FRANK L. PACKARD
WAIT! Stop!” he screamed out in a well-simulated paroxysm of terror. “I—I’ll
“I thought so!” said Crang coolly.
“Well, go over there to the table then, and sit down.” He turned to the two men. “Beat it!” he snapped —and, the room empty again save for himself and John Bruce, he tapped the sheet of paper with the muzzle of his revolver. “I’ll dictate. Pick up that pen!”
John Bruce obeyed. He circled his lips with his tongue. “You—you won’t do Larmon any harm, will you?” he questioned abjectly. “I — my life’s worth more than a little money, if it’s only that, and—and if that’s all, I—I’m sure he’d rather pay.”
“Don’t apologise!” sneered Crang. “Go on now, and write. Address him as you always do.”
John Bruce dipped the pen in the ink, and wrote in a small hand:—
“Dear Mr. Larmon:—
He looked up in a cowed way.
“All right!” grunted Crang. “I guess we’ll kill another bird too, while we’re at it.” He smiled cryptically. “Go on again, and write!”
And John Bruce wrote as Crang dictated.
“I’m here in my rooms in the same hotel with you, but am closely watched. Our compact is known. I asked a girl to marry me, and in doing so felt she had the right to my full confidence. She did me in. She—” John Bruce’s pen had halted.
“Go on!” prompted Crang sharply. “It’s got to sound right for Larmon—so that he will believe it. He’s not a fool, is he?”
“No,” said John Bruce.
“Well, go on then!”
And John Bruce wrote:
“She was all the time engaged to the head of a gang of crooks.”
Crang’s malicious chuckle interrupted his dictation.
“I’m not sparing myself, you see. Goon!”
John Bruce continued his writing.
“They are after blackmail now and threaten to expose you. I telegraphed you to come under an alias because we are up against it and you should be on the spot; but if they knew you were here they would only attach the more importance to it, and the price would go up.
They believe you are still in San Francisco and that I am communicating with you by mail.
They are growing impatient. You can trust the bearer of this letter absolutely. Go with him. He will take you where we can meet without arousing any suspicion. I am leaving the hotel now. If possible we should not risk more than one conference together, so bring a blank check with you. There is no other way out. It is simply a question of the amount. I am bitterly sorry that this has happened through me. John Bruce.”
Crang, with his revolver pressed into the back of John Bruce’s neck,
leaned over John Bruce’s shoulder and read the letter carefully. *
“Fold it, and put it in that envelope without sealing it, and address the envelope to Mr. R. L. Peters at the BayneMiloy Hotel!” he instructed.
John Bruce folded the letter. As he did so, he noted that his signature wras a good two or three inches above the thumb nail mark. He placed the letter in the envelope, and addressed the letter as Crang had directed.
Crang moved around to the other side of the table, tucked the envelope into his pocket, and grinned mockingly.
And then without a word John Bruce got up from his chair, and flung himself face down on the mattress again.
CHAPTER XV The Clue
pAUL VENIZA, propped up in bed omhis pillows, fol1 lowed Claire with his eyes as she moved about the room. It was perhaps because he had been too ill of late to notice anything that he experienced now a sudden shock at Claire’s appearance. She looked pale and drawn, and even her movements seemed listless.
“What’s to-night?” he asked abruptly.
“Wednesday, father,” she answered.
Paul Veniza plucked at the counterpane. It was all too
much for Claire. Besides—besides Crang, she had been up all night for the last two nights, and since Monday she had not been out of the house.
“Put on your hat, dear, and run over and tell Hawkins I want to see him,” he smiled.
Claire stared at the old pawnbroker. “Why, father,” she protested. “It’s rather late, isn’t it? And, besides, you would be all alone in the house.”
' I 'HE STORY SO FAR—Hawkins, New York cab driver, inveterate drunkard, permits Paul Veniza, pawnbroker, to adopt his motherless baby girl, Claire. Twenty years later, Urlin P. Neyret, proprietor of gambling houses, meets in Honolulu John Bruce, of good family, but down and out temporarily, and offers him a big income to do his bidding in anything. Bruce returns to a life of luxury, meets Claire in a travelling pawnshop (a taxi driven by Hawkins), is injured in a fight, and takes refuge in the girl's room, falling unconscious. Dr. Crang, cocaine addict, as price for saving Bruce’s life, extracts a promise of marriage from Claire. Bruce, recovering slowly, witnesses robbery by Crang and accomplices of Veniza’s safe. Bruce declares Ins love to Claire. He then meets Hawkins again and learns the alter is Claire’s father. Hawkins renews to Bruce and Veniza his pledge that he will drink no more. Will he keep it? Bruce discloses to Veniza his love for Claire. Crang attacks Claire brutally, in a drugged frenzy, and is severely handled by Bruce, who rescues the girl after a terrific fight. Crang threatens Bruce’s life. Bruce returns to his life of luxury, is tricked by a ruse into Crang’s den of scoundrels, and is threatened with death unless he lures Neyret (alias Larmon) by a trick letter into Crang’s power for blackmail.
“Nonsense,” said Paul Veniza. “I’m all right. Much better. I’ll be up to-morrow. But I particularly want to see Hawkins to-night.” He did not particularly want to see Hawkins or any cne else, but if he did not have seme valid excuse she would most certainly refuse to go out and leave him alone. A little walk and a
a breath of fresh air would do Claire a world of good. And as for the lateness of the hour, Claire in that section of the city was as safe as in her own home.
“Please do as I ask you, Claire,” he insisted.
“Very well, father,” she agreed after a moment’s hesitation and went and put on her hat.
From downstairs,Fas she opened the front door, she called up to him a little anxiously.
“You are sure you are all right?”
“Quite sure,'dear.”LPauljVeniza called back. “Don’t hurry.”
Claire stepped out on the street. It was not far to go —just around the first corner and halfway down the next block—and at first she walked briskly, impelled by an anxiety to get back to the house again as soon as possible, but insensibly, little by little, her footsteps dragged.
Yjl^HAT was it? Something in the night, the dark’ ' ness, that promised a kindly cloak against the breaking of her self-restraint, that bade her let go of herself and welcome the tears that welled to her eyes? Would it bring relief? To-day, all evening, more than ever before, she had felt her endurance almost at an end. She turned her face upward to the night. It was black; not a star showed anywhere. It Seemed as though something dense and forbidding had been drawn like a sombre mantle over the world. God, even, seemed far away to-night.
She shivered a little. Could that really be true—that God was turning His face away from her? She had tried so hard to cling to her faith. It was all she had; it was all that of late had stood between her and a despair, and misery, a horror so overwhelming, that death by contrast seemed a boon.
Her lips quivered as she walked along. It almost seemed as though she did not want to fight any more. And yet there had been a great and very wonderful reward given to her before she had even made the final sacrifice that she had pledged herself to make. If her soul revolted from the association that must come with Doctor Crang, if every instinct within her rose up in stark horror before the contamination of the man’s wanton moral filth, one strange and wondrous thing sus-
tained her. And she had no right to mistrust God, for God must have brought her this. She had bought an unknown life—that had become dearer to her than her own, or anything that might happen to her. She knew love. It was no longer a stranger who would live on through the years because she was soon to pay the price that had been set upon his life—it was John Bruce.
Claire caught her hands suddenly to her breast. John Bruce! She was still afraid—for John Bruce. And tonight, all evening, that fear had been growing stronger, chilling her with a sense of evil premonition and foreboding. Was it only premonition? Crang had threatened. She had heard the threats. And she knew out of her own terrible experience that Crang, as between human life and his own desires, held human life as naught. And yet surely John Bruce was safe from him now—at least his life was safe. That was how Crang had wrung the promise from her. No, she was not so sure! There was personal enmity between them now. Besides, if anything happened she would not be able to bring it to Crang’s door—Crang would take care of that—and her promise would still hold. And she was afraid.
She had not seen Crang since the night that John Bruce had thrown him down the stairs. She had thanked God for the relief his absence had brought her—but now, here again, she was not so sure! What had kept him away? Where was John Bruce? She began to regret that she liad told John Bruce he must not attempt to see her or communicate with her any more, though she had only done so because she had been afraid for his sake—that it would arouse but the very worst in Doctor Crang. Perhaps John Bruce had yielded to her pleading and had lefl the city. She shook her head. If she knew the man she loved at all, John Bruce would run from no one, and—
Claire halted abruptly. She had reached the dingy rooming house where Hawkins lived. She brushed her hand resolutely across her eyes as she mounted the steps.
The tears had come after all, for her lashes were wet. It was not necessary either to ring or knock; the door was always unfastened; and besides, she had been here so many many times that she knew the house almost as well as her own home. She opened the door, stepped into a black hallway, and began to feel her way up the creaking staircase. There was the possibility, of course, that Hawkins was either out or already in bed, but if he were out she would leave a note in his room for him so that he would come over to the old pawnshop when he returned, and if he were already in bed her message delivered through the door would soon bring Hawkins out of it again—Hawkins, since he had been driving that old car which he had created, was well accustomed to calls at all hours of the night.
A THIN, irregular streak of AAlight, the only sign of light she had seen anywhere in the house, showed now at the t hreshold under Hawkins’ ill-fitting door, as she reached the landing. She stepped quickly to the door and knocked. There was no answer.
She knocked again. There was still no answer. Claire smiled a little whimsically. Hawkins was growing extravagant—he had gone out and left the light burning. She tried the door, and, finding it unlocked, opened it, stepped forward into the room—and with a sudden, low, half hurt, half frightened cry, stood still. Hawkins was neither out, nor was he in bed. Hawkins was sprawled partly.on the floor and partly across a chair, in which he had obviously been unable to preserve his balance. Several bottles, all empty but one, stood upon the table. There were two dirty glasses beside the bottles, and another one, broken, on the floor.
Hawkins was snoring stertorously.
It seemed somehow to Claire standing there that this was the last straw—and yet, too, there was only a world of pity in her heart for the old man. All the years rolled before her. She remembered as a child climbing upon his knee and pleading for the ticktick that great cumbersonrfc silver watch, which, fallen out of his pocket, now, dangled by its chain and swung in jerky rhythm to his breathing. She remembered the days when, a little older, she had dressed herself in her best clothes, and to Hawkins’ huge delight had played at princess, while he drove about in his old ramshackle hansom cab; and later still, his gentle faithfulness to Paul Veniza in his trouble, and to her—and the love, and the strange, always welcome tenderness that he had ever shown her. Poor frail soul! Hawkins had been good to every one—but Haw'kins.
She could not leave him like this, but she was not strong enough to carry him alone to his bed. She turned and ran hurriedly downstairs. There was the widow Hedges, of course, the old landlady.
Back at the end of the lower hall, Claire pounded upon a door. Presently a woman’s voice answered her. A moment later a light appeared as the door was opened, and with it an apparition in an old gingham wrapper and curl papers.
. Oh, it s you, Miss Claire!” the woman exclaimed in surprise. What’s brought you over here to-night, dear? Is your father worse?”
No, Claire answered. “He wanted Hawkins, and—”
\/fRS. HEDGES shook her head.
“Hawkins isn’t in,” she said; “but I’ll see that he gets the message when he comes back. He went out with the car quite a little while ago with some men he had with
With the car?” Claire found herself suddenly a little frightened, she did not quite know why. “Well, he’s back now, Mrs. Hedges.”
‘Oh, no,” asserted Mrs. Hedges positively. “I might not have heard him going upstairs, but I would have heard the car coming in. It hasn’t come back yet.” ei ^ut Hawkins ic upstairs,” said Claire a little heavily.
T—I’ve been up.”
A ou say Hawkins is upstairs?” Mrs. Hedges stared
incredulously. “That’s very strange!” She turned and ran back into her room and to a rear window. “Look, Miss Claire. Come here! A'ou can see!” And as Claire joined her, “The door of the shed, or the ‘gradge’ as he calls it, is open, and you can see for yourself it’s empty. If he’s upstairs what could he have done with the car? It isn’t out in front of the house, is it, and—oh!” She caught Claire’s arm anxiously. “There’s been an accident, you mean, and he’s—”
“I am sure he never left the house,” said Claire, and her voice in its composed finality sounded strange even in her own ears. She was thoroughly frightened now, and her fears were beginning to take concrete form. There were not many who would have any use for that queer old car that was so intimately associated with Hawkins! She could think of only one—and of only one reason. She pulled at Mrs. Hedges’ arm. “Come upstairs,” she said.
Mrs. Hedges reached the door of Hawkins’ room first.
“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Hedges cried out wildly. “He aint dead, is he?”
“No,” said Claire in a strained voice. “He’s—he’s only had too much drink. Help me lift him on the bed.”
It taxed the strength of the two women.
“And the car’s stole,” gasped Mrs. Hedges, fighting for her breath.
“Yes,” said Claire. “I’m afraid so.”
“Then we’ll get the police at once!” announced Mrs. Hedges.
Claire looked at her for a moment.
“No,” she said slowly, shaking her head. “You mustn’t do that. It—it will come back.”
“Come back?” Mrs. Hedges stared helplessly. “It aint a cat! You—you aint quite yourself, are you, Miss Claire? Poor dear, this has upset you. It aint a fit thing for young eyes like yours to see. Me—I’m used to it.” 1
“I am quite myself.” Claire forced a calmness she was
1: rn fecling into her voice. "You mustn't notify the or do a thing, except just look after Hawkins. It it's father's car, you know; and he'll know best what \\ell, Iflaybe that's so," admitted Mrs. Hedges. "Do you know who the men were who were with Haw kin't?'' (`loire asked, "Nt, I don't," Mrs. Hedges answered excitedly. "The lIi('vjflg devils, coming here anti getting Hawkins off like
this. I just knew there were some men up in his room with him because I heard them talking during the evening, and then when I heard them go out, and get the car I thought, of course, that Hawkins had gone with them.” “I—I see,” said Claire, striving to speak naturally. “I—I’ll go back to father now. I can’t leave him alone very long anyhow. I’ll tell him what has happened, and and he’ll decide what to do. You’ll look after Hawkins, won’t you, Mrs. Hedges?”
“A’ou run along,dear,”said Mrs. Hedges reassuringly. “Who else but me has looked after him these ten years?”
CLAIRE ran from the room and
down the stairs, and out to the street. The one thing left for her to do was to reach home and get to the telephone -get the BayneMiloy Hotel—and John Bruce. Perhaps she was already too late. She ran almost blindly along the street-. Her intuition, the foreboding that had obsessed her so heavily all evening, was only too likely now to prove itself far from groundless. What object, save one, could anybody have in obtaining possession of the travelling pawnshop, and at the same time of keeping Hawkins temporarily out of the road? Perhaps her deduction would show flaws if it were subjected to the test of pure logic, perhaps there were a thousand other reasons that would account equally well, and even more logically for what had happened, but she knew it was Crang—and Crang could have but one object in view. The man was clever, diabolically clever. In some way he was using that car and Hawkins’ helplessness to trap the man he had threatened. She must warn John Bruce. There was not an instant to lose! How long ago had that car been taken? Was there even a chance left that it was not already far too late? She had not thought to ask how long ago it was when Mrs. Hedges had heard the car leave the garage.
It had never seemed so far— just that little half block and halfway along another. It seemed as
way along seemed as though she had been an hour in coming that little way when she finally reached her home. Her breath coming in hard, short gasps, she opened the door, closed it, and, with no thought but one in her mind, ran across the room to the telephone. She remembered the number of the Bayne• Miloy. She snatched the telephone receiver from the hook—and then, as though her arm had suddenly become incapable of further movement, the receiver remained poised halfway to her ear.
Doctor Crang was leaning over the banister, and looking down at her.
With a stifled little cry, Claire replaced the receiver.
Paul Veniza’s voice reached her from above.
“Is that you, Claire,” he called.
“Yes, father,” she answered.
Doctor Crang came down the stairs.
“I just dropped in a minute ago--not professionally”— a snarl crept into his voice—“for I have never been informed that your father was ill.”
Claire did not look up.
“It - it; wasn’t serious,” she said.
“So!” Crang smiled a little wickedly. “I wonder where you get the gambling spirit from? One of these days you’ll find out how serious these attacks are!” He took a step forward. “Your father tells me that you have been over to Hawkins’ room.”
There was a curious hint of both challenge and perverted humor in his voice. It set at rest any lingering doubt Claire might have had.
"Yes,” she said, and faced him now, her eyes hard and steady, fixed on his.
“Poor Hawkins!” sighed Doctor Crang ironically. “Even the best of us have our vices. It should teach us to be tolerant with others!”
LAIRE’S little form was rigidly erect.
“I wonder if you know how much I hate you?” she said in a tense low voice.
“You’ve told me often enough!” A savage hungry look came into Crang’s eyes. “But you’re mine, for all that. Mine, Claire! Mine! You understand, that, eh?”
He advanced toward her. The door of the inner room, that for weeks, until a few days ago, had been occupied by John Bruce, was just behind her, and she retreated through it. He followed her. She did not want to cry out -the sound would reach the sick room above; and, besides, she dared not show the man that she had any fear.
“Don’t follow me like that!” she breathed fiercely.
“Why not?” he retorted, as he switched on the light and closed the door. “I’ve got the right to, even if I hadn’t something that I came over here particularly to-night to tell you about—quite privately.”
She had put the table between them. That he made no effort to come nearer for the moment afforded her a certain relief, but there was something in the smile with which he surveyed her now, a cynical, gloating triumph, that chilled
“Well, what is it?” she demanded.
“I trapped that damned lover of yours to-night!” he announced coolly.
Claire felt her face go white. It was true then! She fought madly with herself for self-possession.
“If you mean Mr. Bruce,” she said deliberately, “I was just going to try to warn him over the phone; though, even then, I was afraid I was too late.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed sharply. “You knew, then?”
Claire shrugged her shoulders.
“Oh, yes,” she said contemptuously. “My faith in you where evil is concerned is limitless. I heard your threats. I saw Hawkins a few minutes ago. He was quite—quite helpless. You, or some of your confederates, traded on his weakness, took the key of the car away from him, and then stole the car. Ordinary thieves would not have acted like
that.” An icy smile came to her lips. “His landlady thought the police should be notified that the car had been stolen.”
“You always were clever, Claire.” Crang grinned admiringly. “You’ve got some brains—all there are around here, as far as I can make out. You’ve got it straight all right. Mr. John Bruce, Esquire, came out of Lavergne’s on being informed that Hawkins was in bad shape—no lie about that! and walked into the car without a murmur. Too bad to bother the police, though—the car will have been left in front of Hawkins’ door again by now.”
It was hard to keep her courage; hard to keep her lips from trembling; hard to keep the tears back; hard to pretend that she was not afraid.
“What are you going to do with him?” Her voice was very low. “The promise that I gave you was on the conditions that he lived—not only then, but now.”
Crang laughed outright.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. He’d never let it get that far. He thinks too much of Mr. Bruce. He has already taken care of himself—at another man’s expense.”
Claire stared numbly. She did not understand.
“I’ll tell you,” said Crang with brutal viciousness. “He’s a professional gambler, this supposedly wealthy gentleman of leisure. He works for a man in San Francisco named Larmon, who really is wealthy, but who poses as a pillar of the church, or words to that effect. Never mind how, but Larmon will be here to-night in New York—just at the right moment. And Mr. Bruce has very kindly consented to assist in convincing Mr. Larmon that exposure isn’t worth the few dollars that would buy him immunity.”
Claire did not speak. Still she did not understand. She sat down wearily in the chair beside the table.
Crang took a letter from his pocket abruptly, and opening it, laid i,t in front of Claire.
“I thought perhaps you would like to read it,” he said carelessly.
Claire rested her elbows on the table, and cupped her chin in her hands. She stared at the letter. At first the words ran together, and she could not make them out. Then a sentence took form, and then another—and she read them piteously—“. ... I asked a girl to marry me, and in doing so felt she had the right to my full confidence. She did me in. . . . ”
“But it’s not true.” she cried out sharply. “I don’t believe it.”
“Of course, it isn’t true!” said Crang complacently. “And, of course, you don’t believe it! But Larmon will. I’ve only shown you the letter to let you see what kind of a yellow cur this would-be lover of yours is. Anything to save himself. But so long as he wrote the letter, I had no quarrel with him if he wanted to fake excuses for himself that gave him a chance of holding his job with Larmon afterwards.”
TT COULDN’T be true—true that John Bruce had A even written the letter, a miserable Judas thing that baited a trap, for one who trusted him, with the good name of a woman for whom he had professed to care. It couldn’t be true—but the signature was there: “John Bruce. . John Bruce. . . . John Bruce.” It seemed to strike at her with the cruel stinging blows of a whip-lash; “John Bruce—John Bruce. . . John—”
It began to grow blurred. It was the infinite hopelessness of everything that crushed her fortitude, and mocked it, and made it at last a beaten thing. A tear fell^and splashed upon the page—and still another. She kept looking at the letter though she could only see it through a blinding mist. And there was something ominous, and something that added to her fear, that she should imagine that her tears made black splashes on the blurred letter as they fell, and—
She heard a sudden startled snarl from Crang, and the letter was snatched up from the table. And then he seemed to laugh wildly, without reason, as a maniac would laugh—and with the letter clutched in his hand rushed from the room. Claire brushed her hand across her eyes. Perhaps it was herself who had gone mad.
The front door banged.
CHAPTER XVI A Wolf Licks His Chops
/'“XUTSIDE the house Crang continued to run. He was unconscious that he' had forgotten his hat. His face worked in livid fury. Alternately he burst out into short, ugly gusts of laughter that made of laughter an evil thing;
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 19
alternately, racked with unbridled passion, he mouthed a flood of oaths.
Fie ran on for some three blocks, and finally dashed up the steps of a small, drab-looking, cheap frame house. A brass sign, greenish with mold from neglect, flanked one side of the door.
He stepped forward along an unlighted hall, opened a door, and slammed it behind him. He switched on the light. He was in his consulting room. The next instant he was standing beside his desk, and had wrenched John Bruce’s letter from his pocket. He spread this out on the desk and glared at it. Beyond any doubt whatever, where Claire’s tears had fallen on the paper traces of writing were faintly discernible. Here, out of an abortive word, was a well-formed “e”; and there, unmistakably, was a capital “L.”
Carrying the letter, he ran now into a little room behind his office, where he compounded his medicines, and that was fitted up as a sort of small laboratory.
LJE TURNED on the water faucet, wet A a camel’s-hair brush, and applied the brush to the lower edge of the letter. The experiment was productive of no result. He stared at the paper for a while with wrinkled brow, and then suddenly he began to laugh ironically.
“No, of course not!” He was jeering at himself now. “Clever! You are not clever, you are a fool! She cried on the paper. Tears! Tears possess a slight trace of”—he reached quickly for a glass container, and began to prepare a solution of some sort—“a very slight trace. . . . that’s why the characters that already show are so faint. Now we’ll see, Mr. John Bruce, what you’ve got to say. . . . Salt!. . . .A little salt, eh?”
He dipped the camel’s-hair brush in the solution, and drew it across the bottom edge of the paper again.
Very carefully Sydney Angus Crang, M.D., worked his brush upward on the paper line by line, until, still well below the signature that John Bruce had affixed in his, Crang’s presence, there failed to appear any further trace of the secret writing. He read as fast as a word appeared—like a starving beast snatching in ferocious greed at morsels of food. It made whole and complete sense. His eyes feasted on it now in its entirety:
Keep away. This is a trap. Stall till you can turn tables. Information obtained while I was delirious. Am a prisoner in hands of a gang whose leader is a doctor named Crang. Veniza will tell you where Crang lives. Get Veniza’s address from Lavergne at the house. The only way to save either of us is to kidnap Crang. Look out for yourself. Bruce.
He tossed the camel’s-hair brush away, returned to his desk, spread the letter out on a blotter to allow the lower edge to dry, and slumping down in his desk chair, glued his eyes on the secret message, reading it over and over again.
“Kidnap Crang—eh?—ha, ha!” He began to chuckle low; then suddenly his fingers, crooked and curved until they looked like claws, reached out as though to fasten upon some prey at hand. And then he chuckled some more—and then grew somber, and slumped deeper in his chair, and his eyes, brooding, were half closed.
LJE SAT suddenly bolt upright in his
-1 chair. It came again—a low tapping on the window; two raps, three times repeated. He rose quickly, crossed the
room, opened the door, and stood motionless for a moment peering out into the hall.
It was a purely precautionary measure— he had little doubt but that his old housekeeper had long since mounted the stairs and returned to her bed. He stepped rapidly then along the hall, and opened the front door.
“That you, Birdie?’’ he called in a low
A man’s form appeared from the shadow of the stoop.
“Sure!” the man answered.
“Come in!” Doctor Crang said tersely.
He led the way back into the consulting room, and slumped down again in his chair.
“Well?” he demanded.
“Peters arrived all right,” Birdie reported. “He registered at the BayneMiloy Hotel, and he’s there now.”
“Good!” grunted Crang.
For a full five minutes he remained silent and without movement in his chair, apparently utterly oblivious of the other, who stood, shifting a little awkwardly from foot to foot, on the opposite side of the desk.
Then Crang spoke—more to himself than to Birdie.
“He’ll be anxious, of course, and growing more so,” he said. “He might make a break of some kind. I’ll have to fix that. I’m not ready yet. What?”
Birdie, from staring inanely at the wall, came to himself with a sudden start at what he evidently interpreted as a direct question.
“Yes—sure!” he said hurriedly. “No—
I mean, no, you’re not ready.”
Crang glared at the man contemptuously. . „„
“What the hell do you know about it? he inquired caustically.
He picked up the telephone directory, studied it for a moment, then reaching for the desk telephone asked for his connection. Presently the Bayne-Miloy Hotel answered him, and he asked for Mr. R. L. Peters’ room. A moment more and a voice reached him over the phone.
“Is that Mr. Peters?” Crang inquired quietly. “Mr. R. L. Peters, of San Francisco?. . . . Yes? Then I have a message for you, Mr. Peters, from the person who sent you a telegram a few days ago. . . I beg your pardon?. ... Yes, I am sure you do. . . Myself? I’d rather not mention any names over the ’phone. You understand, don’t you? He told me to tell you that it is absolutely necessary that no connection is known to exist between you, and for that reason he does not dare take the chance of getting into touch with you to-night, but he will manage it somehow by early afternoon to-morrow. . . What say? . . . Yes, it is very serious, otherwise he would hardly have telegraphed you to come from San Francisco. . . No, personally, I don’t know. That was his message; but I was also to warn you on no account to leave your rooms, or have communication with anybody until you hear direct from him. No, I do not know the particulars. I only know that he is apparently in a hole, and a bad one, and that he is now afraid that you will get into it too. ... Yes. You are sure you fully understand?. . . No, not at all! I am only too glad. . . .Good-night.”
CRANG, with a curious smile on his lips, hung up the receiver. He turned abruptly to Birdie.
“You get a taxi to-morrow,” he said brusquely. “We’ll want it for two or three hours. Slip the chauffeur whatever is necessary, and change places with him. See? You’ll know where to find one that will fall for that. Then you come here for me at—-let’s see—the boat sails at four— you come here at half past one sharp. Get me?”
“Sure!” said Birdie, with a grin. “That’s a cinch!”
“All right, then!” Crang waved his hand. “Beat it!”
Birdie left the room. A moment later the front door closed behind him.
Crang picked up the letter and examined it critically. The lower three or four inches of the paper was slightly crinkled, but quite dry now; the body of the original letter showed no sign whatever of his work upon the lower portion.
Doctor Crang nodded contentedly.
He rose abruptly, secured his surgical bag, and from it selected a lance. With the aid of a ruler and the keen-bladed little instrument, he very carefully cut away the lower section of the paper. The slip containing the erstwhile secret message he tucked away in his inside pocket; then he examined the letter itself again even more
critically than before. For all evidence that it presented to the contrary it might have been the original size of the sheet. There was even a generous margin of paper still left beneath John Bruce’s signature. He folded the letter, replaced it in its envelope—and now sealed the envelope.
“To-morrow!” said Doctor Sydney Angus Crang with a sinister smile, as he produced a hypodermic syringe from his pocket and rolled up the sleeve of his left arm. He laughed as the needle pricked his flesh. “To-morrow—John Bruce!”
He slumped far down in his chair once more. For half an hour he sat motionless, his eyes closed. Then he spoke again. “Damn you!” he said.
CHAPTER XVII Alias Mr. Anderson
DOCTOR SYDNEY ANGUS CRANG
looked at his watch, as he stepped from a taxi the next afternoon, and entered the Bayne-Miloy Hotel. It was fifteen minutes of two. He approached the desk and obtained a blank card. “From J. B.,” he wrote upon it. He handed it to the
“Please send this up to Mr. R. L. Peters,” he requested.
Presently the bell-boy returned with the information that Mr. Peters would see him; and, following the boy upstairs, he was ushered into the sitting room of one of the Bayne-Miloy’s luxurious suites. A tall man with a thin, swarthy face confronted him. Between his fingers the tall man held the card that he, Crang, had sent up; and between his lips the tall man sucked assiduously at a quill toothpick.
“Mr. Peters, of course?” Crang inquired easily, as the door closed behind the bellboy.
Mr. Peters, alias Gilbert Larmon, nodded quietly.
“I was rather expecting Mr. Bruce in person,” he said.
Crang looked cautiously around him.
“It still isn’t safe,” he said in a lowered voice. “At least, not here; so I am going to take you to him. But perhaps you would prefer that I should explain my own connection with this affair first?”
Again Larmon nodded.
“Perhaps it would be just as well,” he
Once more Crang looked cautiously around him.
“We—are quite alone, I take it?” “Quite,” said Larmon.
“My name is Anderson, William Anderson,” Crang stated smoothly. “I was the one who telephoned you last night. I am a friend of John Bruce—the only one he’s got, I guess, except yourself. Bruce and I used to he boys together in San Francisco. I hadn’t seen him for years until we ran into each other here in New York a few weeks ago and chummed up again. As I told you over the 'phone, I don’t know the ins and outs of this, but I know he is in some trouble with a gang that he got mixed up with in the underworld somehow.” “Tckl” The quill toothpick flexed sharply against one of the tall man’s front teeth. “William Anderson”—he repeated the name musingly—“Yes, I remember. 1 sent a telegram in your care to Mr. Bruce a few days ago.”
“Yes,” said Crang.
THE quill toothpick appeared to occupy the tall man’s full attention for a period of many seconds.
“Are you conversant with the contents of that telegram, Mr. Anderson?” he asked casually at last.
Crang suppressed a crafty smile. Mr. Gilbert Larmon was no fool! Mr. Gilbert Larmon stood here as Mr. R. L. Peters— the telegram had been signed: “Gilbert Larmon.” The question that Larmon was actually asking was: How much do you really know?
“Why, yes,” said Crang readily. “I did not actually see the telegram, hut Bruce told me it was from a friend of his, a Mr. Peters, who would arrive in New York Wednesday night, and whom he seemed to think he needed pretty badly in his present scrape.”
Larmon took a turn or two up and down the room. He halted again before Crang.
“I am obliged to admit that I am both anxious and considerably at sea,” he said deliberately. “There seems to be an air of mystery surrounding all this that I neither like nor understand. You did not allay my fears last night when you telephoned me. Have you no more to tell me?”
Crang shook his head slowly.
“No,” he said. “You’ve got everything I know. Bruce has been like a clam as far as the nature of what is between himself and this gang is concerned. He will have to tell you himself—if he will. He won’t tell me. Meanwhile, he sent you this.”
Crang reached into his pocket and took out the envelope addressed to Mr. R. L. Peters, that he had taken pains to seal the night before.
Larmon took the envelope, stepped over to the window, presumably for better light, and opening the letter began to read it.
Crang watched the other furtively. The quill toothpick, from a series of violent gyrations, became motionless between Larmon’s lips. The thin face seemed to mold itself into sharp, dogged lines. Again and again, Larmon appeared to read the letter over; and then the hand that held the sheet of paper dropped to his side, and he stood for a long time staring out of the window. Finally he turned slowly and came back across the room.
“This is bad, Mr. Anderson—far worse than I had imagined,” he said in a hard voice. “I believe you said you would take me to Bruce. This letter asks me to accompany you, and I see we are to go at once.” He motioned toward a box of cigars on the table. “Help yourself to a cigar, Mr. Anderson, and take a chair, while I change and get ready. I will only be a few minutes, if you will excuse me for that length of time?”
Crang’s face expressed concern.
“Why, certainly, Mr. Peters,” he agreed readily. He helped himself to a cigar, and sat down in a chair. “I’m sorry if it’s as bad as that.”
T ARMON made no answer save to nod
J his head gravely as he stepped quickly toward the door of the apartment’s adjoining room.
Crang struck a match and lighted his cigar. The door of the connecting room closed behind Larmon. A cloud of blue smoke veiled Crang’s face—and a leer that lighted his suddenly narrowed eyes.
“So that’s it, is it?” grinned Crang to himself. “I wondered how he was going to work it! Well, I guess he would have got away with it, too—if I hadn’t got away with it first!”
He sat motionless in his chair—and listened. And suddenly he smiled maliciously. The sound of running water from a tap turned on somewhere on the other side of the connecting door reached him faintly.
“And now a little salt!” murmured Doctor Angus Crang. He blew a smoke ring into the air and watched it dissolve. “And, presto!—like the smoke ring— nothing!”
The minutes passed, perhaps five of them, and then the door opened again and Larmon reappeared.
“I’m ready now,” he announced quietly. “Shall we go?”
Crang rose from his chair.
“Yes,” he said. He glanced at Larmon, as he tapped the ash from the end of his cigar. Larmon had not forgotten to change his clothes. “I’ve got a taxi waiting.”
“All right,” agreed Larmon briskly— and led the way to the elevator.
Out on the street, Crang led the way in turn—to the taxi. Birdie reached out from his seat, and flung the door open. Crang motioned Larmon to enter, and then leaned toward Birdie as though to give the man the necessary address. He spoke in a low, quiet tone:
“Keep to the decent streets as long as you can, so that he won’t have a chance to get leery until it won’t matter whether he does_ or not. Understand?”
Birdie touched his cap.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
The taxi jerked forward.
“It’s not very far,” said Crang. He smiled engagingly as he settled back in his seat—and his hand in his coat pocket sought and fondled his revolver.
Larmon, apparently immersed in his own thoughts, made no immediate reply. The taxi traversed a dozen blocks, during which time Crang, quite contented to let well enough alone, made no effort at conversation. Larmon chewed at his quill toothpick until, following a savage little click, he removed it in two pieces from his mouth. He had bitten it in half. He tossed the pieces on the floor, and produced a fresh one from his pocket.
“My word!” observed Crang dryly. “You’ve got good teeth.”
Larmon turned and looked at him.
“Yes, Mr. Anderson, I have!” His
voice was level. “And I am going to show them—when I get hold of Bruce.”
Crang’s expression was instantly one of innocent bewilderment.
“Why,” he said, “I »thought you—”
“Have you ever met the lady?” Larmon asked abruptly.
“The—lady?” Crang glanced out of the window. Birdie was making good time, very good time indeed. Another five minutes at the outside and the trick was
“The woman in the case,” said Larmon.
“Oh!” Crang whistled low. “I see! No, I’ve never met her. I didn’t know there was one. I told you he had said nothing to me.”
T ARMON was frowning heavily; his
' face was strained and worried. He laughed out suddenly, jerkily.
“I suppose I should give him credit for keeping you at least in the dark,” he said shortly; “though it strikes me as more or less of a case of locking the stable door after the horse has gone.”
Crang’s eyebrows were raised in wellsimulated perplexity.
“I don’t quite get you, Mr. Peters,” he said politely.
“It’s of no consequence,” Larmon’s eyes were suddenly fastened on the window. From an already shabby street where cheap tenements hived a polygot nationality, the taxi had swerved into an intersection that seemed more a lane than anything else, and that was still more shabby and uninviting. “This is a rather sordid neighborhood, isn’t it?” he observed curiously.
“It’s safe,” said Crang significantly.
The taxi stopped.
“We get out here, Mr. Peters,” Crang announced pleasantly, as Birdie opened the door. “It’s a bit rough, I’ll admit; but”— he shrugged his shoulders and smiled— “you’ll have to blame Bruce, not me. Just follow me, Mr. Peters—it’s down these steps.”
He began to descend the steps of a cellar entrance, which was unprepossessingly black, and which opened from the rear of a seedy-looking building that abutted on the lane. He did not look behind him. Larmon had made sure that the letter was to be relied upon, hadn’t he?—and it was John Bruce, not anybody else, that Larmon was trusting now. Certainly, it was much easier to lead Larmon as long as Larmon would be led; if Larmon hesitated about following, Birdie stood ready to pitch the other headlong down the steps—the same end would be obtained in either case!
But Larmon still showed no suspicion of the good faith of one William Anderson. He was following without question. The daylight streaking down through the entrance afforded enough light to enable Crang, over his shoulder, to note that Larmon was always close behind him. At a door across the cellar Crang gave two raps, three times repeated, and as the door was opened entered with Larmon beside him.
The man who had let them in—one of three who had evidently been rolling dice at a table close to the entrance—closed the door behind them, and resumed his
“If you’ll just wait here a minute, Mr. Peters,” Crang said breezily. “I’ll find Bruce for you.”
He did not wait for a reply. It mattered very little as to what Larmon said or did now, anyhow — Larmon’s exit was barred by three men! He walked up the length of the low-ceiled, evil-smelling place, and with a key which he took from his pocket unlocked a door at the farther end. As he stepped through the door his revolver was in his hand.
He laughed in an ugly way as John Bruce rose from the mattress and faced
“Salt is a great thing, isn’t it?” he jeered. He drew from his pocket the slip of paper he had cut from the bottom of the letter, and held it so that John Bruce could see it. Then he put it back in his pocket again. “Understand? He got the rest of the letter, all right; and so he has come down to pay you a little visit. He’s outside there
John Bruce made no answer.
Crang laughed again.
“You thought you’d double-cross me, did you? You poor fool! Well, it’s a showdown now. I’m going to bring him in here—and let you tell him what he’s up against. I guess you can convince him.
rJe’s got less than an hour in which to come ■cross—if you are going to sail on that teamer. If you don’t make yourself iseful to that extent, you go out—for eeps—and Larmon stays here until he ntes up—or rots! Is that quite clear?” John Bruce’s lips scarcely moved.
“Yes; it is quite clear,” he said.
“I thought it would be!” snarled Crang —and backed out through the door.
CHAPTER XVIII The Hostage
AS CRANG disappeared through the ■ doorway, John Bruce stepped noiseessly forward across the earthen floor. ¡Vith the door half open and swung invard, it left a generous aperture at the linges through which he could see down he length of the cave-like den outside.
He was strangely calm. Yes, there was ..armon down there—and Crang was valking toward him. And Crang had eft the door open here. Well, why not?— vith those three Apaches at that table ronder! Yes, why not? — except that Drang had also left open the way to one ast move, left him, John Bruce, one last :ard to play!
Strange, the cold, unnatural calmness •hat possessed him! His mind seemed intantaneously to have conceived and :reated a project that almost subconsciousy he was now in the act of putting into ■ffect. He reached out, and extracting ;he key from the outside of the door, inerted it on the inside of the lock. He imiled grimly. So far, it was quite safe! The door was swung so far inward that the nner edge of it, and therefore his act, ■ertainly could not be seen by any one out
A last card! His lips tightened. Well, lerhaps! But it was more than that. His innatural composure had something deeper han that behind it—a passionate fury moldering on the verge of flame. Larmon vas out there—trapped. He could not >ut Larmon in greater jeopardy now, no natter what he, John Bruce, did personally lecause Larmon dead would not be worth inything to them. But for himself—to ,tand and take it all like a sheep at the lands of a damned, cringing—
He brushed his hand quickly across his lyes. Not yet! He needed that cold :omposure a little longer since it was to be i showdown now. That was what Crang lad said—a showdown. And Crang was •ight! It meant the end—one way or the ither. But with luck, if Crang was as yellow as he believed the man to be, the dea of the bluff that had leaped into his mind would work successfully; and if it didn’t work—well then, there was the end —and at least it would not be a scathless one for Crang!
The mind works swiftly. Had Crang had time only to walk down half the length of that room out there toward Larmon? Yes, he saw Crang halt now, and heard Crang call out sharply to the three men at the table;
“See if he’s got a gun!”
JOHN BRUCE, through the crack, saw Larmon whirl around suddenly, as though aware for the first time that he was in danger; saw two of the men grasp Larmon roughly, while the third searched through his clothes.
And then Crang laughed out raucously; “This way, Mr. Peters—please! You three can stay where you are—I’ll call you if I need you!”
For still another instant, John Bruce watched through the crack. Larmon, though his face was set and stern, advanced calmly to where Crang stood. Crang with a prod of his revolver, pushed him onward. They were coming now— Larmon first, and Crang immediately behind the other. Without a sound, John Bruce slipped around to the other side of the door; and back far enough so that he would not be seen the instant the threshold was reached, crouched down close against the wall.
A second passed.
“Go on in there!” he heard Crang order. Larmon’s form crossed the threshold; and then Crang’s—and John Bruce hurled himself forward, striking, even while his hands flew upward to lock like a vise around Crang’s throat, a lightning blow at Crang’s wrist that sent the revolver to the soft earthen floor without a sound—and a
low, strangling, gurgling noise was alone the result of Crang’s effort at a shout of alarm.
“Shut the door—quietly1. And lock it, Larmon!” John Bruce flung out.
It was an impotent thing. It struck at the air blindly, its fists going like disjointed flails. Strong! He had not just risen from a sick bed this time! John Bruce and thé soul within him seemed to chuckle in unison together at this wriggling thing held up by the neck with its feet off the ground. But he saw Larmon, though for the fraction of a second held spellbound in amazement, spring and lock the door. Then his hands tightened on their hold, and he shook Crang till the man’s teeth rattled.
“If you make a sound that reaches out there”— he was whispering now with panting, labored breath, as he swung the other over to the corner and forced him down upon the mattress—“it will take too long to break that door in to be of any use to you. Understand?”
It was Larmon standing over them. John Bruce scarcely turned his head. His hands were still on Crang’s throat, though the man lay cowed and passive now.
“His inside coat pocket!” John Bruce jerked out. “It will save a lot of explana-
Larmon leaned over and thrust his hand into Crang’s pocket. He produced several envelopes, and the slip of paper cut from John Bruce’s letter.
“Read the slip!” said John Bruce grimly. “He showed it to me a minute ago when he came in to tell me you were here. It was written in our invisible ink at the bottom of the letter he brought you.” He laughed shortly. “When you’ve read it, I’ll introduce you.”
IARMON read the slip hurriedly.
-1 “Good God!” he cried out.
“This is Crang,” said John Bruce evenly. “But”—Larmon’s face was tense and strained—“how”—
“How did he discover there was anything there to begin with, and then hit on the salt solution!” John Bruce interrupted. “I don’t know. We’ll find out.” He relaxed his hold a little on Crang’s throat. “Go on, Crang! Tell us!”
Crang’s eyes roved from John Bruce to Larmon and back to John Bruce again. His face was ashen. He shook his head.
“You’ll talk!” said John Bruce with ominous quiet. “And the less urging”—his grip began to tighten again—“the better for you.”
“Wait!” Crang choked. “Yes—I—-I’ll tell you. I showed the letter to Claire. She—she cried on it. A tear splash— black letter began to appear. I took the letter home, and—”
Crang’s voice died away in a strangling cry. Claire; John Bruce had barely caught any other word but that. Claire! The face beneath him began to grow livid. Claire! So the devil had brought Claire into this too. Too! Yes, there was something else. Something else! He remembered now. There was a reckoning to come that was beyond all other reckonings, wasn’t there? He would know now what hold this thing, that was beast not man, had upon her. He would know now—or it would end now!
“Claire! D’ye hear?” John Bruce whispered hoarsely. “You know what I mean! What trick of hell did you play to make her promise to marry you? Answer me!”
The thing on the mattress moaned. “Bruce! For God’s sake, Bruce, what are you doing?” Larmon cried out sharply.
John Bruce raised his head and snarled at Larmon. Neither Larmon, nor any other man, would rob him of this now!
“You stand aside, Larmon!” he rasped out. “This is between me and Crang. Keep out of the way!”
He shook Crang again. He laughed. The man’s head bobbed limply.
“Answer me!” He loosened his grip suddenly. Queer, he had forgotten that Crang couldn’t speak, of course, if be wouldn’t let him!
The man gasped, and gasped again, for his breath.
“I give you one second.” John Bruce’s lips did not move, as he spoke. Crang was slowly strangling.
(To be Continued.)