THE CITY OF PERIL
A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
By ARTHUR STRINGER
Author of “The Prairie Wife," “The Prairie. Mother," “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep," etc.
CHAPTER VII The Inner Room
A MOMENT later I was inside the room with the door securely locked behind me. It was only reasonable to expect the apartment to be unoccupied. But that leaving of the key above the lintel implied that some other than the man who had left it there on his departure was expected at any moment. So I felt the necessity of making my visit a hurried one. It was not hard to imagine the natural embarrassments of the situation if I should have the misfortune to be discovered in my new whereabouts.
I found myself in a series of three small rooms, none of them any too well lighted, and all of them plainly furnished. The first and largest room of the three was the one that most interested me. It was, obviously, a cross between an author’s library and a student’s living-room. On the wall before me hung a print of Mirabeau, the French radical. Beside it was a crayon drawing of Lenine, the Russian dictator, and an unnamed companion picture which was unknown to me. The wall on my right showed a portrait of Prince Kropotkin, a quarter-page from a Chicago Sunday-paper supplement which purported to be a photograph of Emma Goldman, and a red-typed poster which said : “Remember March 18, 1871.”
My busily circling glance next noticed, on the table .which occupied the centre of the room, several copies of a pheaply printed magazine in pamphlet size, bearing the title, “Mother Earth.” Beside these lay Lenine’s “The Proletarian Revolution,” the India Rubber World, with an article on Colombian rubber industries blue-penciled and stippled with question-marks: a couple of copies “Tropical America,” an account of a bomb-throwing outrage on the Boursa in Rome, and a heavily underscored lecture by Shroeder on “The Advocacy of Crime.” My eye hext caught the significant title of “La Question Sociale," a Bolshevistic publication of which I had heard not a little. I found also an edition of Pushkin’s poems in Russian, a signed copy of Kropotkin’s “Modern Science and Anarchism” and a faded volume of Voltaire’s “Car.-
THE STORY SO FAR:—“Rebbie" Woodruff—cultured, wealthy, thirty-one, industrial and commercial dilettante says au revoir to Natalie Stillwell, to whom he has been proposing for years. Natalie, daughter of a Wall Street V.p\ute," encourages “Rebbie,” suggesting hebend his energies —keriously for once—to fathom the mystery of the “Hammer of Godf,” threatening typewritten notes her father lugs been reviving. MacGirr, ex-con. Black-hander, a visionary Italian youth, a/nd a beautiful girl, enter the story, and in his investigations ’Rebbie" commits burglary.
dide.” Next to this again I came upon a type-written article or essay entitled “The New Fabianism,” and a number of type-written poems in both English and German. One glance through these verses was enough to convince me that my erudite young friend, whatever his aesthetic inclinations, was at least a communist of the first water, a student of Bolshevism as naive as he was passionate in his protests against existing conditions.
All these things were interesting enough. But they were not the things I was after. I had keyed myself up for surprise and yet none of them surprised me. There was still a missing link or two in my chain of conjecture, and until those links were found my chain was worthless.
IN DAYS gone by, Lieutenant Belton and Lefty Boyle had often enough introduced me to that type of Bolshevist which holds out, for example, in the little Schwab saloon on First Street. These transplanted “Reds” usually posed as members of social or literary societies, kept cheap printing-presses busy with their fiery lubrications, and had a more or less continuously occupied “committee on quarters,” which was supposed to look after the ubiquitous fugitives of this ever-migrating Brotherhood of Earth. An executive committee, composed of “those best fitted,” carried on the bulk of the underground business of the New Commune. “Those best fitted” might best be described as half-starved and half-witted fellows with befuddling dreams of some future life of ease, shot through with embittering memories of past oppression, and of their “idealized” Russia of to-day, to which Emma Goldman had been so unwillingly deported.
Yet the rapt-eyed young man whose room I had entered seemed neither half-starved nor halfwitted. That he was a dreamer, a deliriant, wrapped in his foolish Utopian visions of some impossible future, was evident enough from his verses.
What form his revolt was to take I had yet to find out, and the present was the time to do it. Since I had made the plunge of once entering the room I decided to make a more thorough search of its contents.
In the drawer of . the work-table on which stood his typewriter was a printed speech by Herr Most and a folded page from a Sunday paper, showing a photographic group of the “eighty wealthiest men in America.” Next to this lay a package of letters tied with tape. They were written in a woman’s hand-writing; the top one, I noticed, came from Paterson, New Jersey; the bottom one, oddly enough, from Trieste. I turned this package over in my hand, alittlereverently andyetalittlecuriously; but I had not the heart to untie the green tape and invade the little sanctuary.
I suddenly looked up from these letters, however, for a thought had struck me. Taking out the slip of paper which Natalie Stillwell had given me, I inserted it in the typewriter on the table. Then, just below the two lines already there, I repeated the message, word for word. I withdrew the sheet and examined what I had written.
' i 'HERE could be no doubt about it. The very -*■ defects of alignment were the same in each copy; the very peculiarity of the oblique “h” and the partly curtailed “m” could be detected in each inscription. Both messages had been written by that machine. My time had not been wasted.
A cursory glance about the rest of the room convinced me of what I had already suspected. This youth, sometimes known, if his business letters were to be depended on, as Cono Di Marco, and sometimes apparently as Rosario, and still again as Eduardo Perez, was one of the younger of the
“Reds” who hoped to rebuild the world out of blastingpowder. He was a perfervid and passionate Bolshevist, convinced of the heroism of his attitude and the righteousness of his cause. It was he who, for reasons as yet fathomed, was threatening the life of Marvin Stillwell and there lay my difficulty. The chasm which I had not yet been able to bridge was, why he should direct his hatred against this one man. What unknown conditions, or what outside influences, I asked myself, had been responsible for his determination to centralize his threats on a person who had already befriended him?
The only answer to that question seemed to be Redflag Mack, or Parson MacGirr, as he was more often called. My deduction was that the older man was making a catspaw of the rapt young idealist, that he was making use of the youth’s impersonal Bolshevistic theories for the furthering of his own selfish and personal ends, whether those ends meant mere intimidation or extortion of money, the accomplishment of revenge or death itself.
I had achieved nothing brilliant, had effected nothing definite, yet I knew that the circle of past uncertainties had narrowed down to the two figures I had followed out of the Fourteenth Street basement bookstore. My problem now was to decide on my next move.
All thought on this matter suddenly fled from me, as attention flies from a roof-garden audience when a firegong sounds; for as I stood leaning over the open drawer there came a sudden knock on the door.
It sent a little tingle of shock up and down my backbone as it was repeated, more peremptorily. Then a voice called, sharply and impatiently, and the door was shaken.
It was a woman’s voice, but this did not detract from the difficulty. I was trapped.
CHAPTER VIII The Little Printing Shop
I STOOD irresolute, wondering what to do. The door was shaken again, more impatiently than ever.
“Cono, I must come in,” said the woman’s voice outside.
It seemed an unusually soft and mellow voice. But I had little time to luxuriate in its cadences.
“Quick, Cono!” said the woman outside. Then there was a space of unbroken silence. Once she got away from that door and discovered her mistake or gave the alarm,
I knew my time in the room would have to be brief.
I crept over to the door and listened with my ear against the panel. I could hear the sound of her breathing as she waited outside, with her hand on the resisting knob and only a thin panel of pinewood between us. The problem was a serious one. I peered about the room, puzzling over some means of escape. Then an idea came to me.
Noiselessly crossing to the open typewriter, I sat down before it and wrote as follows:
“This place is being watched by the authorities. We are under surveillance. Meet me at the Fourteenth Street bookstore in twenty minutes.
I slipped the sheet of paper under the door so that only one corner of it remained in sight. I stood for a second or two, watching it. Then I saw the remaining corner slowly pulled out. And still again I stood watching, with my heart in my mouth.
It seemed an age before there was any sign. Then I heard the sound of a pencil on the door-panel, and a minute later saw the sheet, folded close, slipped back under the door. But still I waited until I heard the sound of a woman’s departing footsteps. The ruse had worked. I stooped and picked up the paper.
“Be careful. I will wait.”
These words, pencilled on the bottom of the page, caught my eye. I breathed once more.
I waited for two minutes by my watch. Then I turned the key in the lock, secured the door, replaced the key, and made my escape from the building. I had evaded one possible danger. But I was already too far out in my sea of adventure to think of resting on my oars.
My next move was on the mysterious printing-shop with the grated front, into which the veiled woman had disappeared earlier in the day.
If this veiled woman and my caller were one and the same person, the coast would be clear. In five minutes at the outside she would be on her way to the Fourteenth Street bookstore. Before all things I intended to find out something more about that innocent-looking printing-shop.
The first thing that struck me, as I opened its door, was the smell of benzine. Mingled with this came a less powerful odor—an astringent odor which I did not at first recognize.
Then my eye fell on a carboy of sulphuric acid, standing in one corner of the room. In a flash of memory the familiarity of that more elusive smell came home to me. It took me back to old times. It reminded me of the fulminatesheds at my Aguacate mines, where I had fitted up the little wooden-walled zinc-roofed experimental laboratory .for certain highly explosive agents which would not deteriorate in the humid air of the tropics.
A bald-headed man with a furtive eye stepped out from behind an old-fashioned hand-press, where he had been distributing type before a black bank of slovenly little flat-lying pigeon-holes. He wore a soiled apron of striped ticking, burned through here and there as though with acid. On a table near him stood a pail half-full of stale beer.
“You do printing here?” I inquired.
He shrugged a fat shoulder and pointed at the handpress. It was as though he had asked if I expected it to be a sausage-machine. I felt tempted to point to the sulphuricacid carboy and mildly inquire if that was what he inked his rollers with. But the retort discourteous was a luxury now denied me.
“I want three hundred business-cards in a hurry,” I found myself saying to him, with a facile mendacity that was a little disturbing to me when I thought it over later. “What will they cost?”
“Write out what you want; then I’ll tell you,” the heavy-shouldered man answered, in a guttural voice colored with the faintest tinge of a German accent, as he indulged in an indifferent hand-wave toward the small, paper-strewn, ink-stained table that held the beer pail.
I SAT down at this table and tried to think of just what my business was.
While I sat there studying over this more or less intimate and interesting problem, the door of the shop opened and closed. I looked up casually. Then quickly I bent low over my paper again, for the man who had entered the door was Red-flag Mack—Parson MacGirr himself.
He stepped to a door in the rear, took out a key, unlocked the door and disappeared within. Not a word passed between him and the other man. I could hear the click of the bolt as he locked the door behind him. I had noticed that he carried a large-sized paper-wrapped package.
Instead of studying out my new business-card I rose from the chair, laughed deprecatingly and told the furtiveeyed man behind the press that I’d actually forgotten my new address. It was not until I got to the door that I stopped and looked back at his heavy, sphinx-like face. I knew it was useless to try to get anything out of him.
“You’ll be back, maybe?” he said, without looking up from his type-font.
It struck me he had put quite unnecessary emphasis on the “maybe.”
“I’ll be back,” I answered, doing my best to control some inner devil of perversity which kept prompting me to add, “And I’ll make it hanged hot for you when I come, too!”
Ten minutes after I had escaped from that odoriferous little shop, I was back under the same roof and in the same building, but my entrance this time was by means of another door, which opened on the stairway leading to the floors above.
A brief interview there with two industrious and wrenlike little French women, on the top floor, who eked out a precarious existence making polka-dot veiling, brought me face to face with the gratifyinginformation that the “second - floor rear” was vacant. I further learned that the owner was one Dennis O’Higgins, a thrifty saloon-keeper on the next streetcorner.
VISIT to a store up-town provided me with a valued accessory which I knew I would require—a mic-
rophone. I had experimented with this at various times, in a desultory sort of a way. I knew of course that the microphone used in the American adaptation of the Poulsen wireless-telephony apparatus was more sensitive than that made use of in the speaking-apparatus of the ordinary telephone. It was a surprisingly expensive little instrument, but I carried it back to my room with the suspicion that it would yet pay for itself.
My first task on my return was to take the tattered green cushions from the Morris chair, place them on the floor, and lie with my ear pressed flat against the boards. There was not a sound to be heard from below. I next measured off the room, so as to strike its exact centre. I could tell by the exposed nail-heads where the joists supporting the floor-boards ran. With my brace and bit the advantage I had anticipated from this tool was that it would do its work silently—I bored a row of half-inch holes side by side across two of the boards. This, when repeated at the next joist, permitted me to lift a segment of the flooring away as quickly as though I were lifting the top layer from a strawberry shortcake.
There stood revealed an expanse of lath and plaster and cob-webs, bisected by a three-quarter-inch iron gas pipe. The T-joint, showing where the jet ran from the ceiling into the room below, lay almost directly under the opening I had made. I had not yet reached my goal, but I was progressing. I would have given a good deal to know just what lay beneath that plaster. To attempt to pierce it or interfere with it, however, was out of the question.
The discovery of that gas-pipe, I told myself, ought to be considered good luck enough; for, unless I was greatly mistaken, that hollow iron tubing, attached as it was to a sounding-board of a ceiling, and projecting down into the very room itself, should prove almost as sensitive to sound vibration as the antennae of a wireless receiving station.
The moment my microphone was satisfactorily attached to the pipe, I knew I was right in my assumption. No sooner had the little watch-case receiver been pressed to my ear than I distinctly heard the rhythmic sound of the hand-press in the front printing-shop. There was no stir or sound in the room directly below. But I was at least prepared for any séance which might take place there.
When I stood up and brushed the dust from my clothes I suddenly realized that I was both tired and hungry. So I made my way to the street, drifted southwards with the six o’clock crowds, purchased a window-blind and a box of candles, and finally dropped into an oyster-house where a pyramid of unopened oysters reposed invitingly under a huge cake of ice. The tables of this caravansary proved to be Saharas of marbled oilcloth, each centering in an oasis made up of a mug of grated horse-radish, a bowl of crackers and a pewter-topped bottle of catsup. Over one of these marbled Saharas I dined hurriedly and frugally, thinking a little regretfully of the Baltimore terrapin, the Salvini fillets, the braised sorrel and the Gruyère and Chablis which should have been mine.
But ten minutes after I had left that little oyster-house, I remembered that I had w'ork—real work—ahead of me.
CHAPTER X The Conspirators
jV/fY FIRST task, once back in tfte bald -*■ -* little room which was to play the part of my tower of observation, was to replace the two boards I had taken up from the floor, cutting away enough of the wood to leave space through which to pass my mic• rophone attachment.
Over this open wound in the timber I carefully adjusted the hemp rug, one of the holes in it making a convenient aperture through which to pass my wires. Then I pushçd the faded green Morris chair over beside the rug, sat down in it, lighted a cigar, and felt very much like a Cheshire cat calmly contemplating the hole from which its evening meal of mouse is to proceed.
I had not long to wait. My simply-improvised little instrument at once telegraphed a sound to my ear when the second or inner door of the printing shop was cautiously opened and closed. Then came the noise of shuffling feet and what must have been the snap of an electric light-switch. The footsteps passed restlessly back and forth about the room. Once or twice I heard what seemed to be the clink of glass against glass, and sometimes less distinct sounds, like those of a pestle rubbing in a mortar and of water running from a faucet. These sounds were suddenly interrupted by a louder one. It was, obviously, some one giving a cipherlike knock on the street door without. I heard the steps cross the room, the inner door open and close, then the shutting of the second door, and the steps of a newcomer. For the first time the sound of voices came up to me.
“Get that cigar out o’ here!” it warned. The moment I heard it I knew that the voice belonged to the furtiveeyed printer with whom I had had my encounter in the afternoon.
The other man only laughed, and must have continued to smoke.
“Get that light out!” repeated the printer, with an oath of irritability. “D’you want to blow the whole shootin’ match up?”
The newcomer crossed the room to the back window, apparently fumbled with its sash-lock for a moment or two, opened it and obviously tossed away his lighted cigar. It was equally obvious that the window could not have been locked again, so quickly did he swing about and return to the other end of the room. This was a point worth remembering, I told myself, as I sat there intently listening for the next word.
“Does that make you feel any better?” demanded the new voice. Its tone was a jeering one.
The moment I heard it I knew this voice was Parson MacGirr’s. The other man merely grunted in a preoccupied way.
“What’s keeping that kid late?” he demanded, after a
“That kid’s having troubles of his own.”
“They’re not likely to last long,” was the grimly laconic reply to this.
“No, I imagine not,” was MacGirr’s placid retort.
Then came another pause.
“Anything to drink lyin’ round?”
"Not a drop!”
“Then I’ll rush the can while you're bottlin' up that soup.”
“That kid’s goin’ to throw you down, Mack,” averred the fat-necked man of the printing-press. “He’s going to put the kibosh on the lot of us! I tell you, Mack, that kid’s nutty!”
“Supposin' he is nutty,” tranquilly replied Red-flag Mack. “What’s that to us, as long as he turns the trick?”
"It’s not a job for dippy people,” argued the other.
“Would a man do it, who wasn’t dippy? He wants to be used, and wc can use him. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.”
HEN came another pause.
"What’s his hug, anyway?” asked the printer.
“Oh, his people lost their money in some fool caoutchouc venture down on the line between Peru and Colombia.”
“Caoutchou - what’s I hat?”
“He says it’s a tree-milk they make rubber out of, down there. But the Rubber Trust got busy, doped up a disputed boundary gag and had a gang o’ Bogota mercenaries take over the whole mint-patch.”
“But where does he come in?”
“Instead o' goin’ to Paris as a rich planter’s son, he was shoved into a cuartel for half a year, forresistin’ government troops. And broodin’ over not bein’ able to study abroad, and his folks losin’ their coin, and all that, I suppose gave him bats in his belfry.”
“Huh! Then you say yourself he’s bughouse?” triumphantly proclaimed the printer.
“Sure, he’s bughouse, Beansy! He’d have got Stillwell himself for me the other day, only some stiff in the old man’s office spoilt his chances.”
“Tljat’s your axe, not mine! Ilow’d he ever get next to his nibs?”
“With a cooked-up letter, supposed to come from the Italian consulate.”
“Another fool risk!” commented the lethargic printer.
“But think what this is going to mean to us all!” persisted MacGirr’s voice. “Gettin’ the whole gang o’ them at one crack o’ the box! Gettin’ the whole floor, man— the whole floor! Think o’ that, Beansy Schmidlapp!”
I sat up with a jerk. Could this man, called Beansy Schmidlapp, be the notorious Schmidlapp who had been held for the Union Square outrage? Was this fat-necked and slothful setter of type the “Pepper Schlatter” who had once terrified the police of St. Louis and escaped conviction by turning State’s evidence? The continuation of their talk below, however, gave me little chance to think over such possibilities.
“That’s all right,” the man denominated as Beansy was
saying. “But we’ll both live to see this kid squeal, and squeal everything, the minute he’s pinched.”
“But he’ll never be pinched,” flung hack the other. “Don’t you see what’s going to happen? He’ll have nine or ten pounds o’ pure soap soaked up in the wheat bran of that bag, and he’s got to go with the rest o’ them! Everything’s got to go—the whole stiff-necked, lyin’, cheatin’, bullyin’ lot o’ them!”
There was a second or two of silence.
“Mack,” calmly and solemnly said Beansy at last. “There’s moments when I kind o’ get the feelin’ you’re not so far from bein’ a little dippy yourself!”
“Maybe I am,” conceded Mack, with an offhand oath. “But I know who I’m after and what I’m gettin’ at. I aint struttin’ round talkin’ about bein’ the Hammer of God! I’ve never stopped to dope myself out any o’ that hot air.”
Again came that pregnant silence.
“You’ll have to lay low for a while,” calmly suggested the other.
“Oh, I’ll lay dead, all right! And I’ll keep clear o’ this joint, too!”
I could hear him take a turn or two across the floor.
“What’ll you do, Beansy?” he finally asked.
“Me? Oh, I’ll yegg it for a month or two,” was Beansy’s indifferent response.
The knot was untying itself. The situation was flashing and leaping into one complete and coherent whole, like a pyrotechnic set-piece after the light had once been applied. I strained forward listening for the next word.
“I wouldn’t scoff too much at that Hammer o’ God idea,” Beansy was sagely protesting. “It’s goin’ to help him die a damned sight easier than you or me’ll die.”
The other man laughed.
“I don’t intend to die for a while yet. I’ve got some evenin’ up to do first.”
“Maybe you have, but in this particular line o’ business you—”
“Shut up—there’s the kid!” was Mack’s sudden ejaculation.
The Hand Behind the Mallet
THE same cipherlike knock sounded on the outer door;
I could hear one of the men hurry to answer it. A moment later I was listening to the voice of the rapt-eyed
youth whom I had followed from Marvin Stillwell’s office to the Fourteenth Street bookstore. His words were nothing more than a perfunctory regret for being late.
“You look sick,” was the next remark that crept up to me. It came from the man called Beansy.
“I have been through enough to make me sick,” answered the young man, in his world-weary monotone.
“Been through what?” demanded MacGirr.
“Elvira Paladino,” was all he answered.
“What she been doin’?”
“Begging me to withdraw from the Circle. She wants me to leave New York—at once—to-night.”
“You’re stuck on that woman!” was MacGirr’s disgusted comment. -
“Pardon?” said the younger man. Even my receiver transmitted the haughty iciness of that one word, foreignized by its transposed accent.
“I say you like that girl,” reiterated MacGirr, in more qualified language.
“I fail to see what my attitude toward Elvira Paladino or any other woman has to do with what’s before us,” was the youth’s deliberately challenging retort.
“Then what’s she tryin’ to stop us for?” persisted MacGirr. Something in the heaviness of his tone reminded me of a battleship manoeuvering ponderously about a torpedo-boat.
“She claims we are being watched,” answered the other.
“Who by?” put in Beansy.
“That she cannot tell; she does not know."
“Of course she don’t,” said MacGirr.
“But this afternoon when she went to my rooms she found someone inside. She was not admitted, yet this sheet of paper was slipped under the door as she stood waiting outside.”
My two typewritten lines, apparently, were being passed about the little circle in silence.
“This is a trick o’ hers!” suddenly proclaimed MacGirr. “She’s gone in there and doped this out herself.”
“For what reason?” asked the impassive youth.
“First, simply because she’s stuck on you. And second, simply because she’s got cold feet, the same as any woman’ll get when it comes to a show-down. She’s playin’ you for a sucker!”
Continued on page 55
The Gity of Peril
Continued from page 28
‘T never knew Elvira Paladino to lie,” was her champion’s calm retort.
"Any woman’ll lie, if it suits her game,” was MacGirr’s sage generalization.
“Did you ever know this woman to lie?” “I don’t know her as well as you do.” “She is not lying,” replied the other, with what seemed his first touch of passion.
“Then who t’ hell is buttin’ in on our strawberry bed?” loudly demanded the ponderous MacGirr. His customary caution had deserted him.
“That’s right; holler your business all over the ward!” reproved Beansy.
“But if we’re being watched, who’s watchin’ us?” reiterated the bellicose MacGirr. No one answered him. “I’d like to see anybody try to sidetrack this game. I’d blow him higher than the Singer tower ! We’re in this too deep now to have—”
“S-s-sh!” whispered one of the men suddenly. A silence fell over them. It was broken by the muffled sound of the same strangely methodical rap on the outer door, the rap which I had already heard that night for the third time.
“Who’s that?” whispered one of the men.
THE knock was repeated, much louder than before. Some one tip-toed to the end of the room.
“Elvira Paladino,” said the youth.
“Then she stays out,” averred MacGirr. "That she-dago’ll have the whole precinct force in here if she keeps up that poundin’!” complained Beansy, the responsibilities of proprietorship apparently weighing heavily on him.
“For the love o’ Heaven, get her in, then,” sulkily conceded MacGirr.
It was apparently Beansy who tiptoed through to the front door and let her in.
The woman must have followed him into the back room, though all I could make sure of was the man’s heavy tread.
The next sound that greeted my ears was the girl’s exclamation of “Cono!” In that word seemed to be a world of reproof and pleading, contending torrents of anger and adoration. “You have not been honest with me!”
“I have never lied to you,” answered the youth—doggedly, it seemed to me.
“You were not open with me,” exclaimed the girl. “You did not tell me you would be here.”
It was MacGirr’s voice which next spoke. “You can’t expect a man to keep philanderin’ round when he’s got hard work ahead of him.”
“Philandering?” echoed the girl.
“Yes—numphin’, zooin’, goo-gooin’— if that makes it any easier!”
I could hear her impatient little cry of contempt.
“Then you cannot stop to philander until you have been a jailbird?” she demanded.
“Cut that out!” cried the angered MacGirr. The girl apparently turned away from him.
“Cono, I want you to come with me,” she pleaded in her deep, full-noted voice, the more musical because of its minute trace of foreign inflection. “You must come!”
“Your Gono’s got Circle work to do, and you know it,” broke in MacGirr once more.
“But he can not do this work!” cried the girl. “It’s no longer fair to him. It is not safe!”
She burst out into a sudden tumultuous torrent of what must have been Spanish. What she said I could not tell, but I felt that she was pleading with the obdurate youth, who kept replying to her only in dogged monosyllables.
AVAGUE impression of the unreality of the scene crept over me as I sat and listened. It did not seem that I was overhearing the talk of actual persons, with their conflicting aims and passions and interests. It seemed more like some strange drama that had been lived and
Elayed and passed over, years and years efoie, and was now being reproduced for me from the unemotional record of a talking machine.
“Of course it’s not safe,” MacGirr’s rough voice was saying. “There wouldn’t be room for us all in the Circle if it was writin’ sonnets and makin’ paper flowers.” “Cono, I tell you these men are making a tool of you!” cried the distracted girl.
“We are all the instruments of destiny,” was the impassive answer of the unmoved young man.
“But I tell you we are being watched,” persisted the girl. “You are being watched at this minute.”
“How d’you know that?” some one asked.
“I know it—I feel it! There is something hanging over us—something impending.”
A woman’s intuition, after all, is not a thing to be despised. MacGirr, however, felt otherwise. ,
“Let ’em watch—let ’em watch till the cows come home! It won’t stop this business from goin’ through. The boy knows it and he’s goin’ to stand by it.”
The frantic young woman was by this time crying quite openly. Nothing was said, but I could hear the uneasy shuffle of the men’s feet, as though her sobs disconcerted them.
“I thought you were one of us?” It was Cono Di Marco who spoke; there was a touch of bitterness in his reproof.
“If it were not you, Cono!” sobbed the young woman.
“You’re done out,” said MacGirr, in a somewhat milder voice. “You’re kind o’ tired and unstrung. What you want is a good night’s sleep.”
“Sleep!” scoffed the young woman.
“And I’ve got to get this place shut up some time,” suggested the practicalminded Beansy.
Then I heard the woman once more address herself to Cono. Again she spoke in Spanish. I knew little of that language, unfortunately, but I could judge of the stress of her feeling by the rush and tumult of her full-voweled words, by her hurried ejaculations and answers. It ended in another storm of crying on her part, and what seemed to be an embarrassed silence on the part of the three men.
“What in hell’s the use o’ carryin’ on this way?” pleaded MacGirr. “You’d think you were screwin’ the boy down in his coffin. He’s got all day to-morrow with you, if he wants to take it. There’s nothin’ doing till Friday, anyway.”
“It’s not to-morrow morning?” demanded the woman.
“It’s Friday morning at ten,” answered MacGirr. “That gives you a whole day to chew over this trouble o’ yours together.’
THERE was further talk between the two in Spanish; it ended by the stillprotesting woman being led away by Beansy Schmidlapp.
The moment the outer door had closed behind the two, MacGirr was back, crossquestioning the younger man.
“You’ve got everything worked out?” “Everything,” answered the other. “You’re sure there can’t be a hitch?” “There will be no hitch. If this man has prepared the bag as he said, the Circle’s order will be carried out.”
“Oh, Pepper Schlatter knows his business, all right, all right! Don’t you lose sleep about him not dopin’ out the bag. It’s fixed and waitin’ there behind you.” “It should be locked.”
“And why locked?”
“In case I should be stopped with it for any reason.”
This seemed to leave MacGirr silent for a second or two.
“Look here,” he said at last. “Supposin’ you’re held up with this bag—I mean, supposing they should happen to get you with the goods on, what’re you goin’ to do?”
“Do?” repeated the youth in his dreamy monotone. “There’s only one thing to do.” “What’s that?” cut in the other.
There was no audible answer to this. The reply to MacGirr’s question must have been given in pantomine.
“You know what it means?” asked the older man, seeming a little incredulous.
The youth answered that he fully understood. “We are the instruments of destiny,” he averred.
“The Hammer o’ God!” assented the hypocritical MacGirr.
I would have given a good deal, at that moment, to have seen the faces of those two men. The silence was interrupted by the entrance of the returning Beansy.
“I suppose we’ve got to shut up for the night?” said MacGirr.
“Don’t light that cigar in here,” warned the sharp voice of the printer.
“Right you are, Beansy,” answered MacGirr. “Who carries the key for that
“It’s on the hook in the ink-cupboard; it’s not needed. That bag is complete from soup to caps.”
“All right—then let’s beat it. My throat’s as dry as a lime-kiln.”
I heard the shuffling of feet, a snap of the light-switch, the opening and closing of doors, and I knew that they had gone for the night.
CHAPTER XII The Base of Supplies
T WAITED until I knew the coast was
clear. Then for the second time in a somewhat varied and extensive career I became a house-breaker; uninvited, unlawfully, surreptitiously, I entered on the property of another man.
I cannot say that I felt at ease while doing so. My hands were shaking as I quietly raised the back window that opened from my room upon the rusty iron fire escape. I tried to fortify myself with the assurance that this was due more to the excitement of accomplishing my purpose than to trepidation over an initial plunge into the gentle art of the second-story man. Indeed, all thought as to my own emotions was quickly submerged in the joyful discovery that MacGirr had, as I suspected, left the lower window unlatched.
It took but a moment to raise it and work my way inside, feet first. I closed the sash after me, and stood in the un-, broken quietness of the empty room, listening.
It was as still as a tomb. The air was heavy with an indescribable, acrid, pungent smell, a penetrating and all-pervading aroma of acid salts stronger even than the benzine smell of the printer’s shop. My first impulse was to strike a match and get at least a vague idea of my surroundings. But on second thoughts I decided otherwise. I reached to the top of the window and drew down the double blinds which I found there. Then I tiptoed across the room toward the door, which I found after a few moments of padding around in the pitchlike darkness. As I had hoped, it was furnished with a huge metal bolt on the inside. This I promptly slipped home into its socket. Thereafter I groped and felt along the walls until my fingers came in contact with the electric light-switch. Listening again to make sure that everything was safe, I turned the switch and flooded the room with light.
I stood against the wall accustoming my eyes to the glare and peering about at the scene before me. It took but a momentary inspection to show that my vaguely formed suspicions were not altogether incorrect. I had forced my way into what was nothing more or less than the “gun-joint” or fulminate factory of some unknown East Side gang. Whether they were mere Black-handers or “Reds” I could not make sure. I had often heard that many of these little East Side printing shops were hotbeds of Bolshevistic literature. The youth called Cono Di Marco, I felt, carried more the characteristics of an obsessed “Red” than those of a yeggman turned footpad. The boy was obviously being made a tool of by this out-and-out highwayman known as Red-flag Mack, this “gun-shover” who had served time, this vindictive and malevolent criminal seeking his own selfish ends. And there was also Beansy Schmidlapp, alias Pepper Schlatter; but I would know more of Beansy, I felt, when I had seen a little more of that odoriferous back-room powder-shanty of his.
TO THE casual eye there was, about this room, little that could be called striking. Along one wall ran a sort of long work-bench, at one end of which was a tier of shelves, at the other end a tap and sink. About one-third of the shelf was covered by a piece of white oilcloth. At one side of this stood a jagged piece of plate-glass, on which lay what looked like a long-handled wooden salad-spoon. Close beside this rested a small cedar paddle which might have been cut out of a roof-shingle. Behind these again stood a pair of chemist’s scales, a mortar and a pestle, a retort or two, a mixing-bowl and a disorderly row of japanned tin boxes. On the other side of the room, between
two fonts of unused type, stood a carboy of nitric acid, a rusty slice-galley, a yellow calfskin valise, a can or two of cylinderink and a few bales of dust-covered paper.
I looked more closely at the shelves next the work-bench. I saw' quickly enough that the hard silver-w'hite crystals in the bottle before me w'ere crystals of antimony, and that the copper capsules in the tin boxes were fulminate detonators. I next found an envelope-box half-filled with electric detonators, made of a stretch of copper wire with a piece of platinum resistance-coil in a plug of. ground glass and sulphur. Next came a fuse-crimper, a chunk of still moist modeling-clay, a cigar-box holding giant caps, a canister nearly full of sal-soda, a partly dismantled clock-bomb and a vial of mercury.
I wondered, as I remembered the nitric acid, if this rough-and-ready chemist had been reckless enough to attempt in such surroundings the blending of mercury fulminate. Its manufacture, I knew, was a simple enough process, the sole difficulty of which was that the resultant grayish powder had to be washed and airdried. To play steam laundry to such a mixture meant danger; for, besides being one of the strongest explosives known to modern science, mercury fulminate also has the disagreeable trick of detonating under some slight friction, at its own sweet will.
My next discovery almost caused me to admire the owner of that little East Side arsenal. For the fact that before me stood a vial of potassium nitrate, cheek by jowl with another of chlorate, and that under the bench stood a box of carefully cleaned wheat-bran, convinced me that the man had actually been attempting the manufacture of asphaline, one of the most dangerous and unstable of all high explosives. To make such an explosive under such conditions was more than toying with death; it was, as Lefty Boyle would have put it, flirting with a tombstone.
So my next discovery did not surprise me. The man had actually manufactured nitric-ether with a wooden paddle! Had he deliberately made that oily-looking fluid whose concoction is not ended until glycerine is stirred in? This stirring— seeing that the result is nitroglycerine, and that if the instruments are dirty or the glycerine impure there is every promise of spontaneous explosion and equally prompt annihilation of the mixer and his building— is usually done by means of compressed air, with the most scrupulous exactitude and under the keenest inspection.
LAID out on a sheet of white paper J were three familiar-looking tubes.
I bent over them gingerly, for I had seen such things before. The man had been making dynamite cartridges. Instead of using infusorial earth or fossil-flour for a “dope,” he had used wheat-bran—whjch was, of course, to cushion the explosive against possible shock. But I could see where the free nitroglycerine had leaked down from the cartridge paper and stained the white sheet, so clumsily was that “dope” soaked with the pure “soap,” and so awkwardly were the malignant little cylinders filled with their million devils of imprisoned force.
When my eye fell on a bunch of tapefuses not five feet away from these greasesoaked dealers of destruction, I felt that I had seen enough of the place. No wonder Beansy Schmidlapp had commanded MacGirr to put out his light! I wanted to get away, to be where I could breathe fresh air and move in safety. I suddenly grew nauseated at the thought of all these hellish instruments of torture with their suggestion of mangling and rending. And I had suddenly awakened to the fact that the clanger of outside interruption was almost as great as the danger from that venomous table over which some bristling fatality seemed to brood and frown.
I pulled myself together and groped my way to the ink-pantry. There, after a minute's search, I found the key that the printer had spoken of to MacGirr. Then I cautiously lifted the little calfskin valise to the middle of the floor and as cautiously unlocked it.
The valise contained what must have been the rubber bladder from a football, and about a dozen detonating caps buried in a cushion of harsh-feeling cotton-fiber. This fiber, I saw, was gun-cotton. The rubber bag, which was filled with a thick and oily liquid, must have held, I judged, between three and four ciuarts. 1 lifted it carefully out of the valise, and slowly
and cautiously poured its contents into a wooden pail standing under the watertap. I held my breath as I did so, for I could see that this honeylike liquid was whitish and opaque. When nitroglycerine is not as clear as water it is always impure; and when impure it stands amenable to the laws of neither God nor man.
I next carefully washed the wooden paddle, for the first problem before me— no easy one to solve—was to get rid of that ugly-looking nitroglycerine. Such "soup” could not be hidden away. It could not be thrown into a garbage-barrel to lie like a mine until some shock detonated it; it could not be burned; it could not be poured down a sink or permitted to flow through a sewer, to be a danger to all New York and a menace to Hudson River shipping even when on its way to the sea.
BUT I remembered the sal-soda. Reaching up for the canister, I made sure of the nature of its contents. Then, by carefully stirring a solution of sal-soda in the proper quantity of water into the oily “soup,” it was quietly and gradually decomposed. It was left, in the end, as harmless as a pan of dish-water.
After dumping the stuff into the sink I carefully washed the paddle and the pail, and even more carefully the rubber bag, until not a globule of grease remained. Then I carefully picked the detonating caps from the yellow calfskin valise and restored them to their mates in the tin box. The guncotton, I knew, was harmless enough when wet. So I soaked it with water, wrapped it in a clean sheet of printing-paper and stored it away on the dusty top shelf of the ink-pantry.
I stood in the centre of the room for a minute or two, puzzling over what my next move should be. I soon reached a decision. If I had drawn the teeth of Beansy’s little tiger of destruction, it was only too evident that the valise had been interfered with. So I took the empty rubber bladder, filled it with water from the tap and carefully tied it at the top. I next made sure that the calfskin valise was quite empty and quite clean. Then I placed in the bottom of it a few handfuls of wheat-bran and adjusted the bladder full of water so that it would nestle in this. I locked the valise, restored it to its original position and replaced the key on its hook in the ink-pantry. Then I slid back the bolt, switched out the light, put up the double blinds, climbed guardedly out through the window and up the rusty fire-escape to my own room.
I felt, as I made my way home at midnight, tired and hungry, that my day had not been a wasted one, from any standpoint. I felt, indeed, very much as a general must feel who has planned his formations and movements and defencelines, and is waiting for the opening gun to mark the enemy’s advance. But for one whole day, I suddenly remembered to my humiliation and bewilderment, I had not stopped to think of Natalie Ethelwyn Stillwell. *
CHAPTER XIII The Last Day
“I”) AVIS, do you think you could secure a pair of handcuffs for me?”
I looked up from my iced grapefruit, the following morning at breakfast, as I sat before my own damask, fittingly tubbed, shaved and clothed, reveling in the familiar but never quite appreciated luxury of an unhurried meal.
Davis, of course, showed no emotion at my casual question.
“I think so, sir,” he answered. “Will you want them at once, sir?”
“I’d like them some time before tonight,” was my answer.
“Yes, sir,” said Davis, as he opened and folded my morning paper and adjusted it against the toast rack. I have never known him to vary a degree in the angle at which he placed that carefully folded paper.
“And could you get hold of a couple of thirty-eight calibre Colts?” I added without looking up.
“Yes, sir, I think so,” answered that paragon of outward apathy. I must confess, however, that there were rare occasions when Davis and his imperturbability almost exasperated me. This was one of them.
“And I may need your help a bit, Davis,” I continued.
“Yes, sir,” was his impassive reply. I began to wonder just how we two
could work together to the greatest advantage. I wanted the entire movement and the entire triumph to be mine. It would be easy enough to call in Lieutenant Belton or to get in touch with Lefty Boyle. But that would be nothing less than a surrender of the case into professional hands. I wanted to work the tangle out with my own bead ¡ind in my own way. I would see the thing through to the end now; I was as jealous of it as a bird-dog is of his first “point.” I resented the mere thought of interference from outsiders. ___
I began to rehearse the case in my mind leisurely, as a gourmet might turn over and over on his tongue some complicated triumph of the culinary art. It was now half-past nine in the morning. That left me twenty-four hours in which to perfect my plans. The amiable gentleman known as Beansy, alias Pepper Schlatter, did not count, for the present. This was equally true of the young woman of the black veil, though I stored away in the pigeonholes of consciousness a firm resolution to find out more about that young woman, when occasion should permit. Somewhat regretfully I felt that she would have to be left for later and more leisurely investigation.
MacGirr himself was the man I wanted. His tool, Cono Di Marco, was equally dangerous, as things went, but he would be easier to handle. They would not be together, luckily, when the time for the final coup arrived. That, of course, would be in twenty-four hours. The Stock Exchange, I remembered, opened at ten. Cono Di Marco would then present himself at the entrance to the visitors’ gallery, show his card, and be admitted.
I suddenly jumped from my chair. I was a fool. I had taken an oily and tricky enemy at his word.
“It’s to-day\ It’s this very morning!” I declared, as the truth of the one thing flashed through my bewildered brain.
“It’s to-day!” I repeated aloud. Even the impassive, black-clad Davis had stirred a little uneasily.
“Davis,” I cried. “Get the garage on the phone. Tell them to have my car at the door as soon as they can—at once! If they can’t have it here in five minutes, tell them to send anything that’s outside and ready—any old car on wheels.”
I LOOKED at my watch. It was twenty-eight minutes to ten. I had been sittingthere wasting time, mooning and preening like a green parrot, when the fate of the most essential and dominating body of men in all the world of business lay in the balance. My mistake was imperilling the existence of the men on whom depended the perpetuation of a nation’s trade and prosperity. And ten to one I had already lost my chance.
It was plain enough that the man had lied. MacGirr had' simply misled the girl. He had glibly told her a day later, to throw her off the track. Everything had been made ready; they had no reason for further delay. The coup was under way at that very moment. And I remembered Pepper Schlatter’s words to the other conspirators: “I’ll see everything’s O.K. for the kid!” That meant that a minute’s inspection of the bag might show him it had been tampered with. Another minute’s work could replace the bladder of water with enough of one of his cursed fulminates to blow the dome off the Exchange and send its six fluted marble pillars tumbling and crumbling into Broad Street.
I had been too sure of myself; I had crowed too soon. By the overlooking of one link in my chain of deduction I had endangered the lives of a thousand men. I was threatening, not only New York, but every acre of America where grain grew—every factory where a wheel moved, every family where bread was eaten— with a cataclysm unparalleled in history. I was crushing the central heart that fed a nation’s farthest arteries of commerce; I was flinging a blight on a whole continent’s thrift and hope.
“The car will be at the door, sir, by the time you are down,” announced the matter-of-fact and steadying voice of Davis. I caught my coat and hat and gloves from him, and turned back at the
“Come on, Davis!” I cried.
“With you, sir?”
"Yes, quick!” For I remembered that he could drive a car, even if it was in an over-scrupulous and snail-like way. _ I preferred, for the present at least, keeping the story strictly in the family, as it were.
I was in the car and swinging down Fifth Avenue before Davis was fairly seated. I threw the lever out to full speed when I Saw an opening in the traffic-lines, and skidded round in Twenty-fifth Street and then down the west stretch of Madison Square. , „
“Officer is warning you, sir, I think, said Davis, as I bounded and pounded over the Twenty-third Street car-tracks while I still had a clear roadway.
“I can’t help it,” 1 cried. “We’ve got to get to the Stock Exchange before ten!’
WE WERE in the canyon of Broadway itself by this time, and when I saw its morning tangle of traffic I cursed my luck that I had not kept straight down University Place to Washington Square. To run the motor even beyond half speed now would be suicidal.
“We can’t make it, sir,” said Davis, studying his large and intimidating silver watch. I felt this to be true even before he spoke.
“Could I do it by subway?” I asked, for the car took up most of my thought.
“By an express at Fourteenth Street, sir. But you would lose time again getting from Wall Street station.”
“I’ll have to do it—there’s no chance with this traffic!”
“It’s too bad, sir,” said Davis, for just above Union Square a jam of trucks and cabs and crawling four-wheeled things held us up again, and a mounted trafficsquad “canary” ordered me behind a snail-paced taxicab.
“I’m going to swing out and around to the east of the square and then dive for the subway,” I told Davis. “You stay with the car. Get to the Exchange on Broad Street if you can. If that ‘canary’ causes trouble, get MacMullen on the
“Yes, sir,” said Davis.
I defied the traffic regulations of the City of New York and cut sharply across the line, lifting a florist’s wagon’s hind wheel as I went. An astounded patrolman ordered me to stop, but I did not even answer or' look at him. In the open spaces of the square I threw on full speed again and swung down Fourth Avenue until the Fourteenth Street jam once more hemmed us in.
“Smooth down that officer, Davis, if he gets after you,” I said as I dived for the subway entrance.
It was sixteen minutes to ten when I took a seat in the south-bound express. I seemed to be carrying that train down on my own shoulders. I sat there with my watch in my hand, staring at the secondhand as it wheeled off the precious minutes, torturing my mind with the problem of whether or not I should be too late.
CHAPTER XIV In the Visitors’ Gallery
AT FOUR minutes to ten by my watch - I was once more in the open air. I peered down the narrow valley of gloom between the towering cliffs, momentarily wondering when my eyes would see the heavens about me split by some sudden eruption, schooling my ears to be prepared for the roar and shock which would tell me that somewhere between New and Broad Streets the worst had happened.
Men looked after me as I ran. Jocular messenger-boys called and whistled and jeered; the surging morning crowd through which I darted and elbowed my way must have taken me for a madman or a drunkard pursued by the fiends of delirium. But I neither looked aside nor wavered. I neither stopped nor permitted myself to be stopped until I had plunged, hot and panting, into the round-arched doorway that led to the visitors’ gallery.
The necessity of convincing the doorkeeper of my right to enter, even with the essential member’s card in my hand, and then later the slow ascent to the gallery itself, seemed a tragic waste of time. I was almost tempted to announce to the placid-eyed attendants about me the somewhat melodramatic information that any moment might be their last. But life was too short even for that consolingly theatrical side-issue.
At last I was in the eastern loft of the Exchange known as the visitors’ gallery. My watch said one minute past ten. And still the Exchange stood.
But, as I made my way down toward the railing that guarded the gallery-edge from the pit itself, I heajd a gong strike. It sent a thrill and a quiver of startled nerves through my body; and it was a second or two before I realized that it was simply the ten o’clock signal for the day’s business on the floor to begin. Still I saw no signs of disaster.
The market held every promise of being an unsteady one. The day, like the days that had preceded it, threatened to be troubled. For, even as the gong struck, a sudden babel of sound exploded up out of the pit, echoing to the paneled roof of the great, high-ceilinged room. 1 looked about for a glimpse of Cono Di Marco. But still I could see no trace of him. And still the Exchange stood.
ABOUT the sixteen posts that studded - the wide valley of the floor were groups of suddenly frenzied men. Some posts held but few; others seemed to cause human particles to fly back and forth and cling about them like iron-filings about a magnet. Pages in gray uniforms ran hither and thither. During each momentary lull of the storm the telegraph-keys, in the booths at the far end of the great chamber, rattled and cluttered and droned. The clustering black masses of humanity boiled and erupted and fell back. Hands waved and writhed and semaphored; the sound of the contending voices became a sustained and continuous monotone. The vice-president occupied his official post. The movement and excitement increased; the uniformed sergeants kept watch over the hurrying messenger-boys; despatches were more feverishly received and delivered; pads were scribbled on, sheets of paper were waved and tossed and shredded and thrown broadcast about the floor. It was like looking down into the crater of an immense volcano seething and bubbling with restless andwasteful fires. It was pandemonium let loose, pre-Adamitic chaos restored to the world.
Fully two-thirds of the floor-members— and I knew there were eleven hundred of them — must have been engulfed and fighting in that frenzied maelstrom. There they writhed and shouted and grimaced and signalled and scribbled on order-blanks, the slaves and emissaries of their thrice-veiled goddess known as Fortune; there they bought and sold, little dreaming of what hung over them. They only knew that they were the buyers and sellers of half a world, a nation s testers of values, the blindly moving barometer of a troubled hemisphere.
They seemed to me like strange pagans fretting about the floor of their overstately and over-pillared temple, as heavily columned as some Doric home of earth’s most ancient gods. They shouted orders and shook fingers at one another; they menaced their fellows with darting pads and opçn throats, like angry snakes at the coil; they tore up order-slips and showered their friends and foes until the vast floor was white with their fall, like a valley m the Rockies after a snow-storm. There they burrowed and builded and worked and wasted, as blindly as a hill of restless ants on whom the prostrating plowshare of an outside world was soon to descend.
They seemed to take on an indescribable pathos—the pathos of a people unconscious of their to-morrow, blind to its possibilities and its perils. And still the Exchange stood. The blow might not have fallen, but it was destined still to fall. _
Then my eyes, which all this time had been searching the gallery about me, no longer noticed the tiers of faces at my side or the far-off movements and shadows of the floor. For, as I watched, a gallery door opened and closed and two newcomers entered.
The first was Cono Di Marco. His hands were empty. But under the flaps of his short overcoat, hung there apparently by a strap about his shoulders, was the calfskin bag. I could not actually see ¿he bag itself, yet I knew it was the?«, as plainly as though my eyes beheld it. .
I also knew that the figure behind him was Elvira Paladino, the woman of the black veil. And my heart almost stopped beating for a moment; for as I saw them I knew that the drama had narrowed down to its last movements.
To be Continued