The Golden Scarab
HERBERT HOPKINS MOORHOUSE
MANY miles away waves were booming on a rocky coast—Boom! Boom! Boom!—No, it was the surf hissing up a gravel beach—pebbles swishing back in the undertow—Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!—Ah, he had it now—a voice talking—a heavy bass voice talking and a lighter, quieter voice answering? That was it.
Very slowly Addison Kent came back through a dream valley to realities. He tried to open his eyes, but he felt too weak and sick. He could feel a cool draft on his face. It was heavenly and he gasped it in—life-giving, blessed air.
“—came damn near finishing him!”
“Which would have been a matter of great regret, mein hen, I admit,” said the more unctuous voice. “But it looks as if the pleasure of doing it yourself in your own way was not to be denied you after all. Ssh! He is coming to.”
Through half closed lids Kent slowly examined his surroundings, feigning semi-consciousness as long as he might. He lay prone upon a dirty floor. The walls were bare and none too clean; they furnished no clue to the nature of his prison. For that he was a prisoner was evident; his hands were tied together behind his back and his ankles also were bound. Recollection came slowly but steadily to him and as the full memory of the circumstances which had brought him to this pass took possession of his mind, the nausea he felt was not all due to the anaesthetic A sickening apprehension of impending menace held him.
What a fool he had been! How easily he had been lured by the deliberate conversation of the two men in the cafe! How opportunely the ramshackle limousine had come along just when he needed it!—a carefully prepared trap to capture him with spring-locks on the doors, handles missing on the inside, windows specially thick-paned and compact! And in his blind eagerness to follow the men ahead he had noticed nothing! What a fool! With chloroform, a gallon of it maybe, in a rubber container right over his head to drench him at a single rip—one pull on a string by the driver out in front—Was that how they had done it? Well, how it had been accomplished did not matter now; it had succeeded! Knowing the resourcefulness of the men with whom he was matching wits, he should have been on his guard!
He groaned in self condemnation—then opened his eyes in an access of interest. A huge face—a beefy, red lace—was bending over him; but it was the lump on the
forehead upon which his gaze fixed. It was the big man with the wen whom he had been seeking!
The big face with its ugly leer was suddenly withdrawn and another took its place. As Addison Kent stared back in fascination a thrill prickled his spine. For he was looking straight into the face of a man in dark glasses and the mocking voice in his ear was none other than the voice of his arch enemy —Alceste himself!
“Ah, my dear Kent, welcome back from the Elysian fields,” it purred. “I was afraid that perhaps you were too busy of the Storm! plucking flowers in the
Garden of the Hesperides to return to this wicked world even to meet such a very old friend as I. That would have been very disappointing, eh? —after my old college chum here, Otto, had arranged a ticket straight through to the Pit of Acheron! It would never do to send you to Heaven when a special reception is being planned in your honor down in Hell! Would it? I am so sorry to see you looking so ill; but you will soon feel all right. Let me help you to sit up-—Ah, that’s better! Here is a cushion—There, is that comfortable?”
Kent shook off the dizziness that threatened him when he sat up. Then, as his brain cleared, every faculty sharpened to meet the desperate plight in which he found himself. For Addison Kent was quite aware that his chance for life in the hands of these men was pretty slim. He was completely in their power and could look for no mercy. They were capable of anything! To bluff it out to the end—that was all that remained.
“Well, well! So we meet again, my dear old chap! Let us see, how long is it? But that doesn’t matter, does it? Much has happened. You knew, of course, that I had died over in England—ah, yes, very sad!— ‘the lone couch of his everlasting sleep’ as Shelley puts it. I was glad to see that you were not as stupid as the police over that convenient event. Your cables from Scotland Yard -—how nicely they confirmed your suspicions! Really, it would have distressed me greatly, my dear Kent, had you lost faith in me! You remembered that our last little game ended in stalemate and that I had promised you another game and you remembered that I always keep my promises. In many respects you are admirable! Sorry to say, though, that it will have to be checkmate this time, old fellow—business affairs, you know. They require so much of one’s attention these days that one has to curtail one’s recreation. So this will be the last time I can play with you, much as I should like to continue to amuse you.”
KENT said nothing. His eyes fastened upon those sarcastically curling lips. The cap which was pulled well down on the forehead seemed ludicrously out of place with the immaculate evening clothes. A white silk scarf was around the neck, the ends tucked inside the collar; in the loose folds of it the chin was buried deep in concealment. With the dark glasses covering the eyes, those smiling, moving lips were the only part of the face that seemed alive.
“By the way, I do not believe you have been formally introduced to Otto—a thousand pardons! Come here, Otto. Allow me to present a very old and esteemed friend, Mr. Addison Kent, the.novelist—Herr Otto Wasserhaus,
Kent—King of the Rum Runners! Even now his seagoing clipper, the Albatross, lies in the offing, laden to the waterline— ”
“Ach himmel! you introduce too much!” interrupted the German. “I am to meet you, Mr. Kent, so damned delighted! I have too much of you heard! So I invite you on board my ship and we take a little trip—hein?”
“I have not had opportunity of discussing the details, Otto; but I hope you are planning to treat Mr. Kent with the consideration due to a guest of his intelligence?” ‘‘Ach, yes! We will not make matters mincemeat. Nein! We make the mincemeat out of him and feed the hungry fish!”
“Interesting, Otto, interesting; but, if you will permit me to say so, much too crude. Do you not realize that Mr. Kent is a man of learning? He knows all about a great many things—the circulation of the blood, for instance. He can tell you all about anemia of the brain, Otto, and the engorgement of the splanchnic bloodvessels and why you get dizzy! He knows all about the up-and-down pitch and the side-to-side roll and all about centrifugal force and—!”
“Du lieber Gotti” cried Wasserhaus, his face paling. “You will please to shut up!”
The laugh of Alceste turned Kent’s blood cold. There was a deadly menace in its tone. How had this devil learned—? Was it possible that a dictaphone—?
Like a bird fascinated by a snake, he watched that mobile mouth. Every detail of it was being printed indelibly upon his memory—the shape of the lips, the irregular edge of the red membrane, the tiny indentation just below the centre of the lower lip—the teeth, and in particular one tooth that was revealed only when the mouth drew down at one side sneeringly—a tooth with a thin band of gold across it’s middle!
“One would almost think, Wasserhaus, that you were not quite sure of your prisoner—that in the back of your fat head was some wild notion that our friend here was going to slip through your fingers!” The voice grew instantly colder. “If I thought that, Herr Wasserhaus— I would take this whole matter out of your hands at once! Do you understand? This man must die! If you let him escape—you go straight to Sing Sing—and there they will sit you in a chair much wired and strapped—!” “Ach, you fool! Shut up! We kill him now and make sure!”
“I thought so!” sneered A.'ceste. “You would let him off with a mere knifing, would you? You have him here, tied and helpless, and you imagine yourself back in your father’s slaughter-house, sticking pigs! Bah! Now, listen to me, you ass! This man has got to get what is coming to him, but nothing as quick and easy as that, mein herrl It has to be something slow and lingering! He has to be made to squirm! Do you hear? —squi—irml—squirm!” “So—o?” The German grinned slowly as he rubbed the white bristles on his chin and he looked at the other with approval in his evil little eyes that seemed almost lost in his bovine face. “Ach, that iss so, my friend! Squirm it iss—like worms! We drop nicotine in his eyes—Ha! Smart man, iss he? Well, we make him smart, the swine!” “I must apologize for Otto, my dear Kent. I am sure you will feel as sorry for him as I do; but we must not be too harsh in our judgment. He has not had our opportunities for education—
“You promise, then, Otto, that if I leave this in your hands there shall be no hasty action? Get him aboard the vessel. Get him out to sea and then—Eh? You promise? Very well. How soon can you run him out in the launch?” “Before daylight the launch leaves.”
“Splendid! Then I entrust him to your hospitality, Otto. But remember—no action here! It is too risky and too much is at stake. You see, Kent, how solicitous I am for your welfare?”
Kent yawned deliberately.
“Pardon me,” he apologized politely. “It is very kind .^f you, of course. Would you mind telling me where I am
Trapped! And by a ruse as tr anspar ent as it was successful! One would have thought that Addison Kent of all persons would have avoided stumbling into a predicament which placed him so completely at the mercy of his enemies
at the moment? You will concede a natural curiosity— not that it matters at all, but-—”
“Forgive my thoughtlessness!” and there was a note of admiration in the suave voice. “I must ask you to overlook the lack of accommodations here, but we did not expect you quite so soon. The bareness of this room indicates nothing as to its location ; but the dampness may have conveyed the fact that you are in a cellar, dear old chap—beneath a perfectly honest shop—Sprec-henberg’s -—boots and shoes, clothing and so forth—in the heart of New York’s most vicious section—”
“Not very far from the Cafe Belgique perhaps?” drawled Kent coolly.
“Excellent, my dear Kent! It is right back of this-— over on the next block. Why, were you wanting a cup of coffee or something? How would this do?” and to Addison Kent’s amazement Alceste drew from his hip pocket a silver flask, unscrewed the top and extended it solicitously. “It is bootleg liquor, but good stuff. You need have no hesitation in sampling it—eh, Otto? You would not refuse such a very old friend a farewell drink?” “Farewell! Ach!” grunted the German in disgust. “You want maybe to kiss him goodbye yet!”
“That is decent of you!” acknowledged Kent gratefully, as he returned the flask after a long pull at it. “It has bouquet.”
“For you a big bouquet we pick soon!” leered Wasserhaus meaningly. “Come, we waste already too much time!”
“The Lord High Executioner speaks to some purpose. It is hardly likely that I shall see you again, much as I shall miss you. You are up to your old tricks of meddling in other people’s business, Kent!” Again the voice had grown frigid, merciless. “This time—God help you!”
WITH a mocking bow he turned and followed the rum-runner out of the room. He stopped in the doorway, beckoning to someone, then stepped back in-
side, followed by one of the two men whom Kent had attempted to trail from the Casa Loma; there was no mistaking that brutal face.
“This is Mr. Kayo McGonnigle, Kent—the coming champion at his weight anywhere in the world. He will sit at the top of the stairs here in case there is anything you need. That cushion you are resting on is off his chair, but he has kindly consented to let you have the use of it for the time being. If you want ice-water or anything like that just ring for it and Mr. McGonnigle will give you a new idea of service!”
With a loud guffaw, McGonnigle withdrew. The heavy door through which they passed closed. Kent counted the bolts thudding into sockets—five of them!-—and the finality of the sound was ominous.
As his eyes traveled the bare walls of the low-ceilinged room realization of his utter helplessness surged upon him. The place was empty—not even a wooden box to sit upon. There was but the one door, through which his captors had disappeared, leading up a short flight of stairs to the shop above. Not even a window-—yes, in the wall opposite, at the top, was an oblong window for ventilation purposes presumably; for it looked out on the dark interior of the open cellar. It was tight closed and, judging by the accumulation of dirt and cobwebs which grayed it, its existence long since had been forgotten.
Caught like the proverbial rat with no more than a rat’s chance of survival! Despondency settled upon Addison Kent like a heavy blanket as he lay stretched on the dirty, damp floor. His own careful preparations for his sojourn on the East Side precluded all hope of interference on the part of his friends; he was supposed to be away on a holiday trip somewhere and no alarm would be felt at his prolonged absence for some time to come.
A holiday trip!—yes, an ocean voyage no less!—a long voyage from which for Addison Kent there would be no return! They were going to take him away from here to a launch some time during the night and the launch
would run the gauntlet of the revenue officers somewhere along the coast and land him eventually on board a rum ship, named the Albatross, owned by the man with the wen—Herr Otto Wasserhaus. This much he had gathered from the conversation; the very fact that Alceste had been so careless in his talk in front of Kent indicated how sure he was that the prisoner could not escape!
Alceste never made mistakes—unless for a purpose! Was it intended to mislead him? Was that it? Those references to the electric chair at Sing Sing—the German’s face had shown agitation in spite of himself! And when Alceste had mentioned centrifugal force—!
So interested did Addison Kent become in the speculations which opened before the probe of his keen analytical mind that for a space he forgot his immediate surroundings. Time passed—how long he did not know; as nearly as he could judge, it must be about midnight. Voices in heated argument occasionally came from a distant part of the shop overhead. Now and then there was a scrape of boots on the grit of the landing where the pugilist, McGonnigle, sat on guard.
It was useless for him to strain at the cords around his wrists; it only increased the pain with which they cut into his flesh. He had been bound with practiced hands and there was no evidence of any loosening of those knots, nomatter what pressure he brought to bear or how he twisted. He was still weak from the effects of the chloroform—still a little sick; but the whisky had helped. The nausea was passing and if he husbanded his strength he would be a lot better by the time they came to take him to the launch—if they did not give him another dose of it then!
He lay inert, motionless. The unreality of it all! Out there on the Bowery—just a block away—the sidewalks were crowded with denizens who turned night into day. Even a few ragged urchins of the quarter still played about the pushcarts of the hawkers under gasoline flares;, women of many nationalities in multi-colored shawls-
talked and gesticulated in groups; swarthy-faced men, dapper-dressed gunmen, slinking figures out of dark questionable alleys rubbed shoulders there. Noise!— loud laufhter, loud talk, giggling! Sibilant whisperings from the corners of mouths! Lights blazing in front of moving-picture theatres lurid with pesters—lights glittering in front of garish establishments—tinny pianos banging away at jazz tunes, boisterous cafes with hurrying waiters in spotted aprons-—Life!—jostling, jumbling, noisy life!-—just over on the next block!
The solitary gas-jet in the cellar room sputtered feebly to maintain its sickly flame. Addison Kent lay back with aching head pressed against the damp, cool plaster of the wall and closed his eyes. The only sounds were the distant murmur of voices somewhere overhead and the occasional scrape of the guard’s boots on the landing outside—that and the gnawing of a rat somewhere in the cellar beyond.
THE gnawing of the rat was persistent, irritating.
Then Kent heard a new sound—so faint as to be almost indistinguishable except to straining ears in the throbbing silence of that cellar room. The gnawing of the rat had ceased—had been replaced by a slight scraping sound, a dull faint rubbing sound, equally persistent.
It seemed to come from—where? The novelist turned his head and listened. His hearing was acute and at last he located it; it was not under the flooring but in the wall that faced him—No, not in the wall but at the window near the ceiling!
Gaze rivetted now, he lay still, breathlessly watching those dirty panes of glass. Was it to be ended here after all? Was someone presently going to shoot at him through the window? It would be easy enough! It would—!
A spot on the glass? He had not noticed it a moment ago! Was it growing larger—widening7 Yes! Slowly it widened, a black spot. Kent watched it, tensely. Then he saw something glisten in the middle of that spot from which the dirt had been rubbed—something that caught the light from the gas-jet—just a glint. A human eye! Someone, with extreme caution, was spying upon him!
Addison Kent wet his dry lips. He wanted to cry out, but made no sound. His pulse was hammering at his temples as his ears caught the faint scrape of the sash and he saw the right-hand edge of the window slipping outward. The window was being steadily and noiselessly opened!
Still he lay silent, fascinated. Now he could see the darkness of the cellar beyond beginning to show, a black streak—wider, wider—!
A face appeared, the lips puckered, a slim finger upon them, admonishing silence! With a little gasp, smothered in his throat, Addison Kent stared, breath bated. There sprang into his eyes a quick light of understanding, of wild hope!
He recognized that face—that smile of encouragement. It was she!—the girl who had flaunted him!—the girl he had known as “Miss Rockwood!”—his elusive Lady of the Storm!
OBEYING her signal, Kent slowly and without noise rolled across the floor until he was directly beneath the window; then sat up, knelt, stood erect. She had disappeared for a moment; but now he saw the end of a long narrow box being carefully eased over the sill upon her upturned palm and at once he took a position which would enable him to receive it on his back. With hands tied behind him and feet fastened, the matter of balancing that box to the floor without sound was not easy. Finally, however, he managed it; but beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead before he finally sank with it to the floor and got it gently on its side with only the faintest of scratching contacts.
He stood up again, exchanging a cheerful smile for her delighted pantomime of approval. She hold a jack-knife in her hand now and motioned for him to stand on the box. This again was a process requiring slow and careful movement and he heaved a breath of relief when at last he accomplished it.
Edging slowly through the window—head and shoulders, waist— she hung down towards him and in a moment had severed the cords about his wrists and pressed the knife into his right hand. The faint perfume of her hair thrilled him. Her anxious whisper was at his ear: “Quick! There is not a moment to spare! As soon as you are able you must climb through this window. I will help you. There is an underground passage—Oh, Mr. Kent, be careful not to make a noise; but hurry!”
He was already chafing his benumbed wrists-—rubbing them back to life and feeling. He got down off the box as soon as he had freed his ankles and, removing his boots, tip-toed noiselessly to the door. He could see nothing through the keyhole except the steps of the stair. A rustling of paper, however, indicated that McGonnigle might be reading a sporting extra.
Back at the window, he passed up his boots to her. They had left him the old overcoat he had been wearing and now he quickly tied the sleeves of this into a fast
knot and passed it up also. She divined his purpose at once and, twisting the coat into a roll, thrust it across the sill with the tied sleeves downward. Then while the girl hung tight to the coat on her side, Addison Kent from the top of the box carefully put one stockinged toe into the loop of the sleeves for a purchase and gathered his muscles. He could reach the window with arms at full stretch and, taking hold of the sill on either side of the coat, he slowly drew his body up until his head and shoulders were through the window.
He saw now by the light of the pocket flash in her hand that she was standing on a large packing-case. There was room for both of them upon it and with her assistance he wormed cautiously through the window and slid down to it on his hands. She gripped his ankles and he slipped over on his back soundlessly.
For a moment they both remained there, motionless, listening; but all that could be heard was their own breathing.
“Great!” he exulted in her ear. “You’re a brick!”
She cautiously closed the window while his fingers flew at his shoelaces. He got down off the packing-case and reached up for her; but she was already beside him and he felt his hand caught in hers, pulling him gently forward. His pulses quickened at the touch of her fingers.
The ray of her flashlight danced ahead of them through the open cellar over a litter of empty packingcases, excelsior, cardboard strips and general rubbish. She made directly for a pile of broken boxes in the far corner, leading him around behind this with a whispered word of caution. Then it was that Kent noticed a small opening in the masonry, barely big enough for passage. He crawled through at her direction and waited while she noiselessly lifted the lid of a packing-case across the opening behind her.
T?OR a few rods they crept on hands and knees over what appeared to be the bricking of an old drain; then abruptly the girl got to her feet. He stood beside her and peered about with interest; but the dancing white disk served only to indicate a passage about a yard wide stretching ahead of them between dank walls of dirtencrusted brick. It sloped downward for a short distance, then twisted abruptly to the left, then to the right as if to avoid some underground conduit or a sewage pipe. “We can talk now,” she intimated over her shoulder. “This passage brings us out at the Belgique over on the next block, I suppose?”
“Yes. How did you guess that?” In her surprise she paused, turning the beam of the electric torch against the wall beside them and appraising him quickly in the reflected glow.
“The gentleman in the dark glasses—”
“Mr. Dryden! He told you about this passage?” “Hardly!” smiled Kent. “Dryden, he calls himself, eh?”
“He comes occasionally to see Wasserhaus—some business associate, I believe.”
“Miss Rockwood, how did you know I was back there -—a prisoner?”
“I saw them carry you in.”
“Where were you? What are you doing here? You cannot be a member of this rum-running gang or you would not be helping me to escape.”
“I would not leave a yellow dog in the clutches of Wasserhaus if I could help him to get away,” she responded bitterly. “This is no time for inquisitions, Mr. Kent!” she reproved sharply. “Come, we must hurry. We—you are not safe yet.”
“In helping me you are running risks—”
“They would shoot both of us without a moment’s hesitation!”
“Then why are you doing this for me?”
“Your life is in danger, Mr. Kent. I can hardly stand by and see you murdered in cold blood, can I? Think of the disappointed public, waiting in vain for your next novel!” She smiled at him with attempted whimsicality and he shook his head at her reproachfully.
“You ran away from my questions that other night, Miss Rockwood! I am here because I set out to find you. I want to help you in whatever difficulties you may be placed—•”
“Then forget all questions—forget everything but escaping from here as quickly as possible! We are both in great danger! Come!”
They went on again silently. Addison Kent closed his lips firmly on the crowding thoughts that clamored for expression. She was right; it was no time for questions at the risk of their lives. At any moment his escape might be discovered by McGonnigle and, knowing of this passage, they would realize at once where he was and telephone Singer Lieb to block exit at the other end.
As if divining his thoughts, she spoke to him again in guarded tones:
“There is telephone communication between the shop and Lieb’s private quarters; but I cut the wire!”
“You are wonderful!” he commended.
“The passage forks just ahead of us. The left branch finds outlet in a Chinese tea-shop—Loo Ling’s—several doors down the street from the cafe; the other comes out in the basement of the Belgique—”
She clutched his sleeve in sudden alarm. At the same time she extinguished the flashlight. It was nothing more than a puff of air that smote their faces, but Kent realized its significance even as the girl crowded close to him and whispered in his ear.
“Someone coming! Quick! We must run for it—the left passage!”
She'had pressed an automatic into his hand and at the comforting feel of it, he drew in his breath and was after her. He put his arm to her waist and ran just behind her in the dark.
TT WAS not far and fortunately the passage was straight and unobstructed. She stopped him suddenly and they listened. Above the thumping of the blood in his ears, Kent sensed rather than heard a slight sound ahead of them.
They were in motion again now, walking swiftly. The girl had taken his hand. He felt her pull to the left and turned after her into the branch tunnel that trended to the left toward Loo Ling’s. He collided with her unexpectedly and felt her warm breath on his cheek as she warned for silence.
They were not a moment too soon. The sound of a softened impact reached their ears, followed by rapid footsteps. The footsteps broke into a run and there grew along the damp bricks of the main passage a little glisten of light.
Kent crowded her deeper into the branch tunnel. She was wearing a bright-colored sport sweater with scarf and tarn to match and as he realized the hazard of the advancing light he shifted his position to shield her from discovery. With his arms around her, they waited, motionless as statues, a blot of darker shadow against the tunnel wall.
The light grew—the beam of an electric torch, dancing. The running footsteps pounded towards them. Suppose the man should suddenly turn into their retreat!—Kent gripped the automatic and poised on the balls of his feet for a quick whirl into action.
Passed! The runner had passed and they were safe. The footfalls receded along the main passage. The girl had peered out beneath the novelist’s arm as the man swung by and now her bated breath drew in sibilantly. She moved gently for release.
Instead, Addison Kent’s arms suddenly tightened about her. His blood was racing madly through his whole being. That dark tunnel, the running man, the danger— he had forgotten everything except that his arms were around this beautiful creature who had eluded him—his mystery girl! What mattered anything but that he had found her again?-—but that he loved her madly! That was what was the matter with him—what lay back of his anxiety to help her-—to keep her out of this infamous tangle of events in which she seemed enmeshed—to keep all knowledge of her from the police! He loved her! He knew it now! And it overwhelmed him!
“Edith! Edith!” His voice was low and vibrant. “I know you by no other name!”
“Mr. Kent! Are you mad?” She struggled to release herself.
“Yes!—for you! I do not know who you are—what your name is—what you are. But I do not care if only you will understand and believe that I love you, love you! You have grown to mean everything to me and I am not going to let you run away again! Tell me who you are— where I can see you—your real name—”
“Please! Please, Mr. Kent!” she entreated in desperate anxiety. “That man who passed was the Badger—one of Berlin Harry’s gang—the worst—”
His kisses stopped her.
“—worst gang of gunmen—hirelings of Wasserhaus! Something must have gone wrong—! Please!—Oh, my dear, if you love me!”
Again he kissed her fervently. Abruptly her arms went about his neck and he felt her warm, moist lips on his in sudden sweet abandon. Out of that ecstasy he struggled with difficulty to his senses.
“Your name, dear—what is it?” he pleaded.
“I can not—tell you!” She was trembling. “Oh, this is madness!”
“Your first name, then—at least tell me that!”
“Naida—that is all I can tell you.”
“Naida!” he repeated tenderly. “Naida!”
“Quick, let us go! They have discovered that the telephone is out of order! The Badger has gone to investigate. They will be upon us in a moment!”
“You will come with me—now—out of here?”
“No, no!” she protested hastily. “I can not. You must go alone. I will gee out through the tea-shop. Don't worry about me. Quick! There is not a moment to lose.”
“You will meet me later, then?”
“Later—when I can—I will send you word—when it is safe.”
“Naida, listen! Are you quite sure you will be all right? I will not leave you here exposed to danger—”
“1 will be all right—I know what to do—Oh, if you would only hurry!” she implored.
Continued on page 1,7
The Golden Scarab
Continued, from %age 2k
“Promise me that if anything goes wrong you will get a message to me at once—to^ the Westchester address. Promise!” he insisted, his arm about her shoulders.
“Yes, yes, I promise. You must get out by way of the cafe. It is best to separate. Here, put on these glasses! They will think it is Dryden and you can slip through. You will have no trouble with the cellar door—Now, please for your own sake—gol”
WITH one last embrace he pressed the automatic into her hand, turned and ran. At the fork in the passage she stood for a moment, casting the beam of her pocket flash to light him on his way. It was not far and with the door in sight he waved back to her and the light swung away as she darted for Loo Ling’s tea-shop.
Kent reached the heavy wooden door which marked the entrance into the basement below the Cafe Belgique and listened. It occurred to him that perhaps she in turn was waiting to hear the door close behind him; so he opened it cautiously and peered out The cellar was in darkness. He closed the door with a little thud and again crouched in the passage, one ear bent to catch any sound out of the cavernous blackness. Silence!—heavy, throbbing, complete. She was safe.
With a breath of satisfaction Kent slowly opened the basement door, slipped out and drew it shut noiselessly. For a moment he crouched to one side on the cement floor in the dark, listening.
Then his heart stood still! Loud and shrill rose the summons of a police whistle! Heavy blows of an axe and splintering wood!—the crack of a police automatic and hoarse shouts, followed by a growing tumult overhead—shrieks and yells and oaths and running feet!
ADO(?R crashed open at the head of the cellar stairs. Pandemonium!
A band of yellow light! Slam! Blackness again—blackness, heavy breathing, tense whisperings!
Kent dodged across to a barrel and crouched behind it. In the momentary streak of light he had seen three dark figures scramble down the stairs. The round disk of an electric torch floated about the basement. Then feet scurried across the cement floor for the entrance to the underground passage.
“Aw, dis is a swell joint—dis is!” a voice growled in disgust. “Why’n’t dey tip us off? Harness bulls! If de Badger hadn’t got wise to dat fly cop—”
“Close your trap, Nifty!”
“Well, wot’s de lay? Dey aint got not’in’ on us! Why de fade-away?”
“We aint takin’ no chances, see? Dem’s de orders! Beat it!”
The passage door closed upon them. Berlin Harry’s gang! Kent knew them— notorious gunmen, every one of them! Hirelings of Wasserhaus, Naida had said. Unarmed as he was, there was nothing he could do to stop them. No doubt the Badger had already warned the rumrunner and Alceste—! She would be safely out through Loo Ling’s before this. He must get some of Donovan’s men around to that shop—
With these thoughts racing through his head Kent was already stumbling up
the cellar stairs. He yanked open the door at the top and burst out—right into the arms of a burly policeman.
“Here he is! Loot’nant, I got him!— Ah, ye would, would ye!”
“Let go, you fool!” cried Kent angrily, plucking away the dark spectacles the girl had given him to wear. “Donovan! Quick! Get a couple of men down in the basement—There’s an underground passage between here and Sprechenberg’s shop right back of this, one block over! Hustle! The men you want are there, but they’ve been warned—”
A whistle shrilled. Detective-Lieutenant Donovan roared his orders and dashed after Kent who was already making for the front entrance of the cafe. Side by side they ran around the corner with a section of the strong-arm squad at their heels. Kent glimpsed the patrol-wagon, backed up at the curb and crowded with a huddle of complaining humanity guarded by a knot of blue uniforms.
“For the love o’ Mike, Mr. Kent! What were you doing with those glasses? We got a tip on a guy with dark specs and your friend with the lump on his forehead; so I pulled the raid—Couldn’t find you to let you know—”
“Didn’t get him, did you?”
“We got seven of him!” exploded Donovan. “—every one of ’em, wearing black spectacles! What the devil—!” “Save your breath, Jerry. Speed up!” They swung the second corner and bore down on the Sprechenberg clothing shop which was surrounded at the double. The place was in darkness—not a chink of light showing anywhere—and the peremptory ratta-tat-tat of Donovan’s pistolbutt on the door panels echoed hollowly. The door was locked, and in response to the detective-lieutenant’s command one of his men smashed the lock and forced an entrance.
THE place was deserted. In the office a chair was overturned and a drawer, yanked from the desk, lay upside down on the floor which was littered with bills of lading and invoices. The chair McGonnigle had occupied out on the landing had tumbled down the short flight of steps. The door to the room where Kent had been held prisoner stood open and as Donovan’s flashlight scoured the bare walls Kent gave a brief account of what had happened.
“Hello! What’s this?” interrupted Donovan, striding abruptly back to the open door. “Something for you, maybe.” Over a wire nail in the middle 'of the door had been jabbed a folded telegraph blank and straddling the nail hung a pair of dark-colored spectacles—large round glasses in cheap rims with side-shafts that curved to fit the ears!
The paper was addressed to “Mr. Addison Kent” and the novelist knew what was in it before he unfolded it— another of those characteristic taunts of Alceste. He read it with a slight smile at the corners of his mouth, then passed it to Donovan without comment. It was in bold, backhand script—evidently a disguised hand:
“My Dear Kent—
“Congratulations! You really interest me at times. I thought we had you ready for the sacrificial altar and that the game was played out; but apparently not! Well, better luck next time, old bean!
“I feel very sorry for you. So with
my compliments I am leaving you my spectacles. Perhaps if you wear them you will be able to stop this blundering about. Hoping that with these you will be able to look the shining truth in the face and at last make some progress, believe me always in youth and piety,
“What do you know about that!” cried Donovan in exasperation. “Maybe he thinks we’re a pack of fools! We’ll show him! He can’t get away with that in this burg! Say, do you know what he did?— passed out specs like these to a dozen guys back there—Heaven only knows what he told ’em!—and when we bust the joint wide open, looking for a guy in black glasses we pinch seven guys in black glasses! And while we’re doing that, he takes his off an’ goes for a stroll!
“But this party ain’t over yet; it ain’t no more’n started an’ we’ll show this bird—! Come on, if you want to see the fun!”
IT WAS no idle flare of disappointment, those words of Detective-Lieutenant Donovan. Ever since the night that Addison Kent had established the death of Professor Caron as cold-blooded murder the police net had been drawing steadily tighter. Every outlet from the city was guarded; every known underworld haunt, liable to furnish a clue to the whereabouts of the three men who were “wanted,” was under surveillance.
Now to this much wanted trio would be added a fourth—now that Addison Kent’s suspicion had blossomed into certainty; now that “Alceste” was known definitely to be loose in New York.
Kent realized that Alceste’s taunt was entirely personal—a mere gesture for the fun of the thing. He wanted to see some real progress made, did he? He might find his challenge accepted with results altogether outside his calculation! The one thing he had to rely upon was lack of description—double identities; who was he and what did he look like? But that was an advantage which could not last indefinitely; sooner or later someone who knew him would fall into the toils of the police and furnish a clue.
The smoke curled from Addison Kent’s pipe and shot in a blue stream from the corner of his mouth as he sat at a table in the deserted cafe and puzzled it out while waiting for Donovan.
Yet the problem was not as simple as all that. There was Naida to consider; at all costs, she must be protected.
And it did look as if the girl was in the thing up to her pretty neck! That was why he must not be in too great a hurry to turn the case over to the police; his work was not yet through and he must continue independently until he had her story in full.
His discovery that Wasserhaus was a rum-runner and that these men were his hired gunmen had steered Addison Kent’s thoughts along a new channel. It deepened the significance of information which had reached him that day through his own particular friend and underworld lieutenant, Pomereski, the Polish tailor. According to that astute barometer of secret activities, there was a big break coming in certain underworld circles— a carefully planned coup that was to set one Slipper Dagg, and his following, upon velvet cushions for the rest of their days—a “break” that was being nursed to fruition in the folds of secrecy. For Slipper Dagg was a gunman who was of the elite in gangland and who took no backseat for Berlin Harry or any other rival; and of late The Slipper had carried a “deep heel” and so had every member of his gang.
“Hijacking!” had been Pomereski’s terse explanation of this sudden wealth. “De Slipper’s de King Pin of dem all, Mr. Kent, an’ dere’s de hugest break yet on de way,”
Was there a connection between the plans of Slipper Dagg and Berlin Harry? Were those two notorious gangsters in collusion or at enmity? Was the cargo of the Albatross the stakes in the game or rather were the hijackers preparing to descend upon the vessel after the cargo had been disposed of and walk away with the proceeds at the point of the gun?
Another question: Was Alceste dipping into this rum-running game?
Wait! Might those business dealings concern other things than bootleg liquors?
—a certain wonderful ruby, for instance? —the golden scarab itself?
Kent shook his head impatiently. The thing was a muddle or else he was not thinking as clearly as usual. His eye fell upon the two pairs of spectacles that the night’s events had thrust upon him. They lay on the table before him now as he smoked—the glasses with which Alceste so brazenly had presented him and the spectacles Naida had given him. They were identical! “They will think it is Dryden and you can slip through,” she had said. How had she obtained them? Had she known that in wearing them he would be aiding Alceste to escape?
“Confound her! She’s a witch!” He smiled sentimentally, remembering the moist sweetness of her lips. He could do nothing, he suddenly realized, until he saw her again and learned all she could tell him. It would simplify the whole problem. Once he knew her story he could act intelligently; until then mere speculation was futile. His hands were tied hopelessly.
He looked up as Detective-Lieutenant Donovan joined him.
“Well, that’s that! We’re cleaned up here. Now for a snack at the nearest beanery and we’re ready for the next point of call.”
“And just where might that be?” enquired Kent with interest.
“The St. Boniface Kid!” There was a gleam of satisfaction in Donovan’s resolute eye. “We’ve got him dead to rights—backed into a corner he can’t get out of in a hurry. By daylight he’ll be behind the bars!”
THE first gray finger of dawn was feeling into the sky above the East River when Addison Kent reached the side door of Pomereski’s tailoring establishment and noiselessly let himself in with his latchkey. He slipped upstairs to the room that stood always awaiting him and, after scribbling a note that he was not to be disturbed and pinning this to a panel of the door, softly shut himself in and turned the key with a sigh of weariness. Removing his boots only, he stretched out on the bed and in a moment was sound asleep.
It had been an exciting and fatiguing night.
Detective-Lieutenant Donovan’s prediction had come true; daylight found the St. Boniface Kid in the hands of the police. Harried from cover to cover, deserted at the last by his “friends,” the young French-Canadian from St. Boniface, Manitoba, had been driven into a corner. Hysteria more than anything else had led him to put up a finish fight against overwhelming odds; only “strict orders” to take him alive had saved him from being riddled with bullets. Even so, he had to be removed unconscious to a hospital cot instead of a cell and it would be at least forty-eight hours before he would be in condition for “grilling” at Headquarters. He probably knew who had murdered the late Professor Emil Caron and his wisest course would be to turn state’s evidence. Altogether, Donovan had every reason to feel satisfied with the night’s work.
The afternoon was well advanced before Addison Kent awoke, greatly refreshed. For a while, hands clasped behind his head he lay luxuriating in the feeling of wellbeing that tingled through his six feet of muscular manhood and allowed his mind to dwell upon his love for Naida. What a girl she was!—as clever and brave as she was beautiful! And she had risked her life to rescue him! She must care for him a little—no, a lot! She had not been able to resist his kisses and oh, the tenderness of her when she had yielded him her lips!—“Oh, my dear, if you love me—!”—She had called him “my dear!” His face sobered. Where was she now? If she were still in danger how could he go to her? He was no farther ahead than before—did not know who she was or where to look for her—knew only that her first name was Naida! He should have insisted'—Then his anxiety cleared as he remembered her promise to communicate with him as soon as it was safe—to send him a message if anything went wrong— His eyes fell upon his neat tweeds on their hanger by the door, reminding him that it behooved him to get dressed and be about his business. For one thing he must call on Inspector Lowry. And he must get out to Westchester as soon as he
had finished his business down town. Supposing already she had telephoned him there—!
He was across the room, fumbling for his watch, before he remembered that he had handed it to Pomereski to put in the safe. He went to the window and raised the shade; as nearly as he could judge, it must be after four o’clock! By the time he had had a shave and a good meal at a first-class restaurant over on Broadway—■
Someone was talking in the next room— to Pomereski. Setting down the waterpitcher and pausing above the wash-basin, Kent listened. The tones were not so guarded but that he could hear an occasional sentence—something about “a dozen blue jerseys and a dozen sailor’s caps”; Pom was stocking sea-togs—drummer for some Yidd factory likely—
He plunged his face into the cold water with relish and scoured and spluttered. Dozen blue jerseys; dozen sailor caps— dozen jerseys; dozen caps—jerseys; caps! It was an idle refrain that kept time with the rubbings of the towel—an unattached thought—
The movements of the towel on Kent’s ruddy cheeks grew slower and slower. Pomereski was not placing a buying order; he was being instructed to make delivery by someone who seemed very anxious about the dozen blue jerseys and dozen sailor caps. It was Pomereski, the confidential costumier of the underworld —not Pomereski, tailor and clothier—who was swearing by all the gods he knew that delivery would be made without fail.
“All you gotta do is tell de Slipper I say dey’ll be dere.”
NOT long after the caller had departed Addison Kent was standing in Pomereski’s little back office, receiving his gold watch from the safe. He eyed the pale little Pole in whimsical mood.
“So Slipper Dagg with a dozen men, disguised as sailors, is putting to sea, eh? Does he know where the Albatross is or is he on a scouting trip? Take it from me, Pom, a lot of those jerseys and caps of yours will be gone for good—unless Berlin Harry—Say, are he and the Slipper on friendly terms?”
“You know t’ings, eh!” cried Pomereski with a grin of admiration. “It’s de big break, Mr. Kent—to-night—to-morrow—I dunno. It not good to speak ’bout. No, de Slipper an’ Berlin Harry—• dey too jealous ’bout each odder to be frien’. Dey fight—psl-pst!—tomcats!” “Then, listen carefully, Pom. I know Slipper Dagg personally—that Acheson affair, you remember? I was able to get him out of a rather nasty hole that night and I think he will remember me. I rather like the Slipper—for his sense of humor, I guess. Well I want you to wish him bon voyage for me if it’s the Albatross—It is? Well—this man, Wasserhaus, who owns the vessel, deserves everything the Slipper can hand him and inasmuch as the police are not concerned in the Slipper’s seafaring ventures, I personally wish him luck. But warn him to watch out for Berlin Harry’s gang; Wasserhaus has hired them on for protection. Tell him I said for you to warn him, though probably he knows all about it.” With a wave of his hand he made his way out to the street.
Half an hour later Addison Kent was on his back with his cheerful pink face obliterated by a creamy lather of shaving soap. Half an hour later still, looking pinker and more cheerful than ever, he sat behind a disk of snowy linen and lifted the silver covers from sundry well cooked and appetizing viands while an attentive and immaculate Swiss waiter hovered near to anticipate his every need.
And by the time the big hand of his watch had completed yet another halfcycle he was sitting at that same round table—cleared now except for a hammered brass finger-bowl and an untasted demitasse—sitting there, staring at an entry which he had made in his morocco-bound notebook. His fat red fountain pen was still in his hand. The ashes from his cigarette feathered unheeded down his vest. »
For upon Addison Kent’s face was something very like consternation. And the color drained slowly from his cheeks.
IS—there anything I can get you, sir?” “No! Just leave me alone!”
His voice sounded strangely dry and flat. He was unconscious entirely of the impatient gesture which banished the observant waiter to a discreet distance. Continued on page 51
Continued, from page J, 9 It was not what he had written—a simple entry of details— that disturbed him; it was the subconscious impression that welled upon him as he wrote—a stirring in the recesses of memory, as if what he were recording found echo somewhere in past experience—a sense of familiarity so elusive that it had required this mechanical tabulation to give it birth. Then out of it, like groping mental fingers suddenly closing, that gleam of intuition ■—that thought which crystallized as a blind conviction in the face of Reason!
Deliberately he combatted it-—probing, analyzing, marshalling cold facts in review, weighing discrepancies. He forgot his surroundings—lost track of time. When finally he arose from the table the color was back in his cheeks and an exaggerated calmness was upon him.
He went straight to a telephone booth and called Inspector Lowry, at Police Headquarters.
“If you can make it on such short notice, Jim, I’ll buy you the best dinner in town. I want to talk to you.”
“You’re on!” accepted the inspector promptly. “I want to go over things with you some myself. Seen the papers? Sitting pretty, eh? Say, before I forget, your friend Mala.bar was calling up this afternoon, enquiring for you—seemed tickled to death over the capture of the Kid. Where’ll I meet you? Canadian Club, did you say? O.K. for—say seven o’clock.”
Kent put in a Westchester call and presently heard the voice of Gridley, the new butler at Lamont’s.
“Is Mr. Malabar there, Gridley?”
“No, sir, ’e’s not at ’ome, sir. Is this Mr. Kent? Beg pardon, sir, but I was to tell you as ’ow ’e’d ’ardly be ’ome till rahnd abaht midnight, sir.”
“Do you know where I can get in touch with him, Gridley? I wanted him to join me right away.”
“Sorry, sir, but Mr. Malabar didn’t leave no other word, except I knows as ’ow ’e's dinin’ hout an’ I’ve taken the liberty, sir, of lettin’ Gaston hoff duty for the night—”
“That’s all right, Gridley. Have there been any telephone calls for me to-day? Any messages or letters?”
“No, sir. Nothink, sir.”
KENT glanced at his watch. He hardly knew whether to be disappointed or relieved at the lack of any communication from’Naida; if she had not yet found it safe to make appointment to meet him again, it was no less evident that nothing had gone wrong sufficiently to justify the message she had promised to send him. Comforting himself with the old saying that no news was good news, he hurried out and swung along 42nd Street past the library and down into the congestion of Broadway. He had just time to get in a •call upon the management of the McAlpine.
With the information he sought duly recorded in his notebook, Addison Kent was back at the Belmont, opposite the Grand Central Terminal, and stepped out of the elevator at the second floor into the select quarters of the Canadian Club just in time to greet his guest. It was evident that recent developments had put Inspector Lowry in good humor and that he had arrived fully prepared to do justice to his dinner and to enjoy a quiet •evening with the novelist in the comfort and seclusion afforded by the club.
The discovery that his host had dined already and proposed to content himself with a dessert in no way disconcerted the inspector’s appetite or stopped his flow of reminiscence. He was there for the ■evening and so interested did both participants in the succeeding private conference become that it was well on towards midnight before Addison Kent finally bade Lowry good-night and took an express for the Bronx.
He mounted the steps of the Lamont residence, _ key-ring in hand, but found Gridley still on duty and opening the door for him with a welcoming smile.
“Mr. Malabar is hin, sir!” he greeted, in what seemed to be an unnecessarily loud voice, and as soon as he had received the novelist’s overcoat and hat he hurried ahead down the hall to the library, calling •out: “It’s Mr. Kent, sir!”
Kent smiled after him. Gridley certainly was beginning to lose some of his professional pomposity. Malabar’s voice was in earnest conversation at the ■telephone; the disconnecting click of the
instrument was simultaneous with Kent’s first step down the hall.
“Hello, there! Back again, eh?” The journalist jumped up with extended hand. “Congratulations, Kent—St. Boniface Kid, you know. I read about it in the early editions—tried to get hold of you, but Lowry couldn’t tell me where you were. By Jove! Splendid work! When I read—I say, why are you staring at me like that? Collar on upside down or something?”
Kent’s intent gaze remained upon him in silent analysis. Behind Malabar’s exuberant manner was a nervous tension which defied concealment.
“What is the matter?” Kent asked quietly.
At once Malabar shrugged his shoulders and dropped into the nearest chair. The face which he presently raised was lined by unfeigned anxiety.
“I’ve had some awfully bad news, old chap,” he confessed. “Just getting ready to take a train for Newark. An aunt I am rather fond of-—just got word she’s dying—serious automobile smash—” He stopped short, biting his lip in aggravation. His face whitened.
For in two strides Addison Kent had reached the library table and was stooping to pick up from the floor a piece of yellow paper, torn from an ordinary manila paper bag. From where he had been standing he had seen the name at the bottom of that hasty message—boldly written in heavy black with what must have been an eyebrow-pencil. Kent’s startled eyes raced over the lines:
“W. knows truth. Held prisoner—
73—3— top floor, rear—
MY GOD!” breathed Kent. “WThen did this come?”
“Ten minutes ago.”
“Yes—a ragged newsboy.”
Kent turned upon him, eyes blazing. “And you—! You were trying to keep this from me? You were planning to sneak out of here without me knowing— that cock and-bull yarn about your aunt at Newark!—By heaven, Malabar! I’ll give you just one minute to explain yourself. This message was for me and I won’t stand for—!”
“Message for you!" cried Malabar in genuine amazement. “You are crazy! It is my message!”
“I tell you, it’s mine! It’s from Naida. She told me—” He checked himself abruptly. White with anger, his eyes narrowed. “Since when have you known her right name, Malabar?” he demanded sharply. “To you she was supposed to be merely ‘Miss Rockwood!’ ”
Kent stepped quickly across to the other’s chair, gathered the top of his vest into one fist and yanked him to his feet. Just as swiftly the journalist freed himself from that clutch with one sweep of a muscular arm.
“Keep your hands to yourself, Kent!” he warned in strident resentment.
They glared at each other.
“I want to know how far this thing has gone, Malabar?”
“How would it be if you minded your own business!”
“That’s what I’m doing!”
“You are not!”
“I repeat: Since when have you known her as ‘Naida?’ ”
“Suppose I throw that question back in your face!—When did she become ‘Naida’ to you?"
“Answer my question!” commanded Kent in ominously quiet tones.
“You answer mine!” retorted Malabar with spirit. “What right have you to question me?”
“I discovered only this evening that you have been meeting her—clandestinely -—at your hotel—!”
“Well? And supposing I have?”
“Now I find you trying to doublecross me, your friend, by sneaking—”
“Sneaking! A mean word! I’ll swap you one for it—snooping!" and Malabar’s mouth drew down sneeringly.
Addison Kent stared at him for a moment speechlessly. With an effort he controlled himself. His face was as white as chalk with rage but his voice when he spoke was coldly calm. Like one in a daze he began to talk quietly:
“Since I left this house a few days ago things have been happening. I came in contact with the criminals involved in this Caron case—Fact is, they had me in
a tight corner from which I escaped only through Naida’s intervention. The danger she is in now is due to that. She made me leave her down there because she thought it would be safer for her! She promised to send me word here if anything went wrong.
“So much for that. I have met Alceste! He is very much alive! They had me tied up and he taunted me to my face. He was wearing black spectacles and he had a cap pulled down over his forehead and a white silk scarf around his neck; in the folds of it he kept his chin well buried. All I could see was his mouth and the end of his nose, you understand; but I had a good look at them—•”
He got slowly to his feet and crossing the room, drawing a white silk handkerchief from his pocket.
“Here, let me show you how he wore the scarf—around his neck—so!” He
laughed a little. “No, up around the chin —that’s better! And the beggar afterwards made me a present—of these glasses!”
As he spoke Kent held them upon Malabar’s nose and leaned back in amused contemplation. Angrily Malabar struck them off and they smashed on the tiles in front of the fireplace.
“There, now, you’ve broken my souvenir, Dick!” protested Kent. He smiled. “Rather a clever disguise altogether, don’t you think? Surprising how completely one can cover up the face and how hard it is to recognize any single feature in detail when it is isolated from the rest.”
“Don’t be an ass, Kent!” Malabar at last found voice. “What has all this got to do—? For heaven’s sake, let’s drop it! Let’s go together and rescue that girl—!”
“Ah, now you talk like my good old friend, Dick Malabar!” cried Kent. “I knew all we needed was something to distract our attention until we both cooled down; hence the little demonstration. I was only going to add that one’s memory is such an unreliable thing after all that it requires some definite reminder, such as—”
“Stop! Keep away from that drawer!"
Addison Kent’s casually extended hand was arrested in mid air. He moved not a muscle. For as the words pinged the room he divined, rather than saw, the lightning movement which accompanied them.
Even before he slowly crooked his head to look, he knew that Alceste’s automatic was trained upon him point-blank!
To be Continued