The story: While motoring from London to Scotland at night, Jimmy Harrison is halted at a lonely house by a scream. He enters by a window and finds a recently murdered man; also a girl lying unconscious, her face curiously covered with paint. She recovers and states that she is Myra Livingstone, a London shop girl; that she was drugged and kidnapped for an unknown reason.
Jimmy is slightly wounded by a dagger thrown through the open window. Leaving the room to search the house, he returns to find Myra gone. A pseudo constable, “Sergeant Grimes,” enters and knocks Jimmy unconscious for a few minutes; then a real constable. Fothergill, arrives and states that the dead man is Gregory Walker, who was recently buried. Walker's grave is found empty.
Myra Livingstone, scared out of the house when Jimmy left her, hides in his car and is driven to the village of Soyland, where Jimmy is detained by the police. She hides in a barn loft there, and fires at a midnight intruder who escapes. Later a body is discovered in the loft.
Inspector Gloom, arriving from Scotland Yard, finds that the body in the loft is that of Black Ferguson, which was buried, because the face was burned away, as Gregory Walker's. Walker, who really was killed in the big house was a mysterious local resident. His body is stolen from a mortuary. Gloom is convinced that both Ferguson and Walker were members of a lawless gang whose leader is known as “The Tiger.” Why they were killed, and why Myra Livingstone was kidnapped, remain a mystery.
Myra is kidnapped again! A local visitor named Topp, who posed as an antiquarian, spirits her away in a car. Topp is really the dreaded Tiger.
By clever interpretation of a clue, Gloom learns that the Tiger has recently been at a place called Pelworth. Jimmy, after returning to London with Myra's friend, Lily Fortune, decides to go to Pelworth in disguise. There he finds a mysterious house with barred windows. He is scrutinizing the place through glasses when a ruffian creeps up on him from behind and seizes his throat.
CAUGHT at a disadvantage, Jimmy did not attempt to move for a moment. He was lying flat on the grass and his attacker had, as it were, dropped on him from behind. Two bony knees were pressed into his back and the fingers clutching at his throat meant business.
Jimmy relaxed his body as much as possible. Then suddenly he rolled and kicked with both legs.
There was a gasp, and the throttling fingers temporarily relaxed. Jimmy wriggled round like an eel. The man was kneeling beside him, doubled up, struggling for breath. Without the slightest hesitation Jimmy let fly a tremendous swing which cracked viciously on the point of the jaw. The man collapsed in a crumpled heap.
He was only knocked out and would recover consciousness in a few minutes. Jimmy rose to his feet and stood staring down at him. What was the best thing to do now?
He felt a momentary shame at the vigor of his punch because the man was well past middle age and looked half starved. Then memory of that murderous grip round his throat hardened him.
Why had this unkempt, unshaven lout of a fellow attacked him? Was he no more than the ragged, dirty tramp he looked? Or was he a kind of sentry, stationed to prevent any spying on Colley Grange?
Jimmy looked round quickly. There was no one in sight. The woods about were silent. What should he do next?
He remembered noticing a hut a little way down the path. It was a dilapidated affair, relic of a quarrying venture which had long since been abandoned. But he might find something there with which he could fasten this man up.
Hoisting the limp figure to his shoulders, he stumbled down the path to the hut. The door swung loose on its creaking hinges, and he passed through into the obscurity beyond. Dumping his burden on the floor, he struck a match and made a search.
Among some debris in a corner he found a length of rusty wire. This would do very well. In a few moments the captive was securely bound and had a dirty rag from his own pocket thrust into his mouth as a gag.
What the deuce should be done with the man? Jimmy went to the door of the hut and peered out. There was still no sight or sound of anyone in the wood.
Suppose Colley Grange was actually the headquarters of the Tiger and this man a guard? If he were set free he would give the alarm at once. On reflection, it hardly seemed likely that he had been sent out to keep watch. The Tiger could have no suspicion that he had been tracked, and would hardly maintain a permanent guard.
Still, there was no point in taking the risk. Jimmy knew that it would be useless to question the man. Moreover, he wanted to keep out of the way as much as possible. The fellow could not have seen his face at all. The attack had been made just because he was spying on the house and not because of who he was. It was obviously to his advantage that the man should not be able to identify him.
Eventually he made his plan. He had already decided that he must try to gain some first-hand information about Colley Grange that night. He would hold his prisoner until this had been done. If his suspicions were confirmed he could then hand the man over to the police. Otherwise he would set him free.
There seemed no reason why he should have any difficulty in this. Apparently the footpath was very little used, and no one was likely to discover the prisoner in the hut. To make any accidental discovery more unlikely, he returned into the obscurity of the hut and rolled the still unconscious man under a bench which was fixed to the wall.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening Jimmy divided his attention between the house and the hut. He saw no sign of life or movement in or near the house, and no one approached the hut. When dusk fell he satisfied himself that the captive’s bonds were secure, and returned to the Saracen’s Head feeling rather pleased with himself. It was not likely that anyone would visit the hut now.
During supper he gave Mrs. Furlong an entirely fictitious account of the way he had spent the day. Afterward he strolled about the village for a while, then retired to his room.
It was very hard waiting. A tense excitement had gripped him again and the slow minutes dragged incredibly. It seemed as though midnight would never come; but eventually Erpenden fell asleep, and Jimmy judged that he might make a move.
He still had the automatic acquired at Withens. Making sure that this was in order, he stuffed it into a pocket together with an electric torch. He changed his walking boots for rubber-soled pumps. Beneath his window was a convenient outhouse. It was easy to scramble to this and drop to the ground.
THE night was ideal for his purpose. There was no moon to show up his furtive figure, but a strongish wind to hide any noise he might make. No light showed anywhere in the village. He walked quickly along the road, keeping close to the hedge, and cautiously made his way up the footpath to the hut.
A single flash of the torch satisfied him that the prisoner had not escaped. The man was conscious now, of course, but quite helpless. Jimmy knelt down to see that his bonds had not loosened. Everything was in order. Whoever this fellow might be, he could not have given the alarm.
During the afternoon Jimmy had decided that he could not hope to approach Colley Grange from the rear in darkness. The wood reached close to the house and there was no path through it, so that the noise of his stumbling progress would easily be heard if anyone was on guard. Sure, now, that his captive was safely trussed up, he returned to the road and walked swiftly along until he reached the wall round the estate.
The wall was high, but he had no intention of going anywhere near that little lodge at the gates. By taking a running jump he managed to get a hold on the top and pull himself up. He sat there for quite a while, listening. No sound but the sighing of the wind was audible. He dropped down on the farther side.
As expected, he found himself in a park liberally dotted with trees. He made his way in the direction of the house, running silently from tree to tree, and pausing for a few seconds in the darker shadow of each. He had not the slightest fear that anyone could see him in the darkness; but he was taking every precaution.
Soon he found himself up against a low iron fence. Beyond this was the lawn; and beyond the lawn, the house.
Again he stood for a while, watching, listening. No gleam of light showed anywhere in the house. He could hear nothing but the whispering of the trees above his head.
Dark though the night was, he decided not to cross the open lawn. Keeping close to the trees, he worked his way round until he reached a gravelled drive. Walking on the grass border of this, he stealthily approached the house.
He had no idea how he was going to carry out his intention of getting inside. He had been unable to make any plans. The only thing was to reconnoitre and trust to luck. He crept silently round the house with the intention of verifying the observations he had made during the afternoon.
Suddenly he stopped short, freezing motionless against the wall. He was approaching a French window; and dark though the night was. his eyes, accustomed to the lack of light, could just distinguish the fact that the window was open.
A bit of unexpected luck !
But was it?
Jimmy told himself that he might be a fool but he was not an idiot. He couldn’t believe in such a lucky coincidence as that window being left open by accident. It had been left open by design. It was a trap!
Somehow the occupants of the house had got wind of his project. They were expecting him. They had left the window open so he would walk in, right into their hands. He blessed the fact that he had not crossed the lawn. He was quite sure that he hadn’t been seen.
Not risking a movement, he stood there like a shadow, pressed close to the wall. He hardly dared breathe. Eyes and ears were straining into the darkness until waiting became a torture.
Slow minutes dragged past. Jimmy had no means of judging the time, but he felt sure that he had been pressed against the wall for at least half an hour. He dare not move yet, though his limbs were growing numb.
Then he stiffened again. With startling suddenness a sound had come from the inside of the room—the creak of a shoe.
Someone was approaching the window !
MYRA LIVINGSTONE, alone in the ambulance which had stopped on the way to Haliford, heard Mr. Topp’s threat to her friends and the spit of his automatic. The situation needed no explanation. She knew that she had been kidnapped again by the Tiger.
She tried to sit up, and found herself quite incapable. She could not even cry out. The slightest movement caused agony which brought beads of perspiration to her face. She had to lie still, helpless, terrified, while the ambulance carried her away from friends and safety.
The drive did not last long. Immediately the ambulance stopped the door was opened, revealing Mr. Topp and another man in dirty blue overalls. They lifted her out on the stretcher and carried her to a large tradesman’s van which stood waiting. She had no time to note anything of her whereabouts except that the cars seemed to be standing in a quiet country lane. Mr. Topp got into the van with her and pulled the doors to. A moment later they were off again.
Mr. Topp pulled down a blind behind the driver’s seat and touched a switch. A tiny bulb by his side lit up. He was wearing the coat and peaked cap of the ambulance driver. He stood looking down at Myra as he slowly discarded these.
“A near thing, young lady,” he remarked. ‘‘I’ll wager they find that ambulance within five minutes. But we're safe enough now.”
She was silent, staring at him with a fascinated repulsion. He looked evil, malignant. His bald head shone in the light of the little lamp. His eyes, now that he had removed the horn-rimmed spectacles, no longer beamed but glittered coldly.
"I much regret having to put you to so much inconvenience and pain,” he continued, fumbling in his pocket. “But it was the only way I could get you out of the hands of Gloom and Company. Ha, ha ! Right under their noses ! They’ve hardly the adequate mentality for fighting the Tiger. Still, that’s neither here nor there. There’s no reason why you should be left in pain any longer.”
One terrible thought sprang up immediately in Myra’s brain.
“You—you’re going to drug me again!” she gasped.
“Nonsense, my dear young lady. Nothing of the kind. I’m merely going to give you an antidote to the very unpleasant stuff I had to put into your coffee this morning.”
“You did that? Then I haven’t got appendicitis?”
“No more than I have. Just a little dodge to delude Gloom and Company. Ten minutes after taking the antidote you’ll be perfectly free from pain.”
Mr. Topp found the tiny phial for which he had been searching in his pocket. He poured a few drops from it into the cup of a flask, and added a good dose of the spirit.
“Drink this,” he said, “and you’ll soon be all right.”
There was no point in refusing. Myra realized that the stuff might be drugged; but she was in this man’s power, quite unable to resist forcible administration. She swallowed the fiery liquid at one gulp.
“That’s the way. Now you must excuse me, please, while I effect a few little alterations in my appearance.”
From a bag on the floor the Tiger pulled a square mirror which he hung up on a convenient hook. Swaying with the motion of the car, he stood for quite a while intently studying the reflection of his face.
Myra lay watching him. Already a numbness was replacing her pain, and a delicious languor creeping over her. As though in a dream she saw him draw on a beautifully fitting wig of shaggy grey hair. She saw him carefully gum his left eyelids and stick them together, an operation which seemed to alter the whole contour of his face. Then gradually his figure faded away. She was conscious of nothing but the noise of the motor. And soon this, too, was lost as she drifted into oblivion.
WHEN she opened her eyes again she was lying in a comfortable bed in a bright, sunlit bedroom. By the side of the bed a woman sat reading a paper. As Myra stirred, the woman turned toward her and she uttered a little cry. That closed left eye and the grey hair now neatly arranged could not be mistaken. But no one else would have recognized Mr. Topp.
“You have had a good night’s rest, I think,” he said. “You are feeling better?”
“Yes,” said Myra curtly. Except for a slight drowsiness, she felt perfectly well. “Where have you brought me to?”
“We’ve hardly started on our Odyssey yet, Miss Livingstone. As a matter of fact, we’re still on the outskirts of Haliford, though at the opposite end. While I was changing my appearance we drove about the streets of the town, knowing no one would look for us there. I regret that I had to take some liberties with your appearance too.”
Myra suddenly realized that she was dressed in male attire. She sat up in bed and looked at her reflection in the mirror on the dressing table. Her hair had been cut short. She looked very like a boy.
“Desperate measures,” continued the Tiger with a cold smile. “The police all over England are looking for a middle-aged man who is carrying off a young girl. They will hardly be interested in a young boy and his mother.”
“You’ll never get away with it!’’ cried Myra fiercely. “You don’t suppose I'm going to—”
“My dear young lady, you surely don’t suppose you’re going to have any choice?” Something bright glittered in the white fingers. "I have here a hypodermic syringe, charged with a substance known as scopolamine —"
"Oh, no! Not that!”
“Why not? You will forget your troubles. You will be dull and vacant. If need arises I shall have to confess reluctantly that my son is mentally afflicted. I hardly think any suspicions will be aroused.”
With a sudden movement the Tiger caught Myra’s arm and pulled up the sleeve. Almost before she realized that he had acted, she felt the stab of the needle and the sting of the injected fluid. She tried to scream, but a strong hand pressed over her mouth.
“In a few minutes. Miss Livingstone, you will be ready to play your part in the little comedy.”
The potent drug acted quickly. In a very short time the world had become unreal to Myra. She lost all understanding of what was happening, and took no interest in events that seemed to be occurring in this strange twilight borderland of sleep.
She had a vague recollection of someone completing her toilet, and of being led out to a car. There was a long muddled journey, stopped frequently when people in uniform asked to see tickets—as she supposed. A hazy idea when they arrived at their destination that she had seen this place before and that it was called London. Another prick of the hypodermic needle. An uneasy sleep in a strange bed.
And then, the next morning, into the car again. Her brain was a little clearer, and she recognized that they were going north from London. After turning off the main road, the Tiger pulled down the blinds, including one that covered the glass partition behind the driver’s seat. She could see nothing of their route, and lost all sense of direction.
But the effects of the drug administered last night were wearing off. She was beginning to remember, to realize what was happening. And, though she was thankful to escape from that horrible twilight sleep, there was little comfort in the cold facts of reality.
The car stopped at last and the Tiger opened the door. Without giving her time to look round he hurried her into a large house.
There was an expensively furnished hall through which he led her to a thickly carpeted staircase; and at the top of the stairs a wide corridor.
Halfway along this a door stood ajar. As they passed it a murderous staccato crackle came from the room and bullets whistled past Myra’s head.
The Tiger dropped to the floor, dragging her with him.
AS MYRA lay stunned and dazed, the hail of bullets ceased. The Tiger crept on hands and knees across the corridor, closed the half open door, and straightened himself.
He helped Myra to her feet as though nothing had happened.
“What—what was that?” she gasped.
“Just a little welcome home.” He smiled grimly, “Lucky we got down to the floor in time. Come along.”
It was amazing. He seemed quite unperturbed, uninterested even. Myra wondered why he made no effort to find out who had fired from that room; or if he knew, why he didn’t try to catch the ambusher. He didn’t even lock the door. As though the attempt on their lives was quite negligible, he opened the door leading to the next room and ushered her in.
“I think you will be quite comfortable here,” he said calmly. “If there is anything you want, please ring. I might add that this house is half a mile from the road, and twice that distance from the next house, so that any calling for help will merely provide exercise for your lungs.”
He went out, and Myra heard the lock click as he turned the key.
Her heart sank when she looked round the room. It was very comfortably furnished, with a luxurious little bathroom attached, but it was unquestionably a prison. The window was both barred and shuttered, the door was solid. There was no hope of getting out unaided.
She had no idea where she was. She Had no idea what the Tiger wanted with her. Of one thing only was she sure—she could expect no mercy from him.
He had taken great risks to get her into his power again. Obviously she was of the utmost importance to some mysterious plan he had in mind. He would take good care not to lose her this time. Her friends could not have the slightest idea where she was. And there could be no possibility of a friendly young man blundering in here and saving her as Jimmy Harrison had saved her at Withens.
Poor Jimmy. Myra’s eyes grew tender as she thought of him. What a good pal he had been. She knew that he would be dreadfully cut up because the Tiger had got her again. She also knew that both he and Inspector Gloom would strain every nerve to find her. But what could they do? What could anyone do?
The cleverness of the Tiger appalled her. She had felt so safe with Gloom and Jimmy. She had not the slightest suspicion that her illness had been deliberately brought about as part of the diabolical scheme to abduct her. No wonder everyone had been hoodwinked.
Pacing restlessly about on the thick carpet, she became aware of voices, muffled but not far away. She crossed to the wall and pressed her ear close to it.
Two people were talking in the next room, the room from which the bullets had been fired. Though Myra could not hear what was said, she thought that one was the Tiger, the other a woman.
It sounded as though they were quarrelling; and suddenly the woman’s voice rang out, harsh and shrill.
“What’s the good of talking. You killed him. You dirty, double-crossing swine!”
The man’s reply was inaudible, but the woman broke out again:
“What if he did kill Ferguson? That bird didn’t count. And what if all Chicago was after him? That’s no reason why you should bump him off. If only I could use these legs of mine—”
Myra could distinguish no more; and soon the slamming of a door indicated that the quarrel was over. She left the wall and sat down on the bed, pondering over what she had heard.
Who was this woman in the next room? Evidently she was furious with the Tiger because he had killed Gregory Walker. Was that why she had tried to shoot him immediately he returned?
There was a grain of hope in this. If the woman was so desperate in her hatred, perhaps she would be willing to help Myra. She had spoken of not being able to use her legs; and the assumption that she was bedridden explained the Tiger’s casual treatment of the attempt on his life. Even if this was the case, it might be possible to get into touch with her, somehow. Myra felt that her case was not utterly hopeless if the Tiger had so violent an enemy in his own headquarters.
Her thoughts were interrupted by his return, still attired as a middle-aged woman. He was accompanied by a most immaculately dressed young man who carried a tray.
“Allow me to introduce Mr. Slick Stevens,” said the Tiger. “He will look after you during my temporary absence, and you must obey any order he gives you.”
SLICK STEVENS was neat and tidy from the crown of his brilliantined head to the soles of his daintily shod feet. His features were good, his eyes pale and shifty. Myra thought him even more repulsive than the Tiger. She did not speak.
After depositing the tray on a table the two men withdrew, locking the door after them. The food on the tray looked very appetizing. Quite possibly it was drugged, but Myra decided that she must take the risk. She couldn’t stop these men drugging her if they wished to do so.
In point of fact, the food was not drugged. She enjoyed the meal and felt better for it. Then she sat down on the bed again, and tried to think out some plan of getting into communication with the woman in the next room.
The afternoon dragged on. Her only means of judging the time of day was by her watch, for no daylight came in through the closely shuttered window. At five o’clock Slick Stevens brought in tea. He had nothing to say; nor did Myra speak to him.
Her only hope of making contact with the bedridden woman was that the door of this room should accidentally be left unlocked.
There didn’t seem much likelihood of this. Still, she would not despair.
The evening seemed longer than the afternoon. At eight o’clock Stevens appeared with dinner. Again he did not speak. But as he went out, the girl caught a leering glance from his pale, shifty eyes that made her shiver.
She wondered where the Tiger had gone and when he would return. Again and again she asked herself why she had been kidnapped, why she was being kept here in captivity. The suspense was telling on her nerves, bravely as she tried to control them. It was all she could do to prevent herself from giving way.
Toward midnight she lay down on the bed without undressing. She had no intention of sleeping and did not turn out the light. But before long her eyes closed, and a restless dream-haunted slumber crept over her . . .
She awakened suddenly, trembling, fearful. The room was in darkness, black as deepest night. Was it just imagination, that noise at the door? Or was someone stealthily turning the key in the lock?
She reached up for the switch—without result. Whichever way she turned it made no difference. The terrifying darkness persisted.
The noise came again, unmistakable. Lying tense and breathless, Myra heard the door slowly opening, though her straining eyes could catch no glimpse of it. She heard the sibilant hiss of hurried breathing.
Was it Slick Stevens, pale-eyed, leering? She tried to scream, but all sound was strangled in her parched throat.
CROUCHING close to the wall of the house, Jimmy Harrison waited for someone to appear at the open window. He knew there was no possibility of creeping away undiscovered. His only chance of escaping detection was to keep still.
After a nerve-racking silence the shoe creaked again; and a moment later a vague white blur appeared at the window—the face of a man looking out into the night.
Almost immediately a second blur joined the first, and a hoarse whisper was audible.
“The fuse is okay, Slick. And there’s plenty of juice in the batteries.”
“Darned funny! Every light in the house is off, isn’t it?”
“Then someone’s climbed the wall and set off the alarm. There’s no doubt about that. But why the devil hasn’t he turned up here?”
“Maybe something’s gone wrong with the alarm.”
"Perhaps. But I don’t feel comfortable. What say if we take a look round the lawn, Scrag?”
Two dim figures detached themselves from the blackness of the window. They moved away silently, visible only because they moved, and were immediately swallowed up in the darkness.
For a moment Jimmy hesitated. Was this an unexpected opportunity or was it part of the trap? It hardly seemed likely that anyone else had been left in the room. In any case, he must risk it.
He crept forward like a silent ghost and passed through the open window. The darkness inside was more intense. He could not make out the slightest indication of his surroundings.
He listened, tense and breathless. No sound came to his alert ears. To all appearances the house was empty but for himself.
It was no use waiting here. An opportunity had come to him which would not be repeated. If Myra was indeed a prisoner in the house, she would be in one of these shuttered rooms upstairs which he had noticed through his field glasses. He had studied the house so thoroughly during the afternoon that he knew he could identify these rooms from their position.
Automatic in one hand, electric torch in the other, he felt his way round the room until he found the door. This was slightly ajar, and he slipped through without moving it.
Not daring to show a light, he groped about the large hall. He had considerable difficulty in finding the stairs. But eventually he stumbled on them, and crept noiselessly up to the corridor above.
He knew in which direction were the two shuttered rooms. Passing quickly along the thickly carpeted corridor, he halted outside the first.
His groping fingers found the knob and cautiously turned it. The door began to open. It was not locked. He wouldn’t find Myra in here.
He passed to the next. A moment’s investigation showed that this was locked and that the key had been left in the lock !
Excited so that he could hardly control his trembling hands, he managed to turn the key. Inch by slow inch he pushed the door open. Silently he slid through the opening. He could see nothing, hear nothing.
Then, as he stood there, trying to still the wild throbbing of his pulses, the sound of hurried, agitated breathing came to him. There was someone in the room, someone waiting, keyed up, excited as himself. He would have to risk a light now.
After closing the door, he pointed both torch and automatic in the direction of the sound. He pressed the button of the torch. A groan of disappointment escaped him.
The light, after so much darkness, was almost blinding. In its bright circle, he saw a bed with a slim figure lying on it. But the figure was that of a boy.
A moment later he stifled a cry of delight. Surely he knew those brown eyes that were staring, terrified, into the blackness behind the torch.
“Myra !” he gasped.
No recognition came into the wide eyes. Jimmy remembered the rubber pads that disguised his voice, and removed them. “Myra,” he said again. “Myra!”
This time recognition was immediate. The terror vanished from the girl’s face.
“Jimmy !” she sobbed. “Oh, Jimmy !”
He caught her in his arms. She clung to him frantically, laughing and crying.
IN A while she grew calmer. There was so much to be said.
“Oh, Jimmy! I can hardly believe—How did you find me?”
He gave her a brief account of what had happened since her kidnapping.
“Evidently there’s some kind of an alarm connected with the wall,” he concluded. “If anyone climbs it, all the lights in the house go out. There were two men downstairs waiting for me to walk into their trap. But I managed to elude them.”
“And what shall we do now, Jimmy? Oh, how wonderful to have you here! I’ve been so frightened !”
“We’ll soon put an end to all this business now. Where’s Mr. Topp, the Tiger?”
She told him everything that she could remember.
“Then we’ve got an ally in the next room,” he mused, after hearing of the attempt to shoot the Tiger. “Her door is open. I could get to her. I wonder—”
“Don’t waste time on that,” interrupted Myra. “Listen, Jimmy, I’m not frightened now. I want you to go straight away before you are discovered.”
“Go away? Leave you here?”
“Yes. Don’t you see what a risk we’re running? If those two men—”
“I’m not going to leave you, Myra. I’ve got a gun and—”
“But wait! Suppose we tried now and were lucky enough to get away. The alarm would be given as soon as I was missed, wouldn’t it? And the Tiger would escape? Jimmy, that won’t do. I’ll never be safe until he’s in prison.”
“Yes, I see that. But—”
“Suppose you go now. You may get away before those men come back. In any case, it will be a lot easier for you if you’re alone. I’ll be quite all right now. You’ll get the police and come back with them. You’ll be able to catch everyone in the house. They’ll have no opportunity of giving a warning. And when the Tiger comes back, you’ll get him too !”
Jimmy sat on the bed, silent, worried. Now that it had been pointed out to him, he could not deny that Myra’s plan was the best. He hated the thought of leaving her here, but—well, it was true that he had a better chance of getting away alone. And there wasn’t much chance of catching the Tiger if any alarm was raised.
“I don’t like it,” he said doubtfully. “Suppose while I’m away—”
"They’ll not do anything to me, Jimmy. I’m safe enough until the Tiger comes back.” That was true, too. Distasteful though the plan might be, Jimmy realized that he must carry it out. He must put his personal feelings on one side and do what was best for Myra.
“All right,” he agreed reluctantly. “I’ll get off straight away. I’ll leave my gun with you in case—”
“You needn’t worry about that either. The one I got at Withens is still in my handbag. They’ve never interfered with it.”
“That’s all to the good, then. Darn it, I don’t like leaving you. But it won’t be long before I’m back. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to get enough police together.”
“You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you, Jimmy? Because, because—”
Two warm arms stole round his neck and soft lips pressed to his, eager, clinging.
“You bet I will,” he cried a moment later. “I’ll not take any risks. There’s too much at stake.”
He strained the slim figure to him again. “Stay where you are, dear,” he whispered. “I’ll lock the door as I go out so that no suspicion will be aroused. If they come and question you, you’ve seen nothing, heard nothing.”
Extinguishing his torch, he went to the door and silently opened it. There was no sign of any light outside, no sound of movement. With a murmured word of farewell, he closed the door behind him and cautiously turned the key in the lock. Myra’s safety was in his hands now. He must make no false step.
As he was moving away, there was a rustle behind him. Without hesitation he struck out in the darkness and his fist crashed into bony flesh. Recovering his balance, he turned to run for the stairs.
He collided with a sturdy figure. Another sprang on him from behind. A large sack was thrown over his head and shoulders, and he was borne to the floor, desperately struggling with his assailants.
THE struggle did not last long. Almost helpless in the suffocating folds of the sack, Jimmy could do little against the men —he thought there were four—who had sprung on him from the darkness.
Jimmy stood blinking at his captors. He was sick with anger and disappointment.
An evil-looking lot they were, too. He recognized Slick Stevens from Myra’s description, and felt a passing thrill of elation to note the man’s rapidly closing eye. That first desperate blow had got home, anyway.
Slick Stevens had an automatic in his hand. With it he motioned the others away from their captive.
“He’s fastened up good an’ proper, Rawson?” he asked.
“He’ll not get loose in a week," replied the man previously addressed as Scrag, a dirty, ugly ruffian with a horrible squint. “Trust me for that.”
“Take him downstairs, then. We’ll have a talk with him.”
Two of the men caught Jimmy’s arms, dragged him to his feet, and roughly propelled him toward the stairs. After assuring himself that Myra’s room was locked, Stevens pocketed the key and followed.
They went down into the room which Jimmy had entered through the open French window. Like the rest of the house, it was furnished very luxuriously. Heavy curtains had been drawn over the window and the light switched on.
“Now, stranger,” said Stevens, flourishing his automatic, “who are you?”
“Who do you think I am?” retorted Jimmy.
“I might think you were Jimmy Valentine,” sneered the other, “if you didn’t make such a devil of a noise wandering about the house. As it is, I think you’re some poor boob who’s looking for trouble—and found it!”
“I daresay you’re speaking the truth for once,” said Jimmy scornfully. “Carry’ on.”
He knew that he could expect no mercy, but was determined not to show his fear.
“You’re crowing well just now,” sneered Stevens, striking another match. “We’ll see what you say after—”
“Aw, stow it, Slick,” muttered Scrag Rawson. “Why not bump him off and have done with him?”
Stevens turned on him with an angry gesture.
“Because we don’t know that we’d be done with him then, you fool,” he said, his thin lips writhing. “He may be a detective, for all we know, with lots of his pals outside.”
“There’ll be one less if you put a bullet into him.”
"I’m going to find out who he is and why he’s here. If I don’t, there’s no telling when we may walk into a trap.”
“If that’s all you want, I know a better way. It’ll save time to talk to the dame. This guy seems pretty tough; but he’s sweet on her, and if we twist her arms a bit he’ll—”
“It’s an idea, Scrag!” cried Stevens. “Come on. Bring him up.”
He led the way upstairs. Jimmy, with one ruffian at each side of him and Scrag Rawson behind, could do nothing but follow. He felt sick with apprehension. They were going to torture Myra to compel him to speak !
OUTSIDE the door of the shuttered room they halted, and Slick Stevens produced the key from his pocket. As he inserted it into the lock, Myra’s voice rang out from inside the room.
“Keep away. I’ll shoot the first person who tries to come in.”
There was fear in her voice, but there was determination as well. She meant what she said. Jimmy thrilled in admiration of her courage. He began to feel more cheerful. Perhaps these crooks would abandon their idea. At least they would not be able to try any of their deviltries on her just now. Thank heaven she had persuaded him to leave her behind. If they had been caught escaping together there would have been no hope for them.
The men in the corridor hesitated for a moment, undecided what to do.
“Has she a gun, Slick?” asked Scrag. “Or is she bluffing?”
“I dunno. No one’s been near her belongings but the Tiger, and he doesn't worry about guns. If she had one he wouldn't bother taking it from her. Look how he let Irma keep hers.”
“And nearly kill him, the little wildcat. Can’t see why you’re so sweet on that dame, Slick."
"Can’t you?” Stevens’ voice was cold. “Some day you’ll learn there's a lot those cross eyes of yours don’t see. You'll also learn to keep your dirty mouth closed.”
“Oh, all right. No need to snap my head off. Let us see if anything will happen.”
Scrag Rawson turned the knob of the door and pushed it open a little. Instantly a shot rang out, and a bullet thudded into the thick wood.
“And that’s that!” muttered Stevens. “We’re in a bit of a mess. We could rush it, of course, but the little devil would get one of us at least. Better tell Irma what we’re doing. Lefty. She’ll wonder what the deuce that shot was about.”
One of the men slipped into the adjoining room and Jimmy could hear him talking to the bedridden woman.
“There’s just one thing,” Stevens said suddenly after a pause. “I can see a use for this smart guy at last.”
He caught Jimmy by the arms and, standing close behind him, pushed him toward the door.
“Listen, Miss Livingstone,” he shouted. “I’m shoving this boy friend of yours in. If you shoot, it’s his funeral, not mine.”
Keeping close behind Jimmy, using him as a shield, he slowly pushed the door open. Beyond it Myra stood with levelled automatic, hesitating.
“Shoot, Myra,” cried Jimmy. “Never mind me. Take the risk. Don’t let him get you.”
But Myra, pale and unsteady, dare not take the risk. Her hands were trembling and there wasn’t a chance of her hitting Stevens without wounding Jimmy. With a dry choking sob she lowered the automatic in surrender.
Instantly Slick Stevens sprang forward and wrenched the weapon from her nerveless fingers.
“Now,” he said with an evil grin, “we’ll see if the little stranger will talk.”
He caught one of Myra’s arms and Scrag Rawson seized the other. As soon as Jimmy saw that the threat to torture her was serious he capitulated. He could not stand there and see her suffer.
“Stop it,” he muttered, beaten. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
Searching questions soon drew from him the account of what had happened after the Tiger’s departure from Soyland.
“So you’ve been working on your own,” mused Stevens. “No one knows you’re here, eh? But Gloom’s nosing round in Pelworth.”
“That’s near enough to be dangerous. Scrag, we’d better let the boss know about this. Get him on the phone.”
Myra was locked up again, and Jimmy conducted downstairs to the same room as before. After some slight delay Stevens had a short conversation over the telephone in the hall. When he rejoined the others his pale eyes were glittering.
“Pack up, boys,” he said briefly. “The Tiger’s mad as blazes. We’ve to clear out.”
“Yes. I’ve to stay behind for half an hour to see that all’s clear after you’ve gone.”
“And this guy?” asked Scrag, indicating Jimmy. “He’s to be bumped off?”
“I’ll attend to him,” said Stevens malevolently, “before I go. Fasten him up in this chair, then get busy.”
Some rope was brought and Jimmy securely fastened in a big armchair. The others then hurried out, leaving him alone.
He had ample time for realizing what a hopeless mess he had made of things. The Tiger had taken fright and ordered his men away to some unknown destination. They would take Myra with them. And this time there would be no postmarked envelope to give a clue to her whereabouts.
He had spoiled everything. He had killed any chance of helping her. Gloom, busy at Pelworth, would sooner or later have located this house. He would have surrounded it with police and caught the Tiger. And Jimmy, blundering in like a fool, had scared the criminals and their captive away.
There was no telling where they would take Myra. No clue to their destination would be left behind. Slick Stevens would see to that. And when Gloom did eventually arrive, he would find an empty house, with nothing but Jimmy’s dead body to give him some idea of what had happened.
Time went slowly by. There was much confusion in the hall outside, much running to and fro. Jimmy strained at his bonds, but was unable to make the slightest impression on them. Occasionally one of the men slipped in to ensure that he was making no attempt at escape.
THE door to the hall was left open, but Jimmy was so placed that he could see nothing of what happened outside. He listened carefully, hoping to pick up some phrase which might afford a clue in the very unlikely event of his life being spared. But the crooks were cautious. They spoke only in whispers. And though he gathered vague impressions of what they were doing, he heard no word of their plans.
Eventually, from the sound of their slow, burdened footsteps, he guessed that they were carrying the bedridden woman downstairs. There was the whine of a car starter outside, and the spluttering misfire of a cold engine. The outer door opened, admitting a scurrying draught. A feminine voice was audible, asking for another rug.
Again the slow footsteps passed through the hall from the stairs. A whispered altercation occurred just outside the door.
“She’s okay, I tell you.” It was Slick Stevens’ voice. “I’ve given her a hypo. She’ll not waken for hours.”
They had drugged Myra so that she could be carried off quietly. Jimmy strained on the ropes till the swollen veins on his forehead threatened to burst. It was useless; he could not budge them.
Almost immediately the idling engine outside roared into life. There were a few last words of instruction, then the car drove off, the sound of its retreat quickly fading into the silence of the night. Slick Stevens returned to the room and stood looking at Jimmy.
“You get a first-class single ticket to heaven, Harrison,” he said, glancing at his wrist watch, “in half an hour prompt.”
Though he knew that the man was a killer and that it was useless appealing to his humanity, Jimmy made the attempt.
“You’re not going to murder me in cold blood?” he asked.
“I’m going to shoot you in that chair,” replied Stevens coldly. “You’ve only yourself to blame.”
For a moment his pale eyes stared malevolently into Jimmy’s. Then he turned away and started rummaging in the drawers of a bureau.
He brought out a lot of papers and dropped them on the hearth. He left the room and was absent about ten minutes, returning with another armful of papers which he added to the first pile. Stuffing them into the grate, he touched a match to them. After watching them burn, he stirred up the ashes until nothing was left but fine powdery dust.
“Gloom’ll need more than ultra-violet rays to get any information out of that,” he muttered with satisfaction. “ ’Tisn’t often we make a mistake, and we never repeat it.”
“He’ll get you in the end,” said Jimmy desperately. “You must know that he’s bound to win eventually. Look here,” he added. “I’m not without money. I can make it worth your while—”
“You can’t.” Stevens shook his sleek head. “If I wanted to doublecross the Tiger, I daren’t. It’s no good, Harrison. You’ve barged in where you weren’t wanted. You’ve upset the Tiger’s plans twice. He won’t stand for that sort of thing. It’s my job to make certain you don’t do it again.”
There was silence in the room. Jimmy knew that he had only a few minutes to live. This crook was not to be moved from his purpose.
Stevens paced restlessly about, continually glancing at his watch. He went out again, returning almost immediately with his hat and coat on. The slow minutes dragged by. He resumed his restless pacing until suddenly he halted in front of Jimmy.
“Time’s up.” he said briefly.
He pulled an automatic from his hip and the light glinted on its evil blue-black barrel as he slowly raised it.
To be Continued