ON THE JOB
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
AS BILLY CAVERS, better known in police circles as the Swallow, labelled his last box for the day and upended it alongside a row of its kind, he knew for an absolute certainty that somebody was watching him, from behind.
“Good evening, Jenkins,” he spoke pleasantly without turning.
The night-watchman grunted something unintelligible and moved silently on his rounds.
The Swallow straightened up, laughing softly as he rubbed the cramp from his cold fingers. It was not the first time he had caught the furtive Jenkins spying on him. After all, Jenkins was no more suspicious of him than were the others who knew him—and his past. There were perhaps but four people in the world who believed in his desire to run straight; those were Benjamin Stroud, his employer, Crown Attorney Hughstis, Judge McDool and Nellie Nolan, the girl he was soon to marry. Oh yes, there was “Sleek” Daniels—pal of days shut behind him, companion of old paths of lawlessness and dangers, pal still and always; wolf of the underworld who had reformed because the Swallow had reformed; good old Sleek who would hold with him to the open or as quickly go down to hell at his bidding. And then, of course, there was himself. But is one ever quite sure of one’s self?
The Swallow was too optimistic to believe that everybody outside of these loyal few were against him; but he did know that the police were against him. He had earned their enmity by refusing to submit to their tyranny. Milligan, one of their number, had persecuted him; had tried to railroad him into jail. And he had snared the detective in a noose of his own devising.
Milligan was now serving a long term in the prison he had hoped to see the Swallow occupy; Milligan the crafty, the clever, the man whose part had been to give the poor devil who had erred, and who desired to run straight, no chance, had for once made a mistake. He had over-rated his own power and underestimated that of his quarry; he had carried his method of criminal graft too far.
Failing to get him by fair means, Milligan, gangster and trickster at heart, had planned to get the Swallow by foul. The result was that Milligan had been caught in the trap of his own setting. The Swallow, not to be found napping, had effectively turned the tables upon the detective, proving him a criminal of lowest order, and showing the entire police service of the city to be a graft-polluted fabric, more of a menace than a protection.
There had followed, at the instigation of the County Crown-Attorney, a thorough investigation of the police.
CHIEF DOWNEY had been summarily dismissed;
Blarney, his first lieutenant, had been reduced to the ranks, and the entire force had been voiced a warning sufficient to make each individual member quake in his corksoled shoes. With one exception. Langtry, whose collossal strength and inability to properly estimate danger had earned for him the appellation of “Battler Jim,” had simply laughed when admonished by Downey’s successor to henceforth do more tapping with his baton and less with his knuckles when his was the beat of the Wharf-Circle, that dimly lighted arc of under-world in which low gambling dens thrived and low saloons still sold vile decoctions called whiskey. Langtry, having learned that a knock on saloon door or darkened window meant good, if tainted, dollars, while one of his baton on the sidewalk invited bullet or knife, had imagined that he read fear in the face of his superior and had inwardly cursed him for a yellow coward.
“I’ll go my own way, I guess,” he had retorted.
“You’ll do as I say, Langtry, or get to hell out of here,” Timbers, the new chief, leaned-faced, leaned-framed, had snapped. “Hereafter you’ll do a little more walking and less loitering with your palm out. See? There have been some unsavory reports sent in from the segregated district about you. Get this Langtry, and get it straight. You’re simply on probation here now, the same as several other members of the force. I’ve been put here to see that this city gets honest and efficient police service, and I consider myself man enough for the job. Now, I guess that’s about all for to-day.”
Langtry, his blonde face red, an ugly gleam of impotent malice in his small eyes, had saluted and had retreated muttering to himself.
THE Swallow respected the new chief of police as one who fights alone respects another of his kind. Timbers was young, clean-minded, fearless. But for the poli eemen themselves, he held the contempt of an animal for the pack who pursues it. He knew them as a cat knows the dogs of its alley, and, like the cat, he had always been able thus far to outwit them.
To-night as he hung his cap on its nail, and donned hat and coat, he was .wondering if he would be able to outwit them always. He was, he knew, a marked man; fair game
for them or their henchmen. Langtry had told him to his face that he would make him pay for what he had done to Milligan. Langtry, he would watch—Langtry under whose guise of stupidity lay the cunning of afox,the treachery of a wolf. Not that he feared him either. The Swallow possessed six feet two of steel-muscled fighting force, science to use it—and a brain. But Langtry’s true name, he knew, was Berlin, and he had made it his business to learn something of the German’s antecedents. Yes, he would watch Langtry.
As the Swallow went out into the early Winter twilight, the brooding shadow left his eyes; the face lifted to the snow-spitting clouds was glad and hopeful. Below him, like a great snake, coiled the grey underworld of the WharfCircle, through which, twice a day, it was necessary for him to pass. Beyond its sordid dreariness, a blue-drab strip of sea gleamed up for an instant like an alien voyager that has strayed from its line cf migration; then clutching, hungry shore mists met it and swallowed it: and like bleary, sin-hardened eyes, lights twinkled up through a twilight which marked the dawn of the underworld in which crimes were committed nightly, and low-browed gangsters mobbed together drinking, gambling, plotting.
The Swallow knew that in this place lurked dangers; and although for him danger had always possessed a certain fascination, he was quite cognizant of the fact that safety to himself lay in perpetual caution.
Nevertheless, as he made his way down the narrow street, eyes and brain alert, he was, had he but known it, menaced by a peril he could not know existed—a danger born of the exhilaration of supreme happiness. For the Swallow was happy. Had not his little pal-sweetheart, Nellie, promised to marry him just as soon as he had prepared a nest? And the bungalow among the shore-beeches had that day been completed.
The Swallow, singing in his heart, did not know that joy, possessing a poignancy deeper than grief, is sometimes treacherous; that through its stimulating influence men sometimes forget vows—drunkards’ pledges, gamblers’ promises.
He would have laughed at the idea of this new treasure which was his, counselling recklessness. That he was lace to face with the most critical period of his life did not occur to him.]
A ND yet, in his present mood, the yellow lights of this •*A underworld gleaming up through the sea-fog, the heavy reek of gin and cigar smoke drifting from the grog shops, the skulking figures slipping noiselessly along the shadowed mart., the twang of guitar, the shrill, quickly-hushed laughter from behind closed doors, the hundred and one scents and sounds which atomized the sordid soul of that world he once knew, were out, calling to him, beckoning him.
He was happy. And he longed to celebrate that happiness. Strong upon him was the old craving for excitement and danger. It warmed his blood and made his nerves tingle. His sensitive fingers craved to caress again the cool, smooth dial of a safe, his sensitive ears longed to hear once more the music of shifting tumblers, as those sure fingers worked the combination.
“They sandbagged you, eh?”
As he crossed the street to an alley, which he sometimes took as a short cut to the upper town, the door of a disrereputable saloon was thrown open and a man was hurled forcibly to the pavement. He lay where he had fallen. The Swallow ran forward and raised the ejected on to his feet. It was nothing unusual to see some human derelict pitched from one of the low grog dives in the district. It meant that his money was spent or that he had offended one of the “strongarms” in evidence always at such places.
But the Swallow, gazing into the face of the man, dazed either by liquor or his fall, knew instinctively that he did not belong to the class who herd in such places as Stottich’s. Still, this might be but a clever ruse to get him, the Swallow, off guard. He stepped warily back. As he did so, his eye caught the silhouette of a bulky figure against the drawn blind of the saloon window. “Langtry!” he exclaimed beneath his breath.
He turned quickly, his scowding gaze meeting and holding the stupefied, supplicating eyes of the man he had assisted.
“What happened in there?” he asked crisply.
The other shook his head. “I don’t quite remember,” he answered dully. “I met a policeman and asked to be directed to a good hotel. He took me there.”
“I guess that’s the answer.” The man had recovered somewhat, was groping in his pockets.
“Looks like it; anyway, it’s gone.”
“Come with me.” The Swallow grasped the arm of the victim and dragged him into the sheltering darkness of the alley.
“You wait here, and don’t stir an inch until I get back,” he commanded. “I’m going after your money.”
He drew off his overcoat and threw it over the shivering form. There was something of contempt in the smile on his thin lips as he stepped through a gap in the board fence and felt his way cautiously along the rear wall of the saloon, pausing at length beneath a window through the torn blind of which a sickly light was glimmering. His eye glued to the fissure in the blind, was sweeping that dim, disorderly room.
Before a rusty safe was kneeling a man of typically Jewish cast of countenance. Close beside him, watching him intently stood the policeman, Langtry.
Through a lower, glazeless section of the window a wad of rags had been placed probably as a protection against the north wind. These the Swallow' deftly removed. He w'as now able to hear as well as see what was going on inside.
Langtry’s voice, sullen, bullying, came to him.
“Don’t forget, Stottich, that half that money belongs to me. I’m trusting you with it to-night because I’m liable to be pulled up on the carpet, at headquarters, any minute, and it w'ouldn’t do to be found packing a w'ad of ‘green’ I couldn’t explain. See!”
“God in Heaven!” whined the Jew, “as though I could for one moment forget. Is life not sweet to me, friend Berlin?”
He shrank back, trembling before the fury that leaped to the policeman’s eyes. ‘‘I forget,” he gasped. “The name slipped from my lips.”
LANGTRY, who had drawn his baton, slipped it back in its scabbard. “That goes,” he growled, “but let this soak in, Stottich. Any funny work, and your scabby soul goes house-hunting on the jump. You know me. I’m still German, Stottich. By God! I get what I want in my own way. And I pay in my own way, too. Remember that.” The Jew cringed and wrung his hands. “It shall easy be to do this thing you have planned,” he whined. “You may trust me.”
“Yes,” sneered Langtry, “about as much as I’d trust a snake. You’d double-cross me, just as you’ve doublecrossed others, if you weren’t a devil-in-hell sure I’d get you if you tried it.”
Langtry gripped his arm. “That’s enough. Now you keep still and listen to me. Here’s the plan of action for to-night.”
What followed was spoken in tones so low that strive as fie would the Swallow could catch but fragments, a word now and then forced by compressed excitement above a whisper—‘Ten Thousand dollars”......“Express Messenger” ......“Rat Houdon”......“At Twelve o’clock”. .
“This joint raided at three”......“Alibi”. . . “We’ll get
him”......“Watching you, Stottich”. . . “Fail me, and
The dim light in the room went out. A door opened and closed. The Swallow drew back from the window.
“Ten thousand dollars,” his stiff lips murmured. “I wonder if you’ll get it, Langtry? I wonder?’
He laughed voicelessly, and lithe as a cat swung himself to the narrow ledge of the window. Another moment and he was inside the room. Unerringly, noiselessly he crossed the floor to the door communicating with the inner room, and bolted it. Then he crept to the old-fashioned safe and knelt before it.
Five minutes later, he was standing before the stranger in the alley. “Here’s your money,” he said shortly, giving him the package. “Come, I’ll see you as far as safe ground.’’ After what seemed an interminable time to the stranger, they came out into a narrow street of the upper town. The Swallow pointed to a car.
“That will take you straight to the Y,” he said, and, ignoring the other’s outstretched hand, wheeled and strode away.
It began to snow; soft, starry flakes that gleamed up and disappeared as they touched the pavement. The ochre haze of the street lamps faded to the silvery sheen of star-dust; the waking voice of a night-living city grew muffled and subdued.
The Swallow, obli vious to his surroundings, hailed a taxi. Through him was surging a mad intoxication which he had thought forever extinguished. Fate had forced him to enter again that old, fascinating world which he had believed forever behind him. He was like a drunkard, who, having fought away from temptation, has been forced to taste of the cup which hurls him backward into the vortex of helplessness.
“Where to?” asked the driver of the taxi.
“Just drive,” said the Swallow. “I’ll let you know later.”
He sank back against the cushion and closed his eyes.
Again he heard Langtry’s voice speaking close to the ear of the Jew.
“Ten Thousand Dollars.”
He laughed, and sat erect.
What would Sleek Daniels have to say about it? He wondered. Sleek, who, in the good old days, had played with him the dangerous game. He knew what Sleek would say, because he controlled him body and soul.
Then there was Hope and Peterson. They, too, would sanction whatever he proposed.
He lifted the speaking tube and gave the driver a number. Twenty minutes later, he alighted from the taxi. “Remain here,” he told the chauffeur. “I shan’t be long.”
The man on the driver’s seat nodded.
He proceeded to muffle up and make himself comfortable but just as he got nicely settled away, a door opened and his fare and a girl with golden hair came out on the porch.
The chauffeur stirred, sat up.
The girl’s voice had come to him, frightened, pleading. “Oh, Billy, I’m afraid. You promised me you would never
“Hush, sweetheart!” The driver, straining his ears, heard the other’s voice in warning. “There’s no help for
it......Ten thousand. . . .You and I. After this, never
again Remember, dear, do what I’ve asked you to do You mustn’tsee me until......You trust me, Nell?”
“Oh, Billy, yes. And I’ll stick.......”
The driver grinned. “Wonder how the damn fool got in wrong?” he murmured and to relieve his feelings started to whistle tunelessly.
He did not so much as glance at his fare when he turned. He simply nodded as the Swallow gave him another number, and threw the gear into high.
At the end of twenty minutes fast driving, the car drew up before a house in another section of the city. As before, the driver was asked to wait. Half an hour passed. The street was covered with a glittering cloak of Winter’s first snow, when the patient chauffeur saw another car swing up to the curb, saw a man alight and go up the steps of the house which his fare had entered. He lit a cigarette and turned the collar of his coat closer about his ears. It was all the same to him. He would have a nap. Meanwhile, his metre was registering minutes for which somebody would have to pay.
When at length the Swallow returned to the car, he shook the drowsy chauffeur awake and spoke incisively.
“Wedgewood and Harper Streets, son; and step on her tail.”
At Harper Street, the swallow alighted, paid the fare aggressively demanded, plus two dollars, without demur and was immediately lost in the crowd
“Allars,” ruminated the taxi-driver, as he pocketed the money, “a guy what’s been made to walk the plank by his Jane, does one oí two things. He either pays me too much or don’t wanter pay me at all.”
'T'HE Swallow, after walking two blocks, turned down a -*• dimly lighted street. This he followed swiftly, and after many intricate twistings and turnings came at length to a dilapidated building which bespoke desolation and emptiness. Glancing quickly about him to make sure that he was not being watched or followed— he slipped into a narrow passage and came out in the rear of the building. The grimy basement window swung back to his touch. Another moment and he was softly ascending the dusty stair of the disused distillery.
At the top of the second flight, he unlocked a door and entered a musty room. He moved soundlessly in the velvety darkness, like one sure of his ground. There was a faint click and the foggy glow of an incandescent lamp showed a rather spacious apartment, with a door opening into another room and windows, closely blinded. A small table, two chairs and an old lounge on which the dust
lay thick made up the room’s furnishings. The place was damp, chill, vault-like.
The Swallow shivered as he seated himself on a broken chair beside the table. His face was flushed. The sight of the familiar objects about him exhilarated and at the same time depressed him. This place had been his den in the days when he was Swallow, the dean of cracksmen.
By and by, he arose and crossed to a dark corner of the room. Bending, he lifted a loose board from the floor.
When he returned to the table he held a package wrapped in oiled silk. He unwound-the wrappings, revealing a number of tools, which glittered sinisterly in the light; a “jimmy,” a thread-like saw, a brown, wrench-like automatic. The pistol he examined closely, filled its clip with steel-nosed cartridges, and slipped it into his hip pocket. The “jimmy” and other tools he put into other pockets. Then he drew off his overcoat and from a closet brought a heavy sweater and cap.
He was ready now. A city clock boomed nine. He reached up and turned off the light.
Half an hour later he was crouching against the wall of Benjamin Stroud’s factory. Save for a faint glimmfer in a corner of the lower floor of the building, the place was in blackness. That light, he knew, was in the office. Always a light was left burning there. He wondered if the shade on the glass door had been drawn. He hoped so. If not, he would be obliged to extinguish the light, and that would perhaps arouse the suspicions of Jenkins, the night-watchman, as he passed on his rounds.
He wondered just where in the building the night watchman was now. As he wondered, a faint star of light blinked far down through the southern wing of the factory. Good! Jenkins would not pass along the lower floor for at least half an hour.
He grasped the pipe running along the edge of the wall to the gutter trough beneath the roof, and swung himself on to the ledge of the office window. The room was empty. He noted with a thrill of satisfaction that the shade on the glass of the inner door was drawn close. So far so good.
The Swallow tried the window. It was locked, as he was sure it would be. With an adroitness that had served him well in the days when he was a cracksman by profession, he forced the window by aid of his “Jimmy,” and a second later twisted himself into the room.
As he stepped aside out of the range of the window, his eyes sought its fastening. He hoped he had not broken it. He sighed relievedly as he noted that the catch was merely sprung. He had always been careful of the little things, tell-tale trifles which might prove damning evidence against him later. At imminent risk to himself, he stepped forward and with a small screw-driver, quickly and firmly fastened the latch and slipped it home in its socket. When he left, it would not be by the window. Neither would there be any tell-tale marks to show that the dean of cracksmen had been on the job. Swiftly, soundlessly he crossed the room to the old safe in the coiner, and knelt before it.
For the second time that night, his sure, coaxing fingers caressed a knob of smooth steel, while his ear pressed close against the iron walls which held a package of platinum valued at ten thousand dollars, listened for the tumblers to shift.
COUNTY CROWN Attorney Hughstis turned from the snow-splattered window as a knock fell on his office door. In the drab light of the winter morning his face looked haggard and worried.
“Sit down. Chief,” he invited. “It was good of you to come. Thought we would have a better chance to talk here than at headquarters. Now then,” as Timbers threw off his dripping raincoat and seated himself, “is this report I read in the papers this morning, true?”
“It’s true enough,” returned the Chief of Police, ruefully. “It’s a bad business, Mr. Hughstis, no denying that.”
' “Tell me about it.” Hughstis resumed his seat. “I don’t put a great deal of dependence in newspaper reports, as you know.” “Well, sir, for once the reporters seem to have giv°n a pretty true story of the
Continued on page 53
On the Job
Continued from page 26
affair. Somewhere about three o’clock this morning, the night-watchman in I Stroud’s factory was attacked from be| hind by three masked men who had entered by a basement window, and beaten into insensibility. He was then gagged and bound, and the office safe, an old one, by the way, and a mark for any yeggman, opened and ten thousand dollars’ worth of platinum stolen.”
“And the thieves made a clear getaway?”
The Attorney lit a cigarette and passed the case to the Chief.
“The papers say the police are guessing. Just how true may that be?”
Chief Timbers eyed his questioner closely-
He selected a cigarette from the case and lit it. “Jenkins recognized one of the men,” he answered.
“Who was the man?”
“Ah!” Hughstis slumped back in his chair. Then he wheeled suddenly upon the other. “How do you know that this man Jenkins is not lying?” he asked. “What is more likely than that he belongs to the Stottich ring? I want to know that. And I want to know this too. How do you know but what the Stottich gang themselves planned this robbery?”
“Because,” said Timbers, “Stottich’s dive was raided this morning at the very hour the robbery was committed, and
Stottich was in his saloon; so were Crimpy Stover, and Rat Houdon. I headed the raid, sir, and I know.”
“But supposing the night-watchman is lying about the time?”
The Chief,shook his head. “Officer Langtry will swear that he saw a man leaving the Stroud factory by the basement window at exactly three-thirty. He gave chase and exchanged shots with him before sending in a call to headquarters. He then returned to the factory, where he found Jenkins gagged and bound, as I have said.” “And the Swallow?”
“He was arrested early this morning in his room; but the platinum has not yet been recovered, sir.”
Hughstis sank back on his seat. “So,” he said softly. “So.”
Chief Timbers glanced at his watch. “I’m sorry things have turned out as they have, Mr. Hughstis. I know from what you’ve told me that you believed the Swallow was running straight. I was almost believing it, too, but this, sir—well, it looks bad.
“His preliminary hearing is set for ten o’clock this morning. I don’t suppose considering the manner in which he has betrayed your trust, you’d care to—to advise counsel for him, sir?”
Hughstis smiled queerly. “You forget, Chief, that I’m Crown Attorney, and as such dead against him or any man who has committed any criminal offence,” he answered.
“Quite true, sir.” Chief Timbers reached for his raincoat.
“And,” added the attorney as he opened the door for his visitor, “if the Swallow is guilty of this crime, I am going to do my utmost to convict him.”
STANDING beside the narrow, barred window of his cell, the Swallow gazed across to the drab, wintery waters beyond the soot-blackened banks of shore ice.
^ Far out, a snow-cloud was winnowing landward like a crippled gull. The soft slap of snow against the dingy pane had changed to the sharp staccato of sleet.
A heavy footfall sounded in the corridor. Slowly the Swallow turned, and his thin lips curved in a smile. Officer Langtry, peering in gloatingly through the grilled doorway, had seen that smile before.
“Ah,” he spoke, with a sneering laugh, “at last the Swallow is caged, I see.” “Which proves that you’re still able to 1 observe clearly,” returned the prisoner pleasantly. “Aren’t you coming in, Langj try? Seeing’s you were able to bribe the ! guard, you must have the key?”
“I can say all I have to say to you from j the outside,” snarled the policeman.
“And, as I have a hunch you won’t enjoy the privilege of remaining outside long, maybe you’d best talk fast, Langtry. What is it you want to say to me?” Langtry’s hands clenched.
“It’ll take a smarter bird than you to catch me off-guard,” he retorted, with an oath.
The Swallow walked slowly over to his cot, and sat down.
“You’re peevish this morning, Langtry,” he sighed. “Not a bit like your old bullying, blustering self. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve been disappointed in some way; been fleeced by one of your fellowgrafters, perhaps. By George! That’s it. Your face shows it. Come, big man, tell me, who was clever enough to put the twin-X brand on poor, departed Milligan’s team-mate?”
Langtry’s heavy lip sagged back from his teeth in a snarl like a baited bull-dog’s.
“That’s all right,” he rasped. “I’ve heard penned pigs squeal before.”
The Swallow raised his head quickly. His eyes, hard, searching, bored into the shifting ones of the other man, and held them.
“In Germany, I presume you mean,” he said, a trenchant saltness in his speech, “when you bore the name of Berlin, and had charge of one of those Kaiser-made ! hells called a prison. Well, Langtry, alias Berlin, you’re a cool liar even for a German. And get that, you damned baby killer.”
Langtry twisted his passion-distorted face away from those compelling eyes, to throw a frightened glance down the corridor.
“By God!” he stuttered in a passion of helpless hate, “I could kill you for that.” The Swallow laughed contemptuously. “You’re wondering now just how much I know about you, aren’t you?” he asked. “Well, be patient, and perhaps you’ll know soon. I want to be there, Langtry,
I want to see your hands claw the air above your head, I want to hear you whine Kamarad."
“You’re going to pass out,” leered Langtry. “What you know can’t hurt me.” “Your friend Milligan used to talk something like that,” said the Swallow with a touch of lazy scorn. “He hasn’t done so much talking lately, has he?” “He’ll do more after you join him,” retorted the policeman. “You might just tell him that I was on the job."
“Milligan,” said the Swallow, derisive eyes on the other, “was a rotten crook if ever there was one. He got what he deserved. But at that, Langtry, he couldn’t begin to measure up to you; for of all the
yellow-bellied spiders in the gutter of crime, you’re the king go-getter.”
The policeman forced a laugh. “You’re not a very game loser, are you, pretty boy?” he scoffed. “Not that I mind you handing me bouquets, in the least. It’s natural enough, I suppose, seeing’s it was me who got you where you are. But you’re wise enough to know that that line of chin don’t get you anything, so why not can the harsh stuff and come down to reason? I came here this morning to talk turkey to you, Swallow.”
“Just this. You’re done. Due for a long term of imprisonment, unless I should happen to get panicky and contradict my evidence.”
“Meaning to put it bluntly, retract what you have already sworn to, Langtry?”
“You’ve said it.”
“Which you, of course, are very likely to do, dear enemy.”
“I might be persuaded to, little Swallow in a cage.”
“And the price is—what?”
“Tell me, and me only, where you hid the platinum.”
The Swallow stood considering.
“You swear to get me off, if I tell you?” he asked at length.
Langtry nodded. “Yes. And I’ll do better than that. I’ll split the stuff fifty-
fifty with you.”
“But how about the night watchman’s
“Jenkins is in my power. He’ll do as I say. Well?”
The Swallow thrust a hand through the bars. “Shake,” he cried eagerly.
But Langtry, hand half-extended, backed away. He had caught the devilish, laughing light in the prisoner’s eyes.
“You’re a pretty good actor, Swallow,” he snarled, anger sweeping him in furious gusts. “But you don’t pull any of your Jiuzitsu tricks on me. I’ve given you your chance. Now you can go to hell.” “You’re clever enough in one way, big man,” observed the Swallow, caustically. “For instance, you knew better than to let me get a grip of that hairy wrist_ of yours. Strong on the self-preservation stuff, aren’t you, Langtry? Too bad you haven’t a little more Imagination, more vision. You’re sweating blood right now because you are minus those qualities, and I’m laughing at you because I happen to possess them.”
“Go on, kid yourself if you want to,” snarled the policeman. “You’re going to find out, when you’re hauled before Magistrate Mulvaney this morning, just how much your pipe-dreams ’ll help you. And let me tell you this. If you imagine for a minute that I’m uneasy—you’ve got another think coming.”
“A vivid imagination, Langtry,” returned the Swallow, softly, “is a wonderful asset, at times. All morning I’ve been enjoying a picture which mine has painted for me, the picture of stupified surprise, suspicion and murder on a certain man’s face when he learned that the one whom he had framed for the goat had beaten him to the big prize.”
He stood back, inscrutably watching the working face of the man outside.
“What did y ou do to Stottich, this morning, Langtry?” he asked abruptly.
The policeman’s jaw dropped. “Stottich?” he murmured. “Why—why, what makes you think?—What—”
“Just that devilish imagination of mine again, big man,” chuckled the Swallow. “Of course, you didn’t do anything to the Jew, being you; certainly not.”
Langtry drew in his breath hissingly. “If you think—” he commenced, then paused, a look of malignant triumph flaring to his small eyes. “Here they come, Swallow,” he jibed, “to lead you out to the
slaughter. Going to plead guilty, I hear. Well, that’s how it should be, but it won't get you anything. Don’t forget to tell Milligan I was on the job.”
He strode away ponderously down the hall. A moment later a turnkey swung open the cell door. Beside him were two burly policemen.
The Swallow stepped out and took his place between the officers.
'T'HE drowsy hum which greeted the -*■ prisoner’s ears upon entering the closely packed court-room, grew into a hoarse murmur as he took his place in the dock.
The Police Magistrate, a small man with a fretful line between his brows, rapped sharply on his desk with a gavel.
The buzz of many excited voices subsided. The Swallow glanced about him. He encountered hundreds of curious faces upturned to his; a few, he thought, looked friendly.
Down in front the preliminaries of his case were being disposed of. The Swallow sat with arms folded, eyes gazing straight before him. He saw Crown Attorney Hughstis seated at a table below the Magistrate’s desk. Near him was Stroud, the plaintiff. Neither the Attorney nor his employer so much as favored him with a glance.
Langtry, standing beside the prisoner’s dock, leaned forward, and whispered in his ear. “Looks black for pretty boy. Even hie gal has deserted him.”
The Swallow made no reply. He had not heard the policeman’s gibe. His eyes were focussed on the face of a girl who was standing in the doorway. Other eyes were turned on her too. Straight and tall, head lifted defiantly, she paused for a brief moment, wide eyes sweeping the courtroom. Then her gaze came to rest on the Swallow’s eager face—and she smiled.
Langtry, watching her with lowering brow, swore beneath his breath.
There was no fear in those eyes—no terror: only love—great love, tenderness and trust.
Unhesitatingly she crossed to the prisoner’s side. She took the hand the Swallow held out to her, and pressed it against her cheek. Somebody—a man in the garb of a mechanic—arose and brought his chair to her.
The Magistrate adjusted his glasses and glared across at the Swallow.
“Prisoner at the bar, stand up.”
The Swallow arose and stood facing the Judge.
“You are accused of breaking into the office of Benjamin Stroud, last night, and stealing a parcel of platinum valued at ten thousand dollars. Are you guilty or not guilty?”
“Guilty.” The answer fell clear and strong.
“Have you engaged counsel to act in your defense?’
“No, your Worship.”
“Do you desire an adjournment of this court until you can secure such counsel?” “No.”
“Do you elect to be tried before me today, or before a jury of your peers in the Assizes?”
“Very good. Stand down.”
The Swallow resumed his seat. Once more the murmur grew up throughout the court-room. The Magistrate impatiently resorted again to his gavel. Order at length restored, Crown Attorney Hughstis arose slowly and faced the Judge.
“ VriOUR Worship,” he began, “the prisI oner has pleaded guilty to the charge preferred against him; it is, therefore, unnecessary for the Crown to submit any evidenced might hold toward proving a guilt already so clearly established. But—” as the magistrate cleared his throat, and a sigh, deep as a groan, swept through the aeked room, “there has, within the last our, come to my hands certain evidence, which I feel it is my duty to place before you, and which conclusively proves that the prisoner has committed no crime.”
The speaker’s voice was drowned in a cheer which went up from hundreds of throats and fairly rocked the building. Silence restored, Hughstis resumed. “That the prisoner entered the office of Benjamin Stroud some time last night, opened the safe and extracted therefrom a package of platinum valued at ten thousand dollars, substituting for it a similar and worthless package, is quite true. He did. But—in committing what at first thought might appear to be a felony and what has been so construed, I would say now, for
your enlightenment, he did at his employer’s bidding. His employer, being the owner of the platinum, eradicated all possibility of the prisoner’s act being one of felony, and I purpose to move, after submitting to Your Worship certain evidence in my possession, for an honorable discharge of the prisoner.”
Again a cheer went up, subsiding quickly before eager curiosity.
“Here is the evidence in brief. Last evening, while passing through the district known as the Wharf-Circle, the prisoner accidentally overheard a plan being discussed by a certain notorious thug and a well known officer of our city police force, to rob the safe of Benjamin Stroud, wholesale jeweller, of a certain valuable parcel of platinum, which had arrived that day, and at the same time plant evidence which would make it appear that the prisoner, whose good work in bringing a certain member of the gang to justice is well known to you, was guilty of the crime. They were to gain access to the factory through the night-watchman, who was, it would seem, in collusion with them.
“The prisoner came to me and laid the facts before me. I telephoned for Mr. Stroud, who joined us immediately, and together we discussed the situation and sought for a solution of the problem before us. We could not depend upon the police, as the police were, to some extentat least, implicated in the contemplated crime. Mr. Stroud proposed that he take an armed escort, go to his office and remove the platinum to a safe place. This seemed the only feasible plan, but we were forced to discard it for this reason: The night-watch-
man at the Stroud factory was one of the gang. If Mr. Stroud removed the platinum, the night-watchman would notify his confederates, and justice would be thwarted. How then to act without the help of the police, was the problem.
“It was the prisoner, Your Worship, who proposed that he, with Mr. Stroud’s sanction, go to the office and unseen by the night-watchman remove the platinum. He would leave in its place a dummy and similar package. This package the thieves wouldtake, thinking they had the real stuff, withoutinanywaydamagingthe safe which could be easily opened by the expert employed.
“But there still remained the question of bringing the guilty men to justice. It was the prisoner who also offered a solution there, ‘The police faction’, he said, ‘will never believe the Wharf-Circle faction’s story of the “phoney” package. They will think they have been double-crossed and, providing they are lucky enough to escape with their lives, the Wharf-Circle members will turn King’s evidence to save their skins.’ ”
The speaker paused. “Your Worship,” he said grimly, “to prove how accurately the prisoner’s deduction worked out, here in my possession, is a full confession from a man named Stottich, naming his accessories in this crime. Stottich was found lying half dead from bruises in his saloon bar this morning, the victim of a brutal assault by the police officer who was his accomplice. He will likely die. This confession was dictated later and signed in the presence of three witnesses. I shall read the names of the men implicated in the crime, all of whom have been arrested with but one exception. The names are Aaron Stottich, Saloon Keeper; Francis Drake, Express Messenger; Thomas Jenkins, Night-watchman; Rat Houdon, cracksman, and—”
He paused and his steady gaze met the slitted eyes of Langtry. The policeman, his face grey with fear, twisted about, but the long arm of the Swallow shot out and a strong hand gripped his wrist. At the same moment Chief Timbers and another officer, who had quietly stolen up, closed with the fear-maddened man.
“Your Worship,” nodded the District Attorney, “I think that is all.”
The Magistrate stood up and raised his hand. Almost immediately the excited court grew silent.
The Swallow stepped from the box and gathered the girl who had stood beside him in his arms.
His arm about her shoulders, they moved through the close-pressing, congratulating throng toward the door. As they
Cassed close to where Langtry was being eld by a pair of sturdy policemen,the German’s heavy mouth drooped into a snarl of impotent hate.
The Swallow laughed. “Langtry,” he said softly, “when you see Milligan, just tell him I was on the job."