end of my line of vision. I felt my heart stop, for I surmised what the movement meant.
Then I laughed outright, aloud, and altogether foolishly and hysterically.
The strain had been too much for me, and the snap of the release had come too suddenly, too unexpectedly. I could see the man with the gun blink perplexedly, for a second or two, and then I could see the tightening of his thin-lipped mouth. But that was not all I had seen.
L'OR through the half-closed door I had ^ caught sight of the slowly raised iron rod, the very rod I had wrenched from the outer hall window. I had seen its descent at the moment I realized the finality in those quickly tightening lips.
It struck the arm on its downward sweep. But it was not in time to stop the discharge of the revolver. The report thundered through the room as the bullet ripped and splintered into the pine of the floor. At the same moment the discharged firearm went spinning across the room, and as the man who held it went down with the blow, young Palmer himself swung toward me through the drifting smoke.
As he did so, I turned to the woman with her hands still pressed to her ears. With one fierce jerk I tore the rubberbanded packet of papers from her clutch.
“But the code?” gasped Palmer, as he tugged crazily at the safe door.
I did not answer him, for a sudden movement from the woman arrested my attention. She had stooped and caught up the fallen revolver. The man in blue, rolling over on his hip, was drawing a second gun from his pocket.
“Quick!” I called to Palmer as I swung him by the armpit and sent him catapulting out through the smoke to the open door. “Quick—and duck low!”
The shots came together as we stumbled against the stairhead.
“Quick!” I repeated, as I pulled him after me.
“But the code?” he cried.
“I’ve got it!” I called out to him as we went panting and plunging down through that three-tiered well of darkness to the street and liberty. “I’ve got it—I’ve got everything!"